Zac Efron Says Trying to Obtain a “Baywatch” Body Burned Him Out Mentally and Physically

Zac Efron said in interview he experienced serious burnout and body image issues following the filming of
Ture Lillegraven for Men's Health/ Paramount Pictures/Everett Collection

Content warning: This article contains mentions of eating disorders and descriptions of disordered eating

Scrutinising celebrities’ bodies is nothing new, unfortunately, particularly for women. But celebrity men struggle with their own gendered expectations, from veiny biceps to “washboard abs.” Zac Efron has set a lot of those unrealistic standards himself, but that doesn’t mean he’s immune to the damaging effects. In a new interview for Men’s Health‘s October cover, Efron shared how the immense pressure to exemplify the “ideal” body — and the lengths he went through to get there for his role in “Baywatch” in 2017 — have actually been quite harmful to his own health.

According to Efron’s personal trainer Patrick Murphy, during training for “Baywatch” the actor’s body fat plummeted to just 5 percent during a gruelling 12-week workout regime. While a healthy weight looks different on every body, The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) estimates a healthy body fat percentage for men between 20-39 as 8-19 percent.

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Now, Efron recognizes the impact of perpetuating unrealistic body standards, and said his “Baywatch” diet and workout regime pushed his mental health to the limits. “That ‘Baywatch’ look, I don’t know if that’s really attainable. There’s just too little water in the skin. Like, it’s fake; it looks CGI’d,” he explained to Men’s Health. “And that required Lasix, powerful diuretics, to achieve. So I don’t need to do that.”

“I fell into a pretty bad depression, for a long time. Something about that experience burned me out. I had a really hard time recentering.”

Diuretics are typically used to treat high blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. But the drugs have a history in Hollywood and among bodybuilders because they reduce the amount of fluid in the body between the muscle and skin, which, along with a drastic reduction in body fat, gives that lean look that we associate with “ripped” bodies. Abuse of diuretics can cause severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and, in severe cases, death.

Zac Efron said that following Baywatch he experienced body image issues, disordered eating and serious burnout.
On the “Baywatch” promotional tour in Berlin Image Credit: Getty/Anita Bugge

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In addition to taking diuretics, Efron admitted to overtraining on very little sleep. His excitement for the movie waned as the restrictive “Baywatch” diet and workout regime took a toll on his body and mind. “I started to develop insomnia,” he said, “and I fell into a pretty bad depression, for a long time. Something about that experience burned me out. I had a really hard time recentering. Ultimately they chalked it up to taking way too many diuretics for way too long, and it messed something up.”

Efron told Men’s Health that he’s opening up about the experience now because he wants people trying to obtain the “Baywatch” body to know how devastating the process was for him and how it took six months afterwards to finally begin to feel OK. After filming ended, Efron says he was able to take a real break from work and went to Australia to fall out of shape for the first time in his adult life.

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“At one point, that was a dream of mine — what it would be like to not have to be in shape all the time,” he says. “What if I just say, ‘F*ck it’ and let myself go? So I tried it, and I was successful. And for all the reasons I thought it would be incredible, I was just miserable. My body would not feel healthy; I just didn’t feel alive. I felt bogged down and slow.”

When his reality show “Down to Earth” started streaming on Netflix, people started to comment on his “dad bod,” and The New York Post called it “a far cry from his ripped physique in ‘Baywatch.'” According to Efron, he was also rethinking what his body had come to stand for in pop culture. As he trains for his next big movie (which is yet to be revealed), Efron says he doesn’t want the “Baywatch” body anymore. Or, rather, he’s not willing to sacrifice himself to achieve it.

Unfortunately, despite his comments, media and “fans” have continued to criticise Zac Efron’s body. When paparazzi images for his movie “The Iron Claw” were released in October 2022, media and Twitter fans responded in a frenzy. One Tweet “Lmao he looks like the Hulk from the 80s [sic] I’m screaming why does zac efron look like this rn.” Others compared him to Simpsons character Ned Flanders. Efron’s comments about his body image issues had been made just months before. This made the conversation around his “The Iron Claw” physique feel particularly tone deaf and, in some instances, cruel.

In 2022 and 2023, a number of male celebrities including Shawn Mendes and Jonah Hill have spoken out about the pressure that criticism from the public, touring, and promotional obligations have taken on their mental health. Demi Lovato announced that “Holy Fvck” would be her last tour, citing burnout. In many ways, celebrities are setting a good example for all of us in putting their wellbeing front and centre.

This article was originally published in October, 2022.

Additional reporting by Ruby Feneley.

If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know or you need help and support for eating disorders, please contact the Butterfly Foundation National Support Line and online service 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected].

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