Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!
Every Friday, I take my obligate study break and read each week’s success story, hoping one day that I could be featured. I am still a work in progress. It seems as if every day I find a new thing to lament. But reflecting back on this year, I must say that I’ve come really far and would like to share my story with the world.
I’d been overweight for most of my life. I weighed 70 lbs at age 3. There is an infamous picture of me in my kindergarten graduation cap and gown at that age (my parents started me in school early) that hangs in my parents’ living room. My chubby face is dead-center, with cheeks so plump, my eyes look forced shut. Every year, I dreaded getting weighed. I hated seeing my doctor write down ever-increasing numbers. Then, it became the rule to get weighed at school. The teacher would announce everyone’s weight as they stepped off the scale. The first time they instituted this rule, I was 9 years old and in the fifth grade…and weighed a whopping 125 pounds. My weight steadily crept up until I got to my heaviest of 175 at age 15. Mind you, I am very short. During this time, I was 5’2”, so every pound of weight gain immediately made itself known on my slight frame. When I saw that 175 I lost it. I made a resolution to lose the weight no matter what.
And I did. But in the most unhealthy way imaginable. I decided that I would eat 500 calories a day and work out for 2 hours each day, on top of that. I attended an elite preparatory school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where we had chefs cook our breakfasts, snacks, and lunches. The cafeteria abounded with homemade rolls, carrot-ginger dressings, pies, tons of ice cream flavors, croissants, rich buttery sauces, rice, pasta, anything your heart could desire and your mind could think of. It was a culinary heaven. But when I decided to embark on my 500 calorie quest, I stuck to water and fruit. Day in and day out. Dinner would be low calorie hot chocolate made from a processed mix and water with toast. I took “Advanced Fitness” as my gym class in school, and would diligently walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes at the highest incline I could stand and then do 30 minutes of weight lifting. I even stuck to this during the holidays, doing at home workouts and eating just salad. In just 5 months, I lost 55 pounds. I was a frail-looking 120 pounds. But seeing that number made me so happy.
I remember going to a lake house my uncle and aunt had rented for a weekend getaway for our family. I hadn’t seen them in about 6 months, and when I stepped out of the car, their jaws dropped. I, initially, was happy to see this response. But their eyes told the truth. My uncle and aunt, both doctors, looked worried, shocked, and even somewhat disgusted. “Why’d you lose so much weight?”, they asked. “Don’t you know how you can mess up your body, your hormones, doing all this unnecessary stuff?”, they yelled. But I didn’t care. I was thin and proud.
I maintained this weight loss almost effortlessly through junior and senior years of high school and then as a freshman at Yale University. I ate whatever I wanted, worked out, and gained about 5 pounds, but felt this was a “healthier” weight for me. Then magically, I weighed myself during my sophomore year of college and weighed 135. Then during junior year, 150. I was so scared that the weight I had lost was coming back. So I embarked on yet another weight loss journey, this time turning to Insanity at-home workouts and low carb dieting. In just two months, I went back down to 125. I started senior year looking and feeling great.
Or so I thought. Ever since I had lost weight the first time, I’d have pesky issues bothering me. I noticed I had long sideburns. Then I noticed hairs on my chin. Then sprouting up in the middle of my cheeks! I noticed that my periods were extra long and heavy, lasting 10 days. I remember sitting on a toilet for about two hours on the second day of one of my periods because the flow was so heavy my sanitary napkin was soaked within 5 minutes. I also remember the immense pain associated with my periods. I’d be curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor asking God why he was punishing me. More than a few times, I had to be taken to the hospital. Then my periods started coming irregularly, to the point where I sometimes had two per month. And my skin was horrible. Constant breakouts, not just of the superficial, pustule kind, but the achy, deep, cystic ones too. My skin was oily and slick. Constant picking at my skin left a mottled mix of raw skin, scars, and hyperpigmentation on my face. I was wearing makeup to school to hide these issues every day. I cried (man, I cried a lot when I was younger) about not being able to show my true skin and be myself. I didn’t socialize much and didn’t want to be seen in public. I often wished I could be reborn without all these weight and skin issues.
When these symptoms first started creeping up, at around age 16, I saw an endocrinologist and was diagnosed with PCOS. Ultrasound revealed that my ovaries were riddled with tons of tiny cysts. My only treatment option at the time was birth control. I tried it for a year and stopped because I saw no progress. During college, I finally worked up the courage to see a dermatologist and was immediately put on a plethora of things that she claimed would fix my skin: topical antibiotics, oral antibiotics, topical retinol, topical corticosteroids, the works. Every 3 months, I’d be trying new antibiotics because nothing seemed to work. It was a costly and frustrating time. My self-esteem was at an extreme low. Even though I had worked my weigh back down to 125, I felt like I was a mess. Here I was, graduating with Honors from one of the best colleges in the world, and I felt like my world was spinning out of control. I had lost the weight, but nothing was fixed. That’s when I realized that it was all about health and not about weight.
The week before I began my first year of medical school at the end of August 2012, I happened upon the Whole30 website. I immediately clicked on the Testimonial tab and scrolled down the list. No more acid reflux, uh huh. No more acne, ok, maybe I this might work for me. Then I scrolled down and saw testimonials for PCOS! I decided then and there to embark on my first Whole30. It was scary. I was used to the low carb life, but no beans or dairy, and I could actually eat sweet potatoes? I convinced myself that because my body would be working as it’s supposed to, my body could handle more nutrient-dense sources of carbs. And I went all in. Acne vanished. Skin lesions healed super fast. I happened upon your website and incorporated more Primal-based ideas of exercise, taking on heavy lifting, walking, and sprinting. My body fat melted. My muscles popped. From body-fat estimates, I started out at 25% and am now sitting at around 17%! I weigh around 135, which still in my mind is a bit too high, but fit into size 4 dresses with ease. I even managed to grow 2 inches! I felt, and still feel, like a new person! And this past spring, I had another ultrasound done and guess what? No cysts. And my periods come like clock work, and only last a few days. The cramping pain associated with them is much less severe, and I have noticed, darn-near unnoticeable if I stick to strict Primal. My facial hair has also reduced drastically, but because of my hair quality, I am prone to ingrown hairs. This issue, however, is being handled with holistic approaches to health (and electrolysis). I newly discovered Stefani Ruper, of Paleo for Women fame, and am now even more committed to this lifestyle for the long haul.
More than beating my PCOS, I am especially thankful for this lifestyle because of the effect it has had on my family members. Seeing how much my health has improved, my mother, father, and sister have all embraced this lifestyle with success of their own. My mom, once a diabetic with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and overweight has now gotten rid of all but one of her medications and has lost 30 pounds. My father, who once suffered from chronic pain and obesity, has lost 50 pounds and now routinely takes 4 mile walks whenever possible and is prone to turning on the radio at home and dancing like a mad man. My sister, who was starting to show signs of PCOS and who gained 50 pounds in just two years while at college, is now the leanest, meanest machine I’ve seen. I’ve even gotten one of my close college friends on track and we regularly update each other with the best Paleo recipe we’ve tried that week or our new favorite Paleo/Primal blogs.
I’m still working on getting rid of the hirsutism, and my new goal is to get a six-pack, haha. But I now recognize that even though I am a work in progress, I have made progress and I am not broken. Turning to the Paleo/Primal lifestyle has been the greatest thing to happen to my loved ones and me. Now, I can’t wait to be a primary care doctor and spread this message to my future patients!
Thanks, Mark! Couldn’t have done it without you!