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!
All of my life I’ve been a social creature. I could adapt to almost any environment that I was placed in. I joined the US Navy at age 27, and went to language school in Monterey, California, nearly a decade older than most of my peers. But, I adapted, developed an amazing group of friends, and learned a foreign language.
I was stationed in Seoul, South Korea, and even there I was able to find a niche and thrive. Granted, I was with the military (where there is always a sense of community) but it was not within that community that I found my footing. It was with a group of ex-pats who all played soccer. We were a family, albeit dysfunctional, and we always had each other’s backs.
About six months after moving to Seoul, I broke my ankle, and put on some weight. One of my teammates and I decided to do Body for Life together. During this 12 week program, I lost over 40 pounds and was in the best shape of my life. I learned then, that my body was capable of doing great things.
As with any “diet,” it did not last. A broken heart, a move back to the states, and an uncertain future all contributed to my gaining weight. I was able to stay within standards of the military, but after a few deployments to Afghanistan, and the decision to move on from the military, I really started to gain weight.
In 2008, honorably discharged from a nearly 10-year stint in the Navy, I decided I needed another change in environment, and found myself in Huntsville, Alabama. I had no friends, no family, nothing here, but it just seemed to be a good place for me to go. The cost of living was low, and I had a great opportunity with my company. It took about six months for me to realize that my ability to socially integrate anywhere was not working here. And I sunk into a depression.
There were so many factors at play. I had just moved. I had just ended a 10-year fast paced work life (where you are essentially issued friends and a network). My future was uncertain, and then I suffered a compound fracture of my wrist. When I started taking anti-depressants, I really started to put on the weight. When I first started seeing my therapist in 2009, I weighed around 280 pounds, and at the end of 2012, I weighed 314 pounds.
I told my psychiatrist that I wanted to stop taking the meds, and he didn’t disagree with this, but I am pretty certain he was a little worried. I don’t think that the medications were hurting, but I also don’t think they were helping. I was numb, I felt nothing, and my desire for change and a healthy life were not forthcoming.
So, I decided to sell my house, as I realized that living alone at that time was not a prudent choice for me. I rented a small in-law apartment from a co-worker, and decided to look into bariatric surgery. My insurance fully covered it if I met certain requirements, one of which was a recorded BMI over 40 for at least one-year. Check! I had to meet with a nutritionist once a month for six consecutive months. Check! I had to consult with a general physician and attempt weight loss. Check! Then a date would be set, and I opted for the sleeve, which is removing 80% of your stomach.
I had to spend a month on the road for work, and when I got back to Alabama, the first thing I did was call the nutritionist and start the process. In April 2013 I received an email from a friend with details about The Biggest Loser Casting Call. I decided why not…
I had started to make tiny changes in my diet. Nothing drastic, but adding a protein shake once a week instead of a trip to McDonald’s. And I started to make tiny changes to my habits, again nothing drastic, but I parked at the absolute furthest spot from my office building forcing me to walk an additional 40 yards to and from my car.
This was one of the outfits I considered for the auditions – it was summarily vetoed on account of the tie-dye and polka dot combination. I realize now, looking back – I intentionally would dress like this to draw attention away from the weight. People would notice the outrageous clothing combinations, and comment before they could say anything about my size. Of course, now, I have zero clothes that fit, and no sense of style or how to wear clothes for my new body – I am trying a different avenues to remedy this, but ultimately need a total makeover!
I got to the auditions after careful consideration of my outfit, and sat down, and was asked, “Why Biggest Loser?” I honestly had not thought about it until that very moment. Sure, I want to be on TV, sure I wanted the benefit of the trainers, nutritionists, medical staff, sure, I want to do nothing but focus on my weight loss for however long I lasted on the show… but really, “Why?” I stated the following: I am motivated, I am ready for this. I miss the freedoms of not carrying over 300 pounds. I miss being able to play soccer without fear of getting hurt. I want the accountability. I want America to watch me and say, “You will not fail today!” I want 25 million people to stand behind me and tell me that I can do this, because I am not sure if I can.
I walked out, and my friend asked me how I did. I said, “I don’t think I was traumatic enough…” and sure enough, I didn’t get a call back.
In all honesty, I was not that confident that I was motivated and ready. It just seemed like the right thing to say. I was scared. I was nearing another birthday and I didn’t want it to be another birthday with a dim outlook for my future. I was fortunate in that I was a “healthy fat person.” I didn’t have blood pressure issues that warranted weight loss and I didn’t suffer diabetes or any other obesity related ailments. I was just overweight—overweight and more self-conscious than ever. Overweight and alone. Overweight and lived for eating fast food, sugar and grains; my favorite was the McGriddle, which combined all three.
I went home and started to put together a video for submission, but my dog was acting pretty needy, and work was busy, and there were just a lot of excuses. So, I didn’t make the video. But I thought a lot about my response. After my initial post about going to the auditions, two friends from high school approached me about Isagenix. I was willing to try anything. There was a lot of outward concern also about my desire to have surgery.
When I was in the military, there was a family that adopted me on holidays. We clicked so well, that it continued on through the years, and I genuinely love them. There were two sides of the argument there. Husband: If she was dying of heart disease and open heart surgery could help, would you argue against it? Wife: I just think that she could lose weight without invasive surgery. Both are right. But, just “losing weight” is a daunting task. And for someone who is independent, with nothing but a dog by her side, there was no one that I thought would be able to hold me to my goals. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. So I went back to thinking about my response to The Biggest Loser.
Accountability… So, I may not have America, but I have 500 people on Facebook that in some way, shape, or form over the course of my life have had an influence, and they can still…
So, I reached out on FB – I decided that I would be shameless, fearless, and put it all out there. It is not like I could “hide” the fact that I weighed over 300 pounds. Right? It is not like I didn’t know I was ‘fat,’ even though most people in my life were all very kind, there was no denying that I could stand to lose a few pounds.
I posted this:
“Friends…I have decided that my dream of Biggest Loser is officially over – However, the goal was not to be on the show, but it was to be able to be in a situation with a personal trainer, no distractions and only gym for 10 hours a day, a nutritionist to help make meals, and the support and accountability to all of America. So, since that dream is dead…here is my new plan – I am still planning on going through the motions toward surgery – I am still watching what I eat and starting to exercise little by little – Amy and Kymberly are talking to me about Isagenix (still waiting to see how the shakes are), and I am going to start a blog. I will be calling it “From Fat to Fab!” And my goal is by my 43rd birthday (July 1, 2014) I will weigh at least 100 pounds less than I do today – to be healthy and be working toward running in a marathon – stay tuned for details of the blog! And please help me – if you see me doing something I shouldn’t or need a little motivation – just a subtle nudge here and there.”
I started the blog the same day (fleepyear.com).
What happened next was nothing short of amazing…
The outpouring of support and help that I received flooded me with emotion and drive. My former teammate that I did Body for Life with posted:
“I’ve seen u do it before. So you know it’s not impossible. Let me know if I can help. I’m happy to be support on your accountability team.”
And so many more comments that pushed me in the right direction.
Two weeks after I posted my Facebook status, I posted that I was going to start shopping for a gym. A girl I played soccer with over a decade ago sent me a private message encouraging me to try CrossFit.
I googled it.
I wrote back, “Thanks, but not so much.”
I considered the fact that I had been willing to dump over $500 into Isagenix without blinking an eye, and that I might as well go and talk to these people.
I was desperate. Someone could have approached me and said, “Listen, if you chant every morning while wearing polka dots and flowers, you will lose weight.” I would have done just that.
I walked into the CrossFit box and felt terrified. But, after a few minutes, I felt that this was just what I needed, and the attitude of the head coach was unbelievable. He was positive without setting me up for failure. He was realistic and explained what I needed to do to be successful. And that was listen to the coaches, listen to my body, and not be in a hurry…
So, I signed up for CrossFit.
Before I go into the next chapter, I need to make mention of a few milestones that occurred along the way. There were these small little occurrences of friendship through my time in Alabama that for whatever reason, mostly because of my own insecurities, I never put much stock into them. I assumed that these people were being friendly for the sake of professionalism and kindness, but not that I had anything to really offer them. One of these friendships is a man named Wes. Wes was that guy in the office that is Chris Traeger (ref: Parks and Rec). We worked on a project together, and once day he came in to my office looking for me and found nothing but a half eaten Egg McMuffin. He snapped a picture and that was the image that showed up whenever I texted or called. When I say he was Chris Traeger, I mean he would come into my office and mid conversation would just start doing squats. Most of the time I felt an overwhelming urge to punch him, but he came from a place of good. I was in charge of diversity and inclusion in my office, and he approached me wanting to get more involved. I teamed him up with another of these “friends” to do a Biggest Loser sort of challenge within the office.
The competitive side of me forced me to talk to Wes about my diet. He mentioned paleo then, and I giggled, and it was another “friend” that suggested that Atkins would be more my style, since I had zero desire to do any sort of activity beyond switching the channels on the TV. All was going well, until I ended up spending a month in Colorado Springs living out of a hotel. I had lost about 20 pounds, but it quickly came back when I would eat anything and everything I could and sit at my desk for 15 hours straight.
Then I met Jon, who was crazy, and did this thing called CrossFit and ate “Paleo.” He was not very strict, but tried to stick to the principles of it. I worked with Jon on another project immediately following the one in Colorado, where I learned a little more about his lifestyle. I still thought he was crazy.
So, here I was, about a month into my “journey” (I really hate that word), with no real direction, failed at Isagenix, and was just starting at CrossFit. I was not really following any sort of diet or meal plan. I was watching what I was eating, but still eating grains, sugar, legumes, and dairy.
The girl that told me to start CF is a coach at a box in Lexington, KY, and quite accomplished I might add. When I played soccer with her, she was a doe-eyed, sweet 17 year old, hanging toe to toe with a group of dirty old has-beens, never was, and social alcoholics. We were not a soccer club; we were a drinking club with a soccer problem.
Kelli had gone on, went to college, gotten her masters in nutrition, and was now coaching full time at CrossFit. Another friend of mine from my military days had just started coaching, and her and her husband had just opened a box.
I started a conversation with the two of them on Facebook, and on a daily basis went to my “secret” coaches for tips, tricks, and advice.
At first it was all about CrossFit.
Then, I had heard enough about paleo that I decided to start to research it. This was a week prior to my 42nd birthday. I had mentioned it in passing to a couple of people, and on my birthday, was given three paleo cookbooks.
After receiving the paleo cookbook gifts, I did more digging. I was led to Mark’s Daily Apple, Paleohacks, and Nom Nom Paleo – and I was off and running. On a daily basis I was consulting these websites and my secret coaches and now nutritionist on Facebook.
I was focused, determined, and positively neurotic.
And it happened… magic… over the course of the year, I literally shed over 100 pounds, gained strength, and so much more.
I could tell you all about my blood pressure and cholesterol and scale and inches, but the two most important things I gained were my confidence and friendships. I don’t hide in pictures anymore. I don’t only post pictures of my dog on FB, although I do shamelessly post pictures of my food.
I once loved to cook for people and for myself. But over the course of the weight gain period, this became too labor intensive and too depressing. Now, with my new lifestyle, I have no problem spending eight hours in the kitchen laboring over Mexican beef or Kahlua pork. I love discovering new recipes and tweaking them to my palette.
And what I also love about this is how easy it has become to sustain. I can count on both hands the number of “cheat” meals I have had over the past year. There is no shortage of information, knowledge, and people willing and able to share.
Make no mistake about it; the magic was the result of hard work and putting in time in the kitchen and gym. I tell people now, it is not just calories in and calories out, and it is what kind of calories in and what kind of calories out. Is CrossFit high-risk? Sure, but so is driving, and so is sitting for prolonged periods of time, and so is breathing in some parts of the world. I never stopped listening to my coaches, and the more I did it, the more in touch I got with my body. I knew when a pain was more than just, “Hey, you are sore…” but I also learned through research that there were foods that I could eat post workout that would lessen the soreness and pain.
On days when I would lift heavy, I would add a sweet potato or plantain. On days when it was more cardio intensive, I could add more fruit. I bought a pig from a local farmer, and truly looked at everything that I did as an investment in myself. I was worth it.
Needless to say, the surgery never happened… in July, literally two weeks after the decision was made by the birthday gods for me to be paleo, I was no longer eligible by BMI standards. I had lost too much weight.
For me, after about six months of consciously thinking about everything that I did as, “This is a choice that I have to make,” it became second nature.
My views on cheat meals… well, I looked at paleo like a husband. It is not like after you get married you say to your spouse, “Okay, it has been three months, time for a cheat!” You make a commitment, to yourself, your body, and to your will power. I will “cheat” when there is no option, a work function, or I don’t want to be “that person” who is super difficult to invite places. It is not hard to stay on course, but there are times when I have admittedly taken the easy route and just eaten the pizza – guilt free – worry free – and happily. I do make painstaking efforts to always be prepared, but no one is perfect… Right?
I am not stopping, it is not like I hit the year mark and said, “Okay, goal achieved, time to hit the ice cream truck!” Instead, I look back at my year and think, how can I help others achieve this?
So, the running joke with a friend is “body by bacon” – she told me at some point that I could not sustain weight loss and eat bacon every day of my life. I begged to differ. So, there has been some nights where it is well past my bedtime, and I realize, “I have not had my daily Vitamin Bcn,” and will throw a few slices on the stove and enjoy… and then tell my friend, “Do your research… fat doesn’t make you fat!”
Whenever I start to doubt myself, wonder where the magic is, think it is not happening fast enough, I look at the pictures of a year ago, and realize that with determination, discipline, bravery, courage, willpower, and above all, friends… you can do anything! My advice to the world… believe that you are worth it; the investment in yourself is not just about the money spent, it is the time put in. The information is there, and it takes trial and error to find the right combination for “magic.” It is okay to stumble, and even fall down; I have been known in some WODs to fall down hundreds of times, (it is called a burpee), but you get back up.
I have had a few friends reach out to me over the year to ask me what my secret is, and for help. And it usually brings a tear to my eye. I never set out to be inspiring. When one of my colleagues at work called me and said, “Thanks to you, I have lost over 50 pounds,” I was overwhelmed. I may have provided the proof that it can work, but I didn’t tell my colleague what to eat and how. I didn’t tell the girl I once coached soccer with, who has grown up and had babies, specifically what to eat—I pointed her in the direction of the same websites that I went to, and offered an ear whenever she needed. I didn’t tell the girl that I did CrossFit with to show up on a consistent basis and eat clean, but I did tell her that she was transforming before my eyes, just as I was to her. There are sources of inspiration all around; it is just a matter of choosing to see them.
In April of 2013, I weighed 314 pounds. I was wearing a size 24 pant, and a 26/28 top. I only shopped at Lane Bryant or online plus sized stores. I was far from confident and happy… Today, I weighed in at 210, and I own three pairs of pants that are size 12 and one shirt with a collar that fits!
But more amazing, (yeah, I went there) is the fact that I have lost a total of 88.5”. That is 7’ 4.5”. To put this in perspective, Yao Ming is 7’ 6” (Shaquille O’Neal is only 7’ 1″). I have nearly lost Yao Mong, a 2 month old horse, and an ostrich egg. But what I have gained…