Boy Meets Sisson, Overcomes “Reverse Dysmorphia”

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!

Hello… my name is Matt and I am a recovering “reverse dysmorphic,” and I have been in recovery since 2011. “Body Dysmorphia” is basically defined as the inability to see a realistic body image of one-self. Some dysmorphics see themselves as fat, no matter how thin they get. I do not have this problem; I have “reverse dysmorphia,” in that no matter how large I get, I always think I look goooood.


At 5’10” and 220 pounds, I was in the obese range on the BMI… my reaction: “Can you believe that?! Me? Obese? Come on, the BMI doesn’t take into account just how large my bones are. Seriously, I ride my bike all the time… I eat a low fat diet… I’m sexy.”

I used to say to my wife… “We’re not fat! We’re just a bit chubby… and there’s a BIG difference.”

Matt before 3In this picture, I’m on a 200-mile bike ride called Seattle to Portland (STP), and when I saw this picture I thought, “Bad angle. Those darn bike shirts are always too small and tight; must be for the aerodynamics. Only Lance looks good in those shirts, and look at what he had to do to get there. Seriously, I’m on a 200-mile bike ride for cryin-out-loud, I really can’t be that chubby. Darn bike shirts!”

In the next picture I’m trying to jump high and get my picture taken at the apex of the jump. My wife took at least 25 pictures of me attempting this “jump,” and I was so frustrated at her inability to snap a picture at the right time: “I mean come on! I’m obviously on the way down here… I’m obviously jumping more than 2” off the ground. Darn digital cameras!”

Before 2

I lived this way for years. In the late 90s I hit 220 and stayed there for over 10 years. I rock climbed, rode long distance roads and mountain bike rides, trained for, and ran, 2 marathons, and for a while, got addicted to spinning. And in all that time, and all that exercise, my body weight never budged and my reverse body dysmorphia just got more entrenched. It seemed that the more active I got, the better I thought I looked.

However, there were times I’d “wake-up” and really see my body, and I would try one of the diets-of-the moment. At one point (pun intended) I tried Weight Watchers and managed to lose nine pounds. In the insanity of that diet, I saved enough “points” to eat 40 (yes, I would count them) Goldfish crackers. Looking back at that now I’m amazed that in conventional wisdom, eating processed food is totally okay, as long as you stay within your daily calorie count… regardless of how bad the food is for you health-wise. Obviously none of those diets worked, and as soon as I stopped the diet, I gained back all the weight I lost… and then some more.

In 2009, my wife and I moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where for some unknown reason, we thought it would be a good idea to do pizza and beer every Friday night. Over the course of a year my weight started creeping up higher and higher and my response was: “Hell, we live in Alaska, the extra weight is helping me stay warm… it’s gotta be my body’s response to this cold weather.”

Then in 2011, thankfully my dysmorphic bubble popped with this picture:

Matt before 1

(My wife wants you to know that she is pregnant in this photo… I am not.) I looked at this photo and thought… “Holy cow (not the word I used), I’m HUGE!”

At that moment, when all my dysmorphic fantasies evaporated into thin air and I saw how huge I’d gotten, I thought, “Time for Weight Watchers.”

BeforeThankfully, at that time I had a buddy who told me about this guy, Mark Sisson, who did this Primal eating thing, and since he’d already lost about 10 pounds, I thought I’d give it a try. Here’s how I looked the day after my buddy told me about The Primal Blueprint.

From here it’s the usual story:

Boy meets Sisson.
Boy reads The Primal Blueprint (the chapter about the Korgs and the Groks completely changes his view on food and exercise).
Boy stops eating all processed food, grains, gluten and buys a grass-fed bison.
Boy buys Five Finger “shoes” (confirming wife’s believe that he is, in fact, a dork).
Lifts heavy things.
Walks slow over long distances.
Sprints every now and then.
… and in five months looks like this.

Matt duringIn this photo I’ve dropped 10 pounds and I’m feeling very good. Here are the health changes I experienced by losing those 10 pounds by getting rid of processed food and grains.

GERD – I’d lived with GERD for years and was taking anti-acids every night. In the time it took me to lose this weight, my GERD was gone, and has never come back.

Nighttime anxiety – Ever since I can remember I would wake up in the middle of the night with a rather intense anxiety feeling. I just assumed it was some sort of normal reaction to the night, but within these five months my mid-night anxiety vanished, and has never come back. Lack of grains?

Late afternoon lethargy – gone.

Gas – other than my buddy Darren, I had the WORST gas ever, and since that time I am amazed, and those around me are VERY happy, to report that I rarely, if ever have gas.

Energy – I’ve always been known as an “energetic” person, however I have even more energy than before. I have young 2 children and feel like I can keep up with them quite easily.

Cholesterol – I got my cholesterol checked in 2012 and 2013 and my numbers got better between the two years.

My wife and I have fully changed over to the Primal way of eating. My wife, a doctor, has done a ton of reading about Primal eating, and is a true believer who shares her new knowledge with her patients. She herself has a few amazing stories of patients losing weight and curing themselves of chronic ailments due to switching over to Primal-like diets.

In 2013, still at 216, my wife suggested we do The Whole30, and in about 25 days, by getting rid of ALL sugar (which I learned is in almost everything), legumes, dairy, and alcohol. I got to 207 pounds.

Also, in 2013 my wife introduced me to Bikram Yoga, which has become the 3rd rail of my healthy way of life. Sorry Mark… but I just couldn’t keep up with going to the gym and lifting and sprinting… and going to Bikram yoga two times a week has been fantastic for me!

Every Friday I read another “success story,” and wondered when I’d feel it was okay to share my story… I thought, “I am a reverse-dysmorphic, so how would I know it was the right time to share my story?” Well my answer came the other day when I went clothing shopping. I pulled pants off the rack, size 36”, which I’d worn for YEARS. But when I went to try them on, I was swimming in them. I tried on 34” pants, a size I hadn’t worn in over 20 years, and they fit… loosely. If they had 33”, I would have gone with those. I figured in that moment, “Numbers don’t lie…” and decided I’d like to share my story with Mark.

Matt after PrimalHere’s a recent photo. I sure don’t have a beach body, however, at 43, because of Primal eating, I’ve managed to not only lose 20 pounds, but thankfully have managed to maintain that weight for over three years. And most importantly, I feel healthy! In conclusion, I would like to share the most significant lessons I’ve learned over the past three years, which are:

  • This is not a diet. Primal eating is a lifestyle. I always failed at diets because when I went back to a conventional diet, I just gained the weight back.
  • Changing one’s lifestyle takes a long time. I always tell people who are just starting that this should be a marathon, not a sprint… but make sure to sprint every now and then.
  • Don’t start with Whole30… way too restrictive if one is starting from a conventional diet. Doing Whole30 after living Primal for three years was a very easy transition and had huge benefits for me.
  • I cannot do 80/20… I just spent way too much time in the 20%. In order to be successful, I have to be at a 95/5, and when I do eat outside the Primal diet I try, as best as possible, to make it a high quality cheat.
  • Alcohol is a gateway to crappy eating… I avoid beer as much as possible, which is insanely hard during the summer months.
  • Trying to work out harder the day after a major over-indulgence does not work… it just makes me want to eat more crappy food.
  • This is a MUCH EASIER process if those you live with are also on the same path.

I want to thank Mark and all those out there in the blogosphere who have helped me both get on, and stay on, this Primal path. Grok On!


Matt's Primal FamilyP.S. – And proof that this lifestyle has also worked for my wife, here’s a picture of my hot, Primal eating, Bikram yogi wife and our babies.

P.P.S. – Obviously I subscribe to the theory that, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?” Everything I’ve written above is painfully true about my “reverse dysmorphia,” and hopefully it is obvious that I have made up the concept of RD to make fun of myself. However, at the same time “Body Dysmorphia” is a real issue and one that negatively affects many people. It is not my intention to make light of dysmorphia and I hope I do not offend. If I do, I apologize and hope people can see that I am making fun of myself… and myself only. ?

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62 thoughts on “Boy Meets Sisson, Overcomes “Reverse Dysmorphia””

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  1. “Reverse dysmorphia” is longhand for “denial.” 🙂 Congrats, this is great! Well-written and humorous, too.

  2. Awesome story! I also have to blend other exercise into the primal mix, otherwise I get bored/burnt out and stop doing it. Bikram yoga is one of my favorites! I also COMPLETELY sympathize with the 95/5 situation… the more strict I am, the better I can be; giving myself any leeway just opens the flood gates of processed food hell. Like you, I live in the 20 way too much.

    Congrats on your transformation, and thanks for sharing your story!

    1. same here, as soon as i eat anything sweet – even just a banana, makes me want more sugary things so i’m better off having none.

  3. Great story, Matt! And thanks for making me laugh, I totally get your humor and I appreciate it!

  4. Awesome stuff! If you can be honest with yourself there’s no limit to what you can do. Best wishes to you and your family!

  5. Ha, cute story! It’s amazingly easy to somehow fail to see the 10 extra lbs, 20 extra lbs… 30… and to recognize the lifestyle choices that put them on.

  6. Congratulations! Looking great and a great story – I’m glad you found what works for you. Your wife looks awesome, too; and your kids are getting the best start in life.
    Its taken me 8 months to pluck up the courage and dig deep enough to do a Whole 30, but now I’m glad I have – just for the perspective change, which you mention as having to stay 95/5. I think 80/20 is often misinterpreted as being allowed treats. But if you are needing to lose weight then its about aiming for 100% but accepting that your shop bought bbq sauce might have sugar in it. Not finding ways to paleo-fy SAD foods.
    Great work! I seriously want to reach your energy and exercise levels, too! Amazing 🙂

  7. I had something similar going on….I would not really see what I looked like even though I was staring straight into a mirror. It’s like I was programmed to remember wheat I had looked like 10 years before and the only proof was that I no longer fit into old clothes. My solution? Get rid of the clothes and they become a vague memory. The times I would get slapped in the face with it would be when I tried on clothes at stores (My solution? Never shop) and when I saw pictures and videos of myself (my solution? Never be in a picture or a video). 30 pounds down and I actually am at the weight I used to be and it all seems so obvious. My solution should have been to change my eating from the very beginning.

    1. *lol* same with me. I would tell everybody that I hate shopping (who can be fooled by this?). Still have a loooong way to go.

  8. It’s a real condition, I have it too! Joking aside, great story, well written and inspiring. Well done to you and your wife.

  9. All I want to know is …what does your buddy Darren think about this?

    1. He can only shake his head and grin… as he knows it’s true 🙂

  10. Congratulations Matt! There’s many people half your age who wish that they could fit into a size 33 pants. Grok on!

  11. The last picture looks like he’s put on weight since he stopped lifting, walking, and sprinting.

    There, I said it.

    1. I think he look’s tighter in the final photo…definitely not heavier. Did he say he stopped doing those things entirely? I thought he just said he added Bikram…which is an awesome workout.

  12. Pretty much all guys are familiar with this condition, it’s an evolutionary adaptation in males that is necessary if one is to continue consuming copious amounts of beer beyond college age.

    In order to eliminate that last bit of belly fat I switched from daily beers to 2 glasses of red wine but the last 5-10 lbs still remain. Must I give up alcohol altogether? The dysmorphic response would be go back to the 2-3 beers daily since it seems to make no difference and I can easily maintain this weight with that level of consumption.

    1. Solution: brew your own beer! Lifting a 6-gallon carboy full of fermenting beer is heavy. Carrying empty and full bottles is also a workout. Now before I go and “just have a few,” I look forward to a beer, and I savor it!

      Besides, I feel beer isn’t that bad – the grains are sprouted, then those are fermented. You don’t have to add full grains to it, either you can add other things like chocoloate, chicory, etc. I might possibly add vegetables….

  13. Congrats, Matt! From your photos, you look like you’ve dropped more than 20 pounds.

  14. Great story. I love your writing style and humor, but think your made-up condition is real! I see it in people all around me. Like my husband–he eats mostly paleo because I do all the cooking and food prep, works out regularly, gets lots of sun, etc. but he is in denial about what his beer-drinking is doing to his health. He stands in front of the mirror sucking his gut in tight and thinks he looks pretty good. Then he steps away, relaxes, and looks like he’s due to deliver our next child any day. When he sees a candid photo of himself he, like you, blames the angle, etc. He has high blood pressure that he is on medication for, digestive problems, and is pre-diabetic–none of which he attributes to the copious amounts of beer he drinks. I wish he had a friend like yours who could get through to him. I’ve given up. It just comes across as nagging.Thanks for your story. I love the validation I get just reading all the success stories.

  15. Loved this; I can totally relate. As an active, 5’10” woman, I got up to 210 before I even realized I was anything but “strong” and “big-boned.”

  16. It does look like you’ve lost weight and gained health. And that’s a good thing. maybe if you’d PULL UP YOUR PANTS, you’d look even leaner. 😮

    1. I just laughed so hard water came out of my nose… thanks for the fashion advice. I really need it!

  17. Very entertaining story Matt, and congratulations to you and your family, well done. My RD came to an abrupt end the day I finally “saw” my “muffin top” for the first time. I cried~that just couldn’t be me! Mirrors and florescent lighting don’t lie. Many books, blogs, and years later I’m happy to say it’s a thing of the past as are all of my other chronic health issues. Life IS Good!

  18. Ha, loced the humor in this and i think it a very very valid term -RD; i mean how many people walk around having skinny capps and low fat yoghurt thinking that is what keeps them so, uh “trim”, or completely blame genetics??? Too many. Love this in the comments from bayrider:

    “Pretty much all guys are familiar with this condition, it’s an evolutionary adaptation in males that is necessary if one is to continue consuming copious amounts of beer beyond college age.”

    Judging from my 25year high school reunion, that comment seems all too true 🙂

    Keep livin’ it up!!

  19. Ha! What a great story, thanks for sharing it, Matt. I can relate to your “RD.” I went through my 20s under the same delusion. I still had definition in my upper abs, despite going from a 32 to a 36 and pushing pants size, so how was I overweight? It was the effects of my health (sugar addiction, heartburn, spasms in my stomach, no energy, etc.) that made me realize I was fat and needed to get my weight and health under control.

    Thanks for your story. It’s like a common man’s success story and I love your humor throughout!

  20. Great insight! Sorry, though, that we are all so politically correct you felt the need to apologize for your spot-on humor. No need! RD is funny! (But, hey, those blue shoes and low ride pants gotta go….)

    1. Don’t listen Matt, the blue shoes are awe-some 🙂 Looks like you’ve lost more than 20lb, loving the attitude too

    2. … like I said… my wife thinks I’m a dork in the 5-Fingers… imagine how she feels about those blue shoes. I’m currently pulling up my pants right now!
      thanks 🙂

  21. Great story, very funny and entertaining to read. Love how you are so impressed by your health improvements you sort of missed the fact that you had got smaller.

    Keep up the good work, and I am pleased to read that your wife is spreading the word, medically speaking, too.

  22. I have reverse dysmorphia. In high school I spent three years trying to get up to 100 pounds. There is no way I’m gong to believe I weigh more than twice that now. Even when I look in a mirror I do not see the real me. I was once told to put a picture of what I want to look like on my fridge so I put up an old picture of me. Didn’t help since my mind insists I already look like that. Maybe a picture of me now would help?

  23. Thanks for sharing your story! It was hilarious and also echoed a couple things I’ve realized in my 2 years of primal living – 80/20 is a slippery slope, and alcohol makes it even slippery-er!!

  24. Enjoyed reading your story! Glad you and your family are doing so well and have really made it a lifestyle. That is definitely the key to long term health I believe. I think there are so many people who started where you did, and hopefully some of them will read this and be inspired!

  25. I’ve had reverse dysmorphic all my life, even at 385lbs. I was athletic I told myself. People tell me I look like I’m 300lbs (like that was a good thing). Once I started primal eating I shed down to 325 and said, “I can’t imagine being any less” then again at 300, 275, 250, and right down to 215.

    now I’m still 25% body fat and definitely have a gut but the reverse dysmorphic comments are coming from others now. “you want to lose more? You’re so skinny now!” “you’ll disappear to nothing!” which is a new struggle to over come now!

    glad I have a phrase for what this phenomenon is now!

  26. Good story. An excellent example of persistence.
    You impress me with your feats of endurance.
    I can somewhat relate because occasionally I gain more fat than I want on me, have been drinking more beer than maybe I ought, and cheated with a bunch of junk food the other night. I also carry plastic water bottles, but that water is for the . uhh.. vase. I keep my drinking water in glass bottles that I reuse, making sure not to fill them up too much and to keep them vertical in the backpack (shoving them in with extra clothes works well) so the water has minimal or no contact with the plastic coating inside the lid. I like to use pure metal bottles but they are expensive so I’ll only buy one if I find a good deal.

  27. Looks like Kauai in your photos. I live on Kauai with my family.

    Eating this way has helped me greatly. I have lost 30 pounds so far and I too have been overweight since I was in elementary school. I look forward to losing about 30 more pounds by the end of the year which should make me healthier than I ever have been.

    1. Yes… we’re at Brenekies (?) beach in both the before and after photos. We absolutely love it in Kauai. Best of luck with your next 30 pounds

  28. Yay! Realistic. As someone who is going insane with my inability to lose weight at 50–never had this issue prior–I really enjoyed this story.

    I like that this guy is not someone who jumped into Cross Fit and got rock hard. Just a normal guy with normal weight loss who feels much happier in this lifestyle.

    An endocrinologist told me to “throw away my scale” because “in peri-menopause with a recent Hashimoto’s diagnosis, there’s nothing you can do about it.” Starve, gain 5 pounds. Eat chocolate, lose 3. Go figure. I eat grass fed burgers on lettuce. Free roam chicken with skin. Wild fish. Green vegetables (broccoli or asparagus) only once a day. But salad is okay–one or two a day (of mostly lettuce and cucumbers). I measure raspberries for crying out loud. My only usual cheat is shattered bittersweet chocolate with raw almond butter. I’m talking two teaspoons of the butter dragged through about two teaspoons of shattered chocolate. Once a day, if even.

    Try like the devil to keep my insulin from ever rearing its head. But peri combined with Hashimoto’s is driving me nuts. I cannot reliably lose even one pound right now and I seriously can’t wait until I get through this. The doc told me I’d be able to lose it after menopause. “In two years… or ten.” Thanks. I was 126 for most of my adult life. The last time I weighed myself I was 140. This is DEVASTATING.

    1. I’m in the same boat- Hashimoto’s, peri-menopausal and STUCK! Hard to keep eating this way when you don’t see the scale budge, but I have other positive health markers that keep me on track. I have to keep telling myself that it the health benefits alone are worth the sacrifice and maybe on the other side of menopause the weight will come off.

      1. Hi Trixie,

        Me too–C reactive protein is zilch. Cholesterol–sheez, HDL is 100+++, all the LDL is the light and fluffy kind. Triglycerides, check. Fasting glucose and insulin, check and check. At least this food is doing something.

  29. Great story and waiting for the wife to tell hers. Great photo with the normal sized children.Healthy healthy healthy.

  30. Fantastic story. I like the marathon metaphor and find it very relate-able. I’ve been Primal for the better part of three years now and weight loss has been slow but my body comp has also been steadily improving. It would also probably serve me well to lay off the alcohol, but as a fellow Anchorage-ite it’s hard to pass up our wonderful local brews sometimes! Are you and your family still in Alaska? Is your wife accepting new patients? (primary care maybe? I would like a Primal doc! haha)

    All that aside, congrats and thanks for the well-written success story. One of my favorites I think.

    1. Thanks… unfortunately we are not in Anchorage anymore. It was Bear Tooth pizza that put me over the edge… I sure do miss that place tho. Enjoy the summer…

  31. really enjoyed this story – the humor was a treat – and it was so well written – loved the photos – and great testimony.

  32. Incredible job, you both look so healthy & happy! I am hoping the hubby goes Primal soon, as I will NEVER go back to SAD. Ever. Congrats & I hope you continue to see the benefits of your new, RD-free self:)

  33. I have read all these success stories and every Friday I look forward to the next. This is the first time I have had to comment because it is so light hearted and funny and honest. You and your wife look great!!

  34. Great story! I totally identify with your “reverse body dysmorphia” because I have exactly the same thing. I used to be quite thin, and when I look in the mirror I still see that person. It’s only when I see photos of me that I see how heavy I really am.

    PS- I’m in Eagle River! And can totally understand how Bear Tooth was a temptation!

  35. Excellent story, and very well written. If Dan is still your buddy, kudos to him too.

  36. Matt amazing communication laughed out loud. what a cool guy and how real