“Body dysmorphia does not really care what you look like,” says Frank Satira. Growing up, the 23-year-old grad student and counselor from Munhall, PA, looked in the mirror and saw an overweight man looking back at him—even when that wasn’t the truth. At one point he’d lost 80 pounds, then found himself terrified of gaining it back. He’d over-exercise, burning 1000 calories on the treadmill while only taking in 900 a day. After a meal, he’d check to see if his stomach had visibly changed; he’d do crunches after a Sunday dinner with his family, worried again that he’d put on weight.
“It was tough,” he says. “Eventually, I got so thin that I was able to fit into a kid’s t shirt.” His girlfriend reassured him that his body was fine, but, as he says, “body dysmorphia doesn’t care about self-esteem or compliments.” When they broke up, he realized how mentally exhausted he’d become. He was 5’11” and weighed 150 pounds.
Realizing he needed to change, he started by joining a gym. “I already had these preconceived notions of what a gym entails,” Satira says, “and was essentially stepping into one of my biggest anxiety-provoking fears.” At first he didn’t have much direction—“I was a lost puppy dog,” he says—and he would just work out when he found the time. As it got more comfortable in the gym, he developed a schedule, following tips from bodybuilders and fitness pages online. (Get our smartest workout tips here, no matter what your fitness level.)
As he learned more, he got more confident, blocking out two-hour windows in which to train. He started taking creatine, the first time he’d ever used a supplement. Used to eating 800 to 900 calories a day, he slowly increased that to his current 3300 as his workouts grew. He knew what healthy eating looked like—chicken and rice, green beans and asparagus were some of his go-to’s—but he just needed to eat more. “The hard part was truly just eating the food,” he says; he had to adjust from his three small meals a day.
In the gym, he went from three or four miles on the treadmill six days a week to lifting seven days a week, resting as he needed. He started with a push-pull-legs workout, eventually changing to a bro split. “I’ll die on that hill alone,” he says. “I love that split.” He documented the whole process. “Pictures gave me tangible motivation on days when I was feeling really unmotivated,” he says.
In just about four years, he added 60 pounds. The change was as much mental as physical, if not moreso. “The most difficult part for me was not having my body dysmorphia creep back up on me,” he says. At the beginning, especially, he had to recognize that getting bigger didn’t mean he was “fat,” and that eating a burger wasn’t going to ruin him. He had to find the time and the patience to change his self-perception, and it wasn’t always easy.
Satira is still a little unsure how to respond to compliments. “It’s very cool to hear some of the positive things,” he says.
His advice to others is simple: create a consistent routine with achievable goals. Whenever you can block out gym time, even if it’s 5 AM, make it a constant. That removes one more variable, letting you focus on the process. “It only takes two weeks to get into a true routine,” Satira says, “and from there, you’re golden.”