At six-foot-four and a cut 200 pounds, Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds is obviously in great shape. His band wins Grammys and packs stadiums worldwide, and he marauds around those massive stages like a linebacker. With a physique like that you might assume he was putting hours in the weight room for the purpose of looking shredded—who could blame him? But the 35-year-old’s desire for fitness is much more practical: Despite growing up eating a fairly ascetic diet, Reynolds developed serious autoimmune diseases in his early 20s. He says he’s only become more strict what he eats as a means of mitigating his illness while minimizing his reliance on medication. Getting ripped may be a pleasant side effect of these choices, but, he shares with GQ, it was never the point.
For Real-Life Diet, GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and other high performers about their diet, exercise routines, and pursuit of wellness. Keep in mind that what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.
GQ: You grew up LDS [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, informally known as the Mormon Church]. How did that affect how you ate as a kid?
Dan Reynolds: My diet growing up was very conservative. We ate meat sparingly, and typically it was moderation in everything, but clean, regimented. No smoking, no drugs, anything like that. A conservative, Christian upbringing, in that regard, but you throw in coffee, too.
Did you realize at the time how unique it was? Or were you just around other kids your age who had similar parents and similar beliefs, so it felt normal?
A little bit of both. The interesting dichotomy of Las Vegas is it’s Sin City, but there’s also a lot of Mormons. I have seven brothers, and I’m the seventh son, so I looked up to them, and all of them are living very Mormon lives. But I went to public school, so the majority of my peers were drinking and smoking from a pretty young age. I think I saw both sides of it.
You developed medical issues very young despite the clean lifestyle. That must have been frustrating.
It was really frustrating. When I was on my mission in Nebraska, 20 years old, I got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. It’s obviously genetic—my brother had ulcerative colitis and had to get a portion of his colon removed on his mission in the Philippines. But also it’s a super stressful time. You’re being made fun of all day and sucker-punched, having Slurpees thrown at you, doors slammed in your face, and you call home twice a year on Mother’s Day and Christmas. I was angry with God, I was angry with everything. I’m doing everything quote-unquote you’re supposed to do, and yet my body’s not working.
I got home, got married, had a kid at 23, and then was additionally diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which also two of my brothers have. It’s a spinal autoimmune disease where your body attacks the joints, because it perceives them as a disease. If you don’t address it, you bones can fuse and you can die. I was prescribed biologics, Humira, which is an autoimmune suppressant, but then I was out on the road touring, and one of the side effects of that is you get sick and it’s really hard to get better. I’d get sinus infections, and then you can’t sing. I was at this juxtaposition of, like, this will fix my back, but it will ruin my career. Something had to give, and that’s when I really started to dig into health and diet, and revamp everything.