Carrie Dils guest hosts this episode of ZenFounder and interviews Marc Benzakein of ServerPress, about his personal health transformation. They talk about the steps he took to making his health a priority.

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Episode Transcript

Sherry Walling:Hey guys. Today I bring you another interview guest hosted by my great friend, Carrie Dils. In this interview, Carrie’s going to talk with Marc from ServerPress about his pretty radical health transformation. He talks about the steps that he has taken over the last year to put his physical health and well being sort of front and center in his life.
 Last week we talked about sleep. This week we’re talking about physical wellness, exercise, nutrition, all those things. And these topics are super essential to the well being of a founder, of an entrepreneur. Not just so you look cute in a swimsuit but because our bodies and minds are deeply integrated. So, in order to work well, to feel good, to be the best version of yourself in your relationships, you actually need to have a pretty strong foundation of health within your body.
 In the ZenTribes group we begin with this topic. We begin with the building blocks of sanity. The basics of physical health that need to be in place in order for you to function at your best, both in your business and in your life.
 So, enjoy this conversation between Carrie and Marc and thanks again to Carrie for guest hosting for me this week. Be sure to check out her podcast Office Hours.FM it is super cool. Lots of great ideas and feedback going on there, especially for freelancers. And I will look forward to being back with you in a week or so.
Carrie Dils:Hey Marc it is so good to be chatting with you today. How are you doing?
Marc Benzakein:I’m doing really good. I’m enjoying sunny Southern California weather right now.
Carrie Dils:Well I’m enjoying kind of dreary North Texas weather. So, yours sounds like the better spot to be.
Marc Benzakein:Well it is until it gets to be 90 degrees and you start to fade away.
Carrie Dils:Fair enough. For folks you haven’t had a chance to meet you, can you share a little bit about you and who you are and what you do?
Marc Benzakein:Well my name is Marc Benzakein. I typically live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with my wife and nine children. Seven of whom we are working on adopting.
 I run a company called ServerPress LLC. where we make software for WordPress developers and designers. And I workout and diet and have learned a lot about myself mentally and physically in the last year or so.
Carrie Dils:That’s exactly what I’m hoping to chat about is, sort of, your journey to health and fitness over the last, what would you say, year or two years.
Marc Benzakein:Next week marks a year in [inaudible 00:03:21] so October 8 actually marks my one yer anniversary that I really started putting a lot of effort into it.
Carrie Dils:Okay, so what was the impetus to get your rear in gear, if you will?
Marc Benzakein:Well, last year in July I turned 49 and all of a sudden the 50 year old mark kind of hit me between the eyes and I realized that I’d spent a good portion of my 40’s and well all of my 40’s and a good portion of my 30’s not really taking care of myself. I let myself get involved in my work and everything else and it was very easy for me to kind of forget about taking care of myself.
 Prior to about age 33 I was like a 29 inch waist. I was super athletic. I wasn’t good at any sports but I was athletic. I played sports regularly. I was very active. I had the energy of a seven year old child. And then all of a sudden I started getting into desk jobs and management and I remember very clearly the day that it happened. I was on a trip to St. Louis to a wedding and the pants I had put on the day before didn’t fit me the next day and that’s when it started going down hill.
 It’s really rough when you’re on a trip and you realize your pants don’t fit. That kind of sucks. But, I still let myself go and spent my 40’s kind of getting fat and “happy” and so July 1st, my 49th birthday, I decided that I needed to do something about it and that I had this lofty goal of running a marathon on my 50th birthday. And between July and October I did absolutely nothing about it. Then in October I remember stepping on the scale and I realized that I was about 235 pounds, which was the heaviest I had ever been in my life.
 I’m five foot ten and 235 pounds and it kind of freaked me about a little bit. And so I decided that all the things I had tried in the past and never stuck to I needed to something differently. And so that was what did it was stepping on that scale and realizing that the weight wasn’t going to magically go away. The energy wasn’t going to magically appear and that I needed to, if I wanted to see my children grow up and see potential grandchildren, that I needed to do something about it. And so that was probably a pretty life changing moment for me. And it was actually October 8, 2016. So, I remember it pretty clearly.
Carrie Dils:Oh wow! Yeah, we’re coming right up on that. So it sounds like you had this kind of okay we need to do something about this and then more time passed. It didn’t magically happen and you had another sort of come to Jesus meeting with yourself that something really did have to change. What did it actually look like to sort of take those first steps in changing some habits?
Marc Benzakein:Well you know I tend to be a person who analyzes things to death. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it prevents me from actually taking action. But I think I had had enough time to analyze it that I realized that what I had sort of half heartedly tried in the past had never worked for me because I think that most of us that go through this hey I need to do something about myself, we tend to do it and then we quit.
 I concluded that the reason is we live in a society of quick fixes and we need immediate results. We want that instant gratification and I had remembered in my 40’s I remember being about 220 pounds and I went on the Atkins diet and in two weeks I lost 20 pounds. I was down to around 200. I was really excited and then I stopped doing Atkins and of course the weight came all back. It’s a very common thing that this happens and it’s because we get so focused on our instant gratification that we forget that it took us a long time to get there and it’s going to take a long time to get back.
 But beyond that I decided that for me … And this is all stuff how it pertained to me. I’m not applying it to everybody but, I think that it applies to a lot of people. For me, I realized the reason is because we have this need for immediate results, everything out there is let’s get them going up and running fast. And so you make like these incredible life changes.
 We talk about New Year’s resolutions and we talk about all these things. This is the year I’m going to get fit and so we have like these lofty goals that we set for ourselves and we try to do too much too quickly and so for me what changed was I decided I am going to do just one little thing at a time until it become habit. Because the reality is for us to get out of shape or unit, or at least in the condition that I was in, unhappy with myself. That took me creating a lot of bad habits one at a time.
 Now some of them might have been in succession. Some of them might have been at the same time but, the reality is these were all habits that became habits over time and a little at a time. I didn’t go from being 160 pounds to 220 pounds overnight. It was something that happened over a period of time. 220 to 235, that happened over time.
 For me, it was I’m just going to do one little thing at a time until it becomes a habit and then I’m going to address another bad habit of mine one little thing at a time until it becomes habit. And I found that it was far more sustainable of a plan. I didn’t open up all the diet books. I didn’t open up all the hey this is what you need to do in order to get that body that you want at 50 and blah, blah blah. I just went with I know that all these things haven’t worked for me because it’s too much too quickly. And the reality is, I have my own business. I work on growing that business slowly but surely. One little thing at a time. There was never this I flipped a switch and a million things happened. Well, the same is true when it comes to your fitness or anything else in life that takes a long term commitment.
 So, that’s what I decided I was going to do and the first step that I took was I hired a personal trainer. I hired someone to keep me accountable and believe me when you’re paying money you become more accountable far more quickly. I said I’m going to go down to the gym two days week, that’s it. Two days a week and I’m going to the gym and I didn’t change anything else.
 And after that became a habit I decided okay I’m going to work a little bit on my diet now. I ate the same exact things, crappy or not. I ate exactly the same things but I cut back on the portion sizes. A little bit. And then it was three days a week at the gym. And then it was cutting carbohydrates out to a great degree. So, just one thing at a time until it became habit for me and it became something I was comfortable with and it didn’t seem like this big huge daunting task of a million things at once.
 And the other thing that I started doing was the day that I started, I call them man in towel pictures.  Once a month I’d take a picture of myself in the mirror because I knew that at some point in time the weight was going to stop going down and the scale was not going to be my one and only indicator of progress. And so, once a month on the same date, the eighth of every single month, I’d take a man in towel picture. Try to get the pose to be as close to the original as possible so that I can see the changes that my body is making and that helps keep me motivated as well and it keeps me focused.
 And so, that’s how it became sustainable for me for a whole year was just one little step at a time. And I started at 235 and now I just stepped on the scale this morning and I’m at 191.5 and I’m trying to get down to about 180.
Carrie Dils:Congratulations and I think the sustainable part is what’s really the hardest. Especially when, like you said, it takes a while to see results and I’m aware that you hammered on the point that I didn’t get here overnight and things aren’t going to change overnight. That’s really a practical way to think about taking steps one at a time to get healthy.
 So, you mentioned earlier that you have nine kids, two of which are biological kids with your new wife, and then also seven that are foster kids you are working to adopt. How have you found making some significant changes in your life?  Has your family supported you? Has that put them having to eat around your dietary choices? How has that played out?
Marc Benzakein:Well, I will say that first of all my wife has done an incredible job because she handles … I do a lot of traveling and so she runs the house with pretty much military precision. The kids know where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there, what they’re supposed to do and there are absolute systems in place at home.
 I’m not going to count right now but out of the nine … I am going to count, hang on. So out of the nine, I think five of them are at an age where they can take care of themselves a lot. We have a saying in the house, you do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do. And so, they know what they are supposed to do on a daily basis. Their homework, their chores and all of that and then they can do whatever the heck they want to do after that. They kind of take care of themselves.
 The younger one, the one we call the littles, age six and younger, they go to either school or daycare every day and then we have a nanny that comes in at two o’clock in the afternoon that helps around the house and stays until bedtime for the littles.
 So, I found that with that kind of a schedule, with the older kids that may be at home but able to kind of take care of themselves, I found that I could make time to get my gym in and my workouts and my wife has also been working out. She’s actually been doing it longer than I have. She started at the beginning of last year and she’s transformed herself in a pretty amazing way as well.
 We just decided to make the time and make it work and as cliché as it sounds, if something becomes important enough to you, you figure out how to make it work and that’s exactly what we just did. We just figured out how to make it work. We got the help where we needed it and made it a priority and that’s what I did as well. I just made it a priority. I told my business partners this is really important to me. I need to work out. I am not doing the company any good if I am not feeling really great and not in a great mental state because your physical health does impact your mental health as well and I am very fortunate that I’ve got partners that are the most supportive people on planet Earth and they were like hey, we’ve been worried about you. We’re glad that you’re doing this. It’s been really good.
 And of course, as a result, I wouldn’t say completely of my doing it but my partners have started working out and they’re taking really good care of themselves physically as well. It’s kind of had this ripple effect within our company. Like I said, the minute anything becomes a priority to you and it’s at the forefront of your list of things that you need to do, you figure out a way to do it. You just do. And everybody is going to be different. Whether you have nine kids or whether you have a hundred commitments a day. It doesn’t really matter what it is, you figure out how to do it when it becomes important.
Carrie Dils:Well you mentioned that you travel quite a bit for your work. What recommendations would you have to other entrepreneurs when it comes to travelling and still keeping that focus on your health so eating right or finding places to workout, that sort of thing?
Marc Benzakein:I realized this year that every single time that I traveled I would travel with the best of intentions and I would hit those desires of diet and physical fitness about maybe a third of the time. So, if I was going on a four day trip, maybe one or two days I would workout or maybe I would have one or two healthy meals in the day and then at dinner I would be like that Ah, steak looks really good. Oh they had cheesecake; are you kidding me? Of course, I’m going to have cheesecake. I would fall completely off the wagon and of course most of the time, as you know because you travel the same circuit that I do, when you go out it’s really easy to fall … You’re always going out with other people and you’re always falling into that trap of look at what’s on their plate. I think I need that too. So, that became probably my achilles heel especially the meals when traveling.
 Over the last three or four months I kind of came up with a system that works for me and I call these people my pocket pals or my pocket peeps. And what I have is my trainer. So what I do is video training sessions. I keep my schedule with my training except we do video. So I have my phone and we do Skype or whatever works and my trainers sit on their butts from wherever they feel like and tell me what to do. It’s not so much that I really don’t know what to do anymore ’cause I’ve been doing it for years. But it’s having that once again that accountability of someone telling me what I need to do and watching me and making sure my form is good and all of those things that are super important when you’re working out.
 And then I also have a really good friend of mine who I’ve known since high school and she is a Nurse Practitioner. She’s a person that has been focused on her health her whole life. I call her my pocket nutritionist because when I’m out on the road … This whole idea of healthy eating, while it’s something that is not an idea I’m new to, when you go out and eat at these restaurants, sometimes it’s really hard to figure out exactly what’s healthy and what’s not. At least for me. And so, there have been a lot of times when I have her on speed dial or whatever and I’ll just snap a shot of the menu. Or if I know where I’m going that night I’ll look the menu up online and I’ll send it to her. I say okay what can I order off of this menu and she will tell me.
 Very recently, about a month ago, I started what I call, a friend of mine coined this phrase, so it’s not my phrase. I started this thing what I call flexi-vegan, which I started out being heavy on the flexi and light on the vegan. I’ve been able to go more and more vegan and that’s been very difficult too because I don’t want to be that guy that is like where do you want to eat tonight. Well I don’t know but they have to have vegan options. I don’t want to be that guy and I’ve been around plenty of vegans who say I can find something anywhere. Well that’s because they’ve been ordering vegan for a long time and they know how to find something anywhere.
 It’s very helpful to me to be able to snap a picture and she’ll say okay they have this. You can take this from there and this from this and this and this. Ask them if they’ll make you blah, blah, blah. And you know what happens? When I do that most of the time the restaurants will do that for you. And so it’s become easier and easier for me to order along the lines of the diet that I want while still being able to go and enjoy the company of the people that I am going out with and without having to be like that person that they have to consider when they decide where we’re going to eat. And so, it has made life a lot easier.
 It’s kind of like we have our pocket devices, our phones, which I don’t even call them phones anymore ’cause I hardly ever use it as a phone, but have these devices that keep us in contact with the rest of the world and I carry that with me and I use that to help keep me in line with everything and it’s worked out very well for the last two or three months.
Carrie Dils:I love that. Pocket pals. I need to complete my mental picture. When you’re doing these Skype sessions with your trainer, are you in your hotel room or in a hotel gym?
Marc Benzakein:It used to be when I looked for a hotel, the first thing I would do is what are the reviews like, how many stars does it have, all these things. Now the first thing I do is what does their gym look like? That’s the first thing I look at. What does their gym look like and I look for pictures of the gym. And then if they have a decent gym, then the other things come into play. But, the first thing I ask now is what does the gym look like? Or, do they have a gym? Because that is what I do and then when I check in, I will go into the gym, I will take a video of the gym and I will send it to my trainers who then look at it and then they can develop a workout based upon the equipment that’s at the gym.
Carrie Dils:That’s fantastic and creative. Let’s shift gears and talk a little bit about your business itself. You alluded to it earlier, that your better physical, which impacts your mental, health when those things are better and in place that has an impact on your work life and the quality of your work output. Can you talk about some of the benefits that you’ve seen there?
Marc Benzakein:That’s kind of hard to speak to. Other than I feel like I kind of inspired my business partners because out of all of us I was in the worst shape physically. And so, I feel like maybe I’ve inspired them a little bit to be in better shape also. Gregg, a few months ago, hired a personal trainer. Now Gregg has always been in good shape anyway. He’s always been active. He’s always taken care of himself but, he said I need to hire a personal trainer. So, there’s been that.
 I will say, I know your question was about the benefits but, I will say that the reason I have a hard time answering that question is because there has actually been a struggle to all of this for me. And that is that now that I have lost this weight and that I’ve been working out, I’m back to having that energy that I had as a twenty year old.
 One of the problems that has been a side effect of that is that my job, a lot of times, requires me to sit in front of a computer for hours at a time. I no longer am able to focus on staring at a computer for hours at a time. After about 45 minutes or an hour of sitting at a computer, which … They say you need to do this anyway but I can’t focus. I get very fidgety. I have to get up and move around. I have to do things. And so, I would say that while on a mental level it’s impacted me in a good way there have been things that have kind of impacted me in a bad way in that if there’s a project that requires me to sit for several hours to focus on something, I have a very hard time doing that. That is my current struggle and I’m getting better at it. I’m learning how to cope with it but, I haven’t come up with that magic bullet that makes me say I need to sit here for three hours and I need to focus and I need to do this because I can’t. I’m having a very difficult time of that right now. I would say out of everything that is the only negative effect of everything. And it’s not enough of a negative that I am ever willing to go back to what I was before.
 But the other thing that in a way has impacted my business since I do go to a lot of places is I feel … One of the things that has always been super important to me is that I help people and that I lift people up around me and the community around me and help them in their success. Whether it’s personal or professional, I want people’s interactions with me to always be positive. And one of the things that I found has a very positive side effect both personally and professionally is when I go to conferences I have had many people come up to me and tell me that I have been a tremendous inspiration to them to do something about where they are physically and mentally. That’s helped to keep me motivated to do it too, without a doubt. I don’t know that I would say that that’s a benefit to the business but I certainly would say that it’s a benefit overall. Anything that’s positive is positive. I’ll take that any day of the week.
Carrie Dils:I can see how the overabundance of energy how that’s a negative in terms of not being able to sit and focus for extended periods of time. But, surely that’s a positive too in the sense of just having all of your cylinders firing.
 You mentioned that you’re still in the process of trying to figure out how to deal with that but any coping strategies you found so far that have helped?
Marc Benzakein:I think that probably the best coping strategy that I have found is when I feel myself getting fidgety I get up and I walk around and I’ll do something. I will still in my mind be processing whatever I was working on so that when I sit back down I pick up right where I left off. As opposed to getting up and leaving and then sitting back down and trying to figure out where I left off, which was an old and bad habit. I wouldn’t say it was a bad habit. It was the way I tended to do things before. Whenever I would walk away it would be pushed out of my mind and I would be onto whatever I was doing at that moment or working on the future or whatever.
 Now I think that I’ve been working on training myself, even though I’m getting up and moving around and doing other things, I’m still mentally in that place where I’m trying to work through whatever issue I’m trying to work through. So that it’s much easier to sit back down and get right back into it and at close to full speed as I can. And that’s taken a little bit of new training of the brain for me to be honest. There’s definitely an improvement over a couple of months ago.
 This is one of the things that I’ll bring up right now, which is one of the other things that has kept me on the path, and this is kind of controversial. I said this to someone the other day and they kind of looked at me funny and they said you know you’re right and I’ll say it again, which is goals really suck. They really do and the reason I’ve come to the conclusion that goal’s kind of suck because … We have a saying in business … if you’ve been in business for a while I’m sure that you’ve heard people say this “Have faith in the process.”
 And yet what we tend to do … You hear from an early age oh a positive thinking, this and that and the other thing. Okay the power of positive thinking. Set your goals, put them up. If you want a Ferrari, put it up as a picture on your refrigerator. If you want that bikini body put it up as a picture on the refrigerator and look at that every single day and that’ll motivate you to do it. And so every single day you look at that and for the week you’re like man this is motivating. I want to do this. And then a week or two goes by and you’re like I still don’t have my Ferrari. I still don’t have my bikini body and all of a sudden you go from this feeling of empowerment to this feeling of failure.
 Because, the reality is with goals you set yourself up that you’re failing until you succeed. And when you have faith in the process and you’re looking at the process … And I’m not saying goals are bad. I’m saying you still have to have that goal but what we tend to do is we focus on the goal and we forget about the process. The reality is that what keeps us motivated is small successes. And some people say yeah set mini goals and do this and that and the other thing but, the problem with mini goals if you get to the end of the day and you don’t complete that mini goal you still feel like a failure.
 At least this is the way it works in my mind and so, I found that what works for me is focusing on the process where every single day I have mini successes and that keeps me motivated. Every single day whether somebody says “Hey Marc you look great” or “Hey Marc I can’t believe it and now I’m going out to hire my own personal trainer” or whatever. Or if it’s in business, it’s like that piece of advice you gave me.
 But that’s all the process and when you focus on that, that’s what keeps us motivated to keep doing what we do and it helps me to deal with things like burnout. And it helps me to deal with things like wanting to give up. And it helps me to keep myself from getting down and depressed about myself. And I have found that we all know what the goal is. I know that my ultimate goal is to get down to around 180 to 185 pounds but I don’t focus on that anymore. I know I’ll get there eventually because I have faith in the process. With the process you succeed until you fail or give up whereas with a goal you fail until you succeed. To me it’s been kind of a paradigm shift in the way that I think and it’s really helped to keep me going.
Carrie Dils:You know I was going to ask you if you had a final tip to give and think that you just gave it. That’s incredibly thought provoking and I appreciate that you’re failing until you succeed with a goal. If you’re focused on the process you’re having many successes along the way until you choose to fail or give up.
 So I will give you the opportunity. Do you have any final words of wisdom or do you just want to drop the mic on that one?
Marc Benzakein:I don’t know that’s a pretty mic dropping moment. Don’t you think?
Carrie Dils:I think that we should, yeah we’ll call it.
 Marc I so appreciate you and your transparency and your sense of humor and willingness to share your journey with the ZenFounder listeners today.
 Marc, where can people find you online?
Marc Benzakein:I’m on Twitter at @marcbenzak. I hear that I’m on Linkedin. I keep getting people who request information on it or request to connect to me. I work in the WordPess community so you’ll find me at all kinds of WordCamps. I will be speaking at WordCamp U.S. on this topic as a matter of fact. I’m really excited about that and hopefully I’ll have more pearls of wisdom or something to share. Hopefully, I’ll learn some things from the people that I come in contact with and listen to me. I appreciate that someone’s going to take time out of their day to actually listen to me ramble on for half an hour.
Carrie Dils:Well you are awesome and for folks who are tuning in the links that Marc just mentioned, we’ll have those up in the show notes over on ZenFounder.com.
 Big thanks again to Sherry and Rob for letting me hijack the podcast this week. Marc is a personal friend of mine and it’s just a tremendous pleasure get to have you all to myself in this interview. So, thanks again.
Marc Benzakein:Thanks for having me. I [inaudible 00:31:35] say things like this.
Carrie Dils:You betcha. We’ll talk soon. Bye.