How Ben Stark Lost Over 200 Lbs While Playing Life on Hard

Meet Ben Stark – a dude with one of the coolest names in the history of nerds, and our next member of the Nerd Fitness Hall of Heroes. He’s a 40-year-old social worker and mental health program coordinator for the VA.

Ben’s story is one of my favorites for a very specific reason: it’s real. Ben is not much different than Deadpool – finding inspiration and a path forward when you get dealt a bad hand. Although it’s often not our fault for where we are, it’s our responsibility to dig ourselves out of it.

And that’s exactly what Ben did.

Where we are RIGHT NOW is a combination of things that are within our control and things that aren’t. And often it feels overwhelming, which leads us to inaction, anxiety, and “I’ll start when I’m ready” mentality. We give an excuse. We read articles and never take action. We collect underpants. There’s always another reason, or problem, or setback we tell ourselves is the reason we haven’t cracked the code yet to a healthier, happier life.

Not Ben the Rebel.

When he started his journey, he was about 420 pounds. Perhaps more importantly, he was very sick, had a great deal of pain from herniated discs, and also had facet joint arthritis his back. As if this wasn’t enough, in true Deadpool fashion, in the summer of 2013, he learned he was pre-diabetic, had high cholesterol and triglycerides, gout, and sleep apnea that would soon require bi-pap therapy.

This is when most of us give up.

But Ben didn’t. In fact, he found a way to keep looking forward, and I can’t wait to show you how he has made such incredible progress.

Ben’s Story

ben stark before and after

Steve: Hey Ben, thanks so much for being here and for being willing to share your story with the Rebellion. You’ve overcome so many different obstacles to get to this point, and I’m so proud that you’re a part of this community. To start, let’s talk about the “old you” – what was a day like back then?

My typical day in the past included me getting up in the morning and getting ready for work. Then on the way to work, I would stop to get breakfast that typically included a bagel sandwich, hash browns, and coffee with sugar. Once I got to work, I would spend all day at my desk, avoiding all movement except to hit the vending machine. Then lunch. When I finished work, I would head home, often stopping to get something to eat on the way.

I ate a ton of sugars, breads, grains and little or no vegetables. Although I exercised sometimes, I avoided movement and really thought that 40 minutes of occasional biking would make up for a bad diet and sitting for 12 or more hours a day. My sleep habits were horrible. I would go to bed at 11:30PM or midnight and wake up at 5 or 5:30AM.

Steve: When was the moment of change?

September 2013 .That is when I was told about being pre-diabetic. Earlier that summer I was also diagnosed with herniated discs (L3,L4, and L5) along with facet disc arthritis after suffering with back pain and numbness down my right leg for almost a year. I was told was to be considered for surgery to fix those issues my BMI would have have to be 30 or less.

Being told I was pre-diabetic really scared the crap out of me. Besides a desire to regain my health, an additional motivation for me was my nephew. He is following in my footsteps as a wrestler and I want to be healthy enough to go along on this voyage and not embarrass him.

It took a while to fine tune and start getting the results I wanted, but I started to make some changes. In December 2013, I found Nerd Fitness and discovered the Paleo diet.

Steve: Wow, that’s quite a starting point. And what about a typical day today?

My typical day now involves getting up a bit earlier than I had in the past. Every day but Saturday, I work out on my rowing machine after I let my two dogs out. Then I get ready for work and go into work. I still stop on my way to work but I only get coffee. When I get to work, I make a point of parking as far away as possible so I have an excuse to walk more. While at work, I actively look for excuses to get up and move. Go up and down the steps, walk around, and walk to different buildings instead of drive. I eat my lunch (that I bring with me from home) around 2 or so so I have a long period of fasting. I don’t eat on my way home any more and I pretty consistently hit the gym every night and get to bed earlier.

Steve: It sounds like some small changes early on led to some big changes. How did you approach your exercise strategy?

My overall strategy is stay active and moving as much as possible. Lots of slow steady movement with episodes of hard movements to build me up.

My goal for fitness is to build a bit of all fitness attributes. In Nerd Fitness terms, I think the term Ranger would best fit me. I want a bit of everything. In my past life, I used to wrestle and that pursuit required all aspects of athletic ability.

  • Right now, I lift three days a week. My lifting workouts are 5 to 7 compound lifts (deadlifts, squats, bench press/incline bench press, press, pull-ups, chin-ups, rows, dips) then a few sprints. I will do sprints on the bike, rowing machine or jump ropes. The days I don’t lift, I bike for 40 to 50 minutes at the gym constantly alternating my speed.
  • Every morning, I work out on my Concept 2 rowing machine I bought about two years ago. Three days a week, I do a long distance workout and three days either a fartlek style workout or intervals. The rowing machine was a big investment for me, but it was well worth it.

But I didn’t start there. Over time I increased my rowing and workout time, moved to compound lifts, and became very focused during my workouts.

Steve: Wow, it sounds like it was quite a learning process for you. Now, we all know how important nutrition is. Can you give us an overview of your diet?

My diet is a very a low carb paleo(ish) diet. I say paleoish as I eat some high fat dairy foods. My goal is to make every food choice I can as low carb as possible. It took me a while to zero in my choices and diet plan. I have also been doing intermittent fasting to help speed up my weight loss.

I have been refining my diet by figuring out how to best add carbs to my diet for recovery. Also, I added intermittent fasting to help improve my weight management. The refinement was moving from low carb to a whole food low carb diet.

Steve: Intermittent fasting, Paleo(ish)… we’re two peas in a pod! So happy that you found something that worked for you, and even better that you are experimenting and not taking any nutrition dogma too seriously! Was diet the hardest obstacle you faced?

Yep – diet, diet, diet. I love me some pizza, pasta, and mashed potatoes. Also it was hard to learn to love vegetables. But I also had a hard time incorporating movement into my life. Despite always liking to workout, I tended to be pretty sedentary in my life. It takes real effort for me stay walking during the day.

The big most recent obstacle was my partner of 14 years ending our relationship. One of the big reasons was “I was getting too skinny.” Needless to say that was a kick to someplace. Losing such a long-term relationship hurts and hurts like hell. I refuse to dwell on those feeling or ignore them. Rather, I try to live the life I want now. I am using my extra time to train more, pursue new activities like the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class I just signed up for, reconnect with old friends and catch some more movies.

After thinking about my relationship a bit I realized a few things. I guess some people have a hard time adapting to change. They fall in love with one person but as that person grows and changes they can’t handle it. That’s what happened to me. I realized that my ex really like the overweight person I was and could not learn to be attracted to the lighter person. In some ways, after the pain of losing the relationship passed, life got better. I felt much freer. The four months leading up to the break up were rough. In some ways this was a relief.

Steve: Wow. Firstly, thank you for sharing this part of your life with us. I’m sorry things didn’t work out, but I love your attitude about it; I know a lot of Rebels in similar situations that will love to hear things get better, and improving yourself is always a great thing.

Back to the questions. You’re down a few hundred pounds. Did you nerd out about the process? Did tracking play a major role? Did you weigh yourself regularly?

I weigh myself weekly. I monitor my clothing size – especially my pants. I have moved from a 52 pant size to a 38. Finally, I log my workouts pretty diligently. Every workout gets an entry. I take advantage of the online log book for my rowing workouts and rankings for workouts. Currently working up the ranking in several distances.

ben stark

Steve: You sound like you are putting the nerd in Nerd Fitness. I love it when someone takes tracking seriously; It makes such a HUGE difference. How about your support system – did you have people in real life or online helping you out?

My family has been super supportive. I think they missed the old me from when I wrestled as a younger man. I have several friends that are not interested in fitness but we each have our own issues. I think we each get some thing from each other even if we aren’t following the same path. Also, I have several coworkers who have noticed my changes and provide a lot of supportive feedback.

A huge source of motivation for me is my nephew. He has always looked up to me and my achievements as a wrestler. I want to be someone he can continue to be proud of. My final source of motivation has been my doctor. She gave me the real and honest feedback I needed to motivate me to make the changes I needed.

ben stark after

Steve: If you had to tell someone who is just beginning their journey one thing, what would it be?

Look closely at your situation, identify what is your the core problem (hack the source code), find solutions, and take action. Don’t obsess over finding the “right” course of action. It’s easier to make changes once you are acting. What can paralyze any improvement is not choosing to do anything while trying to find the perfect course of action.

What are you working on these days? Any new challenges or difficulties?

Still working on losing the last few pounds to hit my goal weight. I want to hit a sub 6:45 2K on the rowing machine and a sub-36:00 10K run. Also, I have started to take Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes. I’m also working on pull-ups, chin-ups, and jump rope and climbing stairs without getting winded. Also, I want to deadlift 2x my body weight and do a rope climb.

I also found out that I will need back surgery; an MRI confirmed the spinal stenosis has gotten a lot worse than we thought. I am waiting to see the surgeon about what options I have; I guess the big challenge is how to have this done without losing the gains and progress made. Of course it’s scary too. I really don’t want to be cut open but I know it needs to be done.

ben stark after

Steve: Sounds like you have some serious goals and some new challenges… but you seem like you are approaching them with the right attitude. We’ve always said there is no “before and after” but a “before and during.”  What else has changed about you, other than appearance?

I am more confident, especially around people. Even though I still suffer from social anxiety, it is far less debilitating than it was in past. Some of life’s other stresses I feel more confident dealing with. No more obsessing about packing everything I need if I travel, worrying about whether or not I can find a big and tall shop to buy anything I forgot. Also, I am no longer worried about finding a close parking space. Just in general I can say I worry less.

Steve: And that’s where the magic of the quest of health and fitness comes in; it ripples to all other aspects of life. Okay, on to the important stuff: Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

Prior to Episode VII, I would have said Lord of the Rings without doubt. The Force Awakens changes the game. Still I think, I would give a slight edge to the Lord of the Rings. This is like asking a parent to choose which child they love more.

Steve: Any nerdy hobbies or interests?

Comic books! I grew up loving comic books and still do. Really love that they are coming to life in film and television too. Daredevil, Wolverine, and Batman are my favorites. Movies are my second nerd passion. I love film and even bad films are awesome to me. Finally, I love all things pug. I have owned by three different pugs over the last fifteen years and couldn’t imagine being without one.

Steve: Quote to live by?

“All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you.” -Gandalf

Steve: Tell us something interesting about you that we missed!

I am a profound introvert and at times I am really uncomfortable in large groups and lots of noise. To me that experience is really draining even if I enjoy myself, afterward I am just wiped out. I have turned that into an advantage for me. I have gotten comfortable with mental silence and repeated practice to get good at things. Whether that is the discipline to lose weight, learn to wrestle well, or become a good rower on the rowing machine, I don’t tire of the grind to get good at something.

Steve: Introverts unite! Thank you so much for sharing your story, Ben. And thanks for putting the words of Nerd Fitness into practice. I hope you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished, and I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do next.

Why Ben Was Successful

ben stark before and after

Ben is well on his way to becoming a real life superhero, and he was able to progress on this path not through shortcuts or tricks, but through hard work and discipline over many months – now years.

It can be simple as “put on your hard hat and go to work,” once you win the inner battle with your brain and overcome inertia. I realize this is easier said than done, and we all get there at our own pace, which is why so many of us struggle with forming these habits and getting the job done of creating a habit of fitness and health.

Your operating philosophy (mindset) is often a crucial, overlooked item to get the ball rolling. For Ben, that meant these four things:

Ben didn’t let his obstacles become excuses: If Ben wanted to find an excuse, he had a laundry list to choose from. He was overweight, facing spinal and back issues, a threat of diabetes, sleep apnea, and other troubling indicators. Instead of using these hurdles as an excuse to do nothing, he saw them as a challenge demanding action. He used them as inspiration to get started, the very thing justifying all the hard work he spent into building those habits.

So often we want to curl up in a ball and tell ourselves that we can’t change. “This is just the way I am.” Or, “It’s not my fault, I have ___ condition.” Or “Other people don’t have these responsibilities/challenges, must be EASY for them!” Ben shows us that amidst difficulty, heroes rise. Harry, Katniss, and Luke didn’t suddenly become heroes or just fall into an easy path of saving the world. It’s this difficulty that makes the job worth doing. We all have different challenges before us – and yes, absolutely – some of us are playing a more difficult game than others. But establishing this mindset of personal responsibility is so essential. Only YOU can change you.

Will you heed the call?

Ben started slow and gradually fell in love with leveling up: Ben’s routine now might look pretty intimidating to someone hundreds of pounds overweight and just getting started. But he started with just a little bit of rowing, and experimented as he went. Eventually he found compound lifts were a great addition to his routine (psst, this is true for most people!), and started to add goals. His list of goals looking forward is HUGE! He’s losing weight, pushing forward on his rowing, running, and has a variety of strength training goals.

It’s clear he fell in love with leveling up. He’s looking forward, and that’s the most crucial thing. Think about a video game: Sometimes the first 10 or 20 levels aren’t as exciting as you might have hoped, but there’s still a thrill in moving forward – slaying rats and gaining experience points. Enjoying the grind is a fundamental part of our psychology, and Ben discovered how to use this to his advantage.

What healthy activities can you view as a linear progression? Can you discover how to get excited about “leveling up” your own life? Hint: try these articles.

Ben used his strengths to his benefit: We all are our own unique character. We can’t change who we are or the challenge ahead of us. But we can modify how we approach the situation to make use of our strengths. One of my favorite answers in Ben’s interview was for a question I didn’t even ask:

I am a profound introvert and at times I am really uncomfortable in large groups and lots of noise… I have turned that into an advantage… I have gotten comfortable with mental silence and repeated practice to get good at things… I don’t tire of the grind to get good at something.

What are your strengths, and how can you capitalize on them to make this process a little bit easier? Like a wizard relying more on spells than melee combat, sometimes it’s easier to go with the flow of the game and find the path of least resistance. This might mean getting off the treadmill, because you secretly hate it. This might mean working out outside, not in a gym. This might mean no formal workouts at all; maybe you need to find a team sport, or dance for 30 minutes every day in your house.

Don’t play someone else’s game. Play yours.

Ben took action now: We can give you the best advice in the world, but everyone’s story – every hero – comes down to one thing: Acting, and acting now. If you are reading this and you have changes you need to implement, ultimately, there comes a point when you just have to start.  I’d continue on this point, but Ben really says it best:

Look closely at your situation, identify what is your the core problem, find solutions, and take actions. Don’t obsess over finding the “right” course of action. It’s easier to make changes once you are acting. What can paralyze any improvement is not choosing to do anything trying to find the perfect course of action.

Embrace Real Life, Embrace Your Game

ben marathon

If you’ve been following Nerd Fitness for some time, you may have recognized that many success stories sound similar.

In fact, it almost seems as if there just are certain things that set most people up for success, and other things that increase your chances of failure.

We’re incredibly complex creatures, developed over millions and millions of years. Our brains and our bodies are these awesome things – things with so much potential to change ourselves and the world, or things that can be left unused… like a hero who never leaves home.

This is why success stories are so important – they not only show us glimpses into the larger “code” and give us the “how” but they also give us the inspiration and confidence to begin.

Ben, Ryan, Veronica, Bronwyn, Anthony, and others, all made incredible changes, and so can you. Start today. Whether it’s with our free beginner bodyweight workout, or The Academy which guides you through exactly what you need to do.

Learn from the heroes who have come before you, and lean on the heroes who are rising as you are.

In that spirit, what questions do you have for Ben?

Be sure to drop by and give him a note of congratulations, and wish him well on his next challenge!

-Steve

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  • kdizz

    Great story, congrats Ben!

  • Amber

    Way to go Ben!

    Congratulations! I’m looking forward to see what else you do!

  • Ben Stark

    Thanks.

  • Ben Stark

    Thanks. It’s nice to hear kind words.

  • Peggy Thomson

    Loved the statement: “what can paralyze any improvement is not choosing to do anything while trying to find the perfect course of action.”. That is me to a TEE and something I have had to get over on this journey of mine.

    I also wanted to comment about your former partner. That sucks. I wish that person could have been more encouraging of the changes you were making to be healthier, rather than focus on your body size. But I’m sure you will find someone that will appreciate your new body size and encourage you in your journey.

    Keep on keepin’ on!

  • Ben Stark

    Thank you.

    I have made peace with what happened and like I said I have taken the path of really enriching my life. If the right person comes along great. If not, I will still have an epic life.

    Best of luck to you.

  • Michael Bast

    This is both a fantastic article and an amazing story. Thanks, and good luck moving forward!

  • Strech

    Who here thought of Game of Thrones, Benjjen Stark when they read this? Lol

  • Tony Langdon

    Awesome work Ben! 🙂

  • Dana Myles

    Hi Ben, I find I quickly lose my will to keep going because the changes seem to be so little and take so long to see. How long before you noticed any physical change / how hard (?) were you working out, what were you doing?

    Sending you healing vibes when it comes to your back. I can imagine how daunting that must feel when you think of healing and returning to working out. :-).

  • Adam Taylor

    Well, I have to say congrats as well. The journey can be hard. As an introvert myself I completely understand and appreciate what you mean by having focus. There’s so much time to focus that you can’t help but to. Keep it up Ben.

  • Den

    How did you manage your weightlifting with your back problems? I’m struggling with bodyweight training with an injured S.I. joint and it gets frustrating to keep going.

  • VR

    “for surgery to fix those issues my BMI would have have to be 30 or less.” leapt off the page in letters of flame to me. My bmi is currently 29.66. Room for improvement, starting this minute. Thanks beyond measure, guys.

  • Ben Stark

    Thanks. It took a while to see changes and really I still the 400 pound version of myself when I look in the mirror. I noticed things like fitting into some old pants and shirts in a couple of months. That was awesome. Then I started to move better and get smaller. I am still working out with the goal of getting as strong as possible before I have surgery.

  • Ben Stark

    I suggest working with your healthcare providers to get clearance to lift and perhaps interventions to get to point where you can . I had to have some treatments to get going. Once I got the all clear, there was some trial and error to find what worked for me. Still hurts from time to time but I know what’s normal pain versus a problem.

  • Robert McManus

    Ben, that is one inspiring story an be elevates you to hero status. For the night is long…

  • Shay Hinskens

    Incredible. Your story is a huge inspiration to me.

    I have a stationary bike and have been using it 3 times a week for 30 minute interval training. I would really like to use it more than 3 days a week but many places on the internet say to take rest days inbetween, so now I am nervous.

    Did you build up to 6 days a week of the rowing machine, and do you find that 1 rest day/week works well for you? Thank you, and keep it up, you are awesome.

  • ROSS MCLELLAN

    Absolutely amazing work mate. Keep the routine up, relax where you need to and hit your target! Huzzah!

  • Jamie

    I love “I don’t tire of the grind to get good at something.” Thank you Ben! So inspiring/empowering!

  • Ben Stark

    ine day of rest now works fine for me. It takes time to build up to that. I wouldn’t do sprint/interval work back to back but our bodies are built to move every day day.

  • Karin

    Awesome job Ben, I find your story inspiring……

  • Mary Paran

    Great job, Ben! What an inspiration 🙂

  • Shay Hinskens

    Fantastic. Thank you Ben, I will keep moving forwards and upwards.

  • Trevor Dougan

    Loved the article, very inspiring watching someone overcome their obstacles in order to better their health. Great job and congrats Ben! Keep up the awesome work!

  • Elle

    Hi Ben! I’m working through some issues with my back, a herniated disc and compressed nerve through my leg. What kind of steps did you initially take, and now continue to take, to help your back as much as you can? I’m really worried about getting back to working out now, but I’ve got to start somewhere when I get healthy again!

    Thanks so much!

    Elliott

  • Aden

    Great SUPERHERO job Ben! Congrats!

  • Ben Stark

    For the last couple of years, there have been a few non surgical procedures that have helped a lot so I suggest working with your doctor to see what can be done or to get a referral. I had good luck with stretching exercises and some yoga to help. Also, I found massage therapy helpful. Finally weightlifting was helpful. But keep in mind these issues are very unique to each person

  • Elle

    I just want to know what I should bring up to my doctor. It’s good to see examples of how others have worked around similar problems, so I can point that out for the doc as a direction I’d like to take.

    Thanks so much!

  • Ben Stark

    I would make sure you can describe the symptoms that you have been having so your doctor can make the best diagnosis. Also, I would make sure you let him or her know about what you want out of treatment. What would you like to be doing that you can’t do now? what is keeping you from doing those things? also what helps? This can be a long process so hang in there. I started to have problems some time in the late fall of 2012. It took until August 2013 to really get effective treatments. I have had to repeat those frequently. Good luck and let me know how these work out for you.

  • http://www.heroform.com HeroForm

    Way to go Ben! Keep killing it and motivating people. Love your story.

  • Naseer Expert

    This is excellent advice.We are new online bidding service where investors can login and bid on Foreclosure Real Estate Properties in Arizona going to auction every day.
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  • http://www.limitless365.com/ Justin Miller

    Congrats to you Ben! An amazing transformation. Gotta love that concept 2 🙂

  • JedJTL

    It’s people like you mate that inspire me to keep going! Congrats and keep up the great work!

  • Ben Stark

    Thanks. Yes, their is so much to love about the Concept 2 rower. Besides my two pugs, which I don’t really think of as possessions, it is my favorite thing I own. Loved your interview on Harder to Kill Radio.

  • http://www.limitless365.com/ Justin Miller

    I’ve got a pug myself so I feel ya 🙂 and thank you for listening and glad you enjoyed it. I was nervous as all get up.

  • Ben Stark

    Pugs are pretty addictive. I can totally relate about being nervous being on the radio. Have to do it for work on occasion and it always scares me.

  • Morgan

    Your dogs are good Ben Stark. Please get a Pug life portrait tattoo on your chest. Let em know… let em know…

  • Angel Jem

    Awesome inspiration! I am only a few steps on the journey, but it’s good to see those on the horizon and what I’m aiming for.

  • Ben Stark

    Thanks. My dogs are very special to me. I thought about getting the paw prints of my oldest pug tattooed on my trap/shoulder. He used to jump up on the top of the couch and sit with his rear end on the couch and his front half resting there. Now that he is older he can’t do it but it is still a great way to remember him.

  • Anne Robbins

    Wow, thats fantastic, what a huge effort,you should be so proud of yourself. how did you start out changing your diet? how did you deal with criticism of your life changes before the results spoke for themselves?

  • Darrin Harr

    It’s really awesome read this success story!

  • Kerri-Lee Durkin

    Thank you for your story Ben. It’s very helpful to read for someone like me in a similar position. I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and Chiari1 and need brain surgery, but my neurosurgeon has recommended bariatric surgery first. Since both of these conditions make exercise extremely difficult for me, and increase the length of time until brain surgery is possible, I understand his recomendation but in the meantime I’m trying to make the dietary changes to move things along. It’s great to see how much can be accomplished when you really set your mind to it. Congratulations for all your hard work.

  • Ben Stark

    Good luck to you. I hope things work out for you.

  • Ben Stark

    I found some small results that started happen pretty quick. I had some routine blood work done by my doctor about three months into this process and got good results. That meant a bunch. Then, I noticed some pants I hadn’t been able to wear for years started to fit along with some old shirts. It wasn’t really noticeable weight loss, but I fit into these clothes I loved. That felt awesome. Those things made realize I was on the right road. I decided to keep going down it.
    Hope this helps.

  • Just me

    So, starving to lose weight? I’m confused–a coffee for breakfast, a late lunch, and where’s dinner? How many calories consumed per day? That doesn’t seem healthy.

    Yeah, I can’t focus when my stomach is complaining. Looks like the only way to lose is starve (seems to be what all the “success” stories hinge on), so how to ignore the lightheadedness and abdominal pains?

  • Ravi Kumar

    Losing weight is not so difficult with the right guidance and methods.
    What worked for me was this amazing guide.
    http://bit.ly/2lNn43N
    Explains the science of losing weight, right foods to eat, foods to avoid, tips and tricks to lose weight quickly and stay healthy.

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