Peter talked with his friend Ben House of Functional Medicine Costa Rica. They discussed what sparked the move to Costa Rica from Austin and his interest in nutrition.
Peter: First of all what's your name? What should we call you?
Ben: You can just call me Ben or Dr. House, whatever you want.
Peter: Dr. House? I love that. That's got some baggage there though, right?
Ben: (laughter) Yeah, a lot of baggage.
Peter: So Ben, you and I have been friends for a long time. Did you ever come by my garage to buy gear? Like way back in the day?
Ben: Yeah, you had some plyo boxes there for about a month and then you gave me the garage code and I went over your house one day and got them.
Peter: (laughter) I had forgotten about that. So you went over to my garage, when I wasn't even home, and picked up some plyo boxes.
Ben: (laughter) Yeah, that was a while ago.
Peter: Ok so it's been a while. Did you take anything other than the plyo boxes? That was years ago, I don't miss it. (laughter)
Ben: No, no, just the plyo boxes, didn’t take anything else.
Peter: I'm just messing with you, man. Well thanks for talking with me, I want to talk with you because I think you're doing some really cool stuff that a lot of our customers could really learn from and are really interested in. So, why don't you take us back a little bit. When you were buying plyo boxes and breaking into my house...nah I'm kidding. Back in the day, what were you doing then, what was your athletic background, what was your coaching background? Take us back a couple years then we'll fast forward to today and see where you are.
Ben: Well, I was 19 when I got my first personal training cert and then I was pre-med, so I did that whole thing and then elected not to go to medical school and instead did a PHD in Nutrition. Back then I was coaching - I’ve had personal training clients for the last 8 years, also worked at CrossFit Central for like, a year and a half, 2 year stint. Other than that I’ve just been building a pretty big garage gym in Austin and there’s a lot of other coaches who have kind of done that too, just created a small business that functions really well and now we’re trying to move it somewhere else.
Peter: Yeah, and that somewhere else is Costa Rica, right?
Ben:Yeah. We move in October, my wife and I. She’s pretty insta-famous so maybe I’ll get to be a stay at home dad, who knows (laughter). So the goal is to create a retreat center, we’re both not sure if we want to be resort owners and have day-to-day people checking in and stuff but we’re going to have multiple retreats throughout the year, whether they’re yoga or fitness related.
Peter: Cool! Well I want to dig into that in a minute, but one thing I do want to mention and highlight. So you were pre-med in college and then elected to go for a PHD in Nutrition instead of going the medical route. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Why did you go on a nutrition route versus going to the medical side?
Ben: So, when I was applying to med school, I got in and my dad got really sick. He was in the medical model and they were telling him to eat crackers and brown rice, so I was on a walkabout and a guy gave me a book called Breaking the Vicious Cycle, which is basically Paleo. You make your own yogurt and I sent it to my dad and said ‘Hey, maybe you should try this’ and in 3 days he was symptom free. He was on every pain killer known to man, so the doctors didn’t believe it, yada yada yada, and I don’t want to go that route. I was always interested in preventative medicine, I didn’t want to bang my head against the wall with diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but that was kind of the straw that broke the camels back and from there I got really into functional medicine, nutrition and obviously movement, and the role it plays.
Peter: Wow, that's very cool. So you kind of glossed over, you were on a walkabout someone giving you a book. Like were you literally on a kind of Crocodile Dundee, Australian style walk?
Ben: Ah yeah, so I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do so I just took a year and I taught. My buddy was on a Navajo Reservation, so I went to Boulder. I went a ton of places out west, kind of lived in my car for a little while, so I’ve been doing weird shit for a while. And I was at a Zen center in Boulder and a guy gave me that book, so that lasted about four months and then my girlfriend, now wife, and I decided to move to Austin after that.
Peter: Wow, very cool. So I had a friend give me a Bible, way back when, but I think he was more trying to say "You need Jesus" (laughter) rather than necessarily teach me. Although maybe there's some teaching there.
So, I want to come back now to more or less the present day so you built up a really awesome garage gym. You were here in Austin, TX, then all of a sudden you decide you want to move it somewhere else. We've had a lot of people go through that process of going from a garage gym to build a more full-size box or something like. But you actually went out of the country to Costa Rica to do this, so where's your mind at? Why instead of Austin, or doing it in Wisconsin, or doing it wherever? Why go to Costa Rica?
Ben: Well I definitely couldn't do it in Wisconsin, it's way too cold 8 months out of the year. (laughter) So my wife and I met on a medical mission to Nicaragua so we both speak Spanish and wanted to be in a Spanish speaking culture just because the lifestyle is a little bit slower, and you have access to organic foods. We’re not as - obviously in Austin I don’t feel weird but right now, up in the Midwest, I feel just like an outcast. I have tattoos, I’m only eating vegetables and meat and people are just like ‘Who is this guy’. And so it’s cool in that I think we’ll spend most of our time in Costa Rica but then we’ll jump back to the states occasionally. The real reason we wanted to move to Costa Rica is just we were so pot committed and it just felt like the right move. We went there 5 years ago and we were like ‘We want to move here’ then just baby steps.
Peter: Got it! So what does that look like? Or how much, you can share as much or as little as you're comfortable sharing, is it buying property in Central America for an American citizen? Like what does that look like?
Ben: You have to be careful in a lot of countries, there’s a really good book called ‘Happier than a Billionaire’, she’s due now and she talks about making the move to Costa Rica specifically. Some of the countries aren’t that stable, Costa Rica’s really stable, they have - there’s a lot of ex-pats, some of our best friends live down there. And the cool thing about Costa Rica is your cost of living is really low, they don’t have any mortgages but their property taxes are 0.25%, so you heard that right? And once you buy your property - one of my things is burn rates - if I can make enough money to burn and then I can take on less clients, work less and still have a reach through social media and other outlets, I’d rather do that than be strapped to a Range Rover and a $4,000 mortgage in the US.
Peter: How did you know my mortgage? (laughter) So, lets talk a little bit about why Costa Rica? We talked about buying land down there, so what was it like to actually search for the property? You mentioned having some friends down there, did they help you with that? Or do you just go down there and be like 'hey, quiero realtor?' or something, how does that work?
Ben: So we went down as long as 4 or 5 months, and every time we went down we would check out property and my buddy actually had about 50 acres in the jungle that he was super interested in. We were going to go in on it but that fell through. Then the next year we were down there - our vacations would pretty much be going to look at properties and sight seeing - it was super cool because you’re hiking in the jungle.
We hired a realtor named Dave, he’s amazing - he brought us to this property, it’s up a mountain - it’s about 3 kilometers from Uvito, which is a little town. We set foot on it and I knew right away, home girl was going crazy and then she’s going to buy this. So we got out, we walked and we camped out. We actually didn’t buy it right away, we put in an offer, things didn’t go through. Things in Central America are over listed- so everything they try to take advantage of gringos a little bit. They list properties way high and see what people will do because it’s all fictitious value anyway, kind of like Las Vegas. Not like it’s really valuable, like 30 years ago you could have bought it for way less and now it’s way more. So we put in a pretty low offer and we waited on it for three or four months and then we heard from a realtor that a guy from Great Britain was coming, so we raised our offer price and then they agreed. And then that guy from Great Britain the next day offered us $15,000 to get out of our contract. So, I was like ‘Should we take it?’, and the wife was like, ‘No! Shut your mouth, no way!’.
Peter: (laughter) Wow! So tell us a little bit more, you've talked a little bit about the property. Tell us a little bit more about it, I think I saw some pictures on your Facebook of a waterfall, is what's coming to mind. Is that right?
Ben: Yeah, yeah. So it’s 20 acres. Costa Rica has a maritime law so you can’t build a quarter mile off the beach, so everything looks straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean, so if you go on a beach it’s pretty much desolate. Not that there’s not people there, it’s just it’s not like LA or anything. Most people live up in the mountains. We’re not too far up the mountains, we’re about 9 minutes up and then there’s six waterfalls on our property, it’s 2-tiers so there’s the main tier where we’ll build the gym, the yoga studio and then probably like, 8 to 10 little one room storage container, little cabinas. And the bottom is like, crazy, so it’s all flat, my goal is to put two holes of golf down there, who knows if it will happen. So that’s the plan right now, to have a place where strength coaches, athletes can vacation and like, everything they need is there. You have state of the art equipment, you have organic food, you have- you’re going to go to bed at 9pm because no one’s going to stay up past that time in Costa Rica because your circadian rhythms just get notched in because you’re in the sun all the time. It’s cool, I’m excited for it.
Peter: Awesome, and how can people find you so they can see a little bit about what you're doing? I've got FunctionalMedicineCostaRica.com.
Ben: Yeah, that’s fine, or my Facebook. I probably post much more on- Ben House, you can search me, that’s probably where I put up more content than anywhere else.
Peter: Awesome, so one of the reasons that you and I were talking just recently was because you are doing a seminar in Wisconsin. Can you tell us about that?
Ben: Yeah, so one of my goals is to bring functional medicine and kind of nutrition lifestyle type intervention to the gym because I think it’s the next place to go. Getting ahead of a lot of the chronic- you even see CrossFit doing it a little with their bashing of Gatorade and Coca-Cola. Which is fine, right? But we have to start thinking- from an exercise standpoint, we always do a lot of PT type aspects, so we’re doing functional movement screens, maybe you’re doing some postural restoration institute tests, just looking at position of hips and now the next step to me is looking at, physiologically where is this person? Do they have enough iron on board so they can even- that your aerobic, anaerobic is even in play? What’s their thyroid function like? What’s their hormone status like? How is their digestion? What’s their life like? Do they sleep? Are they constantly plugged into their cell phone? Do they have anything other than exercise in their lives? So those are all things I think we need to start asking in the gym.
Peter: Ok, awesome. So who is your ideal client that would come to one of these seminars?
Ben: Most of the people that come are- there’s some Chiropractors, there’s some nurses, there’s some other doctors but the majority of them are personal trainers and strength coaches who just really care and they’re kind of, I would say they’re- I hate to- like, top tier- they’re charging anywhere from $75-$150 an hour for their time and so they’re just in that demographic where they need to know everything and they need to be an inch deep and a mile wide. So, they’re just trying to find out what they don’t know.
Peter: Got it, I love. Well this has been really awesome. What else do you want our audience to know?
Ben: Don’t get attached- like, we’ve had a ton of friends who’ve opened gyms and you really love to work out, but 90% of business ownership, you’re going to do the same shit. You’re going to be doing managerial stuff, you’re going to be cleaning, right? So, if you really love to train, think about it before you open up a gym. And there’s nothing wrong with growing into your gym. So I started super little, like I had a gym in my living room and all that stuff was from Fringe. Alex brought it to my house at like, 7pm at night, that was probably like 6 or 7 years ago. And who knows where you’re going to take it, right? But I would just be really wary of getting strapped in- just marrying yourself to keeping the lights on.
Peter: I love it, man. That's great. Well, Ben House or Dr. House of Functional Medicine Costa Rica.
Ben: Yeah. Thank you for all that you do, I appreciate it.