Abel James – The Fat-Burning Man
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Jonathan: Hey everyone. Jonathan Bailor here with another bonus episode of living the
Smarter Science of Slim, and I really have an awesome treat for us today. We have a guest with us who has been dominating the iTunes, Podcast Charts, and for good reason. A man with awesome energy, a man with an awesome message, and just a man who exudes positivity, which is something I love and respect. We’ve got Abel James, the fat burning man on the show today. Abel, welcome.
Abel: Hey, what’s up Jonathan?
Jonathan: Abel, well let’s just get right into it. I want to know your story because you have a pretty interesting story. Tell us how you got to where you are today.
Abel: Sure, so I started off as a young kid in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire with nothing to do. We were always really interested in health; my mom is a holistic. She’s done nutrition, had her own practice for a while. She’s a nurse practitioner, so she was always rubbing smelly balms on me when I was sick or sore or whatever. So there was always kind of that fringe thinking involved from when I was a young kid. We were also eating the weeds and had a backyard garden, so I thought that was pretty cool and pretty lame at the same time, being a little kid, but it led me down the path of always being interested in health.
I’ve always been someone who wants to be superhuman, and just be the absolute best when it comes to the health or performance or productivity, or whatever. That got me down the path of going to be a vegetarian for a while, which is fine when I was a teenager but as I got into my 20s, somethings started to pop up and I wasn’t doing that great and it all came to a head when one night I came home and my apartment building was up in 30 foot wall of flames. I lost absolutely everything.
When that happens, my life was completely out of control, but I knew that I needed something to drive me forward and if I couldn’t do anything with the mess that was my life, at least I could focus on my health, and so, immediately after, I didn’t really have time to focus on it 100 percent, and so I wasn’t getting any sleep. I was gaining weight, I had kidney stones, my thyroid was crapping out, my adrenals were in the dumps and so I was just a complete mess in my early 20s.
Every time I went to the doctor, I was running probably 30 miles a week, they wanted me to run more, eat less fat and I was already eating almost none. Eat less cholesterol because I had high blood pressure and all these other things. They wanted to put me on another medication each time. After all of that was clearly not working and I was feeling sicker and worse by the week, I’m just like, “All right, forget it. I’m just going to focus on my health and see if this stuff that I think is healthy is actually healthy.”
I read every body building forum I could find, every medical textbook, pretty much every diet book out there and eventually it got me down the path of doing a complete 180 on what I thought was healthy because the things that the magazines tell you and the corporate interests and even your doctor tells you about what’s going to make you healthy, oftentimes is the complete opposite of what it actually does.
Jonathan: Oh, absolutely, and in many ways is just, maybe well meaning, but just a
regurgitation of a theory that was just that, a theory forty years ago. It was a theory and it has shown itself quite obviously by the 1.4 billion overweight people we have today and the 100,000 percent increase in diabetes and pre-diabetes we’ve seen in the past century that that theory doesn’t actually work. Abel, one thing I wanted to drill into about your story, because I think there is such a profound truth there, and I want to see what you think.
You had mentioned that there was this inflection point in your life, where things really started to go off the rails a little bit and if I’m understanding this correctly, you needed something to grasp onto. You needed something to throw yourself at, something to anchor you and your health or your well being, in the pursuit of that, on an individual level, not listening to other people but discovering it for yourself provided you with that anchor. Is that accurate?
Abel: Yeah, absolutely.
Jonathan: Abel, that’s one thing that I too have found. One of my passions for health and
fitness is, there are so many other areas of life, where so many other external factors matter. If you want to play team sports; does the coach like you, are you tall enough, are you fast enough? There’s politics and there’s all kinds of external things, with really everything in life but when it comes to your health and fitness, this is an area that we can truly, it’s just us.
Jonathan: If you want to sink yourself into something, you’re going to get out what
you put in, assuming you’ve got the right information. This is such, I think, a great area to do that in. What do you think?
Abel: Totally, yeah, it absolutely is and no matter what, you can always be better and just because you’re coming to the table. I wasn’t that overweight. I was definitely
overweight but even if you’re starting at 300 or 400 pounds, you can still be a lean person. You can always improve.
I was just reading, and I love reading business books, I was just reading about the unlikely story of Muggsy Bouges, everyone told him, “There’s no way he could ever play professional basketball,” and he was a guard for fourteen years at 5’ 3” and could dunk. That’s crazy, so no matter where you’re starting, you can always be better. You can achieve more than you would ever think possible.
Jonathan: It’s an area where you don’t have to rely on anyone else to show you that, or to step up to the plate. You’re not depending on anyone other than you, which is really awesome, but I think for some people, can become really scary.
Abel: Oh, it’s totally scary, but it’s one of the most important things that you can do. If
there is a secret to health, it’s learning how to tweak yourself, because all these dogmatic approaches. I can tell people what works for most people and that will be true, but it may or may not even work with them. Our bodies are so different, and becoming a master of being able to test yourself and see what actually works for you, that’s the true secret to all of this.
Jonathan: Oh, Absolutely, absolutely. I think it also extends, I think it was Steven Covey
who said, “Once you start to experience physical mastery, you’ll start to see that begins to permeate other aspects of your life,” because as you start to win these small, let’s call them ‘battles,’ or you start to prove to yourself that “I can do this,” well then you’re, “I did A, I can certainly do B, and now maybe I can take that new project at work on,” because the self-image and the self-esteem, you create the self-reinforcing cycle.
Abel: That’s so true Jonathan. Actually, just a bit of personal history, that exact thing
happened to me. I was a strategy consultant ever since college, just trying to pay out my loans and that sort of thing, and then I started up, after I mastered the physical realm of my life, I started up this podcast, wrote a book and all of that and it took on a life of its own. At first, there was a lot of ridicule from my friends and families who’s like, “What is this guy doing?” It just drove itself forward because I was eating differently than everyone else.
I was exercising differently than everyone else and it was working. It gave me that confidence to be like, Well, maybe it can work in what I want to do with my life too. There’s no reason that I need to be a consultant, it doesn’t give me a great deal of energy and I don’t feel a whole lot of passion for it. I might as well try something else and I think that mastering my physical body gave me a lot of that mental power and confidence to do that.
Jonathan: Getting back to what we talked about earlier, I hate to be redundant, but I think
it’s just such an important point and so transformational in your life, so transformational in mine as well, is that, there again, if you were just, “I want to take control of my professional career,” assuming you work with other people, which you probably do. There’s only so much control we have over our professional success, because there’s a lot of external factors but when it comes to what you’re eating, you control that.
You can take 100 percent control of what you’re putting into your body and you can take 100 percent control of the way your body moves. The reason that’s so important is with all that control, I think, in many ways you have the highest likelihood of seeing that self-reinforcing success because there’s nothing that will take you down the path of a learned helplessness, which is not a happy state to be in, other than trying, trying, trying, really hard, and then not achieving the results you want due to something external to yourself.
We’ve probably all had that happen maybe professionally or personally, where they’re like, you followed the rules you did what everyone told you to do, but something outside of anything you could control, set you off track. When it comes to what you’re eating and what you’re exercising, you can minimize those external variables and that’s why I love it.
Abel: Yeah. Ultimate power.
Jonathan: Complete and ultimate responsibility too, and that’s something which again can be intimidating, but can be also be empowering. It’s a great place to start. Well, Abel, during this path and during this journey, what were some of the most transformative…You mentioned you were doing things that no one else was doing, and you were getting results that no one else was getting, which kind of make sense, but sometimes common sense isn’t common practice. If you don’t want what everyone else has, you can’t do what everyone else does.
Jonathan: But what were some of the key things you were doing differently?
Abel: I was always a huge low fat advocate. My whole life I was sponging grease off of pizza and avoiding fat at all cost. I did a complete 180 on that, and it’s funny, because I studied brain science and I’ve always been really interested in the mind and how it works, and the brain is primarily fat and it runs on glucose, but it can also run on fat. When you’re eating a low fat diet, you’re starving your brain of food, and so I started eating butter by the stick and drinking heavy cream, all these things that are supposed to kill you.
I was just in the airport flying back from Canada a couple of weeks ago and I was surrounded by a bunch of my friends, and pretty much the only thing you can eat at the airport, and I had four hard boiled eggs in a little Dixie cup, and I was just eating them, and a bunch of guys were, “You’re going to give yourself a heart attack.” I’m like, “I’m not worried about that,” because thinking back on the science, all the foux science. It just goes to show you that conventional wisdom isn’t really, it has no bearing on reality.
Jonathan: Oh, absolutely.
Abel: I’m definitely someone who, I want to lead by example. I never want to tell someone what’s right or wrong. If they ask, I’m very open to explaining my point of view, but it’s so important not to try to change other people, but just be strong in and of yourself and what happens after that particular experience. I’ve gotten emails from a few of those guys who were just like, “If you have such a conviction with this approach to eating, maybe there’s something to it.”
He’s like, “A lean guy, he’s happy, he has lots of energy, maybe I should try it,” so I get a bunch of emails from those guys and now, they’re kind of like coming on board with that, and that’s such a fascinating piece of this. You start off as being an object of ridicule almost, and they’re kind of pointing fingers at me and, “Oh look at that freak,” and then those are the people who usually ride you the hardest, those are the ones who come around and start following you.
Jonathan: Oh absolutely Abel, that that reminds me. I think I am probably getting the source wrong, maybe it was Arthur Schopenhauer, or someone like that who mentioned a phrase around the three stages of truth. The first truth is ridiculed, then it is violently opposed, then it is recognized as self-evident and it sounds like maybe you went through all three of those phases.
Abel: Oh, totally, like everyone does.
Jonathan: I think that, my hope is that as a society, we’re starting to make that shift, because to think anything other than eating the foods we find in nature, to think that would be anything but pretty darn close to the optimal way to eat, again at this point, almost seems self-evident but in the mainstream it’s still not and what you said is such an interesting point where there is all this “Eat carbohydrate” versus “Eat fat” and the key…let’s not necessarily argue. Let’s just ask why? Why are people saying 60 plus percent of your diet should come from carbohydrate? Why? Where is that coming from? Even the USDA, in their dietary reference intakes for energy carbohydrates, fiber, fats, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids, the awesomely titled, basically the document they use to derive the dietary guidelines.
They say, and I’m quoting directly here, “The lower limit of dietary carbohydrate compatible with life apparently is zero, provided that adequate amounts of protein and fat are consumed.” I’m not sure why they stuck the word apparently in there but in the document they used to derive the guidelines that all RDs and so on and so forth are taught, acknowledges that we do not actually need carbohydrates. It doesn’t mean that carbohydrate fat is bad, it just means we don’t need it, so why will we be making the majority of our diet sourced from something we don’t need?
Abel: Yeah, it’s absolutely ridiculous when you take a step back and think about it, and there’s another really important there that is behind all of this, which is science and the way that most people understand it to be the ultimate truth today. I have great respect for scientists, I have a research background, but at the same time, science is limited by the tools of its measurement and if you want to actually innovate, then you need to push the boundaries a little bit, and sometimes you need to do that with common sense.
What is the ultimate truth; that you need to count calories or count macro nutrients or that you need to eat real food, that you need to eat food that we’re designed to eat? One of the biggest mistakes that people make in all of this, is following traditional nutritional theory, which is the assumption that we understand 100 percent of what’s out there about food, like science understands everything there is to know.
If you actually think about it, we know very, very little about the way that the body works, the way that exercise works, all of the different pathways within the body. I learned that, when I studied the brain for example, one of the biggest things that I took away from it, is that we don’t really know how it works at all.
We understand that neurons fire and we understand that we have behavior and we don’t really know what happens in between. The same is true with nutrition. Calorie, that is not a perfect measurement of what’s in food, for example. Eating fats, one of the reasons why people take opposition to the Paleo diet is because there isn’t a perfect example of a human in ancient times eating the same diet across the world, it was widely varied. Some would eat tons of carbohydrates and live to be 112, others would eat tons of fat and live to be 112, so maybe we’re not looking at the right things.
Jonathan: I love what you’re saying Abel and it’s almost this hubris, this mythical, biblical story of the ability to build the tower up to the heavens, and when that happens it ends up all collapsing on top of us, which is a little bit of what we see today. This crisis that we’re experiencing, which in some ways, is so heart breaking in a sense that we’re trying harder and doing worse. I mean, literally go to any other country in the world and see if they worry as much about what they’re eating and how much they’re exercising than we do in America and also notice how they’re….so one, they won’t, they don’t, they just eat food.
Gyms are what they were like in America in the 70s and 80s. These weird fringe things that the kind of weird people did… In America it’s standard now but still, it’s not that way in other places in the world, and people aren’t as sick in other places in the world. I think part of that is, in America, we’re pioneers but thinking that we understand, even look at like Dr. Terry Wahls for example.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with her and this is a physician who was able to defeat progressive multiple sclerosis without drugs, and she tried doing it with ‘vitamins,’ didn’t work, then she started using nutrient dense foods and her body healed itself. We don’t necessarily know why yet, but that’s because we don’t know all the components in the real whole foods and that’s why it’s so important to eat those real whole foods.
Abel: Yeah, and I know that a lot of scientists, especially before she completely healed herself, would say, “Well that’s not supported by science.” Of course it’s not because science is dumb. Science does not understand this sort of thing and we get into trouble when we use scientific things, like new drugs and expect them to be a magic bullet, or new foods or processed foods, and we’re not able to predict what actually happens within the body, because we don’t understand the body.
Jonathan: I think it’s a ying and a yang and we can… I think there is awesome brilliance…I’m not necessarily anti-western medicine, I’m pro-western medicine as a compliment to Eastern medicine, but seeing it as a complimentary approach, meaning that, is there a circumstance in which taking statin medication is helpful? Likely there is a circumstance, likely, but should it be prescribed preventatively to everyone, and before you exhaust all diet and exercise related means. No. Like diet and exercise first, personal experimentation first, then we go there. We don’t start there.
Abel: Yeah, exactly.
Jonathan: Well Abel, what’s next for you man because you’re doing so much good stuff. You’re such a beacon of positivity. You’ve got fatburningman.com. You’ve got
abeljames.com. You’ve got your lean body fat loss program, which features the Wild Diet which is just wildly popular and you’ve also got your coaching at your lean body community. What’s next for you?
Abel: I think in a way, I’ve been my own bottleneck. I’m kind of a perfectionist and I want to do everything myself, but fortunately I’ve been trying to work on that and what I want to do is impact the world in a positive way as much as possible. What I see out there is that we’re going in the wrong direction and they’re all sorts of examples of this, but one that is absolutely terrifying and heart wrenching to me and I know a lot of other people is the issue of childhood obesity. It’s something that is just so out of whack, and it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.
I want to impact the world as much as possible and I realize I can’t do it all by myself, so I’m starting to build a team around me to help bring –i t’s mostly going to be publishing at least to start; so help other writers and other podcasters and people like that bring their work to people it can impact. I want to let them shine. That’s kind of the main theme of where I’m going in the future. It’s not going to be just me, but a team of rock stars, hopefully, who can change the world. That’s my dream anyway.
Jonathan: I love that Abel. I think in some ways, we’re chips from the same stone, because my spirit and my heart is really just in this sentiment of we can live better. We may disagree, like the T. Colin Campbell’s of the world may very well disagree with the Mark Sisson’s of the world, in the specifics of how we do that but they all agree that we can live better and there are some common denominators around the processed garbage that consists of about 40 to 65 percent of the average person’s caloric intake, that we all agree we should get rid of, but are still being positioned to the mass public.
The best example is Coke’s recent, ‘it’s just a 140 calories’ campaign, which is just absurd, but I feel like, just as you’re saying Abel, if we can, I like to call the modern nutrition science community and the internet nutrition science community, if we can come together about those things we share in common, and go against the people who are really not trying to help anyone. We may disagree with some of our peers on the internet, but their ultimate goal is the same as ours, and that’s to help people. There’s plenty of people who are not trying to help people and if we want to argue, why not join forces and go against the Kraft Foods of America or something like that.
Abel: Yeah, I 100 percent agree with that. There’s a lot of the ancestral health community is very incestuous and as tempting as it to argue about whether or not safe starches exist or are appropriate, our time is better spent trying to spread the message to the people who absolutely don’t understand anything about this sort of lifestyle, and haven’t prescribed to the idea that eating real food is important. We need to focus our efforts on trying to penetrate that, the 99 percent of the people who are following the wrong advice.
Jonathan: To me, this isn’t about being right, this is about saving lives and for me also, it’s not about taking the one percent and enabling them to be even healthier. That’s cool and there’s nothing wrong with that, but if we could even take 25 percent of our efforts and direct those at the 99 percent who literally still believe that just jogging more and eating more healthy whole grains is the key to health, literally our country will collapse if we don’t do that. We cannot support a country where everyone is diabetic, that literally would not work.
Abel: It’s going to be trouble if we don’t change it pretty significantly. That’s one of the things I try to do with my show and I think people pick up on this. I’m known as one of the big Paleo guys, but I don’t actually talk about it all that much. I try to be much more lenient with my approach so that people who are just kind of dipping their toes in there aren’t completely intimidated by all this ridiculous science from the very beginning. It’s more about leading a healthy, happy lifestyle, so if they just dip their toes into it and understand that’s possible, maybe they’ll tell their friends and maybe more people will get on board. I think it’s important to start looking in that direction.
Jonathan: That’s beautiful Abel, I see that as you’re leading with the end. The end is a healthy, happy life, not the means, which might be a Paleo diet, it might be a low carb diet, it might be a vegan diet, it might be a vegetarian diet. It might be any number of things for any number of people based on other things. Maybe they have some moral beliefs that are different from other people’s, or they have some religious beliefs that are different from other people’s, but the point is, happy and healthy life.
If we can just help people to understand that the way they’ve been currently taught that is, literally potentially the worst possible approach you could take. Literally, the high starch, low everything else method and from an exercise perspective, just chronic performance of moderate intensity, high impact exercise for those of us who have freed our minds, literally that is the worst possible – if you want to screw up someone you’d tell them to do that. If you didn’t like someone and you’re like, “Hey, here is some advice for you.” That’s the advice you would give them.
Abel: That’s absolutely true.
Jonathan: Abel, well thank you so much for joining us today and for all that you do to help celebrate the similarities, rather than demonize the differences, and show everyone that we can live better. Folks, please do, if you’re not already checking out Abel’s work, which you probably are, because the guy is just widely popular for good reasons, please visit fatburningman.com, please visit abeljames.com. Search for him on iTunes, it pops right to the top. He’s got a great podcast. He’s got a lean body fat loss book that features his Wild Diet and of course you can get coaching from him at the Lean Body Community. Abel did you have any closing words for the listeners?
Abel: No just thank you so much for listening and if you have subscribed to this, please tell your friends. Please tell your friends about this lifestyle and like I said, Don’t shove it down their throats, but just lead by positive example. Sometimes the hardest people to convince are your family and close friends, so let’s keep it up and let’s try to get to the 99 percent of people who have no clue about any of this.
Jonathan: I love it, just like Gandhi said, “Let’s be the change you want to see in the world.”
Thank you so much Abel, everyone thank you so much and remember, this week and for the rest of your life, eat more and exercise less, but do that smarter. Talk to you soon.