Abel James: What If Slim Became Simple and Healthy Was Delicious?
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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. I 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 and 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 and so she’s always rubbing smelly balms on me when I was sick or sore or whatever so there was always kind of like that fringe thinking involved and 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 kind of led me down the path of always being interested in health. I’ve always been someone who wants to be superhuman, right, and just be the absolute best when it comes to health or performance or productivity, whatever.
So, that kind of 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 a 30 foot wall of flames and I lost absolutely everything and 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 like 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, 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 and every time I went to the doctor, they wanted – 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 and so after all of that was clearly not working and I was feeling sicker and worse, by the week, I’m just alright, forget it. I’m just going to focus on my health and see if this stuff that I think is healthy is actually healthy and so I read every bodybuilding 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 in 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 actually does.
JONATHAN: Oh, absolutely and in many ways is just the –it maybe well meaning, but just a regurgitation of a theory that was just that – a theory 40 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 you’ve seen in the past century — that theory doesn’t actually work, but 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 is — you had mentioned that there was this inflection point in your life where things really started go off the rails a little bit and if I’m understanding this correctly, you needed something to grasp onto and needed something to throw yourself at, something to anchor you and your health for your wellbeing and 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: And 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. Like if you want to play team sports like is – does the coach like you, are you tall enough, are you fast enough – I mean there’s politics and there’s all kinds of external things with 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: And if you want to sink yourself into something — I mean you’re going to get out what you put in assuming you got the right information so 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 I mean even if you’re starting at 300 or 400 lbs., you can still be a lean person, you can always improve. I was just reading and I love reading business books and I was just reading about the unlikely story of Muggsy Bogues — everyone told him that there’s no way he could ever play professional basketball and he was a guard for 14 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: And it’s such a cool – and it’s an area where you don’t have to – no one else has to say – 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, like if there is a secret to health, it’s learning how to tweak yourself, right, because all of these dogmatic approaches, I can tell people what works for most people and that’ll be true, but it may or may not even work for them. Our bodies are so different and becoming the 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 and I think it also extends – I think it was Stephen Covey, who said once you start to experience physical mastery, you’ll start to see that 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 like, well, 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 this self-reinforcing cycle.
ABEL: That’s so true, Jonathan, I mean actually just the bit of personal history that exact thing happened to me. I was a strategy consultant ever since college just trying to pay off my loans and that sort of thing and then I started up after I kind of mastered the physical realm of my life, I started up this podcast, wrote a book and all of that and it kind of took on a life of its own. At first there was a lot of ridicule from my friends and family was like – what is this guy doing? And 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 kind of 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 of passion for it. Might as well just 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: And it’s such – getting back to what we talked about earlier, I hate to be redundant, but I think it’s just such an important point and been so transformational in your life and so transformational in mine as well, is that there again, if you were just like — 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.
JONATHAN: Like 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 and the reason why 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 try, and try, and try really hard and then not achieving the results you want, due to something external to yourself.
JONATHAN: And we’ve probably all had that happen maybe professionally or personally where we’re like, you really – 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 ultimate – and ultimate responsibility too and that’s something which again can be intimidating, but can also be empowering, so it’s a great place to start. Well, Abel, what – 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 makes sense, but sometimes common sense isn’t common practice if you don’t want what everyone else has, you can’t do it what everyone else does.
JONATHAN: But what were some of the key things you were doing differently?
ABEL: So I was always a huge low fat advocate, like my whole life I was sponging grease off of pizza and avoiding fat at all costs and so I did a complete 180 on that and it’s funny because I studied brain science and I’ve always been really interested in mind and how it works and the brain is primarily fat and it runs on glucose, but it can also run on fat and so 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, right?
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 — I had like four hard boiled eggs in a little Dixie cup and I was just eating them and all of these – a bunch of guys are like you’re going to give yourself a heart attack and I’m like, I’m not worried about that because I’m thinking back on the science, all of the faux science and it just kind of goes to show you that conventional wisdom isn’t really. You know it has no bearing on reality.
JONATHAN: Oh, absolutely.
ABEL: And 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 like be strong in and of yourself and what happened after that particular experience, I get emailed by a few of those guys who were just like, well, if he has such conviction with this approach to eating, maybe there’s something to it. He’s 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 — that you start off as being an object of ridicule almost and they’re kind of pointing fingers and be like, oh, look at that freak, and then those are the people who usually ride you the hardest. Those are the ones that come around and start following you.
JONATHAN: Oh, Absolutely, Abel, that reminds me, I think I’m probably getting the source wrong, maybe it was Arthur Schopenhauer or someone like that who mentioned a phrase around the three stages of truth — where first truth is ridiculed, then it is violently opposed, then it is recognized as self-evident.
JONATHAN: And it sounds like maybe you went through all three of those phases.
ABEL: Oh, totally. I think everyone does.
JONATHAN: I think – 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 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’s all this eat carbohydrate versus eat fat and the key – like let’s not necessarily argue, let’s just ask why? Like why are people saying 60 plus percent of your diet should come from carbohydrate. Why? Like what – why? What is that coming from?
Even the USDA in their dietary reference intakes for energy carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids, the awesomely titled the 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 use to derive the guidelines that all are RDs and so on and so forth are taught acknowledges that we do not actually need carbohydrate. It doesn’t mean carbohydrate is bad, it just means we don’t need it. So, why would 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 — is behind all of this which is, science, and the way that most people understand it to be the ultimate truth today. Like 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. Like what is the ultimate truth that you need to count calories or count macronutrients or that you need to eat real food — that you need to eat food that we’re designed to eat.
So, 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 and if you actually think about it we know very, very little about that the way the body works, the way that exercise works, all 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 that we understand that we have behavior and we don’t really know what happens in between. The same is true with nutrition – like calorie – that is not a perfect measurement of what’s in food, for example.
Eating fat and this is one of the reasons that people take opposition to the Paleo diet is because there isn’t like 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 there Abel, and it’s almost this hubris or this mythical biblical story of the ability to build a tower up to the heavens and then when that happens it ends up all collapsing on top of us which is a little bit of what we see today, right?
This crisis that we’re experiencing which in some ways is so heartbreaking in the 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 just eat food and they – gyms are kind of like – what they were in Americain the 70s and 80s, like these weird fringe things that the kind of weird people did. I mean in America it’s standard now, but it’s still – it’s not that way in other places in the world and people aren’t as sick in other places in the world and I think part of that is in America we’re pioneers, but thinking that we understand – I mean even look at Dr. Terry Wahls for example, recently had the pleasure of speaking with her and this is physician who was able to defeat progressive multiple sclerosis without drugs and she tried doing it with “vitamins,” and it didn’t work. Then she started using nutrient dense foods, and her body healed itself. And we don’t necessarily know why yet, but that’s because we don’t know all the components in 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 and it’s like, of course it’s not because science is dumb. It 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: Yeah, it’s a bit – 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 might you – like 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 – before you exhaust all diet and exercise related means, no. Diet and exercise, first, personal experimentation, first, then we go there. We don’t start there.
ABEL: Yeah, exactly.
JONATHAN: Well, Abel, what – what’s next for you man, because you’re doing so much good stuff. I mean 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: So, 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 we’re going in the wrong direction and there are all sorts of examples of this, but one that is absolutely terrifying and heartwrenching to me and I know a lot of other people is just – 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, so I want to impact the world as much as possible and I realize I can’t do it all myself and so I’m starting to build a team around me to help bring – it’s mostly going to be publishing at least to start, so help other writers and podcasters and people like that bring their work to people it can impact. I want to let them shine and so that’s kind of the main theme of where I’m going in the future. It’s not going to be just me, but like a team of rock stars, hopefully, who can change the world. That’s my dream anyway.
JONATHAN: Oh, I love that Abel. I think in some ways we’re chips from the same stone because I – this – my spirit and my heart is really just in this sentiment of — we can live better.
JONATHAN: We may disagree, right? Like the T. Collin Campbells of the world may very well disagree with the Mark Sissons of the world in the specifics of how we do that, but they all agree that we can live better and that there’s 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 140 calories campaign – which is just absurd so this — but I feel like just like you’re saying Abel is if we can – I mean I like to call it 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 – I mean 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: I 100 percent agree with that. There’s a lot of – the ancestral health community is very incestuous and as tempting as it is to argue about like whether or not safe starches exist or 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 people who are following the wrong advice.
JONATHAN: That’s exactly – I love it. It’s not – this isn’t, to me – this isn’t about being right – this is about saving lives and it’s not about – for me also, it’s not about taking the 1 percent and enabling them to be even healthier, I mean that’s cool, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but like 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 — like literally our country will collapse if we don’t. We cannot support a country where everyone is diabetic, like it literally would not work.
ABEL: It’s going to be trouble if we don’t change it pretty significantly, so that’s — 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 and so if they just dip their toes into it and understand that that’s possible, maybe they’ll tell their friends and maybe more people would get on board and so yeah, I think it’s important to start looking in that direction.
JONATHAN: Oh, 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, I mean it might be any number of things for any number of people based on other things — like they have some moral beliefs that are different than from other people or they have some religious beliefs that are different from other people’s, but the point is, happy and healthy life and if we can just help people to understand that the way they’ve been currently taught that is literally the potentially the worst possible approach you could take.
Literally, like 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, like literally that is the worst possible – if you wanted to screw up someone, you’d tell them to do that. If you didn’t like someone and you were like hey here’s some advice for you, that’s the advice you would give them.
ABEL: That’s absolutely true.
JONATHAN: Oh, Abel, thank you so much for joining us today and for all that you do to help celebrate the similarities rather than the demonize the differences and show everyone that we can live better and folks, please do, if you’re not already, check out Abel’s work, which you probably are because the guy is just wildly popular for good reasons, please visit fatburningman.com. Please visit abeljames.com, search for him on iTunes, it pops right to the top because 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, like I said, don’t shove it down their throats, but just lead by positive example and sometimes the hardest people to convince are your family and close friends, so just 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 we want to see in the world.
JONATHAN: So, thank you so much Abel, everyone thank you so much for listening and remember this week and for the rest of your life, eat more, and exercise less, but do that smarter. Talk to you soon.