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Abel James on How to Lose Belly Fat… By Eating More Fat

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“It was about 40 days… and I went from being overweight to basically looking like I could be slapped on the front of a fitness magazine… But interestingly, I didn't really change my exercise.”
— Abel James

Greetings, superfriends! This week, we’re talking about a topic that just about everyone seems to be interested in – fat loss. With nearly 60% of the population suffering from obesity or related afflictions in many western countries, you can see why it’s such a hot topic.

To dive into it, I’ve invited one of THE authorities on the topic – Abel James. Years ago, he decided to depart from all the common dieting advice that had kept him overweight and unhealthy and do his own research and experimentation. Through that research and experimentation, he was able to shed 20 pounds in 40 days. Fast forward a few years, and he is now the host of the award-winning, #1 rated podcast, Fat Burning Man. He’s written books, online courses, and done high-end coaching for elite bodybuilders. In short, this dude knows a ton about diet and fat-loss, and I can’t wait to get into it.

In the episode, we’re going to talk about choosing the right diet, why everything you know about nutrition is probably BS, how to make dietary choices, decreasing body fat, how much is too much… ahhhh there’s a lot of amazing little nuggets here, and frankly I could listen to Abel talk about this stuff all day. So, let's dive in.

In this episode with Abel James, we discuss:

  • How Abel James had massive health issues, despite following the traditional dietary advice
  • Why Abel's apartment burning down became a transformational point in his life
  • How to lose belly fat by eating more fat
  • Where did our fear of fat as a society come from, and how is it flawed?
  • The problems with what has become “normal” to us
  • What happens if you have a high-fat diet but don't exercise?
  • What is the “wild diet” advocated by Abel James, and what does a typical meal look like
  • Real food desserts, dairy, fruit, and other “should I eat it” items
  • The importance of variety, and not eating the same things every day
  • How has Abel's blood work changed now that he eats so much fat and cholesterol?
  • Does Abel do a “cheat day?” Should you?
  • How can you get below 10% body fat – and is it worth it?
  • The tradeoffs of drinking alcohol, and striking a healthy balance
  • Tips on how to transition smoothly into a healthier low-carb diet, and why it's so incredibly painful
  • Micro-exercise, and one piece of homework you can practice today
  • Abel's most recommended book

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Favorite Quotes from Abel James:

“For the first time of my life, I started thinking about diet that way: counting calories, and eating whole grains out of boxes… and over the course of just a few months, all of a sudden, I was fat and sick.”
“It's a holistic thing. It's not just the diet. It's the way that you're living that affects you and affects your health.”
“Generally speaking, processed food is bad for you, real food is good for you.”
“I think we have the wrong idea about what's normal and what's common.”
“We want to experience – to get that full spectrum of what food is meant to be like. But not just mindlessly eating that apple every day.”
“After interviewing a couple hundred  of the top experts in health, they disagree about almost everything, except for the fact that we should all be eating tons of greens.”
“We don't really worry that much about cholesterol anymore.”
“If you're looking to compete at the highest level, avoiding alcohol is almost always a good idea.”
“Break a sweat every day doing something that you love.”
“I think people don't really get it when I talk about how important your natural environment is, and how much control you have over it.”

Transcript:

Introduction: Welcome to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast. Where we interview extraordinary people to bring you the skills and strategies to overcome the impossible. And now here's your host, Jonathan Levi.

Jonathan Levi: Before we get started today, I just want to let you guys know that this episode is brought to you by ONNIT. From their awesome fitness equipment to their ultra high-quality health supplements. Onnit offers an entire range of products to help you become SuperHuman. Check them out at jle.vi/onnit and use the coupon code getonnit for 10% off today.

Greetings, SuperFriends, and welcome to the show. This week we're going to talk about a topic that just about everybody seems to be interested in, and that topic is fat loss. With nearly 60% of the population suffering from obesity. Or related afflictions in most Western countries, you can see what is an important topic to cover, to dive into it.

I've invited one of the authorities on the topic. Now you guys, years ago, he decided to depart from all the common dieting advice. Due to his own health problems. He was eating exactly like his doctor told him to, and yet he was overweight. His blood work was looking terrible. He realized that all the dieting advice that he'd been given even by his own doctors had kept him in this situation.

And he realized he needed to start doing his own research, his own experimentation. And he interviewed hundreds and hundreds of researchers doing cutting-edge experimentation in diet and nutrition. So you guys, through that research and through that experimentation, he was actually able to shed 20 pounds in 40 days.

 Now you fast forward a few years and he's now one of the most rated authorities. One of the top-rated podcast hosts. He hosts a show called Fat Burning Man. He's written books, he teaches online courses, he does high-end coaching for elite bodybuilders. In short, this dude knows almost everything there is to know about diet and fat loss.

And so I just can't wait to get into this episode in it. We're going to talk about choosing the right diet. We're going to talk about why everything that we know about nutrition is usually BS. We're going to talk about how to make dietary choices, life balance, decreasing body fat. Ugh. There's a ton of great stuff in here, guys.

And so I don't want to waste any more time. I want to get straight into it and introduce Mr. Abel, James.

Mr. Abel, James. Abel. James. Yes, I pronounced that right.

Abel James: That's right.

Jonathan Levi:  Welcome to the show. My friend, how are you doing?

Abel James: I'm doing awesome. How are you?

Jonathan Levi: Super awesome. A little bit warm. But super awesome.

Abel James: I hear that.

Jonathan Levi: I am very, very much looking forward to this interview. I thought of you all day, as I wolfed down fatty meals of nuts and meats and all that good stuff.

So I'm pretty stoked about it. Yeah. Well, you know, So Abel in your bio, you mentioned that way back when you were following the common medical advice and, uh, all the kind of lipid hypothesis stuff you were actually overweight, which is hard to believe because I've seen your profile photo. So tell me about that a little bit.

Tell me about your own journey and when you started making your own decisions and doing your own experiments and what happened.

Abel James: Yeah. So it's interesting. Cause I grew up in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire and my mom was into holistic medicine and herbal practices and healing with plants and all of that.

So growing up and whenever I got sick, I she'd throw smelly bombs at me or tinctures or real food, but healing food is medicine. So I kind of came from that. And then as I went along in life and tried to achieve, you know, supertype a or whatever, I found myself with a real job in Washington DC, working in consulting and incredible insurance in my early twenties for the first time in my life.

And so I went into the doctor's office and basically said, doc, here's my history of family problems or whatever, high blood pressure, thyroid issues, gaining weight as you age typical stuff. And he basically said, okay, well, here's what you have to do to nip all this stuff in the bud and recommended that I go super low fat, almost no dietary cholesterol.

And for the first time in my life, I started thinking about diet that way and counting calories, eating whole grains out of boxes, and things like that. And over the course of just a few months, all of a sudden I was fat and sick. That fast, huh? It was pretty rapid, but at the same time, my entire lifestyle change, right.

I was in college. I was very active. And then all of a sudden I'm in the grind working a day job in consulting, moonlighting, learning how to program computers, and also as a musician gigging on the weekends. And so it's a holistic thing, really. It's not just the diet, it's the way that you're living. That affects you and affects your health.

And what happens to a lot of people, just at some point in their life, they take a new job. They graduate from college or whatever. Life just happens. You have kids, maybe you put on weight, but everyone around you does too. And so it doesn't seem abnormal. Everyone says that's the way that you age. That's the genetics that you've got. And I just didn't want to settle for that.

Jonathan Levi: All right. So tell me what happened next.

Abel James: Well, basically I love doing research and a short story is that my apartment building burned down and I lost everything, which was such a dramatic, weird thing that when I looked at myself in the mirror, it was kinda like, all I had was the clothes that I was wearing and my physical body.

And I realized that my health was not in good shape. And I started getting kidney stones. And when something dramatic happens, everything just falls apart. And so my health was one of the first things to go and. I thought that perhaps there was a better way because it wasn't like I was being unhealthy in my behaviors and habits.

I was doing what I was told really, really hard, and really, really specifically intentionally based upon traditional Western practices of medicine and diet and what have you. And so I flipped that on a set. I did something interesting where my older brother growing up, he got into T wash, pumping iron, the cult bodybuilding.

Yeah. And within six months he went from 150 pounds to over 200 pounds, just clean bulk. He turned massive and I think. In a way, I needed that in my head to show what was possible with the human body. That these guys, for whatever reason can just shave off that whenever they want to and put on muscle or whatever.

And I think a lot of people want to discount that type of behavior and specialization as just chalk it all up to drugs, which there's a reason that bodybuilding gets that reputation, for sure. But I think when you look at the way that actual natural bodybuilders do it, they have a great deal of understanding of how the body works.

And they know that a low carb, moderate protein, higher fat diet. Has a lot of great results for not just the metabolism, but also the brain and overall health and long-term. And so when you combine the natural world of healing with food and plants, with understanding that macronutrients and the way that the body is meant to run, looking back at pre-agricultural days, Maybe we shouldn't be eating so many carbs all the time.

And following that kind of, I guess, at this point, disproven advice that we get from traditional media and medicine.

Jonathan Levi: Right. I mean, where did all this stuff come from? I mean, it was original research in the sixties that was heavily biased if I understand correctly.

Abel James: That's right. Yeah. A lot of the arguments for avoiding fat come from research, I'm using air quotes.

That was never really researched. Anyway, most of the studies that we hear about in the media are not great science. And so basically it relied on falsified data. At this point, the cat's out of the bag. You can go on pretty much any blog and get the full explanation of why America is so afraid of fat specifically, but you go to other countries and it's not necessarily as ingrained this fatphobia that we have.

But when you look back in time, we've been eating primarily fat. Since we've been human and fats were prized. They're super nutrient-dense. The problem is this is why it gets so confusing. Is that at the same time, people were fearing fats. Some of the fats that they were fearing like trans fats, industrial oils, processed foods are bad for you, but so are processed carbs and processed proteins.

Right? Generally speaking, processed food is bad for you. Real food is good for you.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah, absolutely. That's a great quote, by the way, I'm going to need to remember to tag that one in the blog post. So, Abel, you switched basically. You figure this stuff out, you figure out that basically everything we know about dieting for the past 50 years has somewhat been an elaborate lie.

What happened next? I mean, how long did it take you to shave off the weight, clear out your head, kind of improve your energy, all the typical kind of stuff that people experience when they switch to a paleo or less processed diet?

Abel James: Yeah, it's pretty wacky. It was about 40 days. A little bit over a month.

And I went from being overweight to basically looking like it could be slapped on the front of a fitness magazine. It was that dramatic, I think because my changes were. Incredibly dramatic in terms of what I changed in my diet. But interestingly, I didn't really change my exercise at that point. I was running around 20, 30 miles a week, so I was running a lot, but I was running wow.

Overweight. It was the wrong diet. And so when I flipped, it started doing Aikido style, high-fat, nutrient-dense, lower carb diet. My body really responded. And for me, I don't say or do any of this because, Hey, I'm great. And I'm awesome. I think we have the wrong idea about what's normal. And what's common, right?

So I looked normal before when I was 20, 30 pounds overweight and kind of sick. Cause that's just typical these days. But I think what we need to do is look back at, even just going back a few decades before the seventies, even most people were not overweight. They looked awesome. Right? For the most part, you look at wartime photos or whatever.

Almost everyone is in the natural state of their bodies. They look. Relatively healthy. And you just look at what's happened to us over the course of the past few decades and Holy smokes, you see a healthy person walking around and they look like a freak. And so I think it's important to reestablish and recalibrate what is normal.

Jonathan Levi: That's an interesting point. The other thing that's interesting is the correlation between exercise, of course, in people's mind and the fat diet, because every single day, almost anytime I have a meal with someone and they see the sheer quantity of fat that I consume, they go. Man. I wish I could eat as much fat as you do, but I could never work out as much as you do.

I'm like if I stop working out tomorrow, I'm pretty much going to look the same. I'm going to be a lot weaker, but I'm not going to put on any weight if I stop working out. That's the weird part, realistically speaking.

Abel James: Yeah. And I think a lot of people get the wrong idea. I've had similar people say, well, of course, he looks like that because he works out all the time, but I broke my foot last summer.

Which basically made it. So I couldn't do almost any of the exercises that I would recommend to someone who wanted to look and feel great, right. Because basically bearing or resistance exercises where it's at. When it comes to a lot of this stuff as is high intensity. And when you break your foot, you can't do any of those things.

No. No. So that was a really fascinating experience and experiment in what happens with your body in the absence of doing that type of exercise when you keep your diet in line. And I lost a little bit of muscle because I couldn't do heavy deadlifts or whatever anymore, but because I was doing handstand pushups instead just a couple of minutes a day, or pull-ups when I could.

And other things that I just kind of built on overtime. I was looking at maintaining the muscle that I had and kind of treating it as just the rest that I should have given myself anyway. Right. And when you have your diet dialed in. You can do that and it doesn't really change your body composition. It's amazing.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. Well, it's not just that also, right? It's once you're eating a higher protein, you know, it's the portion of plate. You cut out the carbohydrates. You have to fill the calories in somewhere. Inevitably. A lot of that's going to be protein and inevitably, anytime you add a lot of protein, you're going to add muscle mass.

And then the next logical step is every ounce of muscle you add on is just burning calories all day long. I mean, that's what muscles do, right? Yeah. They consume energy. So me walking around consumes more energy than someone, 30 pounds lighter than me, simple as that. So I'm a walking, a fat-burning calorie-burning machine.

Abel James: But even that can get out of hand. That's why I think a lot of people get the wrong idea about it because there's a big difference, right? Between someone like me who, yeah. I have some muscle, but I'm not a bodybuilder or one of those power, lifter types who just has an enormous amount of muscle. Right. And if you want to have that, then you have to eat.

A crazy amount of food because it's almost unnatural, right. To have 20 pounds more muscle than I have right now is almost this unnatural state for the body where you need to eat a lot, burn a lot, be super anabolic. And so I think. It's beneficial for a lot of us to take a step back and be like, okay, so why are we doing this again?

Right. Is it because you can't optimize everything at the same time? Do you want to live a long time? Maximize longevity maximize the amount of muscle that you have? There are so many different ways that you can do it. And I think a lot of people never really define what that goal is.

Jonathan Levi:  Right. Absolutely. I want to come back able, because we talked a little bit about paleo and keto diet, and I think we've covered it on the show, but I'm not sure everyone has turned into all of those episodes.

So walk me through kind of the diet that you advocate and what it means, what it looks like, and why exactly it's beneficial.

Abel James: Yeah. So my book is called The Wild Diet and that's what I call the way that I do it. Mostly because the word paleo and a lot of these other dietary terms have been more and more abused by marketers.

So people are getting the wrong idea about how all this stuff works. But basically what my meal looks like is a great deal of non-starchy veggies above-ground veggies. So that looks like kale. A lot of the time, green leafy things, and also lots of colorful veggies. So imagine a salad or a green smoothie or something like that.

I make sure that I get my greens every day, usually covered with a lot of fat. So it could be cheese, avocado, guacamole, olive oil, basically, any type of delicious fat that's natural. It can go over the top. And you rounded out with about a Palm-sized portion of protein. Sometimes more, if I'm being really physically active, I like combining activity, you know, not necessarily a great deal of activity, but enough protein and some amount of starch and carbs with refeeds to fuel activity, as opposed to just super high fat ketogenic or whatever.

Where you might be adapted or you might not. And we can get into that, that more specifically if you want to, but suffice it to say the plate should be. The majority delicious veggies, fresh ones, not really focused on grains, staying away from industrial oils, basically anything processed. We do a lot of cooking at home, and then we actually eat quite a few desserts too, that we make ourselves that don't really have sugar, but they have real food.

In them. So it could be fruit or a bit of sweet potato. We do our car brief feeds with the most delicious food possible. Yeah.

Jonathan Levi: So I wanted to ask you about that. The first thing is I was a little bit surprised to hear you mentioned cheese because cheese is kind of a high glycemic food, but also fruit. I mean, I try to shy away from eating more than a piece or two of fruit a day.

And I try to get the rest of my nutrients from vegetables unless it's. Not sweet fruits, like tomatoes, things like that. What are your thoughts on a fruit and cheese?

Abel James: So that's where it all comes down to what are your goals? Right. So for me, I'm looking to maximize the amount of fun that we have with our food.

The basically longevity, anti-aging type things. I also come from a family of dairy farmers. So I've been tested a number of times has done a bunch of panels on dairy sensitivity, gluten sensitivity, and a lot of other things I do fairly well with, especially aged cheese, raw cheeses, raw dairy. I've always really enjoyed it, but I stick to high fat.

So a lot of times I'll put heavy cream in my coffee. Some people who are more on the paleo side of things. Don't do dairy at all. It can stall fat loss for sure, but it's a very different deal. If you're looking to lean down compared to maintain and you can get away with it. A lot more. So I like getting away with eating delicious food.

And so I'm a sucker for high-fat cottage cheese and things like that. Like that. Yeah. When it comes to fruit, though, I do stay away from the tropical fruits. The higher glycaemic varieties are the ones that are super high in fructose, but at the same time, In the summer, we'll have some watermelon, right.

And we might have some tropical fruit if we're in Thailand or in Peru or whatever, you know, if we're traveling around, we want to experience and get that full spectrum of what food is meant to be like, but not just mindlessly eating an old Apple every day. The way that most people do in America, that's not the same type of fruit that I'm talking about.

Jonathan Levi: No way. I always like to tell people if you look at in the state of nature and correct me if I'm wrong, but it's pretty hard to find an unripe leafy green, right? You can eat broccoli at any point, you can eat spinach at any point, even cucumbers, you can eat. At any point, finding ripe fruit pretty hard when you don't have greenhouse technology of GMOs that are made to ripen faster, you don't have ethylene gas.

That's ripening your bananas in the truck. So we're not evolved to be able to eat a banana every day, a fruit salad along the side, but lunch have a fruit smoothie with a bunch of delicious ripe sugar, rich berries. Just doesn't happen in nature. You can't eat a lot of that stuff unless it's perfectly ripe and you happen to find it before it rots.

Abel James: That's a really great point. I was doing kettlebells outside this morning. I noticed we just moved into this place outside of the smoky mountains. And I saw some wild strawberry plants. And I was bummed that I missed those, but you've got like a two-week window and then a couple of weeks ago, the blackberries outside peaked, and now they're all gone bears and the birds and whatever got them.

And I guess it's a really good point when some people say. Salad or fruit or green smoothie like I did, they might mean put in half a pineapple and a banana, and then like a little handful of greens. We don't do hardly any fruit in our smoothies, especially because what you're doing when you're basically liquefying a solid is that you're making it super absorbable and you don't want to be absorbing a crap ton of sugar or fructose at the same time that you're having a big glass of food. Right? So we're talking about greens. And basically, the reason that I prioritize green so much is after interviewing a couple hundred of the top experts in health. They disagree about almost everything, except for the fact that we should all be eating tons of greens.

So totally it's great advice. And it's something that everyone knows that they should be doing, but it's hard to do. So that's why it's fun to make something like green smoothie, just like, Oh yeah. Let's have a green smoothie every day.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah, exactly. Although I saw Ben Greenfield actually the other day tweeted.

And then apparently kale is like one of the most effective plants at pulling out heavy metals in the soil. And so if you only stick to kale, it's just proof, even the most healthy food. If you eat it in excess, if you're not switching it up to other greens, spinach, once in a while, stuff like that, you can actually, uh, get pretty sick from eating too much kale every day, just because of the heavy metal content.

Abel James: It can also suppress the thyroid and oxalates and spinach. You can overdo it on anything. So that's why it's so important to really. Not have the same thing every day, even if it is, you know, a similar category, right. If it is a green smoothie, you're putting different things in there.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. A couple more rapid-fire questions I want to hit you with.

One is a lot of people hear about this diet. They hear about all the fat they hear about inevitably. There's a good amount of meat involved and they ask, what about cholesterol? What about heart disease? Admittedly, my total cholesterol is very high. So I'm curious what your thoughts are on the matter.

Abel James: Yeah, that's something that is definitely specific to each person. For me personally, I like running my panels every so often. And when I was eating the recommended diet from my doctors and whole grains and focusing on carbs, I had very unattractive blood panels and blood triglycerides and cholesterol.

What have you ever since I made that switch? To focusing more on filling up with fats and protein, as opposed to carbs, and doing more of, a carb refeeds type approach. My blood pressure is in the athlete range as are pretty much all of my blood panels. My wife, on the other hand, you know, she might have high total cholesterol, but that's not really something that we worry about because her body fat is fantastic. She looks fantastic. She feels fantastic. And overall cholesterol numbers are just calculated. Anyway, when you try to drill down into what cholesterol is doing and all of these biochemical pathways of whether or not you're going to have a heart attack, most of these rabbit holes just fall apart because cholesterol is in every cell it's essential to the human body, right.

Normal functioning of the human body. And so I try to make this as practical as possible. And so suffice it to say, we don't really worry that much about cholesterol anymore. As long as we get our diet, right. We're not worried about it.

Jonathan Levi: I love it. I mean, I realized that this whole cholesterol thing was off when a friend of mine was put on Lipitor for having total cholesterol over 200, which is really not that bad.

And mine's like in the 300 range. And, uh, you know, his doctor was so concerned about cholesterol, so concerned and he's on liberatory for six months. He starts losing sensation in his fingers only to realize that. Every nerve in your body is made of myelin, which is based on cholesterol. Right? You need this stuff.

You really, really need it. Not just for that, but also for proper hormonal function. I mean, I could go on for days and days and days about cholesterol just by itself. Let me ask this. Do you have a cheat day?

Abel James: A cheat day? Well, Like I said before we have desserts, pretty often we just make them differently. We make them at home. And so the way that a lot of people define cheat day is like going and bingeing on Doritos or getting a huge pizza or eating donuts or something like that. At the very beginning, we did that a little bit years ago when we first started doing this, but at this point, No, we basically just eat real food all the time.

We cook almost all of it at home. We go out sometimes, but we're staying away from bad cheat foods because it makes you feel terrible. And even if your not gaining fat necessarily the things that it's doing. Inside your body, the things that it's doing to your gut and gut flora, and gut health can really affect you for a long time.

So we're doing our best, especially because we're looking at potentially starting a family relatively soon. So we're trying to be super clean with a lot of this stuff. And it's really easy to get tripped up when you eat out or when you don't pay attention or when you cheat too hard because there is some nasty stuff hidden in our foods.

Jonathan Levi: Totally. Let me ask you this. A lot of people when they hear about kind of the quantity of foods that are not allowed, not, not allowed, but not recommended, you know, no bread, no starches, no processed foods. A lot of people ask me, don't you feel that you're sacrificing your quality of life? Are you restricting yourself?

If you don't eat chocolate cake, doesn't it take the fun out of living? Is that really a life worth living? What do you say to people who think that way?

Abel James: Try our chocolate cake.

Jonathan Levi: That's a good answer. That's better than my answer. I usually tell them, you know, diabetes isn't much fun either. So yeah.

Abel James: Yeah. Well, I think it's a good point, right? Because in the fifties, for example, you imagine if you and I are having this conversation, we're not talking via satellite or whatever. We're probably at a diner eating pie and drinking coffee or whatever, but we're still lean and relatively healthy, I think to a degree.

The human body is meant to withstand eating junk every once in a while, you can get away with it. It's fine. But habitually, it's going to add up and really make you sick. And so what we do is we try to sneak real food into desserts. So we'll make our own cookies. Last night, my wife made muffins, pumpkin muffins.

And so, like I said, I do relatively low-ish carb Keto most of the time. And then a few days a week, especially on lifting days, I'll do more carbs. And so these are pumpkin muffins that we made primarily with pumpkin and egg. And then sweetened it with a little bit like a tablespoon of I think it was maple syrup last night and a few other almond flour, coconut flour would be pretty typical to throw in there.

Jonathan Levi: So not wheat flour.

Abel James: We're not using wheat flour, we're not using anything that's highly processed, highly glycemic, even a lot of people in paleo will use tapioca flour, which for some reason is paleo. But if you ask me, it's absolutely not paleo, right?

Any of those finely ground powders, wouldn't be even coconut and almond. So we try to do it all relatively sparingly, but we're focusing on making it low glycemic and low sugar. So I love that we keep less than five grams of sugar in. And usually less than that in pretty much everything that we eat. And that's what I recommend is you can still eat delicious chocolate.

That's not reliant on sugar for the taste, but on the chocolate itself and the quality of the chocolate.

Jonathan Levi: Sure. I like to have a nice 85%, a hunk of dark chocolate every day. That's the stuff, man. I've only recently figured out that this is okay. I didn't prior. I realize that I thought the other 15% was just straight sugar.

It turns out it's not. Right. That's very cool. Well, let me ask this, we talked a little bit about if you want to lean down versus if you want to maintain one of the things that I've personally struggled with is getting below 10 to 11% body fat. So my question is a two-part one. One, how does someone get below that level? And two, is it really worth the investment? And is that a healthy decision to make.

Abel James: Great question. I think so I'll be snarky with my first answer. Number one, if you want to get down there, you absolutely can. Almost everybody can. But before you do ask someone, who's done it before, what it's like and what it takes, because it's basically the most restrictive diet and lifestyle you could ever imagine. And not only that, I coached a guy named Chaz, who I had on my podcast. Who's a personal friend for a bodybuilding competition leaned down from, he was about 14% body fat, too. 3% body fat. And not only did he lose over 25 pounds in just a few weeks and he actually placed in the competition, but his entire personality changed, and he kind of lost the will to live right, like completely different per person.

And if you talk to most fitness models or other people who are at an elite level, it's either a lifestyle choice. If someone's an Olympian or if you are a fizzy competitor and that's what you do. Then that's kind of your thing and that's cool. And you can be really happy doing that, but for normal people, when you look at someone who slapped on the front of the fitness magazine, for the most part, especially if they're below 10% body fat, they are not walking around like that every day.

And I think it's really important to recognize that fact. So number two, I've gotten below 10% body fat, a number of times doing it different ways you can do it high fat. You can do it with high carb. You can do it with a heck of a lot of exercise or almost zero exercise, whatever. But. My wife hates it really because I don't look as healthy.

My skin is more see-through and you can see more definition in my arms and abs and whatever, but I also don't really want to have sex that much. I am, generally speaking, lower energy. And I think that's somewhat a personal thing, right? There's some people do really well at a really low body fat. Some people are naturally skinny.

I'm more of a Mesa morph-type body composition, right. Where I can get fat, I can lose fat, but I feel better when I'm around 10, 12, maybe eight to 12% body fat, depending on a whole bunch of different things. But I would say to kind of pull it all together. Most people think that they want that they don't actually want that.

Jonathan Levi: Fair enough. I think you've talked me out of it.

Abel James: Well, okay. One more thing about that is that a lot of people don't realize the psychological toll. Imagine you got down to 3% body fat see-through skin, perfect abs whatever, right. You're there.

Jonathan Levi:  Isn't that where you're at the morgue or very close to it.

Abel James: You die. If you get less than that. Yeah. You literally die. And for women, you know, the numbers more around like eight to 10, it totally depends on body composition. But if you get less than that, You usually lose your period. You lose fertility, you're sacrificing a lot of things, and who knows about your long-term health, but you will also for the rest of your life, always be fatter than that.

And you have to realize that, right? Like that's a weird deal.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. That is a weird deal. I never thought of it that way. It's like you go from right now. I'm the healthiest I've ever been to the next day. It becomes this slippery slope.

Abel James: Yeah. So I've seen a lot of people fall into that and really negative stuff can happen psychologically when you push yourself a little bit too far.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah, I think that's a really important point to make. We had a recent episode where a guest said just because the fitness model is smiling on the cover of the magazine doesn't mean that she's not hating life at that exact moment.

Abel James: No, she probably is.

Jonathan Levi:  Probably PR she or he abased on what you've just told us.

Abel James: Yeah.

Jonathan Levi: Let me ask you this. Abel, how about alcohol? Where does alcohol fit into this?

Abel James: Well, I'm also a musician. So I was paid in alcohol for years. And I would say if you're looking to compete at the highest level, avoiding alcohol is almost always a good idea. If I'm looking to lean down for any particular reason, alcohol is usually the first thing to go that said drinking wine or a beer every once in a while or clear alcohols.

I really like absent kind of like herbs, tonics that have been used medicinally for a really long time. It can be enjoyable. And for me, I get always cut out the boss's birthday cake or like workplace Costco cakes, whatever people are eating there. Right. Like for me, that's not deprivation because it's so sticky sweet.

It's just not something that I want, but cutting out alcohol forever. It would be tough for me because I love being social. I love drinking good wine and getting into those more kind of boutique-y type things. I lived in Austin for way too long. So into that crap. Yeah. But there's a big difference between the people who say one to two drinks every day or once a day.

Is good for your health or one to two drinks every once in a while is good for your health. Those two things. I think people get confused hearing that, right? They hear, okay, I can have two drinks a day. That's 14 drinks a week, right. Or I can have one to two drinks once a week, which is one to two drinks a week, monumental difference between those things.

So I'm more on the, okay. We can drink on the weekend if we want to, but generally speaking, we avoid it. The vast majority of the time.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah, I'm with you on that. I've completely cut out alcohol, just because for me personally, I don't think it adds as much value as it takes away.

Abel James: For sure. You don't really tolerate hangovers exactly. After college or later in life. You're just like, why do I feel so poorly?

Jonathan Levi: The other thing is like the more in tune with your body, you become, I mean if I have even two drinks than I before, I sense it the next day when I'm working out and everything just feels a little bit off, your balance is off. You feel a little dehydrated.

So for me, it hasn't been worth it, but I do miss a good glass of whiskey once in a while.

Abel James: Yeah. And if you do it once in a while, you know what it does to you. Then you just drink it, you enjoy it. And then you move beyond. And then once you experience that little bit of a headache or hangover the next day, you're just like, okay, I'm glad I only do this once a quarter or only on special occasions or Christmas time, because most people aren't optimizing their body and physique and workouts around Christmas, right around the holidays.

Jonathan Levi: Definitely not so able, I want to get into a little bit of the practical questions. We really like to give our audience practical things that they can apply right now. So the first thing I would ask is I've helped a lot of friends and family members move on to a paleo diet, right. And as I'm sure, you know, they go through quite literally a withdrawal, same as quitting smoking, same as quitting, any kind of substance, whether it be coffee or cigarettes.

Is there any way, you know, if people want to experiment with that, that's a huge barrier to entry to go through this two to three-week insane craving headache, exhaustion, saga. Do you have any thoughts or advice on that?

Abel James: Yeah, well, the worst your diet was before all of that, the worst year, her experience is going to be when you do that hard shift into a totally different lifestyle. Right. And even from your gut, for a perspective like that, your gut is running on the vast majority of the cells in your body are running on sugar. And if you starve them of that, you're going to experience them starving, right. And giving you those cravings and basically off-gassing all of this junk that shouldn't be there, to begin with.

So you're doing damage control at that point. So for some people doing a hard shift into it and just sucking it up. Can be the right course of action, but you could also, I've seen a lot of people have success doing a higher carb paleo approach, right? If you're refeeding every night with a sweet potato or something like that, you might not be losing fat at the beginning, but at least you're getting a handle.

On what eating this way is like. And so I would always recommend staying away from high-glycemic sugars. You can go into almost any whole foods now and get a paleo bar that has like 30 grams of sugar in it, but it's totally paleo because it's honey, whatever, it's ridiculous. Stay away from that stuff.

But sometimes doing a higher approach to carbs on paleo at the beginning can be beneficial for some people, especially women, you know, can fall into the negativity that comes along with some of these changes at the beginning. So basically what you want to do is stack the deck in your favor, make any change to your diet or lifestyle as awesome as it can be at the beginning.

And usually, that's just taking small steps. And so instead of changing up everything in your diet, I would say have a green smoothie in the morning. Let it push out the cereal. And then just kind of go from there, make another good decision that gets you closer to optimal and closer to fresh food every few days or every few weeks.

Jonathan Levi: Right? Especially like you said, the women in my life, when I kind of helped my mother transition off of a lot of grains, a lot of bread, I took with her, the Tim Ferriss 4-Hour Body approach. So, Hey mom, instead of having, you know, your eggs with two slices of bread, have some black beans with them and then slowly but surely the black beans became less and less and less.

And yeah. Now I have a paleo mother, which is kind of the coolest thing ever

Abel James: It's the coolest thing.

Jonathan Levi: Right. All right. So let me ask you a couple more quick practical questions, and then I will let you go to your busy day. What's one piece of homework that our audience should experiment with. I think you probably gave it with the green smoothie in the morning, but in case there's anything else you want to do assign as homework.

Abel James: How about micro exercise, especially if you're injured, if you're a little bit burned out. One thing that I started doing, especially once I broke my foot and got injured was instead of focusing on big workouts a few times a week is small ones that are like two to five minutes long. Every single day, aside from Sunday.

And so that was really cool because it got me to focus more on doing acrobatic-type stuff. Right. So like handstand pushups, I couldn't do anything else with a broken foot. So I'm like, what can I do? So I did that and focused on a step further doing fingertip pushups and focusing on mobility and a little bit of yoga.

So yeah. Instead of really torturing yourself with tons of exercise. We all know, especially if you get diet right, that you don't need to do a heck of a lot of exercise, but I've found that the sweet spot isn't necessarily a big, long workout. But just to that point of where you kind of get the pump, you're all warmed up.

You know, you're 20 to 30% bigger base usually gets bright red and looks all stupid. That's what you want to aim for pretty much every day, not just for your body, but because it totally resets all of your brain chemicals in a super positive way. So I would say break a sweat every day, get that pump every day and see how you feel, see how your production goes way up from doing that.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah, the mental benefits. I mean, as you know, I teach a course in accelerated learning and that's one of our tips is you really, really want to learn something, get up, do a few pushups, run around the block, kind of thing. Get the endorphins flowing. It's really, really powerful, not just from a physical perspective, but from a mental as well.

Abel James: Exactly. You're not burning off calories. You're just basically cycling the blood in your body and through your brain things and make sure that you're getting all the nutrients and oxygen you need.

Jonathan Levi: I love that that's solid, solid homework. Abel, what's one book that you've most recommended to other people.

Abel James: This is going to be such a weird one. It's called Wabi Sabi. Okay. It's basically an ancient way of looking at the world as an Eastern practice of the, it comes from the world of tea, looking at things that are ugly that most people would say are completely ugly, like rusted or rotting. Imagine a Hobbit hole that's been ignored for the last 200 years.

It's something like that. Looking at that as beautiful. Because I think as people in the modern world, we see iPhones as beautiful or something, or this high tech skyscraper type world looking at a stone covered in Moss. Is a really cool exercise and meditation for the human mind. I think to reconnect with where we all came from and what is actually beautiful.

Jonathan Levi: I love that. That's a really good one. Wabi Sabi all right. We'll add that up in the show notes.

Abel James: I bet no one else has come up with them.

Jonathan Levi: Nobody else has come up with that one, which leads to the next question really nicely, which is what's one thing you believe that other people think is crazy?

Abel James: Oh, there were so many of those.

Jonathan Levi: This is the man who had 60% fat and burns fat.

Abel James: Well, I think people don't really get it. When I talk about how important your natural environment is and how much control you have over it. So for example, a lot of people just kind of get looped into their own patterns. It's automatic, you go into work or you live in a certain place and you can't move anywhere else.

And you can go on that vacation because who knows what would happen to your job or to your friends or whatever. But we've basically been traveling the world for the last. Year lived in like 35 different States for short periods of time at different countries. And we went around and sampled different lifestyles and even did Airbnb and lived in other people's houses, you know, trying to see what that lifestyle is like.

And then based upon that picked the one that suited us the best, which is living in the middle of nowhere and like the smokey mountains in Tenessee.

Jonathan Levi: How cool.

Abel James:  So I think what it really is, is it's about. We can exercise the power to identify what we want and then pursue it.

Jonathan Levi: I love that. I really, really love that, especially because just this week, I've put out a course on Personal Branding and how everyone in anyone out there has expertise they can share with the world as you and I do. And turn that into your livelihood. And that's exactly what it's about. It's about having that freedom and that agency, you know, over your life and your lifestyle.

Abel James: Especially in today's modern world, we have more freedom than ever and barely ever exercise it. Yeah. So it's really important to identify that, Oh my God, I could go on a road trip or I could, you know, go on that vacation or I could move to a totally foreign, crazy place just to see if I like it.

And maybe you would, and maybe that would completely change your life trajectory from that point on. I know it's, it's changed our life in a massive way. Just realizing that okay. It might not be easy, but we can work from anywhere. So let's do that.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah, absolutely. Actually, on that note, we haven't really had a chance to talk about what you're doing. I mean, I know in the intro, I talked a little bit about your podcast. You've mentioned your book, fill us in on what you're doing and where people can learn more and hear more of your wisdom.

Abel James: Yeah. So the best place to find me is my show and my podcast is called Fat Burning Man. And you can find all of the shows @fatburningman.com.

The name of my book, you can find it anywhere books are sold is called The Wild Diet, and coming up in the next month or two, I'm also releasing a music album called Swamp Thing with a bunch of guys from the Tim McGraw band, oddly enough, which is like blues funk and I'm playing saxophone, singing, playing guitar.

So it's going to be interesting to see how the podcasting world responds to it. Cause it's super fun. It's really cool. Great passion project. And that'll be called swampthing@abeljames, A B E L James.com.

Jonathan Levi: Awesome. So Fat Burning Man for the audience. Remember guys that is not a desert art festival for obese people. That is the name of the podcast and awesome. I think we've all learned a lot today, Abel. I really, really appreciate your time. I do hope we keep in touch and we'll put all those links for everyone that's sitting in the audience.

Those will be @becomingasuperhuman.com. Abel, any last comments or words of advice for our audience today?

Abel James: One last thing, I kind of forgot to say around the working out thing. Break a sweat every day, doing something that you love that's the most.

Jonathan Levi: All right, so sex counts. Hey.

Abel James:  That totally counts.

Jonathan Levi: That's immediately where I land pump on as long as, wow. There's so many meetings. Yeah, I love it. Awesome. Able on that note, we will close. I want to thank you one more time for your time today.

Abel James: Thanks for having me.

Jonathan Levi: My pleasure. Take care.

Abel James: Cheers.

Closing: Thanks for tuning in to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast for more great skills and strategies or for links to any of the resources mentioned in this episode, visit www.becomingasuperhuman.com/podcast.

We'll see you next time.

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4 Comments

  1. Luiz
    at — Reply

    Thanks, I learned a lot of interesting things in past episodes.

  2. Shivaditya Purohit
    at — Reply

    loved th heart and the depth of the conversation. The way that Dr. Metivier shared from his enormous experience and insights was just amazing. Thank you Jonathan for doing this podcast!! 🙂

  3. Rob
    at — Reply

    Great interview with Dr. Greg Wells! He mentioned a doctor from Colorado around the 42:30 point of the podcast, discussing turmeric and black pepper. I couldn’t make out the doctor’s name. Can you provide me with his full name and maybe his website or contact info. Interested in his products.

    Thanks,

    Rob

  4. Muhammed Sani Ibrahim
    at — Reply

    I am new here, and learning really fast.
    Thank you.

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