Written by Christopher Kelly
July 6, 2017
Christopher: Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast. My name's Christopher Kelly and today, I have two special guests. The first is Abel James, otherwise known as the Fat-Burning Man. Hi, Abel!
Abel: Hello! Thanks so much for having me.
Christopher: It's absolutely our pleasure, and the second is Dr. Tommy Woods. Say hello, Tommy.
Tommy: Hello, Tommy.
Christopher: I knew you were going to do that and I was trying to reword that sentence in my head as I was saying it.
Tommy: You set me up for it every time.
Christopher: Every time. For those of you that don't know Abel, and I'm sure that won't be very many people, but I'll say this anyway. Abel is the host of the extremely popular Fat-Burning Man Show rated number one in health on iTunes in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Greece, and Finland, very cold, very big biohacker community in Finland. He developed the number one app in food and drug across the world, and number six app overall in the Apple Store in 2013. He's a keynote speaker for Ivy League institutions, the federal government, Ancestral Health, Paleo, and Fortune 500 companies, very, very cool. Abel, thanks so much for joining us today. Can you tell us a bit about why is it you do this work?
Abel: Yes, absolutely because I know a lot of people who are listening especially these days, they feel like they need to do something, maybe do something different, and you'd go through this life cycle -- or a lot of us do anyway -- at some point in your life, you're sick, you reach rock bottom, and it could be while you're at elite performance in other ways where your immune system's shot or you're totally fatigued, but at some point, most of us get there. I got there in my early 20s and I grew up and I was never an elite level runner, but I was always pretty good, and so it was something that I did all the time. I was exercising a lot. I went to Dartmouth and took on some loans to get there, so when I graduated, I wanted to pay them off as quickly as possible.
I got my first desk job as a consultant in Washington DC. I was moonlighting learning how to do computer programming and gigging playing saxophone and guitar and singing with bands, so I was burning the candle at both ends trying to pay off my loans and all this stuff. And meanwhile, I got the best health insurance money could buy because I was working with Fortune 500s and the tippity top of the federal government as well, and so we had what they call the Cadillac health care plan. I grew up lower middle class in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire and even though my mom was a nurse -- she's a nurse practitioner -- we hardly ever had great insurance or a way to get great care. And so, I had surgeries and by the end of a year, I learned how to read a lot of the blood testing work that I had done because I was getting tested every two weeks. That was one of the cool parts. I could get all of this done for free, but after going on the diet that my doctor recommended, which is basically cut fats, cut salt, cut calories, cut meat, don't eat any red meat, so I was going vegetarian, doing a lot of things that I thought was healthy.
Skip ahead about a couple of years after all of that, I was 30 lbs overweight. I lost everything in an apartment fire and the stress of that experience losing everything and I was broke at the time just made it so my health came crashing down. I looked at myself and my life was a mess. And once again, this is in my early 20s. Despite having some successes, that was my rock bottom and I realized that health had always been something that was really a deep interest of mine and I thought that I had it down, and clearly I was looking at a failure. That was the first time like I have definitely failed here, but if there's anything I can work on -- the rest of my life is in shambles -- let's make it my health.
I've always been kind of a nerd. I read a lot and I study a ton, and so I directed all that energy in trying to learn how to basically -- we didn't call it back then, but hack my body, learn how to basically use what I learned from reading my charts at the medical offices and change my diet accordingly and see what happened. You guys know how the rest of the story played out, but that was basically the birth of Fat-Burning Man, which is like a triple entendre, but a lot of that for me started with the house burning down and me losing everything. I had a successful day job and I was able to pay off my loans eventually, but I started up Fat-Burning Man because -- okay, so I've been doing health blogging for a while, but only my aunt read it. I wasn't really putting my personality out there. I wasn't bringing it. I wasn't being like this is me; let's have some fun with it. The first blog that I had was called Honest Abe's Tips, and I was anonymous because I was working with consultants and tippity top of some of the companies that I was learning too much about, so I couldn't really say things as me.
When Fat-Burning Man came out, I also have been a musician for a long time playing gigs, doing stuff in all sorts of different ways, but it's more performance-based and it's a little bit more potty mouth or more of a comedic approach. And so, I started this as a way to do good in the world on my own terms.
When I would do live shows sometimes for hundreds or even thousands of people with music, I could say whatever I wanted to in that show. I could say it and I knew that it had effect on people, but when I started working with media, I realized that a lot of people don't have their own free speech when you see people on mainstream or you listen to mainstream radio. So for me, I started up the blog and the podcast as a way to get people who I thought had something to say that others could learn from on the same place that we could all learn from each other together.
I started off with people who had lost at least a hundred pounds who have kept it off for at least five years because I thought that was a metric where it's like sure, I was able to get a six-pack, but I'm like a young buck in his prime, in his 20s. You should be able to do that. That's not special. Keeping a hundred pounds off for five years, that's special. I want to learn from you, so that's how it started. And then fortunately, I was able to build a business around it which now it's me and my wife and a small team of people and our dog is our mascot and this is just the biggest thing of all time. I can't believe that I wake up every morning and I'm able to do what I do.
Tommy: There are so many places that we can dive in and ask you for your expertise and the experience here --
Abel: I'm your Huckleberry.
Tommy: But I think that that process of divesting yourself off the shackles of free speech, you said it, a lot of people who have opinions but maybe because of the job they're in or they're worried that somebody is going to read it -- and I've definitely said stuff on podcast where I'm like one day, I'm going to regret that. I think you have one episode on Chris' podcast from a long time and I'm like somebody is going to find that at some point.
Christopher: And it's going to stop me from getting tenureship.
Tommy: Yes, [0:06:44] [Indiscernible]. Anyway, was the fact that you're a performer just make that so much easier that you could just completely throw it away and not worry about it, or was it a process that you really have to work through yourself?
Abel: It's interesting that you've asked that because -- Abel James Bascom, that's my full name, but when I was working with highfaluting clients and I was in my 20s at the time, even though my friends called me AJ or Abel James or whatever, it just didn't work because I was trying to be professional, and you know that being in academia. You need to put on your grownup pants sometimes. And so for me, that persona who is giving keynotes for the federal government, the Department of Education -- I worked with the Department of Labor Congressional Research Service -- I just couldn't say things, but Abel James playing shows at night could. And so, starting up the podcast under that guise where I was able to just do the things that other people weren't able to do or willing to do was super important I think for people who want to get a start that way. It's not like you need to take on a penname or anything, but it is important to understand if you're living your life according to other people's expectations of you because that'll be a shackle if you want to grow and if you want to affect other people.
You asked if being a performer would affect that head on getting started, and if anything, for me -- if anyone's wondering about what it was like when I was first getting started, just go to my YouTube channel, Abel James, and look at some of my first videos because a lot of people say, "Well, you're so polished. You understand how this works now. I could never be like that." And if you look at some of my earlier stuff, you'll understand that the only leg up that I had was that I had been making a fool out of myself for decades at that point and I was willing to look a little silly and stumble over my words, and then you do that hundreds of times, you put in thousands of hours, and eventually you have to get better, but the whole reason that you're doing it starts with we're here to help the world learn and it doesn't matter if two people are listening to this. This could just be a conversation between us and it will still have a ton of effect on the world, but isn't it beautiful that we live in a world now where we can document this and then distribute it ourselves for free to the entire world forever? That's rad.
So I think taking advantage of that is something that is by definition infinite and scalable and you can grow exponentially that way. And for anyone looking to get their start, that's what you have to do, but the biggest thing that you have is your true self, your true authenticity and all the weirdest things that you're probably most self-conscious about will be the most endearing things that make them fall in love with you in the end just like if you're married or you have a girl friend or your family. Best case scenario, they'll love you for those things not because you have perfect teeth that ding every time you smile or all that other crap that you --
Tommy: You do have those, Abel.
Abel: It's all lighting. It's TV.
Christopher: Actually, I sharpened my teeth especially for this video. For the people listening just to the audio, we're actually shooting a video for this one, so if you come to the show notes on my YouTube channel, I'll link to that in the show notes so you can watch the video, if you prefer.
Abel: Right on.
Christopher: Talk about the Wild Diet. I really want to know about your solution, the thing that helped you refine your health.
Abel: Yes. Well, it was basically unpeeling all of the mainstream marketing misinformation and then all of the government dogma that we've been getting so long that's corrupted, wrong, outdated. It wasn't hard. I was surprised by how straightforward and simple it was to get results in the beginning. That's why when I lost myself 20 lbs in about a month of eating higher fat, I started eating a lot of my favorite foods again like butter. I do eat dairy, grass-fed dairy. I come from a family of dairy farmers in New Hampshire, so I'd given up a lot of the things that I grew up loving, and then eating fresh foods is so important.
I come from a place where when you go to a top college or when you're a professor, you're around people who are constantly overthinking things and you want to think that the answer is so complicated and I think that's what I was guilty of in the first place and I also trusted too much in what was ultimately marketers taking the advantage of a sick population. They may money when you're sick and fat and wanting to be skinny or lean or healthy. They don't make money when you're lean and healthy and thriving. Anyway, I wanted to be the opposite of that and realized all of a sudden that basically combining what I learned about physiology in the human body and basically lower carb, higher fat, ancestral-based eating principles that I found originally in Weston A. Price work [0:11:30] [Indiscernible] for a long time.
My mom, being a holistic nurse practitioner, had dozens and dozens of those old Hippie box that we all made fun of growing up, and it took me sucking it up admitting that I was wrong following traditional medicine because she told me, "That stuff is full of chemicals. Don't take the drugs. I've been working in this industry for decades," so I tried it out. That was my little journey out in the world. I got fat and sick immediately, regretted it, and then combining it with basically eating fresh foods and simplifying your plate to eat mostly things that were recently alive and well. That's why I ultimately called it the Wild Diet, which is it's not a diet, but publishers really wanted it to be a diet. It's a play on words, but it's certainly a lifestyle-based approach and the reason I called it 'wild' is because no one can own that, and the word 'nature' has been too tainted now. No one even knows what that means, natural. [0:12:24] [Indiscernible] word, but 'wild' is like I'm not trying to be the wild guy. It's not this Weight Watchers or easy-bake oven marketing nonsense spin.
This is everything that you could learn in two hours that you might need to know for the rest of your life. It could literally change everything such that in the past week, three people have written in to me who have lost over a hundred pounds in the last week. So it's like if you put simple stuff into action, that can change your life forever, so that's what I really got interested in. That's why I wrote The Wild Diet the way that it is and that's why I created it because it's simple, it's not a bunch of marketing spin, and it's basically great food too.
The one advantage to calling it 'wild' without other people really calling it something like that is that I could make it whatever I wanted it to be. I grew up in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire and we had wild blueberries that we would eat, cranberries, strawberries, grapes, pears, so many different kinds of apples, wild mushrooms. We'd go fishing out in the pond. We didn't have money, but we weren't hungry. I was growing up like all the boys. This is what we did. We ate out of the gardens and had no idea how good that was for us, and I realized that most people especially in America grew up in an urban environment or a suburban environment where it's just Applebee's and Buffalo Wild Wings and a bunch of fast food places and convenience stores that sell non-foods.
So getting back and just going for a run behind your house right there, if you want to see the video version, that's the healthiest thing you could possibly do, come back with a squirrel [0:14:08] [Indiscernible].
Christopher: I was inspired. I heard Jack Kruse and he was being kind of mean to Jimmy Moore, but what he said really resonated with me, and that was that you're not going to get the result that you want being a podcaster on a computer inside all day long, and I thought shit, he's right. I need to get outside to record this podcast.
Abel: Yeah, so good on you. That's awesome.
Christopher: You know, it's really interesting for me to connect the dots a little bit here because there seems to be a reoccurring theme of people with hippie parents and that leading to really good results in later life, but I'm thinking about that. Do you remember when we were in your house in Iceland, Tommy, and we were going through your mom's old books? Your mom definitely tends towards that hippie direction as well. Do you want to talk about that?
Tommy: Yeah. She was exactly the same. As you were speaking, Abel, I was like this is exactly like my mom too. I was in Iceland, which is where my mom lives, to give a talk last May, and Chris was there too. I started just leafing through these books and I saw on my mom's bookshelf in the '80s to early '90s, and I'm just reading this stuff and I'm like these are all the things that I talk about now.
She knew about this 30 years ago and we just thought that she was crazy. And now, that's essentially what we do for a day job.
Christopher: Yeah, and Deborah Gordon as well. I've just interviewed Deborah Gordon who's a traditionally trained medical doctor, but she grew up in a teepee in Northern California and prescribed antibiotics three times in this big, long stretch as a pediatrician, which is basically unheard of.
Abel: We all just got out [0:15:37] [Indiscernible].
Christopher: Yeah, exactly, but talk about -- so what does a day of eating on the Wild Diet look like? When I see those words, because they're slightly unfamiliar -- so I've heard of Paleo and Primal and I've had really good results myself and with our clients in our practice with that way of eating. And when I hear this term, the Wild Diet, I start to wonder whether there's something that I'm missing out on. Am I doing it wrong still? So can you talk about what a day of eating on the Wild Diet looks like?
Abel: Absolutely. Well, there are a lot of traps whenever anything gets big, and you guys know I've been speaking every year at Paleo conferences and I've been involved in the Paleo community for a long time, but once it goes mainstream, which it has at this point, then the term is abused by marketers and then it's garbage again, so no one really knows what it means. So all of a sudden, you get these people who -- like when I was recording on the ABC TV show, people would be like, "I know what Paleo is. I've been Paleo before. Is Wild Diet different?" I'm like, "Well, what were you doing for Paleo?" And they said, "Well, if I was hungry, I would just drive into McDonald's or Taco Bell or whatever is there and I would get the meat and I wouldn't get the buns or I wouldn't get the [0:16:42] [Indiscernible]." I'm like, all right, that's not what I'm doing. There's a big difference between that, whatever that is, which isn't Paleo according to my definition, but it is to them.
I'm very fortunate to be friends with Mark Sisson for a while now and if there's anyone who has it close to right, I would say it's him and I realized that years ago. I got in touch with him around then and ever since it's been great because I think there's the true ancestral health principles that are being preserved by some parts of the movement and the problem is all these marketers have been layered on top of the internet essentially or popular media who have intercepted the people who were trying to find us. So it's not like there's a huge difference between the Wild Diet and Weston A. Price or the Primal Blueprint or even Robb Wolf in Paleo and the things that those guys are recommending. It's very similar. There are slight differences like personality-wise, I've been as I've said before a performer and touring artist for a long time, so I've been eating on the road for a long time, and also the lifestyle is such that sometimes you have to work 14 to 18-hour days and I would have to do four shows, live shows, or record 14 hours straight. And so, there are pieces of it that make it a little bit easier from a lifestyle perspective.
And then of course I love food and I put a ton of time -- and my wife did as well -- in our community and our families to build the best recipes that you could possibly have with this combination of ingredients, so that's one thing that I'm really proud of because for most people, they put out a diet book or a health book and the recipes are just completely throwaway crap that you would never want to eat like salads and salad bowls and soups. Come on! Where's the chicken parmesan? Where are the cookies? I want cheesecake. [0:18:35] [Indiscernible] is happening every year, usually multiple times a year. For me, probably every month, so let's make those comfort foods really fun, and if not super healthy for you then way less damaging than what you'll definitely eat otherwise because you don't have a healthy option available. So it's big on if you're traveling, if you're busy, if you're on the road or about to be, if you have a tough lifestyle, working class like a lot of us do, then the Wild Diet is very appropriate because you can do it libertarian live-in-the-middle-of-the-woods style or you can do it urban I-shop-at-Whole-Foods style and it works. You'll know what to do.
Christopher: That's really, really interesting. Tommy, I want to get your thoughts on the marketing thing. It's kind of interesting that Abel has put down the marketers on several occasions already on this interview. What do you think of marketing in the health and fitness industry now? I'm very jealous of your ability to cut through the bullshit and get to the truth, so what do you think about this?
Tommy: I don't think there'll be many times when this marketing stuff ends up being a thing. As I'm sure Abel would agree, it's the flipside of being able to reach so many people in a medium like this, is the fact that then other people who have other ideas can also reach those same people. When I go and buy my groceries, I can get organic, free-range, [0:19:57] [Indiscernible] pastured eggs from one place and then right next to them is exactly the same eggs, as far as I can tell, but they're Paleo-approved and they cost a dollar more and it's the same eggs.
I just don't see how we get any benefit from that. I did want to ask you, Abel, one thing that's often been asked of me particularly. My fiancé, when she was working doing her PhD in Baltimore, she also ran a nonprofit looking after kids in the inner city. These are people who -- she was like, "They have $40 to spend on food a month." So she's like, "All this food stuff you talk about, how do people do that with food stamps? How do people do that in Detroit where there aren't any grocery stores?" So do you have any insights on how to spread that into, like you said, those urban working class areas?
Abel: Yeah. The great news is that you don't even need to leave your house anymore. That's great news and that's horrible news, right? But here in Austin, there's a new thing called Instacart. That's also on a bunch of other cities where basically you can get delivered groceries from your area, so that works if there's something around you, but it's more expensive. On the flipside, my younger brother whose name is Mark, he runs his own organic farm in upstate New York and anyone who -- you could drive there from New York City. It would be quite a hump if you did that, but you would be very surprised by how many things are around you. My wife and I, a year ago, we were homeless for two years, living out of a trailer, driving around the country. We lived in the Smoky Mountains, state parks, national parks, middle of nowhere stuff, I mean that, and we were able to do it that whole time.
In fact, that's when I wrote my book. I did a lot of these things, but suffice to say, if you go to an organic farm around you or just a small farm, a neighborhood farm, something like that and you have no money but you have a couple of hours, you pull some weeds for a couple of hours and they'll send you home with as many vegetables and as much food as you can carry, same thing, anyone around you. So there are different strategies that you can use if you have no money, but you can't use it as an excuse because I had the equivalent of very to little, zero or no money like negative money/no money for about 25 years of my life even when I was making a lot of money. I think most people live that way. I think the last time I read the statistics, it's something like 50% of America lives paycheck to paycheck because they're so deeply in debt usually.
So don't use it as an excuse. Get creative. You can get free food. I remember when I went to Dartmouth, I was poor and hardly anyone else at Dartmouth was poor. There was this newsletter essentially that I signed up for that was just called Free Food. And so, if you went to some really boring lecture about the history of economics in Asia, which I did, I would go to stuff like that all the time even though I had zero interest and I was way too busy and I would eat the food that was there. You just have to get creative. You can't use it as an excuse.
And even if you go to something like that, most likely free food is going to be full of junk, but you can still find some eggs. You can still find a little bit of meat, maybe some veggies or an apple or something like that. We go to cheap hotels because we bring our dog. That's what we usually stay in. It's not nearly as highfaluting as most people would think, and sometimes we'll just get little snacks from there as well, the free food that comes in the morning. Usually, we won't, but if you're that poor and money is that hard to come by, I totally get it. Most people are there, but you can always make it work. You just have to be a little creative.
Tommy: That sounds like the strategies that have been developed by grad students all over the world, which is that you work at a university, there are always lectures and there are always food at those lectures. Even though I got my PhD, I have to admit that I would still gladly go to lectures for the free food.
Abel: Free food, it's tough to turn down. It really is.
Christopher: You know what I'm thinking here though? This is really interesting because this is a very different answer from the one that I normally hear, which is health care is so much more expensive than expensive food. "Do you know how much a nursing home costs?" is one of the standard answers that I've heard and I don't think that's a valid answer, but the thing I'm thinking about now is you may have just found the solution for our social isolation problem, so it's one of the questions that we ask on our health assessment questionnaires. "Are you lonely?" because we know that's a huge risk factor for all kinds of chronic diseases.
And until now, I don't feel like I've had any great answers to that problem. I live a solitude life in a shed in the woods now. Robb Wolf said to me on a podcast, "Well, I guess that's where you ride your mountain bike" and I sat there thinking, "I mostly ride my mountain bike by myself." There's just my wife and my kid and that's about it, so that's really interesting. I might have to take you up on that, maybe go to somewhere where they grow food locally, which they do a lot here obviously in California and ask them.
Abel: [0:25:00] [Indiscernible]
Christopher: Yeah, it's crazy how much -- and then you're moving at the same time. It sounds like a really great solution.
Abel: It's community-based. You go to other countries and everyone is doing that. Most people are with their families spending their days growing food, collecting food, pulling weeds, various things like that, maybe not all day, but as a portion of their day, and we used to do that too, victory gardens. America used to be a very American place. The other parts of the world have very patriotic, cool things that you did for your country. You grew food for your country, for yourself, self-sufficiency, self-respect. We're so entitled now and we've been de-trained from so many of the things that make us deeply human. And so, it's such a no-brainer when you start to think about the world this way where it's like okay, most farms, especially organic farms, they're not making money. They're lucky if they're breaking even and they desperately need help. They need insurance. They can barely afford to pay them.
And so many people don't have enough money for real food. It's just like one of those things that it's so much fun too and it builds in community. It builds in like when you are pulling weeds next to people you don't know or your mom or your brother or whatever, it's deep. That's human. You're not lonely anymore when you do simple little things like that and those are the things that we've completely lost sight of.
Christopher: Yeah, I absolutely agree. Talk about some of the stuff -- going back to the marketing thing, I think it's so interesting because it's both a powerful tool and maybe a problem, so talk about some of your best ideas and strategies that you use to gain such a large audience because that is how you've managed to help so many people. Without some of the great ideas in marketing, you wouldn't have been able to reach so many people. So how have you been able to do it? Because you've now gotten to the point where you're on ABC TV and you're basically their pinnacle of marketing, isn't it? So how have you been able to do that?
Abel: The answer is going to sound a little obtuse, but if you go to my blog for example, if you go to fatburningman.com and you just look at it, it'll appear to be one thing. If you read one of my headlines or blog titles or what I write about, it'll kind of seem like one thing, but you'll see a lot of hidden jokes, a lot of deep subtext that's there that might be a commentary on human nature or something else like that. I'm writing most of these things like I would write a song or like I would write, which I've been writing for a long time. And so, if you look a little bit more deeply at some of the stuff that I put out there then you'll see a lot more.
Contrast that to a lot of people who have podcasts or blogs, which are literally the marketing arm of a big supplement company or a big food company of some kind. Literally it's a cost of the marketing department -- that's how they write it off on the books. That's how it's considered and the only reason it exists is to sell their product. They might talk about other stuff. It might be kind of entertaining, but it's to put their brand out there and it's not people; it's corporations. And so, they don't have subtext. Well, they do. Their subtext is to sell used stuff, as much of it as possible in the same pernicious way that I was talking about before, but you guys understand brain science. You know that the biggest food companies out there hire the smartest people in the world to trick you into buying their stuff usually using subliminal subtexts, kind of deep brain marketing, disgusting stuff. It's everywhere.
So anyway, I'm doing the same thing, but hopefully for good because that's what I do with music too. That's why I put stuff out there. Really, Fat-Burning Man, if you think about that, it's a really silly name, really bad except there are so many meanings that are layered on top of it and that's why I chose it and there are other meanings to that and other things that pop up. So I would challenge the answer that I would give to people if they're trying to recreate that. Make great content that you know is the best you can do at that moment. It might not be perfect, but you put it out there and it means something and you're saying something you believe in. You're not saying the same thing as everyone else. It's like that whole health care thing. People say, "I can't spend money on real food. It's too expensive" and then like, "Well, health care is really expensive too. It just doesn't work." How many times have you heard that? Find a creative way to do this. I was looking in the Wayback Machine to when I first put Fat-Burning Man --
Christopher: Yeah, I used to work for that company. I know exactly what you're talking about.
Abel: Cool! It was like my first posts were cartoon pictures of dinosaurs and saying, "Should I eat like a caveman or should I eat like a dinosaur? I don't want to be the caveman," all this very over-the-top silly stuff that wasn't out there before. It was a commentary on what was happening now. So if you're making content on the other end, try to figure out what's happening right now that no one else is saying and then imbue your content with deep meaning instead of I'm going to sell you my crap.
People, they might not notice that they're noticing a difference, but that's what they're noticing, and I've never talked about that before really like this, but I think that's what they're noticing.
Christopher: And it's really interesting. You said that your earlier posts were cartoons because that's what cartoonists do. They notice very, very small differences and that's what makes them funny, but do you think you can teach somebody or do you think you can learn to be creative like that because for Tommy and me, there are two separate problems. My problem is I've never had to write in my entire life. I'm a computer programmer and the only thing I've written is code and the rest of the time I just speak, and so I've never written anything at all and I also lack creativity. And then when Tommy writes, Tommy is an excellent writer, but he writes like a scientist because that's what he does for a living, which is perhaps creative in some regards, but probably not creative in the way that you're thinking, so how do you learn that creativity?
Abel: My first book was called "The Musical Brain". It was a project that basically looks into the evolutionary biology of why music exists and how the brains of musicians are different from non-musicians. It sounds a little technical and if you wanted to read it -- most people wouldn't get through it because it is technobabble. That wouldn't make sense to most people except for academics because it was an academic exercise and a cool one, but who wants to read that crap? It's a problem. So you have to learn how to write that way and it works in that context, but then when you come out of that -- like I wrote The Wild Diet in very simple, narrative form.
And so, I see all these different projects as a different way of connecting with people. You said that you're not creative and that's not true. You said that you've never written anything, but as you're saying this, you're speaking well, which is writing. The writing that works especially now is the kind that basically is simple, straightforward, comes out of your mouth in the way that people can understand, and that's what I realized actually after I wrote my first book and no one read it. Well, I don't know. It did pretty well. It did better than it should have, but no one wanted to -- most of my friends couldn't understand it. My family couldn't understand it. And what's the point of writing a book like that if no one can understand it?
So you have to figure out how to make it land for somebody, but I'll also say this. I'm not in a popularity contest. That's not what this is about. It should never be about that, and this is why. I'm coming at this from a musician's perspective. I learned marketing because I realized I had to learn marketing for people who listen to my music, and so you hustle. Young comedians, they're out for five hours handing out tickets for some free show. You hustle. And after you do that for a while, you get really creative with the ways that you can come up with unique solutions to things and you learn how to communicate with people in a way that makes it land. So when I'm making music, I don't want it to be Britney Spears. I don't want it to be Justin Timberlake, Bieber. These people are awful. John Meyer, sell-out? You don't want to be the popular one. You want to be the one who's creating music that lands where it's supposed to land, and it doesn't matter because if Bob Dylan wrote a song 40 years ago or whatever that lands 60 years from now, that's pretty rad. Do that. Do that kind of work.
Tommy: I was going to say do the stuff that gets you a Nobel Prize like way down when everybody else --
Abel: After you're dead. That's what you should be aiming for. [0:33:30] [Indiscernible] that gets you so much more attention for doing the right thing after you're dead because I'll tell you what, if we lived decades ago or certainly hundreds of years ago, as an artist, I'd be completely broke. Starving artists is a real thing. I am so fortunate that I'm able to wake up, like I said before, every day and do this. And the coolest thing is that with technology, if you do it, you put it out there now, in your lifetime certainly, maybe even in a year or a few months or a few weeks, you could actually build your own business, pay your own bills that way, and then voila, you can do whatever you want with your entire life and the world needs that right now more than ever before. The current situation globally where things are going downhill faster than uphill, we're in a mess, and so we need people who are working really hard and who just don't care anymore about what other think.
Tommy: That's just an incredible point and this is something that before we started talking, we said we wanted to ask you about. And as more and more people listen to this and they realize that their job sucks or they work in the health care system, which sucks, or that they work in academic, which sucks, and was going to have all those funding cut, what do you think the world needs more of? If people are like, "I need to find a new job where I can help people," what would you say the world needs more of and how would you encourage them to go out and do that?
Abel: This was a business idea that I came up with a few years ago that I thought would be so much fun and really interesting. My first book, The Musical Brain, was basically something that I whittled down a little bit, changed a little bit, but it started as my thesis. I was a senior fellow and I wrote this project to put it out there. My mom did the same thing. When she was in college, she wrote a thesis. Ultimately, that became her first book, which was how to incorporate herbal medicine into clinical practice. And ultimately out of that, she got a bunch of speaking gigs, toured around for a while.
If you're in school, how many papers do you have to write? How many various projects do you have to come up with? Wouldn't it be cool if no longer do you have to write that for academics or teachers who are going to grade you? You could put it in your own words, say whatever you want, and put it out there to the world. So whatever that project was, that thesis, it doesn't have to be called that, but whatever your work is, work on it a little bit behind the scenes. Don't try to make money from it right away. Pay your bills. Think of it like you're an aspiring actor, comedian, musician. You hustle for a while. You're just doing it for the experience. You're getting better.
You probably have to get out of academia a little bit because it's hard to make a living that way because it's such a small world, but if you do want to venture out and start your own thing then I would challenge people to. You don't have to be a writer necessarily. You don't have to be that type. Everyone's a little bit different, but video, audio, cartoons, gifts, math. You know, math is a language. All these things, you can use them to create a message that lands. And if you've been studying for a long time or living life and you have something to share then you have to get it out there because for me as a creative, I feel like I'm a spring. And when something big happens and I'm under pressure, the only thing that releases it is creation of some kind.
And so, since that's been taken out of all the schools as well, I think it's important that we put it on ourselves and challenge ourselves. If you've always wanted to play guitar, grab one and don't try to play it for hours and get a bunch of music lessons. Just play it a little bit. Play with it, five minutes a day. Have some fun and pretty soon you'll surprise yourself.
Christopher: While you were talking there, I've realized that I'm probably going to get lots of angry emails from computer programmers telling me that discipline is in fact creative and they would be absolutely --
Abel: Well, good thing I called you on that because -- okay, so computer programming I think is art in a different way, so is mathematics, but it's a language. You're teaching a computer how to do stuff. You're building a little team. That's deeply creative, but I would say to you and everyone who's listening, if you're a computer programmer or engineer, you're doing the same thing that I'm doing it. You're just calling it something a little bit different, but don't crap on yourself and say that you're not creative because you are.
Christopher: Right. So the people I'm thinking about are people like me. I've got a bit further along the road now, but I think there's going to be more and more of these people coming in to the health and fitness industry where they've had a former life that's something maybe completely unrelated to health and fitness and they've done some sort of certificate and that could be really anything. I think there are so many different types just becoming available now. And then once they finish their certificate, they reach this roadblock which is okay, now what are you going to do? How are you going to find some clients? How are you going to find some customers?
You've talked about hustling and that seems to be something that you've gotten really good at, but what would be the basic building blocks? Where would you start? Would you always start with the website? Would you go straight to Facebook Live? Would you start a podcast? What would you do if you were stripped of everything you have right now and you are starting again?
Abel: This is exactly what I would do. I would buy websites, start a website, write a hundred blogs, create a Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, so you do all of it. Don't ever do all of it. I can barely manage the stuff that we have right now. I can barely manage my inbox. I can't. Just that one thing I can't manage. What I would say is if you have your phone and you're looking at it and you're like, "What do I want to do right now? How do I want to spend my time?" not like, "What is my phone telling me I should do with my time?" It's, "How do I want to spend my time?" Whatever app that is, whatever thing that is, use that one, so it could be Twitter, it could be Snapchat, or it could be whatever.
I don't use Snapchat. I don't use a lot of things that all the marketers say that you should to get big and to get famous and rich and all that stuff and make sure that you're a star. I don't do that stuff. I do Instagram sometimes. Sometimes I don't post for three weeks, whatever one you feel like using, and it could be you start with that one and maybe you do three. Facebook is an easy go-to one, but if you're a writer or an academic, go to Quora or something like that, which is more built for writers.
There are little communities, little apps that are more for your people, so find the one that's your people, who you speak the way that you naturally speak and they get; it lands. Go for that because you can't appeal to the same people that Justin Bieber is trying to appeal to. You can't appeal to everybody. You won't. It won't work and that's good. You don't want to be Justin Bieber.
Christopher: That's interesting that you didn't mention video then because I thought you were a video sort of guy and I thought you were going to tell me there's some special magic about video and maybe you can connect with people when you show your face rather than just audio all the time.
Abel: Yes, absolutely, but you could argue the same thing even more so about live video. Isn't that even more authentic? The reason I don't say that is because no one wants to see me making videos in my bathroom taking selfies every morning where I'm talking about my morning and what I'm going to do all day. For some people, that's cool. Maybe that's how they do their messaging, but I don't.
Video is great because it does give you the fake sensation that they're there or real more so than text, but with text, you can be pretty cheeky. You can say a lot of things. I do that all the time where I'll say something and at first you're like, "Did he just say…" but I'm already on to the next thing. So you put those hidden meanings in wherever you want. You can do it with text. You can do it with audio. You can do it with video, live video and then live performance, and I would rank those in order of the effect that it has on a person. You would have to have maybe 20 cheeky tweets that really landed with someone for the equivalent of listening to you for 30 seconds or watching you on video for 15 seconds or something like that, that connection, but you can build it in whatever way it naturally speaks to you and then go out from there.
That's the thing where a lot of people are just like, "How do you do so many different things?" I answer that by saying they're the same to me. If I'm playing saxophone, I'm literally moving my head in the same way. It's funny to watch. I'm moving my head in the same way when I'm soloing on guitar as I am when I'm playing saxophone. It looks really stupid. When you're doing different things, try to think of all of the skills that you've built, all the discipline that you've built, all the knowledge that you have and pull from that. Apply it to whatever you're learning and that's what I would say. That makes it way less intimidating and the way that you can do that is something that you already know deep down but you probably forgot, and that's just how to play like you're a kid. I pretend that I'm eight years old all day and it really helps.
Christopher: Did that make the transition to TV really easy then? Did you have to hustle for that?
Abel: [0:42:35] [Indiscernible] Well, the transition to TV was an exercise in trying to learn how TV works from the inside out, and for me, I've always been fascinated to go in somewhere and figure it out and then be like, "Okay, I don't want to be there," and that's exactly what happened. They have hundreds of people at these shoots. They're spending an exorbitant amount of money and don't care about the content at all, and that's how TV is made. They could not care less about the concept or what's said, but they need to make sure that it has drama and it needs to have some sort of trauma or tragedy. It needs to have this storyboard. It needs to have beats. Everyone was cast. This is on a reality show. This is how it works, best case scenario.
Tommy: So you coached loads like behind-the-scenes that people don't see just to create a story that maybe wouldn't have been there otherwise?
Abel: That's the way that it usually works on reality TV, yes. Our show was so hurried and put together so quickly, quick timeline, that they didn't have time for any of the top-down stuff like that. So for me, they said that I needed to put a lot more drama into it and I said I wasn't going to play that game, but most people didn't realize that I would not allow myself to be coached. They try to feed you lines sometimes for reality shows. And just for legal purposes, I'm not necessarily talking about the one show I was on in ABC. My wife was also a reality TV star years before on Syfy for being a pro video game player, and so it's not what you think it is, if you're watching it.
I like our show. "My Dad Is Better Than Yours" was the name of it on ABC. You can still find it on Hulu and YouTube and it's just bad enough to be timeless. There are pieces of it -- I always play in a role where I was playing poker. A lot of other people were showing up and just being let around and it all fell apart at some point. It looks funny on camera, but it's very tragic when it's real people. The thing that I realized the most is that almost all TV is exploitation. And for a lot of people who are actors, musicians, comedians, performers, dancers of various kinds, or even academics, professors, philosophers, it's that service industry type setup that you have. It feels bad emotionally at first, but then you realize that it gives you a secret weapon when you're like the invisible one who no one's caring about.
They're not really paying anything. I literally paid my lawyer more than I was paid for some projects to retain my free speech, to retain my name and likeness, and most people don't understand that that's how it works in real life. So if you can build your own thing outside of all of that nonsense, it's a whole charade that we just don't need anymore. You don't need a hundred people to film a video. There's nobody filming us. It's amazing. And so, that's what I realized doing all these various things. Yeah, I had to change my messaging a little bit. I dressed myself up, if you noticed, in a full body bacon suit and did sprints.
Christopher: I think I saw that picture, but I didn't realize that was you.
Abel: That's me, oh yeah. I made my national TV debut primetime for three million people --
Christopher: Wearing a bacon suit.
Abel: Wearing a bacon suit doing sprints because I was playing poker. Like I said, I knew that I had cards to play. I knew that if I played it straight then I would have to do some shenanigans in order for it to be taken seriously and get air time because otherwise, producers won't put you on camera, even if you're winning, which I was crushing the whole time. Usually how that works is if you're invited on Shark Tank or reality TV of various kinds, if they're inviting you, you're usually there to get lampooned and skewered in front of national television audiences, and most people don't know that. I've seen this happen to some friends and people I know in front of America just destroyed forever, branded something that might even be true, but I would not want that. And so, you have to be really careful if you ever venture into that sort of project because it is designed to exploit you.
And so, if you create something yourself, you can be the exact opposite of that and that was the biggest gift that I got after working with all these highfaluting people and after being branded a celebrity by all these different organizations that shouldn't be able to call anyone that. It's like, we've already got it. If you're creating your own stuff, that's what it's all about and maybe not now but later on, they will not be able to compete with that.
Christopher: Do you think you could do that, Tommy? Do you think you could go on Dr. Oz and change the world?
Tommy: I'm not sure that I would fit into their --
Abel: You don't have enough raspberry ketone.
Tommy: Yeah, I don't have raspberry ketones. Oh no! What am I going to do? Actually, Abel, your story reminds me of -- so when I was an undergrad, I was at Cambridge and we took part in this TV show that was the Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race, the traditional rowing in boats [0:47:36] [Indiscernible]. That happened I think just last weekend. We did a Viking boat version which I took part in, so we rode from Denmark through the North Sea, around Holland and Germany, then we were going to cross the channel all the way back to the UK, but the weather was too bad, so we had to miss a step, but we had to live like Vikings to begin with and all this kind of stuff as well. We did some 30-hour rows overnight, just continuous.
I was speaking to one of the producers at the end. This was obviously before they edit all the footage and turn it into the program and he was like, "You know what? My main aim in this show is to make Oxford and Cambridge people look bad. I'm going to edit this so that you all look like spoiled brats, over-privileged…"
Abel: It's TV magic. It's really easy to do that. As a musician, I find this fascinating. If you ever go to some of those YouTube videos where they swap out the music for Jurassic Park or something else that's super iconic, you start to understand how powerful that is. People can set up a story however they want, but the trick is when I was on the show, I tried to not give them any ammo. I gave them zero drama. And when people came after me with that, I just made fun of them and it was fine, but you have to -- oh boy, it's tough. It really is. You have to put in your hours. It's best to do that on your own while you're wearing no pants doing a podcast at your house. [0:49:03] [Indiscernible]
Tommy: Are you not wearing any pants right now?
Abel: I am wearing shorts, but I generally don't wear pants.
Christopher: Talk about the Fat-Burning Tribe. I'm really curious about what you've got going on over there in your community.
Abel: Yeah. This is something that's been really fun because we've been selling digital programs for a while, but the Fat-Burning Tribe is the community that we set up which has basically everything you would ever want to get healthy that could come from us, so all of the e-learning programs that we've put together. Basically, we've put together a number of documentary style classes behind the scenes with some health experts and me and my wife, Alyson, as well. And so, we put those out as well as day by day seasonal meal plans that all are Wild Diet-approved. So basically if you want to eat wild and eat the stuff that we're eating then we give you all of the ingredients of how to do that and hook you up with people who can usually get ingredients to you for less since we have a lot of connections with that.
So the Fat-Burning Tribe is basically the online community that we have for people all over the world. We have a lot of people from Australia, New Zealand, that half of the world all the way over to America and pretty much everything in between. So the cool thing is you go into our Facebook group and Alyson and I are in there all the time. We've got some coaches as well. And since people are all over the world, if you have a question basically 24/7, we have thousands of members, so people are chiming in all the time and helping each other out. They've started to basically start organizing in their own cities without us. It's not going to be like licensing programs or crap like that. It's just people are meeting each other.
Here in Austin, we threw a party last year for the tribe members around Paleo f(x), which is awesome, and this year, we're going to be doing something else and I might even whip out some of the musical instruments and go on a little show, so we're really excited about it. It's a way to interact virtually with us and other people who eat and live this way. We're trying to find their people and that can be very difficult if your family doesn't give you buy-in or your friends don't give you buy-in. This is a very personal thing, changing the way that you eat and you live. You're going to get a lot of people who are trying to tear you down for it, so creating a community like that is really important.
So if other people are content creators or coaches or if you have your own gym or whatever, I would say start a community and go from there. You don't necessarily write a book or whatever. That's what you would do five or ten years ago. I would say now, organize people. Get your people together so you can all do work together. That's the way that you'll learn from each other and really come up together.
Christopher: And do you think there's positive interaction between the members online? Do they encourage each other and contribute in --
Abel: Yes, if they don't then I'm gone. We're pretty ruthless about that, but the good news is that we hardly ever kick anyone out because there is also a pay wall where we make it -- it's super cheap, but for people who just want free content, for people who are just there to leech and take more than they give, I charge a dollar. Right now I charge a dollar for the first 30 days and you basically get everything, and then it's $27 a month after that, but you get the seasonal meal plans. You get all the community. You interact with me and Alyson and all this other stuff, so we totally over-deliver at the beginning, and then people stick with it after a while.
Some people, I think they've been in there for five years now. So people who came to me five years ago with 50 lbs to lose and 100 lbs to lose or what have you, they're there coaching people, or if they gain 20 lbs or whatever and they fall of the wagon, they're still there and it's just such a beautiful thing. And man, it took years. I had less than 50 or 100 people in there for years, but you keep building and you keep growing and you don't realize when you're making progress when you are. The hardest part is always right before the best part over and over again is what I realized. So if you can find a way, it doesn't matter if it's a Facebook group or a community in real life. I would say that that's best, but find your people and build that.
Christopher: Right. I was going to ask you whether you found -- you mentioned that, but do you think it's important to make this a real meet-up?
Abel: At some point, that really helps. Yeah, it does.
Christopher: I wonder about -- going back to the social isolation thing that maybe social media is not helpful in that it can make you think that you have a connection with someone, but you don't, so you really do need to meet up in person. Now, wouldn't that be wonderful if you could create that community that would enable people to meet up in the first place, but then really it's just a means to an end, which is meeting up in person?
Abel: Yes, and I think ultimately that is the goal and that's why it's cool to have things like conferences around these themes, or for us, we're going to be throwing parties. That's what we did actually, my wife and I, with our wedding too. My half of the family, most of them are in the northeast, and then her folks are all in Arizona. And so, we just couldn't have it all on the same place, too many friends, too big or whatever, so we just threw parties in different places on our wedding.
Christopher: That's great. That's a really good idea. I thought you were going to tell me that --
Abel: So that's what we're planning on doing. Just make an excuse. Call it a party and everyone will come.
Christopher: Right. I thought you were going to tell me that to join the tribe, it costs a dollar and then you'd get an invite to your wedding.
Abel: Oh no, no. That's the weird part because throwing live events, you almost always lose money. And so for us, we're good enough at losing money anyway, but I try not to push it too far. That would be another lesson to take away from this, I think. Take on the challenges that are really appealing to you, things that you want to learn and get better at, and leave the other ones for other people. Everyone has their own little thing. We're all conditioned to think that we're all the same, but we've got our own little things that light us up.
Christopher: Right. Well, I think that's a great place to end. I will of course link to the Wild Diet book and the Fat-Burning Tribe in the show notes for this episode. Was there anything else that you want people to know about?
Abel: Yeah. If you are interested in hearing any of my music, you can check out Abel James on iTunes. I have a bunch of music videos that I'll be posting up soon. We have hundreds that we haven't posted it all yet. Here's a little secret. I was doing the Fat-Burning Man thing for a while being well-behaved, very serious health information for a while, and now conditions have changed a little bit, so I'm much more comfortable bringing out more of the entertainment side of things, so we're going to be doing a lot of music videos and fun little videos, and probably opening up another channel as well, but the easiest way to find that side of me is abeljames.com and if you want the health stuff and all the food, that's fatburningman.com.
Christopher: That's great information. I didn't know there was another site, so I'm delighted to hear it.
Abel: Many sites, my friend.
Christopher: Well, thank you so much, Abel. This has been fantastic. Thank you.
Abel: You guys were great. Thank you so much for having me on.
Tommy: Thank you. It's been great.
[0:55:56] End of Audioblog comments powered by Disqus