Once upon a time, a music producer—who was also a coach on American Idol—found himself bed ridden, weighing almost 300 pounds at just 51 years old…
But on August 1, 2015, James decided to make a change. This was a critical moment in his journey to lose 100 pounds and take his life back.
Every so often I get a note from one of you that affects me deeply. And recently I’ve been getting a lot of those, especially because I’ve opened up a little bit and had that emotional show where I described my near-death experience from carbon monoxide poisoning just a few weeks ago. One of the people who helped me through that turned out to be James Lugo, the guest this week.
He sent me an email last year that went straight to my heart, and I’m looking forward to him sharing more of his story with you today.
James Lugo is a musician, Producer, and Vocal Coach out of Nashville. He’s one of the most sought-after vocal coaches in the music industry, including his work on American Idol as an analyst and coach.
He’s a very talented dude. I took vocal lessons with him for several months this summer, and he even helped edit the audiobook for Designer Babies Still Get Scabies.
Hang around to the end of the interview and I’ll even share a couple poems from the new book with you.
On this show with James, we’re chatting about:
- How to overcome food addiction and urges to binge
- Staying fit and healthy in the entertainment business
- What James learned about weight loss in the 80s that hurt him
- How to prep 19 meals in 60 minutes
- Exercises for singers that everyone should do
- The benefits of being in shape for music and performing
- And tons more…
Let’s hang out with James.
James Lugo: From Taco Bell To CrossFit
Abel: Alright folks. I’m thrilled to be here today with James Lugo, a musician, producer, and vocal coach out of Nashville.
He’s one of the most sought after vocal coaches in the music industry, including work on American Idol as an analyst and coach.
James, thank you so much for joining us, man.
I’m so glad I’m here.
Abel: There’s so much to talk about.
I was explaining before we started recording, just like every once in a while I get a note, usually from a musician, that just goes straight to the heart, about how their lives have kind of changed based on listening or connecting, or what have you.
And yours was certainly one of those.
But I don’t want to spoil it, so catch us up and tell people what went down.
Well, yeah, 40 years ago, as a kid I was kind of skinny and I gained a little weight in my late teens, and then I lost it.
And then I went into rock star mode, and through the 80s I was like 145 pounds and shredded.
I played music, and all of a sudden it just started creeping up on me into my late 30s. And through my 30s and into my 40s I was doing a lot of TV, too.
So, I was starting to gain weight while on a couple of TV shows, and it was humbling or humiliating.
And, yeah, just without getting too intense, I was like a broken person. It was weird.
And I had been living in Hollywood for about 25 years and in 2011, I left.
I just I didn’t want anything to do with the music business, and I moved to North Carolina.
I was just working there and doing Skype voice lessons with a lot of local people, and producing. And I just kinda had given up.
And then, it was all about Taco Bell, man. Taco Bell. Taco Bell, man.
I was just sitting in front of a computer and eating junk food. That pretty much summed up my life. I was very depressed, and angry.
And I was married. We had two little kids, and I was really a wreck.
I had sleep apnea, I was hypoglycemic, I had chest pains, I had eczema. I just had meniscus surgery on my knee.
I was traveling around for these TV things. I was traveling to Europe, like hobbling.
And you know what it’s like when you get on a plane—and you know you’re going to be sitting on this plane for 10 hours—and you’re a 300-pound sweaty guy with long hair, and you’re walking down the aisle…
Everybody is looking at you like, “Whatever you do, do not sit next to me.”
So yeah, I was kind of a mess.
And then about exactly four years ago now, I got pneumonia and I got really sick. And I came to a realization that I had no immune system.
Because they were giving me steroids and amoxicillin, and anti-inflammatories and injections and all these things. I also had a heel-spur at the time, it was bad.
I wasn’t getting better, and a couple of the doctors were like, “What’s your diet like?”
Which, that’s kind of like code for, “You don’t look so good.”
Abel: Yeah, especially when the doctor says that.
What is it that somebody that looks like you eats?
That was it, man. It was just a terrible, terrible time. And I spent three months in bed.
And I had a realization that I was going to die, and it’s somebody else who’s going to raise my kids.
And my kids at that time were like, I don’t know, two and four.
Yeah, they were little dudes.
And I always had this funny thought, I thought, “What if my wife marries a DJ?”
Abel: That is every musician’s nightmare, that’s hilarious.
Yeah, like hip-hop dudes. Not only the hip-hop, but it’s just funny stuff to think about.
But anyway, that was it.
And I had this realization that I was going to die, and that I wasn’t going to be there to protect my wife, and raise my kids and do my deal.
And I was lying in bed, and I was in bed for months.
My assistant was covering at work and doing sessions and I was working at home, too.
I would go down in the basement, teach for a couple of hours and then come up.
I was literally teaching Skype from bed, I had an old piano there.
I was like “da, da, da, da, da, da, da.” But mostly I was not working.
So I started watching all these movies on iTunes. I had my laptop in bed and I’m buying these movies.
Things about Paleo, things about all this type of stuff, and I’m getting it.
I’m like, “Yeah, I’m 300 pounds, lying in bed, and I’m getting into CrossFit.”
That’s another story, but I continued with this whole culture of like, “I don’t want it.”
And then I got the movie Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. And I watched that movie every single day, and I mean all day.
I watched that movie a thousand times.
How Kale Juice Kickstarted James’ Health Kick
And my wife bought a masticating juicer, and August 1st, 2015 I started drinking kale.
It wasn’t nearly as nasty as I thought it was going to be. I wasn’t a natural vegetable kind of person. I was a very kind of pizza-burger-potato chip guy. But I was like, “Oh, this is cool.”
So I did about 28 days, not perfect fasts, but a lot. Eating a little bit here and there.
And after about a week or two, I was outta bed, it was weird.
I had this wheezing cough that was like when you have pneumonia for months and months on end.
And all of a sudden, it was like I could feel the last of it coming out, and I’d lost 20 pounds and I looked younger.
And I didn’t want to die, and that’s how it started.
But August 1st, 2015, I weighed in at 275 pounds. That’s that picture, that’s the before picture. That was that morning, and I was really hopeless.
I don’t even know. You think about, did I have any confidence at that point?
When you’re 51 years old and you’re morbidly obese, you’ve tried to lose weight before.
I’ve done everything, you name it.
Master Cleanse, South Beach, Isagenix, you just name it. I did all kinds of weird stuff and nothing worked.
And then, yeah, so there you go, man.
Abel: So, what was that stuff that you learned in the 80s, back in the day?
I kinda grew up in the gym business. I was kind of an athlete, too. Played baseball, tennis, a little football, I wrestled, I was into it.
My dad owned a tile store, and next door to the tile Store was a gym.
And the dude that owned the gym was also a shredding guitar player, so he had a huge impact on me. The guy is almost 70 years old and he looks like he’s 25.
Abel: Wow, yeah, that’s how it works.
You know, focused.
So I started to manage the gyms. I started working in the gym, yeah, and the gym business.
So here’s how to lose weight in the 80s: Get up, have a big breakfast, and tailor down your carbohydrates as the day goes on, because you need your most carbohydrates in your first meal, because that’s when you’re going to be expending them.
And then as your day progresses and you start to wind down and your metabolism drops, you get rid of the carbohydrates.
Split cardio, that was another big one, and liter shakes.
Your shakes. A lot of that was kind of pushed by that whole agenda. And it’s like, well if you’re telling people to eat six or eight meals, who can eat six or eight meals?
But we can do some shakes. So I was doing the whole deal, man.
So then when I started to try to lose weight, I was trying to always lose it with this old thinking, like breakfast is the most important meal, carb up first thing in the morning.
Split cardio. That was another one, because I was kind of integrated in with the bodybuilding world and that was a big thing with them, split cardio.
And supplements, and you know what I mean? It was so weird.
Oh my god, Abel. About a month ago, I had to go find something at the vitamin store. Something for my wife, I can’t remember what it was.
Whatever it was, I’m walking down the aisle and I walk past a fat burner.
And I look and I’m like, “Oh my god, I used to think that this was healthy. I thought Hydroxycut was going to save me.”
I really thought, somehow, that I was going to figure out the pills. Which, you know are junk. Yeah, so. But that’s not how I lost it.
Abel: What changed? How did that happen, because that’s so interesting, and I think so many people are there right now.
Yeah, it’s weird, man. One of the biggest, most influential things in my losing the weight is the podcast with you and Ameer Rosic.
I watched that podcast a thousand times. I know every word of that podcast.
And he talks about something that you say, something to the effect of, “Just because everybody says something, doesn’t make it make it true.”
Just like at one point everybody thought the world was flat. It didn’t make it true, I made it popular, right?
So if everybody’s saying that you need to eat eight small meals a day, split cardio. Breakfast is the most important meal, you’ve got to carb up first thing in the morning, as soon as your feet hit the ground, you need carbohydrates, because you’re going to die if you don’t eat them, your brain can’t function.
So that was what was perpetuated, but I got through that. You were like, I told you this, I mean you were a huge influence on me.
And it was a number of the podcasts, the one with Ori Hofmekler and getting into the warrior diet.
Abel: He’s great.
And the one with Ameer, and John Kiefer, and I got into all that. And I started getting into fatty coffee, I did it all.
The Importance of Imperfection
But the one with Ameer was the one that I watched every single day.
Because the thing that I thought with that podcast was, “I have to come up with a solution for me, and I’m not perfect.”
You know what I mean? Like reading the Primal Blueprint, the whole Mark Sisson 80-20 thing.
I’m like, “Well, I can wrap my mind around 80-20.”
People that are about perfection, that’s great, man, but I don’t think that’s ever going to be me.
Because when I go to New York City, I’m getting a slice of pizza, it’s going to happen.
Things that you guys were talking about really resonated with me, which was like, find a place that you can function at and make that work, and stay on point.
Friday comes, you drift off. People do the dark chocolate or the wine.
You just keep moving right back into that spot, and that was what made sense to me. Because the perfection thing always hurt me.
It always made me feel down because as soon as I failed, then it was like boom!
And another thing, one of the podcasts that I’ve been watching a lot again is the one with James Clear.
I was listening to it this morning because I’ve been shifting my workout and I’ve been back listening to it.
And he talks about where we have this arbitrary goal then if we don’t hit it we just fall.
We go, “Oh, I stink.”
But you don’t realize it, you’re not where you were. This was where you started, this was your goal. You wanted to go all the way here. Well, you still got to here.
So, I think I’m kind of integrated into a lot of people that are trying to lose weight with the internet.
And a lot of people followed my weight loss.
My weight loss was like a daily thing on Facebook. People watching me lose 100 pounds, right?
And I’ve seen so many people fail because they have a bad meal, they get down on themselves and just give up.
They’re like, “Who am I kidding? I can never do what that guy did.” You know what I’m saying?
Abel: Taco Bell, right?
Yeah, right exactly. “So I’m really going to hate myself, let’s get some Taco Bell.”
Abel: But it’s addictive and, in a negative sense, it’s almost like preying on that same primal subconscious desire for the red and yellow, and the MSG that’s also just linked in your mind to that.
As a musician working crazy hours, when you drive by, it makes you salivate, right? Because there were no other options.
And you need salt or you need something and it got you. In the same way that Hydroxycut got you.
Abel: But then you come over to the other side and it’s like, “Taco Bell is dog food.” It doesn’t make you salivate anymore, right? Once it’s out of your system for a while.
Yup. Yeah that’s it, man.
And, I mean, not weighing 300 pounds is awesome.
Abel: I bet.
Yeah. You know, there’s a lot of old people in the world, there’s a lot of fat people in the world, but there’s not a lot of fat old people.
So getting into my 50’s and I had a personal trainer leading up to getting sick, and she did my measurements, God bless her.
She did my measurements.
I’m literally an enormous tube. Like chest, hips, waist, 50x50x50. That’s how big I was.
Abel: Yeah, that’s crazy. But I mean, how do you feel now? What’s different? What stands out the most?
I mean, well yeah, now I’m pushing it. I want to be an athlete now.
I aspire to things. Right now, I’ve really been digging on powerlifting.
But I’m being smart about it. I don’t really want to get into deadlifting too much. I bought a hex bar for deadlifts.
Abel: I saw a video you posted of your home gym. I was jealous.
I’ve been doing what you and James Clear talk about.
I’ve been focusing on one exercise per workout and then pop other things. It’s just bench, overhead press, chin-ups, squat, deadlift, rows.
You know, boom. Meat and potatoes. So I’ve been really enjoying that.
And I actually got a little air bike for the studio. Somebody was giving it away, like a little Airdyne Schwinn.
So I’ve been doing some Tabatas on that and kicking my own butt.
Abel: There you go. See? You can just do it. And so I’m just guessing that you’re not going to outside gyms or did you hire a trainer to help you out?
No, I still do. I go to Orange Theory.
Abel: Okay, cool.
I do that a few mornings a week. I was doing that a lot but now the kids are out for summer.
I work a little bit at home, I’m always finagling them around. But I do Orange Theory and we also belong to the Y and then they have Y Play so you can drop the kids off and I’ll work out there.
We swim a lot there and I do spin classes there and sometimes we’ll kickbox or whatever.
Abel: And all these things you did not do before, right?
No, no, no, no. Oh, no. I was the great joiner of gyms.
I’d go to the first night for 30 minutes, and then go two days later and sit in the parking lot and say, “I give up. I’m getting pizza. It’s hopeless.”
Being fat, man, I tell you, being fat is so hopeless. It feels really hopeless.
I mean, I really have a heart for people, man. It’s intense.
Abel: It brings me back to this earlier point you brought up about perfection, which is almost like a cultural aesthetic that’s built in everywhere, that we have to get over eventually.
But some of that is from TV, right? Being on TV, you’re expected to go after perfection.
I think that’s changing with the internet and just with the times. So, it’s even more outdated than it used to be and more incorrect than it used to be.
But I think it’s interesting because I have corollaries, as well, in my own life.
That it was your pursuit of perfection that led you to eating a Taco Bell and just eating a bunch of junk food and being bedridden, right?
It wasn’t the pursuit of perfection, but the inability to attain even a little bit that makes you feel like a failure so you just give up, right?
Yeah, and I mean, being in the entertainment business is intense sometimes.
It can be heartbreaking and I think for some people, they’re better at the heartbreak.
Like water off a duck’s back, they can take it.
Me, I don’t know, I hold on to stuff sometimes. I’m sensitive. My feelings get hurt.
And though I’ve had a lot of great things happen in my career, but at the same time, it’s like a hundred great things can happen to me and one thing could go wrong and then I’ll just fester on that.
That’s one thing now that I’m feeling better about. My mind is getting better.
I still having my things. I’m not totally out of the woods.
Abel: I’m not either.
But I’m better than I was and I’m able to not fixate on the negative all the time.
It’s like, “Ok, everything’s cool, man. Everything’s good, Lugo. Relax. Breathe. Breathe.”
You know, yeah, things are good now. I’m here in Nashville and doing great stuff and talking to my buddy, Abel James.
Fat Loss Over 50
Abel: It’s pretty great, isn’t it? So, I get this a lot. People in their 50s, they’re just like, “What do I do now? The stuff that I used to be doing isn’t working anymore. I’m not sure what to do next. Is it worth it?”
What would you say to them?
I’m not totally sold that it’s such a big difference. I don’t feel that different.
Look at me. I mean, people that grew up with me and are like, “You don’t even hardly look different.”
I mean, guys my age look like my dad. I still look like me, I still feel like me.
I get up a little sore in the morning and stuff. But I think that if you get on track with it and you find what works for you.
I know what has worked for me and you just stay consistent. And I think more than anything, you have to be passionate about it.
For me, I had to be passionate about it. I mean, I was passionate.
I am passionate about health, weight loss, I mean, everything.
You know, I spent a night at a UCLA sleep study because I was choking at night from sleep apnea.
Abel: Was it the weight that made that better, getting the weight off?
Yeah, as soon as you lose the weight, man. Yeah, of course, because as soon as you lay down, everything comes right up on you.
You know, all the weight on your face and your chest and your neck.
Yes, and it opens the airways too because there’s just, you know, being a singer, when people sometimes come in for voice lessons and they’re really overweight and they hold a lot of weight here, it’s like you can hear their voices are constipated.
It’s like jammed up.
Abel: I didn’t even think of it like that.
Your airway needs to move.
So yeah, once I lost some weight and started exercising, it was gone, man, it was just gone.
And I was having the blood sugar things.
Like, if I would bend over to pick something up, I would get this shaky thing, where I’d start getting hot and sweaty.
And I went upstairs and I would make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Like, I would need something that would just like hit me with sugar.
Or if there were pretzels, I used to like pretzels and chips and then I would slam it. And then it would take about 45 minutes and then I would come back to planet Earth.
And then I had this constant pain, especially when I ate.
It was almost like angina or like your chest pain. So, yeah, a lot of that.
So going back to people in their 50’s, a lot of times people in their 50’s, when it’s like they’ve come to that realization, “I gotta get my act together.”
It’s like the old saying, “Nobody goes to confession the night before prom.”
You know what I’m saying?
So when are you going to start watching Abel James’ video and try fasting.
When you’ve run your game to the end, then you go, “Alright, this crazy guy and with the kettlebell out in the forest, I’m going to do what he says.”
But that’s last, that’s the end of the road, man.
Abel: I’m the clean-up guy. I know.
And it’s like, “Oh, I’ve been beaten into submission.”
When you’re out of all good ideas, and that’s what happens in your 40’s and 50’s.
That sheen of your 20’s and 30’s is starting to go away and all of a sudden you’re like, “Wow, no, it’s not happening, man.”
I’m starting to remind myself of my dad, which isn’t a bad thing. But you know, you’re changing.
But I think that no matter what anybody’s age is, they can turn their life around.
I mean, obviously having the mental attitude of imagining yourself fishing, walking, whatever it is that you dream, that is not what’s happening. And if you got it, you gotta be down. So this is just my opinion.
There’s suffering involved in this. Losing a hundred pounds, it doesn’t just fly off.
The other thing, too, that I found about losing large amounts of weight is, it’s a moving target.
Because just when you figure it all out, it stops kind of working.
It’s like your body figures it out and it’s like, “Oh ok, so you’re going to do this, now I got you covered.”
So it was a constant kind of battle of tweaking.
And I find that my base, I want to live a little leaner than I am now. So, that’s what’s been going on the last few months.
Vegans talk about food density, and eating less. But I just can’t eat that kind of food.
So, now I have to figure out what can work for me.
I used to think that the only way to lose weight was to run, do yoga, and eat salad.
Now, I appreciate all those things, and I do all those things now, but when I was 300 pounds, I didn’t want anything to do with kale.
If kale was on the burger, I was like “No. I’m not eating that.”
I didn’t want anything to do with yoga. That’s for skinny little stick people, Gumbies.
And running? Running? I’m hobbling.
So, I had that in my mind that that was the only way to lose weight, and that’s why when I started to learn about, really, the intermittent fasting, I was like, “Oh. Oh. Oh. So, I can eat two meals a day and they can both be hearty? Oh, this is a great idea.”
Abel: This changes everything.
Yeah, this changes everything. And then when I started intermittent fasting…
Am I talking too much? Should you be talking?
Abel: No. Go for it.
Am I cool? Okay. Am I doing alright?
Abel: You’re doing great.
Okay. Alright. It’s so weird to be on here.
Abel: Yeah, I don’t know what it feels like.
…You have that voice man, good Lord.
Abel: Oh. Thank you. That means a lot coming from a vocal coach.
You’re a voice-over assault rifle.
Anyway, but the thing when I first started the intermittent fasting, all I used to think about was like, “Oh my god, how long do I have to fast?”
Then you get into it, and you’re like, “Oh my god, how long do I have to eat?”
And now, it’s like, “The shorter the eating window, the better”
The beautiful part about fasting, if anybody’s watching this and has never done fasting, fasting has success built into it. Because when you start to fast, and you stop eating so much carbohydrates and your appetite stops being so crazy.
I always used to think that like, “How am I ever going to lose weight? I’m hungry all the time.”
Abel: I felt like that too.
I’m eating and thinking about the next meal. I’m never satisfied. I could eat until I’m gorged out and feel sick, but I’m never satisfied.
Abel: That’s how it’s built. That’s how all those products work from the ’80s, you know?
Abel: We have to decondition that. It’s just like starting with a blank slate, and just clearing out all that nonsense that we have accumulated over the course of our lives, all the subconscious conditioning and marketing, in a lot of cases.
And then just being like, “Wait a second. What works? What am I after here?”
I think it’s so great that you found a lot of success in simplifying.
But one thing I want to ask you in particular, because a lot of people have been asking about this lately is, how do you go from either bedridden or disabled or injured or not able to work out and being sedentary and not working out for a long time…
How do you go from that and start, and then keep going?
I started with a fast. And I started juicing.
You know, the way we were always taught was that you have to taper off of everything.
But that’s not the case for everyone, and that’s not to say that that doesn’t work, but for me, it was like I had to put a line in the sand.
And I’m like, “That’s it. I’m drinking kale. That’s it. I’m going to be just like this dude in Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.”
And, yeah, I just had to sever it. Because once you start losing weight, you start to get momentum, too.
Abel: You do.
Those first few pounds, and then all of a sudden when you go into double digits and you lost 10 pounds, you’re like, “Okay.”
And then, of course, you gotta go out and overeat, and blow it. And it could go down to six.
But it’s been that old graph. People think success is this straight line up, but it’s not like that.
Abel: Right. It’s wiggly.
I found weight loss to be a little like that, and it’s not just metabolism, it’s psychological.
Because it’s like, “I do good.”
And then, it’s like, “I just have to eat.”
There’s still some footholds in me or claws that are a little bit still in me, but it’s getting better. I’m learning.
Getting on to real food is the game for me, and that’s what you’re about.
For people in their 50s that have been bombarded with carbohydrate-filled foods with incredibly long shelf life, yeah.
If you buy something and you can wait two years to eat it, throw it in the garbage.
Abel: Save it for the apocalypse.
Yes. If it doesn’t disintegrate, chances are your stomach’s not going to do so good with it.
A thing that I really got into was like, “Can I track the history of my food?”
So, here’s a tomato. Where did that come from? A tomato plant.
Here’s an apple. Where did it come from? An apple tree.
Here’s a chicken breast. Where did it come from? Chicken.
Here’s a slice of pizza. Where did it come from? A lab. That’s an experiment.
Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t elements of it that may be whole-foody, but that’s an experiment.
And I’m a meal prepper.
How to Prep 19 Meals in 60 Minutes
Abel: I saw that. I wanted to talk about that. You have an awesome video. What is it? It’s 19 meals in 60 minutes. Good time on that.
Yeah, I’ve been meal prepping for probably two years, maybe close to three.
Meal prepping’s an ’80s thing, except it was like 20 meals of chicken breast and broccoli.
And a little skin. You crept in with the George Foreman to take all the fat off. You squeeze it out. I want this thing dry, no salt, because salt holds water. You know?
It’s like we’re going to make the worst possible meal and you’re going to eat it eight times a day.
You’re going to eat a small about of it every two hours.
Abel: It’s torture.
It’s just to drive you crazy.
But yeah, I do meal prep and that’s been really good for me, because the other thing, too, I don’t do good winging it.
I’m not winging it. Winging it once in a while is cool but the more structured I am, the better.
I’m on MyFitnessPal, I do the Zero app for the fasting. And I just bought, I don’t know it you can see it there, Fitbit Ionic.
It’s a tracker. It’s got steps, how many calories burned.
It’s been interesting, and getting me to walk more. You know what I mean? Like just get myself moving more, so.
Abel: One thing that my wife and I have really enjoyed doing in our own lives is trying to treat it more like a game, and my wife Alyson is a former professional video game player.
So, that just kind of like is built in, but that can be really powerful when you start to gamify your own movement.
I wear a watch on my runs so I can see exactly on the map where I went, where I slowed down, what my heart rate was.
Actually, I haven’t put it out yet, but there’s a musician who’s another listener on this show who’ll be coming out, who wears one of those for his shows.
And he’s the lead singer and plays guitar, and so he can tell which numbers are the most energetic on a graph after a show.
It’s a super cool use of the technology.
One warning, though, is there have been a couple of studies that have come out about these fitness trackers and what it does to people’s behavior.
There is a tendency to be like, “Oh, I crushed 15,000 steps today. I’m going to eat that pizza.”
And so people tend to overeat because they see proof that they were so good. So that’s one thing to be careful of.
Well, you know what’s weird about this is that I synced it. I had it a little over a week and I synced it through the Fitbit app to MyFitnessPal and when I work out, it gives me extra calories to eat, but I don’t eat them.
Because I’ve still got MyFitnessPal, I think I’m set up as active to lose 1.5 pounds a week or 1 pound a week, just kind of keeps me just a little below maintenance, because I have a tendency to just eat a little above it anyway.
I think it gives me 1,990 calories, but when I did an Orange Theory class on Monday, it was medieval. They tortured us.
And it gave me like 600 extra calories? I’m like, “Well, that’s not the point. I don’t wanna eat that!”
Abel: You’re right. That’s spit out by pretty much every different company that makes those watches and the apps.
Yes, so you have to be careful of that. That’s one thing that I’ve noticed.
And part of that, I’m sure is going from my 20s to my 30s, is that in my 20s I hated under-eating ever.
Well, until basically I turned 30, and then especially once I really started doing fasting and experimenting with it and then doing exercise with fasting, including long runs or long hikes or whatever.
I’m just like, “Oh, it’s actually really nice to under-eat sometimes. It feels really good to do.”
The thing is, it feels good later, right? So, it’s just like learning that muscle delayed gratification, you know? It’s real.
Vocal Coaching an the Importance of Singing
Abel: There are so many things that I want to talk about, but one thing I wanted to touch on is how you’re a vocal coach.
One of the unfortunate things I think about modern, especially Western society, is how there are singers, and then there are people who don’t sing or can’t sing, or whatever.
Whereas, historically, everyone danced, everyone sang. It was a community thing. It’s part of being human, right?
So, I was thinking, what are some vocal exercises maybe or even breathing exercises that are for singers, but everyone should do?
Best thing is to tongue out.
Let me see. Do I have a piano? Hold on. You guys are going to get a little free voice lesson here.
Abel: This is great.
Yes, check it out. So, E is a very tight vowel, and the opposite is the tongue out, “Ah,” right?
That’s like the baby sound almost, right?
So if you think about as we go up, we naturally want to tighten up. So, this exercise will actually, as you go up…
Actually, it started with, I had a baritone many years ago, this kid was a Christian rock guy, he wanted to sing high and it was just like, “Oh my God.”
It was like teaching a hippo to tap dance, you know? This poor kid, he put all his heart into it.
And one night, I actually called a voice coach buddy of mine and I’m like, “Hey, man, can you take this dude? I just don’t know what else to do. I’m not getting anywhere.”
He’s like, “No, you just keep at it.”
And I’m like, “Alright.”
And I thought about him, I thought about how his vocal cords were tightening up as he went up.
And I thought, “Wait a second. If we go up and I go ‘ah’, that’s going to push.” I almost felt like I’d be inside his larynx keeping it open.
And I went back and we did our next lesson and we did it and it worked! That was it.
That exercise is. It’s like this with your tongue all the way out, and you say “ah”. You see that. Yoga people do that during Cobra Pose.
Abel: The Kiss face. Yeah.
If you just start doing that every day, in half-steps, that’s just an arpeggio, 1-3-5 octaves.
And you can go all the way up until you can’t go anymore.
Abel: Right on. That’s great.
Yeah, that’s a good one. That’s a really great exercise.
Abel: Well, and people don’t really think about exercising their jaw, their face, their tongue and all of that, but it’s legit. It’s something worth focusing on.
Yeah, it’s like, that also combats the whole forward thing. Everything in our life is forward, right?
The piano, the guitar, the dishes, the computer, the iPad, the phone, everything’s leaning this way.
When you start to open up, you’re fighting gravity a little bit.
And you could do that in sun salutation with your hands rotated out, which opens up your your scapula, it opens up your shoulders.
You’re just doing that with the tongue out. Yeah, that’s like what the monks do. That kind of stuff.
Abel: Another thing that I read in your book that you really emphasized is the importance of warming up, which applies not just to working out, but working out your voice singing, playing music, all that, so can you harp on that for a little bit?
Yeah, well, it’s a muscle. Especially as you become more proficient as a singer, because it’s easier to not warm up. You know what I mean?
Abel: I’m definitely guilty of that.
Yeah, I have to warm up before I do squats to get my shoulder limber. It’s not like Rich Froning. He could go in there and put 275 on, and just start hitting it because he’s naturally flexible.
But that’s where singers can get themselves into trouble because they’ve got the chops to get through it.
They have the chops to sing beyond where they’re at, at the moment, but then you start doing the wear and tear in your voice and then, that’s a whole other story.
But yeah, warming up basically stretches the vocal cords. The biggest warm up ever is the lip roll.
You go back stage at Metallica, he’s doing it. You go backstage, Celine Dion. She’s doing it. You go backstage, Eminem, he’s doing it. Everybody does it.
What that does, it enables you to go through your bridges and breaks without actually forming a vowel.
So it’s equivalent to sitting down before you bench and doing a set with the bar.
Or if you’re going to sprint, like jogging a couple of laps, gets your body elastic and getting the signals firing.
Yeah, lip roll. What’s funny is that I have a big mouth and big lips, lip rolls are easy for me.
And I remember, I bought this book from this voice teacher from the ’80s and he said, “Oh, and if you have problems with the lip roll, you can’t do it, lift your cheeks like this.”
And I’m like, “What’s he talking about? I thought everybody could do a lip roll.”
And then when he started teaching, I’m like, “Oh wow. A lot of people can’t do the lip roll.”
So, if that’s the case for you, you lift your cheeks like this.
Abel: I literally did that exercise in the shower this morning to warm up before I started recording today.
That’s the best time to do it.
You know what the one-two-three punch of that is? Neti bottle.
Use the neti bottle, clear out the sinuses, then start doing the lip roll. Oh my god, you wanna talk about clearing the way.
Abel: Cool, I didn’t even think about that.
It clears all this up especially with a hot shower.
Another good thing with the shower is touching your toes and letting the hot water pound on your back. Clears all this up.
And I’ll tell you, the best thing anybody could ever do for their voice is eating no processed foods.
Abel: I’m so glad you said that.
End of story. Yeah. Meats and greens. Stick to real food. Oh my god. Ease up, don’t go crazy with all the sauces.
Oh, yeah man. Because I have found the most inflammatory food for singing is bread.
Bread is so acidic to the vocal cords because it releases all that mucus and it makes everything heavy.
It’d be like the difference between running in shorts and running with a rucksack.
If you’re eating pizza, you’re basically singing with a rucksack.
Abel: Yeah. More so than dairy because that’s kind of the one that’s harped on by a lot of people.
Dairy can be bad, but I find bread to be the worst. But yeah, all of it. Dairy for some people, for others it’s nuts.
Nuts are acidic to the throat. If I eat some cashew and man, I could pound cashews, too. If I start pounding cashews, immediately I can feel that little acidic in my throat.
But you’re talking about it in one podcast, about when you and your wife went and got those allergy tests, and she came back with no allergies or whatever.
Not everybody’s going to have the same thing. Look at it, there’s people that smoke and drink and sing till they’re 70 and then there’s people that drink too much and their voice is shot for two weeks.
Obviously, the cleaner life you live, the better shot at all this health and happiness and hitting high C’s you have.
The Benefits of Being in Shape
Abel: We’re almost out of time, I can’t believe it. But what are some of the benefits of being in shape, specifically for performance or for singing, or what have you.
People listen with their eyes. I’m almost more of a performer than just a pure musician.
I love to entertain. Give me the mic. I’m funny. I got all that stuff going on.
When I started gaining weight, I didn’t want to be on stage, man. Because I just kept thinking, everybody was looking at me like, “Who’s this guy? I’m not listening to that guy.”
I think it’s a lot of self-esteem stuff. I think once you start packing on weight, it can really make you not want to be on stage.
And also just in general, I found myself.
I never thought of myself as an introvert, but those last couple of years, man, I was becoming more of an introvert.
I remember I would go places, especially work functions, and I wouldn’t say anything. I would just stand there.
And I used to be like, “Yay, man!” Like the life of the party.
And then all of a sudden, I was just standing over there by the chips, making it happen, man. Focusing on the food.
I almost became like social wallpaper. And this was a guy that in my 20s, I looked like Bon Jovi.
I walk into a room, it was on and cracking, man.
I’m not kidding you. I am not kidding you. I went from that, to a guy that didn’t want anybody to look at him.
You know what I mean? Don’t look at me. Don’t talk to me.
I just want to get through this so I can hit McDonald’s on the way home.
And oh, sneaky food too, boy. Because when you start gaining weight, my wife, she was very supportive, but I think she was scared.
She’s like, “Is this guy going to check out?”
But I would go to the drive-through, eat, then I would literally throw everything out.
When I go in the house, I’d go right into the bathroom and brush my teeth, try to get the smell of saturated fat and salt off me.
But I think it all tied in because those are all non-esteemable acts. You know what I mean?
You start sneaking around and not wanting to be seen and not wanting to deal with things and not returning phone calls.
It’s still there and it’s still vibrant, but I had a very, very vibrant YouTube channel in the 2000’s and millions of views, and it was all singing and guitar nerd stuff and amp shoot outs.
And those last few years, I shot every video from behind the camera.
I didn’t want to be in the videos, anymore. I was only shooting somebody else. And a couple of people would comment.
They’d say, “Why aren’t you in your videos anymore?” And a couple of people would hit me up.
They’re like, “Hey, man, I saw a picture of you. You’re gaining weight. Are you alright? It’s like we don’t see you in the videos anymore.”
Yeah. I started getting fat on American Idol. That sucked.
Abel: I bet. That’s gotta be one of the worst places.
That sucked. Yeah. Right. Exactly.
You can’t even think of a more soul-bending experience than basically being on a reality talent show.
And after one of the seasons, I ran into my hairdresser, and he just flat out, he’s like, “Dude, you looked horrible.”
And man, it hurt. It was so painful, man.
Abel: Yeah, I bet. That’s a rough thing to just to walk up to somebody and say. But I can totally envision it happening in entertainment.
I was doing these Kids Bop commercials, these records, and producing them. I was like the poster child for it.
I was rounding up the kids, doing the kindergarten cop thing. Ever see that, Arnold Schwarzenegger?
I was making them do push-ups and everything.
And towards the end of this whole cycle that we were in, we were doing these promo videos and it was close-ups of my head and the owner of the record label said, he says, “You literally looked like a pumpkin.” He told me that.
Abel: That’s rough.
Well, yeah. Welcome to LA.
Abel: I guess so, but I mean, you’re rocking it now. It seems like you’re back, right?
Yeah. You know I’m 55 years old!
Yeah. It’s okay.
Abel: I mean, you look awesome.
But that’s the thing. And that’s why going back to your question about people, what do they do if they’re in their 50s.
We all have redemption. We all have the opportunity for redemption. We all have another shot.
Because a lot of times, guys or girls, it’s like they peak in high school, and then it’s just this endless decline.
But I’ve had a number of peaks. You know what I mean?
I’ve been on the rollercoaster sometimes, but I’m an artist. I mean you know.
Abel: Up and down. It’s interesting though. I didn’t really think about that, though, the gaining weight.
Impostor syndrome is what people call it now. Especially in entertainment or performance of any kind, we all suffer from that. I certainly do.
I deal better with it now than I used to, but it’s always there. I didn’t think of gaining weight that accelerates it or enhances that in some way.
It makes total sense, though.
Yeah. And a lot of TV, man, they shoot it and you can see yourself. They have the screen off to the side where the line producers are doing lighting and adjusting.
So you’re sitting there talking to somebody, and you could see out of the corner of the eye that you look like a pumpkin.
But I gotta stay focused and I have to sound relatively intelligent.
But I lived.
Abel: Well, I’m glad you don’t look like a pumpkin anymore. Dashing, if I do say so myself.
I’m going more for the asparagus look.
Where to Find James Lugo
Abel: There you go. Alright, we’re out of time, James, but before we go, please tell folks what you’re working on and where they can follow you and find you.
Oh. I’m a record producer and a voice coach, and I do a lot of work on Skype now. This is the last number of years.
But, yeah. And my YouTube is James Lugo. So yeah. And honestly, if there’s anybody out there that ever needs any help with this, man.
And, obviously, if they’re here, they’re in the right place. I went through your whole site today and I was looking at all of the things. This is the answer, man.
Abel: Thanks for saying that. Been doing this a while. It’s certainly not perfect.
Yeah. And I saw an old, fat picture of you playing guitar.
Abel: That’s right. I was there.
I was like, “Look at him!”
Abel: That’s right. That was almost 10 years ago now.
Yeah. Well, your story of going vegan and getting sick, and your house burning. Not out of ideas and the doctors keep telling you, “Eat less and run more.” That touched my heart.
Abel: You’ve been there.
You were huge, man. You were a huge influence on me. You’ll never know. You will never know.
And I’m worth saving, you know what I mean? I’m a good person.
Abel: I can see that.
I got something to say, I got kids, and I was dying.
And really, watching that video with you and Ameer… I watched that video hundreds of times and I just… I conceded…
One more thing before we go is…
And that’s such a great thing, man. When you completely accept defeat.
And for me, that was what was in the way because I grew up in the gym business, and I was a trainer, and I worked in the ’80s.
No matter what anybody would tell me, I was always like, “Yeah, but you know what, I always knew.”
“I always knew.”
And at 300 pounds, 51 years old, chest pains, I was like, “Okay, I get it. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.”
And one other thing, and then I will stop. When I first started fasting four years ago, man, people were freaking out.
Like, “How did you lose the weight?”
I’m like, “I’m fasting.”
They’re like, “What? Dude, that’s terrible. It’s the worst thing you can do. Your metabolism is going to be ruined.”
But now it’s not like that.
People ask, “How’d you lose the weight?”
I go, “Oh yeah, I fast.”
They’re like, “Oh, you’re doing the intermittent fasting? The 16:8. Are you doing this? Are you doing that?”
Abel: They get it now, huh?
Yeah. Four years later, I’ve seen it.
Abel: Cool. I didn’t know that.
I’ve been doing it. Now people are like, “Oh, really? My friend does that.”
Or “Is that that thing? Is that Paleo?”
So things are changing.
Abel: That’s so cool.
When you started out, you were going after Jillian Michaels.
Abel: Yup, that’s right. I was.
Abel: She was the king. The queen, back then. You know what I mean? She was everywhere. She was on TV. She was top of the podcasts charts.
And I’m like, “This won’t do. This is how I got sick.”
So anyway, it’s been a long, wiggly path as we can agree on, but I’m just so happy that it’s getting out there.
And intermittent fasting is so interesting because it’s one of those things that I’m a huge proponent of it. Have been pretty much the whole time. Went on national television raving about it, and I couldn’t believe that they let me.
But I think it was only because they were trying to make me look crazy, but it’s one of those things, it’s like it never comes back to you.
You don’t make money from fasting, that’s why it didn’t originally get out there. But I’m so glad that people get it, because we all have the power.
It trains that muscle, right?
Abel: Once you start fasting, it’s like, “Oh, we can do this and I don’t have to do anything to do this.” It’s amazing. Oh, man. But anyway.
Imagine going into a focus group with a bunch of CEOs and going, “I got a business plan.”
“We’re going to tell everybody not to eat.”
And they’re like, “And your business plan?”
Like, “Bro, that’s it.”
Like, “That’s a terrible idea.”
Abel: Yeah. Hence the wiggly path but it’s good for you.
Anyway, James, thank you so much for coming on, man. This is great.
Alright, man. Thanks so much, Abel.
Before You Go…
Here’s a review that came in from Bradley on iTunes. He says…
This is by far my favorite podcast in the health and fitness genre. It offers great thought provoking discussions in what it means to be “healthy”.
The guests all have impressive resumes and backgrounds in their respective fields. What sets this podcast apart is how accessible the information is.
Anyone with impressive backgrounds can relay information from their field, but if it’s not done in a way for people to digest it’s useless. This is definitely where Abel’s talents as a host/moderator comes in.
Also, in reducing these complex ideas and concepts down for the average person, the podcast provides useful tips and insight to incorporate changes into your daily life.
Highly recommend this podcast and look forward to the new episodes.
Bradley, thanks for the kind words, man.
I do try to make all of this approachable, and really appreciate you writing in with your feedback. It’s really encouraging to hear that you’re enjoying the guests, and the conversations we’re having.
Thank you big time for leaving a review for the show.
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