"I did enough research to learn that this probably wouldn’t kill me or turn me into a vegetable,
and then I went for it."
I want to start off by saying that I don’t think there is any, “best way,” to approach fitness other
than to just do something. As Miyamoto Musashi said, “there are many paths up the same
mountain.” In short, the best way doesn’t exist. In keeping with that philosophy, I don’t think that
the Ketogenic diet works for everyone. There are elements that could be considered
exclusionary and I know some people won’t be able to handle that. It is slightly more difficult to
do if you are around others eating all the time. It takes a certain amount of discipline to ask for
water instead of beer, or to visit your alma mater and not go to your favorite late-night eatery.
The looks you get when you order a burger without the bun may be hard to ignore. If you lack
this discipline, keto will be difficult for you. I also want to say that I am one hundred percent
certain that I screwed up at some point during this experiment. I’ve never done a program where
one variable has to be tracked as specifically as one has to track carbs with keto; food labels
must be read VERY carefully. I’m sure I missed a few things here and there that may have
bumped me out of ketosis at multiple points, so I would urge the reader to only consider my
experience and results as what keto MIGHT look like. There are things I want to tweak that I
hope will give me even better results the next time around.
So what is keto anyway?
The brain can run on two things: glucose, and ketones. Being in a ketogenic state, or ketosis
(not to be confused with ketoacidosis. BIG difference), means that your body is primarily using
ketones, that it manufactures in the liver, for fuel instead of glucose. Since ketones are made
from fat, the main point of using keto is that the body will use its own fat stores to make ketones,
thus making you leaner. The problem is, the bodies of most Americans don’t know how to make
ketones. Since the Standard American Diet (SAD) consists of very high, and for the most part
low-quality, amounts of carbs, our bodies don’t bother making ketones because there is so
much glucose from all the bread, cake, and sugary drinks. This problem is compounded when
someone tries to jump right into ketosis because their body is not conditioned for it. It’s like
trying to fuel a normal car engine with ethanol. The engine works, and so does the fuel, but the
engine isn’t prepared to use that particular fuel.
The potential benefits of keto are quite enticing: more energy, reduced brain fog, a more efficient
metabolism, greater cognitive abilities, increased endurance, reduced risk of diseases like
cancer and diabetes, and of course, fat loss. To reiterate, I do not condone ANY keto dogma.
There are plenty of other ways to achieve these results. What I HAVE found though, is that the
ketogenic diet is A way, and a pretty tasty one at that.
To give you some background on my own personal experiment, here’s where I was at the start:
204lbs having just completed one year of following Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program and eating a
4,500 calorie diet composed of about 20% fat, 35% protein, and 45% carbs. I’d seen massive
progress in all my main lifts, but now I wanted to train for something different. Having heard a lot
about keto from Emily Schromm, Aubrey Marcus, and Mark Sisson, I decided to give it a shot
and see what happened.
I did enough research to learn that this probably wouldn’t kill me or turn me into a vegetable,
and then I went for it. I think people’s health and fitness are often victims of “paralysis by
analysis.” I’d like to take a dip into some “woo-woo” crap and refer you to the Buddha’s Zen
parable of “The Poison Arrow.” In the parable, a man is shot by a poison arrow. His friends find
a doctor, but the man says (to paraphrase), “Wait! I will not have this arrow removed until I know the profession
of the man who shot me. What class was he from? What region? Who trained
him? What was the bow made of? What type of feathers were used on the shaft? What were
they attached with?” The man then dies with all these questions unanswered because
REMEMBER he got shot with a poison arrow! There comes a point where you have to stop
asking questions and act. I’ve seen the internet inundated with articles saying why keto is or
isn’t for you. The catch is, in reading them, it’s clear that some of the authors haven’t even tried
it! If you are already living an unhealthy lifestyle, looking up every possible piece of information
about a new way to eat isn’t necessarily bad, but at some point, you HAVE GOT to change
something. The number on that scale isn’t going to change while you’re asking all those
Aaaaaaand we’re back.
I started by following Emily Schromm’s “21-Day Superhero Challenge” (now the EmFit
Challenge) and combined it with “The Keto Reset Diet,” by Mark Sisson. The idea was to slowly
adapt my body to use fat to make ketones over the first three weeks by keeping my daily carb
intake at no more than 150 grams, and then lowering that to at or below 50g per day for the next
six weeks. Per Sisson’s recommendation, I kept my protein intake at .7g per pound of lean body
mass, and then fat was brought up to 65-75% of my total caloric intake.
I can say right off the bat that, as far as my palate is concerned, this was the best tasting
nutrition plan I’d ever tried. Bacon and eggs with stir fried veggies in butter for breakfast, 85%
dark chocolate with almond butter as a snack, 80/20 ground beef with veggies and avocado for
dinner, and avocado oil mayo on EVERYTHING! Except the chocolate. My spirit of adventure
does have its limits. I also experimented with fat bombs, butter coffee, and coconut milk
smoothies all to pretty good success. My taste buds AND my appetite were satisfied with every
meal, and I never felt over fed, even if I’d just eaten 1,000+ calories in one meal. What This
ended up doing was dropping my caloric intake from 4,500/day to 2,500/day. The craziest thing
for me was, even though I was eating 2,000 less calories, I never had to “white-knuckle” a single
day! These high-fat meals were so satiating that dropping my calories and number of meals was
The main positive that drew me to keto was the reported cognitive benefits. I can now definitely
vouch for these. Throughout the whole nine weeks, I felt clear headed and energized the whole
day. I was able to get to sleep much earlier and easier, and often woke up before my alarm
feeling energized and fully ready to get up and moving.
I don’t particularly enjoy endurance activities like runs longer than 400 meters, so I can’t speak
for those benefits, and I had no mortal illnesses to be cured of, but having experienced the
crystal clearheadedness that is often touted, I’m inclined to believe that those other benefits
may be possible*.
*I’m the furthest thing from a doctor. I’m making educated guesses based on my own research
and personal experience.
As much as I enjoyed the food I was eating, there was a fair amount of discipline involved.
Being at my family’s house in Vermont and not drinking all the Heady Topper in the fridge took
discipline. Going back to my alma mater, Penn State, and not getting ice cream at the Creamery
or ordering Wings Over took discipline. Here’s the thing, I think I’m working off of a different
definition of disciple than some other people. To me, discipline is more than just not eating a
certain food when you really want it. True discipline, to me, is not wanting that food in the first
place. Over these nine weeks, people often asked me, “can you have this?” Or, “are you
allowed to have this?” My answer was that I was allowed to eat whatever I damn well pleased!
But, I didn’t WANT these things. Heady Topper is ranked in the top-5 beers in America, the
Berkey Creamery makes the best ice cream known to man (tell me different! Let’s fight!), but I
didn’t have to resist them when they were right in front of me because I was not tempted. I did
not want them. This kind of discipline is more than saying you don’t want something; if you try to
lie to yourself, you will fail. This kind of discipline means that my truth during these last nine
weeks was that I did not want these foods. There was no resistance necessary.
Now, when I’ve brought this idea up to other people, I’ve often been met with, “but Ben, you just
have more discipline than other people!” “Not everyone is capable of doing that.” I call bullshit
on that ENTIRE mindset. Here’s the deal, I do not “just have” this discipline. It’s something I’ve
had to cultivate over the last eight years since I started taking fitness more seriously. I’ve gorged
myself at all-you- can-eat buffets and sat there afterwords wondering how it happened and
hating myself. I’ve stomped over to the freezer angrily saying, “you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t, you
shouldn’t,” and then eaten that pint of ice cream anyway. I’ve told myself countless times that
THIS, this would be the day I stopped making excuses, only to cave a week later at some family
gathering. I was not imbued with discipline at birth. I worked, and worked, and worked at it for
eight years and only now do I feel like I truly understand what it means to have discipline; but it
came after countless failed attempts and excuses. The point being, anyone can develop this
discipline. Stop thinking that excuse that I know is just begging to come out of your mouth. It’s
just that. An excuse.
Maybe I should have done another philosophy break. Not sorry about it one bit!
Baaaaaack again to the experiment!
Like I said, at the beginning of this experiment, I had just finished a whole year of 5/3/1. My
maxes were: press 160lbs, squat 420lbs, bench 315lbs, and deadlift 525lbs. Part of my curiosity
was how much of that would I maintain during this keto experiment. Well, my lifts definitely went
down; three weeks in, and I couldn’t pull 500 anymore. Now HOLD ON! Before you go all, “keto
makes you lose your gains,” there are other factors to consider. I’d dropped my calories by
2,000. That’s HUGE. I don’t think there’s any diet that will allow you to suddenly drop that many
calories and still maintain all your strength and muscle mass. Second, in the interest of going
literally by the book, I dropped my protein intake from 200g to 120g per day. That was just a
recommendation for the first foray into keto with the flexibility to make adjustments later. I think
it’s much more likely that those two factors caused my lifts to go down*. Not the keto itself.
*Squat 345, bench 245, deadlift 425. Couldn’t test my press due to injury.
All this talk of ketones and fat may have you apprehensive of this style of eating, so to give you
and idea, here’s what happened to me:
That’s me at 204lbs (left), and then me after nine weeks of fat adaption and ketosis at 178lbs (right). I hand’t seen anything less than 185 on a scale since college! Sure some of that weight was muscle, but proportional to my bodyweight, my lifts didn’t really drop that much! I’m looking forward to building back up from here and then doing another bout of ketosis, with more protein this time, to see if I can maintain even more muscle.
It’s pretty easy to declare this experiment a success. All I wanted to do was see what would happen, and there you have it! What I think is most important is, I lost twenty-six pounds eating food that was delicious and satiating. If you want to keep making excuses for your weight and diet, then by all means, never give keto another thought. But, if you truly have a desire to make a positive change in your life, set yourself up for a happier and healthier life, and develop some rock-solid discipline along the way, I think keto can be a great way to do it.