‘Eat healthy, count calories, and exercise’ was the advice I used to live by when it came to trying to lose weight. It makes sense — if you put good things into your body, eat less than you’re supposed to, and challenge your body with weights + cardio, you will look and feel good. Naturally, I was intrigued when I first heard of the Keto diet, which argues you can eat a ‘high fat, low carb’ diet to lose weight and, more importantly, be healthy.
I took the dive on Keto by trying it out for 7 weeks. This post will break down my path to fitness, why I started Keto, my experience on the diet, and overall thoughts now that I’m no longer doing it. If any of that isn’t your cup of tea, feel free to skip — I’ll be posting more tech / marketing stuff soon!
My parents were health-conscious in raising my brother and I — we rarely had sugary drinks at home, ate a bowl of (cut) fruit a day, and both participated in a number of sports growing up. I personally played several seasons of competitive basketball and soccer, skied, and dabbled in other sports (cross country, hockey, etc.). This meant that, from an early age, being physically fit + healthy was core to how I viewed myself. A lot of good things come from body positivity, but I’m still out here trying to look like Ronaldo.
Despite this, I had weight problems as a kid. Before my growth spurt, I remember my mom having to get 32” ‘husky’ jeans from the US, so she didn’t have to tailor 6” off the regular ones. I thinned out a lot in my teenage years, and only started lifting weights towards the tail end of high school. Throughout college, I experimented with different workouts, took protein, bulked & cut, etc. all to get into better shape.
Some strategies worked better than others, i.e. the 4x4x8 routine helped me get past a big plateau and increase the weight of my lifts by 20% to 30%. Similarly, implementing tactics like intermittent fasting, low carbs (i.e. chicken breast + salad), and counting calories helped me lose around 10lbs (after pic). Other strategies, like ‘bulking’ made me add it right back without seeing any drastic changes to strength.
Granted, a lot of this may have been due to doing a strategy ‘properly’ or not. However, like communism, it’s hard to have faith in a strategy if you’ve never seen it done correctly, or know what’s wrong when you’re implementing it. Therefore, if you’re considering starting the Keto diet, hopefully this post will help with that.
Taking the dive
I follow a guy named Ryan Kulp on Twitter; initially because his company was a Clearbit customer and I was doing interviews, but later due to his funny and unapologetic opinions. Regardless, he started Keto and lost a lot of weight (around 30lbs I think?), despite spending most of his day at his computer, like me. He was so passionate that he wrote a book called Fitness for Hackers — the ultimate guide for those in sedentary lifestyles to kickstart their fitness journey, via diets, workouts, and technology!! (Google Sheets, Trello, Zero, MyFitnessPal, etc.).
I signed up to be an early tester, which meant reading the book, implementing it for 90 days, and giving feedback along the way. I was already curious about Keto, as I met his co-founder who built incredible businesses in Perfect Keto and Kettle & Fire (Keto-friendly). I also am very interested in habits, life hacking, etc., so the mental / energy benefits were also intriguing.
Hence, I took the plunge to start Keto on May 20, 2019, and officially ended it on July 9, 2019. Below, I’ll explain the pros & cons of the diet, my personal experience with it, and my verdict on ‘going Keto’.
Pro — Eat foods you enjoy
I didn’t like doing a low-carb diet when I cut in early 2018; it was miserable, bland, and overall hard to stay motivated. With Keto, dieting became somewhat enjoyable. It’s high-fat, which means I was able to eat things like yogurt, bacon, cheese, etc. The fact that this did NOT affect the success of the diet, and in fact was a central component, made this a pro of Keto. I still had to be healthy — I didn’t eat sweets (sugar), fried foods (carbs), or even fruit (also sugar). However, it was still doable — sample meal below:
Pro — Mental clarity
It’s possible my body is still adjusting, but 7 days after quitting Keto and I’m noticing the differences. I’m definitely lower energy (need 2 cups of coffee VS just 1), and feel hungrier more often. My days are also arguably less productive; I usually wasn’t starving when I ate my Keto lunch, and could get right back into work afterwards. Now, eating sandwiches + carbs, I get into a slump around 2pm and find it hard to get on track.
Pro — Weight loss & strength gain
The challenge to traditional low-carb diets is that you lose strength; i.e. it’s fine for someone who just wants to drop a few pounds, but if I start regressing in the gym, it’s definitely not worthwhile. In contrast, I was nervous that a high-fat diet would actually cause me to gain weight, as is the gut reaction (pun intended). Over the 7-week period, both were proven wrong: I lost weight and was able to lift more in the gym.
Con — Social challenges
Doing Keto means that, while you can eat foods you enjoy, you can’t eat a lot of foods (whether you enjoy them or not). An immediate go-to is alcohol — I could technically drink hard alcohol (i.e. whisky), since it was carb-free (more on this later), but I couldn’t drink beer, cocktails, and even wine needed to be limited. Eating out with friends was tough; a lot of spots (sushi, ramen, etc.) were off the list, and I had to be super careful when I did go to a restaurant, in terms of the sauce they used, vegetables, etc. At first, this was awkward, but eventually it just became annoying and made social interaction a pain.
Con — Skin & bowels
This part is a little gross, as a heads-up… A high-fat diet has implications outside of weight loss, as I was changing the way my body processed food. For starters, I had bad eczema growing up and still have very sensitive skin. A high-fat diet wrecks havock on this, where my skin started to get uncomfortably dry. The worst part was the bowel movements — a high-fat diet can either cause constipation or diarrhea as (if) your body adjusts. Initially, I had minimal issues and used avocados + spinach as my green. After I got ‘knocked out of Keto’, about 3 weeks in, I started to get diarrhea while my body adjusted. That meant the runs 3x per day, for several days in a row. Not fun.
Con — Consistency & consequences
Calorie-counting is a numbers game; i.e. if I eat too much today, I can just run it off tomorrow or make it up later in the week. Even terrible cheat days don’t set you back that much, right? Not with Keto. Once your body is ‘fat adapted’, even eating (1) carb-heavy meal can throw you off. For me, this was Pho after a night out with friends. Following this, despite taking exogenous ketones and eating properly, I was ‘out of ketosis’ for a solid 8+ days. That meant eating a high-fat diet, with no reward, for 8+ days. VERY demoralizing.
Another example was alcohol — despite being allowed under Keto, I developed a pretty low tolerance (no carbs to process it). That’s fine, except for hangovers — I got drunk twice in my 7-week journey, and both resulted in a terrible morning after. Think 5+ hours of stomach pain, throwing up, being unable to move / function, etc. Now I’ve had bad nights out, but both these nights were fairly tame with terrible consequences.
Over my 7-week journey on Keto, I also worked out around 4x per week — twice with a focus on weight-training, and twice where the focus was more cardio-heavy. Results below:
Lost 8.8lbs (167.4 to 158.6)
Lost 1.9% body fat (15% to 13.1%)
Various gains in the gym (bench, squat, curls, etc.)
I’m still going to keep my 90-day commitment by working out consistently, counting calories, and possibly adopting an alternative diet recommended by Ryan. For me, Keto wasn’t worth it — I’m confident I can lose weight by following my initial mantra. However, there are a number of unintended benefits that came from doing Keto:
Alcohol consumption: I made a New Year’s resolution to quite drinking entirely, which coincidentally lasted 7 weeks as well. After this and Keto, I can say I’m no longer conditioned to drinking alcohol during meals, social events, or even having the same urge / need to ‘get lit’ on nights out. This is a huge W, as it changes my approach to social situations and what I want from them.
Carb & calorie-conscious: Keto made me avoid a lot of foods that aren’t great for me anyways. Fried foods, sweets, and snacks in general are a huge killer to effective dieting and productivity. Moving forward, I might still adopt some Keto restrictions so that I can be healthier and get more out of my day. I.e. eating my lunch in 2 attempts VS 1, so I don’t have the carb-loading slump.
Don’t eat unless you’re hungry: Through the Fitness for Hackers guide, I implemented an intermittent fast (16:8) that I still follow, which means eating between the hours of 1pm and 9pm. This made me realized how many times I would’ve ate (i.e. breakfast) without being hungry, or ate as something to do (i.e. snacking, many of which are not Keto-friendly).
Have health goals: Doing Keto gave me something to strive for, health-wise. Whether you’re training for a marathon, trying to hit certain weights in the gym, or a small goal like removing sweets from your diet — these all motivate you to keep fitness & health as a top priority. In the future, I definitely want to find other creative ways to do this.
It’s also worth noting that, technically, I didn’t really do Keto right. To do it effectively, you’re supposed to avoid alcohol entirely (drinking stops your liver from producing ketones) and avoid dairy until you’re fat-adapted. I didn’t do either, and this probably took a toll on its effectiveness + my ability to stay in ketosis.
Keto is an interesting concept — I think it can definitely be effective in spurring weight loss (while not diminishing strength), ONLY if it is done properly. If I do Keto again, which I probably will, I would endeavour to avoid alcohol entirely and follow the rules more strictly (re: dairy).
Regardless, weight loss + fitness can be achieved in other ways that are proven and healthy. I like bread, pasta, fruits, vegetables, and other items that are taboo to Keto. I definitely believe I can eat those while being healthy + physically fit. Therefore, no Keto for now!
Disclaimer: None of this is medical or professional advice, but if you decide to try Keto and potentially drastic improve or ruin your life, use my referral code!
Caveat: A big part of quitting Keto was due to my parents coming to visit me in LA this week, where being ‘Keto’ should get me a smack to the back of the head 😂My mom is a nurse and I assumed she would disapprove when I told her (update as of July 17, told her; she does), so now I can live my life in peace!