My Keto Diet Experiment

I tend to be very sceptical of diet fads. Partly because of problems inherent to nutritional studies, and partly because there are lots of powerful competing private interests pumping misinformation into the public consciousness. But most of all because my personal experience has been that getting the basics right, such as avoiding alcohol, cooking my own meals (and especially avoiding restaurant chains or packaged food), and cutting down on compulsive snacking/overeating are perfectly sufficient for getting into shape.

But, a few weeks ago, a friend recommended trying the keto diet, and it was the fourth time I’d heard about this in the span of a few months. I’ve been kind of stuck in a plateau in rock climbing for the past year, and have been thinking trying something new for a bit of a push. I’m pretty heavy for a climber (I’m 182cm/6ft and hover around 185-190), and I think losing a bit of weight would probably help me. So I did a little research and found that the scientific consensus was relatively positive on keto diets.

On top of this, my normal everyday diet is already pretty close to keto. I’m someone who leaves my bowl of rice untouched at an Asian restaurant, rarely eats desserts, and meat, eggs, fish, and cheese my are dietary staples. Plus I work from home and cook almost all of my own meals already. So I figured this would be pretty easy (spoiler alert: it wasn’t).

I decided to do an experiment: one month of keto. Here’s my full log:

Day 1:

Eggs, liver pate, and sauteed mushrooms for breakfast. Green oolong tea w/ginseng.

1.5 hours at the gym.

My routine looks like this:

  • 4-5km on a treadmill at 10kmh/4min + 16kmh/1min intervals
  • weight lifting with 4 sets of reps per exercise at increasing weight. e.g. fly press with 15 reps @ 60lbs, 10 reps @ 150lbs, 8 reps @ 190lbs, 5 reps @ 230 lbs. I focus on muscle groups that don’t get worked very much climbing.
  • Core workout w/side planking, a bunch of crunches w/medecine ball, lower back hyperextensions, leg lifts
  • I sometimes do leg stuff: jump squats, box jumps, 1-leg squats, dumbell lunges, but my legs are (almost comically, and entirely because of genetics) disproportionally strong compared to my upper body, so I usually just skip that

Stopped at the grocery store to get some cold cuts, cashews, and sunflower seeds for snacking.

Seared garlic-lemon salmon and broccoli with ginger and slivered almonds for dinner.

I weigh 189 lbs pre-workout (in boxers), 184 lbs post

Day 2:

Cheese omlette for breakfast at about 10:30am. Iced ceylon tea.

1.5 hours of rock climbing.

Protein shake & tuna salad for lunch.

Made a giant pot of chili con carne (no beans) to eat a few more meals of.

Stopped eating around 7pm because I read online that 16-hour fasts could help ketogenesis kick in and continued this for the rest of the experiment.

Day 3:

Full english breakfast. White tea w/jasmine.

Rest day

Southwest-ish chicken salad for lunch

Decided to try cooking indian food; made butter chicken for dinner (it came out tasty but no rice or naan made it a little heavy)

By now, I was starting to feel some effect from the change in diet. I felt low-energy and my pee started smelling strong

Day 4:

Red pepper & sausage omlette for breakfast. Green oolong tea w/ginseng

1.5 hours at the gym

Chili for lunch

Egg salad for dinner (without bread this wasn’t great)

Day 5:

Too busy for breakfast today. White tea

Chili for lunch

Made a cauliflower cheese soup with bacon for dinner

1.5 hrs of rock climbing in the evening

Day 6:

Full english breakfast. Ceylon tea

rest day

Salmon with avocado/vinnegar/garlic puree for lunch

Leftover cauliflower cheese soup for dinner

I’m getting random headaches when I’m hungry. My pee smells really strong and my body odours are a little funky. I never knew I could crave mac and cheese so badly. When I look at a fresh loaf of bread my mouth waters. This diet is way harder than I thought.

Day 7:

Chili for breakfast (this is the last of it, thank god…). Green oolong tea w/ginseng

1.5 hours at the gym

Protein shake

Chicken bacon and avocado salad for dinner

I weigh 183 lbs post-workout (in boxers)

Day 8:

Had some friends over for a BBQ. Was snacking until late afternoon when the feasting began

Piles of pulled pork, ribs, and smoked salmon for lunch/dinner. Mmmmmmmm

I had a few beers and they hit me noticeably harder than usual. And they were so delicious.

Day 9:

Too busy for breakfast today. White tea

1.5 hours of rock climbing

Protein shake & leftover ribs from the bbq for lunch

Balsamic & olive oil-marinated portobello mushrooms stuffed with gruyere and sausage for dinner

I’m not really feeling tired any more, but I’m really, really sick of eating close to zero carbohydrates. I’m starting to dream of pizza and sourdough bread. My body is starting to feel different, though: I suddenly feel like I weigh less when I’m rock climbing, even though I haven’t actually lost any weight.

Day 9:

Full english breakfast. Iced chinese oolong tea

1.5 hrs gym

Just some coldcuts, cashews & nuts for lunch, was too busy w/work to cook

Made a massive pile of pork tenderloin w/a dill-teriaki sauce for dinner

Day 10:

Avocado, liver pate, scrambled eggs for breakfast–pretty gross; needed something crunchy or at least not so soft. Iced green tea w/jasmine

45 mins of rock climbing

Leftover pork tenderloin for lunch

Roasted cauliflower & herb-crusted chicken thighs for dinner.

The negatives side-effects of ketosis seem gone except that my pee and body odours are still kind of weird. Oh, except for an increasing hatred of all keto-friendly foods. I’m working really hard to cook a good variety of foods but I can’t really seem to mask the fact that my body just wants carbohydrates.

Day 11:

The last of leftover pork tenderloin for breakfast. Pu-erh tea

rest day

Cobb salad for lunch

Taco salad without taco shells for dinner.

Day 12:

Bacon & cheese omlette for breakfast. Green oolong tea w/ginseng

1.5 hrs gym

Salmon steak for lunch

Ribeye steak w/mushroom and onion sour cream & soy sauce for dinner

I weigh 195 lbs with clothes on. Wait, what?

Day 13:

I was getting really sick of eggs for breakfast, so I toasted some cashews and mixed in some sausage with red peppers and onions. It was pretty good but damnit I just want a bowl of cereal. Lapsang Souchong (smoked black tea) w/lime

1.5 hrs rock climbing

Protein shake

Big southwest-style chicken salad with bacon for dinner

I weigh myself again just to be sure. Yep, 196 lbs. What is going on? I don’t understand. I look leaner and feel stronger but I’ve gained a significant amount of weight. I’m sure I’ve been on a calorie deficit given that I feel vaguely hungry almost every day. I can’t explain this. I’m also getting really, really sick of the lack of food options.

Day 14:

Tuna salad for breakfast. White tea

1.5 hrs gym

Protein shake

Bacon cheeseburger without a bun for dinner

189 lbs post-workout. Looks like I can confirm I’ve gained ~6 lbs. While I definitely don’t feel heavier, measurements don’t lie. This is crazy, and given how unpleasant this diet is, and the fact that I’m going on a trip with friends this weekend, I’m calling it quits.

Day 15:

Cheese omlette for breakfast. Black oolong tea

rest day

Tuna salad for lunch

Teriyaki salmon w/grilled zuchini for dinner

I didn’t really have any non-keto food in my house at this point and was leaving the next day for the weekend, so I stuck with the diet one more day

So concluded my experiment.

It’s beeen about 10 days since I stopped keto-ing. There was one weekend of very heavy eating followed by a week of normal eating (healthy, home-cooked foods mostly), and a bit of a drop in training (some light kayaking the weekend away and 3 days this past week instead of 5).

I seem to have dropped back down to 186 post-workout, but I am definitely looking a bit leaner, and have gotten stronger. And I’m feeling like my climbing has improved noticeably. It’s not clear how much my diet impacted this, but it obviously didn’t help me in my original goal of losing weight.

The fact that I gained weight still doesn’t make much sense to me. Maybe it’s because I was eating so much protein? I’m pretty sure I was getting more calories from protein than I’m supposed to, but then again, all the signs of “ketogenesis” were there, and that’s supposed to mean my body is rapidly burning fat for energy…

Anyway, in the end I don’t think I would recommend a keto diet. I’m not sure what I learned about its effect on my body, but I definitely learned that the side-effects were unpleasant. I just love food too much.

I learned about doing an extra low-weight set to start exercises and really like it: it warms up my muscles and feels like I strain them less: I feel like it lowers my injury risks and might help with building strength.