Tony Cohen, founder of the San Diego Keto Club, calls himself one of the first human guinea pigs for exogenous ketones.

He received a FedEx package filled with two clear sandwich bags of white powder from a friend in San Diego.

There were instructions about how to pee on a ketone testing strip (a practice that is no longer in favor) and more instructions on what to eat and when.

It says a lot about Cohen’s life at this time that he started ingesting the mystery substance without knowing much about how the keto diet worked.

He was living in New York and he was broke. “I probably suffered from some type of depression, although I wouldn’t have said that at the time,” Cohen admits.

He lived in a tiny studio above a pizza and ice cream parlor in Spanish Harlem with no natural light and was teaching Krav Maga, a relatively obscure mixed martial art, at the time. While he previously trained to be a chef in Northern Thailand, he didn’t have a kitchen, so most of his meals were of the typical New York commuter variety. He had a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel for breakfast, a slice or two of pizza in the afternoon, more pizza for dinner, and ice cream for dessert. Every day.

“It was a downward spiral that I couldn’t work my way out of,” Cohen says. “So when that package came in the mail, I was ready to make a serious change.”

He says that timing is everything. It also helped that he didn’t consider it to be a “diet”; it was more of an experiment. It wasn’t a fad yet, and Cohen, a born contrarian, seemed to embrace it.

“When I started three years ago, people thought I was an idiot,” Cohen says.

But it was the right diet—or should we say eating regimen—at the right time.

“If you had told me to diet, I would have told you where to go,” Cohen says, but gradually “I only had pizza and ice cream a few times a week instead of every day. Then I’d eat the pizza and skip the ice cream or eat the ice cream and skip the pizza, and then I just stopped eating them both altogether. But it didn’t happen overnight.”

The keto diet consists of eliminating refined sugars and eating low carbohydrates with a proper balance of high-fat foods. Ketosis occurs when there isn’t enough glucose, the body’s primary fuel source, so the body starts to break down fat stores to produce energy. There’s a lot more to it and taking exogenous ketones is entirely optional. Tony recommends starting with small changes such as cutting down on processed food.

“It can be really overwhelming. You have to do it in steps,” he says.

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Favorite Restaurants: Bare Back Grill in Pacific Beach for burgers, Second Nature North Pacific Beach for clean steak and bacon, Cívico 1845 in Little Italy for great cheese and salami plates, Wheat and Water in Bird Rock for bulletproof coffee

Shops: Sprouts, Little Italy Farmers’ Market

Treats: Yez Foods, a local keto bread and cookie company, and Dry Farms Wine

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