Mani’s “keto boot camp” by Cassey Hauser

My son’s friend, Cassandra Hauser, and I had planned a trip driving through South America in the summer of 2019. But, when my brother’s long-term caregiver became very ill with lung cancer I brought him home. Managing his schizophrenia through a ketogenic diet and fasting with exercise and yoga, of necessity, made the trip an impossibility for me. But Cassey persisted. She came planning to spend two days and then head to the border. Instead, she stayed two weeks and got the keto “boot camp” I was administering to my brother! Here’s Cassey’s take on that story:

Beginning keto and living on the road in South America

 My keto journey began abruptly and with little warning when I decided to visit Captain Mani Malagón, USN (retired). Mani is part of my extended US Navy family. I visited him in Corpus Christi, Texas driving on my way from Pennsylvania to Mexico. I am a 33-year-old female who has struggled with weight management and metabolic health for the past 8 years.

          Keto the “Navy Boot Camp” way

The very first night I arrived in Texas, I went “full keto” with little warning as Mani was the chef and he was on a strict keto diet at the time for both him and his schizophrenic brother. I was planning to stay in Texas only a few days and ended up there for 2 weeks, while Mani and his neighbor, Jeff, helped me upgrade my van just before I was planning to cross the border to Mexico. With no other preparations, my metabolic journey began.

(Preparation of “Pulpo a la Gallega”, an octopus dish made in Galicia, the northwest province of Spain, where they play bagpipes but don’t wear kilts. Mani)

          Three 24-hour fasts without notice

          Catch fish or fast

In this time period I also did three 24-hour fasts, which I was also not fully prepared for, but it is probably the only way I would have committed to them.

Cassey Hauser

The first one happened after Mani & Jeff woke me up early in the morning to go fishing on Jeff’s boat. Then Mani told me that I would “not be eating again unless I caught my own food.” Spoiler alert, I did not catch the fish, but I did end up with a seafood boil at the end of afternoon. This did indeed include fresh caught blue crabs from Mani & Jeff’s crab traps, over a pound of shrimp, and a whole lot of other keto goodness.

          Salsa dancing and fasting

The second fast occurred after a salsa & mambo social, where non-stop dancing was on the docket for the evening. There was a lot of cursing at Mani and some real feelings of hostility after experiencing the “keto fog” in full force, especially that night, while keeping a high tempo evening and not having eaten food.

My “keto fog” included headache, dizziness, irritability, and I also saw some black spots as I was still being weaned off sugar and high-carb foods.

Surprisingly, Mani danced every dance throughout the evening with high-energy and a happy smile, maybe there was more than weight loss to the “keto lifestyle.”

hard boiled eggs during keto boot camp

          Settling into fasting

By the third 24-hour fast, I had already learned a lot about the capabilities of my body. So when we just decided to fast for 24 hours randomly, I agreed with little fanfare. At this time I was nursing a hurt dove found by Jeff’s wife who had a gaping chest wound and needed my full attention. It turns out once all of those hunger pains calmed down for a minute, I barely even noticed the hours go by. My body was already adjusting to all of these new concepts and ideas, I felt like I was the one catching up! The third fast went without a hitch, no “keto fog”, no feelings of harm towards Mani for withholding food, no nothing. Just clear eyes, a clear mind, and a 24-hour fast sailing by. Short of experiencing the whole thing in real time in my own body, I may never have believed it to be true! I was astounded by this immediate change. As a side note, The dove, Maya, made a full recovery by the way, and Mani released her into the wild.

          24 hour fasts were OK

Mani cooking during keto boot camp

Alas, I begrudgingly accepted that I could indeed fast for 24 hours, especially with the full meals of keto-goodness I was promised at the end of each one. And to my delight I could eat to my heart’s content when breaking the fast. I lost 14 pounds just in those 2 weeks alone. Also, begrudgingly enough, the unsuspected keto boot camp was a way for me to really immerse myself in keto at full swing without having the opportunity to back out and try again another time. I rather enjoy the “keto by your bootstraps” method.

yummy meals during keto boot camp
shrimp and mussels during keto boot camp

          Stocking basic keto items

Considering I was so new to the keto concept and learning all of these newfound practices during my 2-week keto boot camp, I had much to prepare. For the next 6 months I would be driving from the United States to Uruguay living out of my 1990 Volkswagen Westfalia. That already was quite an undertaking, but now I was running from shop to shop, gathering vitamins: K2, magnesium glycinate, astaxanthin, electrolyte salt caps, omega 3 fish oil, and canned sardines, etc. to help maintain this new lifestyle during my journey.

Easy keto trick

One of the things that I love so much is Topo Chico™. It is a highly carbonated water that is bubbly and delicious without any of the bad stuff added. (Same concept as Lacroix™ which I also drink). When I am going through the day fasting, I still drink coffee and Topo Chico/Lacroix as a sort of snack. This is a way to stagger the time, instead of having only water (research differs on this topic.)  When I am feeling extra hungry or feel a slight headache coming on, I pour myself a Topo Chico. I add 2 tablespoons of Magnesium Calm (powder form), a tiny bit of bulk supply potassium chloride, bulk supply ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), and salt. It instantly makes me feel better. This gives me the nutrients I need under the guile of carbonated soda. Especially enjoyable because it also masks the acidity of ascorbic acid. I love it! You should try it and let me know what you think.

Heading to Mexico

Cassey camping during keto boot camp

Almost immediately upon crossing the border into Mexico I was about to find out that each country had something different to offer to maintain this diet. This was very dependent on my route through each country and when driving through small towns sometimes there were very few options that were not sugar sodas, packaged chips and unhealthy snacks, as well as sugar laden treats masking in disguise. In fact, it almost merit’s a different topic of conversation about how unhealthy the most remote towns have become.

fish meal for Cassey during keto boot camp

The remote areas of South America 

I have been all through the hills of certain countries and can attest that it is tricky staying healthy in even the more remote areas. Sadly, the rampant illness is apparent by looking at children still at a young age, where all their added fat sits like a tire around their bellies. It wasn’t until I had done research that I saw this for what it was: A prevalent and systemic health problem that is more far-reaching than one would think. This is made worse by the goods sold in remote shops, all high-carb, high-sugar snacks.

Keto while living in a van 

rice vinegar, salt, pepper, cucumbers and tomatoes were a staple during keto boot camp trip

For my setup, I had a 2-burner gas propane stove, a sink, and a small blender for the duration of the trip. Although at certain times during my journey such as at hostels or camp spots, there were full kitchen areas I was able to use. Considering this was keto at a more basic level with only a propane stove I was able to get creative with the meals. At most super markets I always left with a bushel of vegetables and sometimes some fruits depending on what was in stock, and at times I had to get very creative as the options were pretty limited. I made a lot of cucumber and tomato salads with rice vinegar, salt and pepper, one of my absolute favorite items on the road then and now. This salad is so fresh and so simple, what more could you want!?

Dealing with bacterial infections on the road 

Cassey celebrating with friends in a river during keto boot camp

I suffered 2 major bacterial illnesses, one in Mexico and one in Ecuador where I had very bad diarrhea and couldn’t keep much down. I felt very weak and sickly during both scenarios. During the first episode I was staying with locals in San Miguel de Allende. They had a home remedy liquid on hand which helped a whole lot with my sickness and got me backup and out in no time. The second scenario happened while I was parked in a parking lot in Quito Ecuador. It was awful. I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to walk to the bathroom in time throughout the night. I called Mani and he told me to keep fluid levels up as well as salt and magnesium levels to help with the sickness. I did as he said. After a few days I was back on my feet and at it again.

Steaks and onions for Cassey during keto boot camp

Inca Cola: stay away… far, far away

Cassey Hauser working on her camper

I of course ate different foods from every country as I wound my way down through all the different countries. These foods weren’t always keto. What can I say, when you are dabbling in new and exciting cultures, sometimes you just have to try what the locals are eating. But I did manage to keep all of the weight off and even lose about 5 more pounds while I was on the trip. When I got to Peru, I was forever repulsed by Inca Cola. Have you ever heard of it or seen it? It is a lime/lime green soda that they drink there, which is a product of Coca Cola with 39 g of sugar and 39 g of carbohydrates in just one 12 oz. can. It is so bad they actually don’t list any of the ingredients on the bottle! It is the epitome of drinking sludge.

Getting Cassey's camper ready for her long keto boot camp journey
Cassey's yummy keto eats during boot camp

Synthetic and partial / fully hydrogenated oils

Fresh fish for Cassey's dinner during keto boot camp

In the end, maintaining a keto lifestyle wherever you are in the world can be challenging, but it is possible and very doable! I cooked for myself about 80% of the time while I was on the road. I have found in recent years that my stomach has certain sensitivities and I believe it has to do with all of the synthetic hydrogenated oils being used in the foods. Even in the smallest supermarkets have about 50 options for oils on the shelves and they sell them in big drums. You also know that is the kind of stuff being used by the boatload in all the local foods. I should have taken a picture. Shelves of toxins surrounding you in plain sight and no one seems to know the wiser. At even bigger supermarkets entire aisles were dedicated to the stuff. Between the seed oils and Inca Cola, I needed to have the Mr. Poison stickers ready and available to give a warning: Buyer beware!

Stay the course!

Sail boat at sunset during keto boot camp
Cassey catching fish during keto boot camp

Alas, as bad as some things were, there are many healthy alternatives down South. Have you ever tried the chicharrón in Columbia, or the fresh cuts of beef in Mexico? What about the homemade salsa or fresh guacamole from avocados the size of your fist? Or my favorite, the local soups from Ecuador. I don’t know how it came to be, but I sure do love a good soup! I cannot say a lot of these countries do salads often but there was plenty of food to try that had all of the keto feels. I spent plenty of evenings in food heaven, and the keto kind if you know what I mean. I am so happy to have met Mani on my journey and got some of his Metabolic Multiplier insights before leaving for my trip.

Cassey on the beach during her keto boot camp
fishing during keto boot camp

Hikes without snacks

Happy Cassey smiling during keto boot camp

I hiked a lot throughout the journey as it was a main intention of mine during the trip. Instead of taking all kinds of snacks for the day, my perspective was totally changed. I was canyoning in Nicaragua and out all day and did not need to eat anything until dinner. This was a revelation!

Cassey's Camper during keto boot camp trip

Keto combined with intermittent fasting is the way to go for life. I had once been the one in a frazzled puddle on the floor from hunger and now I am climbing mountains without a snack. Completely unheard of!

Picture of Cassey and her camper during keto boot camp

My journey continues with keto

Keto boot camp with Cassey and new friends
keto boot camp with Cassey on the road

Keto was the game changer I had been living to discover and now that I have, I will never go back. Since then I have recently, as in a few days ago, added zinc carbonate, B-complex, cod liver oil, magnesium L-threonate, and iodine to my arsenal at Mani’s suggestion and I continue to learn new things about the keto and intermittent fasting lifestyle every day. Luckily, Mani’s vast amount of research occasionally gets relayed back to me, which is a good place to start. From a novice to the experts, I can only learn from here and I plan to continue this path for the rest of my life. Salud!

keto boot camp on the beach with Cassey

About Cassey Hauser:

Cassey Hauser is from a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After attending West Virginia University and majoring in Forensic and Investigative Sciences, Cassey joined the U.S. Navy for 10 years. Then she spent some time at sea. Cassey also earned a Master’s in Southeast, Far-East, Asia and the Pacific Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. Afterwards Cassey learned Bahasa Indonesian at the Defense Language Institute. Then, Cassey left active navy life (staying in the U.S. Navy Reserves) and embarked on an adventure living in a van travel down through South America. This boot camp is where her keto journey began. She is still researching and actively pursuing the keto lifestyle. Most of her adventures can be found on her blog at

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Mani Malagón

Captain Mani Malagón (Manuel A Malagón-Fajar), USN (retired), MIT '74 (B.S. Math), US Naval Postgraduate School '86 (M.S.E.E.), US Army War College '99, served in US nuclear attack submarines & commanded USS Olympia (SSN 717). He was assigned to Submarine Force Pacific, 7th Fleet & Mine Warfare staffs, and as Defense Attaché to Chile. He has used a therapeutic ketogenic diet as a principal adjunct to ameliorate his brother’s schizophrenia.

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