Now that the keto diet has successfully established itself as a science-based diet, a number of spin-offs have started appearing, such as lazy keto and dirty keto.
Additionally, a lot of people start adopting an “if it fits your macros” or IIFYM approach to dieting, where no food (or food group) is off-limits, as long as you’re sticking to your daily macros consistently.
So what’s the deal with all of these new types of keto?
How are they different from strict keto?
Can you achieve good results with them?
Let’s find out.
What is Strict Keto?
Before we try to define lazy keto and dirty keto and the IIFYM approach, let’s first take a look at strict keto.
Strict keto is a term that is used mostly to differentiate the classic keto approach from other versions of the diet, such as “lazy keto” or “dirty keto”, which have appeared recently, and are still not clearly defined.
Mind you, even “strict keto” doesn’t have a rock-solid definition, but there are some basics that most people agree on.
Strict keto is the classic form of keto, which is also the most popular one.
If you’re looking for information on keto in general, in 95% of the cases, what you’ll find will be regarding “strict keto” or “clean keto.”
Nevertheless, there are plenty of different approaches to keto, and even as far as “strict keto” is concerned, you might see conflicting information from different sources.
Strict keto (or regular keto, or classic keto, or simply keto) has a few basic principles:
- Eating less than 20-25 g net carbs per day
- Eating adequate protein and sufficient fat to make the diet sustainable in the long run
- Eating whole, unprocessed (or minimally processed) foods
- Getting your carbs mostly from low-carb vegetables in order to make sure that you’re getting all the essential micronutrients
- Avoiding high-carb foods
- Avoiding trans-fats and refined vegetable oils (such as soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, etc.)
- Avoiding highly processed foods
- Eliminating all added sugar
Looks rather straightforward, right?
Regarding these basic principles, there’s a lot of discussion and disagreement, and you’ll see many variations of these (such as slightly higher carbs vs. being super strict with carbs, or very low protein and high fats vs. moderate protein and fats, or calculating your macros as percentages vs. calculating them depending on your lean body mass, etc.).
There’s also some discussion on the types of food that are optimal for keto, based on your goals.
For example, while a lot of people consume dairy and nuts, some exclude these two food groups completely, arguing that they’re not optimal for weight loss.
Alcohol is another topic that sometimes divides people – while some people decide to be 100% strict about dieting and remove anything that is less than optimal and that might jeopardize their progress, others choose to occasionally enjoy a glass or two of a low-carb alcoholic beverage of their choice.
So, as you can see, the definition of “strict keto” is not indisputable.
Nevertheless, most people in the keto community would agree on the following points: keeping your net carbs very low – consuming adequate protein and fats – eating whole, unprocessed foods – avoiding processed junk.
What is Lazy Keto?
Lazy keto can mean two different things:
- Sticking to your carb limit (20-25 g per day usually) without necessarily tracking the rest, and without calculating macros and calories. This essentially means that you’re only keeping track of carbs. This is the most common definition of “lazy keto.”
- Not tracking anything but sticking to keto foods and avoiding carbs, thus likely staying at the lower range of low carb without too much effort – this is a definition you might encounter in online forums and Facebook groups. Often when someone is saying they’re doing “lazy keto,” they aren’t super strict about their carbs.
Does Lazy Keto Work?
Yes, both versions of it might work, especially for two categories of people: people who have a lot to lose and have been eating the standard American diet up to now. It may also work for people who are just starting out with keto, or people who are already at their goal weight and wish to maintain it.
Let’s see why.
People who are very overweight or obese and are just starting out will benefit from cutting out high-carb processed foods either way – being strict or being more relaxed in their approach.
Removing grains, starches, and food with added sugar (or that are naturally high in sugar) from their diet will most likely have a very positive effect on their general health and will help them lose weight, at least in the beginning.
This is also why other diets that are less strict than keto, such as paleo or primal, can work for weight loss – you’re basically cutting out all the crap from your diet and eating satisfying, whole foods, which help you naturally regulate your appetite, and are generally less calorie-dense than high carb junk food.
Additionally, as the keto diet naturally helps suppress your appetite, you are likely to eat less calories than before, when you were just eating the American diet, which, in turn, might be an effective weight loss strategy.
Nevertheless, keep in mind that your body will adapt to your new way of eating and lazy keto might lose its efficiency after a while, especially once you start getting closer to your ideal weight range.
As for people who have already achieved their goal in terms of weight loss and don’t want to be super strict with tracking in the long term, but still want to stay keto, lazy keto is a viable option.
There is still an important consideration to keep in mind, though. You’ll need to make sure the weight is not creeping back up. For this reason, it’s a good idea to step on a scale weekly or at least monthly, or to take measurements, or to have another system in place that helps you make sure that you’re not slowly undoing your progress.
Moreover, you need protein to sustain yourself, so you need to make sure that you have good protein sources in your diet.
If you consume adequate protein to sustain your muscle mass, and keep an eye on your weight and body fat, you could do lazy keto for long periods of time without any significant issues.
Cons of Lazy Keto:
Calories still matter on keto, so lazy keto might just not be effective enough for some people, or it may lose its efficiency after the first 2-3 months.
Some keto foods can be very calorie-dense (nuts or cream, for example), so if you’re not tracking, you might easily eat hundreds of calories without realizing it.
With lazy keto, you might not be consuming enough protein to sustain your muscle mass.
If you’re not very strict about tracking, you might be going over your carb limit without even knowing.
If at some point you decide to start working out, and especially if you start doing lots of cardio, your appetite will increase and might make you eat more than what you’re burning.
If you were doing strict keto before, and were maintaining a rather aggressive deficit, you might be prone to overeating if you stop tracking at once.
Therefore, if you plan to do “lazy keto” after a period of strict dieting, it’s a good idea to gradually up your calories to maintenance, and stay at these for a couple of weeks, before you stop tracking.
Keep in mind that one of the hardest parts of dieting is actually keeping the weight off once you lose it.
What is Dirty Keto?
Dirty keto means sticking to keto macros, but without emphasizing on whole foods in particular, and without excluding any food group.
This is essentially the same thing as the “If it fits your macros” approach (not to be confused with If It Fits Your Macros diet program, which is a specific program that has its own calculator and website).
This means that your 20 g net carbs could come from anything. They can come from cookies (well, more like, from 1/3 a cookie or so) just as well as from spinach – the source doesn’t matter and nothing is off-limits.
Dirty keto doesn’t differentiate between the different types of fat – highly processed vegetable oils are not excluded, nor is any particular emphasis put on healthy fats.
Overall, people who are doing dirty keto concentrate on macros, but not on food quality, the source of the said macros, or micronutrient content.
This means that you can have anything, even high-carb foods, just by finding a way to fit them in your macros.
That being said, if you decide to have anything heavy on the carbs, you’d need to have a miniscule serving of it to make it fit.
Most people who do dirty keto do tend to stick to low carb options, but not necessarily to whole, natural food.
Does Dirty Keto Work?
It might work for weight loss, yes, if you have the right macros and stick to them consistently.
Nevertheless, keep in mind that it’s less than optimal for general health, if you’re putting a heavy accent on processed food. Eating junk, even within the correct macros, is not a good strategy, if your goal is health and longevity.
The advantage of dirty keto is that nothing is off limits, so for people who don’t like excluding certain foods completely, it might allow them to have the flexibility they need in order to stick to their diet.
The real issue here is not the approach by itself. It’s the food choices you decide to make. If doing “dirty keto” for you means eating mostly whole, natural foods, while enjoying the occasional processed treat every once in a while, and if this allows you to stick to your diet without feeling frustrated and limited in your food choices, that’s fine.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with fitting a less-than-optimal food to your macros every once in a while, for example, on a special occasion.
There’s also no need to demonize certain foods, or certain food groups. The issue is with the foods you ultimately choose to eat.
However, if you’re getting most of your calories and macros from junk, sooner or later your health will take a blow, even if you’re doing keto. This, arguably, would probably still be better than just straight up eating junk without tracking anything whatsoever, or without limiting carbs in any way.
So if your version of “dirty keto” is mostly natural, unprocessed food with the occasional “dirty” deviation, and if that feels better for you than regular keto (adherence is key if you want to be successful), that’s an okay choice. If, let’s say, 80% of your choices are optimal, and 20% are less than ideal, you’d still be benefiting from keto.
Nevertheless, if “dirty keto” in your book means eating mostly junk and just making sure it fits in your macros, that’s clearly not optimal.
Cons of dirty keto:
You might not be getting adequate amounts of the micronutrients you need.
You’re not actually re-evaluating and improving your relationship with food by prioritizing healthier choices.
Eating junk food is not going to feel satisfying enough, and might still leave you feeling hungry, even if you’re sticking to keto macros.
Eating highly processed junk food is clearly not optimal for your health, keto or not.
If your carbs are coming from high-carb food in small portions, you might still be kicking yourself out of ketosis – 10 grams of carbs from cookies at once will definitely not have the same effect on blood sugar and insulin as 10 grams of carbs from salad greens and cherry tomatoes.
If that’s the case, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by hindering the process of fat adaptation and by slowing down your progress.
For some people, high-carb food (and especially sweets) is an “all or nothing” battle – for them, having even a small quantity of a trigger food could provoke a strong craving and might result in a binge episode.
In that case, strict keto might be the best approach – cravings tend to subdue after a while, and most people usually feel “liberated” once they get the hang of it.
Nevertheless, it’s very important to note that if you have doubts about having an eating disorder (such as binge eating or else), you need to discuss that with a healthcare professional, and not just try to pick the right kind of diet for you.
Keep in mind that dirty keto may contribute to nutritional deficiencies as it does not specify what type of sources your calories are coming from. Many foods are nutrient-poor and calorie-dense, meaning that they can meet your calorie and carbohydrate requirements for the day, but they don’t provide you with the nutrients your body needs to thrive.
For example, a low-carb cookie might only provide 2 or 3 grams of carbs, which might fit into your daily calorie requirements, but it lacks vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, which is needed to help fight diseases. This might not seem like a big deal if you’re only doing dirty keto for a short period, such as two weeks or so.
However, over the course of several weeks, the lack of nutrients from your diet can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including hormonal imbalances, acne, problems sleep, lack of energy, and more. It might even make you more prone to getting sick or developing serious complications.
The bottom line is that your food is more complex than its calories. Sourcing matters.
What does the “if it fits your macros” approach mean?
“If it fits your macros” is an approach that’s not limited to keto – it might be adapted to other diets, as well.
It means that you can eat whatever you want, as long as it fits your daily macros.
When applied to keto, it’s very similar to dirty keto, because your carbs would still be very low (in order for you to stay in ketosis), but you wouldn’t be excluding any food in particular – instead, if you decide to indulge in something, you’d need to “fit it in your macros.”
Again, if that means that the food you eat is mostly whole, natural and unprocessed, with the occasional indulgence, for which you make place in your macros – that’s not such a bad alternative to strict keto, and some people enjoy such a relaxed approach to food more than “strict” dieting.
If, however, you use “if it fits your macros” approach as an excuse to eat junk food (within certain macros), it won’t be a viable long-term strategy.
Micronutrient deficiencies will negatively affect your health, and the fats you eat could have a pronounced negative effect on your cardiovascular system (junk food is notorious for using types of fat that have many adverse effects, such as trans fats, for example). The problems with it are essentially the same as for dirty keto, so check out the previous section for the cons of dirty keto.
If the reason why you’re starting the keto diet is to achieve weight loss and optimal health, the best solution would be to just stick to the classic keto approach: limit your carbs, eat sufficient protein and fat, and opt for whole, natural, unprocessed foods.
Planning and tracking are both very important, as keto is, indeed, a strict type of diet, but you’ll quickly get used to it and it will start feeling easy in no time.
However, we all know that adherence is key to any lifestyle change, so if a way of eating isn’t enjoyable for you, you’re not very likely to stick to it in the long run. The solution to that would be to re-evaluate your relationship to food, and to learn how to appreciate healthy, natural food. Learning how to cook might be a big part of it.
If you need ideas, check out our meal plans and “recipes” section, which contains plenty of amazing keto recipes for you to choose from.
If a more relaxed approach to keto works better for you, but if you’re still opting for whole food most of the time, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. If, however, you need to do “dirty keto” in order to avoid breaking unhealthy habits and justify eating mostly junk, well, you probably know deep in yourself that this isn’t a great idea – you might need to figure out WHY you want to do keto before you begin. If you’re striving for general health and for feeling good in your skin, relying mostly on processed food just won’t cut it.
What are your thoughts on the “if it fits your macros” approach to dieting? Have you done lazy keto before? How about dirty keto? Share your experience with us in the comments below!
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