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What’s the Difference Between Clean, Dirty, Strict, and Lazy Keto?

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little boy eating keto waffles with whipped cream

Are you clean keto, dirty keto, lazy keto, or strict keto?

Recently, the idea of eating whole, fresh, real food (a.k.a. a well-formulated keto lifestyle) has turned into cliquey spin-offs called “dirty”, “clean”, “lazy,” and “strict” keto.

Where did these terms originate?

Social media groups are where I first learned of the various spin-offs of keto, like “dirty” and “lazy” vs. “clean” and “strict”. It was a bit off-putting to see the dogmatic opinions and judgment passed onto others regarding whether or not a particular food they’re eating is “keto”.

Hip Tip: Don’t those waffles in the pic above look delicious?! Check out the best keto waffles recipe ever right here!

The classification system of sorting people into “groups” based on how they choose to eat and track their food brought to mind similarities of the famous Dr. Seuss story The Sneetches, where the Star-Belly Sneetches think they are the best and look down upon Sneetches without stars. Therefore, I am now calling all these keto diet “spin-offs” the Sneetches of keto.

This is the epidemy of fad dieting, which is full of judgment, labels, rules, and that “all-or-nothing” mentality (and almost always leads to feelings of failure, guilt, and shame).

What is Clean Keto?

platter of fresh keto vegetables

Clean keto typically refers to:

Clean keto usually coincides with strict keto, which I’ll explain more later.

What is Dirty Keto?

man holding Quest bars

Dirty is the opposite of clean, right? So in reference to keto, the term “dirty” refers to:

With dirty keto, little emphasis is spent on the quality of food being consumed.

What is Strict Keto?

carb manager measure vegetable nutrition

Strict keto usually accompanies “clean” keto, but with the emphasis of “strict” referring to:

    • Religiously counting all macros (fat, carbohydrates, protein) and calories on a daily basis (with or without a food scale)
    • Using apps like Crono-meter or Carb Manager to ensure they reach daily goals
    • Medical therapy to treat conditions like epilepsy and cancer, where the strictness of the diet is imperative to obtain a therapeutic level of ketosis in order to achieve effective results

People with strict keto sometimes struggle with tuning in to their physical hunger and fullness cues, relying solely on a calculator to tell them when, what, and if they can eat.

What is Lazy Keto?

cheesecake fat bomb with a bite out of it

Lazy keto basically refers to:

    • Counting carbs to stay within approximately 20-50 gm/day
    • Not tracking much else, but instead aiming to consume high-fat, low-carb in general

Typically, with lazy keto, there isn’t a strong focus on the quality of ingredients in one direction or the other.

Which is best?

meal prep container with keto-friendly lunch

Truthfully? Well, I guess a hybrid of all four, or what I like to refer to as intuitive keto. Basically, intuitive keto is whatever works for you. It isn’t a group or class, but a way-of-eating that provides positive results for you personally.

Intuitive keto often means:

    • Troubleshooting through plateaus
    • Adjusting how you eat, even if it sometimes isn’t “keto”
    • Listening to your body
    • Being flexible when life calls for it

Intuitive keto is whatever “style” of eating that allows YOU to maintain and sustain optimal health over time.

The take-away

woman holding plate of keto pizza salad

People often miss the mark by overcomplicating simplistic concepts like turning healthy eating into cliquey diet spin-offs. It’s time to do away with the Sneetches of keto (or just the diet mentality in general), and start eating more intuitively for long-term, sustainable success.

The next time you come across judgmental terms like “dirty” and “lazy” or people passionately arguing simplistic concepts, just remember the story by Dr. Seuss, The Sneetches, and then… “You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all”.

The Sneetches book opened up

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Join The Discussion

Comments 12

  1. Helen Baker

    Okay I dont know where I fall really. I try to watch my carb amount. Do to kidney disease stage 3 and taking warfarin I am very limited on anything with vitamin k. also being a diabetic is why I watch my carbs. I take from all groups to try and get healthier. I am confused because of my limitations and have be honest am getting bored eating the same thing over and over. I am 71 will be 72 in May. Any help would be so appreciated

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      You may find some good low carb ideas in this post, Helen Baker!

  2. Tera

    Thanks for this insightful post, Tara. I am definitely trying to lean in to intuitive eating, and I appreciate the endorsement.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for the feedback, Tera! I’ll be sure to pass this along! 💖

  3. DJ Vin

    This makes me smile so much we have read Sneetches to our 5 year old at least 500 times and I’ve shown the old 70s cartoon at work to large groups as a life lesson. Call it whatever keto you want me and my wife have each lost 40+ lbs and are in the best shape of our lives and a goal for 2020 is to distance ourselves from naysayers and other negative nannies.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      SO awesome! Thanks for sharing your success with us, DJ Vin! 🙌🎉 Congrats to you and your wife!

  4. dh4647

    Great post! For me, the strict keto would feel like “bondage” to me. I would become obsessed about tracking everything to the point that it would affect me emotionally in a negative way. I eat whole foods and complex carbs, fats and proteins. I eat much less since I’ve turned 51. I stay away from all simple carbs and processed foods. I do eat keto protein bar which I don’t consider cheating because it helps me when I’m running around doing errands and need something in my tummy. As far as fats…I do eat them and they keep me full. The one thing that i noticed about whole food eating including good fats is that I’m never hungry. I feel like I”m eating food to simply fuel my body. I would love to loose 30 pounds in 30 days…who wouldn’t but I’m taking things slow and feeling good. When people ask me what I’m doing to loose weight, I say “eating whole foods and staying away from all processed foods. I get a much more positive response then when I say “keto”. Everyone is on their own journey to get or stay healthy; mind, body and spirit. Enjoy the journey and please don’t take life for granted. Hug some one today!

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks! We appreciate you sharing your journey with us!

  5. Sheila E

    I would say I am a combo of the 2 (dirty & lazy.) Mainly the cost and ease. 1st week down 7 lbs. A positive start.

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      That’s an awesome start!

  6. Regay

    Please share the link to those chocolate treats shown above. I woul love to make them.😍

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