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

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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”.

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:

  • Consuming a keto diet consisting of whole, fresh, organic, high-quality ingredients
  • Very little-to-no processed foods or artificial ingredients
  • Nutrient-dense foods, like grass-fed/grass-finished beef, pasture-raised pork, free-range eggs, wild-caught seafood, and plenty of non-starchy fresh vegetables

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


What is Dirty Keto?

keto junk food — bag of sugar free reese's mini peanut butter cups

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

  • Consuming a keto diet that consists of processed foods
  • Ingredients such as diet soda, sugar-free energy drinks and candies, artificial sweeteners, low-carb tortillas, processed vegetable oils
  • Meats like hot dogs and bacon
  • Pre-packaged keto foods like Atkins bars, chips, and shakes

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 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?

Coffee with Butter

Lazy keto basically refers to:

  • Counting carbs to stay within approximately 20-50 gm/day
  • Not tracking anything at all, 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?

homemade snack packs

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

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”.


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Tara Finnerty RDN, CSP, CD — is a ketogenic specialist and fat-fueled enthusiast. Tara is a registered dietitian in Utah and owner of Sugar House Nutrition LLC. Her aim is to provide nutrition support for people wanting to reap the many health benefits of the ketogenic (keto) diet. Her expertise in the keto diet was initially working with children who have uncontrolled epilepsy. Tara supports nutrition diversity and works toward helping people find an individualized approach to make healthy eating sustainable.


Join The Discussion

Comments 6

  1. Kayleigh

    I have done dirty lazy keto after I did clean & strict for the first 3 months. I’ve been keto for a year now!

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Oh awesome! Thanks for taking a moment to share your experience, Kayleigh!

  2. Tiffy

    I usually do a combo of strict Keto on normal days and do lazy Keto when out of town on vacation weekends. You just have to make it work for you and what IS happening in your life at the time!

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      SO true! Always good to do what works best for you! Thanks so much for the helpful comment!

  3. mel

    Thanks for this. I tried doing strict keto last year and while I didn’t get the keto flu, I fell off the wagon about 3 wks in. The cravings were unbearable until I devoured carb laden foods. Then I felt guilty, not to mention bloated! But the window had opened and it was a carb free for all after that! Then dh and I started on an 80/20 way of eating (which was his dr’s recommendation). Our meals consisted of 80% healthy/clean items, but allowing 20% for carbs, for grains, beans, etc. Most days I wouldn’t eat bread and allow myself 1 carb serving, making sure the rest of my plate was filled up with veggies & protein. We both lost weight. Then the holidays roll around and it’s non stop carb heavy foods. I was able to tweak a few favorites to low-carb friendly. But we just don’t get a break here in the south b/c right after New Year’s is Mardi Gras season, and that means weeks of King Cakes. And this past year, I did better with not buying a big decadent pastry cake, instead getting a slice from my local grocery store on Sat and splitting it 4 ways. Just a small bite was enough for me and hubby! Then in May, I decided to try keto again. I think I fall between a dirty and lazy keto’er, probably more intuitive now since my body feels so different than when I tried doing it strict. 2+ months in and I feel so much better and lighter. There’s been a few days that I got off-track (meeting friends for lunch, dinner out with hubby, vacation), but I didn’t beat myself up over it and just enjoyed what I was eating, knowing tomorrow was a new day and to get back on track.
    Sorry for the long winded post. I really appreciate this site! Lots of great recipes and information!

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      mel, we really appreciate you taking the time to comment. You experience was great to read and we are so proud of your positive attitude! Great job!

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