Lazy keto vs. Strict keto – What’s the difference & which should you use

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Lazy Keto vs. Strict Keto Which one should you use?

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What you'll learn

  • What lazy and strict keto are and how they differ
  • Both are useful tools for different goals and chapters in your weight loss journey
  • Strict keto is a useful tool for weight loss plateaus
  •  Lazy keto can help with adherence and sustainability, as well as weight maintenance

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost or effort to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through the link and make a purchase.

The keto diet is often utilized for weight loss since following a keto method of eating has been known to yield amazing results for many many people. Just head on over to the any one of the many online keto or low carb forums and let the results speak for themselves. 

If you dig into some of these stories and what their weight loss journey was like you start to see almost 2 distinct camps forming.

There are people who say that all they did was start reducing their carb intake and the weight came melting off. Or maybe they only paid attention to the amount of carbs that they were eating. No tracking, no macros, no mention of calories. Just cut carbs, and lose weight. This known as lazy keto.

Then there are some who state that they only started losing serious weight once they got strict about tracking, macros, and calories. This is known as strict keto.

Now as you can see from the success stories both lazy and strict keto are viable tools for reaching your weight loss goals. But which one is right for you? How to do you choose which to use? Why doesn’t everyone just use lazy keto?

Let’s find out. 

What is Keto?

Keto is short for ketosis which is a metabolic state that your body enters in the absence of certain dietary carbs. 

There are other contexts that can cause your body to enter ketosis, but for the purposes of the “the ketogenic diet” or keto for weight loss we are really only interested in what has become known as physiological or nutritional ketosis. 

Basically, if you are sufficiently restricting how many carbs you are eating throughout the day, your body can enter a state of ketosis meaning there are ketones present in your system.

Lazy Keto - Trust your gut!

This is known as lazy keto and it refers to a method of intuitive eating where you only pay attention to the amount of non-fiber carbohydrates (AKA Net carbs) that you are eating, nothing else and you are successfully losing weight. You are basically allowed to eat anything you want as long as it’s low in net carbs.

Sounds great right! Well, it is actually. Most people would agree that they would love to be able to eat as much low carb food as they want without having to worry about fussy tracking, measuring and weighing food, macros or calories. All while resulting in weight loss or maintenance.

You see the idea here is to eat as much as you want as long as your carbs are low enough for the day. Notice I said as much as you want, not as much as you canThere is a huge difference.

This is known as eating to satiety.

Something that is easier said than done. To achieve this, you need to sufficiently restrict carbs to a point that your energy is coming primarily from protein and fat. This combination allows your appetite to become regulated and therefore you can eat intuitively, trust your gut, and naturally not overeat. Or even better, eat less.

Think about when you eat a huge bowl of pasta, you polish it off without thinking, the portion you eat is whatever is in front of you. On top of that, how many times have you gone back for more!? You aren’t actually hungry, but your brain is screaming “I want more” and you are thinking, “I could eat more” so you have more.

You overeat, your waistline over extends, presto manifesto, your pants don’t fit anymore. 

The whole point of utilizing low carb and keto methods of eating for weight loss is to regulate your hunger so that you can avoid overeating and trust your appetite. You are learning what satiety feels like for you. You are teaching yourself how to eat intuitively and what foods satisfy you, and what foods don’t. 

You are changing your relationship with food.

Instead of that insatiable hunger you are used to where you know you just ate, and you know you should not be eating anymore, but your cravings and your hunger are just all over the place so you have more. 

For a lot of people, keto fixes this problem and as long as their carb intake is low enough, they are able to eat to satiety (not until you are full!) and not overeat.

The foods that you are eating, are in turn allowing you to self regulate the amount of food you are eating. 

Like I said lazy keto is wonderful..If it works for you. 

Strict Keto - When your gut is a shady bitch

The goal of strict keto is very much the same. You want to eat a diet low enough in carbs to maintain ketosis, and allow it to regulate your appetite enough that you can avoid overeating. The main difference with this method is how you avoid overeating. 

As nice as it would be to be able to achieve this without having to worry about macros, calories, counting, measuring, etc. like our fellow lazy ketoers. The reality is that not everyone can achieve that. Some people can still easily overeat low carb foods, and despite what many twitter gurus will have you believe, calories still matter on a low carb or keto diet. 

You still need to eat less than your body is using per day. That is just a reality. If you can achieve this by not monitoring your calories or macros then more power to you. Like I said before, lazy keto is great and I think everyone should give it a chance. But we will get to that. 

Strict keto follows the same principles as lazy keto, but how you achieve it is slightly different. For strict keto, you use your current stats (age, weight, height, gender) , enter them into a macro calculator like this one,  set your goal such as weight loss, weight maintenance, etc. and it will spit out a set of personal macros that may help you reach your weight goals.

You can then take these personal macros and enter them into the food tracker of your choice as targets. There are lots of good ones out there but I can only recommend what I use. I use the free version of cronometer and I think it’s great. It does what I need, it’s simple, and it’s accurate.  

You then enter the amount of food you eat in a day into the tracker and monitor your macros and calories to make sure you don’t exceed your daily amounts. Once you hit your limit you are done eating for the day, or at least you are supposed to be.

Doesn’t sound as easy, fun, or simple as lazy keto does it? Well generally, it isn’t.

So why should you use strict keto, if it seems like so much fuss and work?

Well your goals may depend on it.

Which one should you use?

Well it is not really as simple deciding one method is the best for you at all times. It depends on your goals, your discipline, and well you. 

First off, I encourage everyone to try out lazy keto when they are getting started. You are already going through enough by cutting out pasta, bread, and sugar. You don’t need to pile on.

Lazy keto can make the initial stages much easier and it gives you a chance to see if you will be successful with lazy keto or if strict keto is more suited to you. 

If you are finding success you are happy with, and everything is going well for you on lazy keto, then you should continue with lazy keto until you are no longer achieving progress towards your goals.

So when should you use strict keto?

You will often hear people saying “lazy keto works right up until it doesn’t” and this is true for some people. They start off just worrying about carbs and it works great for a few months…and then it stops working. The weight stops coming off or maybe you have even gained weight. 

If this sounds like you, then this is the time you should look to trying strict keto. I often tell people that if they are happy, and they are getting results that they are happy with then they are fine. Otherwise, make a change. Adopting a strict keto regimen might be just what you need to break that weight loss plateau, it might just be the change you need to get things moving again. 

Essentially you can try a strict keto method anytime you are looking to get strict (duh). When what you are doing is not working, whether that be lazy keto or not, you need to make a change if you want the results to change. 

Change is not going to happen on it’s own.

If not tracking, and not counting is not working, then it’s time to start tracking and counting. You really have nothing to lose at that point, well except for some more weight. 

Why does lazy keto stop working?

In order to continue on your weight loss journey, you need to determine, and address why lazy keto stopped working for you. 

Carb creep:  Maybe over time the amount you are eating,  or that you think you are eating has changed. Extra food and maybe even extra carbs have creeped their way into your day. An increase in carbs can cause and increase in hunger, and even though you think you are eating the same amount that you were a month ago, you aren’t.

The amount you need to eat may have changed: Maybe you have just lost a chunk of weight (well done!) and now the amount you are used to eating is too much for your new skinny self. What once was a deficit is now maintenance for you.

You have become lax: I’m sure many of us have been there, things are going well for you and you think “I deserve to have a treat here and there” and you do! But when that treat become a little too occasional, it can halt weight loss in its tracks. 

Initiate "wake up call" sequence

Adopting stricter keto practices, even for only a few weeks can be a real wake up call. I still remember how shocked I was when I actually measured out what a serving of peanut butter was. Those “little” spoonfuls and finger dips I had been snacking on were more like 3 servings a piece. 

After a few weeks of keeping track of everything you eat,  you should have a pretty good idea of whether you were eating too much or not, and how to fix it. Hopefully, you are also reminded of what satiety feels like, and how it differs from feeling full.

Now you can take what you have learned these past few weeks of strict keto back to your lazy keto lifestyle, and apply that knowledge. Continue on for as long as you can with that, meaning as long as your results are trending in the right direction, and you are getting adequate nutrition. Once the results stop trending in the direction you like (usually stagnant for 4-6 weeks or more but situations may vary) then you can repeat the process. 

Initiate your “wake up call sequence” of strict keto, correct your course, and get right back on track. 

Another great benefit of tracking food

If you are using a tracker like a cronometer that gives you a detailed report on macro and micro-nutrients. You can use this to make sure you are getting adequate nutrition. Check if you are deficient in anything in particular, do a quick search for low carb foods that can fill the gap, and consider adding them to your routine. 

Make sure you are getting adequate protein.

So it’s not a matter of strict vs lazy keto and which is better. It is situation specific, they are both tools that can be used at different times for different goals.

We would all love to be part of the lazy keto hall of fame where all we had to do was cut carbs and watch our waistline shrink. The reality is that not everyone can live that lazy keto life. 

I know for myself, it took time for me to learn how to do lazy keto properly. What foods I needed to eat, and how much I needed to eat in order to achieve satiety. Before then, even if I was eating low carb foods, I could seemingly eat to no end.

Portion sizes? What do you mean portion sizes..how much did you make? That’s my portion. I just love food, sue me. 

The voice in my head that says “Excuse me you have room for more but technically you have had enough” is not as loud as the one that is saying “Hey, gimme all the taste, and stop when you can’t anymore”

So then if that voice is still there what's the point of low carb or keto?

The difference now is that I can look at my food tracker, see that I am out, or running out of food for the day, and stop eating no questions asked. 

Yes there are some things that I want to keep eating and normally I would only stop once it was all gone (seriously like entire pots of food). But on a keto method of eating, I can easily say “Well I guess I am done” and I am fine. No cravings, no screaming voice saying I have to eat more, I can just stop. 

My relationship with food has changed.

It’s amazing, and it’s something I could not accomplish before. The thing about hunger, is that hunger always wins. I have been straight calorie counting most of my life with little to no success, because when push came to shove, I chose to satisfy my hunger even if that meant overeating. 

It’s like most of my life my hunger has had one very strong hand on the wheel, sometimes both hands. Now thanks to keto and low carb eating, I have my hands on the wheel, and the stricter I am, the stronger my grip.

I am in the driver seat, and I am in control for the first time.

On keto, my hunger is already satisfied. If I am overeating, I am making the conscious choice to do so, to push pass that feeling of satiety. 

It is one hell of a lot easier for me to stay strict and say “ok I have had enough for now” and stop without that delicious food pulling me back in. 

Which do I actually use?

Well I have frequently used both. In the early stages, like many people, I was all about that lazy keto life. In university I used lazy keto to lose the freshmen ..25 I had gained the semester before. All while eating at a university cafeteria! This go around, just before committing full time, I dropped 25 pounds in the first 6 weeks and I was beyond excited! But then it slowed down, and so did my excitement. 

Basically what I am saying is that it worked great….right up until it didn’t. At that time I had found the reddit community r/keto and they quickly got my back on track by basically saying. “Hey, how much you eat still matters dummy!”

Apparently those nightly mug brownies slathered in peanut butter were not doing me any favours, despite their low carb count. 

I got started with strict keto and guess what? The pounds started melting off again. It turns out I was eating at what is known as maintenance meaning I was eating enough to stay the same weight I currently was. 

Great for some, but I still had a ways to go.

Two weeks into a strict keto “wake up call sequence”, I was able to quickly identify the problem and get back on track. (I was in fact, eating too much) At that point I decided to stay with strict keto until at least my goal weight because of the calculated success I had with it, and because it didn’t seem like all that much work to me. I actually enjoyed the tracking and measuring. 

Now, over two years later I have been maintaining my weight with a more lax approach. It’s essentially a lazy keto approach where I follow a simple protocol. 

I still weigh in every 3-4 months to make sure I am still on the right track and not slipping back into bad habits which can lead to overeating. If I notice that my weight is starting to trend in the wrong direction, I grab strict keto from my tool belt, dust off the food scale and tracking app, and begin my strict keto “wake up call sequence” to identify the problems.

So what I am saying is that you should use both. They are both tools at your disposal, and they both have their place. You need to evaluate your goals, evaluate your progress, and evaluate yourself to determine which is appropriate for you, at this time, for your current goals. Keep in mind that may change as things progress, and there may be a time in your journey for both lazy and strict keto. 

So which is for you, Lazy or Strict?

Let’s sum up, we have identified what it is that we are after by adopting a low carb or keto method of eating for weight loss. We are looking to regulate and control our hunger so that we can trust our hunger signals and avoid overeating. That is the goal.

Lazy keto and strict keto are two different tools that can be used at different times to help you maintain that goal. 

Now that you know the end game, that feeling that we are striving for, the relationship with food we are looking to achieve, you can decide for yourself which method is better for you at this time for your current situation. 

Are you someone who can eat intuitively, keep carbs low, eat to satiety and maintain or even lose weight?

Or are you someone who maybe needs to keep and eye on things, and make sure that you don’t get too far off track?

There is no wrong answer here, it’s better to know which tool is most appropriate for you and which is not. 

Let’s not worry about whether other people are telling you to count or not count. Let’s look at where we are, where we want to be, and what is the most useful tool to get us there.

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