Keto is hot right now, but it’s not the easiest diet to follow. It’s no surprise, then, that keto dieters have spun off different versions of the diet to suit their needs. One that gets a lot of hype on social media is lazy keto.
(As an aside, I bet there’s an interesting social psychology study here—people who hear “lazy keto” and go, “Oh cool, I can do keto and be lazy? Sign me up!” versus people who go, “Lazy?! That’s totally not the point of keto, arrgghh!” But I digress.)
Mark and I are both big proponents of self-experimentation and finding the eating plan that works for you. The question at hand is whether, and for whom, lazy keto might be a viable option. How does it stack up to “strict keto,” and does it work?
What Is (And Is Not) “Lazy Keto?”
There’s no agreed-upon definition of lazy keto, but the most common one is: a keto diet in which you only track carbohydrates. This is in contrast to strict keto, where you track carbs, fat, protein, and total calories.
The logic here is that carb intake determines whether your diet is or is not ketogenic (true), so it’s all you really need to know. In The Keto Reset Diet and Keto for Life, Mark recommends a limit of 50 grams of carbohydrate per day, with wiggle room if most of your carbs come from non-starchy vegetables and avocados. Thus, to do a lazy Primal+keto diet, you’d simply make sure you’re keeping your carbs below about 50 grams per day. Of course, you’d also still stick to Primal recommendations regarding food quality, avoiding industrialized seed and vegetable oils and the like.
Lazy Keto Isn’t Dirty Keto Or IIFYM
Sometimes “lazy keto” is used interchangeably with “dirty keto” or “IIFYM” (if it fits your macros), but they are not the same. Dirty keto and IIFYM don’t care about the types or quality of the food you eat. Anything goes as long as you stick to your keto macros.
You can do a keto diet that is both lazy and dirty: only track carbs, eating whatever foods you want as long as you don’t exceed your carb limit. You can also do one but not the other: lazy keto where you care very much about the quality and nutrient-density of your food (not dirty), or dirty/IIFYM keto where you strictly track your macros and calories (not lazy).
What Else Is NOT Lazy Keto?
Doing keto some days but not others
To me, the name “lazy keto” implies that you sometimes do keto, unless you don’t feel like it, then maybe you eat some cake and get back to keto tomorrow. That’s not it. If you’re doing lazy keto, the assumption is that you’re consistently following a keto diet, just without all the strict tracking.
If you’re following Mark’s strategy of sometimes eating keto-level carbs and sometimes eating more according to hunger, season, activity, and so on, that’s not really lazy keto. That’s living in the “keto zone”, as Mark says.
Likewise, if you practice strategic carb cycling but still track your macros pretty closely, that’s also not lazy keto.
Doing the best you can given your circumstances
Some people define lazy keto as anything less than 100 percent commitment to buying the highest-quality ingredients, plus strict tracking and management of every bite that goes in your mouth. It’s fine if you aspire to that, but I object to that characterization. Lazy keto doesn’t mean you’ve given yourself permission not to care about your diet as much as someone who follows strict keto.
There are lots of people who can’t or don’t want to micromanage and who are also not “lazy.” Buying the food you can afford and occasionally doing the best you can with less-than-ideal options, such as when you’re on the road, is not lazy keto.
Pros of Lazy Keto
If you’re new to keto and feeling overwhelmed by all the logistics of strict keto, you might be better off starting with lazy keto. Some folks just do better baby-stepping their way into change. Lower your carbs to get into ketosis first, then start optimizing fat, protein, and total calorie intake once you’ve gotten the hang of low-carb eating.
Lazy keto is also an option for people who have been enjoying the benefits of keto for a while but who are starting to get burned out with the food tracking. By tracking carbs at least, you are more likely to stay in ketosis if that’s important to you.
Strict keto often doesn’t work for people who don’t do well physically or mentally with restrictive diets. Lazy keto might be a good compromise for them. If you’ve had issues with dieting in the past, I’d urge you to talk to your medical practitioners or, if applicable, an eating disorder specialist before trying even lazy keto.
Cons of Lazy Keto
These are the most common objections to lazy keto vis-à-vis strict keto:
You won’t know if you’re really in ketosis.
Unless you measure ketones, this is technically true even if you track your food religiously. Ketosis is a pretty safe bet if you’re keeping your carbs down, though. No matter what type of keto diet you’re doing, if you want to know for sure that you’re in ketosis, you need to get a blood or breath meter (not pee strips) and measure.
However, the real objection here is that you won’t know if you’re in ketosis because you aren’t tracking protein, so let’s get into that.
You aren’t tracking protein, and too much protein will kick you out of ketosis.
This is a flawed premise to begin with—the old “protein-turns-into-chocolate-cake” fallacy. Mark has covered this on MDA, and we’ve talked about it ad nauseam in the Keto Reset Facebook group. Suffice it to say: it’s not a big concern.
Yes, some amino acids can be converted to glucose in the liver via a process called gluconeogenesis. Yes, eating a higher protein keto diet can blunt the production of ketones, but most people will never notice this effect. If you find that you feel better within a certain range of protein intake, then sure, lazy keto isn’t for you unless you have been tracking for long enough that you can eyeball your optimal protein intake. Otherwise, this concern shouldn’t stop you.
You aren’t tracking calories, so you might eat too much (or too little).
If you are trying to lose weight, calories matter. Still, it’s possible to meet your weight-loss goal using a lazy keto approach if you naturally eat in a deficit. Obviously, if you’re not making progress, the first thing to do is start tracking all your macros and see how much you’re actually eating.
I’m actually more concerned about people eating too few calories on lazy keto, especially if they’re combining it with daily intermittent fasting or OMAD (one meal a day). It’s already tricky enough to make sure you’re eating enough total calories, and especially protein, in a compressed eating window. If you’re not keeping track, you might unintentionally be underfueling.
This isn’t to say you can’t do lazy keto if you practice IF (intermittent fasting) or OMAD. I do think it’s a good idea to check in periodically, though, and see your total macro and calorie breakdown. Of course, also tune in to your body’s signals and be willing to respond to signs your body isn’t happy.
You might have keto flu over and over if you go in and out of ketosis.
Keto flu is the headaches, low energy, and generally blah phase that some people experience during the initial keto-adaptation process. However, once you are keto-adapted and metabolically flexible, keto flu shouldn’t be an issue even if you do go in and out of ketosis, especially if you manage your electrolytes.
If you’re tracking carbs, you probably aren’t going in and out of ketosis anyway. If you’re worried about keto flu, though, start with a period of strict keto—at least six weeks as recommended in The Keto Reset Diet—to get a decent foundation of keto adaptation before moving into lazy keto.
Deciding if Lazy Keto Is For You
Ask yourself two questions:
Why am I interested in doing a ketogenic diet?
Do the benefits I’m looking for probably depend on having a high level of ketones and/or being in ketosis all the time?
If you’re doing keto for weight loss, general health benefits, or longevity, the answer to question #2 is no, at least not according to the available science. Experimenting with lazy keto is probably fine if it appeals to you.
If you’re doing keto for therapeutic reasons, the answer to #2 might be yes. If so, you’re better off being strict. Keep in mind that not all of the therapeutic benefits of keto require high levels of ketones, though. Some benefits are simply due to removing pro-inflammatory or insulinogenic foods. In any case, I wouldn’t start with lazy keto if I was using keto therapeutically. I’d be strict at first, and then I’d work with my medical practitioners to decide if lazy keto is OK for me to try.
Finally, if you’re doing keto specifically for cognitive benefits or mental clarity, it’s possible that higher ketones are better. People who enjoy profound cognitive benefits often notice that they have to hit a certain ketone threshold to really feel them, at least anecdotally. This threshold differs from person to person. If you care strongly about achieving higher ketone levels, you should strictly track your macros and experiment with different levels of fat and protein intake to find your sweet spot. You can also try adding MCT oil or even exogenous ketone supplements to boost ketone levels.
How to Implement Lazy Keto
Lazy keto might look like:
Eating a wide variety of foods, tracking carbs and keeping them low enough to be keto.
Working from a short list of ingredients—eggs, meat, lowest-carb veggies only. You might or might not track carbs, but you’ve made it difficult to exceed your limit because the foods you eat are all so low.
Figuring out the macros for a small number of low-carb meals that you eat over and over so you never have to bother tracking. Technically this might qualify as lazy keto if you know how much fat and protein you eat, too. It’s still lazy keto if you allow yourself to add as much fat as you want via condiments, butter, oil, and cheese.
But Does it Work?
The answer is: it depends.
Lazy keto hasn’t been studied systematically. When deciding whether it offers the same potential benefits as strict keto, all we have to go on is anecdotal evidence and common sense.
For general health, I think it’s safe to say yes, you can get similar benefits by doing lazy keto. Moreover, lazy keto offers a level of chillness that is better for some people’s mental wellbeing. For them, lazy keto beats strict keto.
For weight loss, anecdotes suggest it’s likely to work at the beginning, especially for people transitioning from a high-carb SAD (Standard American Diet). There may come a time when you need to measure your food more precisely. Bear in mind that even strict keto doesn’t guarantee weight loss.
Lazy keto is probably not for you if you need or want consistently high levels of ketones for medical reasons or because you notice a big difference in how you feel.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. I so often see people get paralyzed by the fear that if they try something new, they’ll “mess everything up.” That’s incredibly unlikely unless you’re dealing with an exceptionally sensitive medical issue. Sure, for some people, going on a month-long pie and soda bender could wreak havoc, but that’s not what we’re discussing here.
And remember, it’s OK to mix up your diet. Switch between strict and lazy keto, then do a period of higher-carb Primal eating. Heck, try a couple weeks of carnivore if you want. In fact, it’s arguably un-Primal to rigidly adhere to one style of eating 24/7/365 (unless you need to for medical reasons).
Finally, don’t let the keto police persuade you that lazy keto isn’t “real keto.” There’s no such thing as “real keto.” Find the way of eating that works best in your life, and don’t worry about these labels.
Tell me in the comments: Has lazy keto worked for you? Has it definitely not worked for you? How have you modified your diet to suit your preferences and lifestyle?
Lindsay Taylor, Ph.D., is a senior writer and community manager for Primal Nutrition, a certified Primal Health Coach, and the co-author of three keto cookbooks.
As a writer for Mark’s Daily Apple and the leader of the thriving Keto Reset and Primal Endurance communities, Lindsay’s job is to help people learn the whats, whys, and hows of leading a health-focused life. Before joining the Primal team, she earned her master’s and Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also worked as a researcher and instructor.
Lindsay lives in Northern California with her husband and two sports-obsessed sons. In her free time, she enjoys ultra running, triathlon, camping, and game nights. Follow along on Instagram @theusefuldish as Lindsay attempts to juggle work, family, and endurance training, all while maintaining a healthy balance and, most of all, having fun in life. For more info, visit lindsaytaylor.co.