When you start following a keto diet, over-thinking is practically part of the package. For better or worse, ketological novices spend a lot of time learning what they can and cannot eat, weighing and meticulously measuring food, and keeping track of everything that goes into their mouths.
Weight, tracking and restraint become understandably tedious after a while. I know some people who are happy to maintain this level of dietary vigilance for months or even years, but most people escape. Those who don’t want to go back to a more relaxed way of eating like Primal are looking for a compromise position: a ketological diet with no problems.
This raises the question: Is careful monitoring and control of food intake simply an integral part of keto, or is it possible to follow a keto diet intuitively?
What does even intuitive Keto mean?
There is an apparent contradiction between eat intuitively i ketogenic diet. Eating intuitively means listening to your body, respecting the signals it sends you, and not controlling or restricting your food intake according to external rules. Keto diets include an inherent set of rules and restrictions.
At a minimum, ketological diets should be low in carbohydrates by definition. In practice, this means that there are many foods rich in carbohydrates that you cannot eat in appreciable amounts. Even a small portion could interfere with ketosis. Many people also set parameters around their keto diets, such as whether they should be gluten-free or sugar-free. As I have explained abovethis is not technically true, but these are common values in the keto community.
If your inner voice encourages you to eat a couple of candy bars, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with white bread, or even a large bowl of mango, you can’t comply and remain ketogenic. You can’t listen to your intuition. Therefore, if there is an intuitive keto, it must involve some kind of compromise.
That said, I think when people say “intuitive keto diet,” it means keto without all the fuss and micromanagement. That is possible. Many people do this because:
- Eat mainly animal products, vegetables, nuts and seeds and fats (all low carb foods)
- Eat when they are hungry, without rigidly adhering to a fixed window to eat
- Allow appetite to guide how much and how often they eat on a given day
- It does not follow macros
This is how I would define an intuitive keto diet, anyway, and the definition I will use for the rest of this post. It could be argued, however, that this is neither ceto nor intuitive, not really.
Eating intuitively versus Intuitive food
It is impossible to talk about intuitive keto without clarifying the difference between eating intuitively and eating intuitively (with a capital IE for clarity). The first is vaguely defined as eating according to the body’s hunger signals and desires for different foods. The latter is a specific eating philosophy developed in the mid-1990s by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, which is still popular today.
Any proposed ketological diet, however relaxed, is antithetical Intuitive food approach. Intuitive eating specifically rejects diet, especially one that focuses on dieting for intentional weight loss. Also, one of the basic principles of Intuitive Eating is to give you unconditional permission to eat any food in the amount that your body wants.
Theoretically, someone could practice intuitive eating and naturally come to a keto diet over time if their body feels better eating low-carb foods. However, it is impossible to be intuitive-with-a-capital-me if you do to start with ceto macros. So it’s very clear that any version of intuitive keto I’m talking about here is completely separate from an intuitive power approach.
Does Keto work intuitively?
It depends on your goals. Intuitive keto can work for people who want to follow a low carb diet, don’t want to think about it too much and don’t necessarily care about being on ketosis all the time.
This is not to say that it is impossible to stay in ketosis and eat intuitively. You could stay in ketosis without controlling your macros if you eat mostly low-carbohydrate animal and vegetable products. However, if you include a variety of vegetables, fruits, and nuts, as well as some dark chocolate and wine, you’ll be fine with living on what Mark calls “ceto zone“: Get in and out of ketosis smoothly based on your daily carbohydrate intake, mealtimes, and exercise.
Can you lose weight with an intuitive keto diet?
May be. If you eat naturally with an energy deficit without keeping track of your food, then yes.
Realistically, however, weight loss is not the best use case for intuitive eating. With intuitive eating, the goal is to let your body take care of itself. Intentional efforts to lose weight often involve canceling your body’s directions and eating set amounts instead of eating according to your appetite. You can work simultaneously on food more intuitively and also hope to lose weight, though trying losing weight with an intuitive diet is paradoxical.
Side note: I’ve also met people who constantly eat with keto because they’re just not hungry. This is not good either. Intuitive keto would not be ideal for these people either. It’s best to at least keep track of your food intake and make sure you eat enough.
Can you eat intuitively and reap the cognitive benefits of Keto?
Some people enjoy noticeable increases in focus and mental clarity on a keto diet. These benefits depend on being in ketosis, and can only be noticed above a certain level of ketone (which differs from person to person). If you want to ensure ketosis, you need to keep track of your carbohydrate intake or strictly limit yourself to foods that are very low in carbohydrates.
A possible alternative is to eat a more relaxed and intuitive ketological diet, but supplemented with MCT oil or exogenous ketones.
Can it be eaten intuitively and still be adapted to fat?
Yes. Ketosis is not a prerequisite for adapting to fat. A low carb Primal diet is all it takes to become a beast that burns fat. There is no need for diligent macro monitoring or restriction of carbohydrates at the keto level.
Pros and cons of intuitive Keto compared to typical ketogenic diets
- Without food tracking it means that intuitive keto requires less time
- Eating more carefully can help you reconnect with your inner wisdom about food and learn to trust your body’s signals.
- The “diet” is not for everyone, especially for people who have struggled with unhealthy eating behaviors in the past.
- Thinking less about food frees up mental space for other activities and interests
- It can get in and out of ketosis if your carbohydrate intake is not kept low enough
- It doesn’t allow you to control food intake or manipulate macros, which may be desirable for weight loss, certain health conditions, or self-experimentation (as my friends Tyler Cartwright and Luis Villasenor of KetoGains say: “You can’t handle what you don’t measure. “)
How to Eat an Intuitive Keto Diet
Even if intuitive keto is your ultimate goal, I would suggest starting with Keto reset approach: Start eating Primarily. Reduce your carbohydrate intake gradually and intentionally until you consume less than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day. Then spend at least three weeks controlling what you eat, making sure you stay below that threshold. This gives you time to adjust.
During this time, pay attention to what you eat. Consider which foods in your repertoire have more and less carbs and which ones are more satisfying. Practice eating more carefully.
Once you have a good idea of what a typical ketogenic food day is like, you can start relaxing by tracking your food. See how you feel and if you’re still moving toward your goals, whatever they are.
As a compromise position, a period of lazy ceto. Ignore how ridiculous the term is; Lazy keto simply means that you only keep track of your carbohydrate intake. Otherwise, allow food intake to vary from day to day depending on appetite and what sounds good. It’s not really intuitive, as you’re still applying a carb limit, but it’s more relaxed than a keto diet in which you stick to established macros (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins).
Is Intuitive Keto an Oxymoron?
That being said, it could be argued that the intuitive keto is an oxymoron. On the one hand, strict dieters may say that your diet is not really ketogenic if you do not make sure you keep your carbs. On the other hand, proponents of intuitive eating will probably point out that there is nothing intuitive about any way of eating that starts with forced carbohydrate restriction. There is certainly nothing like intuitive keto in the way Tribole and Resch use the word intuitive.
This is both a semantic and a philosophical argument. If you eat only certain foods or groups of foods, but eat as many as you want when you want, do you still eat intuitively? I can’t answer that definitively. (Similarly, could anyone ever eat an intuitive carnivore or an intuitive vegetarian diet?)
While keto purists might disagree, I think it’s possible to eat a quieter version of keto than:
- It does not involve weighing and meticulously monitoring food
- It does not restrict calories or overall food intake, but allows you to listen to your body’s hunger signals and respond accordingly.
- Provide room for occasional excursions to eat more carbs if constant ketosis is not important to you (no keto police confiscating your keto card)
Ultimately, intuitive keto is probably not the best term for this, as both words already have strong connotations. Low carb flexible that doesn’t involve micromanagement, but still does the job it is too pronounced. We’ll stick with the “ketographic zone” out there for now, but I’m open to suggestions on how to call it. Let me know in the comments.