Intuitive Eating Definition: The 4 Characteristics that Make Intuitive Eaters Different from Dieters

Intuitive Eating Defintion

The technical intuitive eating definition, according to the two dietitians who literally wrote the book on it (Intuitive Eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach) is: 

“A weight-inclusive, evidence-based model and self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought.”

Which is great, but not super actionable. What we really need to know is how can we tell if we are an intuitive eater? If we’re not, how far off are we? And what do we need to work on to get there? 

What actually makes an intuitive eater different from a dieter? 

We can break down the intuitive eating definition a bit further to answer those questions. 

There are actually four, key characteristics that can be measured when it comes the intuitive eating definition. Researchers needed a way to define what an intuitive eater was, and figure out how to identify them, in order to study the differences in health outcomes between them and dieters. So they created the Intuitive Eating Assessment

Dr. Tracy Tylka, the researcher credited with creating the most widely-used assessment, broke the characteristics down into four parts and then crafted questions for each section aimed at uncovering what is true for the individual in the present moment.  

What’s important about this is that we can measure our own mindset and behaviors around food against what’s true for the intuitive eater. We can figure out where we are and what we need to work on to begin – or continue – to heal our relationship with food. With this tool, we can also track our progress over time by comparing past assessments. 

So today, we’re going to discuss what each of those four characteristics are so that you can gauge where you stand and what might make sense for you to focus on in the future. Or you can just hop over and take the quiz right now. Click here to take the Intuitive Eating Quiz (based on Dr. Tylka’s work).

The 4 Key Characteristics of Intuitive Eaters

  1. Unconditional Permission to Eat
intuitive eating definition

Intuitive Eaters give themselves unconditional permission to eat. No rules. No restrictions. No calorie counts or macro balancing. No food groups left behind. If you are an intuitive eater, all food, and as much of it as you want, is allowed. 

This obviously differs from dieting in that all diets have rules of some form. Whether it’s the amount, the type or the timing of meals there is a rule to follow. Even intuitive eating itself can be turned into a diet easily by adding the condition that you can only eat when hungry and you must always stop when full. (And yes, Paleo, Keto, Whole30, Veganism and Intermittent Fasting are all diets. Don’t @ us).

intuitive eating definition

If you are following any rules or guidelines at all you are a dieter. If you’ve given yourself unconditional permission to eat, you may match the intuitive definition. 

2. Eating for Physical Rather than Emotional Reasons 

intuitive eating definition

Intuitive Eaters tend to eat in response to the physical needs of their bodies, not to cope with emotions. This is not to demonize emotional eating. This is just to say that, typically, since intuitive eaters are ‘unrestrained’ eaters and ‘unrestrained’ eaters don’t emotionally eat, if you are an intuitive eater, the driving force behind your food behavior is going to be to satisfy physical hunger. And, in concert with characteristic #1 above, to satisfy that hunger with the type and amount of food that you want with zero conditions.

3. Listening to Internal Cues (Hunger/Satiety) Rather than External Cues

intuitive eating definition

Our past client Adrienne, found herself feeling crazy around food when a nutritionist she was working with dictated the macro balance she was to create for each meal. She found herself meticulously planning her meals to have just the right amount of each. This led her straight down the path to binge eating because she was perpetually dissatisfied by her carefully crafted meals. She was trying to eat by the external rule of “the nutritionist said this is enough.” When her body’s internal cues were screaming “No, it’s not!”

It was not enough. Because no nutritionist knows how much food is right for Adrienne’s body. Just as the authors of all the diet books don’t know what’s right for you.The only person who knows what you need is you, because you’re the only one inside your body, who can feel the hunger and satiety cues, and therefore respond appropriately.  

Dieters try to stick to the external cues that dieting has created for them. This typically leads to feeling out of control. Intuitive eaters listen to and honor the internal cues coming from their own bodies and are therefore able to effectively satisfy their own needs. 

To hear more about Adrienne’s transformation from binge eater to Intuitive Eater click here.

intuitive eating defintion

4. Body-Food Choice Congruence

intuitive eating definition

Intuitive eaters make food choices that honor their health and taste buds while making them feel well. This is the best part, in my humble opinion. When you are an intuitive eater, you make food choices that feel good. No more binging until you feel like shit. No more eating that diet food that gives you horrible tummy trouble (hello, quinoa circa ‘09). No more forcing things down your gullet that make you want to gag in the name of health (spinach? Tf out of here!). 

When you have a high level of body-food choice congruence, it’s easy to take care of yourself. To honor your health. Because you can meet all of your food needs (taste, satisfaction, enjoyment and nourishment) in a way that feels great. You actually look forward to eating, and feel well when you do. You’re able to feel healthy, nourished and strong, without any willpower or motivation necessary. 

If you’d like to go deeper into this topic, check out our recent video on YouTube here.

intuitive eating definition

Or give us a listen over on the podcast.  

intuitive eating defintion

Intuitive Eaters enjoy a multitude of benefits from this calm, peaceful relationship with food that dieters don’t, such as higher self-esteem, body acceptance, body appreciation, good cholesterol, proactive coping skills and life satisfaction.

They don’t suffer from disordered eating, binge eating or emotional eating. Their triglycerides, blood pressure and body dissatisfaction are lower. Even body mass index (which is a bullshit measure of health anyway) is shown to be lower among intuitive eaters. This is bonkers, since dieters are trying so hard to shrink. 

The four characteristics listed above are what cause these incredible outcomes so it’s crucial to understand if you embody each and if not, what you can do to work toward them. 

If you’ve been struggling with binge eating or emotional eating or just generally feeling crazy and out of control around food, it’s likely that you identify with the opposite of the intuitive eating definition. And our question for you is this: what are you waiting for? 

Confidence and peace with food and your body are waiting for you and we can help. We believe that anyone can enjoy this calm, peaceful, empowered relationship with food. And so can you. 

Here are some additional resources.


If you haven’t yet, check out our free master class: 5 Simple Shifts to End Binge Eating

It will walk you through the first 5 steps to take to start to heal your relationship with food and become an intuitive eater. 

Watch the free master class by clicking here

Or, if you’re ready to get started TODAY, like NOW, just grab a time on our calendar for your free Breakthrough Session. In this 45-minute call we’ll get to the bottom of your unique struggle with food, what you’re missing in order to fix it and a step-by-step plan to get you moving forward. 
Book your free Breakthrough Session by clicking here.

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