Last week, a client told me that she realized that she’s been dieting for so long, she doesn’t even know what it’s like to be truly hungry. What it’s like to truly enjoy food. We talked for a while about what that meant for her and how we could fit more hunger into her life.

For all of those current or former dieters out there, we’re taught to fear our hunger. Hunger means you have to eat and eating means gaining weight, which is bad. At the same time, we also hate the idea of being hungry. Geneen Roth, the pioneer of emotional eating therapy says, “the fear of hunger, like the fear of loneliness, seems to be connected with emptiness, echoes, endless wanting.” Because we anticipate the negative consequences of feeling hungry (“I can’t get hungry or my blood sugar will drop and I’ll faint or I’ll shove cookies into my mouth or I’ll be miserable until I can find food”), we go out of our way not to ever get hungry: we snack. we drink coffee that suppresses our appetites. we gorge ourselves at meals so we’re so full there’s no way we’ll ever get hungry.

But what’s so bad about feeling hungry? It’s a privilege–it’s a luxury–we’ve been given: think of the hundreds of millions of people in the world who HAVE to feel real hunger every day.

Hunger is an important way that our body communicates with us. But many of us have stopped listening.

After this conversation with my client, I reflected on my own hunger: I allow myself to get hungry, right? I know what it is? I listen to my cues?

I had a sneaking suspicion the answer might be, no!, so I decided to try an experiment: For one week, I’d do my very best to only eat when I’m hungry. Sounds simple, right? Little did I know.

Before I started, I had to have a working definition of hunger. To again quote Geneen Roth, she defines hunger as “like being in love: if you don’t know it, you’re probably not”. Fair enough — I could live with that.

I started what I thought would be an easy experiment and quickly realized that I would have to work at listening to my hunger cues: because I didn’t get hungry. For the first two days, I was only vaguely hungry towards the end of the day. (I ended up eating two small meals anyway, even though my hunger was in no way like being in love, more like having a long-distance crush). The second two days, I was a bit more hungry, but still no strong hunger pangs. Finally, on day 5, I felt my first real stirrings of hunger: I felt like I accomplished something.

Guys, it took me FIVE days to feel real hunger! So what does this mean? Do I just not need any food? Well, not exactly. What it means is that I’ve been preempting my hunger for so long–in anticipation of the negative things, either psychologically, emotionally, or physically that hunger can lead to–that I didn’t know how to read my hunger cues. My body wasn’t used to sending them, so it actually took it time to re-adjust and realize what I was up to.

Two weeks in and I’m feeling more adjusted. I don’t sit around all day waiting to feel hungry so I can eat — rather, when I am hungry, I eat. I get on with my day. I don’t waste energy wondering all day, oooh is that hunger? Am I slightly hungry? Do I need a snack?? It’s more peaceful.

It’s going to be a journey for me and my client as we re-discover our hunger. After having read this, is anyone else curious about whether or not they listen to their hunger cues? Anyone care to join me in this experiment?