When I was in college, many of our male classmates used to joke that water should be for “external use” only, and reserved for things such as taking a bath or washing clothes. If you visited to a friend or relative, they expected you to drink something other than water, if you wanted “to be taken seriously”. The host was also happy to offer you a soft drink rather than give you a simple glass of water. While the suggestion that water be reserved for “external use” was meant to be a joke, many actually were serious about it, in practice. They did not drink water regularly, and even when they did, it was never enough to provide the benefits that sufficient water intake brings to the body. Some drank water when they had been playing sports and the body sent a loud and clear message that it wanted water first and foremost. Others ignored that message and went straight for a beer. How many knew that drinking water mattered? I’ll never know. However, dehydration was common among many of us and we suffered a number of side effects that I now attribute to our poor habits around drinking water.
Why is drinking water regularly and in sufficient quantity (and quality) a topic worth your time and mine?
First, let’s keep in mind that your body is made up of about 70 percent water and to maintain its equilibrium, you need a sufficient daily supply. This amount should equal to anywhere between six and twelve glasses a day for most adults. A number of experts recommend that we drink an amount in ounces of water equal to about half our body weight in pounds. This means that if you weigh 140 pounds you should aim for 70 ounces of water daily. If you engage in a lot of physical activities that makes you sweat a lot, your body will tell you when you need more and you should do it. Do not wait until you are already feeling thirsty. By then, you will already be dehydrated. Water is essential to every function of the body and can support anyone trying to lose excess body weight. Some experts say that water can boost your resting metabolism to as much as 30 percent or more, especially when drinking it cold, but not so ice cold that it shocks the system. Cold water can boost your metabolism because “your body must expend more energy to warm [it] up to your normal body temperature” says Brenda Watson, author of The Fiber35 Diet. Watson recommends limiting the amount of water you drink during a meal, as this will “dilute stomach acid and can potentially hamper digestion.”
Second, water is a natural, cheap, and effective way to support the body’s organs by helping them cleanse your system of toxic waste. According to Anne Louise Gittleman, author of The Living Beauty Detox Program, “Drinking purified water … is important for diluting and expelling toxins…. Water ensures normal bowel and kidney functions, ridding the body of wastes as well as stored toxic fat. Adequate amounts of water will assist the kidneys in filtering their own waste products so that the liver can begin to metabolize its own waste materials without having to do the kidney’s work.” As water hydrates and purifies your system, reducing toxins inside your body, it will also keep your skin looking youthful, something that many women in particular will appreciate. Gittleman notes that dehydration “shows up as wrinkles and dry, dull, lined skin.” Dehydration will also cause “sagging” instead of “plumb” skin for many, especially after they lose some body fat during a weight loss program.
One of the ways we detoxify is through a normal and daily bowel movement. Constipation is preventable with simple dietary modifications and lifestyle habits, including the consumption of lots of water, balanced with the right amount of fiber. Water and fiber act as a dynamic duo that will protect the colon from toxic waste build-up. The longer this waste stays inside your body, the more the bad bacteria in your gut will thrive, killing off the good immune-boosting bacteria. Increasing fiber without a sufficient increase in water intake can therefore have an adverse effect. This is because fiber expands and will not move waste through your colon easily if you are not drinking enough water. Some people may get constipated if they increase fiber intake too fast, however. Increasing water intake should take care of things, unless there is an underlying medical condition that requires further attention from a medical professional. Otherwise, you may need a colon cleanse with a help of a trained professional, or use a mineral-based laxative to clear things out. Fiber offers many other benefits. According to Don Colbert, author of Get Healthy Through Detox and Fasting notes that “fiber helps to regulate your blood sugar, [it] lowers your [bad] cholesterol, prevents gallstones and binds toxins.”
Fiber comes from the cell walls of plants. No animal foods have fiber in them. This is why it is important to keep the right balance in your diet and to eat more whole plant foods so as to keep things moving, especially if you are a meat-lover and eat a lot of fiberless processed carbs. Fiber is present in all complex carbohydrates, but it has no calories attached to it and will therefore not make you gain weight by itself. Fiber sources are plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains. Beans, peas, and lentils are also excellent sources of fiber. All these sources also contain a number of phytonutrients – “chemicals made by plants that have anti-oxidant and disease-fighting properties” Watson writes.
Third, water can prevent overeating, especially if you keep drinking it slowly throughout the day. In fact, if you had a good meal but feel hungry in between your three main meals of the day, the best thing to do is to drink a large glass of water and wait about 20 minutes to half an hour before you eat your snack. You need be sure you are actually hungry – and not thirsty – before snacking between meals. “Craving for sugar are often a sign of dehydration” says Donna Gates, author of The Body Ecology Diet. Drinking water rather than falling for your sweet cravings will keep you from overeating and gaining unwanted weight as a result. The best time to drink water is between meals until early evening before dinner. You can then drink only a little bit (4 to 6 ounces at most) after the evening meal, which should be eaten at least two to three hours before going to bed. Keep in mind however that “we sleep poorly … when we are dehydrated” Gates adds. So, the earlier in the day we drink the optimal amount of water for our size, the most beneficial it will be for quality sleep.
Digestion slows down as your body gets ready to rest from the day’s work and you do not want food sitting too long in your stomach while you lay down. Those with frequent acid reflux should especially pay attention to when they have their evening meal and start eating earlier if they are in the habit of eating dinner right before going to bed. This particular group will also benefit from drinking water only between meals and waiting about an hour after eating before they resume drinking water. This will prevent diluting the digestive enzymes and allow the stomach acid to break the food down into its various components that are then pushed through the rest of the digestive system.
That many people do not drink sufficient water on a daily basis is not a habit that we only develop during our college years, unfortunately. Some of us grew up drinking tea in the morning, and when we visited friends or relatives we were often offered a cup of tea, usually with milk, or our favorite soda. Mine was orange Fanta, which supposedly (but not backed by science for sure!) worked better for those who suffered from symptoms of indigestion such as acid reflux. At home, we also had tea in the evening, after dinner as well. Drinking water was something that was neither required nor expected. We each decided when and how much we wanted to drink. In fact, many of us probably developed this limited water-drinking habit from observing our parents, who did not like drinking water either. These are also the same parents we watched later on in life regretfully, as they suffered from various symptoms of a weak digestive system, kidney complications, hypertension, and other health issues whose diagnosis we will never know. Could these have originated from their lack of knowledge that water mattered and that there is a minimum amount we need to support the body’s tissues and organs’ many functions?
I used to suffer from tension headaches and it was not until years later that I started making the connection between my headaches and dehydration. I knew this was the case because whenever I felt the headache coming and drank a lot of water, the headache slowly went away. If it did not, then I knew it was something else, and my hope was that it was not malaria. This, I could not cure with a glass of water no matter how tall it was! Even today, I still know a number of people, young and old, who do not take drinking water seriously. Perhaps they too suffer from dehydration-induced headaches and/or chronic constipation. Some may have accepted these health issues as part of who they are and they may not think that there is anything they can do to change their fate. Are there any among them – or others – who suffer in silence but wish they could get rid of these? To those who do not know that water is as important as eating or sleeping, I hope that this article will convince you to start drinking water regularly. This could be one of the best things you do to improve your health. If you do not enjoy plain water, you can add a few slices of lemon, lime, ginger, or some mint to flavor it to your liking. I hope you will also reach others in your circle of influence to help them do the same so as to prevent the long-term effects of dehydration.
To your health and happiness!
Rose Kadende-Kaiser, Ph.D.
Integrative Nutrition Coach
Colbert, Don (M.D.). Get Healthy Through Detox and Fasting. 2006. P. 116.
Gates, Donna with Linda Schatz. The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity. 2011. Pp. 68, 99.
Gittleman, Anne Louise. The Living Beauty Detox Program. 2000. Pp. 40, 119, 207.
Watson, Brenda with Leonard Smith (M.D.). The Fiber35 Diet: Nature’s Weight Loss Secret. Pp. 33-34, 90, 103.