Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Hydration Trap

Note: This is a cross-posting from my Losing Weight Now! blog.

Do you need to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day?   The key is to stay hydrated.

For many years, the recommendation has been floating around that you should drink six to eight 12-ounce glasses of water a day.  For many people, this is a lot of water!  More recently, some doctors are saying that this amount may be excessive, which of course, sends the wrong message to people that no water is necessary at all (it is like the "one glass of wine a day is good for you" message that allows alcoholics to justify drinking several bottles).

It is a classic example, I'm afraid, of the media baiting you, by putting up a story about drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day - for the shock value - and then putting up another story "debunking" the first story, as people like to hear that all that "good health advice is a bunch of hooey" and moreover that "scientists really don't know nothin' anyway".

The media sucks, let's face it - they create stories largely for sensationalism value, to get you to watch, and really don't care whether they are sending the wrong messages or normative cues.  One secret to a happier life is to turn away from the TeeVee and the saturation media that dominates our society.

Do you need to drink all this water, or not?  Yes and no.  The key is to stay hydrated and avoid dehydration, which can affect your health and your moods.  And yes, some doctors believe that drinking more water can help you lose weight.  As this link notes:
Finally, it is very difficult for the body to differentiate hunger from thirst. If you don't drink enough water throughout the day, you may mistake thirst for hunger and eat more than you really need, which can also impair weight loss. So staying well hydrated is important, particularly if you are trying to lose weight. And don't forget to eat lots of water-based foods like soups, vegetables and low-fat dairy, which are equally important for weight loss, as they lower the calorie density of meals. That can help you reduce calories without reducing portions.
This is what I was getting at with my Hydrating with Food entry.  Oftentimes we think we are hungry when in fact, we are thirsty - and much of our water intake does come from food, not from water.

For me, I am still on the "drink lots of water" side of things, as most Doctors seem to be saying this.  Also, I think most Americans tend to be dehydrated and don't drink enough water.  In addition, two of my long-term conditions - Gout and Diverticulitis - are aggravated by dehydration.  When I drink water, I feel better - it is as simple as that.  Other conditions - such a painful kidney stones - can be aggravated by dehydration.

And once you start to notice how water affects your sense of well-being, you can tell when you are dehydrated.  The symptoms are not hard to see:

  1. Your mouth is dry and your breath starts to get really bad.
  2. You get dizzy, tired, or otherwise feel lightheaded
  3. You are hungry, even though you have already eaten
  4. Increased sensitivity to heat or cold.
  5. Headaches, particularly migranes
  6. You get irritable and impatient

As your body uses up water - through urination, sweating, and even breathing, your blood thickens and your blood pressure goes up.  As a result, you start to feel odd.

And you can dehydrate in conditions that would seem ideal for hydration. For example, the idiotic link above, which claims that "you don't need to drink all that water" talks with a morning show hostess (always the height of intellectual prowess) and notes that in the 60-degree studio "she doesn't sweat much" and therefore is not dehydrated.  But au contraire, a heavily air conditioned studio is also a very dry studio (air conditioners act as dehumidifiers) and as a result, you can dehydrate fairly rapidly through breathing alone.

During our cold weather snap, I noticed this effect as we drove into town.  All the symptoms of dehydration seemed to be occurring, even though we had drank a large glass of water earlier in the day.  The near-zero percent humidity meant that every breath out was expelling humid air, and every breath in was taking in dry air - a net loss in hydration over time.

Taking water with you is always a good idea.  Buying water at convenience stores is horribly expensive and even one bottle a day can end up costing you more than $365 a year, which is a lot of money.  We always take at least two quarts with us when we leave the house, as well as a small package of snack crackers to prevent low-blood sugar situations.

Also, keep track of where good drinking fountains are located in your regular routes of travel.  Forget all the nonsense (baiting again) you've read about how tap water has bacteria in it (everything has bacteria in it!  So long as it is not e coli, you are all set) or how drinking fountains are "unsanitary".  You will die of a stroke, heart attack, or kidney disease long before the drinking fountain will kill you.  The bottled water industry wants you to believe that tap water is bad - but in many cases, all they are selling you is the same tap water - often with higher bacteria counts! 

How does hydration affect finances as well as your personal health?  Dehydration is a good tool for salesmen to use to close a deal.  This is one reason why many salesmen want to drag out a closing for an hour or more.  If you can keep a prospect trapped in the car, boat, or RV showroom for hours at a time - with little in the way of hydration - they will finally break and sign almost any kind of odious deal, just to get out of there and get a drink of water.  Throw in a little low blood sugar, due to lack of food, and voila!  You've been leased a new car!

Note that many fad diets rely on dehydration to show sudden and sharp weight loss.  Water weights eight pounds per gallon, and thus, you can show a dramatic "weight loss" by dehydrating through diuretics and by limiting water intake.  But it is not a healthy practice, nor is it real weight gain, any more than squeezing out a sponge is.  It makes about as much sense as cutting off your arm to lose weight.  Yes, you can lose weight that way, but it misses the point.

Don't fall into the dehydration trap!  It is bad for your all of your internal organs, including your brain.  And if you want to lose weight, staying hydrated is important.

Disclaimer: Before going on any diet or exercise program, consult your Doctor for advice specific to your condition and needs. The entries in this blog reflect my own personal philosophies about weight loss, diet, eating habits, and exercise and reflect my experiences in losing weight. They are not intended as instructions on health, exercise, or medicine for others. The author assumes no responsibility in any way for misuse of the materials provided herein.