There are many ideas floating around the nutrition and health world about the role and benefits of water in weight loss. Some are true and some are false, but before we get to any of them its important to make this first point clear. By weight loss in this article we mean body fat loss.
This is an important distinction when talking about water because water is heavy and it can account for some higher numbers on your scale, even if you are sticking to your healthy habits and improving your body composition.
When reading about the tips below keep in mind that drinking more water may make your weight temporarily go up, just like dehydrating yourself will make the weight temporarily go down. These changes are not very reflective of your health though, so wait for a couple of weeks before determining whether dietary changes are having the impact you desire.
Daily needs for Water and Digestion
Every day your body needs on average 3.7 litres of water if you are male and 2.7 litres if you are female. Let’s put this into perspective: bottled water is usually a half a litre, so a woman needs to drink almost 6 of these bottles each day. For men this is 8 bottles per day– approximately a full gallon! If you exercise regularly you need even more. What is your body doing with all this water? There are many ways water is used in the body but lets focus on the ones that pertain to weight loss.
It takes your body about 1 litre of water to digest each 1000 calories you eat. Water travels with food, particularly with protein and carbohydrates. Water also maintains the balance of salts and electrolytes in your body. This means that when you eat more of these water-carrying nutrients you will carry more water naturally. How does this impact your diet? Read on!
The impact of water in your diet
So you are out with your friends for dinner and you have a substantial meal. How full are you? Well you might think of your dinner as a sponge. If you were drinking water with your meal and you feel full afterwards you have a pretty accurate impression of what you had to eat.
If you weren’t drinking water with your meal and you feel full, just you wait. In addition to the fullness you’re experiencing you will get hit a second time once your meal absorbs many times its weight in water. This can take some time, so eat slowly!
There are some that claim that fullness associated with drinking plenty of water is enough to stifle a food craving but the research for this is not conclusive. Water doesn’t stick around the stomach very long, so the effect may be short-lived. The best bet is to drink lots of water regularly, especially if you tend to drink too little, and especially with meals.
On the topic of cravings, water can help when you are in the kitchen and aren’t sure what you’re after. Having a unidentifiable craving and being in the kitchen can be a dangerous affair that often ends with you eating a lot of everything you own while standing in front of the open fridge.
This is the time to take a gamble: assume your craving is for water, drink down a glass, and wait 10 minutes. If you aren’t paying very close attention to your body you may misinterpret a signal to drink water (say after eating a handful of salty snacks) for a signal to snack some more. Water is always the safest bet in these cases because there is no penalty for being wrong!
As mentioned previously, water caries electrolytes in the body. These electrolytes are important for brain function, which is partly why dehydration causes headaches. What you may not realize is that having enough water, just like having enough food, can drastically alter your focus and memory.
This relates to weight loss in a strange but interesting way; when you are more tired, unfocused, and inattentive you are more likely to stray from your healthy habits for the first food-like item in your path. Keeping your brain sharp by having a large glass of water first thing in the morning can set the course for your whole day!
An often unintended but incredibly beneficial side effect of water drinking is that it often decreases the amount of other beverages consumed. What do I mean by other beverages? I mean everything from juice to lattes to soda or alcohol. All of these add calories to your diet and, being liquid, don’t contribute significantly to your sense of fullness.
It can be easy to forget about all of the calories you get from drinks but it’s a safe bet that replacing one of these beverages each day with a glass of water will go far towards achieving your health goals.
Finally, these goals you have set for yourself can be difficult to remember, especially when you are hungry and being tempted. Much like Pavlov did with his dogs, you can condition yourself to keep these thoughts in your mind throughout the day by pairing them with something you do frequently throughout your day. Might I suggest: drinking water? Every time you fill up your glass it will be a tangible reminder of your promise to yourself.
Tips for improving water drinking throughout the day
- Have a full glass first thing in the morning
- Carry a reusable water bottle with you throughout the day
- Make an effort to drink water with meals
- Replace water for other beverages you commonly drink
- Go for water when you aren’t hungry but you get a craving
- For women: Try to get about 2.7 liters of water a day
- For men: Try to get about 3.7 liters of water a day