Anyone who has ever dieted knows that water weight is a real thing. In fact, our bodies are 60% water. Approximately 90% of our plasma (the liquid part of blood that carries cells, nutrients, and hormones throughout the body), 83% of our lungs, 73% of our brain and heart, and 64% of our skin is made up of water. Water is essential for just about every bodily function and is therefore essential for optimal health.
THE ROLE OF WATER IN HEALTH
Every cell, tissue, and organ in the human body needs water to work properly. Proper hydration plays a role in a host of bodily functions, most notably:
- Regulating body temperature
- Keeping joints lubricated
- Decreasing inflammation
- Thwarting infection
- Delivering nutrients to cells and tissues
- Stimulating saliva
- Aiding digestion
- Preventing constipation
- Removing waste and toxins
- Stabilizing mood
- Reducing fatigue
- Raising energy levels
- Creating mucus
- Moisturizing skin
- Enhancing complexion
- Increasing metabolism
- Improving cognition
- Bettering sleep
WHY IT’S EXTRA IMPORTANT FOR AUTOIMMUNE PATIENTS
Chronic inflammation is a persistent issue for many of us with autoimmune diseases, as is joint pain, brain fog, fatigue, mood swings, dry skin, digestive problems, and toxic overload. Leaky gut and impaired liver and kidney functions, taxed even further by some prescribed medications, are also prevalent in the autoimmune community. Dehydration further exaggerates each of these conditions, making proper hydration even more vital for healthy living.
HOW MUCH WATER DO YOU REALLY NEED?
Every minute, we lose water through regular, bodily functions such as breathing, perspiration, urination, and defecation. The rate at which we lose water increases with the addition of outside variables — think, summer heatwaves, jogging, and even having a fever. To offset the loss and maintain proper balance, we need to drink water… But how much water?
You’ve probably heard of the 8×8 rule (drinking eight 8-ounce glasses, or approximately two liters, per day) or the gold standard of drinking half your body weight in ounces each day. These estimates are based on the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine recommendation of 3.7L for men and 2.7L for women, minus the approximate 20% that is consumed through food. But like anything else, this is just a starting point. Individual needs vary from person to person. Gender, weight, age, health conditions, as well as food intake, activity level, weather, and altitude need to be considered. Breastfeeding mothers also need more water, as do those taking certain medications or experiencing diarrhea or vomiting.
The best way to determine the proper amount of water your body needs is to listen and look. If you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Watch the color of your urine: if it’s dark yellow, drink up! If it’s pale, you’re right on track.
HOW TO CREATE YOUR NEW WATER HABIT
If you’re not already hitting your ideal water goal, it’s time to start. Yes, we’re all busy, running from one thing to the next, and sometimes remembering to drink enough water just doesn’t happen. But staying hydrated is vital to keeping autoimmune flare-ups at bay, especially in the summer heat, and it’s really not that difficult. Like any new healthy habit, it just takes a little planning and a lot of practice until it becomes second nature to make it stick. These five easy steps will get you there:
- Buy a non-toxic, reusable water bottle. This can be basic and plain, decorated with a pretty design or inspirational quote, or even with hourly markings to keep you accountable.
- Take it with you EVERYWHERE. Keeping it front and center, and within reach, increases usage (no excuses, like too busy/lazy to get up).
- Set a timer. Until the habit is established and you can trust your instincts better, setting an hourly (or half-hour) timer on your phone is an easy trick to remind yourself to drink often. BONUS TIP: Drink a glass of water before you eat; Often, thirst is disguised as hunger.
- Track your intake. You don’t know what you don’t know. Tracking in an app like MyFitnessPal is easy and helps you see what your true intake is so you can adjust accordingly — or you can go old school and write it out with paper and pen.
- Pay attention to the color of your pee and how you feel. Drink until your pee is pale, and take note of autoimmune symptoms on days when you drink enough and especially on days when you don’t.
FUN WATER ALTERNATIVES
Plain water is best, but let’s face it, plain water can get boring, so have fun with it! Add fresh fruit and herbs to create your own spa water. Cucumber slices and citrus fruit are a great choice — think, lemons, limes, grapefruit, and oranges — but thinly sliced strawberries, watermelon, and pineapple are also yummy. Herbs such as mint, ginger, basil, and thyme take it up a notch, too. You can find plenty of inspiration on Instagram, Pinterest, or various wellness sites, like this one.
Another alternative is fresh-brewed sun tea. So easy and so many flavor options! Again, a quick Google, Instagram, or Pinterest search will uncover many options, like this one.
And for those who need even more flavor, try blending a cup of fresh fruit with a cup of cold water to create fresh, sugar-free juice; Add ice if you want to turn it into a slushy. My favorite this time of year is fresh watermelon juice. BONUS TIP: Freeze the blended fruit and water in popsicle molds for a delicious summer treat.
MORE WATER-BASED FOOD OPTIONS
While it’s best to drink your water, adding more high-density, water-based foods to your diet helps keep you hydrated and satiated at the same time. Here are just a few suggestions, all of which are in season right now:
- Honeydew Melon
- Bell Peppers
- Leafy greens
- Bone broth
- Coconut water
*Okay, so that last one isn’t exactly a whole food or particularly seasonal (although summertime is the best time for popsicles!), but coming from a girl who doesn’t eat anything out of a box, you have to check these out! Produced in a certified allergen-free facility, these all-natural, vegan, allergen-friendly frozen juice pops are amazing. BONUS POINTS: Mompops is a small, women-owned business, local to my ‘hood.
Staying hydrated is important for everyone, but especially Autoimmune Sisters. Just keep in mind that drinking more water means more trips to the bathroom. But hey, that’s just another opportunity to get up and move your body — and movement is another key ingredient to remaining healthy, so view it as a win-win and drink up!
AUTHOR’S DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, physical trainer, registered dietician, or health care provider, and am not licensed to give medical or nutritional advice. The purpose of this article is to share personal experiences and current research in order to educate, inform, and support readers. It should not be taken as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your doctor and/or professional medical team to determine if the ideas discussed herein are appropriate for your individual circumstances.