It seems like a no brainer: you're hungry. Your body and mind are craving food. Or are they?
Since water makes up more than 70% of our bodies, we can only survive for less than a week without it. In general, however, a person can live for one to two months without food, as long as they have water.
When you're hungry, your body is telling you that it’s lacking its minimum needs to create energy. True hunger occurs gradually, and your stomach may start to rumble or feel empty. Other symptoms of hunger include feelings of weakness, and irritability or moodiness.
When you're thirsty, your body is signaling that it's dehydrated. Signs and symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, eyes and skin, plus headaches, sluggishness, dizziness, nausea, constipation, and dark yellow urine.
Your brain receives similar messages whether you're hungry or thirsty and as a result, it's common to confuse thirst for hunger. Those mixed signals also explain why we often eat more than we need and drink less than we should.
When you think about your morning routine, is it missing anything? A lot of us choose to skip breakfast, and we can do that. But we should never skip having something to drink — preferably water. Even though all fluids and many foods contain some amount of water, what our bodies really need is a glass of water. A glass of water in the morning wakes up the digestive system, helping it to break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients and then get rid of waste. If you begin your day with just coffee or tea, by the time you feel thirsty you are probably already dehydrated.
Water's most important function
Water hydrates our brains, body tissue and cells. Nearly every function in the human body depends on the efficient flow of water through its system.
Our vital organs (the brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys) depend on water to transport and deliver necessary hormones, chemical messengers, and nutrients.
Our brains are 73% water. The brain needs water to manufacture hormones (molecules produced by the endocrine system that send messages to help regulate body processes) and neurotransmitters that transmit signals from nerve cells to muscles, glands, or other nerves. Neurotransmitters regulate many necessary functions, including heart rate.
Our bodies also use water to maintain optimal body temperature. Water can absorb a lot of heat before its temperature rises, a trait that allows the water in every cell of our bodies to protect against sudden temperature changes.
Finally, water helps flush waste from our liver and kidneys.
Are you hungry, or just thirsty?
If you're feeling hungry, you can determine whether you're really just thirsty by following this tip: drink eight ounces of water and then wait 15-20 minutes. That's how long it takes for your brain to process what you need. If you still crave food, have a healthy snack and another sip of water. Health experts suggest eating something every three to four hours, so if you feel hungry between meals and snacks, you may simply be thirsty.
If you drink water at regular intervals throughout the day even if you don't feel thirsty, you'll be less likely to become dehydrated. Most health experts recommend drinking 64 ounces of water, or at least half of your body weight (lbs) in ounces, every day. Corporate Wellness Magazine recommends following these tips to meet your hydration needs:
- Set a hydration goal and make it a game to reach or surpass that goal each day. Offer a challenge with co-workers and prizes. Everything is more fun as a competition.
- Set a timer to remind yourself to drink water.
- Add some flavor to your water with fruit (cantaloupe, pineapple and watermelon) or cucumber slices, or replace ice cubes with frozen lemon or lime slices. Try adding a little ginger.
- Eat high water-content foods such as cucumber, lettuce, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers, cauliflower, spinach, berries, broccoli, grapefruit, grapes, and zucchini. Pair them with hummus or a light dip and keep them handy for a healthy snack.
- Always drink water before and after any fitness activity. Consider adding an electrolyte supplement like Wave from HidrateSpark.
Surprising foods and beverages that can dehydrate you
People generally need 186 milligrams (about 1/3 teaspoon) of sodium per day, but consumption in the United States is often much higher.
It's no secret that grabbing lunch at the drive-through is a sodium overload, causing your body to lose fluids. And the combination of sodium and sugar in ice cream work to dehydrate you. But what about vegetables?
Vegetables are healthier foods, but they can also make you thirsty. White asparagus is full of nutrients, but it contains aspartic acid, a natural diuretic. Beets and celery, which contain potassium, also have diuretic properties.
If you drink a protein shake for breakfast or after an intense workout, you may be surprised to know that your body uses water to metabolize the protein. When you drink protein shakes, and especially if you're on a high protein diet, plan to increase your water intake.
For some of us, morning coffee and a relaxing nightcap frame the day but they, too, are diuretics. Health experts recommend limiting coffee to three cups a day and drinking as much water as you do coffee or alcohol. A good measure for alcohol is one glass of water for every glass of wine or cocktail.