We’re all looking for the perfect formula, right? Just tell me how many grams of fat and carbs to eat. How many steps to take per day. And how many glasses of water I should be drinking within a 24-hour period.
We love the precision of it all. The safety of micromanaging every detail of our life with the promise that if we can dial it in enough, we’ll enjoy perfect health for the rest of our days. But when you think about all the forcing, measuring, counting, and obsessive overplanning that goes into this kind of micromanagement, there’s actually nothing healthy about it.
There’s nothing healthy about ignoring your body’s own cues in favor of what general nutrition — or random social media influencers say. Nutrition might be a science, but it’s also an art form. And learning to trust your body and what it’s trying to tell you trumps any water-to weight-ratio chart you’ll find online.
But How Much Water Should You Drink?
I’ve always followed Mark’s wisdom around water consumption. We both believe that the body has a well-regulated system for preventing dehydration and a built-in mechanism to let you know when we need more water. That internal mechanism is called your thirst.1
How much water you need is highly individual. Meaning, it depends on your unique circumstances, your activity level, and the climate you live in. Not only that, the advice to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day or half your bodyweight in ounces isn’t based on actual evidence.
Those guidelines initially game from the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board recommendations back in 1945, stating that people should drink 2.5 liters of water per day.2 Unfortunately, people who read that statement neglected to read the following sentence that read, “Most of this quantity is contained in foods.”
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Caffeinated Drinks Work Against You, Right?
A review published in the American Journal of Physiology goes even further to debunk the 8 glasses or 2 liter of water per day recommendation. Researchers looked at studies that measured the food and fluid intake of 28,081 men and women in the United States and found that such large volumes of water weren’t necessary for good health.3
They also found that caffeinated drinks (and to a lesser extent, alcohol) added to hydration levels, specifically noting that nearly one-half (47%) of the total fluids ingested by participants were coffee, tea, soft drinks, and alcohol.
So, as a health coach, I don’t push the hydration issue. Instead, I empower my clients to tune into something I think most of us don’t have a good handle on. And that’s trusting your body.
What If You Drank When You Were Thirsty?
And while you’re at it, how about eating when you’re hungry, sleeping when you feel tired, and speaking up when you’ve got something to say? Wouldn’t that be miraculous? It would be so freaking liberating to stop forcing every single detail and instead, have a little faith that your body knows what it’s doing.
The trust your body message is something that gets lost in today’s world. In fact, we work extra hard to ignore those subtle and not-so-subtle signs. In fact, humans are the only species that exerts energy when they don’t need to.4
We deprive ourselves of sleep on purpose because there’s more work to crank out, or it’s too early to go to bed. We snub our hunger pangs because we tell ourselves we shouldn’t eat ‘til our fasting window opens if we want to lose weight.
We’ve become so used to ignoring and pushing through the discomfort that we’ve forgotten how to honor the miracle that is our body. I’m not saying you shouldn’t push yourself. But by training your brain to disregard the signs and symptoms, you’re doing yourself and your wellbeing a disservice.
Want to Know the Best Way to Hydrate?
From a health coaching perspective, the best way to hydrate is get tuned in to what your body is telling you. No one knows you better than you do. And when you get really dialed into your internal signals (instead of continuing the pattern of ignoring them), you don’t have to subject yourself to tracking your water intake — or monitoring your macros for that matter.
Notice what thirst feels like. We’ve become so used to fighting hunger pains, pulling all-nighters, and completely disregarding our body’s signals, that being disconnected is kind of the new normal. But when your body is feeling something, anything, you should always take it as a sign. Pay attention to when your mouth gets dry, or you get a slight itch in the back of your throat. That’s your body telling you its thirsty.
Respond to that feeling. Once you’ve learned how to notice what’s going on, the next step is to take action. Respect your body enough to give it what it’s asking for. Go get some water, drink a smoothie, have a cup of coffee. When you consciously respond to these signals, you begin to trust your body more. And vice versa.
Hone your self-efficacy skills. In other words, if you believe you can do it, you’re more likely to actually do it. Even if you’re not naturally inclined to think this way, you can learn to have more self-efficacy by setting small goals for yourself (notice when you’re thirsty and go grab some water), being aware of your patterns (ignoring your body’s signals), and getting up to refill your water glass anyway.
Stop worrying about what others are doing. A quick search for “how much water should I drink” brings up hundreds of thousands of results ranging in answers from two liters to fifteen and a half cups. Like I said before, no one knows your body better than you. So instead of stressing over what other people are doing (or saying), keep working steps one through three and tune into your own perfect formula.
Four Ways to Hydrate Better
Forget the 8×8 rule or recommendations to drink half your bodyweight in ounces. The best way to hydrate is to listen to your body. Use these steps to practice tuning into your body’s internal signals, and drink when you’re thirsty. You’ll stay hydrated without having to micromanage your water intake.
Notice what thirst feels like
Respond to that feeling
Hone your self-efficacy skills
Stop worrying about what others are doing
Now it’s your turn. How do you decide how much water to drink?
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.