Drinking More Water Linked to Eating Less

Pensive blond woman drinking water in her kitchen

We all know that drinking water is essential for our health and wellbeing, but some of us might find it boring to drink plain water — especially if we’re used to flavored drinks. The problem is, these flavored drinks can be bad for your health and may promote diseases like obesity or tooth decay. A new study released this week found that drinking water might help those looking to cut calories.  Use that as motivation to reach for a glass of water the next time you crave a soda. (Bored with plain water? Try one of Dr. Oz’s favorite infused waters.)

Why do I need to drink water?
The human body is about two thirds water and, as a result, water is essential for the proper, healthy functioning of our bodies. Almost all of the chemical reactions we need to generate energy, regulate body temperature, move and think happen in water and often use water as a key ingredient. Small changes in the amount of this water can have significant effects. Your body and brain start to have trouble functioning at their best when you lose even as little as two percent of your body weight in water. That means that if you’re 150 pounds, sweating enough to lose three pounds can start to affect your health. (Want to know how much water you normally lose during a workout? Try this: Weigh yourself right before and right after your workout without drink or eating anything during exercise.) In severe cases, losing too much water leads to dangerous health issues affecting many of your vital organs and can eventually lead to death.

What about other sources of water?
You might know people who rarely or never drink plain water. These people get their water from other sources. All of the drinks you consume have water in them, even if they’re not plain water. That includes drinks like juice, milk or soda. The foods we eat, like fruits and vegetables, also contain water. How much water you need every day depends on how big you are, how much you exercise and where you live, but you can generally use your own feeling of thirst and the color of your urine as a rough measure of whether you’re getting enough to drink.

Watch: What’s In Your Drinking Water?

Unfortunately, not all sources of water are created equal. While food sources of water are often on the healthier side, drink sources generally are not. Juice and soda carry a lot of calories along with their hydrating qualities. That means that these drinks may not be good replacements for plain water in the long run, even though they help to keep your body hydrated.

How is water related to my weight?
It’s important to note that you can lose weight by losing water weight, by sweating during exercise for example, but this isn’t real or healthy weight loss. The weight you want to lose is fat, not water weight. Drinking water probably helps control your waistline mostly by keeping you from drinking high-calorie drinks, but water may also help cut those food cravings. Feelings of thirst can sometimes be mistaken for feelings of hunger, which means that drinking water may make those hunger pangs go away without the added calories. On top of that, drinking water can sometimes help alleviate real hunger, which might hold you over just long enough to get to your next meal. At least one study has shown that drinking water right before eating helps you eat less at that meal. Other research had shown that people who drink more water tend to eat fewer calories, but most of the studies were small and done in specific populations. These researchers wanted to perform a larger study with a more diverse population so that they could apply what they learned to most of the US population. (Looking to lose weight? Here’s 100 surefire weight-loss tips to get you started.)

How did the researchers study water and diet?
The researchers used data from a national study called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is done by a department of the US government to assess the health of American children and adults from a variety of backgrounds. Researchers were interested in the survey’s questions on what food people ate, and how much of it, as well as how much water people drank. The responses helped researches look for links between drinking more water, the number of calories a person consumed and the quality of a person’s diet. Since this data had already been collected, the researchers just had to do statistical analysis to look for a relationship.

What did the researchers find?
Almost across the board, researchers found that people who drank more water tended to consume fewer calories daily. Broken down, more water meant fewer calories from drinks sweetened with sugar as well as less fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium in a person’s diet. This applied to people of all races at all levels of income and at all weights. The effects on men seemed to be larger than the effects on women, but both groups benefited. Interestingly, people were still just as likely to eat junk food no matter how much water they were drinking. It’s important to note that this study only finds an association between water drinking and lower calorie eating, which means the results don’t prove that drinking more water will lead to eating fewer calories, only that people who drink more water also tend to be the ones eating less. But the team thinks the link is a real one given past experiments showing similar benefits when people are asked to drink more water.

How does this apply to me?
This study makes a good argument for drinking more water throughout the day, especially if it’s replacing sugary drinks. While the research didn’t look at weight loss specifically, drinking water instead of soda or as a way to help with hunger pangs is a simple tactic you can use to cut the number of calories you’re eating daily and boost your weight loss efforts. If you have trouble drinking plain water, you can start out with one glass a day and slowly increase the amount you drink. It will take time for your body to get used to the taste, especially if you normally drink soda or other drinks sweetened with sugar.