The not-so-secret weapon in the war against obesity

I’ve been obsessed with hydration for almost as long as I’ve been practicing medicine. What else would you expect from someone who specializes in weight loss? After all, water is the cheapest, most accessible diet aid there is.

You can help flush toxins out of your body, send your energy levels soaring, and maybe most importantly, feel fuller for longer…simply by drinking more water.

And in case you needed more proof, here it is: A new study shows a significant link between poor hydration, high body mass index (BMI), and obesity.

Researchers looked at a sample of adults — all participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2009 to 2012, all between 18 and 64 years old. Results showed that poorly hydrated subjects had BMIs up to 32 percent higher than their well-hydrated counterparts. And their odds of being obese rocketed by as much as 60 percent.

Ultimately, this is very good news. It shows that something as simple as drinking enough water may make a significant impact on obesity risk. As solutions to the obesity epidemic go, that’s about as easy as it gets. And the researchers’ conclusion is equally as simple.

They say that doctors should be having discussions with their patients about how much water they drink. This is standard operating procedure in my practice. At every single visit, I ask my patients what they’ve had to eat and drink since last time I saw them.

Unfortunately, these researchers suggest that most doctors don’t go into the same amount of detail I do with my patients. In fact, they say a lot of physicians don’t even know that overweight or obese patients need to drink more water. So they’re not giving them proper hydration advice in the first place.

And I have to ask…who are these idiots, anyway?

Of course hydration requirements correlate with your weight. The heavier you are, the more you have to drink — it’s just common sense. The trouble is that many people (whether they’re overweight or not) reach for food when they are, in fact, thirsty. And because of this country’s chronic dehydration problem, we’ve got a whole lot of excess snacking going on.

What’s worse, if you’ve ignored hydration long enough, your body will just turn off your thirst mechanism. I hear it all the time: “I’m just never thirsty.” And that may be true…but are you hungrier than you should be?

You’ve probably noticed that your body is pretty smart. It’s going to send out whatever signals it has to in order to get what it needs. And yes, we get liquid from food, too. If that’s the signal you’re more likely to respond to, then that’s the signal your body is going to give you.

This is weight management 101, for crying out loud. And if a clinician doesn’t know such a simple fact, they really have no right to counsel anyone on what they should be eating and drinking.

But it’s also worth noting that not drinking enough water will affect a lot more than just your weight. Inadequate hydration can impact your health all around — physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can drag down your cognitive performance and memory, make you depressed and anxious, cause headaches, and interfere with kidney function. A pretty serious list of complications for a problem that’s so easy to avoid.

So how much water do you actually need? No doubt you’ve heard the “eight glasses a day” advice before. But the fact is, that may or may not be enough. To set the record straight, you should be drinking half your body weight in ounces of water each day. So a 150-pound woman would need 75 ounces of water daily, as a rule of thumb.

If you exercise, you need to drink more. For every half an hour you spend in the gym, you should add another eight ounces to your daily total. And no, caffeinated beverages do not count in this calculation. In fact, each cup of coffee you drink requires another cup of water to make up for it.

I realize that may seem like a lot — but it doesn’t take long to make a habit of it. Down a full glass first thing in the morning, before each meal, and another one before bed. That will make a big dent in your daily requirement right there. You should also keep water with you at all times (or as much as you possibly can). And take a big sip every couple of minutes. Make these simple adjustments to your current routine and you’ll meet your daily quota without even thinking about it.

Whatever you do, just make sure you’re getting the right amount every day. It’s that important. And you know what, it’s worth that extra trip or two to the bathroom.