It’s not just your food intake that helps you reach a healthy weight — but your sipping habits, too. “We can’t address weight without addressing health, and part of that puzzle is hydration,” says Melissa Majumdar, MS, RD, lead bariatric nutrition coordinator and dietitian for the Brigham and Women’s Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Essentially, if your body is short on what it needs to run properly — including adequate fluids — it’s not going to support weight loss.
More than that, what you choose to hydrate with matters, and there are some small changes you can make to up your intake of the right fluids to help move you toward your goal. Here are tips to keep in mind:
FIND YOUR PREFERRED TEMP
There’s an old adage that you should drink ice water to bump up your metabolism. Past studies looking at that have found the calorie-burn required to heat the water to body temperature wouldn’t make enough of an impact to change your weight in a manageable way. A better aim is to determine what temperature you like your water at so you’re more likely to drink more of it, says Majumdar.
HAVE A WATER BOTTLE ON HAND
Keeping a water bottle at your desk is a great strategy for drinking more. Plus, if you take a walking break to refill it regularly you can get in some added steps. Another pro tip: People tend to drink more when it’s out of a bottle with a spout or (reusable) straw, rather than a screw cap, says Majumdar.
DRINK BEFORE YOU EAT
Another common bit of weight-loss advice is to down some water before a meal to “fill you up.” That might have some basis in reality. According to a 2015 study in the journal Obesity, drinking 16 ounces of water 30 minutes before a meal helped participants lose about three more pounds compared to a control group. “If you are hungry, you should eat — not drink. But having water before eating can help you stop and first check in on your thirst,” says Majumdar. This critical pause may make you more mindful and in tune with why you’re eating, if it’s for physical hunger or out of stress, habit or boredom.
KEEP COFFEE SIMPLE
Surprise — both coffee and tea count toward your hydration needs, says Majumdar. For one, research shows coffee doesn’t actually dehydrate you (turns out, the liquid offsets any diuretic effect of caffeine). Two, caffeine intake has been associated with a lower BMI and body fat, per a meta-analysis review in 2018 in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. However, it’s important to track what goes into your coffee — black or just a splash of milk contains far fewer calories and added sugar than a mocha with whipped cream.
ADD NATURAL FLAVORING
Just 30 and 34% of water consumed for men and women, respectively, is plain water, according to the CDC. If you find the plain stuff boring, add a light hit of flavor with things like melon balls, berries and basil, pineapple and mint or frozen watermelon cubes.
DON’T FEAR BUBBLES
A well-publicized study last year sounded the alarm on all those trendy sparkling waters — the carbonation can scramble hunger signals to cause weight gain, it suggested. However, this study was done on rats. “We can’t generalize recommendations based on one study, especially if it’s animal-based, as it needs to be repeated with randomized-controlled human trials,” says Majumdar. Meaning: If you find sparkling water helps you stay hydrated throughout the day, there’s no reason to skip it out of fear of weight gain.
TAKE SMALL SODA STEPS
It’s no surprise sugar-sweetened drinks dump a lot of added sugar and calories into your diet. So, you’re best served ditching this habit. Exactly how is more difficult, but you’ll set yourself success if you have an idea of your personality. “For some patients, if they have some soda, they want more, so they go cold turkey. For others, they are better setting incremental goals, which allow them to build confidence while hitting milestones,” says Majumdar. For the latter approach, if you start off with four sodas a day, this week you might try three sodas a day with the aim of being completely off of it in a month, for example.
EAT MORE PRODUCE
Don’t stop at beverages when it comes to hydrating. The National Academy of Sciences says you can meet 20% of your fluid needs through food. That’s difficult to quantify, says Majumdar, but it does give yet another reason to pack your diet with water-rich fruits and vegetables, which contain filling H2O and fiber.