Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

The difference can do damage or even kill you

When I was much larger, I had a tough time being able to tell whether the urges I felt to put something in my mouth had to do with the heat of the day (water and hydration) or the smell of warm, Krispy Kreme donuts.

Interestingly, my inability to tell the difference had a lot to do with why I kept expanding. I would eat when I really just needed a big glass of water. That water might well have kept me satiated enough so that I could stop myself from downing a dozen KKs at one time.

I’m hardly alone. I still don’t drink anywhere near enough water for proper hydration, a habit that has cost me dearly. Kidney stones, for one, although there are always other factors at work. Right now I am recovering from an emergency procedure to blast a stone that was causing a pain party in my guts. This, natch, smack in the middle of selling my house, buying a new one and trying desperately to get the hell out of Dodge to move to Eugene. Where I now own a home, but I can’t quite leave town yet, being tethered to my friend’s toilet for the short term. Those distractions were part of the problem.

I’m not without a sense of humor, which took a few days to recover given the amount of….ah….discomfort I was experiencing, I am genuinely pissed at myself for not being more mindful. I am usually extremely careful about my food intake. And, even so, it is still so easy to have otherwise healthy foods cause terrible havoc in the body.

Even good foods can be bad for you

I love spinach salads, almonds, cashews and raspberries, potatoes with their skins for the roughage, and stevia.

All have too much oxalate, all can cause the most common kind of kidney stone. If consumed to excess, of course. You should see me with a bag of almonds. Excess doesn’t begin to describe it.

Well, shit.

While my condition has a number of factors related, including my deep fondness for foods containing a lot of oxalate acid, perhaps one of the biggest contributors is inadequate hydration.

This is just one reason why there is no One Perfect Diet. Because your magnificently unique body is in some ways nothing like mine. There are general guidelines. From those you and I have to do the real work of constantly determining what will work for us at any given time. However, about the only thing that we can genuinely agree on is that we need to hydrate ourselves better. In fact, that one single thing may be more important than just about anything else.

Drink or eat? That is the question

This Medium article speaks to the question that you’d like to think we can answer, but often don’t: am I thirsty or hungry?

Can You Really Mistake Thirst for Hunger?
If you pay attention to news about nutrition, you’ve probably heard or read that people often mistake thirst for…

From the article:

There is also evidence that the types of foods we tend to eat today affect our thirst mechanism, making it less reliable as a cue to drink. A 2009 study by Australian scientists reported that subjects who included more high-fat and high-sugar foods in their diet exhibited weaker thirst sensitivity than did those who ate fewer of these foods. (author bolded)

Food chemists are a tricky bunch. They design products that make us want more (betcha can’t eat just one) and drinks that promise to satiate us but also carry one wicked-ass hit of sugar. Sells a lot of stupid products, and over time, those products appear to be slowly undermining our ability to properly respond to the body’s natural signals. Hungry or thirsty?

And if thirsty, do you drink a Coke? Given that many of my friends regularly use this battery acid to remove rust off their bumpers, America’s favorite caramel poison does us no favors:

Health risks of Coca-Cola: What it does to the body
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of the United States population will…

Naysayers will argue that Coke isn’t all that bad. Yes. It is. Not just my opinion. You should see what it does to people in developing countries whose teeth rot, they become obese and they have limited access to dental and medical care. Don’t get me started.

All liquids are not created equal. While I might tip my hat to those who consider beer or tequila essential food groups and by the way, they’re wet, kindly. In the past I have read articles that have argued that by eating foods full of water like apples and fruits you don’t need as much liquid.

Well, no. You still do, if my body is any kind of experiment. I eat water-filled foods all the time and I am still dehydrated. So while I will freely admit that chugging eight glasses a day is a royal fucking PAIN, those of you who have ever had kidney stones will likely agree that the pain of drinking the water ain’t nuthin’ compared to what the stones can do to a pleasant summer afternoon.

Okay, week.

It’s not just that choosing to drink water as opposed to sugary drinks is a good idea. It’s a matter of considerable health concerns. In fact, if the research I did this morning while glugging my cranberry juice and water is any indication, cranberry juice and water are likely to be my BFFs from now on.

For me, it isn’t just kidney stone prevention. Being drop-kicked into reality once again because I stubbornly failed to respond to the prompts on my refrigerator (DRINK WATER STUPID), here is the best possible argument I have seen laid out in plain English:

Whoa: This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Enough Water
If you’re reading this: Drink a glass of water. You likely need it, as 75 percent of Americans are described as…

From the article:

If you’re reading this: Drink a glass of water. You likely need it, as 75 percent of Americans are described as “chronically dehydrated.”

That would be me. No matter how many apples, nectarines, grapes or whatever I eat, I am still not getting adequate water to help hydrate my cells and digest the fiber that I take in. However, what really stands out for me from the article is that each day/week etc you continue to hydrate, the benefits build on one another.

Oh, and by the way, you addicts out there? Coffee and tea, despite their reputations, actually do count for hydration. However, I might refrain from adding multiple Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccinos to your daily liquid intake just for the hydration value. Chugging six of those a day adds 3540 calories. Water’s a bit less fattening.

Now for the REALLY REALLY good news:

tatPhoto by mrjn Photography on Unsplash

From the article: After just one day of true hydration you can expect relief from…

extreme fatigue, poor memory, dizziness, constipation, and even mood shifts.

Let me pause here. These are all symptoms that we often treat with more pills, or attribute to the aging process. Laxatives, which those of us with eating disorders (my hand is up, although not these days) suck even more water out of our bodies in order to help us move the mail, as it were. If we don’t re-hydrate, we’ve further complicated things internally. You can see how this is cyclical.

Imagine what might happen to so many of us if we drank more water (right after washing our hands, shall we?)? Perhaps some of what we attribute to other causes might well magically disappear, and with that relief, many of the often-dangerous OTC drugs that line our medicine cabinets? Which, by the way, on their own and with prescriptions also cause serious side effects which are often misinterpreted, misunderstood, and taken for signs of aging and dementia? Can you imagine that, instead of that old saw about “just getting older,” by drinking more water you not only are more alert, less fatigued, no longer constipated, your moods improve and your memory expands?

Not only that you are actually making your body/brain more youthful because you’re not drying it out? In other words, and I am most assuredly not the first person to make this assertion, the Fountain of Youth really is a fountain. We just don’t drink enough from it.

Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash

See how all this works? This is after ONE DAY. One. Day.

Limoges continues:

After one week, we get these benefits:

Within seven days of being properly hydrated, you’ll have fewer aches and pains and bowel movements will become more regulated and frequent.

Also, your skin clarity will improve. “A body that has been suboptimally hydrated will, over time, shunt water toward essential organs like your heart and away from nonessential tissue like your skin and muscles,” says Dr. Charles Passler,* a celebrity nutritionist and founder of Pure Change Detox. “This can lead to wrinkled or drooping skin, as well as reduced muscle strength.”

As someone who has lived in high, dry Denver for nearly fifty years I can attest to what happens to the skin. I am 67, and up until fairly recently my skin has done a good job of resisting too much abuse, despite my propensity for extreme sports. Not lately. I’ve also been very distracted, not taking care of hydration. I have noticed crepey skin forming where I never had it before. Part of this could be age, and part of it- perhaps a much better guess- is that my body is crying out for more water.

Well of course it is. Otherwise I wouldn’t have just spent most of this past week at St. Anthony’s with kidney stones. Duh. By the end of the week, after days on IV liquids, all that crepey skin is gone.

I’ve also been noticing a lot of fatigue. That, I attributed to the sheer amount of stress of selling, moving, saying goodbye, Covid, quarantine, reduced income, not being able to work out normally, a billion things that every single one of us has been coping with since March. Stress? You bet. Enough so that something like adequate hydration didn’t even occur because of so much overwhelm in other areas.

I spent all day yesterday pushing glass after glass down my gullet. Not only was that intentional to rid myself of the stones (yes please) it was to take care of the side effects of pain meds (you know that already). To say that I feel like a beautifully reconstituted piece of dried fruit is an understatement. I woke up this morning feeling almost 100%. Peeing a lot, but hey. Comes with the territory.

After six months, this is what you and I can expect if we keep on drinking water when we also wash our hands:

“The long-term benefits of avoiding dehydration play an important role in reducing the risk of diseases and disorders, like urinary tract infections, hypertension, coronary heart disease, glaucoma, and gallstone disease,” says Dr. Passler.* (author bolded)

Hypertensions, coronary heart disease, glaucoma and gallstone diseases.

Okay, here’s something else to consider: people with gallstone disease are shown to be 23% more likely to develop coronary heart disease.

If I may take this another step further: coronary heart disease is this country’s leading cause of death.

I can’t speak for you. The way I see it, this list speaks to some of the country’s biggest killers. Just by hydrating adequately, we might well be able not only to prevent them (by drinking water instead of crappy foods) but also vastly improve our quality of life.

Look, I am no doctor. But even the most casual of reading makes these facts abundantly clear.

I strongly, strongly urge you to do your own research. Which brings me to Dr. Pressler.

*If you happened to look up the above-quoted Dr. Charles Pressler, the “celebrity nutritionist,” you will note that he sells detox products. Of course he does. My take? Pass on that nonsense. Drink more water.

Why would I say such a thing? Glad you asked.

We don’t need “wellness products”

The Wellness Industrial Complex makes billions on our compulsive need to be perfect. The truth is that the simplest things are nearly always the absolute best. Case in point: Dr. Pressler’s right about the water. But you most likely don’t need his detox products. Bear with me.

You and I do not need a celebrity nutritionist to tell us we need to drink more water and then turn around and offer us pricey detox programs that all too often do more harm than good. But celebrities can’t be bothered with simple tap water, they need a celebrity nutritionist, and said celebrity nutritionist can then convince the rest of us civilians to want to be like those celebrities. Bella Hadid, for example, which is a fine way of saying do this be like her. Celebs get paid a great deal for endorsements. This is how we go stupid. The seven-day package is $200, he recommends it twice a year. Of course he does.

Drink more water.

You’ll likely feel better. In feeling better you’re likely to eat less (overeating is a terrible strain on the body), and you may well be inspired to eat more carefully. That is also cyclical, just in a much better direction.

I would simply add here, and this is a wave to my Medium buddy Maria Cross MSc, see a dietician and nutritionist. Probably not a celebrity one unless you’ve got more cash than I do.

In this article by my favorite performance writer Brad Stolberg, he points out the fallacies in that multi-billion dollar industry:

We've Reached Peak Wellness. Most of It Is Nonsense.
In Silicon Valley, techies are swooning over tarot-card readers. In New York, you can hook up to a "detox" IV at a…

From his article:

Nourishing these interrelated dimensions of health, however, does not require that you buy any lotions, potions, or pills. Wellness — the kind that actually works — is simple: it’s about committing to basic practices, day in and day out, as individuals and communities.

Unfortunately, these basics tend to get overlooked in favor of easy-to-market nonsense. That’s because, as many marketers (including in the self-help space) are fond of saying, “You can’t sell the basics.” I think that’s naive. We’d be much better off if we stopped obsessing over hacks and instead focused on evidence-based stuff that works.

Stolberg goes into much more, and if you read the piece you’ll understand why I inhale his stuff. Common sense, calm, helpful, and no hyperbole.

Like detox cures. Coffee enemas. Kindly, balderdash. At least for most of us. Again as with all things, it depends.

You and I can waltz into any health food store and load up on so-called detox cures. To that, please see:

What Is a Detox Diet?
Detox diets are widely promoted online and in magazines. Three-day, seven-day, and longer detoxification plans are…

While I can understand the deep desire to “eat clean” (your shit will still stink), you can spend thousands on cure-alls that are nowhere near as effective as your body already is. Always has been. Always will be if you and I hydrate, and if we eat for the body we have rather than the body that popular media says we should have.

In other words, in simplest terms, if you and I hydrate regularly, we probably don’t need a lot of what we’re buying and taking to be more well. We were built to be well, but not if we’re walking around in a seriously desiccated state.

As someone who has been obese, who has nearly died from eating disorders, who has abused laxatives, all of this is intimately familiar. I have written extensively that learning to eat and drink for the body you and I inhabit right here, right now is a lifelong, evolutionary arc. We never stop learning. Every decade I’ve had to shift, change and adapt. As I slide towards seventy, and continue to work hard as an athlete, those needs are changing.

My recent side trip to the ER this week was a fine reminder that I’ve allowed the extreme stresses of the last eighteen months derail some of my better habits, and cause me to eat automatically without being more mindful of what MY body requires, not what some article says “everybody” needs.

You and I are not “everybody.”

For my body, too much spinach and too many Blue Diamond Smokehouse almonds (LOTS and LOTS of salt) kicked my guts. Also, to avoid tannins, I take caffeine pills, and they also have a diuretic effect. They have other advantages and disadvantages (as in, they don’t have 590 calories like that Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino, above), but they work for me. Still, they cause water loss that I must replenish.

I knew all this. Knowing isn’t doing. I forgot about oxalates in the mad rush of trying to cope with so much going on. Your body is totally different. That’s why trying to find That One Diet That Works for Everyone For All Time is about as useful as chasing the Holy Grail.

For my part, and I am deeply grateful for these articles, the only true Holy Grail is adequate hydration. (Kindly, this is not an article about exercise, just about water). That really is the one common thing that you and I need, all of us. If we have a body, we need water. Period. Inadequate water and we see a vast cascade of all manner of ills that the medical and pharmaceutical industries and profit centered doctors are only too happy to treat. I would guess that by drinking more water, there’s a damned good chance that we’d eat less, feel better and stave off a host of other ills. But that’s cheap, simple and it doesn’t make billions for bad operators hawking kiwi-flavored enemas. But I digress.

And for all you compulsives out there, and my hand is up here too, please do not walk over to your next door neighbor’s pool with a straw and drain the fucking thing. While I am joking, this is very real, especially for my fellow athletes:

Water intoxication: What happens when you drink too much water?
Every cell in the body needs water to function correctly. However, drinking too much can lead to water intoxication and…

What works for you will not work for me. Except adequate hydration. What you eat for your body will not work for me. Except adequate hydration. The bigger you are, the larger your body, the more water you need. I am NOT calling out obesity here. That’s not the issue. The issue is adequate water for your body size. And proper liquids, not Coke or sugary drinks, or gallons of orange juice, which is little more than pouring sugar down your throat.

Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

Water. Pretty magical stuff.

After a while, you might just find that your finely-tuned body will start having those conversations with you again, and this time you’ll be able to understand.

Dude. I’m thirsty.

Dude. I need protein.

Dude…you got it.

The way I read the research I just did, drinking lots of water might just be what the doctor should be prescribing.

If you’ll pardon me, I gotta go pee. Then I’m having another cranberry juice. And another. And another. In between my waters.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

With heartfelt thanks for the on-call support and laughter from Ann Litts.