Water. We’ve all been told how important it is to drink the stuff. We’ve listened as health professionals have told us to drink eight 8-oz glasses of water a day. And we’ve all been given the schpeel about how our body is mostly made of water.
Today I hope to paint the importance of water in a slightly different light.
If you’ve been with me for a while now, you know that my opinions are rooted in Chinese medicine, which is based on the concept of balance—that negative symptoms arise whenever there is imbalance in the body. What we take in, our food and our drink, is arguably the most important set of habits we undertake to care for our bodies.
So let’s take a look at water.
One of the most common questions I ask during any patient intake is, “Are you thirsty?” This is because we have been told so often how important it is to drink water that many of us don’t even think about it anymore.
Believe it or not, asking someone whether they want a drink is a layered question that can help me glean a lot of information about their health. For example, if my patient’s answer is yes, I might ask, do you like cold or hot water? However, if their answer is no, then I might ask, do you feel thirsty but have no desire to drink water?
I can also observe how my patients drink water. Do they want to gulp down their water fast? Do they like to drink in little sips? All of these questions and observations provide valuable information as to the imbalance or balance in a patient's body. I think I could almost form my entire intake around the basic, basic topic of water.
So, start with this question when considering your water intake as well. Ask yourself, “Do I feel thirsty?” This is good information to have, because if you are not feeling thirsty, then rather than trying to drink water when it feels difficult or even impossible, you can start to think about the root cause. Commonly, those of us who are not very thirsty often have “pathological” (not needed/unhealthy/not serving a purpose/excess) water in the body. This often results from an imbalance known as Spleen Qi deficiency. (Read more about that in this blog post if you think you might have it!)
If you find yourself not thirsty throughout the day, or even repulsed by water, a good place to start is by adjusting some of your dietary habits. For instance, eat warmer foods, eat regularly, and sub out processed sugars with natural sugars found in root vegetables. These tiny tweaks will work wonders on your digestive system and fix the problem of not wanting to drink at its root so that when you reach for that glass of water, you actually want it.
All water is not created equal.
On a hot day, in the middle of the summer, what kind of water do you want to drink? Room temperature? Iced? Hot? The answer for many of us is ice water, and naturally, I can see why. It is hot and humid out, we are looking for anything that can help us cool down quickly.
While ice water may be extremely refreshing in the moment, it can actually cause a significant amount of damage to your digestion. If you imagine your digestive system as needing ‘fire’ to carry out its job, metabolize your food, and absorb the nutrients from the food you eat, introducing ice water extinguishes that fire immediately. Even though our bodies are brilliant organisms that are exceedingly adaptable, over time they can become weaker and weaker, so the change may not happen right away. Years of drinking ice water, ice coffee, smoothies, acai bowls (ugh, I know.. sad), and juices can gradually lead us to develop Spleen Qi deficiency in our own bodies (again, read more about that here).
When Spleen Qi deficiency happens, the following symptoms can arise. Everyone is different, so the symptoms that arise in one body may be completely varied in another; some may have more brain fog while others more digestive symptoms for instance.
Symptoms of Spleen Qi deficiency:
fatigue in the afternoon
heaviness and achey-ness in the limbs
foggy head (AKA brain fog)
no desire to drink water
cravings for sugar
weight gain (especially in the abdominal area)
Suggestions to keep in mind…
There is no question that drinking water is crucial. Even if you are displaying tendencies of not wanting to drink and maybe a few of the above symptoms have already begun to manifest in your body, this does not mean you should eliminate water. What we’ve been told is true. We are comprised mainly of water, we do need water to function, water is involved in the proper functioning of our organs, tissues, cells, etc. The goal is to get your body into a balanced state so that the water is absorbed and utilized appropriately.
My suggestions? I thought you’d never ask!
As much as possible try to eliminate icy drinks
Start each day with a glass of room temperature-warm lemon water
Carry a water bottle around of room temperature water throughout the day, so that when you can hydrate gradually before you feel thirsty.
Try adding real fruit to your water like berries, apples, watermelon, or oranges
Try adding herbs and cooling foods like mint and cucumbers so that your body cools down naturally without having to add ice.
Revert back to those simple tweaks to your diet to get the body functioning well at a deep level
One last thing to ponder...
Drinking coffee, tea, and juices are NOT equal to drinking pure water. Some of these things even dehydrate you, which actually means you would have to drink twice the amount of water to catch up, and if they are not dehydrating they are often loaded with sugar. The body is comprised of water, not juice, it needs pure water to carry out its functions.
Cheers to your health!