Am I Actually Thirsty Not Hungry? Keep Binge Eating at Bay by Staying Properly Hydrated

Have you ever eaten a meal and shortly after felt hungry again? Have you ever awoken in the night and felt hungry? Have you ever found yourself eating and eating and your sensation of hunger not subsiding? The problem is that thirst is often masked as hunger in our bodies.  You may find yourself eating more and more food, when what you actually need is liquid.

The problem is the sensation of thirst is usually not triggered until the body is already dehydrated. The body does not have an efficient reminder to get you to drink regularly so you don’t get dehydrated. In fact, by the time your body feels thirsty, you are probably behind on your water consumption already. Symptoms of dehydration may include dry skin, constipation, dry eyes, decreased urine output, dark yellow urine, dizziness, and thirst.

The best vehicle for hydration is to simply drink water. Water’s role in the body is to help flush toxins from your system. It is important that hydration should come primarily from water and not in the form of fruit juices, sodas, black teas, coffee, or other caffeinated or sweetened beverages. Caffeine acts as a diuretic, meaning it actually dehydrates your body further.  Therefore, that grande mocha latte does not count as a big serving of water.

Every day your body loses water through evaporation from your skin, speaking, sneezing, urination, tears, and defecating. These losses need to be replaced in order to maintain the equilibrium within our bodies. If your fluid output exceeds your fluid intake, then dehydration can occur.  This is especially prevalent in hot climates where people sweat a lot due to environmental temperature. Also, people who perspire from physical activity due to exercise or their jobs are at greater risk of dehydration.  Sometimes, whether consciously or unconsciously, people choose to not drink much to control restroom habits. This is especially true in young children and older adults, for whom hustling to the restroom frequently can be difficult and bothersome.

There has been disagreement in the scientific literature on exactly how much water each person needs to drink. However, a general guideline to ensure you get enough water is to start your day with a glass of water, have a glass of water with each of your meals, and to drink at least one glass of water each afternoon when you start to get either tired and/or hungry.  Finally, in the evening when you start to feel the munchies hit, try drinking a glass of water and then waiting 15 minutes before you eat to see if the feeling subsides, as it may be a sign of dehydration instead of hunger. If you follow these guidelines, you will likely get enough water if you are not sweating a lot due to climate or physical activity. If you live in a hot area or are especially active, you may still need additional water each day.

Please note that all the water you consume does not have to be plain water. It is often easier to drink water if it has a little flavor.  Fancy restaurants often serve water with a slice of lemon or cucumber in the glass.  They do this because it tastes good and looks nice, but also because you are more likely to drink more water if it is lightly flavored.  When you drink more water your belly becomes full and you aren’t as likely to need as large of a serving of food.  Fine dining establishments provide you with flavor enhanced water and are then able to serve fine food in smaller quantities without objection.  Fast food restaurants serve high salt and high fat food paired with large quantities of sugary beverages to try and satisfy your cravings with fat, salt and sugar, not quality and nutrients.

Citrus, including a slice of lemon, lime or orange, are great flavor enhancements for your water. Also, raspberries, watermelon, and strawberries can lend a sweet hint to water. Adding a slice of cucumber or a mint leaf can provide a refreshing flavor.  If you don’t like adding these things directly into your water, you can get infusion pitchers or water bottles that allow the added food item to mingle with the water, but yet it keeps it separate when you go to drink the water. You may even enjoy freezing these items into ice cubes to give water a pretty look and enhanced flavor as the ice melts.

Some people do not enjoy still water, but like water with bubbles. Selecting a non-sugared mineral water or carbonated water is another option for adding some variety to your water. Just be sure you are choosing one that does not contain artificial flavors and sweeteners.

Another option for variety is to drink caffeine–free teas. There are some excellent green and herbal teas that are free of caffeine and added sugars that can count for your water consumption. Also, having the bonus of a flavor, such as apple cinnamon, mint, or orange spice may satisfy your desire for food with liquid more easily than a glass of plain water without flavor.

Whether you drink plain water, water with bubbles, hot green tea, or water infused with fresh fruit is not the important issue. It is most important you find a preparation that you enjoy so you are more likely to drink water. Remember to drink when you wake up, with meals, in the afternoon, and again before bed. Finally, if all else fails your urinary output shows what is going on inside your body. A hydrated person has pale yellow urine with no strong odor.  If your output is dark yellow it is time for a glass of, you guessed it, water!

Written by Marci L. Hardy, PhD



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