By Lisa Browdy
It's only a few days into 2012, and already I've given up my attempt to go without sugar, dairy or wheat. You may have made a similar unattainable vow. So let's agree that drastic deprivation isn't going to work.
Let's try instead to add in more of what is good for us, and after finding that we look and feel better, we'll want to do more.
Gym memberships and organic eating can be pricy and time consuming, but I know a great way to be healthy that is both easy and free: It's water. Good old H2O keeps us healthy in many ways, and if we get the hang of it, it will crowd out our intake of sodas and other not-so-great stuff.
One of the first lessons we learned at the Institute For Integrative Nutrition was that we need to make sure we drink enough water before addressing the food we eat. We learned of an Iranian doctor named Fereydoon Batmanghelidj who was imprisoned in the Iranian revolution of 1979. "Dr. Batman," as some of his followers call him, was called upon to help fellow prisoners who complained of illness or pain, but without any of his medical supplies, all he could tell them to do was to drink several glasses of water. In a surprising number of cases, the "water cure" worked. After his release, he continued to study the effects of what he called "unintentional chronic dehydration" on the body, and wrote a well-known book called "Your Body's Many Cries for Water." He believes that when we take medication or supplements, it is the water that we swallow our pills with that actually helps us. "You're not sick, you're thirsty," says his book's subtitle. "Don't treat thirst with medication."
How much water should you drink? Dr. Batman says to divide your body weight in half and drink that many ounces. So if you weigh 160 lbs, you would need 80 ounces, or 10 eight-ounce glasses of water a day.
If that seems like a lot to you, build up to it gradually. Start with a glass of water in the morning, before you have any juice or coffee. Have one before each meal, to help with digestion, and one after (as well as what you drink with your meal).
Dr. Batman has nothing against coffee, tea or caffeinated soda, but since caffeine dehydrates our cells, we should drink extra water to make up for it. He says our best choice is "pure, natural water" and leaves it to each person's discretion whether the water is bottled, filtered or straight from the tap.
If you're properly hydrated, you will increase your output of urine and the color will be almost clear.
I find it a little tricky to drink lots of water in the cold months, since I just don't feel as thirsty. But with the lack of moisture in the air, it is just as easy to dehydrate.
Ayurvedic health practitioners recommend that we drink hot water, which helps our lymphatic system drain properly. I find this practice very comforting in cold weather. I fill a mug with water and microwave it until it is just the temperature I like. It warms my cold hands while I wait for the first heat to dissipate a bit, and drinking plain hot water (no lemon or any other adornments if you want the full Ayurvedic benefits) is not unpleasant at all.
If you are a soda drinker, I won't tell you to stop it (because feeling deprived never leads to positive changes), but I will suggest that you substitute a glass of water for one or more of your daily carbonated beverages. The high sugar content of regular soda drains us of nutrients and stresses our bodies. If you are a diet soda drinker, the artificial sweeteners actually make our brains crave sugar. Like any "junk" food, it is fine for an occasional treat, but as a whole Americans would do well to dial down the soda and amp up the water.
Of course, it is also important to get a good night's sleep, so steer most of your water drinking away from the evening hours, so you aren't making too many nocturnal trips to the bathroom!