We’ve all heard that eight glasses of water per day is ideal for a bunch of different health benefits. It’s vital to human survival and over half our body is composed of water. It’s been studied and refuted and new claims about the benefits of water are made almost weekly. I’ve been told to drink more water for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I have never liked water. While that is probably the most classist, privileged thing I’ve ever written, it’s true. As a kid, when I would tell my mother that I was thirsty, she’d say, “Drink some water,” and I would get upset. I saw it as a punishment. Why would I want to drink water when there is so much liquid deliciousness out there? I wanted my water to share space with food coloring, lots of sugar and some bubbles.
As a fat kid, my mom worried about my health and would try to come up with creative ways to get me to drink water, or she’d refrain from buying the soda and juice I loved. Most times, all I had to choose from was milk or water. I always chose milk. Even when I was a sweaty mess from playing outside all day, water was not appealing. The only time I remember being excited to drink water and doing so voluntarily was when I’d drink it straight from a garden hose in the yard. Yes, it was gross but at the time, especially when I was one of half a dozen kids drinking from that same hose, it was somehow sweet and satisfying.
As I became a more health conscious adult, I bought fancy water bottles with cute sayings and carried them around in hopes of consuming more water. Most of those water bottles ended up lost and I am pretty sure they were still full of water when found by their new owners. I tried infusing my water with limes and blueberries and other fruit that would make it more appealing. Aside from the citrus, I thought the water tasted like grass (yes, I have eaten grass - I’m an adventurous eater) and it didn’t increase my desire to hydrate.
I gave up trying to meet any water consumption quotas long ago. I’d drink whenever I remembered, which was usually during or after a workout and that was about it. I preferred anything but water with my meals, usually opting for agua fresca (AKA fresh fruit juice with plenty of cane sugar) or iced tea. I didn’t notice any health effects and didn’t give it much thought. Afterall, I was young and healthy and all the talk about water was boring and seemed like something for older people to worry about.
Fast forward a few decades, and I became one of those older people and the thought of water wasn’t as repugnant. With age came some changes to my body that made me think differently. The tipping point, when it came to water, was my skin. I began having breakouts in response to stress. I tried various ointments, washes and dermatologists but nothing cured it and it seemed to get more annoying and noticeable over time. It was like I was growing additional siblings via my skin and it bothered me. I got online and read about adult acne and various treatments. I bought face masks and scrubs and spent an embarrassing amount of money on vitamins, serums and supplements. Nothing cleared up my skin for more than a few weeks at a time.
While visiting a friend in Ohio, I saw a news segment that featured an esthetician who specialized in adult acne. She talked about the factors that contribute to it and the treatments and plans she had developed to combat it. I made an appointment. Before seeing her she emailed me a questionnaire about my lifestyle, which included a super-long portion about my eating and drinking habits. Long story short, she preached the benefits of water. She recommended drinking half my weight in ounces of water per day. Record scratch- half my bodyweight in water per day?!?!? I barely drank a cup a day, but half my weight would be A LOT more than that! But, I was so fed up with my acne that I was ready and willing to try anything.
Per her recommendation, I kicked dairy and soy out of my life, too and committed to drinking water every minute of the day (at least that’s how it felt the first few days). I carried my water bottle everywhere and made the most concerted effort of my life to keep it with me and filled with cold water. I recorded how many days I met my goal. After meeting it once or twice, my competitive nature kicked in and I was a water-chugging machine. As the weeks passed, I noticed several changes.
I had always joked that I bladder the size of a pea. Drinking water all day long confirmed this. Not only did I urinate more often, but it wasn’t a tickle that I could ignore. From one second to the next I would go from being fine to my bladder on the verge of exploding. I couldn’t be too far from a bathroom at any given time or I risked an accident. If I was driving, I often stopped at gas stations to pee, even when traveling short distances. I began to structure my life around my bladder. For example, I began assigning a lot more in-class group work in my classes so I could run to the bathroom while students worked. I really had to think about what activities and places I was going to and whether or not it would allow me easy access to a bathroom. It changed my perspective on a lot of activities and made me think a lot more about accommodations and people who have special needs.
This was a pleasant surprise. I have ringlet curls that I have to moisturize weekly and when I don’t it gets unruly and breaks. Not only was I able to go longer between deep conditioning treatments, I was able to use dry shampoo for the first time! All the dry shampoos I had ever tried had dried my hair and I always regretted trying to take that shortcut. However, my curls had more bounce so I gave it another shot. I was pleasantly surprised. I finally got to shake my head and catch a whiff of the shampoo’s fragrance like the women in shampoo commercials! The increased moisture allowed me to try new styles and go an extra day or two between washes, which for those of you with curly hair, you know that the longer you go without washing, the better your curls look!
My Sweet Tooth
I am a cookie girl. I like almost all kinds of cookies and can’t pass up brownies and other pastries. When it comes to cake and pie, I am friends with most of those as well. But, knowing I would not be able to enjoy these with a tall glass of cold milk took away their appeal. I tried getting it back with substitutes like coconut, oat, almond, and cashew milk but none of them had the flavor or consistency of cow’s milk and after spending a small fortune on the various forms of alternative milks, I decided to count the loss as a win. I didn’t need the sugar, anyway.
I no longer needed to set an alarm clock (see My Bladder). I am a light sleeper and do not sleep much more than five to six hours in a row and stayed within that range, although I slept closer to four or five hours most nights before having to hit the bathroom.
A Totally Unexpected Outcome
My favorite part of the day had always been the moment I whipped off my bra when I got home. After my bladder went from slow warnings to urgent streams that burst forth with a vengeance, the relief I felt when I peed rivaled the relief of releasing the girls after a long day trapped in a bra.
After the Month
Unfortunately, after a month of this experiment, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. It changed my entire routine, which included my drinking habits. I went back to carrying around a water bottle but not drinking much of it. As the weeks of quarantine dragged on, I challenged myself to drink more water but given the toilet paper shortage, I didn’t want to pee so often so I decided to give myself a smaller goal. I have stuck to drinking one-third of my body weight in ounces of water. After three weeks of this reduced water in-take I didn’t see many changes to how my body responded, with the exception of a calmer bladder. My curls are still hydrated, my battle with acne still rages on, I sleep about the same but not because I have to go to the bathroom.
The biggest change I noticed is that my sweat smells stronger. When I was drinking 70+ ounces of water per day I didn’t smell my sweat at all after a good cardio session. After I cut out some ounces of water, I noticed a more noticeable, pungent smell creeping from my hair when I work out. Thankfully, it isn’t overpowering or overtly noticeable but since it did not exist before, I definitely noticed it.
I started this water thing for my skin, so how did my skin react?
This is where my expectation was different than expected. I started this experiment to clear my skin. However, my breakouts were unfazed. But, overall, my skin had a different flush. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it glowed, but it was smoother and someone commented on how good my foundation looked on a day I wasn’t wearing any. That felt nice, but overall I was disappointed that I was still battling the same acne.
The Final Outcome
I started on my water drinking binge for one purpose: to clear up my acne. Water in-take had zero impact on that. Were the other changes enough to keep stretching my bladder to its capacity several times a day? Nope. While I liked how my hair reacted, I get similar results from weekly deep conditioning treatments, which I don’t mind doing. I still do not prefer water over other beverages but will commit to drinking at least 1 water bottle per day and choosing water over other drinks during meals because I still believe that it’s better than sugar alternatives. I will also continue to choose non-dairy alternatives because it helped curb my sweet tooth and that is a welcome surprise.