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The Role of Water When Quitting Smoking

In the Tackling Tobacco chats and message boards, I often recommend drinking lots of water. As with breathing, water is one of those obvious health enhancers that many people, including health professionals, overlook.

While researching material for this article, I was very surprised to find that only one out of every four health books mentioned water. Water is vital to life, and it is cooling, soothing, refreshing, healing, detoxifying and tasty as well!

There are many good reasons to drink water, and many different ways to use water for self-help. Water is a miraculous compound of hydrogen and oxygen molecules that helps to make life possible on this planet. All living things rely on it.

Our bodies are composed of 65 percent to 70 percent water, with women having less water and more fat in their bodies. Every cell and every system in the body is dependent on water for healthy functioning. Without water, we will quickly become dehydrated and die, usually within seven days.

Every day, we can lose four or more pints of water through our breath, saliva, tears, urine, stools and sweat. The fluid that is lost must be replaced. If you exercise, especially if you exercise vigorously, you will need to increase your water intake by up to 50 percent. On average, you should drink at least six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. But if you have exercised, cried, sweated or urinated more than usual, you may need to drink more, even up to 16 glasses per day.

Some of the water that we require comes from food. Just as our own cells contain water, so do the cells of the food we eat. Generally any water-based fluid will help to satisfy our water needs, except those beverages that contain caffeine, salt, carbohydrates or sugar. Drinks containing these ingredients may cause you to dehydrate or retain water. Beneficial beverages include water, mineral water, herbal teas, fruit juices or vegetable juices. Try to moderate or avoid soft drinks, coffee, processed fruit or vegetable juices, and alcohol.

Many health educators recommend getting your daily fluid intake between and before meals, and to minimize or avoid beverages during a meal. Often, if you drink beverages during a meal, they allow you to swallow food in larger pieces without thoroughly chewing it. Without drinking a beverage, you will chew your food better, enjoy your meal more, eat more slowly, and even eat less.

Instead, precede your meals -- even breakfast -- with a glass of water. This strategy often will help to reduce hunger and you will eat less. If you must have a beverage during your meal, try to limit it to one-half cup to one cup, and drink in sips and not in gulps!

Think in terms of "preventing thirst," rather than drinking water "in response to thirst." Thirst can be an unreliable signal in the early stages of dehydration. If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Common signs of dehydration are fatigue, headaches, dryness of the eyes or nasal passages, inability to concentrate, dryness of the mouth, and dizziness. These symptoms, which many people experience daily and may believe are from other causes, may really be the result of lack of water.

When you do not drink enough water, your body tends to hold on to the water that it does have, thus reducing kidney function and the elimination of waste products. When this happens, your liver must flush out the impurities in your body, which hampers its ability to perform one of its main functions -- metabolizing stored fat into usable energy.

Thus, aside from its life-giving properties, water also helps with weight management. When your body burns fat for fuel, some of the fat may be burned incompletely. These partially burned fat by-products are called "ketones." Your body can use these for fuel, but if there are too many to use, it will dispose of them in your breath or by passing them out in the stool or urine.

The more water you drink, the more urine you make, the more ketones pass out of the urine, and the more weight you can lose. You can maximize your calorie burn by drinking ice water because your body requires more energy (about 200 calories for every gallon of ice water) to warm it to your core body temperature.

Water not only cleanses inside the body, it cleanses the outside of the body and it can be a soothing therapy for the cravings and irritability that often accompany changes in your tobacco habit. Soaking in warm or hot showers and baths, swimming in cool natural springs or hot spas, splashing your face with cool water, and soaking your feet in warm water are all recognized as effective tools for reducing stress and cravings. Water simply has the magical ability to make us feel better, inside and out.

If you are planning to reduce or quit your tobacco use, be sure to include a variety of water strategies in your plans!


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Updated March 2019