I know it’s confusing — no one seems to know exactly how much water you should drink. But one thing I do know is that you need to drink plenty of water every day to keep your body healthy and beat bloat and fluid retention.

Sounds weird, right? How can adding more water help you get rid of water? A doctor explained to me once — when you body knows it’s got more water coming it’s comfortable getting rid of the excess water.

That’s probably a bit too simplistic — it probably has more to do with your balance of sodium and potassium, or what part of your menstrual cycle you’re in, but I think it’s a good explanation.

Why Do I Need Water Anyway?

Most of the tissues under your skin are moist or surrounded with some type of fluid. Your body needs water because it helps regulate body temperature, is necessary for waste removal and it protects your joints and organs. It helps transport nutrients, and oxygen to cells and tissues throughout your body.

Every time you sweat, urinate and even take a breath, you lose water, so you have to drink water to make sure your body has enough. If you don’t, you can become dehydrated.

Mild dehydration causes you to feel thirsty, can make your joints and muscles hurt and lead to headaches and constipation. Sound familiar? I think a lot of people aren’t drinking enough water.

You might also notice a strong odor to your urine, along with a yellow or amber color — when you start drinking enough water, you’ll urinate more frequently and the color will lighten up or become almost clear — that’s when you’ll know you’re drinking enough.

But How Many Ounces Should I Drink?

The Institute of Medicine sets the recommendation for nutrients and water intake, so they’re the experts. They say that women need about 91 ounces of water each day and men need around 125 ounces daily. The IOM adds that 20 percent of your water intake comes from the foods you eat, so on an average day, an average woman need to drink about 72 ounces of water (or other beverages).

The IOM says that thirst can be your guide, and you’ll automatically drink enough water when you’re thirsty. But some people confuse the feeling of thirst for hunger and don’t drink enough.

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Try this old rule  –it seems to hold true for most people. Take your weight and divide it in half – that’s the number of ounces of water you should drink every day. So, if you weigh 140 pounds, you should drink 70 ounces per day. If you weigh 150 pounds you should drink 75 ounces a day – pretty close to what the IOM recommends.

But, the amount of water you need to drink every day depends in part on how big you are, but your activity level, the environment and your physical condition are important too.

Wait, What? How Can My Need for Water Change?

You know how you sweat when you work out or work hard? It doesn’t seem like much, but you can lose a significant amount of fluid that way. You’ve got to replace those lost fluids to prevent painful muscle cramps (yes, this works for menstrual cramps too!).

Drink 15 to 20 ounces of water an or so before you begin your workout, then drink a full glass of water a few minutes beforehand. Then, you can drink another 4 to 8 ounces every 15 minutes or so.

Being outside in hot and humid weather also increases your need for water, even if you aren’t physically active, because it makes you sweat. Ironically, dry air can dehydrate you as well, so if you’re in a dessert, or in the house all day with the furnace running, you’re going to need an extra glass of water as well.

Finally, your physical condition makes a difference. If you’re not feeling well — like if you have a fever, vomiting or diarrhea — you lose body fluids. I know you may not feel like you can keep fluids down, so don’t gulp your water — take small sips or suck on an ice cube.

On a happier note, being pregnant increases your need for water — and so does breast-feeding. The IOM says that pregnant women need at least 77 ounces per day and breast-feeding moms need 105 ounces every day.

Banishing the Bloat and Watching Your Weight

Don’t you hate the way you feel when you get bloated? Your pants don’t fit, you put on a couple  of extra pounds and feel just yucky. Drinking more water will help your body flush out that extra fluid. And it works even better if you avoid salt and sodium and nibble on some potassium-rich fresh fruits and veggies.

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But what if that bloat is tummy fat?

Studies show that people who drink more water also tend to consume fewer calories, which makes it easier to lose weight. That doesn’t mean drinking water has a specific physiological effect that induces weight loss – although some experts believe it increases your metabolism —  it’s most water helps you lose weight because you’re getting rid of sugary beverages.

Then again, it’s possible that people who drink more water are just more health-conscious in general, so the water itself could have nothing to do with it.

Some experts believe that feeling hungry may be an indicator that you need more water. I’m not sure if that’s true, but drinking water instead of eating a snack will reduce the calories you consume. Drinking water before meals may help you watch your weight because it takes up space in your stomach.

This in turn may reduce the amount of food you consume during a meal — at least if you’re middle age or older; studies don’t indicate that young people who drink water before a meal tend to eat less.

The Right Way to Drink Water

Your body wasn’t designed to get all of the water you need for a whole day in just one sitting – so spread it out during the whole day. Drinking one or two gallons all at once can cause hyponatremia (or water intoxication) because it causes the sodium levels in your blood to go too low too quickly, and can be life-threatening.

As long as you spread your water intake out over the course of a whole day, hyponatrermia won’t happen.

The easiest way to do this is to make water easily accessible. Carry a BPA-free water bottle with you when you go to work or go work out. Keep a cup of water next to your bed at night in case you wake up thirsty.

Also, think about your source of water. While tap water is supposed to be safe to drink, it might have impurities you don’t want in your body, so choose filtered water. You can buy purified water (like reverse-osmosis), from water companies or at your grocery store.

Or, think about installing a filter on your water supply at home. That way, fresh and deliciously pure water is available all the time.

In case you’re wondering which is better, distilled or filtered, it probably doesn’t matter. Distilled water doesn’t have any minerals left after the purification process. It’s safe to drink, but some people think the tiny amount of minerals found in other types of purified water are beneficial – or at least improve the flavor.

But I Don’t Like the Taste of Water — Any Water!

Don’t feel bad if you don’t like the taste of water. You can easily dress up the flavor of plain water by adding lime or lemon slices, or almost any type of fresh, soft cut fruit, like oranges, melons or sliced grapes. Herbs and other seasonings are nice too, like mint leaves, sliced ginger or fresh rosemary.

Don’t be afraid to mix and match. Strawberry slices are delicious with fresh mint leaves and melon blends well with cucumber slices.

In love and health,
Kimberly

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New York Times Bestseller and Nutritionist