If you notice you're thirsty, chances are you've been dehydrated for quite some time already.

By Karla Walsh
April 28, 2021
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One popular candy bar slogan says, "Hungry? Why Wait?" The same holds true for thirst.

"If you're feeling thirsty, you are already behind on your hydration," explains Dr. Irvin Sulapas, M.D., a primary care sports medicine physician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

H2O is an oh-so important part of our overall well being, adds Mary Stewart, R.D., L.D., the founder of Cultivate Nutrition in Dallas. "Approximately 60 percent of your body weight is made of water, which is distributed throughout your body with two-thirds of the water within your cells and one-third circulating outside of your cells.

"Water is essential for every function in your body. When this fluid circulating throughout your cells, organs, tissues and blood is limited, it doesn't allow your body to function optimally," she says.

That's when you might start to experience some subtle yet important signals from your body that it's dehydrated.

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Symptoms of Dehydration You Should Know

"Dehydration can occur for many reasons. We lose water everyday through urine, bowel movement, breath, and perspiration. When we don't properly replenish our fluid loss, dehydration kicks in," Stewart says.

The signs and symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Low energy
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent hunger: "Your brain may be confusing thirst with hunger," says Laura Burak, R.D, owner of Laura Burak Nutrition in Roslyn, N.Y. and the author of Slim Down With Smoothies.
  • Dry skin
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Bloating: This is due to an imbalance of sodium and water in the body, Burak says. "Salt and water stick together so when you eat more salty foods, you retain more water, but when you hydrate with enough water, you help the extra salt leave your body when you go to the bathroom."
  • Digestive distress
  • Constipation: Because there's not enough water to usher out waste, especially fiber-rich foods.
  • Infrequent urination
  • Dark yellow urine: "Your body is trying to conserve the water that you have, so the urine becomes more concentrated," Sulapas explains.
Small boy drinking water
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What to Do if You Think You Might Be Dehydrated

It's ideal to treat dehydration ASAP, and we have good news for you on that front: Your prescription is free and already in your home.

"Water is definitely the gold standard for staying hydrated. According to the Institute of Medicine, the general recommendation for total water intake is 11 ½ cups per day for adult women and 15 ½ cups per day for adult men," Stewart says. "Individual needs will vary based on age, weight, environment, activity level, and overall health, though, and total water intake is defined as water that comes from food, water, and other beverages."

Stewart suggests drinking at least 64 ounces of plain water (eight 8-ounce glasses) per day, with the other liquids coming from tea, coffee (yep, it counts!), milk, and water-rich foods. For reference, each of these fruits and vegetables are more the 85 percent water:

  • broccoli
  • cantaloupe
  • carrots
  • celery
  • cucumbers
  • honeydew
  • kale
  • lettuce
  • peaches
  • spinach
  • strawberries
  • tomatoes
  • watermelon
  • zucchini

"I tell my clients to try to follow the 80/20 rule. Aim for 80 percent of your total water intake from water and 20 percent from other food and beverage sources. And, as always, pay attention to how you feel. If you start to experience symptoms of dehydration, that is a sign your water quota may need to be ramped up," Stewart says.

If there's one thing that every single person can start improving today, it's drinking more water, Burak adds. At first, you might forget to drink because you're busy or you typically wait until you're thirsty to drink.

"But just like any other habit, this is another one that can be adjusted with time and let me tell you, it's life-changing," Burak says.

Need a little nudge to drink more H2O? Try an inspiring bottle like this Elvira 32-Ounce Motivational Fitness Sports Water Bottle with Time Marker or keep a pitcher of filtered water front and center in your fridge.

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