How much water do you drink?
If you don't drink enough water - or you get through each day fuelled by dehydrating drinks such as Coke or coffee - you could retain fluid around your belly and get more and more bloated as the day goes on.
Fluid retention can be the result of a reaction to something (my belly swells up when I eat wheat) - but it’s also likely to be due to the fact that you're under-hydrated.
Why does dehydration cause bloating?
Well it’s simple really.
Your body needs water for every function - especially digestion. So if your body doesn’t have enough water it’ll hold on to what it can get. As you go through the day the tissues become gradually water-logged. As the fluid builds up your belly increases in size until you feel bloated and uncomfortable, usually by late afternoon.
Bloating from fluid-retention tends to extend across the front of the belly and around the sides too. It's true that when gas forms inside the gut it can push your belly out. But it's water retention that causes the tissues to swell and gives you more flesh at the sides of your waistline.
If you want to know if you're suffering from fluid retention run your hands down the sides of your body from your ribcage to your hips. If you can grab more flesh in the evening than you could when you got up that morning - that's water retention.
You may think that you drink plenty of water … most people do.
But you might not realise that there’s more to hydration than just water intake.
You also have to take into account the many things that can bring your hydration down.
Do you drink tea, coffee, fizzy drinks/soda, energy drinks or alcohol?
They are diuretics which means that they cause your body to lose fluid. They don't contribute to your hydration - in fact - they actually act against it. Even some herbal teas have a diuretic effect.
So, even if you drink a good couple of litres of water a day, if you also knock back caffeinated drinks such as Coke and Americanos - or even Green Tea - you won’t be nearly as hydrated as you think.
Air-con draws a lot of moisture out of us too. And if you breathe through your mouth or talk a lot you'll lose water on your breath. So someone who works in an air-conditioned call-centre, talking all day on the phone, will need more water than someone who’s relaxed at home.
Then there's climate. Particularly hot, dry and windy weather can certainly dehydrate you.
Or do you wear heavy boots when shoes would do?
If you're feet are over-dressed you could become under-hydrated. You'd be amazed how much water can be wicked-out through your feet - although your boots are designed to let your feet breathe so you won't be aware of it.
Are you doing anything else that makes you sweat?
If so you'll need to replace the fluid lost through your skin.
Your bowel and bladder need plenty of water to eliminate toxins. If you're under-hydrated your skin - also an organ of elimination - could be used as 'back-up'. So ironically - if you sweat more than normal it could be a sign that you're under-hydrated.
What else affects hydration?
When it comes to hydration there are other things to take into account.
What kind of fibre do you eat?
Bread, cereals, seeds and nuts contain a lot of dry fibre that needs water to be digested - whereas the water-holding fibre in fruits and vegetables carries water in to your bowel which adds to your hydration.
Diarrhoea can dramatically affect hydration as anyone who's ever had to take rehydration salts after a bout of food poisoning will know.
Your body absorbs water through the wall of the bowel. During an episode of diarrhoea nothing hangs around in the bowel long enough for your body to absorb water from it. Hence the dehydration.
It's not just extreme cases of diarrhoea that can cause problems with hydration. Even if you drink plenty of water - if you regularly have loose stools you may be under-hydrated.
Excessive amounts of salt can lead to fluid retention. Your body holds onto fluid in cells and tissues to dilute excess sodium that it's unable to flush out.
Then there’s air travel - about as dehydrating an environment as you can get.
And finally - STRESS.
How much stress are you under?
Because stress, in any form, is very drying for your body.
So you need to drink water. Plain water. Lots of it. But not too much. (More about that later)
And when I say water I do mean plain water. Not water with squash or diluting juice in it. Or water in tea or coffee. As I said earlier - that doesn’t count. Nor do fizzy drinks - the work of the devil. But that’s another story!
How much water do you need?
It is said that someone who weighs 9 stone or 57 kilograms is said to need about 2 litres of water a day.
So you can scale it up or down from that according to your size. And then add extra if your lifestyle or environment are particularly drying.
Is it possible to drink too much water?
The body always tries to keep things in balance. That includes your level of hydration. Have too little water and you’ll suffer. Have too much and you’ll suffer too. There has to be a happy medium.
If you over-drink water you could crave it - and find it hard to stop. So if you get more thirsty the more water you drink - reduce your intake until you find the balance that's right for you.
Remember your intake might vary from day to day depending on where you are and what you are doing.
When I am working I have to talk for hours at a time so I need to drink a lot of water to compensate. If I don't drink enough I get bloated as the day goes on and feel uncomfortable by late afternoon. On days off - I drink less and feel fine.
Strangely, some of the signs of being over-hydrated are same as the signs of being under-hydrated. If you drink too much water you could get frontal headaches and find it difficult to lose weight. The same could happen if you don't drink enough. Also, if you over-drink water you stress the kidneys and cause valuable minerals to be flushed out.
Moderation is the key.
What type of water is best to drink?
The answer is - I don’t know.
Unfortunately, I don't think there's an ideal. For one thing - it depends on where you live. If your tap water is chlorinated or fluoridated you may not want to drink it.
Where I live, the water comes straight from Loch Katrine in the beautiful Trossachs National Park. But if you live in London your water will have been recycled so it’s been through a number of other people before it gets to you. Quite a thought!
Water that’s been sitting in plastic bottles can be contaminated by the hormones and other chemicals in the plastic. And of course if you drink a lot of water from plastic bottles you’ll be responsible for your own small non-biodegradable plastic mountain.
Some people filter tap water. It’s definitely the cheapest option. Or if cost is not an issue you might choose spring water in a glass bottle. That'll be less likely to be contaminated and at least the glass can be recycled.
I’ve heard people say they wouldn’t want to drink tap water forgetting that their cups of tea, coffee and glasses of diluting juice are all made with tap water anyway.
So I can’t tell you what type of water you should drink. But once you’ve decided - I can recommend that you drink plenty of it.
How can you tell if you're afternoon bloating is caused by not drinking enough water?
Well, firstly, if you can grab more flesh at the sides of your waistline as the day goes on - that’s a sign of fluid retention which could be caused by under-hydration.
But if you’re under-hydrated your body will let you know in other ways too.
There are lots of signs to look out for. You won’t have all of them. And there can be other reasons for each of them. But if you experience enough of these issues it’s a good indicator that you’re under-hydrated.
So your lack of hydration is likely to be either the reason that you get bloated as the day goes on - or at least a contributing factor.
It’s quite a list so here goes.
This last one might not make sense but for some people the less hydrated they are - the less they want to drink water. That was certainly true for me. I used to live on coffee. When I decided to cut out the coffee and drink water instead I found it SO hard to do.
I felt as if I would drown! But with a bit of conscious effort I soon got the hang of it. When I began to feel better and stopped bloating as the day went on I knew it was worth it.
How do you increase your water intake?
The secret is to start as soon as you get out of bed.
If you don’t - you might find that when you think about having a glass of water later you don’t feel like it.
Then make a commitment to yourself to have a glass of water regularly throughout the day.
One of my clients sets a timer on her phone to go off hourly. Others use a marked bottle to show how much water they should have drunk by a certain time of day.
Find what works for you.
And just keep doing it.
I meet a lot of people who openly admit that they don't drink enough water. They know that they should - they just don't fully understand what happens if they don't.
They usually feel tired, constipated and bloated when they first come to see me.
Once they realise that the simple act of drinking a regular amount of water could make a huge difference to how they feel - they know that they would be crazy not to do it.
Of course, you may be one of the many people who happily drink a regular amount of water. But it's possible your intake is still too low.
So if you feel bloated as the day goes on and the swelling is not just at the front but extends around to the sides of your waistline - make a conscious effort to drink more water and see what happens.
You might be pleasantly surprised at the difference it makes!