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I'm starving!...or am I just thirsty?

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

It’s really easy to confuse thirst for hunger, and if you’re moving into a more healthy mindset, it’s important to know the difference. Think about it for a moment, if you confuse the two, you could end up eating way more food than your body really needs.

One of the main reasons we get so muddled up is because the same part of your brain is responsible for reading both your hunger and thirst signals. No wonder we get mixed up!


I’ve found that a high percentage of my clients are not in tune with their hunger and fullness signals, let alone their body’s need to hydrate. Often the reason for this is because they’ve spent so long ignoring their hunger pangs they’ve lost the ability to understand their body’s cues.


If you feel that you are out of tune with your body’s signals, the best starting point is to pay attention to how hunger feels for you. Physical (as opposed to emotional) hunger grows gradually and generally you’ll start to feel it in your tummy, until it starts to rumble! If you’re not really sure, it helps to take into account how long ago you last ate, what you ate and how much you ate! Note that a proper meal that includes fibre, protein and good fats will keep you feeling fuller for longer than something less substantial. Refined carbohydrates, particularly biscuits, cakes, chocolate etc notoriously spike your blood sugar, and leave you feeling hungry sooner. And if you think you’re hungry an hour after you’ve eaten a satisfying meal, then tune into that – is it physical hunger? Is it emotional hunger? Or are you really thirsty?


So how much water do we really need to stay hydrated? Well, of course we’ve all heard that we should be drinking 8 glasses a day. I’ve also found a few sources who say that the best way to calculate this is to take your body weight in pounds and drink half of that number in ounces of water a day. Conversely, the respected professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, Tim Spector, has a different view. In his book The Diet Myth, Tim states that we all vary greatly in how much water we need. In fact, our bodies are perfectly adapted to tell us when we’re thirsty – as he points out ‘our hunting ancestors didn’t have to swig from bottles every five minutes to survive!’


One easy way to know if you’re dehydrated or not is the colour of your urine. It should be a pale straw colour throughout the day. Other symptoms include headaches, dry eyes/lips and mouth, feeling dizzy and feeling tired. These are the barometers that I find myself naturally using. If I feel a bit ‘out of sorts’, the first thing I do is grab a drink of water.


If you think that drinking a bit more fluid would be beneficial to your health, I’ve outlined some tried and tested tips, used by my lovely clients, to help you increase your daily fluid intake:


  • Before that first cup of coffee every morning, start the day with a big glass of water to help rehydrate from the night's sleep.

  • Set regular reminders to remind yourself that it’s time to drink a glass of water. There are even apps you can use to track and manage your daily fluid intake.

  • Keep a reusable water bottle with you. Not only are you able to hydrate on the run, but it also acts as a visual reminder to drink more water (and it’s better for the environment than using single use plastic bottles).

  • Drink a glass of water before each meal. This habit will also help you if you’re mistaking feelings of thirst for hunger.


If you find plain water boring, then add some flavour using fruit and herbs – cucumber and lemon is incredibly refreshing. ‍Simply chop up the lemon and cucumber, put it in a large jug of water and put it in the fridge to chill. As you drink it, add more so you have flavoured water for several days. Be mindful buying ‘flavoured’ water … it’s marketed as healthy but is generally full of artificial fruit flavourings and sweeteners.


  • Instead of adding ice cubes to your water, try freezing lemon or lime slices for extra flavour too.


  • It’s not all about what you drink, some foods have a really high in water content too - things like cucumber, lettuce, celery, tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, spinach, berries, broccoli, grapefruit, grapes, and courgettes. Plus they have the added bonus of all the nutrients they supply too!


  • Just about to work out? Make sure you drink water before exercise to ensure your body is hydrated for top performance. And as soon as that exercise is over don’t forget to replace the fluid you’ve lost in sweat.

And of course, it’s not just water.

Your daily tea and coffee still count as your daily fluid intake, but just make sure it’s not the only fluid you get. There are some fabulous herbal teas out there now – I particularly love Teapig’s peppermint tea, Pukka’s vanilla chai or their ‘nighttime’ blend and Yogi Tea’s turmeric chai.





 

I'd love to hear your views, email me at hello@sarahwilliams.com or comment below


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