The topic of discussion in my wellness classes this month is hydration. Many, if not most, folks in the US are chronically dehydrated, and I’d hazard a guess that almost all folks who have chronic illnesses are either chronically dehydrated or have a level of toxicity in their bodies that would be greatly improved by drinking more water. I’m often surprised (not sure why, since I’ve heard it so often) when I hear how little water people drink.
Our bodies evolved drinking pure water. Our bodies are composed of 70% water. Water is necessary to every biochemical reaction that takes place in every cell in our bodies–low energy anyone? have some water! Especially relevant to preventing and healing from disease, water is necessary for processing metabolic waste and toxins out of our bodies, via urine, sweat, water vapor from the lungs, and in the stool. Water is the foundation of life, and we have innate mechanisms for driving us to drink water to feed all of these functions.
So how do we subvert these innate mechanisms and end up with drinking behaviors that are not only not supportive of hydration, but work directly against it? What causes us to drink coffee, tea, energy drinks, sports drinks, soda, diet soda, other sugary or artificially sweetened drinks, fruit juice, beer, wine, and cocktails? Well, there are obviously a lot of different drivers for drinking these things. Let’s just take caffeinated drinks as an example here and look at the drivers.
Caffeinated drinks enable us to push ourselves harder and get more done, which is one of the major compulsions of our culture, despite the fact that it diminishes our health. They also are dehydrating, because they have a diuretic action, causing us to pee more, and they suppress our thirst response, causing us to drink less than we need. They place a burden on our detoxification systems, specifically the liver and kidneys. They exacerbate anxiety and insomnia in many folks. They suppress appetite in the short-term, and later result in increased hunger (part of which is actually thirst), thus encouraging eating more. And caffeinated beverages are, nevertheless, a prominent feature of our culture (and many other cultures).
Here’s where the tide comes in. We place a premium on productivity in our culture. We tend strongly toward overwork, and then there’s only so much that the body/mind is capable of, unassisted by stimulants, so we assist it with caffeine. We also may be working in careers that are not feeding our spirit, and imbibing a stimulant every day can help to generate a sensation of motivation and even excitement, if you drink enough. So we have a strong dominant tide that encourages caffeine consumption.
There are other cultural influences as well. Consider the warm, fuzzy commercials for coffee and even for caffeinated soda, that create a relationship in the mind between caffeine and things that are important to us, like human connection and love. There’s the fact that there’s a coffee shop on every corner (I live in Seattle, so this is a literal phenomenon here), there are soda machines everywhere, billboards, magazine ads . . . . We’re saturated with the idea of caffeine, even if we don’t consciously process all that exposure.
The most fun thing for me to observe is the closer community influence. I have interaction with a few disparate communities in Seattle. In one of these communities, whenever I mention the idea that a person could be drinking too much coffee (or other caffeine), folks look at me like I’m a Martian, or like I’m spouting blasphemy. In another of these communities, if a person is seen with a Starbucks cup, folks will look down their nose at them, both because they are drinking “corporate coffee” and because they may be overtaxing their adrenal glands. Now, there could be people out there who are completely unaffected by what those around them think, but I haven’t achieved that completely yet. I sometimes do hop in to Starbucks to get some black tea. When I feel other people looking at my cup derisively, I feel defensive inside (see, like the way I just told you that I’m drinking tea and not coffee). Those societal “opinions” play a role in shaping our behaviors.
So we have all of these influences working against our natural instinct to drink pure water. We can try to swim against the dominant tide of our culture, which is exhausting. What happens when we step out of that dominant tide? When we cultivate a mindful awareness of the drivers and choose not to be influenced by them? When we choose to honor nature and our bodies by giving them what they want and need? I invite you to step into the new tide of drinking pure water. Connect with water in nature by sitting by a stream or hiking around a lake, listen to what your body is saying about water vs. other drinks, and see how it goes!