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A kidney doctor reveals the biggest mistake most dieters make. Fixing it is easy.

Business Insider logo Business Insider 2/28/2019 Hilary Brueck
a woman holding a wine glass © Ollyy / Shutterstock
  • Doctor Thomas Chi, a urologist at UCSF, says that many dieting patients focus so much on their new eating plans that they forget water is an important part of the equation.
  • Our brains are designed to tell us when we're thirsty, and our bodies are extremely good at regulating fluids.
  • This means you don't need to chug fancy sports drinks or make sure your pee is crystal-clear. Just sip water when you're thirsty.
  • Still, it can be easy to confuse a subtle thirst cue for hunger. If you're not sure whether you need to eat or drink, sip a bit and see if your tummy still rumbles.

Whether you're trying a keto plan, a new plant-based routine, intermittent fasting, or Whole30, experts agree: dieting is hard work.

Thomas Chi, a doctor at the University of California San Francisco urology department,says that proper hydration tends to be one of the toughest things for his dieting patients to remember when they start a new weight-loss plan.

"People who are on extreme diets, they tend to have higher levels of salt and less hydration," Chi said.

Fortunately, your body is here to help. All you have to do is take a little time to listen to the brain's subtle cues: if you're feeling thirsty, drink some water.

This is especially important if you're eating more meats and high-salt foods, Chi said, because a combination of "tons and tons of meat" and not enough water could lead to kidney stones, especially if you have a family history of the issue.

"I'm not seeing this enormous uptick of patients with kidney stones because they're all doing a keto diet now," he said. But he still thinks it's a good idea to pay attention to when your body's asking for water.

No matter if you're on an extreme diet or no diet at all, that's generally good advice.

"A lot of times, people just seem to be a little dehydrated," dietitian Jason Ewoldt from the Mayo Clinic previously told Business Insider.

But the popular notion that you must down eight full glasses of water a day is bogus. Nobody really needs any special sports drinks, even after a workout.

Your body knows exactly when you need more water

Just drink when you're thirsty, because the body is designed to know precisely when you need more water. 

There's actually a "thirst center" in the brain that helps regulate thirst, and it's impressively tuned. Even though it takes tens of minutes for the body to hydrate once cool water touches your lips, drinking quenches thirst within seconds.

The brain's thirst cues can be relatively mild, and easily mistaken for a hunger pang, or just ignored. Pretty soon, that can prompt dehydration and lead to overeating.

A 2016 study of more than 18,000 people in the US found that those who drank more water were consistently more satisfied and ate fewer calories on a daily basis. (Drinking with a meal both helps replenish saliva and aids digestion.) Steady drinkers also consumed lower amounts of sugar, fat, salt, and cholesterol than more dehydrated folks.

So if you're unsure if you're feeling peckish, try sipping on some water, waiting about 15 minutes, and checking if your stomach really is rumbling.

"If you were truly hungry, you might still feel a stomach pang, whereas if you were just thirsty, you'll feel satisfied," as the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation suggests.

If you're not a big fan of water, you can dress up your drink by adding lemon juice into your glass. That's a cheap, doctor-recommended hack to help prevent kidney stone formation.

No need to fuss too much over the color of your urine, either. As long as it's not a super-dark yellow or amber color, you're doing well.

a screenshot of a cell phone © Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Video: How Much Water Should I Be Drinking? (Rachael Ray Show)

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