Good nutrition starts with good hydration. The human body is more water than anything else, so it behooves us to stay adequately hydrated with clean, fresh water. In most environments, that’s easier said than done. Either clean, fresh water is not available or it is eclipsed by other liquids. For anyone who wants to reach and maintain both optimal weight and wellness, other liquids are best kept to a minimum. Surround yourself with dependable sources of clean, fresh water and drink at least two quarts (1.9 liters) per day • that’s a primary input for health.
We’re ready to turn our attention to the specifics of the Optimal Wellness Prototype, which includes seven inputs, seven outputs, and benevolence as the throughput of them all. I want to thank my colleagues, friends, and readers of LifeTrek Provisions for your continued comments and suggestions as to both the value and the expression of the prototype. It is a work in progress, and I expect it will continue to evolve as we work on it together in the weeks and months to come.
The inputs begin with the source of life itself: water. If planet earth was any closer or further away from the sun, life would not exist because water would not exist simultaneously in all three forms: gas, liquid, and solid. It is the abundant mix of water vapor, liquid water, and ice on planet earth that gave rise to life and continues to support life in all its manifold forms. The ancient writings do well to portray this dynamic in their creation accounts. Before the earth had form and fullness, it had deep water. That’s where it all began.
Many people are surprised to learn that human beings are more water than anything else. We are called to life in the waters of the womb, and at birth our bodies are almost 80% water. As we age, we dehydrate (that’s part of the reason we shrink in height over time). By middle age, we are about 60% water. By old age, we are closer to 50% water. When we dry out completely, we return like dust to the earth.
From this vantage point, human beings can be viewed as ambulatory and sentient sacks of water. It’s no wonder, then, that optimal wellness depends upon our staying adequately hydrated with clean, fresh water. With water, we can live for weeks without food. Without water, we can live for only a matter of days. That’s because water is the medium for all metabolic activity. It is also a lubricant for muscles and joints and a coolant for our bodies. It is truly the source and sustenance of life itself.
How much water we need is a matter of intense debate. Many have adopted the mantra of following your thirst: when you are thirsty, drink water. Others have recommended a minimum volume of water per day, such as 2 quarts or 1.9 liters. I tend to follow the latter course, since I find that drinking water routinely throughout the day assists me to not over eat. If I wait until I am thirsty, I find it is often too late to have that effect.
The key is to drink water rather than other beverages with calories. It is well documented that liquid calories do not register with the body. Researchers have demonstrated that when people eat calories before a meal, they decrease how much they eat at the meal. When people drink calories before a meal, they eat as much as ever. Liquid calories are off the radar screen because they do not create a sense of stomach fullness. They pass on through and fail to satisfy, even though the body absorbs the calories and converts them to fat when drunk to excess.
That’s why I try to drink no calories on a day to day basis. They make it harder, rather than easier, to maintain my optimal body weight. This includes all forms of liquid calories: soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices and drinks, milk, milk substitutes, creamers, and alcohol to name only the most common. They may taste good, but they are not good to taste. It is best to eliminate, or at least to minimize, them all.
Drinking clean, fresh water is ideal for optimal wellness but it is easier said than done. Early explorers of North America marveled over the abundance of flowing, potable water in comparison to the often limited and polluted water supplies of the Old World, from whence they came, but the growth of population and industry quickly changed all that. The once clean waters of North America came to harbor contaminants and diseases, along with virtually everywhere else in the world. Drinking untested or untreated water is just not smart.
The development of effective water treatment and sanitation may well have done more to improve public health and wellness than any other single factor. 6,000 years ago civilizations were already working to improve the taste, clarity, and odor of drinking water. It wasn’t until relatively recent times, however, that people gained an understanding as to the sources and effects of drinking water contaminants, especially those that were not visible to the naked eye. With the development of microbial germ theory, in the 19th century, new standards and purification methods were established for improving water quality.
In the 20th century, these standards became even higher forcing the methods to become even more sophisticated. People started adding chlorine and ozone to water, for example, in order to kill bacteria. They also started filtering for new chemical contaminants being generated, discharged, and leaked into the environment by modern industry and agriculture. Many communities also started to add fluoride in order to prevent tooth decay.
These efforts notwithstanding, multiple studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s revealed widespread water-quality problems. In the USA, that led to the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, with significant amendments in 1986 and 1996, administered by the Environmental protection Agency (EPA). These Acts have improved things, but not enough for optimal wellness.
That’s why bottled water and home water filtration systems have become booming businesses. Unfortunately, bottled water • a $10 billion business in the USA alone • is not necessarily any better and may be worse than tap water. It is certainly less well regulated than the public water supply and it comes with a heavy environmental load both in the manufacturing and disposal of all that plastic. Think 1-2 million tons per year. If you want the whole story in about eight minutes, check out this YouTube video from InsideTheBottle.org.
Research by the Natural Resources Defense Council and others has documented the water-quality problems of bottled water. In 1999 they documented that one brand of “spring water,” for example, “whose label pictured a lake and mountains, actually came from a well in an industrial facility’s parking lot, near a hazardous waste dump, and periodically was contaminated with industrial chemical as levels above FDA standards.” There’s nothing illegal about that. Until we have a “certified safe” standard for bottled water, comparable to the “organic” standard for food, it really is a matter of buyer beware.
That’s why I prefer to drink tap water that has been additionally filtered or distilled. Additional filtering or distilling raises the bar as to water quality beyond what public water supplies are able to maintain. There are many different home systems and they each have their pros and cons.
Distilling represents the absolute standard of purity. The boiling and condensing of water removes virtually all bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, and other organic and inorganic contaminants generating a pH-neutral beverage that has no effect on the body’s acid/base balance. The process uses a significant amount of electricity and takes time to distill, so most home systems come with reservoirs of 1-5 gallons.
These limitations make filtering a more practical and attractive option for most people. The simplest systems are the ones that attach to existing faucets, with valves that allow easy switching from filtered water for drinking and cooking to unfiltered water for cleaning. The best filters of this sort remove not only off-tastes, odors, lead, chlorine, copper, mercury, and other metals, but also pesticides, herbicides, industrial pollutants as well as chloroform and cysts like cryptosporidium and giardia. Such systems are available for less than $50.
More elaborate and expensive filtration systems are installed under the sink, with filtered water coming out through a separate faucet. These systems usually come with reservoirs, making for a faster water-flow rate, and require less frequent changing of the filters.
The under-sink filtration system that comes closest to the quality of distilled water involves multiple filters including one to trap particles, one to trap organic chemicals and chlorination, as well as one with a reverse-osmosis membrane that pulls the water through a thin film to remove not only pollutants but also the smallest microbe known. This system uses no electricity, but it pours as much as 5 gallons of water down the drain for every 1 gallon of filtered water as it pulls water through the composite membrane. This is the system that I use, along with a whole-house sediment filter.
In addition to drinking water filters, there are also shower filters to remove chlorine from wash water. The absorption of chlorine through the skin is a matter of concern for many people.
No filtration system is perfect, but they all improve the quality of tap water as long as you follow directions and change the filters regularly. Once the quality issue is dealt with, the real challenge for many people is to actually drink the water. Once, as I was ordering breakfast • water, green tea, banana, blueberries, and plain oatmeal • I overheard the table next to me ordering French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, and Diet Coke. “I never drink the water,” the fellow ordering explained to his fishing buddy, “Diet Coke is better for you.”
I beg to differ. Although Diet Coke meets the test of drinking virtually no calories, the artificial carbonation, caffeine, sweeteners, and colors pose their own set of health hazards. As a general rule, I am suspicious of our ability to improve on nature-made when it comes to the input side of the equation. Artificial sweeteners, in particular, not only pose health risks to which some people are more susceptible than others, they also serve to trigger food cravings not unlike the sugary sodas they were meant to replace. That makes them doubly bad for health and wellness.
I have come to stop using sweeteners in beverages altogether. I drink almost nothing but water, unsweetened tea, and an occasional cup of unsweetened coffee. That said, I know many people would be hard pressed to follow suit. If that sounds like you, then you may want to consider Stevia as a natural, low-calorie sweetener. It comes from a South American plant and has been used safely and extensively for decades in many countries, such as Japan. Due more to political pressure than scientific evidence, Stevia has not been sold as a sweetener but as a supplement in many countries.
Thankfully, that is beginning to change and you can increasingly find green packs of Stevia alongside the artificial sweeteners: pink for saccharin, blue for aspartame, and yellow for sucralose. Let’s be clear: no artificial sweetener is good for human health and consumption. They are invented foods and should be avoided as much as possible. That’s true not only because of their health side effects but also because of how they affect our appetites. The taste of something sweet tends to make us hungry. As a result, even if the drink itself does not contain calories, it may cause us to eat more calories than we should. At a time when the sales of artificial sweeteners are at an all-time high, so too is overweight, obesity, and chronic disease. The connection is more than a coincidence.
Drinking plain water has the opposite correlation. The more water people drink, the less overweight they tend to be. Ice water has the special quality of actually burning calories, since it takes energy for the body to melt the ice after it has been ingested. If someone were to drink a gallon of ice water every day for a year, with no other changes to their diet, they would lose ten pounds just from the melting-ice factor. Ice-cold or not, drinking sufficient quantities of water on a regular basis throughout the day helps to avoid overeating.
In recent years, medical authorities have become concerned not only about the problems of dehydration but also about the problems of over hydration or water intoxication. The latter condition • called hyponatremia • develops primarily in thin people who are sweating profusely for extended periods of time while drinking nothing but water. Since sweat contains sodium, the replacement of sweat by water alone can dilute the sodium levels of blood plasma to critical levels. The condition can be fatal.
As a result, this is one case where it may be good to drink some calories (or at least some electrolytes including sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium). During periods of vigorous exercise that last longer than an hour, consuming calories and electrolytes on a regular basis throughout the duration of the activity can avoid problems. How much to consume depends upon many factors, including ambient air temperature and perceived exertion level. The more you sweat, the more you need to drink. One cup of electrolyte-rich fluid every 30 minutes is usually sufficient to avoid both dehydration and over hydration.
Apart from this exception, it’s best to stay with clean, fresh water as our beverage of choice. Avoid artificial carbonation, sweeteners, and colors. If, for reasons of personal preference and taste, you want something other than water, I recommend tea as the next best alternative. I drink several cups of green tea, yerba mate, and/or rooibos per day. When steeped for 3-5 minutes, these teas contains healthy antioxidants. Green tea and yerba mate also contain caffeine, which can be removed by steeping for 30-60 seconds and then pouring off the water before steeping again. Decaffeinating your own tea in this way is the safest water process I know.
Many people like to drink alcoholic beverages and one or two drinks per day can be consumed without ill effect apart, once again, from the calories. Some studies have suggested a health benefit to the regular, moderate consumption of alcohol. The health benefits are not strong enough to qualify alcohol as a health food, however, and no one should start drinking to reap its alleged benefits. In addition to being a high-calorie and high-cost beverage, alcohol’s intoxicants are a slippery slope that get many people in trouble.
The bottom line is to make clean, fresh water your beverage of choice. Organizing your life to make it so is the first, best step you can take for optimal health and wellness.
Coaching Inquiries: What are your beverages of choice? How could you decrease the consumption of other liquids and increase the consumption of clean, fresh water? Do you filter or distill your drinking water? What systems could you put in place that would making drinking water an easier choice?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
I sure enjoy your newsletters. Good to meet you last year in Taiwan.
I read your stuff with great interest. Thanks for your contribution.
I enjoyed your podcast with Choice Literacy. Well done!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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