Photo: Domenico Loia | Unsplash

Photo: Domenico Loia | Unsplash

I’ll never forget the first time I realized that there was something “off” about my hydration habits. I was 25 and had just moved to sunny Los Angeles. A co-worker asked me to go on a hike, and while my preferred weekend activities at that point in my life were more walk to the front door to grab the pizza delivery, I was in desperate need of friends — so I decided to give it a go.

When my new friend picked me up bright and early that morning, she — wisely — came armed with a big bottle of water. Me?

I chose to bring an energy drink and a Coke Zero.

The truth is, for most of my life, drinking water just wasn’t a thing. As a child, good luck if you tried prying Capri Suns or Hi-C juice boxes from my hands. As a teenager, I figured drinking Jackfruit-Guava Vitamin Water, the “it girl” drink at my high school, was just as good as drinking actual water (Spoiler alert: It’s not). And once I hit college, a solid 99 percent of any liquid that hit my lips was infused with one type of alcohol or another.

By the time I moved to LA, I was in rough shape. The years I spent drinking nothing but sugar-laced beverages had taken its toll on my body.

I was 30 pounds overweight. I was tired all the time. I couldn’t even think about getting out of bed without chugging a can of soda. In short, I was a hot, dehydrated mess.

First I tried to get healthy without water

That hike was the jumping-off point to a new way of life. As an official Los Angeles resident, I decided to make like the locals and give the whole “being healthy” thing a try — but give up my Coke Zero? That I wasn’t ready for.

Instead, I focused on all of my other less-desirable habits. I started spending my Saturday mornings hiking instead of sleeping in. I replaced frozen pizza and vanilla wafers with fresh fruit and vegetables. I stopped drinking alcohol, which was just as much a public service as it was a personal achievement. I hired a personal trainer who introduced me to a whole new world of pushups, lunges, and burpees.

And you know what? Things started to get better. I lost some weight. I had a little more energy. My life started to take on the appearance of a somewhat healthy person.

But I still clung to my sugary drinks like a child clings to their security blanket. I just didn’t get the appeal of water. It was bland, it was tasteless, and it didn’t deliver the kind of sugar-induced endorphin rush I got from a nice, refreshing glass of Coke. What was the big deal?

It wasn’t until my trainer physically removed the soda from my hand and told me he would no longer work with me until I started bringing a bottle of water to the gym that I started exploring if and why I needed to start drinking H2O. And turns out? It actually is kind of a big deal.

“Drinking water that’s properly absorbed into your cells is vital to staying healthy and maintaining proper function of every system in your body, including your heart, brain, and muscles,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, a medical advisory board member for the Nutritional Magnesium Association. The importance of drinking water should not be overlooked. “[Not drinking enough water can cause] high blood pressure, impaired memory and concentration, fatigue, depression and irritability, poor digestion, stomach pain, constipation, sugar and junk food cravings, headaches, constipation, dizziness, increased appetite, muscle cramping, thirst, dry mouth, fatigue, gout, joint pain, premature aging and breathing problems.”

Yikes.

How I upped my water intake

So, after about five seconds of research it was apparent that I needed to drink more water. But actually making that happen? That was a process.

The first thing I had to do was figure out how much water I actually needed to be drinking. “I recommend drinking half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water,” says Dean. So, for me, that meant 65 ounces of water each day.

To go from zero to 65 overnight seemed completely overwhelming, so I started by taking baby steps toward my goal.

I started slowly replacing my daily sodas with sparkling water. The bubbles helped trick my brain and helped me taper off the Coke Zero. At first, the split was about 50/50 (one soda, one sparkling water), but after a few months of weaning myself off the artificial sweeteners, I tossed the soda completely (with the exception of the one 7-ounce can per day I now enjoy, because #treatyoself).

Before I went to sleep, I started putting a glass of water on my nightstand and drinking it before I got out of bed in the morning. At restaurants, I stopped ordering drinks and stuck to water, which was just as good for my wallet as my health. And I invested in a nice water bottle (this adorbs polka dot Kate Spade bottle... not too shabby!) that kept my H2O nice and cool, whether I was at work or in the gym.

I’m going to be honest — It was a slooooow process. I’d been drinking sugar-laced beverages without a second thought for decades. Just like dealing with any unconscious habit, undoing all those years of conditioning wasn’t easy. There were plenty of times — particularly if I was feeling stressed or overwhelmed — where I tossed my commitment to drinking more water out of the window and spent all day chugging energy drinks instead.

But the deeper I went into the world of proper hydration, the clearer it became that drinking those sugary beverages I loved so much actually made me feel terrible. When I spent the day drinking Coke Zero, I was moody. I was tired. I didn’t have the energy to tackle my workouts. I slept horribly. And that’s when it clicked — if I wanted to not only look healthy, but feel healthy, I needed to kick this habit once and for all.

It took a good long while of going back and forth between H2O and sodas, but eventually, I hit my 65-ounce goal.

Tips for drinking more water

  • Jazz up the taste. “[Squeeze] some fresh lemon into your water bottle,” says Dean. It adds a nice hint of flavor and has some added benefits. “Lemon won’t spike your blood sugar and helps with digestion.”
  • Reward yourself. Set up a reward system for when you hit your daily intake goals for a week straight. Go for a massage or whatever else feels relaxing and indulgent for you and your tastes. In the words of Tom Haverford, treat yo self!
  • Hype your water. “When you have the proper levels of minerals in your cell, it automatically pulls in water to create the perfect electrolyte balance,” says Dean. To get electrolyte balancing benefits, mix ½ teaspoon of sea salt, Himalayan Salt, or Celtic salt and 1 teaspoon of magnesium citrate powder into 32 ounces of water and drink throughout the day. Knowing that water is going to boost your health can be a great motivating factor.

Drinking water is like getting reborn via waterfall

Somewhere along the way, something crazy happened — I actually started to enjoy drinking water. Now it’s been about seven years, and let me tell you, it’s completely changed my life and my health.

When I successfully transitioned into drinking more water, it was the catalyst for a whole slew of new healthy habits. My thought was If I could become a water drinker after a lifetime of drinking straight up sugar… what else could I do?

I started running, eventually finishing a full marathon. I cut way back on caffeine. I bought a juicer and started kicking off my days with a combination of kale, lemon, and ginger… on purpose.

Drinking water also just makes life easier. I was able to maintain my weight without much thought or effort. I had more energy to get through the day. My skin was so glowy, I could easily get away without wearing makeup. And if I was thirsty, I didn’t have to drive around looking for a convenience store that carried whatever sugary drink I was craving that day, because guess what? There is water literally everywhere.

But maybe the biggest impact drinking water has had on my life? It’s the peace of mind I have knowing I’m giving my body what it needs to function at the highest level. And that’s worth missing out on all the Capri Suns and Coke Zeros in the world.

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Deanna deBara is a freelance writer who recently made the move from sunny Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. When she’s not obsessing over her dog, waffles, or all things Harry Potter, you can follow her journeys on Instagram.