Spoiler: It's not 96 ounces or 8 glasses
One of the more common New Year's resolutions I've heard my friends bandy about this year is to drink more water. And as far as resolutions go, staying hydrated is one of the more reasonable ones. (I might refer you to my own resolutions, which include running a half-marathon even though I can barely run three miles, but that's a whole other story.) But setting this resolution begs the question: how much water should you drink every day? Now, we can all agree that being dehydrated sucks. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, dizziness, and confusion. Being dehydrated is totally preventable, though, as long as you drink enough water. The trick, of course, is figuring out how much water you need to drink to stay hydrated.
This is a topic about which I'm asked regularly, ever since an article I wrote about how I drank 96 ounces of water every day to cure my acne went viral. I think people think that I'm some sort of internet evangelist for drinking more water, and to this day, I get tweets and emails and Facebook messages from complete strangers about my experiment in hydration and healthy living. They wonder if I'm still drinking the daily recommended amount of water and if it's really fixed my skincare woes. The answer to both of those questions is no. I don't still drink 96 ounces of water every single day, and I still break out, especially when I'm dehydrated and overtired.
It's not that I'm not interested in staying hydrated, but I've long thrown the whole goal of drinking 96 ounces of water a day out the window. Part of the reason is because I literally couldn't keep up with it. 96 ounces of water is a lot of water—though, in defense of the Institute of Medicine, whose guidelines for daily water consumption informed my initial weeklong experiment, women need to consume only 91 ounces of water every day to adequately hydrated, not 96 ounces.
91 ounces is still about eight full glasses, which is the amount of water you should drink according to conventional wisdom. Men, meanwhile, need to consume 125 ounces of water every single day, which definitely seems like an absurd amount of water. Forcing myself to drink that much water every single day was enough to drive me insane—and straight to the bathroom every hour to pee. I felt like it was a chore, another thing to check off my to-do list, and after a while, it felt like I was experiencing diminishing returns. Drinking three full Nalgene bottles of water didn't make me feel significantly better than if I only drank two, though I did feel very, very guilty about it.
Turns out, I shouldn't feel guilty about dropping the daily water goal, because there is no such a thing as the "right" amount of water. As Dr. Natasha Sandy, celebrity dermatologist and wellness expert explained in an email, that whole "eight glasses of water" thing isn't supported by much research. "In reality it varies based on general health and activity," she explained. "What we know for sure is a well hydrated body functions better; 70% of the body is water." But that amount of water is different for every body and depends heavily on environmental factors.
Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, LDN, and the director of nutrition at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa in Miami, Florida, seconded that point, and even recommended against forcing yourself to drink a certain amount of water daily. "We should drink according to thirst—when we exercise, when it’s hot, etc.," she explained in an email. "There is no need to keep water by your desk and try to force yourself to drink more. It is like going to the bathroom," she continued. "Do you need to give yourself encouragement to do that? No, you just go when you have the urge or need to. It is the same with drinking water, drink when you’re thirsty."
The overall goal, then, is to be conscious of your water intake, and—even though it sounds totally cheesy—to be aware of what your body is saying and know when the symptoms of dehydration start presenting themselves. If it's hot outside or you're exercising, chances are good you'll have to drink more water than you would normally. If you go to the bathroom and see that your urine is a darker shade of yellow instead of clear-ish, you might want to drink a glass of water when you get back to your desk. (Sorry if that's too graphic, but it's a real thing. The color of your urine is really one of the most reliable indicators of dehydration. There are even color charts.)
If you are looking to up the amount of water you drink every day because your pee is amber or honey-colored, there are some easy things you can do. "A trick I do is have three 33-ounce bottles of water a day," wrote Sandy. "I try to have one bottle before breakfast, and one between lunch and dinner, and the other between dinner and bedtime to get in my daily intake." That way, the water consumption is spread out somewhat evenly across the day, and you're not focusing on chugging it all at once.
Plus, water doesn't have to be tasteless. "If you want to add cucumber, mint, or orange slices to make it more palatable," said Gomer, "go for it."
As for me, even though I've given up on drinking 96 ounces of water a day, I still carry around my trusty Nalgene bottle. I've supplemented that with a couple of oversized Ball jars, too; I keep one at my office and the other on my bedside table so I always have a vessel readily available from which I can drink water. 2016 was also the year I discovered the beauty of flavored sparkling water, and I'll drink one of those instead of a diet soda, which also helps me stay hydrated.
I also still pee a lot, but I’ll take that over breakouts and headaches any day.