Nutrition

Drinking Water Can Reduce Calorie Intake, Nutritionist Explains

Today we’re going to explore whether drinking water can lead to a decrease in total calorie (energy) intake. Weight loss is ultimately achieved via a calorie deficit, but it’s not only a matter of calories in vs calories out, as our metabolism is more complex than that and some foods are absorbed differently by the body.

There are a few studies examining the effect of water directly on weight loss, and whether it results in a decrease in total calorie intake. We dive a bit deeper to see if replacing foods with water is an effective way to reduce calorie intake or if it’s a bit of a myth.

man drinking water

Can water intake reduce hunger?

Drinking a lot of water is generally believed to support weight-loss efforts or maintenance and has become a commonly used practice for weight control.1 Drinking plenty of water every day is good for overall health. Plain drinking water also contains no calories, so it can help with managing body weight and reducing calorie intake when substituted for drinks with lots of calories, like fizzy drinks.2,3

Thirst, the sensation we feel when mildly dehydrated, is often mistaken for hunger by the brain. Drinking plenty of water while trying to lose weight is good because you consume water instead of other beverages, which are often high in calories and sugar.4

The effects of having water with meals rather than drinking nothing or various other drinks remains under-studied. Without water humans can survive for 2–4 days. Water makes up to about 60% of our body weight and is critical for life5. Reduced energy (calorie) intakes can be expected if you replace higher-calorie beverages with water when you’re eating but this may not translate into long-term weight changes.6

Short-term effects of water consumption include increased fullness, reduced feelings of hunger7, and slightly increased energy expenditure as the result of a proposed water-induced thermogenic effect (increased heat production in the body).8

 

Is this strategy always reliable?

Drinking water for the purpose of weight loss alone or as a replacement for nutrient-rich food is certainly not recommended. We need food for nourishment and energy. Water cannot provide these and should be drunk for hydration. It’s important to not get into an all-or-nothing way of thinking with water. Yes, it has many benefits (aiming for 6-8 glasses of water per day is good) but we should not replace food with water.

Ultimately, this causes low energy and mood, and only increases the risk of nutrient deficiencies.

Water is a great replacement for high-sugar beverages, but it’s important to remember that drinking water needs to be combined with a calorie deficit to lose weight.

 

Take home message

While we certainly don’t disagree that drinking more water is beneficial, it should always be included as part of a well-balanced diet and should never a replace a nutrient-dense diet. Food and good hydration come first. Replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water can have many benefits for weight management, but replacing water for meals is a big no-no.

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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.


  1. Sciamanna, C. N., Kiernan, M., Rolls, B. J., Boan, J., Stuckey, H., Kephart, D., … & Dellasega, C. (2011). Practices associated with weight loss versus weight-loss maintenance: results of a national survey. American journal of preventive medicine, 41(2), 159-166. 
  2. Muckelbauer R, Sarganas G, Gruneis A, Muller-Nordhorn J. Association between water consumption and body weight outcomes: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;98(2):282-299. 
  3. Illescas-Zarate D, Espinosa-Montero J, Flores M, Barquera S. Plain water consumption is associated with lower intake of caloric beverage: cross-sectional study in Mexican adults with low socioeconomic status. BMC Public Health. 2015 Apr 19;15:405. doi: 10.1186/s12889-015-1699-0. PMID: 25928232; PMCID: PMC4411745. 
  4. Daniels, M. C., & Popkin, B. M. (2010). Impact of water intake on energy intake and weight status: a systematic review. Nutrition reviews, 68(9), 505–521. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00311.
  5. Daniels, M. C., & Popkin, B. M. (2010). Impact of water intake on energy intake and weight status: a systematic review. Nutrition reviews, 68(9), 505–521. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00311.
  6. Dennis, E. A., Flack, K. D., & Davy, B. M. (2009). Beverage consumption and adult weight management: A review. Eating behaviours, 10(4), 237-246.
  7. Boschmann, M., Steiniger, J., Hille, U., Tank, J., Adams, F., Sharma, A. M., … & Jordan, J. (2003). Water-induced thermogenesis. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 88(12), 6015-6019.


Jenaed Gonçalves Brodell

Jenaed Gonçalves Brodell

Writer and expert

Jenaed Gonçalves Brodell is a well know Registered Dietitian (HCPC) and Sport Scientist. She is a fitness enthusiast and comes from a semi professional field hockey background. Her passion for sports nutrition and background in the sporting arena making her relatable to many amateur and elite sports personnel. She has experience working for the NHS & in South Africa as a consultant dietitian. She provides evidence based, easy to follow, practical advice and guidance.She has experience in the Paediatric field specialising in sports performance for junior and adult athletes. Her writing background comes from extensive researching throughout her career finding the most up to date information and translating it into easy to understand information for the public. She shares information on her public instagram page @nutritionaldco_ on the latest in evidence based nutrition.


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