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What happened when I started drinking 120 ounces of water a day

Every so often, I do something to recharge my body and mind.

So when I decided two weeks ago that a detox cleanse was the way to go, I researched all sorts of ways to rid your body of toxic junk, from juicing to fasting to some concoction made of maple syrup and cayenne pepper that worked for Beyonce, allegedly.

Overwhelmed by options and conflicting information on what defines an authentic detox cleanse, I did what I always do in these situations and made my own rules. Not having a specific set of guidelines gave me the freedom to make my own plan where I could make significant life changes without running the risk of definitive failure.

And with that, I set out on a 10-day detox journey based on a few simple guidelines. No meat or dairy, no caffeine, no alcohol, no refined sugars. Sleep at least seven hours a night. Most of this wasn’t entirely new or difficult for me. I’ve kicked caffeine before and followed vegan/vegetarian diets in the past to boost my health.

My final rule, however, was going to be the ultimate challenge:

Drink 120 ounces of water a day.

Drinking water is one of those things you know from birth you HAVE to do, and that there’s a certain amount you HAVE to drink each day. And yet, it’s easily the one life rule I’ve neglected the most while supplementing my liquid intake with coffee and diet soda during the day and wine or cocktails a few nights a week.

With the exception of my pregnancy and the years I spent in college marching band (arguably the ultimate sport), I can probably count on one hand how many days in recent years I’ve had more than a glass or two of water, and even then it was likely due to illness or Mississippi humidity forcing me to drink it against my will.

My goal number of 120 ounces might seem arbitrary, but the truth is literally EVERYONE disagrees on how much water you’re actually supposed to drink. Some say 8-10 glasses a day. Others say drink an ounce for every pound of your weight (120 lbs. = 120 oz.), and there’s even a group of masochists who think you should take that number and double it.

I settled on 120 for the same reason I set my alarm for an hour before I need to be awake. Wiggle room. If I wake up early, great. If I hit the snooze button more times than I care to admit, I’m still not late.

On the first day, even hitting 50 ounces proved to be difficult, though I still managed to reach 100—an accomplishment that took all I had not to brag about on Twitter. It wasn’t the water itself that made it so challenging. It was that water was my only option when I wanted my morning coffee or afternoon energy drink or dinnertime glass of wine. During those moments, I chugged without thinking to avoid even the slightest hint of temptation. (And it worked.)

Day 2 was the same, now with a hint of caffeine withdrawal setting in and the sinking feeling that every day of this self-imposed detox would feel like hell. Still, I stuck to the plan, beginning and ending my day with a liter of water on top of what I had consumed in between.

Over the next few days, things started to change. A lot.

I found myself waking up with energy, something I rarely do even when I’m getting enough sleep. The caffeinated brain fog I’m used to fighting most mornings at work wasn’t there. I was focused and sharp, able to juggle things easier and with less anxiety.

When I did feel foggy or mentally fatigued, I instinctively drank a bottle of water and experienced a natural boost of energy minutes later. I actually liked that it wasn’t the jarring zero-to-100 jolt of a Red Bull, mainly because it didn’t come with the inevitable crash or lingering concern that energy drinks are actually poison. I was able to naturally sustain my productivity and mood for hours.

There were physical changes too. My skin looked clearer and brighter. After years of coming home from work feeling totally exhausted, I found myself wanting to keep moving at the end of the day (much to the delight of my 4-year-old who’s the most dedicated runner I know). I was falling asleep easier and without the help of Unisom.

I started researching how hydration (and lack thereof) affects the body and brain beyond the parroted reminder that we should all drink more water. I learned how drastically even slight dehydration can affect everything, from mood to short-term memory to pain sensitivity and beyond. Admittedly, I was highly annoyed with myself for taking 32 years to “discover” the benefits of doing something I’ve been told to do my entire life.

By the halfway point, I stopped tracking my water intake so I could focus on listening and responding to what my body needed. I was still hitting my 120 mark each day based on my routine alone, but I was no longer using it as a pass-fail goal. All I knew was when I stayed hydrated, I felt like the best version of myself. 

My detox ended last week, and while I was more than ready for steak and a glass of bourbon by the end of it, I’m blown away by how much better I feel compared to detoxes I’ve done in the past where I’m left starving and cranky and generally deprived. I’m healthier, happier and best of all: My newfound water obsession isn’t going anywhere. 

I even bought one of those durable metal water bottles to make it a more permanent habit.

(Fun fact: It also holds an entire bottle of wine.)

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