What is a life hack?
A life hack is a simple trick, skill, or shortcut that makes your life easier, more effective, and efficient. In a society that seeks instant gratification and is trying to get more done in less time, Life Hacks have become as mainstream as sliced bread.
What about in terms of weight-loss? Googling ‘Weight-loss Hacks,’ I got 34 million results, and 90% of those results were articles or blog posts that started with some variation of ‘73 Weight-loss Hacks that will Change your Life and Cleanse your Colon!’ Or, ‘Jesus had 10 Commandments but did you know he also had 10 Weight-loss Hacks?! Find out more today!’ Sure, explosive diarrhea, starvation, and/or back-breaking labour could most certainly lead to weight-loss. I would argue that none are really ‘life hacks’ in the traditional definition, but what do I know?
Are there any real life hacks for weight loss?
Unfortunately, most weight-loss hacks offer nothing more than false hope and products that do nothing but prey upon individuals who have battled against a chronic disease their entire life and are looking for anything that might help.
Good news, though! I am going to tell you about the closest thing to a weight-loss hack I have come across. Here’s a hint: Jesus had a neat little party trick where he could turn it into wine!
Did you get it?!
That’s right! The hack is water! More specifically, preloading with water before your meals.
Let’s get into the study of water and weight-loss!
Now, this information is coming from a wonderfully elegant study by Parretti and friends. When I say elegant, I mean not only was it simple, robust, and their methodology sound, it was also an absolute pleasure to read this article. So if any of the authors come across this blog, kudos!
Anywho, what Parretti and friends did is they took 84 individuals that had Obesity defined as a BMI ≥30kg/m². They then randomized them into two groups for a duration of 12 weeks. The experimental group was asked to consume 500mL of water (2 cups) 30 minutes before their main meals each day and to consume additional water throughout their meals and day as they desired. The control group was asked to follow a ‘dummy’ procedure to conceal the true intent of the study. This is considered to be an attention control, and it was done to reduce bias/confounders that can affect the results between the groups. This dummy procedure involved participants imagining their stomachs were full 30 mins prior to each meal.
Both groups received weight-management counselling such as replacing high-calorie beverages with water, increasing veggie and protein intake, etc., as well as periodic follow-ups and were sent text messages as prompts to ensure compliance. In addition, participants completed phone questionnaires at various time points to further assess adherence. They even took 24-hour total urine collections to assess volume and osmolality. Like they actually took 24-hour comprehensive urine collections! Who does that?! Ok, lots of people do that in research, but that was one of the many aspects of this study that increased the validity of their results!
Now the exciting stuff?!
Over the 12 weeks, they found is that the group that pre-loaded with water lost on average 2.4kg (5.3lbs) and the comparison group that imagined fullness lost 1.2kg (2.6lbs). There was a difference of ~1.3kg (2.9lbs). Furthermore, in the pre-load group, 27% of the participants lost at least 5% of their weight from baseline compared to 5% in the control group! There were also significant differences in weight-loss within the pre-loading water group between individuals who pre-loaded with water 3x/day vs. 1x/day or not at all – with the 3x/day pre-load group losing on average 4.8kg and the 1x/day or none group losing 0.8kg! Not too shabby, considering the intervention was simply increasing water intake.
So there you have it: a simple hack that might lead to weight-loss! Part of what I love about this study and this intervention is that it is so simple and easy to incorporate. Of course, consistency, as with anything when it comes to managing our weight, will always be the most crucial factor, but this is a simple and promising intervention. So drinking more water is something we all can and should be doing – not only for weight loss but for the plethora of health benefits it offers. I would argue increasing your water intake up to the recommended 8 cups/day on a consistent basis could have some tremendous health benefits. Start slow, though, as you and your bladder need to adjust to the increased volume and trips to the bathroom!
Until next time! Always remember: small tweaks lead to massive peaks!
– Dr. Dan
HM, P., P, A., A, B., SJ, C., SJ, C., A, R., & AJ, D. (2015). Efficacy of water preloading before main meals as a strategy for weight loss in primary care patients with obesity: RCT. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 23(9), 1785–1791. https://doi.org/10.1002/OBY.21167