Cold water has an ambiguous role in weight loss. Depending on who you speak to, you could drink it to burn calories, drink it to fill yourself up or soak a foot in it. Clinical evidence for how to use cold water to actually burn calories is promising but incomplete, but drinking it, in general, can help you lose weight in other ways.
Drinking cold water can cause you to expend more energy than if you were drinking warm water. Dr. Chris Smith notes on the Naked Scientists website the calculations made by Dr. Leslie Burnett of the Australasian Society of Clinical Biochemists: drinking a little more than 4 cups of water that’s approximately 62 degrees F burns a whopping 20 food calories. Burnett says that isn’t enough to overcome the calories from even a bag of chips.
Being cold in general -- either through ambient temperatures or by bathing in cold water -- might activate something called brown fat, which in turn could affect your weight. Brown fat is an insulating fat that reacts to how cold you are. A 2009 article in The Washington Post notes that scientists used to think brown fat lasted for only part of childhood, but that now it’s known to stick around into adulthood. When you start shivering because you’re cold, this brown fat activates and tries to generate heat by burning other fat on your body. Francisco S. Celi of the National Institutes of Health is quoted in the story as saying, brown fat “... is a tissue whose sole physiological purpose is to expend energy.”
A 2009 study from the University of Turku in Finland looked at how ice water affected brown fat. The researchers had subjects place one foot in cold water, between 38 and 49 degrees F, for about five minutes, while undergoing combined positron emission and computed tomography scans. Compared to the scans from when the subjects were in warmer conditions, the cold foot baths caused an increase in activity regarding glucose, or blood sugar, use, which the researchers attributed to the presence of brown fat.
Brown fat is still under investigation. No documented evidence exists that shows you can burn fat by soaking in cold water for a specific time. Also, be aware that temperatures and water that are excessively cold can result in frostbite and injury. Never put up with uncomfortably cold water or sit in freezing temperatures without adequate protection.
While drinking probably won’t completely assuage hunger, filling up with water might make you want to eat less. Cold water kept in the refrigerator also serves as an alternative to ice cream and empty-calorie sodas on hot days. Water has no caffeine, either, compared to most sodas. Cold water isn’t going to melt into an unappetizing puddle like ice cream on a hot day, either, allowing you to take it outside with you and drink it at your leisure.
Other advantages to drinking water that could help control your weight include preventing water retention. That extra water can add puffiness to your frame. Cold water is also thought to be a better post-workout drink than warm water because the cold helps your body regulate its internal temperature, which after working out is usually hotter than normal. Columbia University notes cold water is also used more quickly by the body.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Rethink Your Drink
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Fluid Needs
- Columbia University: Go Ask Alice: Better to Drink Warm Water Rather Than Cold Water
- New England Journal of Medicine: Functional Brown Adipose Tissue in Healthy Adults
- Washington Post: Studies Find a Way Adult Bodies May Fight Obesity
- Daily Mail: How Sticking Your Feet in Cold Water Could Help You Lose Weight
- Photos.com/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.