Can drinking cold water and wearing shorts in the winter help weight control?

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My girlfriend thinks I wear too few clothes. When it’s hot, I’m usually to be found in shorts and little else (I’m often attempting to get the sun vitamin-D boosting effects here). But when it’s cooler (even cold), I’m often to be found in shorts too. It’s for a long time been my way to wear fewer clothes than is necessary to keep warm, and then warm up through activity.

One of the reasons for taking this approach is to avoid getting too hot and then needing to take off clothes that I would then have to carry. But at the back of my mind I had another thought too: If I repeatedly put myself in a situation where I felt mildly cold, perhaps this would force my body to rev up its metabolism to keep me warm. Could this help me adapt more quickly to cold environments? And might a little enhanced energy expenditure help with weight control?

I thought about this recently on reading about a study published on-line in the International Journal of Obesity [1]. It involved giving overweight children cold (4 degrees centigrade) water to drink and then measuring their resting energy expenditure over about an hour. The volume of water given to the kids was 10 mls per kg of their weight (e.g. a 35 kg child would drink 350 mls).

What’s this got to do with me going out in the cold in my shorts? When we drink something cold, the body warms it up, and it’s possible that it will ramp up the metabolism to do this (a bit like what might happen when my body warms itself up in the cold).

After drinking, there was a transient decline in resting energy expenditure. This converted into heightened energy expenditure over time, peaking at about an hour after taking the drink, at which point resting energy expenditure was an average of 25 per cent higher than it was at the start of the study. The authors of this study speculate that a daily cold drink of water could translate in a weight loss of 1.2 kg (about 2½ lbs) over the year. If that did materialise, that would be great, because it would wipe out the typical insidious, creeping weight gain that can ultimately leads to obesity.

Of course, this idea is just speculation, just like my thoughts about going (inappropriately) out in my shorts. Maybe, for instance, the little metabolic uplift seen in kids drinking cold water or me suffering the cold will be compensated for by other mechanisms. The body could, for example, put a dampener on the metabolism subsequently, or up the appetite a bit to make up for the ‘deficit’.

Nevertheless, this piece of research did make me remind me that quite small interventions might, in the long term, make a big difference.


1. Dubnov-Raz G, et al. Influence of water drinking on resting energy expenditure in overweight children. International Journal of Obesity advance online publication 12 July 2011

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