Water retention can make you think you haven’t made any weight loss gains even though you’re following your diet and exercise plan to a T. That’s because water retention, also referred to as water weight, means your body is holding onto extra water and that shows up on the scale.
This article is going to get into common questions like, What is water weight? We’ll also tell you how to lose water weight so you can see your real weight loss results minus the extra H2O. In addition to learning how to get rid of your water weight, you’ll find out what the causes of water retention are so you can try to avoid them.
Water weight is the retention of extra fluid in your body. It can be frustrating to experience water weight when on a weight loss journey because that extra fluid results in a higher number on the scale.
Some of the most common symptoms of water retention can include body aches, stiff joints, a rapid and unexplained weight gain over a few days, as well as swelling of hands, ankles, and lower legs.
Water weight is different from the weight you have from fat and muscle mass. That’s because it’s just extra fluid, water weight levels change more quickly and are influenced by a number of things that we’ll discuss next.
Every body is different. The reasons that you may be retaining water may not be the same as someone else’s, as it depends on your lifestyle and unique personal factors. Some of the most common things that can cause water retention are discussed below.
Women tend to experience fluctuations in weight as a result of hormonal changes more often than men do. Female hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, can change significantly during seasons of pregnancy and menopause. If you use hormonal birth control pills, this can also cause fluid retention.
Your genetics influence many aspects of your health and that may include a tendency to retain water. While you can’t control your genes, asking family members whether they also experience it can help identify if this is the cause.
Throughout the menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone rise and fall. Many women experience bloating right before or during menstruation. This type of water weight can be frustrating, but it’s temporary and generally subsides during other times in your cycle.
Sodium, the main mineral in salt, tends to make you retain water weight. Think about how much salt you add when cooking, and how much sodium might be found in packaged, frozen, or canned foods in your diet.
While medications are intended to help manage health conditions or symptoms, they affect everyone differently. For example, some medications can promote fluid retention, like those used to treat high blood pressure.
Flying in an airplane causes bloating and water retention for many people. This is because of changes in cabin pressure and elevation, as well as sitting for long periods. It’s also common for people to drink less water while flying, which can promote dehydration and water retention.
The airplane isn’t the only place we often sit for long periods. If you sit at a desk or work at a computer, it can be easy to forget how long it’s been since you got up to walk around. Similarly, jobs that require long periods of standing in one place can promote fluid retention.
The best, and most sustainable, way to address water weight is by improving your nutrition and exercise habits. Doing so helps create a calorie deficit that will naturally lead to healthy longer-term weight loss.
It sounds counterintuitive, but drinking water helps prevent water retention. One of the reasons the body might hang on to extra water is because it’s not getting enough through drinking.
Becoming dehydrated can tell your body to keep a tight hold on any extra water it has in stores. Oppositely, staying hydrated by sipping water throughout the day, and replenishing water lost through physical activity, can help prevent water retention.
Moving your body is one of the best ways to prevent water retention and boost energy. Physical activity helps promote circulation and moves water into your muscles. Whether you enjoy a daily walk with the dog, a morning fitness class, yoga or an evening jog, movement can help.
Even the healthiest diets may have shortfalls that encourage water retention. Sometimes supplements can help keep water weight in check. As with any supplement, it’s best to check with your doctor before adding something new to your routine to make sure it’s safe and appropriate for you.
Magnesium deficiency can make your body hold onto extra fluid. While magnesium can be found in certain foods like beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy greens, some people may also benefit from a magnesium supplement. These often come in powdered form and can be mixed into beverages.
Vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine, is involved in healthy red blood cell production and can reduce water weight for some people. Bananas, walnuts, potatoes, and certain meats are good dietary sources of vitamin B6, but you can also find this vitamin in supplemental form.
Electrolytes are minerals like sodium, chloride, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. They conduct electricity in water and are abundant in your bodily fluid. An electrolyte imbalance, or having electrolyte levels that are too high or too low, can cause fluid retention.
One of the main jobs of electrolytes is to regulate fluid. You get electrolytes through the foods you eat and help keep levels normal by staying hydrated. You can also replenish electrolytes that are lost in sweat during exercise, by drinking an electrolyte replacement drink or considering supplementation.
Salt is made of sodium and chloride. The sodium in salt attaches to water in your body and plays a big role in maintaining your fluid balance. The more salt, and sodium, you eat the more water tends to be retained.
On the other hand, reducing your salt intake - both salt added to cooking and salt found in canned, frozen, and packaged foods - can help release extra fluid. Check nutrition labels for sodium, and try draining and rinsing canned beans and vegetables to reduce sodium.
Water weight causes bloating and feelings of heaviness, which can be frustrating when you’re trying to lose weight.
Having excess water in your body also tips the scale in a higher direction, which can be deceiving, especially if you’ve been exercising, eating well, and expecting weight loss. The truth is that extra fluid can cover up any fat loss that has occurred, making it difficult to tell if what you’re doing is working.
In order to achieve sustainable weight loss, you often have to tackle water retention first. Try some of the tips above for identifying what’s causing water retention and making any necessary changes to address it.
A weight loss coach can help you figure out how to manage your water weight. Take the Fitmate quiz now to find out which one of our weight loss coaches is right for you.
Author Alon Laniado is the founder of Fitmate Coach and certified in Nutrition with Stanford University School of Medicine and with Precision Nutrition. He is a certified Health & Wellness Coach and Personal Trainer with the American Council on Exercise. Alon has helped thousands of clients lose weight and is on a mission to help more people benefit from weight-loss coaches by making the service more affordable and accessible using technology.
How do you know if you have water weight?
Weight changes that result from water retention tend to be more drastic than weight changes from fat or muscle. For instance, if you weigh 3 pounds heavier in the evening than you did in the morning, this is probably water. True weight loss should be more steady, with an overall downtrend over time.
How long does water weight stay?
Water weight will stick around until you change whatever is causing your body to hold onto extra fluid. Changes in water weight are normal for everybody, but if there’s something in your diet or lifestyle that’s promoting fluid retention, addressing this is what will reduce water weight in the longer term.
How fast do you lose water weight?
Water weight can be lost in a matter of days. What’s most important is addressing whatever underlying issue that’s making your body hold onto extra fluid in the first place.
Is losing water weight good?
Having water weight isn’t usually a problem, but it can be annoying, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. The main benefit to losing water weight is that you can better keep track of true weight loss, and feel less bloated in the process.