If you keep track of your weight, you might notice that you fluctuate between a few pounds each day, regardless of what your personal habits are. First things first, you should know that experience is totally normal, and that weight you keep seeing go away and back again is probably this: water weight.
“Our bodies on average are around 50 to 65 percent water, and that is a pretty big range because it fluctuates day to day,” explains Erica Zellner, MS, LDN, a health coach at Parsley Health in California. Oh, and water and hydration are absolutely critical for, you know, life. “Water weight gain is our body’s way of protecting itself against dehydration, because our body can only survive for a couple of days without water,” she says. In short, water weight is a survival tactic—you need it to stay alive. It’s not something you should look to lose, per se.
Now that you know that, overall, water weight is good for you, it’s time to get a little more detailed. The following are the answers to all your water weight questions, including the causes of water weight, how to know if your weight gain is water weight, whether water weight can be dangerous or unhealthy, and more, all according to an expert health coach and experienced dietitians. (And most importantly, don’t forget to stay hydrated!)
What causes water weight, exactly?
Let’s discuss the physiological aspect of water weight, first. Your body wants to naturally keep water, sodium, and electrolytes in balance, Zellner says. “When you are dehydrated, however, the body’s going to want to conserve as much water as possible,” Zellner explains.
Your hypothalamus will signal your thirst mechanism (for example, your mouth gets dry) first, telling you to bring in more water to the body. At the same time, your pituitary gland will release antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which will tell your body to take as much water as it can from your urine (you know when your pee looks super yellow?).
Your body then takes that recovered water and stores it in your tissue and joints, ensuring that it maintains the balance it needs to survive, Zellner says. “This water retention and recycling of water through urine can cause puffiness and bloating,” she says. In summary, this is how water weight manifests in your body. That said, the following are habits that can spark this physiological water retention in the first place.
- Dehydration. “Most Americans are chronically dehydrated,” says Zellner. “I always recommend drinking about half of your body weight in ounces of water every single day.” And if you find that’s too much or too little water for you? Adjust as needed, but just make sure you check for signs that your body isn’t in a dehydrated state
- Eating a high-sodium diet. If your diet is particularly high in sodium, your body is going to try holding on to more water to balance out your intake, Zellner explains. While a high-sodium diet can mean eating super salty foods, it also means eating lots of processed or packaged foods—they’re loaded with extra sodium as a preservative to give them a longer shelf life, Zellner notes.
- Menstruation. People who menstruate are more likely to retain water a couple days to a week before their periods due to fluctuating hormones.This water retention will reach its peak around the first day of your period, and then it will lessen over the coming days, Zellner says.
How do you know if weight gain is water weight?
If you’re keeping track of your weight, you might be wondering how you can tell whether or not weight you gain or lose is water weight, muscle, or fat. Here’s the deal: You can fluctuate up to five or six pounds per day, depending on how much water you’re retaining, Zellner says. “If it’s true weight loss, it’s going to be slower and more sustained, whereas the water weight is going to be much more variable—one pound down one day, two pounds up the next day, up three pounds a day after that. It’s going to fluctuate a lot,” says Zellner. Noted.
Is water weight gain ever concerning?
In short, water weight gain is not dangerous or unhealthy. The only caveat here? “If somebody notices that maybe there’s swelling or there’s water retention in the place where you don’t normally hold water, that could be a problem,” Zellner says. It’s normal to retain water in your stomach area, in your joints, or even your feet, she notes.
“If you notice that water retention is happening in a place where it doesn’t normally show up, like your knees and your elbows, that’s when it would be good to call your doctor,” Zellner says. “Make sure you get yourself checked out, especially if you have a family history of thyroid or cardiovascular issues,” Zellner says. Unusual fluid retention could be signaling that there’s something else going on, so just err on the side of caution and consult a health care provider if you’re unsure.
How do you lose water weight?
While you’ll never really “lose” your water weight, per se, since your body needs it to live, there are a couple ways to reduce the amount of water weight your body retains in general.
The primary one: Staying hydrated throughout the day. It’s the best way to keep your water weight levels in check, since your body won’t be forced to produce a physiological response to dehydration, Zellner says. “You can also drink things that have slight diuretic effects like cranberry juice or tea, they’re gonna help flush excess water,” says Zellner.
That said, if you’re wondering how to prevent the gaining of water weight in general—even though it’s generally good for you—read below.
How do you prevent water weight gain altogether?
Here are some tips for how to avoid excess or unnecessary water weight gain, according to Zellner.
- Stay hydrated. Again, make sure you’re intaking at least half of your bodyweight in ounces of water. When you’re well-hydrated, you’re less likely to retain water weight in the first place.
- Drink fluids with diuretic effects. You can also try drinking fluids with diuretic effects such as cranberry juice and tea to flush excess water out of your body.
- Avoid salty foods. If you don’t want to retain more water than necessary, try avoiding overly salty or processed foods, which encourage your body to hold onto more water.
- Implement regular movement. Getting in a good sweat-inducing workout can also help flush out your body’s excess water. On a simpler note, if you tend to be at a desk all day, just make sure you’re getting up and walking around regularly, since that movement helps prevent fluid retention by increasing your circulation.
- Manage carbohydrate intake. Excess carbohydrates encourage your body to turn those carbs into glycogen, which is stored in your muscles with water. For every gram of glycogen that we store, our body stores three to four grams of water as well, resulting in the gaining of water weight, Zellner says.
- Get enough sleep. When you’re super stressed and sleep-deprived, your body releases cortisol, which can actually negatively impact your body’s ability to balance its antidiuretic hormone. (Which, as previously mentioned, is the hormone that helps signal to your body that you’re dehydrated and that it needs to retain water.) In short, the less you control your antidiuretic hormones, the less you have control over your water weight, Zellner says.
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