If you’re looking in the mirror and wondering why you casually woke up with a “balloon belly,” water weight may be to blame. Naturally, unwarranted bloating may immediately cause you to freak out—but don’t. We here at Eat This, Not That! did some digging and chatted with experts who break down the reasons why you have water weight and what to do about it.
Here’s everything you should be aware of when it comes to water weight, along with exactly how you can get rid of it. Keep reading to learn more, and when you’re finished, be sure to check out The 20 Worst Ways to Lose Weight.
What is water weight?
Did you know that a good portion of your body is comprised of water? According to Brittany Dunn, MS, RDN, CD, a registered dietitian, a chef specializing in sports nutrition, and a member of our Medical Expert Board, “It is the heaviest thing in our bodies besides our bones. Water takes up the spaces between and inside our cells. Normally, excess fluids go through the kidneys and are excreted through urination, however, sometimes excess fluids can be retained between the organs and skin.”
Again, don’t freak out if you’re experiencing water weight. It’s important to note that water weight is different than gaining weight/body fat due to excess calorie consumption; it occurs when your body holds on to, well, extra water. In addition, your body needs water to function to the best of its ability. And lastly, gaining water weight here and there is normal. (However, keep in mind that there are some conditions that could cause water retention, such as venous insufficiency—which we touch upon below—that need to be addressed as soon as possible.)
“Water weight is not necessarily a bad thing,” Dunn stresses. “Water helps our body regulate temperature, helps with heart and brain function, and aids in digestion.”
So now that we know what water weight is, let’s dive into some of the culprits behind water weight and what you can do to lose it.
Why you have water weight:
1. You’re consuming too much salt.
Salty foods can result in water weight. “Typically, this is a common thing that can happen as salt will draw out the water, making it go to those places you don’t want it to go,” explains Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND an award-winning nutrition expert and a Wall Street Journal best-selling author of Up Your Veggies: Flexitarian Recipes for the Whole Family. “But this is usually a short-term issue.”
2. It’s that time of the month.
Cramps, mood swings, and bloating—oh, the joys of that time of the month! Your menstrual cycle could also be to blame for your water weight. “Many women tend to retain water right before and during their menstrual cycle,” Amidor tells us. “This is due to hormone changes during the menstrual cycle which can also lead to breast tenderness (another symptom of PMS). The water weight tends to go away once menstruation ends.”
For individuals who are obese or overweight, losing weight can help decrease water weight during that time of the month, Amidor says. In addition, regular exercise and a nutritious diet can help bring down the excess fluids.
3. You’re eating a lot of carbs.
Carbohydrates are another reason why your body may be holding onto excess water. “Water weight is also influenced by our energy stores (glycogen); which we need to be able to do anything throughout the day,” Dunn explains. “For every one gram of glycogen stored, we store three to four grams of water. When you stop eating carbohydrates, your body uses up your glycogen to provide it with energy. As the stored glycogen is used up, the stored water goes away with it. Initial weight loss might look fast at the beginning, but it’s mostly from water and glycogen and not fat loss.”
4. You’re dehydrated.
This may sound a tad obvious, but when you’re dehydrated, your body craves more water! So it’s only fitting that dehydration would result in water retention. “When the body is dehydrated, it tends to hold on to more water until the balance of fluids is restored,” says Dunn.
According to the Mayo Clinic, other symptoms of dehydration include urinating less frequently, dizziness, fatigue, extreme thirst, and dark-colored urine. If you recognize these symptoms with your water retention, you likely need to drink more H2O.
5. You have venous insufficiency.
Venous insufficiently is a condition where your veins aren’t functioning like they’re supposed to, which typically results in noticeable water retention in your feet and lower legs. “Venous insufficiency can lead to discomfort, skin darkening, and potentially lead to infection,” Amidor cautions. “It tends to occur when sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time, like on a long flight.”
Keeping up a healthy body weight, not smoking, and avoiding sitting or standing for extended periods of time can help you deal with venous insufficiency, Amidor adds. “For example, when you take a long flight, you should get up and walk around and stretch for a few moments if possible,” she says. “Compression socks/stockings can also help decrease the amount of swelling in the affected areas by promoting proper blood flow.”
6. You’re dealing with an underactive thyroid.
“[An underactive thyroid] is a health condition where your thyroid isn’t working properly, and your healthcare provider may prescribe a diuretic to help remove excess water,” Amidor explains. If you think you are dealing with thyroid issues, it’s always a smart idea to check in with your healthcare professional as soon as possible. They may prescribe you a diuretic to eliminate excess water, Amidor points out.
How to lose water weight:
Now that you know some of the potential reasons behind your water weight, here’s how to address it, according to the experts.
1. Consume closer to the recommended daily amount of carbs and sodium.
It’s important to be mindful of your daily values, and don’t exceed them! Dunn explains, “Both [carbohydrates and sodium] can cause excess water retention along with other potential issues.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration explains the daily value of sodium should be less than 2,300 milligrams each day. In addition, research shows that 45% to 65% of your daily calorie intake can be designated to carbs.
2. Drink more water.
In order to stay properly hydrated and avoid water retention, Dunn encourages you to drink more water. “When the body is dehydrated, it tends to hold on to more water until the fluid balance is restored,” she says.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, the average amount of daily H2O for healthy men is around 15.5 cups, and for healthy women, it’s about 11.5 cups. Keep in mind that the amount of cups of plain water may vary depending on how much water you’re getting from other sources like veggies, fruits, tea, coffee, and juice.
3. Check in with your healthcare provider about your medications.
Checking in with your healthcare provider is always a smart idea when you notice any sort of changes in your body, like water retention. A great topic to chat about during your visit is evaluating your medications. Dunn explains, “Some medications such as antidepressants and blood pressure medication can contribute to minor water retention.”