What is Water Weight and Do I Need to Get Rid of It?

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You've probably felt the discomfort of bloating, gas, and constipation at some point—all of which are normal sensations your body experiences from time to time. But what about water retention? If you've found the number on the scale creeping up without explanation, it may be from water weight fluctuations. This can happen for various reasons, including after a workout, standing for long periods, or following a big meal.

Weight fluctuations on the scale can be confusing and frustrating. But, retaining fluid is usually not a sign of anything serious. With your body comprising 50-70% of water, levels do not remain constant, and maintaining a near enough balance will help your body run like clockwork.

Here's some good news—there are simple steps you can take to curb your water weight safely and effectively, many of which are backed by science or recommended by medical professionals.

What Is Water Weight?

Your weight can fluctuate during the day, and for several reasons. Increased salt intake (which reduces free-water clearance from the body), hormones, and even what you eat can make a difference.

For females especially, certain hormones—such as fluctuating estrogen and progestogen levels through various stages of life—are more likely to cause changes in water weight. This is especially true during pregnancy and menopause.

Let's not rule out certain medications that can cause weight inconsistency due to water retention. Edema (swelling caused by fluid) can occur from taking non-steroidal, anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), antidepressants, blood pressure meds, antivirals, and hormones.

Sometimes a drastic shift in water weight indicates a medical condition and is cause for an examination by a medical professional.

How To Reduce Water Retention

There are safe and effective ways to prevent water retention or ease your current symptoms by flushing out excess fluid from your body. These include:

Exercise Regularly 

Exercise promotes blood flow and circulation throughout your body, helping to lower your rate of water retention. Workouts requiring more glycogen storage (within the muscles) will reduce your water weight as there are around 3 grams of water per 1 gram of muscle.

Stay Hydrated 

Being over-hydrated or under-hydrated both have negative health consequences. Too much water can cause swelling in your cells, water retention, and possible dysfunction of the central nervous system, whilst too little fluid intake can result in fainting due to venous pooling and a reduced blood flow to the brain.

Maintaining an optimal fluid balance will depend on your sex, age, and health status. Look out for warning signs such as a headache, fatigue, and brain fog—indicators of dehydration, and aim to get 80% of your daily fluid intake from plain water, naturally flavored water, and non-caffeinated tea, with the remaining 20% attributed to food.

The best indicator of hydration status is urine color. Urine should be pale yellow if you're properly hydrated.

Prioritize Sleep 

Sleep deprivation can lead to water retention, according to the findings of an observational study across almost 20,000 people based in the US and China. It found that those who slept for 6 hours were more likely to be inadequately hydrated compared to those who slept for eight hours.

Although a direct cause is not evident, it's hypothesized that the body's circadian rhythm can be disturbed during a sleep cycle, meaning the hormone vasopressin (the antidiuretic hormone), which helps with water retention, does not properly function.

The National Sleep Foundation (US) recommends adults aged between 26-64 get seven to nine hours of shuteye a night.

Reduce Stress

Scientists have known for some time about the link between stress and spiked cortisol levels. Cortisol, a hormone that regulates your immune response and also metabolism, can fluctuate when your body is under stress. In the case of physiological stress, your body's cell or tissue fluid can become chemically or physically unbalanced. This can lead to both water weight, and fat gain.

If you are prone to stress, try incorporating simple lifestyle changes, to curb your stress levels and keep your cortisol in balance:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Focus on eating nutrient-rich foods
  • Journalling
  • Develop a self-care routine
  • Head outdoors for some fresh air

Remember Electrolytes 

An imbalance of electrolytes—essential minerals required by the body such as calcium and sodium—are lost throughout the day from sweat and movement, especially intense exercise.

Importantly, electrolytes regulate many functions in the body, including your water levels, and those who live a very active lifestyle will need to replenish their stores to avoid dehydration and the build-up of fluids in the body.

A study on 19 healthy young adults comparing the effects of rehydration methods found that electrolytes best improve fluid retention in the form of a carbohydrate sports drink, with electrolytes contributing best to improving hydration when consumed at rest.

Natural Ways to Lose Water Weight

Fluid shifts in the body are normal. However, If you feel like you are carrying excess water weight you may want to consider some alternative remedies—before starting you should consult with a dietitian or physician

Herbal Treatments

Natural diuretics in the form of herbs and teas have been found to be effective in helping you excrete excess fluid. Black tea, dandelion, coriander, fennel, radish, and melon have all been found as natural and safe treatments to ease water retention.

Green tea can also be useful as it contains caffeine, which acts as a diuretic.

It's worth noting that these natural remedies are not regulated by the FDA. Work with a doctor to find something that works for you.

Over-the-Counter Diuretics

In addition to herbal treatments, Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter diuretic to get rid of water weight. These products are commonly found in drug stores and pharmacies, although just like other OTC pills, they are not FDA approved, and therefore long-term safety is unknown. Before trying for yourself, speak with a medical professional for advice on if OTC pills are right for you.

Safety Tips

There are many supplements on the market claiming to reduce water weight. What's important to remember is that there is a lack of evidence as to the effectiveness of OTC pills. Whilst specific water pills may help to reduce the amount of fluid retained in the body, they are generally prescribed.

Use your common sense before trying a supplement, and be sure not to mix a few at the same time. As always, your first point of call should be a health care practitioner.

Some medical professionals have raised concerns about the use of diuretics to lose water weight. These pills are often misused for quick weight loss. In severe cases, misuse can lead to injury or death.

When to See a Doctor

If you are experiencing lingering discomfort due to an increase in water weight, it may be time to visit a doctor. Underlying conditions such as kidney damage or a poor functioning lymphatic system can wreak havoc on your body and will require a professional diagnosis and treatment.

In the majority of cases, you are simply experiencing a temporary water fluctuation that can leave just as quick as it arrived.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to talk to a doctor if water weight is causing you pain. A health care provider can determine if the condition is normal (as most fluid fluctuation is) or indicates a health concern that needs to be addressed.

Tell a doctor if you are using any kind of treatment to reduce water weight as some herbal supplements, water pills, and even certain foods can interact with medications and diuretics that may be prescribed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you know if you have water weight? 

    The telltale signs of water weight are unusual bloating, swelling, unexplained sudden weight gain, and excess fluid accumulation in parts of the body, such as the legs. Often when you press on an area with a high fluid level, you will see an indentation on the skin. Another approach is to do a body composition analysis to determine your water, fat, and fat-free mass.

    Some gyms and even home weighing scales will provide you with an indication of where your water weight it at. Or, for a more in-depth reading, a certified clinic will provide accurate results; this option can be pricey.

  • Why do you retain water so easily? 

    Genetics, gender, diet, activity, medications, and certain lifestyle choices all play a role in how your body retains water. For example, women can experience premenstrual water retention in the days leading up to their period, or those eating a high sodium diet, which often causes water retention, can experience a fluctuation in water weight.

    Most of the time, the cause is both harmless and temporary. But if the issue persists, speak to a doctor.

  • How long does water weight last? 

    This is dependent on the source of water weight. For example, if you recently ate a large meal that was high in sodium or fried foods, it can take a few days for your body to flush out the excess fluid and restore balance. On the other hand, certain medications that cause water retention, such as prednisone (corticosteroids), which treat inflammatory conditions, will usually need to run their course before the excess fluid is released.

  • How do you know if you’re drinking too much water? 

    Drinking too much water, and too quickly, can cause water toxication known as hyponatremia, reducing your blood sodium concentration and leading to symptoms such as nausea and muscle cramps. To avoid this, calculate your daily water intake and aim to intake as much fluid as you sweat. Electrolyte drinks can also help replenish lost minerals from sweat.

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