Water weight, also called edema, is very common and rarely a cause for concern. However, it may feel uncomfortable and can cause unwanted bloating or puffiness in the body.
This article outlines simple, healthy lifestyle tips for tackling water weight.
Fast facts on water weight:
Water normally makes up 50 to 60 percent of an adult’s total body weight. Any extra water being held in the body is referred to as “water weight.”
When water builds up in the body, it can cause bloating and puffiness, especially in the abdomen, legs, and arms.
Water levels can make a person’s weight fluctuate by as much as 2 to 4 pounds in a single day.
Severe water retention can be a symptom of heart or kidney disease. More often, it is temporary and goes away on its own or with some simple lifestyle changes.
Ways to lose water weight
There are a variety of ways a person can lose water weight quickly and naturally. We look at the most effective techniques:
- Reduce sodium (salt) intake
An easy first step for beating water weight is to replace sodium-rich foods with low-sodium equivalents.
Too much sodium, or salt, can cause immediate water retention. This is because the body needs to keep its sodium-to-water ratio balanced to function properly, so will hold on to water if too much salt is consumed.
The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. An average American will eat over 3,400 mg every day.
Table salt is very high in sodium, but 75 percent of the sodium people consume is hidden in processed foods. These include cheese, cold meats, bread, frozen meals, soup mixes, and savory snacks.
Natural foods, such as vegetables, nuts, and seeds, are very low in sodium. Some foods can even reduce sodium levels, including bananas, avocados, and leafy vegetables.
- Drink more water
While counterintuitive, drinking water can actually reduce water weight. Dehydration can make the body hold on to extra water to make up for lack of incoming water.
Water also improves kidney function, allowing excess water and sodium to be flushed out of the system.
Adults should drink around 2 liters of water a day. Replacing sugary drinks with pure water is a great way to keep up with the body’s daily water needs.
- Reduce carbohydrate intake
Carbohydrates, or carbs, also cause the body to store extra water. When we eat carbs, the energy that we do not use right away is stored as glycogen molecules. Each gram (g) of glycogen comes with 3 g of water attached.
Cutting down on carbs is a quick way to use up the glycogen stores, which means that the water weight will also be reduced.
According to the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board, adults need at least 130 g of carbohydrates to function each day, but the average American diet includes much more than this.
Common carbs include bread, rice, and pasta. Replacing some daily sources of carbs with high-protein foods, such as lean meats, eggs, and soy products, can reduce the buildup of water weight.
Vitamin B-6 and magnesium oxide can be effective natural remedies for fluid retention.
These supplements work with the kidneys to help the body flush extra water and sodium from the system.
Studies show that these two supplements are very effective at relieving the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome or PMS, including water retention. They can also reduce abdominal bloating, swelling in the legs, and breast tenderness.
It is best for someone to talk to a doctor before taking new supplements, as they can have side effects or interactions with other medications.
Exercise lets the body sweat out extra water. This causes water weight to drop immediately after exercise.
A workout also stimulates blood flow and improves circulation, which can reduce fluid buildup throughout the body, especially in the legs and feet.
Exercise reduces water weight even more by burning through glycogen energy stores. However, replacing lost fluids is vital after any physical activity to avoid dehydration.
- Water pills
Water pills can treat mild fluid retention, as prescribed by a doctor. These pills work as diuretics, meaning they make a person urinate more often. Urination lets the body get rid of excess water and sodium.
Water pills are not recommended for long-term use. They should always be used as instructed by a doctor to avoid dehydration or mineral deficits.
Anyone can experience fluid retention, but some risk factors increase the chances of it occurring. These include:
a sedentary lifestyle
heart, liver, or kidney conditions
Key causes of water weight include:
- Food choices. High sodium and high carb diets can lead to water retention. Potassium and magnesium deficiencies can also cause extra water weight.
- Menstrual cycle. In women, natural hormone variations can cause increases in water retention in the week before menstruation. Cravings for salty foods and carbohydrates can also lead to further water retention at this time.
- Physical inactivity. Sitting or standing for a long time can stop fluids from circulating around the body properly. This causes water to build up around the body tissue, leading to swelling in the extremities.
- Heart or kidney disease. These can disrupt the normal flow of blood around the body. This disruption can cause a buildup of fluids, resulting in swelling and extra water weight.
- Medications. Water retention is a side effect of many medications. These include anti-inflammatories and some oral contraceptives. A person should consult their doctor if any medication causes worrying side effects.
Maintaining a healthful, low-sodium, and low-carb diet can keep water weight at bay.
The American Heart Association recommend doing 2.5 hours of exercise per week. Keeping the body active can prevent fluids from building up and reduce water weight. People should be sure to stay hydrated during exercise.
Women can plan for menstruation-related fluid retention by introducing exercise and vitamin supplements into their monthly routine.
When to see a doctor
Water weight is rarely a cause for medical concern, although, in some cases, it can be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition.
Severe or serious water retention may include a tight appearance of the skin and skin that keeps a dimple when it is pressed. This is called pitted edema.
Fluid retention that occurs alongside coughing and shortness of breath, especially while lying down, may be a sign of fluid in the lungs or heart failure. This requires urgent medical attention.
Even if the water retention is not severe, it is always best to consult a doctor if a person is worried about their symptoms.
Water weight is not usually a cause for concern, but it can be uncomfortable and recurring.
Reducing salt and carbohydrate intake, keeping hydrated, and frequently exercising are all good ways to lose water weight and prevent it from returning.