Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Weight gain and weight loss are influenced by several factors. If you are tracking your weight, you might notice that it goes up or down over a few days, even when you haven’t changed your habits much. Slight changes in your weight are totally normal. And one of the things that could cause those changes is water weight.
Your body is about 60% water. A 70 kg man holds 42L of water on average. But certain events or choices can make you have less water or more. Here’s what to know about water weight and how it affects your health.
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What determines your weight?
Your weight is the total of everything in your body. This includes muscle, bone, fat- and water. Water is about 60% of this overall weight. While losing weight, you want to lose fat, not bone or muscle. But water tends to be the first thing you lose. Why is this, and what does it mean for your health and wellness?
What conditions make it easier for your body to retain water weight?
Your body may be more likely to retain water weight under certain circumstances. Some of these include:
- Dehydration: Dehydration means your body doesn’t have enough water. While you may be dehydrated if you lose too much fluid (for instance through frequent urination or stooling) the most common reason is simply that you’re not drinking enough water. Water has many health benefits. Though the recommended daily intake of water varies from person to person, it’s about 3000 ml for men and 2200 ml for women.
If you drink much less, your body won’t have enough water. And once you drink more, it will store it, leading to fluctuations when you climb onto the scale even though you haven’t actually gained fat or muscle.
- High salt intake: High salt intake has been linked to several health conditions including a higher risk of hypertension and stroke. Salt encourages your body to store water, and this could place more pressure on your body’s blood vessels and organs.
- Menstrual cycle changes: Your menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones like estrogen and progesterone. These hormones make it more likely that you’ll retain fluids in the week before your menstrual cycle starts.
- Electrolyte imbalance: If you have lots of body fluid through frequent stooling or sweating, your electrolytes may be low. Low magnesium has been linked to water retention. Research shows that magnesium supplements can relieve some water retention and bloating women feel during certain times in their cycles.
- Medications: Some medicines can make you more likely to retain water. For example, calcium channel blockers and corticosteroids.
- Health conditions: Your body may retain excess water in health conditions affecting your heart, veins, kidney, liver, hormones, and even your nutrition.
When should you worry about water weight?
You should worry about water weight if you notice water retention in specific parts of your body. If you notice swelling in your legs, abdomen, knees, face, or arms then it might be a good idea to seek medical attention.
How do you lose water weight?
Your body is mostly water, so water weight isn’t a bad thing. Your body regulates the amount of water in it naturally. You don’t need to worry about water weight as long you are making healthy food and drink choices.
How can you prevent excess water weight?
Excess water weight may make you feel bloated and uncomfortable. Here are some tips that may help.
- Drink enough water: It sounds counterintuitive, but drinking water can help you lose water weight. Drinking water helps your body function well. When you don’t drink enough, your body might hold on to the excess. When you’re hydrated, you’re more likely to get rid of extra fluids and sodium.
- Choose drinks that help you lose excess fluid: Black tea, green tea, and cranberry juice can help your body flush out excess water in urine.
- Choose a low-salt diet: Salty food can make you retain water. A low-salt diet protects you from the excess salt and limits this. Getting enough fiber can also help keep your fluid levels in balance.
- Choose fewer carbohydrates: Carbohydrates encourage your body to make glycogen which is stored in your muscles. Every gram of glycogen encourages your body to store four grams of water. Low-carb foods like lean protein and vegetables are less likely to have this effect.
- Get physically active: Physical activity has numerous benefits and it can also help you lose water weight. You might not feel like sweating it out when you’re bloated or retaining fluids, but it can really help. Physical activity improves circulation and increases your sweating, which helps you lose any excess water. We’ve weighed up whether HIIT, cardio, or strength is the best exercise for weight loss here.
- Sleep well: On average, adults need seven or more hours of sleep every night. Without sleep, your body releases high levels of cortisol—a stress hormone. This can make you more likely to retain fluids. Good sleep keeps cortisol levels low and supports proper functioning of your hormones and organs.
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A note of caution about water pills.
It’s a good idea to avoid water pills when you are trying to lose water weight, except in the case that they are prescribed by your doctor. Using water pills without a prescription can lead to unwanted side effects like severe dehydration, vomiting, tiredness, weakness, joint disorders like gout, and heart problems.
Water weight is a normal part of your body weight and the part that easily goes up or down. Small fluctuations are to be expected as your hormones, diet, and physical activity levels change from day to day.
You can discourage your body from storing excess water weight by making choices that promote good circulation and hormone balance, such as good sleep, physical activity, and staying hydrated.
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