6 Ways To Lose Water Weight Quickly

There are not many things more demotivating than finding your weight has gone up by a pound or two overnight, despite your best efforts at watching what you eat.

Before you get too disheartened, if your weight has jumped over the space of a few days, it’s more likely to be water weight than fat causing the numbers on the scale to rise. Water weight can cause your weight to fluctuate by two to four pounds over several days to a few weeks.¹

Read on to find out what water weight is, what causes it and how you can safely lose it.

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What is water weight?

Approximately 50-60% of our body weight is made up of water. This water is distributed between three compartments: within cells, in the tissue surrounding cells, and in the blood. Water weight is any excess water retained by the body.²

Under normal circumstances, we get water by absorbing it through the digestive system in the form of food or drink. Most excess water is excreted through urination, although some water is lost through sweating and some through defecation.

Our bodies work hard to maintain a perfect balance of fluids and electrolytes. This process is called homeostasis. Our bodies will always aim to achieve homeostasis, so if, for example, you have a very salty meal, leaving your blood salt levels high, your body will automatically hold on to water to “dilute” the extra salt and revert to a state of homeostasis.

Causes of water weight

Many factors can cause you to retain water abnormally. It’s easiest to divide the causes of water retention into physiological causes and pathological causes. Physiological causes are your body’s mechanisms to restore homeostasis, while pathological causes are the result of illness or disease.

1. Salt

A diet high in salt can cause you to retain water weight.  Eating a salty meal causes your body to retain both salt and fluid. This fluid is stored in the body in the space outside the cells (the extracellular compartment).³ As a result, the increased fluid volume can show up on your scale as extra weight.

2. Carbohydrates

When carbohydrates are absorbed, they bind to water; 1g of glycogen (carbohydrate) binds to 3g of water. If you eat a diet that is very high in carbohydrates, you will put on water weight because of all the excess water that you absorb with the carbohydrates. When you metabolize the carbohydrates, for example, during exercise, the water molecules are released.

3. Hormones

In women, changes in aldosterone levels, as well as increased permeability of your blood vessels in the luteal phase of your cycle (anywhere between ovulation and the first day of menstruation) can cause water retention.⁴ This is often exacerbated by the carbohydrate cravings that accompany premenstrual syndrome.

4. Inactivity

Sitting or standing still for long periods can cause “pooling” of blood in your legs and feet. Your circulation is dependent on the pumping action of muscle contractions to work effectively, so when you aren’t using your muscles, fluids in your body are more likely to follow the laws of gravity. You might notice this effect after a long flight, when your ankles and feet may become swollen.

5. Medications

Certain medications can cause water weight gain. A typical example of this is anti-inflammatories. Hormonal medications are another common culprit.

6. Pregnancy

Hormonal changes, as well as the increased overall blood volume that is normal in pregnancy, lead to significant extra water weight. This resolves once the pregnancy is over.

7. Pathological causes

Many medical disorders can cause abnormal water retention. Some of the most common are heart failure, kidney failure, and liver failure. If you can’t find an obvious physiological cause for your extra water weight, you should visit your doctor.

How to lose water weight

1. Limit your salt intake

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day but suggests that adults should ideally aim for only 1,500mg of sodium a day. We are significantly exceeding this: the average American eats around 3,400mg of sodium daily.⁵

Working out your sodium intake

Remember that table salt is sodium chloride. To work out sodium content on food packaging, look for the words “sodium” or “Na.” Five grams of salt contains roughly 2,300mg of sodium.

Another problem with measuring your salt intake is that most of the salt in your diet is not salt that you add to your food once you serve it. Approximately 70% of the average American’s total salt intake comes from packaged foods.

Lower your salt intake by sticking to a diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains and avoiding fast foods and packaged foods.

2. Drink enough water

This can sound slightly paradoxical, but it goes back to what was explained earlier about homeostasis. If you are dehydrated, your body will retain fluids to try to balance out the electrolytes. Drinking more water restores homeostasis. You should aim to drink on average two liters of water per day.²

3. Limit your carbohydrate intake

If you consider that each gram of carbohydrate you eat drags 3g of water along with it, you can understand why restricting your carbohydrate intake will help to reduce water weight. Moreover, if you limit your carbohydrate intake, your body will be forced to use up your existing glycogen stores for energy. As you burn glycogen, it releases the water attached to it, leading to water weight loss.

4. Magnesium

Magnesium supplementation has been shown to decrease some of the water weight associated with premenstrual syndrome.⁶

5. Exercise

Exercise reduces water weight through multiple mechanisms. It causes sweating, which results in water loss; it improves circulation, which prevents the pooling of blood; and it burns glycogen, which releases water weight.

6. Diuretics

Also colloquially known as “water pills,” diuretics cause the kidneys to increase water excretion. Diuretics are often abused by people wanting to lose weight rapidly. They do cause water weight loss; however, they can also lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and hypotension. Unless you have a pathological cause of water retention, you should not take diuretics.

How to tell if your weight loss is water or fat

The best way to tell whether your weight loss is due to water or fat loss is to get a skin fold measurement with skin calipers. This accurately measures your body fat. Another way to distinguish between fat and water weight is to use a body fat scale that utilizes bioelectrical impedance to distinguish between fat and water weight. Unfortunately, these measures are not always readily available.

These are two cheap and simple ways to help tell if you are losing water weight:

  • Monitor how quickly your weight falls off: If it drops too quickly to be true, it’s likely to be water weight.

  • Check the color of your urine: Urine should be clear to straw-colored. If it’s dark, you’re likely dehydrated, and any weight loss is due to water loss.

The lowdown

Water weight can have a significant effect on your overall body weight. It helps to understand what is normal water retention and what is pathological. Normal water weight gain can be caused by multiple factors, including increased salt intake, hormones, increased carbohydrate intake, physical inactivity, and dehydration.

Combating these factors will help to eliminate water weight gain. If the numbers on your scale are fluctuating wildly, it’s likely to be due to water gain or loss, so take a look at your water balance.

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