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Water Weight: What it is and how to get rid of it

Updated on June 14, 2014

Water weight is extremely frustrating. One day you're super lean, the next you look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. How do we know whether what we see is water weight? Is it fat?

Water Weight

Water weight/retention (or edema, its medical name) is basically water that your body retains. It accumulates around the stomach, chest, lower body and areas like your fingers, toes, ankles and even your face. It can make certain parts of your body like your fingers, ankles, and face look bloated.

LeanGains' description of water weight as "swollen, watery tissue" is quite accurate.

Water weight can be disturbing because it can cause you to gain pounds overnight, and add softness to your physique. No, you did not gain fat! 5 lbs of stored fat = roughly 17,500 calories. You did not eat an excess of 17,500 calories last night.


What causes water weight?

  • Under-eating. Eating less than you should be may cause your body to retain water, and even stall weight loss. This is your body's normal response to malnutrition and starvation.
  • Dehydration. Many wouldn't consider this to cause water retention -- after all, if you're not getting much water, you shouldn't be hanging onto much, should you? Wrong. If your body has little water, the kidneys produce little urine. Your body hangs on to the little water it has to avoid losing more. Drink water, and you pee out that water as your body expects more water to come. Diuretics like alcohol and tea can also cause water retention as they flush water out of your system and aid dehydration.
  • Sugar. Sugar raises your insulin levels, and high levels of insulin make it harder for your body to remove salt -- causing water weight!
  • Menstrual cycle. This causes bloat and water weight in the majority of women, and some experience it two weeks prior to their period.
  • Pregnancy comes with hormones that encourage the body to hold onto excess fluid.
  • Medication. Oral contraceptives like the pill that contain estrogen can trigger fluid retention. Certain drugs, including high blood pressure medication (antihypertensives), corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are known to cause fluid retention.
  • Hot weather and burns. During hot weather, our body becomes less efficient at removing fluid from tissues. As a response to burns (including sunburn), the skin retains fluid and swells.

  • Dietary deficiency. Insufficient protein or vitamin B1 (thiamine) in the diet can cause water retention.
  • Medical conditions such as kidney disease, heart failure, thyroid disease, liver failure, arthritis and malignant lymphoedema.
  • Inactivity -- lack of exercise only aggravates the water weight!
  • Your diet. Eating a lot of carbohydrates. Each gram of glycogen is bound to four grams of water. This is why ketosis leans people out -- when you start a very low carb diet, you cut off the body's supply of dietary carbs and this leads to a rapid emptying of the liver and muscle glycogen stores. You lose that glycogen -- you lose the associated water.


How do I get rid of water weight?

Now that you know what causes water weight, you should have an idea of what to do to avoid it. Drink a lot of water, eat less processed and salty food and food with a high sugar content to avoid the excess sodium and sugar. Exercise! Exercise makes you sweat and sweating will not only get rid of the excess water, but rid the body of that extra sodium which has been retaining the water.

For me, a low-carb diet has worked wonders. I have always been bloated, always been hanging on to water weight. Upon switching to ketosis I shook off the excess water and have never felt better! However, low carb diets can dehydrate you, so drink a lot of water. A lot.

If you fear that your water weight may be due to medication or health problems, contact your doctor. Alternatives of your medication and treatment of any diseases may be available.

How frequently do you experience water retention?

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    • Danida profile image

      Danida 3 years ago from London

      @FlourishAnyway: Thank you!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Good hut, Danida! I especially appreciated knowing all the causes.