When you think of water retention, what comes to mind? Do you think of bloating or just straight up discomfort? Whether it happens to you all the time or just every once in a while, water weight is totally normal and not dangerous at all. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t valid reasons to search how to get rid of water weight when you notice some extra puffiness.
ICYDK, water weight is something the body holds onto in order to balance out hydration levels, so it’s important to go about losing it as safely as possible. That means avoiding dangerous methods like diuretics (a kind of drug that causes you to pee frequently to shed excess fluids) that can dry out the kidneys and lead to damage, says Ana Maria Kausel, MD, a Florida-based endocrinologist and co-founder of Anzara Health.
Curious to know how the process works? Read on for our experts’ take on everything there is to know about the causes behind water weight and how to manage it.
Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, is a Brooklyn-based nutritionist and co-author of The CarbLovers Diet Cookbook.
How long does it take to reduce water weight?
The time it takes to lose water weight will mostly depend on the reason why you’re retaining water to begin with. If you had a long night out and drank a lot, it should take roughly a day for the puffiness to go away, says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a Brooklyn-based nutritionist.
But if your water weight is due to other reasons, it may take longer as you begin to implement changes to your lifestyle and daily habits. The heart, vessels, hormones, and kidneys are also working nonstop to help balance your water and salt levels, Dr. Kausel adds.
That said, trying to lose water weight rapidly can be dangerous and even life-threatening. “Our bodies are designed to be made up by a certain percentage of water and anything less than that will put vital organs in jeopardy,” explains Dr. Kausel. “When you lose water quickly, you get very weak and dizzy.”
Causes of Water Weight
Water retention is usually caused by too much sodium in the body. Your body is always trying to maintain a certain balance. Consuming too much sodium (a.k.a. salt) will result in the body holding onto water to keep your hydration levels stable.
“Eating too much sodium pushes water out of the blood vessel into the tissue. The intravascular volume (the blood inside the vessels) depletes, and the kidneys sense there’s a lack of fluid, therefore retaining more,” explains Dr. Kausel. “The brain senses the salt in the body is high and releases anti-diuretic hormone, which sends a signal to the kidney to retain water until the balance between water and sodium is established.”
Pretty fascinating, right? There are also a few specific reason why you may be experiencing water weight, including:
- Medication. Water retention from medicine is fairly common and is typically a side effect of medications for high blood pressure, chemotherapy, and anti-depressants. Largeman-Roth suggests speaking with your doctor to see if you can switch to something similar but won’t cause fluid accumulation.
- PMS. Ah, PMS (or premenstrual syndrome). You may hear the word, and cringe at its association with cramps, bloating, acne, etc. The bloating before your period is due to changes in estrogen and progesterone levels, but once your period starts, it should slowly go away.
- Pregnancy. “As blood volume increases by 50 percent during pregnancy, you will also experience mild swelling throughout your body, face, hands, and feet,” explains Largeman-Roth. While this is completely normal, extreme swelling in the face and hands could be a sign of preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure that can occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy, she notes.
- Birth control. The hormones in birth control can also contribute to water retention.
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How To Reduce Water Retention Safely
If you’re set on losing water weight, doing it safely should be your number one priority. Here are 10 tricks from Largeman-Roth for shedding excess fluids.
1. Exercise. Even a short cardio session will help you sweat out some of the excess sodium in your body and will improve your mood, helping you feel better.
2. Drink water. It may seem counterintuitive to drink water, but taking in more water will help transport extra sodium out of your body.
3. Use natural forms of diuretics. Cucumber is a natural diuretic. It contains caffeic acid, which helps fight swelling. Other natural diuretics include watercress, artichoke, and asparagus. Add more of these to your diet when you’re trying to reduce bloating
4. Get more potassium. This electrolyte helps rebalance sodium levels. Potassium stars include bananas, oranges, celery, spinach, potatoes, peaches, and winter squash.
5. Go low sodium. Avoid high-sodium foods, like frozen meals and fast food. The recommended sodium level per day is less than 2,300 mg. That sounds like a lot, but it can add up quickly. For example, two slices of bread can have over 400 mg of sodium, and that’s without any toppings!
6. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol causes you to retain water and creates a puffy look throughout the body, especially in the face. If you’re trying to reduce water retention, cut out alcohol for a while. If you still want to imbibe on a night out, make sure to alternate alcohol with a glass of water. The recommended intake for women is no more than two drinks per day.
7. Avoid processed and packaged foods. Skip the chips, soups, packaged and processed foods, which tend to be high in sodium.
8. Meal prep. It’s a time investment, but cooking your own food—at least some of your meals—is a great way to moderate your sodium intake. Many restaurant and fast casual meals have more than 1,200 mg of sodium, which is more than half of the daily recommended intake. It’s fine to enjoy them occasionally, but you’ll deal with much less water weight gain by eating fresh foods.
9. Rinse your beans. Beans are a fantastic plant-based food that’s rich in protein and fiber, but canned beans can be high in sodium. You can reduce the amount significantly by giving them a rinse before cooking them.
10. Add a walk break to your day. If you’re already working out on the daily and you’re still feeling puffy, try adding a 10- to 20-minute daily walk to your routine. Sitting at a desk all day can cause blood to pool in your legs. Walking helps boost circulation and is also a great mental break from stress and your computer screen.
How To Prevent Water Retention Day To Day
Holding onto water is a normal function of the body, but if you find yourself constantly feeling physically uncomfortable because of it, here are five lifestyle changes you can make to keep it at a manageable level.
- Maintain a low-sodium diet.
- Eat plenty of fresh produce and avoid packaged foods.
- Exercise regularly to reduce puffiness.
- Prioritize sleep to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Drink about eight to 10 eight-ounce glasses of water daily.
And remember, depending on the reasons why you’re retaining water, it may take longer than you expect to get rid of it. So, patience is key!
Sabrina is an editorial assistant for Women’s Health. When she’s not writing, you can find her running, training in mixed martial arts, or reading.