8 Water Weight Causes and 9 Ways To Get Rid of It

Experts share what causes and tips for preventing water weight.

You've probably heard that when you lose weight fast, it's usually water weight. Or maybe you point fingers at water weight after stepping on the scale when feeling really bloated. Yet, water weight is normal and your body's way of protecting itself against dehydration—and yes, it can go away on its own.

"Water weight is where the body retains fluid that normally would go to the kidneys," explained Lynn Mack, MD, an endocrinologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Too much water weight may make you feel swollen and uncomfortable, depending on your situation. Here's what you need to know about water weight, where it comes from, and how to get rid of it when needed.

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Water Weight Causes and Ways To Get Rid of It

Water weight is when fluid collects in your tissues, causing them to swell—and it's often not the best feeling. Causes of water weight include:

  • Salty and carbohydrate-heavy foods
  • Menstruation
  • Pregnancy
  • Hormonal birth control
  • Cortisol levels
  • Travel
  • Certain medications
  • Poor circulation

Instead of peeing out extra fluid, your body stores it between your organs and skin, Mack said. Water weight may be uncomfortable, but it's usually temporary, and it doesn't mean you've gained muscle or fat. Ways to get rid of water weight include:

  • Drinking more water
  • Avoiding super salty and sugary foods
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating hydrating foods
  • Reducing carbohydrates
  • Trying supplements or water pills
  • Improving your sleep
  • Decreasing stress
  • Taking electrolytes

Cause: Salty and Carbohydrate-Heavy Foods

One of the most common causes of water weight is excess salt in your diet. According to a study published in 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, sodium binds with water and keeps it trapped in the body.

"The higher the sodium in the diet, the more fluid retention a person will have," said Dr. Mack. Carbs can also impact fluid retention, specifically if you start adding them back after a period of restricting them, according to a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

"The carbohydrates we don't use right away for energy, we store as glycogen," explained Joanna Sheill DiCicco, a registered dietitian based in Mich. "Glycogen pulls in water, so the more glycogen we are storing, the more water we are taking in."

Cause: Menstruation

Due to fluctuating hormones, many people retain water weight the week before their period. Fluid retention may reach its peak on the first day of your actual period before subsiding for that cycle, according to a study published in 2011 in Obstetrics and Gynecology International.

You might also notice swelling in your face, legs, arms, breasts, and pubic area in the days leading up to your period.

"With this type of fluid retention, the breasts can get really tender, and some women get belly fullness," said Dr. Mack.

Cause: Pregnancy

Pregnancy can cause you to gain water weight, especially as you get closer to your due date. You may see swelling in your hands, feet, or ankles. Hormones are partly to blame, but the growing fetus also places strain on your blood vessels.

"With pregnancy, you have a big belly, so the [pressure causes] the fluid to go out into the tissues, and it has trouble getting back into the vessels," said Jennifer Wu, MD, an OB-GYN at Manhattan Women's Health in New York City.

If your only symptom is swelling, it's probably normal. Although, the weight may not all come off the minute after delivery. If you have sudden swelling that hurts, you may have developed a blood clot (especially if the problem is only in one leg), according to the National Library of Medicine. If you notice sudden swelling that hurts, get to a healthcare provider immediately.

Cause: Hormonal Birth Control

Just like there's a connection between water retention and pregnancy and menstruation, hormonal birth control can also sometimes cause water weight.

Both the estrogen and progestin in birth control pills can be culprits, said Dr. Mack. And usually, the water weight isn't major and doesn't last long. But you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about other birth control options, Dr. Wu added.

Cause: Your Cortisol Levels

Cortisol is best known as a "stress hormone," although it's much more than that. It's involved in keeping blood sugar and blood pressure levels stable, balancing metabolism, reducing inflammation, and even forming memories, according to the Endocrine Society. While water retention as a result of elevated cortisol levels isn't common, it can happen.

"You'd have to have a pathophysiologic release of cortisol for that," clarified Dr. Mack. "Just being stressed won't do that."

In other words, there would have to be a lot of cortisol. Phew.

Cushing syndrome, for instance, might cause water retention, according to Cushing's Support and Research Foundation. That condition occurs when tumors on the pituitary or adrenal glands release too much cortisol into the blood. Also, people with low levels of thyroid hormone (also known as hypothyroidism) can develop swelling around their eyes, added Dr. Mack.

Cause: Travel

Sitting for long periods on cross-country flights or long road trips can cause water retention.

"Your muscles contract literally from sitting for too long," said Dr. Mack. Therefore, your feet and legs may swell in response as the fluid pools there.

Cause: Certain Medications

Some medications for high blood pressure, like calcium channel blockers, can cause you to retain fluid, according to a study published in 2019 in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Technology.

And certain anti-inflammatory medications, like corticosteroids, cause your body to hold onto sodium and lose potassium, resulting in fluid retention, according to a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Physiology.

If you're concerned about gaining too much water weight, your healthcare provider can help you determine whether your medicine is the cause. If necessary, they can provide an alternative.

Cause: Poor Circulation

As we age, our circulatory systems become weaker. And sometimes our circulatory systems weaken because of a more serious condition, like heart failure (which is also more common as we age), according to Elizabeth Kavaler, MD, a urologist based in New York City.

The valves in the veins of our legs, which are supposed to keep blood flowing upward to the heart, collapse a little as we age, so the blood pools in the lower extremities and causes fluid retention.

"It's physics," explained Dr. Mack. "You just get more pressure pushing down on those legs."

Prevent: Drink More Water

You might think that putting more water into your body adds more water weight. It turns out that the opposite is true.

If your body feels starved for water, it will hold on to whatever water it has. So, if you're retaining water, make sure you're getting plenty of H2O, especially if you're also eating foods that are salty or high in sugar.

It might also help to limit tea, coffee, and alcohol, all of which can be dehydrating. Cranberry juice, on the other hand, has a slight diuretic effect and may help flush out some excess water.

Prevent: Avoid Super Salty and Sugary Foods

It's not so much the salt-shaker on your table you have to worry about. The salt used as a preservative in many processed and restaurant foods contributes roughly 70% of our salt intake, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"All of your processed, packaged foods are going to have more sodium simply because [the manufacturers] want them to stay on the shelf longer," explained DiCicco.

Replacing sugary drinks with water is an excellent way to boost hydration while also cutting back on excess carbohydrates that can cause fluid retention. The carbohydrates hold fluid because the body stores them as glycogen in the muscles and liver, according to a study published in 2018 in the journal Nutrition Reviews.

Cook from scratch when you can, using non-processed items like fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you need a packaged item, read the label, compare sodium content across similar products, and limit how often you choose sweets and sweet drinks.

Prevent: Exercise Regularly

Physical activity is key to losing water weight. Not only will you be sweating out some fluid, but you'll also get thirsty and want to drink more water, said DiCicco.

Moving around can also help decrease puffiness. So, if you're driving long distances, stop the car at regular intervals so you can get out and stretch your legs. Move around when you can on planes, buses, or trains, and do simple exercises with your feet and legs while seated.

Regular exercise is also important if you're pregnant (although, resting with your feet up is smart as well).

Prevent: Eat Hydrating Foods

"When we are on restrictive diets and at first lose weight quickly, that really is just water weight from the loss of stored glycogen from our muscles," said DiCicco.

Choosing hydrating foods is a safe and healthy way to lose excess water weight and is almost as good as drinking water.

"Foods that have high water content help with increasing one's overall hydration," said DiCicco.

Taking in more fluids–even in the form of hydrating foods–will ultimately help your body excrete water. Watermelon, spinach, strawberries, and cantaloupe, among other fruits and veggies, all have a lot of water. Eating potassium-rich foods like tomatoes and sweet potatoes (and most fruits and vegetables) can also help you get rid of excess salt, added DiCicco.

Prevent: Reduce Carbohydrates

As DiCicco explained, excess carbohydrates that our body does not immediately use as energy becomes glycogen, which packs three grams of water.

Per the National Library of Medicine, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, you should consume 275 grams of carbohydrates per day. Try swapping bread and pasta for meat, fish, or poultry to cut down on your carbohydrate intake.

Prevent: Try Supplements or Water Pills

Some of the best supplements that may help reduce water weight include vitamin B6, magnesium, and dandelion. Particularly, magnesium is an electrolyte that helps control the amount of water inside of your body.

Per one study published in 2010 in the Iranian Journal of Midwifery Research, researchers reported that magnesium and vitamin B6 supplements not only reduced water weight but also decreased symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) among participants.

Additionally, dandelion supplements may help reduce water weight by telling your kidneys to get rid of urine and excess sodium.

Prevent: Improve Your Sleep

Generally, quality sleep is important for your overall health. According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, you should sleep for seven to nine hours per night.

But it turns out that sleep may also help decrease water weight. For example, one study published in 2010 in the journal American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology found that the number of hours spent sleeping has some effect on your kidneys.

When you allow your body adequate time to rest, it can effectively manage the amount of water and sodium that it stores, decreasing excess water weight.

Prevent: Decrease Stress

The hormone cortisol is the main culprit causing stress. In excess, cortisol can increase water weight.

That's because cortisol levels directly correlate to antidiuretic hormone (ADH) levels, which control the amount of water inside your body by communicating with your kidneys.

Prevent: Take Electrolytes

Electrolytes, like magnesium, help manage the amount of water that your body stores. And when your electrolyte levels are out of balance, you may gain water weight.

So, if you are significantly increasing or decreasing your water intake (by drinking too much water or vigorously exercising, for example), consider helping your body balance its electrolyte levels with supplements.

Summary

There are many possible causes for holding water weight. Try these tips to help you get rid of that extra fluid. If water weight affects your everyday quality of life, talk to a healthcare provider for additional help.

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