10 Things Experts Wish You Knew About Water Weight

Updated: Feb. 12, 2021

Water weight may make you feel puffy, but it’s not the same as excess pounds. Before you rush to detox, get the facts on water weight and its healthy role in your body.


It isn’t technically a problem

Water weight is just excess fluid inside and outside cells, and it can look different on everyone. “Most people can tell they’re holding onto extra water because their rings feel tighter on their fingers,” says Mitzi Dulan, team nutritionist for the Kansas City Royals and author of The Pinterest Diet: How to Pin Your Way Thin. Other people notice it in their back, cheeks, hands, or feet. While a little extra water weight can mean a higher number on the scale or a less defined six pack, it’s part of the body’s natural fluctuations and there’s no reason to fight it, certainly not with a quickie diet that promises to erase 10 pounds in a day. “It’s not healthy to just focus on sweating and losing water weight temporarily by going into a more dehydrated state,” Dulan says. Here are some more myths about weight loss you need to stop believing.


Sodium is the number-one cause

If you feel like you’ve put on a few pounds after a sushi dinner, blame the soy sauce. “Water weight can fluctuate significantly with your sodium intake,” Dulan says. Your body will hold onto excess water to dilute the high levels of sodium, keeping your sodium levels steady even if you stuff yourself with salty foods. Try swapping soy sauce for coconut aminos, which has nearly half the sodium content.


Carbo-loading is water loading

While the occasional cookie or bowl of pasta won’t undo your hard-earned weight-loss efforts, artificial sweeteners and refined carbs can hike water retention. “Carbo-loading, which athletes do, fills muscles with as much glycogen, a storage form of sugar, as possible, which holds more water,” says Melina Jampolis, MD, author of The Doctor on Demand Diet. That’s why people seem to lose weight so quickly when they reduce their carb intake—they’re losing water weight, not fat. Learn the signs you’re drinking too many of your calories.


Workouts can pack on water pounds temporarily

Exercise is a key component of a healthy lifestyle and can lead to weight loss—but perhaps not immediately. That’s because post-workout, your muscles may be temporarily inflamed, and that swelling consisting of excess water. Our advice: Use home remedies to ease muscle pain and be wary of what you see on the scale. For up to 48 hours after your workout, you could see a slight weight gain. “If you’re gaining muscle, you’re gaining water as well, but that’s helpful water,” Dr. Jampolis says. “Each pound of muscle holds about three pounds of water.” She recommends avoiding the scale for the first month entirely so as not to get discouraged, and focusing instead on how much better you look and feel. Here are some more signs you could be drinking too much water.


Hydrating can help

It may seem counterintuitive, but downing more H20 is key for losing water weight and for maintaining a healthier weight in general. And odds are, you’re experiencing the symptoms of dehydration right now. A study from the University of Michigan, one of many on the subject, shows that drinking adequate amounts of water is critical for both helping burn more calories and flushing out excess sodium. It also found that of the people surveyed, one-third were under-hydrated, which is not surprising since the average American tends to drink only four cups a day, according to USDA data. How much should you be drinking, exactly? Divide your weight by two—and aim to drink that number of ounces daily. To stay adequately hydrated, use these tricks to guarantee you drink enough water.

iStock/Joe Potato Photo

You don’t want to fall short on potassium

Not getting enough dietary potassium changes how much sodium your body retains, potentially leading to weight gain and higher blood pressure, according to a study from the Northwestern University Medical School. “People don’t realize that the ratio of sodium to potassium is very important in terms of blood pressure,” says Dr. Jampolis. Adding more potassium-rich foods such as bananas, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens into your diet will help you avoid retaining excess water, and also deliver generous doses of vitamins and minerals.


The body naturally regulates its water

Juice fasts and “detox foods” may seem like a quick ticket to weight loss, but be wary of anything promising detoxification. “The key to detoxification is to avoid toxins,” Dr. Jampolis says. “Don’t take the detox stuff, just take the toxins out.” Plus, a detox can be seriously dangerous for your whole body. The best way to help the body do its natural detox job is to develop healthy eating habits, which means fresh, whole foods, and unsweetened green tea. Dulan also warns against popular diuretics, such as cranberry juice and apple cider vinegar. “If there is a medical reason to take diuretics, then your doctor will prescribe them,” Dulan says. “Otherwise, cranberry juice is high in calories, and that doesn’t make sense.”


Massage can release extra water

In case you need an excuse to get a massage, regularly rubdowns can help rid the body of excess water weight. Or, if you can’t schedule an appointment, try a soothing self-massage. “Massages mechanically help move things through your lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s natural detoxification system,” Dr. Jampolis says. Since some people’s lymphatic systems are more sluggish, settling down for a Swedish can help speed the process. Massages can also help you manage your stress levels—and yes, massage therapists can tell when you’re stressed—which is essential for warding off toxins that could contribute to water weight. “Having a lot of stress is hard on the body and can cause inflammation that produces toxins,” Dr. Jampolis says.


You can sleep off the water weight

Getting proper shuteye will also help with your weight. Research shows a clear link between sleep deprivation and weight gain, and that’s only one way your body changes when you don’t sleep enough. Fewer Zzzs also have a direct impact on water weight because, very simply, you sweat while you sleep, so some of the water weight evaporates as water vapor. Research by Australian physics experts show that you’re also losing weight because of respiration: Each time you breathe, you exhale a little bit of water, which builds up to a significant amount during the seven to nine hours you’re asleep. Check out these other ways to lose weight while you sleep.


Hormones make a difference

Hormones can lead to water retention, especially in women. Research has shown that estradiol and progesterone, primarily responsible for reproduction, also impact fluid and sodium regulation and the body’s balance between the two. In addition to the ways a hormone imbalance affects your body, they may also impact other hormones that regulate water weight. “There’s very close cross-talk between different hormones,” Dr. Jampolis explains, “so higher progesterone levels influence other hormone levels, such as kidney and antidiuretic hormones.” If you’re concerned with how your menstrual cycle impacts your weight, eating fat-releasing foods can shift your body into weight-loss mode at any time of the month. Next, learn the truth about why water weight is so hard to shed.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest