What is water weight? Myths and facts explained
Staying hydrated is crucial, but is it possible for your body to retain too much water?
You were likely taught the importance of drinking plenty of water and maintaining hydration from a very young age. It plays an enormous role in most aspects of your body, from organ function and cellular regeneration to cognitive ability and mood regulation.
But is it possible for your body to retain too much water? Could you be drinking an excessive amount, leading to water weight gain? And if so, is losing this excess water weight possible?
Unfortunately, countless myths and false theories are circulating the facts in this space. To help you form a clearer picture, let’s explore water weight in more detail, common causes and symptoms for mild fluid retention, and strategies to lose excess water weight.
What is water weight?
Let's clarify what we mean when we say, 'water weight'.
Naturally, the body will require constant replenishment of water for a range of internal functions, such as aiding digestion, nutrient absorption, regulating body temperature, and removing waste .
Water weight, however, refers to any excess fluids the body stores outside of these functions. Also referred to as edema and water retention, fluid retention can cause a host of issues, namely swelling, tenderness, and weight gain .
What percentage of body weight is water?
Our bodies are primarily made of water, with the exact amount depending on our age and stage of development . For example, when we are infants, our total water weight can be as high as 75%, but as we age, this can decrease to 55-50%.
Some areas of the body are more dependent on water than others. Vital organs like the heart, brain, lungs, and kidneys can range between 73-83% water, but bones are only 31% . Research also shows that women typically have a lower water content than men, as they will hold a comparatively higher body fat content and lower muscle mass.
Given that such a large percentage of our body weight is water, maintaining a strong fluid balance ensures each area receives the required supply. Advice varies on how much water we should drink each day, especially when you consider age, gender, weight, metabolism, physical activity levels, temperature, and a whole host of other factors.
As a good starting point for maintaining hydration levels, if we consider a standard cup of fluids holds 250ml, men would need approximately 10 cups, and women would require 8 cups each day (9 cups if pregnant or breastfeeding) .
Causes of water weight
If you are concerned about the fluid retention levels in your body and want to begin decreasing excess water weight, it's important to understand the possible cause of water weight gain.
While we all might enjoy a beautiful day in the sun, the body's approach to utilising the water within our body changes during the summer months or in warmer climates.
Our body temperatures will naturally rise, and in response, we retain fluids to balance the loss through sweating and other cooling functions, preventing dehydration but also resulting in noticeable swelling in various parts of the body.
Gravity pulls everything downwards, and that includes the water in our body. People who regularly stand for long periods, such as nurses and retail workers, often experience mild fluid retention in their lower legs, ankles, and feet. However, this isn't a long-term issue and can often be alleviated by simply elevating the legs to work against the pull of gravity.
Individuals with a sedentary lifestyle or suffering from mobility issues may also experience fluid retention in their lower legs. Long periods with a lack of movement can weaken the calf muscle pump, which is essential for circulating blood and lymph fluid back up to the heart. Without regular activity, fluids can accumulate in the lower parts of the body, such as our ankles and legs.
Burns to the skin
When the skin suffers an acute burn — even a nasty sunburn — it responds with brief fluid buildup at the site(s) of injury as a protective mechanism to cushion and heal the affected tissue. This can lead to localised swelling, with the severity of fluid retention often matched by the degree of the burn.
People who menstruate may recognise that their body's weight fluctuates throughout their cycle. This is because the fluctuating hormones that arise during the lead-up to menstruation, particularly elevated levels of oestrogen and progesterone, can also cause water weight. These hormonal changes can impact the systems normally regulating fluid balance, creating that unpleasant sensation of bloating and puffiness.
The oestrogen in hormonal birth control pills can also increase fluid retention. The synthetic hormones in these contraceptives mimic the action of naturally occurring hormones, influencing the body’s fluid regulation processes and sometimes leading you to gain water weight.
Pregnancy induces significant hormonal shifts designed to support both the mother and the developing fetus. These hormonal changes often prompt the body to retain more fluid. Additionally, the growing uterus can exert pressure on the pelvic veins, impairing the return of blood to the heart and leading to water retention in the legs and feet.
If you have a diet high in processed foods or regularly eat foods with too much salt and excess carbohydrates, you might experience health problems beyond just water weight.
With that said, insufficient protein or vitamin B1 supply can impair the body's ability to manage fluids. Protein helps to hold salt and water inside the blood vessels, preventing them from leaking into the tissues, and vitamin B1 can help maintain nerve function and energy production. If you continue to have an elevated salt intake, your body will have no support and retain water weight, leading to swelling and other complications.
The extra weight from obesity can exert pressure on the circulatory system and increase the risk of developing conditions like high blood pressure, kidney disease, and heart disease, all of which can contribute to oedema. The kidneys, in particular, play a pivotal role in managing body fluid levels as they filter the blood, removing waste while retaining necessary substances. If the kidneys aren't functioning optimally, they can't efficiently remove waste and excess fluids, leading to fluid retention in the body.
Certain drugs, including antihypertensives to keep high blood pressure levels stable, corticosteroids, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are known to cause fluid retention as a side effect of altering the body's electrolyte balance.
Water retention can also stem from a slow metabolism. If the body can't properly utilise hormones from the thyroid throughout its normal processes, it creates a lower internal body temperature. These conditions slow temperature-dependent biochemical relations, such as transporting fluids to and from cells and the operation of blood vessels, contributing to the body storing too much water weight.
Water weight can arise from a range of underlying, chronic medical conditions, including :
- Arthritis: Some arthritis types cause joints to swell with fluid.
- Allergic reactions: Body swelling in response to allergens.
- Autoimmune diseases: Conditions like lupus cause inflammation and fluid retention.
- Chronic lung diseases: Diseases like severe emphysema exert pressure on the heart.
- Heart failure: Ineffective blood pumping leads to fluid retention, congestion in veins, liver enlargement, and swelling in body cavities and legs.
- Kidney disease: Conditions like nephrotic syndrome and acute glomerulonephritis.
- Liver disease: Liver failure from severe cirrhosis impairs the production of proteins.
- Malignant lymphoedema: Cancerous tumours blocking the lymphatic system, preventing fluid drainage.
- Thyroid disease: Hypothyroidism slows metabolism, causing the body to retain more fluid.
Symptoms of water weight
Depending on the cause and area of water retention, overall water weight manifests in many different symptoms:
- Changes in skin colour: Your skin might appear redder or darker than usual.
- Swelling: You may notice sudden swelling and enlargement of the affected area due to accumulated fluid.
- Shiny or puffy skin: Skin over the swollen area may stretch and appear glossy.
- Pitting oedema: When pressed, your skin may retain an indent for a few seconds.
- Aches and tenderness: The swollen area may feel sore or tender to the touch.
- Stiffness in joints: Fluid retention can limit joint mobility, causing stiffness and impaired range of motion.
- Weight gain: Sudden or unexplained weight gain can signify widespread fluid retention.
How do you get rid of water weight?
If you want to lose water weight, you need to understand the cause.
Is your diet leaving you with an elevated sugar or carbohydrate intake? Do you need more physical activity in your daily routine? Perhaps there is a health condition you need to address with your GP?
If you're not certain of the cause, here are some smart actions to start to decrease water weight and live a healthier life.
Reduce sodium levels in your diet
When we try to eat healthier, we always focus on minimising sugary foods and replacing sugary drinks with more nutritious alternatives. If you want to drop a few extra kilos of water, you should try to do the same with the salty foods in your diet.
Excessive sodium intake leads to immediate water retention as the body maintains its sodium-to-water ratio.
Try opting for low-sodium alternatives, limit table salt use, and avoid (or limit) high-sodium processed foods like cold meats, cheese, frozen meals, and savoury snacks.
Instead, reach for potassium-rich foods where possible, including leafy greens, bananas, avocados, dried fruits, broccoli, and beans. Potassium is a powerful electrolyte that can combine with sodium to regulate fluids in your cells better.
Lower your carbohydrate intake
Carbohydrates are a great fuel source, but when left unused, they are stored as glycogen, which can bind with water and lead to retention. Reducing the amount of carbs in your diet will utilise existing glycogen stores and, by extension, decrease water weight.
Minimise carb-heavy foods like bread, rice, and pasta in your meals. Replace their usual place on your plate with high-protein alternatives like lean meats, eggs, and soy products.
Reset your metabolism
By taking steps to accelerate your metabolism, you can increase your internal body temperature and improve the efficiency of several vital systems.
Juniper’s Weight Reset Program is designed to effectively target your metabolism for sustainable weight loss. Applying a medical approach to weight loss, the program offers:
- Treatment: Receive treatments created and monitored by qualified practitioners, including health practitioners, nurses, dietitians, health coaches, and pharmacists.
- Dietitian-led support: Benefit from the guidance and support of experienced dietitians and health coaches.
- 30-day money-back guarantee: The program comes with a risk-free guarantee for your peace of mind.
Juniper’s program includes clinically proven treatments to suppress appetite, provide a feeling of fullness and naturally reduce food intake. It does this by targeting the brain's reward centre, mitigating cravings between meals, and safely accelerating your metabolic rate, facilitating sustainable water weight loss by enhancing your body’s natural calorie-burning processes.
Increase your water intake
This might sound counterintuitive, but drinking more water can actually help decrease the water weight your body retains. Adequate hydration prevents the body from holding onto extra water.
Consistent water intake also supports kidney function, facilitating the flushing out of excess sodium and water.
Physical activity gets your heart pumping, burns off glycogen stores, and induces sweating, helping shed unwanted water weight.
You don't have to train like an athlete, but try adopting some regular exercise sessions into your weekly routine. Running, walking, swimming, team sports, weight-lifting, gym classes — find a style of movement that you enjoy and fits your schedule.
Is water weight easy to lose?
Losing water weight is entirely manageable when you take the time to understand its causes and implement holistic changes to your lifestyle. From reducing sodium and carbohydrate intake to increasing your level of exercise and hydration, there are a host of methods available to effectively lose water weight.
If these lifestyle adjustments aren't delivering your desired results, consider Juniper’s Weight Reset Program for a comprehensive approach to long-term weight management.
Through an expertly designed program, led by seasoned health practitioners and health coaches, you can transform your relationship with food and foster healthier habits. These efforts are paired with breakthrough treatments to optimise digestion and curb appetite, alongside personalised health coaching and tracking to empower you to overcome weight-impacting habits, accelerating your journey to weight loss success.
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