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The mystery few pounds that pile on overnight. The swollen fingers. Those stiff joints. That sluggish feeling. A bloated stomach. All of these symptoms and more stick around with excess water weight.
And all this can be oh-so-frustrating when youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re cutting calories and still seeing the scale creep up. But the truth is that your weight fluctuates day to day, so those pesky pounds could be a sign that you consumed too much salt one day, or your diet was carb-heavy another day. Hitting up the drive-thru often or eating too many processed foods are reasons you might be tacking on water weight.
That said, there are steps you can take to get rid of water weight. We spoke to two dietitians about the easiest and safest ways to shed the extra H2O.
Slash the sodium
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Salt acts like a magnet to water in your body, hence the water retention. Other foods may make you feel bloated-but donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t confuse the two sensations. Bran products, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and more cause that full feeling,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table.
Even if you think youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re well under the daily sodium recommendation of 2,300 milligrams per day, you might be underestimating. In contrast, the body needs 200 milligrams of sodium to function. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Salt is hidden in so many things, especially at restaurants because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a tremendous flavor boost for very little money,Ã¢â‚¬Â Taub-Dix adds. In fact, more than 70 percent of dietary sodium is found in restaurant dishes, fast foods, and packaged snacks.
Some people are also more salt-sensitive than others. So how do you know? Taub-Dix recommends taking a look at your fingers about an hour after eating salty foods. Are your rings leaving indentation or do they feel slightly inflamed? If you notice swelling in your hands, it might be a sign that you’re salt-sensitive.Ã‚Â
Cut back on carbs
Just like salt, Ã¢â‚¬Å“carbohydrates can cause water retention. When you consume carbs and donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t use them for fuel right away, your body converts them to glycogen. This is stored in the muscles for energy,Ã¢â‚¬Â Amy Shapiro, RD, founder of Real Nutrition in New York City, explains.Ã‚Â
Approximately one percent of your muscle mass is straight glycogen, while eight percent of your liverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s weight is glycogen. For every gram of glycogen stored in those areas, you gain about 2.7 grams of water along with it. To help you practice better carb portion control, consider carb cycling, a hybrid of high- and low-carb dieting. The idea is that you eat fewer carbs during recovery or rest days and increase your carb intake for days when you’re doing a tough workout. This way of eating helps promote muscle growth and fat loss.Ã‚Â
Drink more water
When you consume too much salt, your cells drink up-and hold on to-every last ounce of water they can. Their thirst tricks your body into thinking itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not thirsty (even when itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s actually parched). So if you think you may have overindulged or had a high-sodium meal, pour more H2O into that glass.
Shapiro adds even more evidence to the pro-water campaign: Ã¢â‚¬Å“If you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t drink enough water, the body holds on to water to prevent severe dehydration.Ã¢â‚¬Â
A study in the journal Obesity that found that drinking 500 milliliters, or 17 ounces, of water before a meal tricks your body into losing more weight naturally.
Pop a magnesium supplement
Fact: The first day of a woman’s period is when she retains the most water all month. As the cycle moves along, the hormones that control water retention bounce back to normal.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“So many people get discouraged by the scale, but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a measure of many things happening in the body, not just weight. Especially for young to middle-aged women, you might feel puffy before or during your period,Ã¢â‚¬Â Taub-Dix says.
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A magnesium supplement can help reduce the impact of the hormone-induced puffiness, Shapiro says. A Journal of WomenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Health study suggests that a 200-milligram magnesium supplement during menstruation can help lessen swelling, stomach bloat and weight gain.
However, you don’t want to use water pills, aka diuretics, to lose water weight without talking to your doctor first. Sometimes, doctors will prescribe diuretics to people with high blood pressure to help reduce the amount of salt in the body. But diuretics come with a case of side effects, such as dizziness, headaches, muscle cramps, and dehydration, so be sure to consult your MD, especially if you’re taking certain medications.
Add more potassium to your diet
Think of potassium as the yin to sodiumÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s yang. Research in the American Journal of Kidney Disease links higher dietary potassium with less sodium in the kidneys, and thus, reduce water retention and blood pressure.
Intake recommendations are 4.7 grams of potassium per day, but the average American woman only scores half of that (2.4 grams), according to a dietary reference intake report. Reach your daily quota with these 13 delicious foods that have more potassium than a banana.
Take a walk
Beyond burning a few calories (about 100 calories in 20 minutes for a 150-pound person), adding steps to your schedule can coax your cells into shedding water.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Avoid sitting or standing in one place for too long because this can cause your tissues to hold and retain water,Ã¢â‚¬Â Shapiro says. Conquer desk drain by setting a reminder to walk for at least five minute every hour.
Hit the gym
YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll notice even more water weight loss if you crank up the intensity. Not only will you burn off more of that glycogen, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll also trigger the lymph nodes into action.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Moderate to vigorous exercise stimulates the flow of blood and lymphatic fluids that help remove water from the extremities,Ã¢â‚¬Â Shapiro says. Just be sure to hydrate throughout your workout to help replenish electrolytes.
Be patient but know when to ask for help
Tried all seven of these action items and still not having luck? Keep your expectations in check: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Be sensible about your expectation of the speed of water weight loss,Ã¢â‚¬Â Taub-Dix says.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“What is causing the water weight? If you’ve had a few too many pickles, drink water and youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll notice your weight going back to normal within a day. But if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s linked to hormones, it might take a while.Ã¢â‚¬Â
If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re feeling out of sorts or very uncomfortable about your fluid retention, talk to your healthcare provider. Taub-Dix says, “This could be a sign of a blood pressure issue, medication problem or other health concern.Ã¢â‚¬Â Edema, which is swelling that occurs when there’s fluid trapped in the body, could lead to excess water weight. Certain diseases such as kidney disease and thyroid conditions can cause edema. If you suspect you have edema, talk to your doctor about running some tests.Ã‚Â