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water retention: woman jumping rope to lose water weight

9 Ways To Flush Out Excess Water Weight

No matter how you slice it, water retention is the pits. Whether it’s standing in between you and a weight-loss goal or just has you feeling like a swollen water balloon all day, walking around with extra fluid in your system is uncomfortable, frustrating, and often confusing. Some days, you feel perfectly balanced and good in your skin—and the next you’re practically floating away. So what gives?

Swings in fluid retention can seriously affect your body, according to registered dietitian Courtney Pelitera, R.D., with Top Nutrition Coaching. In fact, they’re the number one influence on your day-to-day weight—potentially accounting for fluctuations of up to five to seven pounds in just one day or two, Pelitera says. 

If you’re holding onto excess water, stress not! Eliminate a few common culprits and take some natural steps to help your body flush out the extra, and you’ll be feeling better in no time. 

The Culprits Behind Water Retention

Numerous factors can cause our bodies to retain excess water, sometimes leading to a sudden and often seemingly inexplicable increase in overall body weight.

According to Pelitera and Lena Bakovic, R.D., another registered dietitian with Top Nutrition Coaching, the leading causes of puffiness, swelling, and stubborn water weight gain include:

  • High sodium intake: Consuming too much salt can cause the body to retain water in order to maintain electrolyte balance.
  • Lack of exercise: A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to water retention because it halts circulation and can cause fluids in the body to pool in certain places, such as the lower legs and feet.
  • Excessive sugar and carb intake: The body stores water alongside carbohydrates, so more stored carbs equals more stored water.
  • Dehydration: Not drinking enough water can actually lead the body to hold onto fluids.
  • Hormonal changes: Fluctuations due to menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause can affect fluid levels. For example, PMS is often associated with bloating and general water retention.
  • Alcohol consumption: Alcohol can lead to dehydration, prompting the body to retain water.
  • Certain medications: Blood pressure medications, NSAIDs, and others can cause water weight gain.
  • Processed foods: Processed foods often contain high levels of sodium and sugar, both of which contribute to water retention.
  • Stress and exhaustion: Chronic stress and sleep deprivation can increase cortisol levels, which then drive water retention.
  • Poor kidney function: Impaired kidneys may struggle to eliminate excess fluid from the body.

Of all these contributors, a diet high in sodium is probably the most common, given that the “standard American diet” is filled with salty, processed foods like frozen meals, condiments, deli meats, and cheeses, suggests Pelitera.

Though uncomfortable, sodium-related water weight gain isn’t usually something to be too concerned about, unless you have a condition like congestive heart failure or kidney disease, Bakovic says. In general, experiencing small, frequent shifts in weight from water retention is pretty common.

However, when water retention and associated weight gain come on hard and fast—and for no clear reason—that’s a different story, according to the American Heart Association. In that case, check in with a doctor as soon as possible, as the severe swelling could indicate that heart or kidney disease is at play, Bakovic says.

Natural Ways To Shed Water Weight

Assuming your health is otherwise in order, there’s plenty you can do on your own to help your body release extra water, from diet to exercise to supplements and beyond. Consider the following your checklist for flushing your system.

1. Cut Down On Salt And Ramp Up Other Electrolytes

Your diet plays a pivotal role in managing water weight. The experts all agree that balancing electrolytes in your meals—particularly sodium, potassium, and magnesium—is a must-do. Your moves:

  • Start by limiting sodium: Aim to keep your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (about one teaspoon of added salt) or less per day, says Bakovic. Processed and fast foods, canned goods like soups, condiments like soy sauce and mustard, pickled foods, cheeses, hot dogs, and bacon are all common sources of excess sodium, so slash them as needed.
  • Eat more potassium-rich foods: Incorporating foods high in potassium, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, leafy greens, beets, bananas, and avocados into your diet can help balance intracellular fluids and increase urine production and help excess water weight fall away, according to Blakovic and Mentore.
  • Add in more magnesium: Magnesium works alongside sodium and potassium to balance fluid levels in the body. Pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, and salmon are excellent sources of magnesium, according to Blakovic. Dairy products, which provide calcium that works in tandem with magnesium, are other good options for boosting your electrolyte intake. 

2. Drink More Water

Though it might seem counterintuitive, drinking water and staying hydrated can ultimately make you less swollen. “When people are bloated, they tend to reduce water intake to prevent more water retention, but fluid balance is monitored and regulated by many systems in the body,” says strength and conditioning coach, functional medicine practitioner, and nutritionist Brandon Mentore, B.S., C.P.T. “If water is in short supply, the impulse to store and retain more increases, so drink adequate amounts of fluid to get things moving.”

Plain H2O, herbal tea, and bone broth can all do the job. As for how much, half your body weight in ounces of water per day is a good place to start.

3. Supplement As Needed

“One supplement that can be taken to help reduce water weight fairly quickly is potassium,” advises Pelitera. You see, potassium acts as sodium’s counterbalance, offsetting its bloating effects and encouraging urine production, helping you release extra water weight. 

Start with potassium-rich foods as your foundation, and supplement as needed. Just make sure to stick to the recommended supplement serving, as overdoing it on this mineral can cause adverse effects. This is particularly important for those with cardiac issues, who should check in with a healthcare provider before popping potassium, suggest Pelitera. 

Read More: Which Electrolyte Supplement Is Right For You?

Another option is magnesium. Magnesium supplements (such as magnesium glycinate or magnesium citrate) don’t have a diuretic effect but can still help balance water retention, particularly when you’re low in the mineral, says Blavokic. Not to mention, magnesium is useful for easing the struggle of PMS and helping you avoid constipation, which can both exacerbate water weight.

4. Take Advantage Of Caffeine

Another accessible way to help your body release water is to drink caffeine, such as from tea and coffee, suggests Pelitera. “Caffeine acts as a diuretic, causing your body to release water and urinate more,” she says.

Not only can coffee and teas act as natural diuretics and increase how much water passes through your body, but they also contain antioxidants—including polyphenols and EGCG—that are generally beneficial for your health by fighting oxidative stress and inflammation that can contribute to edema. So that’s a two-one punch!

Pelitera recommends opting for plain, unsweetened versions of caffeinated beverages for the best results since high sugar intake can leave you even more bloated. Not to mention, consuming lots of added sugar often stands in the way of sustainable weight loss.

5. Lower Your Carbohydrate Intake (Even Temporarily)

Shifting to a lower-carb diet for several days can decrease glycogen stores in your muscles, in turn, reducing water retention, says Pelitera. Since carbohydrates are stored alongside water in the muscles, draining those stores a bit will also mean releasing water.

(It’s worth noting here that while going low-carb can help you shed water weight, especially if you follow a very low-carb keto diet, it’s not the best approach for everyone. For example, Pelitera warns that skimping on carbs—especially for a long time—can impair energy levels and performance in active people.)

6. Get Sweating

Moderate or intense activity can help regulate fluid balance by boosting blood flow and raising your body temperature enough to get you sweating, says Pelitera. “Sweating can help excrete pounds of fluid, especially after intense activity.” So if you’re struggling with water retention, pencil in more regular workouts—or crank up the intensity a bit—to help reestablish balance.

7. Try Water-Flushing Herbs

In addition to other lifestyle changes, incorporating a handful of herbs famous for promoting fluid balance can help encourage your body to let go of stubborn excess water. Check out:

  • Dandelion:Dandelion, which has been shown in studies to increase urine production, helps reduce how much water the body holds onto,” says Blakovic. Research shows that this common “weed” is rich in potassium and other compounds that support the regulation of fluids and lipids, as well as sugar metabolism. Since evidence supporting the long-term use of dandelion is limited, consider it a short-term go-to when you need extra assistance.
  • Parsley: Often used in cooking, research shows that parsley acts similarly to dandelion as a traditional diuretic herb, helping the body eliminate excess water. Try steeping it in hot water to make an herbal tea, adding more of it to your meals, or popping a supplement.
  • Hawthorn berry: Traditionally used to support cardiovascular health, hawthorn berry is also known for its mild diuretic properties. You’ll find it in capsule supplements as well as teas and tinctures.

As always, choose herbs from reputable brands to ensure purity and effectiveness, and follow the instructions for recommended dosing. When in doubt, check in with your healthcare provider about how herbal supplements might factor into your routine—especially if you have existing health conditions or take medications. 

8. Reduce inflammation with healthy habits

Excess inflammation (particularly when chronic) causes all sorts of issues in the body—and water retention is often a telltale sign that it’s at play. “The process of inflammation in itself retains water, so the more inflammation you have the more bloated you will be,” says Mentore.

Read More: 6 Sneaky Contributors To Chronic Inflammation

Of course, understanding the roots of chronic inflammation and bringing your body back into homeostasis can be a complex process—but there are a handful of everyday best practices that go a long way toward keeping inflammation in check. Among them: avoiding processed foods and making sure you’re logging plenty of sleep each night, suggests Mentore. (Check out this guide to managing chronic inflammation for more details.)

9. Manage stress levels

Stress is a problem for plenty of reasons—one being that it contributes to your body hanging onto water weight. Yep, research shows that chronic stress causes an increase in the hormone cortisol, which then leads to an increase in anti-diuretic hormone (or ADH), which is responsible for assisting your kidneys in determining how much water to conserve. The result? You conserve and conserve—and feel like a water balloon.

Of course, you can’t completely eliminate stress—but finding effective and creative ways to cope with the stress in your life can move the needle both for your overall well-being and any water weight you’re holding onto. Everything from daily practices like meditation to supplements like magnesium glycinate and lemon balm can be supportive here.

Final Takeaway

Managing water retention can be tricky, but it’s possible with a holistic approach that involves dietary adjustments, lifestyle changes, and smart supplementation. Start by decreasing your sodium intake, particularly by eating fewer processed foods, and upping your intake of potassium. Get moving, mind your mind, and turn to traditional herbs for support. Of course, if your water weight gain is severe or rapid, call your doctor. They can help confirm that a serious health condition isn’t behind the swings you’re experiencing.

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