Every pound that you gain is not body fat. When you step on the scale and see your weight has climbed a pound or two, don’t panic. You may be dealing with water weight gain or water retention. What this means is you have excess water hanging out in your tissues. You might even notice that you feel a little bloated or heavier than usual. Water weight gain is a common problem, especially for women and one that can be endlessly frustrating if you’re trying to slip into a form-fitting black dress or a tight pair of jeans. What causes water weight gain? Here are six of the most common reasons you’re hanging onto water.
Water Weight Gain: Medications
If you’re holding onto fluid, take a closer look at your medications. A variety of medications can cause your body to retain sodium and water. Some drugs used to treat high blood pressure do it, as can antidepressants and prednisone. Even over-the-counter drugs, like ibuprofen, can cause water retention in some people. Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy after menopause are notorious for causing fluid to be retained. So, if you’re on a new medication and putting on weight, it could be your new prescription. Check with your health care provider about whether you’re taking a medication that can cause water weight gain.
Water Weight Gain: Hormonal Fluctuations
If you’re still in your reproductive years, you’ve probably noticed that your weight fluctuates by several pounds during your menstrual cycle. Weight gain is most common the week before your period starts and then drops off after it arrives. You might only gain a pound or two, although some women gain 5 or more pounds due to hormonal changes.
Fluid fluctuations like this are entirely normal, although somewhat frustrating. The female hormone, progesterone, is one contributor to fluid retention, it tends to rise later in your menstrual cycle and then drops as your period starts. Perimenopause and early menopause is another time your hormones fluctuate and you might experience bloating.
Water Weight Gain: Underactive Thyroid
One of the signs of an underactive thyroid is fluid retention and swelling in the feet. You might also experience swelling in the hands and puffiness around the eyes. An autoimmune form of underactive thyroid called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis most commonly affects women and often shows up around the time of menopause. If you have persistent water retention, especially if you have swelling in the face, hands, or ankles, get checked out. A variety of other health conditions, including kidney problems, heart conditions, and even ovarian cancer can cause fluid retention as well.
Water Weight Gain: Eating Too Many Processed Foods and Refined Carbs
Processed foods? Yes! Processed foods are loaded with sodium, a major contributor to fluid retention. Grab a few packages and containers at the grocery store and check out their sodium content. Soups, condiments, processed meats, and even cottage cheese often harbor excessive amounts of sodium. Don’t forget about soft drinks, including diet ones.
Refined carbs are also problematic because they cause a surge in insulin. When you get a burst of insulin, your body holds onto sodium and fluid and you feel (and look) bloated. Get the packaged foods out of your diet and avoid foods made with refined flour, white rice, and white potatoes. Replace them with fiber-rich foods instead.
Water Weight Gain: Not Getting Enough Potassium
Potassium is the antagonist to sodium. Having more of it around helps offset the fluid-retaining impact of sodium. When you increase the amount of potassium in your diet, you release excess fluid and sodium through urination. So, potassium is a natural diuretic. Plus, potassium is important for regulating your blood pressure.
One study showed that lower levels of potassium in the urine, due to reduced intake, was linked with elevations in blood pressure. That’s why processed foods are a double whammy – they’re high in sodium and low in potassium, a particularly unhealthy combination. The best way to boost your potassium intake and reduce fluid retention is to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Water Weight Gain: Stress
Yes, stress has a negative impact on your body in a number of ways – and it can cause you to retain fluid. How so? When you’re under stress, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol, itself, can cause fluid retention but it can also increase your appetite for foods high in sugar. If you indulge your cravings, your insulin rises and you’re, again, stuck in a cycle of fluid retention.
Chronic stress comes in two main forms, psychological or mental stress and physical stress. Psychological stress is worry, anxiety, or depression, while physical stress can be a lack of sleep, chronic inflammation, illness, excessive calorie restriction, malnutrition, or even excessive exercise. (overtraining) Getting stress under control not only helps with your weight but with fluid retention as well.
Water Weight Gain: Are There Effective Natural Diuretics?
Diuretics are compounds that increase fluid and sodium excretion, thereby reducing fluid retention. Although there are prescription diuretics doctors prescribe for high blood pressure and heart disease, they are too powerful to use for garden-variety water retention. How about natural diuretics? According to some research, hibiscus flowers used to make hibiscus tea, help the body eliminate excess water and sodium. It also appears that hibiscus modestly lowers blood pressure. Parsley is sometimes used as a natural diuretic in folk medicine.
The Bottom Line
Anytime you have swelling in your hands, feet, face, or bloating in the abdominal region, see your health care provider right away. First, you need to rule out more serious causes of fluid retention. If you get a clean bill of health, keep these six causes in mind. Sometimes, all you need to do is make a few changes to your diet or lifestyle to experience a significant improvement in water weight gain.
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