After a weekend of fun, delicious food, yummy cocktails and maybe a skipped workout or two, it can be discouraging to see a massive jump on the scale.
While overeating can make you gain weight over a few weeks or months, your weekend weight gain probably won't do much serious damage. If you find yourself a few pounds heavier, you're probably retaining some extra fluid.
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Read on to learn more about water retention and how to minimize the symptoms.
What Is Water Retention?
First, the good news: It's really, really difficult to gain 5 pounds of fat in just a couple of days. One pound of weight is about 3,500 calories, which means gaining 5 pounds in 2 days would require eating a surplus of about 17,500 calories, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Although ultra-processed foods are high in calories, it's still extremely difficult to eat 17,500 extra calories in 2 days, especially by accident. The extra burger and fries you ate over the weekend won't come even close.
That said, it is possible to gain 5 pounds of water weight in a day or two.
Water retention occurs when your body holds excess fluids in your belly or in your extremities, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Sometimes this retention is visible as swelling in the fingers or ankles, for instance. But in some cases, it may not be obvious, depending on how much water you're retaining.
Usually, water retention (also known as edema) is harmless and will go away in a day or two. But if you're also experiencing shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or chest pain, get professional help immediately, recommends the Mayo Clinic.
Seek medical assistance immediately if you're experiencing shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or chest pain in addition to water retention.
Causes of Water Weight Gain
Unfortunately, there's no hard and fast rule when it comes to fluid retention. Factors that may cause one person to retain 5 pounds of water may not influence another person's weight at all. However, there are some general trends that can cause water gain:
Too Much Sitting
Sitting in one place for too long can cause mild edema, according to the Mayo Clinic. That's why some people tend to experience swelling in their fingers, legs or ankles after a long flight.
Eating a Lot of Salty Snacks
Eating too much salty food can also cause some excess swelling or fluid retention. Foods like pretzels, salted nuts, pickles and processed pasta sauces are all high in sodium and can cause you to hold excess water.
Although it may sound counterintuitive, forgetting to drink water can also cause water weight gain, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Every part of your body needs water to function properly. So, when you start to lose more water than you take in, your body holds fluid to help prevent dehydration.
Taking Certain Medications
Some medications may cause water weight gain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Blood pressure medications, anti-inflammatories, steroids and certain diabetes medications can all cause your body to hold extra fluid as a side effect. However, you should still continue to take your medications as instructed and consult your doctor for more info on potential side effects.
It's normal for women to experience some fluid retention before their menstrual cycle, explains the Mayo Clinic. Most women experience extra bloating about 1 to 2 days before their period. Usually this symptom subsides once your cycle begins or ends.
How to Minimize Water Weight Gain
Knowing the reason your body is holding fluid can help you minimize your water weight gain. Some potential strategies to cut down on this type of weight gain include:
Movement is one simple way to reduce swelling, especially in the legs and ankles, according to the Mayo Clinic. Walking or any form of exercise can help your body pump excess fluid back up to the heart and out of your lower extremities.
Closely watching your diet for a few days can also help you flush out the excess fluids in your body. Avoiding high-sodium, processed foods is the best place to start. Keep your sodium intake under 2,300 milligrams per day (and, ideally, under 1,500 milligrams), which is less than a teaspoon of salt, recommends the American Heart Association.
- Cold cuts and cured meats
- Chips, pretzels and salted popcorn
- Canned foods
- Frozen pizza
- Pre-made pasta sauce
- Salad dressing
Minimizing your alcohol intake can also help with excess water retention. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it can cause you to lose fluids and become dehydrated. So, your body will retain water to protect you from losing too many fluids. As a result, you can become bloated.
There are some natural herbs that can help you minimize water weight or bloating, like dandelion root or ginger, according to the Mayo Clinic. Dandelion or ginger teas are generally safe to drink and can be found at just about any grocery store. But chances are, just a few days of attention on your alcohol and diet will do the trick.
The Bottom Line on Water Weight
It can be intimidating or even nerve-wracking to see the scale shoot up in just a matter of days. But do your best to remember that the number you see isn't a true representation of your body composition (your ratio of muscle to fat).
Everyone experiences water retention — some more than others. Although your first reaction to weight gain may be panic, keep in mind that water weight isn't the same as fat. If you're up 5 pounds (or even 7 to 10 pounds) after a fun-filled weekend, you can rest assured your weight gain is almost certainly just water.
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to the Weight-Loss Basics"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Fluid retention: What it Can Mean for Your Heart"
- Mayo Clinic: "Edema"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Fluid Imbalance"
- Mayo Clinic: "Water Retention: Relieve This Premenstrual Symptom
- American Heart Association: "How much sodium should I eat per day?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Can Natural Diuretics Reduce Fluid Retention and Help With Weight Loss?"