Everyone has days when they feel puffy or bloated. If you've heard that water retention can make you look fat and are wondering whether losing water weight can help you look 10 pounds thinner instantly, here's what you need to know.
Taking steps to cut down on excess water retention can help reduce bloating and make you look slimmer, but don’t think of it as a magic bullet that will help you look 10 pounds thinner instantly. Instead, you’re better off taking a more holistic approach to weight loss by building a healthy eating pattern and exercising regularly.
What Is Water Weight?
You may be surprised to learn that approximately 60 percent of the adult human body is composed of water. The Texas A&M University Health Science Center (TAMHSC) explains that water is in fact the heaviest thing in your body, apart from your bones.
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According to the Mayo Clinic, your body needs water to survive because every single organ, tissue and cell in your body relies on it to function. Water cushions and lubricates your joints, helps your body maintain its temperature and flushes waste out of your system. These are just a few examples of the many ways in which water is vital to your body.
The Mayo Clinic notes that you lose water through urine, sweat and bowel movements; however, the water you drink and the food you eat enable your body to rehydrate itself. This cycle of hydration and elimination helps maintain the delicate balance of water in your system. A November 2014 study published in ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal notes that even mild dehydration can have a considerable negative impact on your body.
Does Water Retention Make You Look Fat?
When your body retains excess water, it can cause you to feel puffy and bloated. The TAMHSC lists excess sodium (salt) consumption as one of the most common causes of water retention, although women may also experience it at certain points in their menstrual cycle as a result of hormonal changes. Some medical conditions can also cause your body to retain water.
The American Heart Association (AHA) elaborates on the connection between sodium and water retention. When you have excess sodium in your bloodstream, it draws more water into your blood vessels, thereby increasing the total volume of liquid in your blood vessels. Picture a garden hose that has a lot of water flowing through it, at a high pressure.
The AHA says that apart from raising your risk of high blood pressure and making your heart work harder, the extra water in your blood vessels also causes bloating and leads to weight gain. So, if you were wondering whether water retention can make you look fat, the answer is yes.
How to Reduce Water Retention
If your body is retaining excess water, getting rid of it can help reduce bloating and may even make you look a little slimmer, although it may not make you look 10 pounds thinner instantly. Here are some ways to help you reduce water retention.
If your diet is heavy on the salt, the AHA recommends cutting down on your sodium intake to reduce bloating and lower your risk of high blood pressure as well. The AHA suggests an ideal intake of 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, and an upper limit of 2,300 milligrams or 1 teaspoon of sodium per day.
It's not just the salt shaker you have to worry about, however, since it accounts for only about 11 percent of the salt you consume. According to the AHA, packaged and restaurant foods are the biggest culprits when it comes to sodium; they account for more than 70 percent of the sodium Americans consume. If you eat out a lot or eat a lot of packaged foods, cutting back on those could help you reduce water retention.
The Mayo Clinic says that magnesium supplements and diuretics (either in supplement form or in the form of natural herbs like ginger, parsley, hawthorn, juniper and dandelion) can also help reduce water retention; however, you should take them only after discussing it with your health care provider.
Lose Weight Healthfully
Eliminating excess retained water can seem like an enticing shortcut to weight loss, especially when the other option is dieting or exercising. However, if your goal is to lose weight and become thinner, perhaps the best way to approach it is to build a healthy lifestyle with a nutritious diet and regular exercise.
The slow and steady approach may seem harder, but it pays off in the long run. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that people who lose weight at a steady rate of 1 to 2 pounds a week are more successful at keeping it off than those who try to lose it faster than that.
Changing your eating habits, cutting down on unhealthy, unnecessary calories and making the time to exercise will help you lose not only water weight but also body fat. According to the Mayo Clinic, when you lose weight, you lose a combination of water, lean tissue and body fat.
The TAMHSC explains that your body first burns the calories you've eaten that day and then starts relying on your glycogen stores for energy. Water binds glycogen to your body, so when you use up the glycogen, the water is released as well. As a result, you lose both water weight as well as body fat. This happens when you create a calorie deficit, where you burn more calories than you consume.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Fat Loss
A simple way to start is to create a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day, which will help you lose 1 pound a week, per the Mayo Clinic. You can begin with small changes, like substituting that high-calorie dessert with a bowl of fruit and eating only one slice of pizza instead of two.
Try to get in at least a half-hour of exercise five times a week. Pick an activity you enjoy so that you stick with it. The Journal of Behavioral Medicine published a study in August 2015 that said that exercising a minimum of four times a week for six weeks can help you establish an exercise habit.
- U.S. Geological Survey: “The Water in You: Water and the Human Body”
- Texas A&M University Health Science Center: “You Asked: What Is Water Weight?”
- Mayo Clinic: “Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?”
- ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: “The Hydration Equation: Update on Water Balance and Cognitive Performance”
- American Heart Association: “Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt”
- American Heart Association: “How Much Sodium Should I Eat Per Day?”
- Mayo Clinic: “Water Retention: Relieve This Premenstrual Symptom”
- Mayo Clinic: “Can Natural Diuretics Reduce Fluid Retention and Help With Weight Loss?”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “What Is Healthy Weight Loss?”
- Mayo Clinic: “Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics”
- USDA: “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans”
- Journal of Behavioral Medicine: “Exercise Habit Formation in New Gym Members: A Longitudinal Study”