There are days when we've all experienced a little unwanted and unexpected water bloat. Even if your scale suddenly adds a few pounds, take heart that it's nearly impossible to gain a lot of fat weight overnight.
A September 2014 study in the Journal of Physical Anthropology found that, after three days of overeating, body weight gain was primarily attributed to total body water and not fat mass. Afterward, when participants' went back to their regular lifestyle, their body weight returned to their normal (pre-overeating period) body weight, suggesting that water weight is likely normal but temporary.
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Causes of Water Bloat
Water weight is caused when your body holds on to extra fluid, resulting in water bloat, usually around the abdominal area. Though it might be counterintuitive, water bloat is not caused by drinking too much water. Instead, common culprits include food intolerances, diet, lifestyle and hormones.
Food intolerances show up in the form of digestive issues when the body can't process certain foods (as opposed to food allergies, which trigger an immune response). A food intolerance often results in water retention, bloating in the stomach or other discomfort.
General dietary and lifestyle choices are important. Your body will retain water when total body water percent decreases, for example, when you're eating too many salty foods or not drinking the necessary quantity of water for your body to function properly. And, not eating the right amount of fiber — either too little or too much — can also cause bloating.
Women tend to experience water bloat around menstruation, due to changes in hormone levels. After ovulation, in the luteal phase, progesterone levels peak, causing the body to retain more water. Once the progesterone levels drop during your period, the water weight should also go down as well: A December 2017 study by the International Journal of Exercise Science showed that fluid retention peaks on the first day of menstruation and is at the lowest point immediately after the cycle.
Drink More Water
Fight fire with fire, as the saying goes. Proper hydration is essential for general health, and drinking enough water is a signal to your body that it is not in danger of dehydration and thus can release extra water.
The ideal amount of water intake for any individual depends on lifestyle, physical activity and living climates, but proper hydration is important for the heart and overall health. Total water doesn't include only water; other beverages and foods can contribute to your total. If you find it hard to drink your hydration goals, be sure to include foods high in water content, such as cucumbers, romaine lettuce, celery, watermelon and tomatoes.
You can also do a quick check on the USDA's Food Composition Database for other ways to eat your water. Sparkling water drinkers, beware: Even though your favorite carbonated beverage may be hydrating, the bubbles can lead to a buildup of air in the abdomen, causing both bloating and gas.
Eat Less Salt
Sodium is important to help maintain normal fluid levels in the body, but too much of it may cause your body to retain excess water.
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Americans should consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. In a January 2016 report based on data from the 2009–2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, however, that most of Americans — 89 percent of adults and over 90 percent of children — exceed the daily recommended amount. And, simply putting away your salt shaker is not likely to make much of a dent; a majority of the sodium that people consume is from processed foods and restaurant meals.
Everyday foods such as bread, cheese or fresh chicken breasts (which can have saline solutions injected into them) may be additional sources of hidden salt, especially if you have multiple servings. To curb your salt levels, read food labels, watch your portion sizes, cook at home using spices in place of salt and opt for fresh produce when possible. Your stomach and long-term health will thank you: Reducing sodium intake can also lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Read more: 10 Ways to Beat Belly Bloat
Cut Down on Carbs
Carbohydrates provide essential fuel for your body, but if you're not actively burning all of those calories off (which most people don't), the body converts carbs into sugar and stores the excess as glycogen in your muscles for future energy use. And that's not the only thing your muscles store: Per a September 2015 study by the European Journal of Applied Physiology, for every gram of glycogen, at least three grams of water are also stored in those areas.
Cutting down your carbs can reduce the excess water held in your body and your water bloat. A high-carb diet can cause you to retain water, but remember you still need carbs for energy, especially if you exercise. Not all carbs are created equal, though — swap refined carbs (found in white breads and pastas, for example) for complex ones (found in whole grains and vegetables).
Get Some Exercise
If you are feeling extra sluggish due to water weight, don't let that prevent you from moving. Exercise is a great way to reduce water retention, as it helps circulation throughout your body, burns off some of those glycogen reserves and releases both water and salt through sweat. Don't forget to rehydrate after exercising to help replenish fluid loss from sweating.
Check Your Fiber
Fiber is an important component of a healthy diet and body. Insoluble fiber, found in whole grains and vegetables, can't be absorbed and helps move waste out of your body. High fiber diets are associated with healthy body weight, lower cholesterol and importantly, normalized bowel movements, which can help reduce fluid retention because it absorbs water. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the recommended daily amount of fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men (or for those over 50 years old, 21 and 30 grams, respectively).
While eating more fiber can help with water weight, your body needs time to adjust to any dietary increases or you may get what you're trying to avoid: unwanted gas or bloating. Cruciferous vegetables that are high in fiber, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale, can be tough for your body to digest and be counterproductive to reducing stomach bloating as well. Slowly introduce and experiment with more fibrous foods into your meals and drink lots of water.
Read more: How to Get Rid of Water Retention Fast
Try a Low FODMAP Diet
FODMAPs are fermentable, short-chain carbohydrates found in foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy products, wheat and legumes. These carbs pull water into your intestinal tract, and for those individuals who are extra sensitive to FODMAPs, which include fructose and lactose, they can cause stomach pain, gas, bloating, cramps, constipation and more.
In a September 2016 study published in the Singapore Medical Journal, researchers found that a low FODMAP diet helped improve bloating symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, due to the prevalence of FODMAPs in many food groups, according to a June 2016 Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology study, the long-term effects of restricting them in a low FODMAP diet are unknown.
Consult a Doctor
Altering your food and workout habits may reduce bloating after the fact, but addressing the root cause is the most effective solution. If you experience extended bloat or retention, there may be an underlying issue or condition such as kidney problems or chronic gut disorders like Crohn's disease or IBS. Likewise, consult a doctor or a healthcare professional before completely eliminating any foods from your diet, as doing so could lead to unexpected nutritional deficiencies.
- USDA Branded Food Products Database
- CDC: "2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
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- European Journal of Applied Physiology: "Relationship Between Muscle Water and Glycogen Recovery After Prolonged Exercise in the Heat in Humans"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy diet"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Easy Ways to Boost Fiber in Your Daily Diet"
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- Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology: "Efficacy of the Low FODMAP Diet for Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Evidence to Date"
- Journal of Physical Anthropology: "Measurement of Body Composition in Response to a Short Period of Overfeeding"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source: "Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar"
- Harvard Men's Health Watch: "Don’t Tolerate Food Intolerance"
- Harvard Health Letter: "What’s Causing That Belly Bloat?"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Dietary Fiber"
- Endotext: "The Normal Menstrual Cycle and the Control of Ovulation"
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- American Journal of Physical Anthropology: "Relationship Between Body Mass, Lean Mass, Fat Mass, and Limb Bone Cross‐Sectional Geometry: Implications for Estimating Body Mass and Physique from the Skeleton"
- Mayo Clinic: "Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?"
- Nutrition Reviews: "Fundamentals of Glycogen Metabolism for Coaches and Athletes"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source: "Fiber"