Edema (aka water weight) happens to almost everyone and is usually no biggie. It can cause bloating and puffiness in your limbs and stomach and minor weight fluctuations throughout the day.
Who knew we’re basically mer-people?
Our bodies are generally made up of 50–60% water, and any amount of water exceeding that is considered water weight.
Medical reasons for retaining water weight
Sometimes kidney, liver, or heart disease can cause acute water retention, but generally the water weight goes away in time, often with the help of lifestyle changes.
Pregnant women and women in the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle (the 2 weeks after ovulation, before their period) also experience temporary edema.
This article is meant for peeps who want to be able to button their pants without discomfort or feel svelte at yoga class. If you find that your feet or arms are actually swollen, not just puffy or bloated, go see a doctor.
Water is your life force, a friend to your skin, and the OG detox ingredient. But, like an aquatic catch-22, too much of it can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable — and who has time for that? Try these methods to cast the water weight away.
Sodium non grata
Watch your sodium intake! Sodium is an electrolyte that’s derived from salt. It plays a key role in your body’s hydration levels and ability to balance fluids. Sodium levels that are too low or too high will disrupt that balance, leading to a buildup of fluids.
Eating processed foods (which are usually incredibly high in sodium), compounded with not drinking enough water and being inactive, contributes to water weight.
Research has shown that an extreme change or increase in daily sodium intake can cause the body to hold onto fluids.
Less stress is best
Stress increases your level of the hormone cortisol. Increased cortisol leads to an increase in ADH, a hormone known to be anti–diuretic.
When your body is relaxed, ADH properly lets your kidneys know how much water to release back into your body. But when ADH is unbalanced, it doesn’t send clear messages, which can lead to water retention.
Like the book says, “Go the f*ck to sleep”
It’s widely known that sleep plays an important role in keeping your body functioning well.
Sleep helps your body balance its hydration level. Without adequate sleep, your body doesn’t have enough time to regulate itself, which can lead to fluid retention when you wake up.
It’s also possible that sleep affects renal nerves in your kidneys, which also balance your water and sodium levels. So get that shut-eye!
Electrolytes are essential minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, and sodium. They have an electric charge (like Alex Mack) and are key to many bodily functions, including regulating water levels.
When your electrolyte levels become unbalanced, so do your fluid levels, which can cause water retention.
A good trick is to match your electrolytes to how much water you’re drinking. If you’re exceptionally well hydrated, live in a hot climate, or exercise every day, you probably need more electrolytes.
If you drink too little water, eat salty foods, or ingest large amounts of electrolytes from supplements, there’s a good chance you’re carrying water weight.
Exercising makes you sweat — it’s as simple as that. Sweating leads to an immediate drop in water weight, as well as an increase in blood flow and circulation. It’s important to replenish fluids after a workout so you don’t get dehydrated.
Dandelion (aka Taraxacum officinale) supplements are popular among professional athletes and bodybuilders who need to lose water weight quickly. The herb encourages your kidneys to expedite flushing out water and sodium from your body.
Despite its popularity, there’s not much medical research to verify the benefits and effects of dandelion, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally unfounded.
Magnesium supplements like magnesium oxide can be an effective treatment for water retention. They give your kidneys a little kick to start flushing excess water and sodium from your body.
Research suggests that magnesium can also help with PMS symptoms like stomach and leg swelling, breast pain, and — you guessed it — water retention.
Fruits and veggies are chock-full of vitamins and nutrients, many of which balance your body and help fight water retention.
Potassium’s got your back (and your bloated belly)
Potassium helps balance sodium levels in your body and increases urine production.
Potassium-rich foods include beans, bananas, tomatoes, avocados, dairy products, and dark green leafy veggies like kale and spinach. Beans and dairy can cause bloating on their own, so keep that in mind before you start chugging milk for its potassium.
Like magnesium supplements, magnesium-rich foods can help you shed water weight. Whole grains, vegetables, nuts, dark green leafy veggies, and dark chocolate are some of these foods.
Off with your bread!
When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose (sugar) for fuel. Whatever doesn’t get turned into glucose goes into your muscles and liver as glycogen.
Glycogen has a codependent relationship with water. For every gram of glycogen your body stores, at least 3 grams of water come with it.
There’s a reason low carb diets can lead to immediate results, since the sudden lack of glycogen in your body also means a sudden decrease in water retention. But don’t cut out all the carbs or you’ll be left with zero energy.
Make healthy carbs a part of your life, concentrating on fruits and veggies, and leave behind the refined carbs of yesteryear.
High carb diets can also cause your insulin levels to rise, which leads to an increase in sodium and water in your kidneys. Eating fewer carbs will help balance that out too.
Drink your caffeinated milkshake
Ever drink an espresso and then find yourself speed-walking to the loo 5 minutes later? That’s because caffeine is a diuretic (it makes you pee), and when you pee, your water weight decreases.
In a 2011 study, participants were given glasses of water with and without added caffeine. All the participants who drank the caffeinated water had a noticeable increase in how much they peed.
So if you’re feeling particularly bloated, try drinking some tea or coffee or taking a caffeine supplement.
Drink more water (It’s like ray-e-aaaiiinn on your wedding dayyyy)
The irony is not lost on us, but yes, drinking water can help combat water weight. Water will improve your kidneys’ ability to function and flush out sodium (a water retainer) and excess fluids from your system.
Also, if you’re not drinking enough water, you’re likely a bit dehydrated. When your body is dehydrated, it assumes you’re doing something like crossing the Sahara (instead of attending too many holiday parties) and holds on to whatever water it can find.
Drinking enough water has also been shown to help with brain function, mood regulation, and fat loss, so yays all around.
So how much water should you be drinking?
The National Institute of Medicine recommends about 9 cups per day for women and 13 cups per day for men.
But in reality, drink water when you’re thirsty (the water found in coffee and wine doesn’t count, sadly 😑), when you’re in hot climates, and when you’re exercising.
If plain old water is a bit too “meh” for you, try adding a little flavor.
Nature’s herbal diuretics
It’s time for a Hogwarts herbology lesson on muggle water retention.
Here’s a list of some of nature’s herbal diuretics:
- Maroon bush. This plant found in Australia has long been used in traditional medicine as a diuretic.
- Alfalfa. Also known as hay, lucerne, purple medic, and Buffalo Herb, alfalfa has many reported medicinal uses, including as a diuretic.
- Butcher’s broom. This herb has many other names, but the bottom line is: It’s a plant whose roots are used to treat a slew of ailments. It’s known as a natural laxative and diuretic to help get rid of water retention.
- Olive leaf. Olive leaf supplements and extracts are often advertised as great antioxidants with a list of benefits, including being a diuretic.
- Parsley. Parsley has long been touted as a natural diuretic, and there are medical studies to back it up! Parsley is stocked in most grocery stores and is a tasty addition to many meals. If you’re pregnant, you’ll want to stay away from this one since it’s an emmenagogue, meaning certain amounts could lead to a miscarriage.
FYI: There isn’t enough scientific research to support the benefits of these herbs, but many peeps still swear by their healing powers.
Avoid sitting for long periods
Being inactive can stop your body’s fluids from efficiently circulating. This can cause water to build up in your body’s tissue and your limbs to swell.
So even if it’s just a walk around the block, make sure to move! Getting a workout in will help you sweat out extra water.
Eat your hydration
Many foods are naturally hydrating and serve as natural diuretics. Sometimes all you need to fight the bloat is to head to your local farmers market.
Some of these natural remedies include:
- Celery. It contains phthalides that make it a diuretic. It also contains COX-2 inhibitors, which reduce uric acid in your body and are good for treating gout-related edema.
- Beets. They’re high in potassium, which helps flush out excess water from your body.
- Asparagus. It has diuretic properties that come from the amino acid asparagine, which is used to treat swelling and PMS-related bloating.
- Other MVPs. These include grapes, fennel, watercress, cantaloupe, watermelon, cabbage, cranberries, garlic, and cucumbers.
Prescription water pills
Prescription water pills, also known as diuretic pills, prompt your kidneys to flush out excess water and sodium through urine.
They’re generally not prescribed to folks feeling a bit bloated but rather to people with cardiovascular and pulmonary issues to help reduce fluid retention and swelling.
These are not the same as the water pills you might see for sale online (please don’t order pills over the internet) or over-the-counter diuretics.
Unlike the ones online, prescription pills are clinically tested for long-term safety. No matter what, always consult your doctor before taking any kind of medication.
If your body and limbs are frequently swollen, or if your water retention feels severe, painful, or out of the blue, go to a doctor. Sometimes water retention can be a sign of a more serious condition, and it’s best to get that crossed off the list by a professional.
Symptoms to look out for:
- skin that dimples when pressed (also known as pitted edema)
- skin that looks tight
- any shortness of breath or coughing, especially when lying down, could signal heart failure or fluid in your lungs. Go to the doctor immediately if this happens.
Risk factors for excess water weight include:
- an inactive lifestyle
- unhealthy eating habits
- kidney, liver, or heart conditions
- contraceptive pills
- certain antidepressants
Water weight is common and is usually not a big deal. Being active, eating lots of fruits and veggies, knowing what supplements to take, drinking caffeine, managing stress, and sleeping well are all surefire ways to banish annoying bloat.
The best long-term way to combat water weight is to find out what’s causing it. So take a look at your lifestyle and diet and see what can be adjusted.
If you have any of the symptoms listed above, get checked out by a doctor ASAP to make sure there’s nothing more serious going on.