The mystery few pounds that pile on overnight. The swollen fingers. Those stiff joints. That sluggish feeling. A bloated stomach. All of these symptoms and more stick around with excess water weight.
And all this can be oh-so-frustrating when you’re cutting calories and still seeing the scale creep up. But the truth is that your weight fluctuates day to day, so those pesky pounds could be a sign that you consumed too much salt one day, or your diet was carb-heavy another day.
That said, there are steps you can take to get rid of water weight. We spoke to two dietitians about the easiest and safest ways to shed the extra H2O.
Slash the sodium
“Salt acts as a magnet to water in your body, hence the water retention. Other foods may make you feel bloated—but don’t confuse the two sensations. Bran products, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and more cause that full feeling,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table.
Some people are also more salt-sensitive than others. So how do you know? Taub-Dix recommends taking a look at your fingers about an hour after eating salty foods. Are your rings leaving indentation or do they feel slightly inflamed? If you notice swelling in your hands, it might be a sign that you’re salt-sensitive.
Cut back on carbs
Just like salt, “carbohydrates can cause water retention. When you consume carbs and don’t use them for fuel right away, your body converts them to glycogen. This is stored in the muscles for energy,” Amy Shapiro, RD, founder of Real Nutrition in New York City, explains.
Approximately one percent of your muscle mass is straight glycogen, while eight percent of your liver’s weight is glycogen. For every gram of glycogen stored in those areas, you gain about 2.7 grams of water along with it. To help you practice better carb portion control, consider carb cycling, a hybrid of high- and low-carb dieting. The idea is that you eat fewer carbs during recovery or rest days and increase your carb intake for days when you’re doing a tough workout. This way of eating helps promote muscle growth and fat loss.
Drink more water
When you consume too much salt, your cells drink up—and hold on to—every last ounce of water they can. Their thirst tricks your body into thinking it’s not thirsty (even when it’s actually parched). So if you think you may have overindulged or had a high-sodium meal, pour more H2O into that glass.
Add more potassium to your diet
Think of potassium as the yin to sodium’s yang. Research in the American Journal of Kidney Disease links higher dietary potassium with less sodium in the kidneys, and thus, reduce water retention and blood pressure.
Intake recommendations are 4.7 grams of potassium per day, but the average American woman only scores half of that (2.4 grams), according to a dietary reference intake report. Reach your daily quota with these 13 delicious foods that have more potassium than a banana.
Take a walk
Beyond burning a few calories (about 100 calories in 20 minutes for a 150-pound person), adding steps to your schedule can coax your cells into shedding water.
“Avoid sitting or standing in one place for too long because this can cause your tissues to hold and retain water,” Shapiro says. Conquer desk drain by setting a reminder to walk for at least five minutes every hour.
Hit the gym
You’ll notice even more water weight loss if you crank up the intensity. Not only will you burn off more of that glycogen, but you’ll also trigger the lymph nodes into action.
“Moderate to vigorous exercise stimulates the flow of blood and lymphatic fluids that help remove water from the extremities,” Shapiro says. Just be sure to hydrate throughout your workout to help replenish electrolytes.