Clearing Up the Mystery of Water Weight and Weight Loss
People who are dieting often hear the phrase “water weight,” especially during the first few weeks of their weight loss effort. Yet what is the relationship between water weight and weight loss and how can you use that knowledge to help you drop excess pounds?
You are probably familiar with the ads proclaiming that you can lose 5, 10, or even more pounds during the first week to 10 days of a new diet. However, the fact is that regardless of which fad diet or weight loss program they are hawking, it’s common for people to lose a significant number of pounds during those early days of changing eating habits because the body is eliminating the excess water it has been hoarding.
That is, the 7 pounds you dropped during the first 10 days of your new diet was probably mostly water weight. Here’s why.
How water weight and weight loss works
Approximately 50 to 60 percent of your total body weight is comprised of water. The amount of water your cells and tissues retain varies depending on the foods you eat.
It’s well known that salt in the diet causes your cells to absorb water, but did you know sugar does the same thing? When you consume a lot of sugar, your insulin levels rise, which makes your body hold onto sodium.
Similarly, when you indulge in foods high in carbohydrates and you don’t burn those extra grams, your body stores three grams of water for every carb gram you retain as glycogen for energy use.
When you begin a diet and significantly reduce the amount of calories you consume, you burn up the calories you do eat, after which your body taps into your glycogen supply. The water that is bound to the glycogen is released, and you lose water weight.
According to Ashvini Mashru, RD, who wrote Small Steps to Slim, the first few pounds you lose when you begin a diet can be as much as eight pounds. When you rehydrate your body, you will likely notice a small uptick in weight, but “your body is just adjusting to your healthier eating habits,” she explains.
That initial loss of water weight can be encouraging for dieters but then turn to discouragement once the real battle—losing fat—begins. That’s because the body’s metabolism is set on survival mode, so first it burns carbs (sugars and starches), then muscle, and then fat.
If you want to keep your water weight in balance and help your weight loss efforts, follow these six tips:
- Avoid sugar and salt as much as possible. If you focus on fresh, natural foods rather than refined or processed foods, you will find this tip to be easy
- Avoid drastic reductions in calorie intake because it can elevate your cortisol levels, which in turn increases your body’s tendency to retain water
- Limit alcohol intake, as it can cause dehydration, which in turn prompts the body to retain water
- Drink water throughout the day. If you don’t consume enough water (8-10 glasses), your body will go into survival mode and retain water to ensure your cells continue to function optimally. In addition, water is necessary to flush excess sodium and fluid from your body
- Include foods rich in potassium in your diet (e.g., dark leafy greens, dried fruits, bananas, white and kidney beans, avocados) because they help with fluid balance
- Exercise 4 to 6 days a week to help reduce water retention
Menstruation is associated with water retention, but following the above tips can help keep it in check.
If you are a dieter who weighs herself every day, be aware that if you notice a gain or loss of a half pound or slightly more between one day to the next, it is likely water weight. A gain can be lost by reducing your salt and sugar intake and drinking more water.
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