Being that the human body is made mostly of water and needs it to function properly, you wouldn’t think something as beneficial as water could hold you back from achieving your weight loss and fitness goals. The funny thing is that sometimes the body decides to hold onto too much water, an issue called “water retention,” resulting in unnatural puffiness and swelling. It can be frustrating, especially when you think you’re doing everything right in terms of diet and exercise.
Fortunately, there’s a way to beat water retention. Once you know what’s causing water retention, you can start the process for getting rid of it and finally seeing the results you’ve worked hard for.
What Causes Water Retention?
First, let’s be clear: water retention is not edema. Edema can be a life-threatening symptom, so please don’t ignore it. Go to a physician immediately, especially if your experience sudden abnormal swelling.
There are a number of reasons you might be retaining water. Some of the factors we will be mentioning include elevated cortisol levels, other hormones, diets rich in sodium, lifestyle, medications, or other medical issues, such as heart issues or restricted veins.
How Cortisol Can Cause Water Retention
Often called the “stress hormone,” because of its relation to how the body handles stress, cortisol has much more to do with your overall health and wellness than you might think. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is made in the adrenal glands, and most cells can be affected by cortisol.
Scientifically speaking, cortisol plays a role in blood sugar levels, blood pressure, regulating metabolism, inflammation, and the salt and water balance of the body. When cortisol levels become unbalanced, the body may experience rapid weight gain, muscular atrophy, and other symptoms.
Now, you might be thinking, “I’m not all that stressed though.” Well, as it turns out, you might be stressing your body more than you assume, especially if you’ve restricted your calorie intake for a prolonged period of time. Research has shown that an ongoing calorie deficit will dramatically increase cortisol levels, which slows metabolism and increases water retention.
How Sodium and Potassium Can Cause Water Retention
In order for the body to find equilibrium, also called homeostasis, you need sodium and potassium. Too much or too little of one will result in unbalanced fluids in and outside of the cells. This also affects your blood pressure. When you consume too much salt, your body will hold onto water. Consuming too little salt results in hyponatremia, which can cause brain swelling, dehydration, seizures, and even death.
If that wasn’t enough, your body needs an equal amount of potassium to help the sodium-potassium pump move fluids effectively to and from cells. Potassium also helps stimulate the kidneys to remove excess water and waste from the body. Low levels of potassium will also lead to weight gain.
In short, balance your sodium-potassium intake. More on how to do that later.
How Dehydration Causes Water Retention
Mentioned briefly above was how a lack of sodium or potassium can cause dehydration. Dehydration occurs when the body has lost more fluids that what is being taken in. While it might seem weird that not having enough water would cause water retention, it actually occurs in the beginning stages of dehydration. As the body begins to lose fluid, it will start to conserve what is left. Water is reabsorbed from other places in the body, such as urine, and put back into the tissues, causing swelling and puffiness.
How to Get Rid of Water Retention
Now that you know some of the reasons why your body might be holding onto water and making you more jiggly than you should be, let’s discuss how to get rid of water retention. As you may have already figured out, working out and losing weight will elevate your cortisol levels, throw off your sodium-potassium balance, and dehydrate you.
The simplest way to regulate your body and rid yourself of stubborn water retention is to stop overtraining and under-eating. Exercise and dieting puts stress on the body, and without proper rest, recovery, and nutrition, you are doing more harm than good.
In order to get your cortisol levels under control and re-balance your sodium-potassium levels, here is what you need to do:
- Take a break from vigorous, intense workouts. Work with less weight, and do less intense workouts. Yoga and other holistic practices will help as well.
- Avoid cardio for a week.
- Increase your carbohydrate intake by 5-10%. Again, you want to avoid extreme calorie deficits for an extended period of time.
- Have a cheat meal. As mentioned above, you don’t want to restrict your calories too much for too long, because this raises cortisol levels and also causes your leptin levels to decrease. Leptin, a hormone responsible for producing fat cells, will also slow your metabolism, increase your appetite, and cause depression if the levels are too low. By having a cheat meal, you keep those leptin levels balanced.
- Get enough rest. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Sleep balances hormones.
- Relax. Do all the things you enjoy (aside from working out). Rest days are just as essential as diet and exercise.
- Drink enough water.
Obviously, by doing the above mentioned things, you will also be effectively combating water retention. By warding off excess water retention and bringing your body back to a homeostatic state, you not only look healthier and fitter, you will feel better too.
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