Water makes up nearly 60% of your body weight, and it’s one of the first things you tend to lose. Weight decreases as a result of changes in fat, muscle, and most of all, water. Water weight and fat weight are not the same, and understanding the difference between the two will go a long way in recognising how your body works, how it affects weight loss, and how you can lose this water weight.
Examining the difference between water weight and fat weight in more detail will also help you make more informed choices about what you consume.
- Water weight is usually not a cause of concern but can be uncomfortable and recurring,
- Water weight can usually be easily managed by limiting stress, sleeping 7-9 hours a day, drinking enough water, avoiding salty foods, reducing carbohydrates, and exercising,
- If you have tried everything and the water weight still does not reduce, it could be a sign of a prevailing medical condition, and a doctor should be consulted for the same.
What is water weight? What are the differences between water weight and fat weight?
To put it simply, water weight is simply the weight of all the water in your body.
When you weigh yourself on a machine, you see your total weight. You will be surprised to know that most of the weight in your body comes from water, which is the heaviest thing in your body, apart from your bones.
Let’s go over some of the differences between water weight and fat weight to understand it better:
- Fat weight comes from excessive calorie intake. Fat is gained when you consume more calories in a day than you burn in a day. Water weight can be gained due to low-calorie diets, excessive salt, changes in caffeine consumption, and more.
- Water weight comes and goes. If you find yourself gaining and losing weight quickly, then it’s most likely water weight. For example, if you eat a hefty meal, your weight increases on the scale. However, if you check your weight the next day, you will see it’s back to normal. Fat weight, on the other hand, is extremely hard to lose and will take a longer period of time to change.
- Water weight gain is quick, while fat weight gain is slow. If you weigh yourself daily and see fluctuations happening, then it’s almost certainly water weight. Water has weight, and when your body is holding that weight, your overall weight is bound to go up. Gaining weight, on the other hand, is a slow process that is a result of consuming too many calories.
- Fat weight is grabbable. When you have excess fat, it can lead to folds of fat under the skin that you can see and grab. Water weight, on the other hand, causes your skin to stretch but does not lead to a fat build-up under the skin.
- Water weight does not affect your hormones. Water weight can cause you to feel sluggish or bloated, but it will not affect your hormones. Research shows that when you gain fat, your hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin get affected, which leads you to eat more food and gain more fat. This is a vicious self-reinforcing cycle and should be identified and prevented.
Now that you know some of the main differences between water weight and fat weight. Let’s make use of this knowledge to dive deeper into the problem.
What are the causes of water weight gain?
- Salt(sodium): An easy way to fight sodium intake is to replace sodium-rich foods with low sodium equivalents. Too much sodium or salt can cause water retention. This is because the body needs to keep its sodium-to-water ratio balanced in order to function optimally; any imbalance will lead to water retention. Most sodium consumed during the day is hidden as it comes from processed foods such as chips, bread, cheese, biscuits, and even meats.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates can cause your body to retain water. When we consume carbs, the energy we don’t immediately use is stored in glycogen (a store of energy). This glycogen binds to water and causes our body to retain water. Each gram of glycogen binds to roughly 3 grams of water, which adds up a lot when you think of multiple daily meals.
- Menstrual cycle: Natural hormones produced by the body can cause the body to retain water up to a week before menstruation.
- Physical inactivity: Sitting or standing for long periods of time can prevent proper circulation of liquids in the body. This inactivity can cause water to build up around the body tissue, which can also lead to swelling of the extremities of the body.
- Heart and kidney disease: These can disrupt the normal flow of blood in the body. This disruption can lead to a buildup of fluids, resulting in swelling and extra body weight.
- Medications: Water retention is the side effect of many kinds of medications.
Many anti-inflammation tablets and oral contraceptives cause water retention.
How does water weight affect your weight loss efforts?
Water weight does not really affect your weight loss journey on a tangible level. It can, however, cause psychological problems with weight loss. If your water weight was not caused by a disease or medication with predetermined side effects, you might not even know your body is retaining water, and this could be the problem.
Most people look at the scale on a weight loss journey. If you are not seeing the scale drop much, it could cause a psychological problem as it can lead to a lack of motivation, lack of effort, or totally giving up altogether. If you put in the work daily—think exercise, good nutritious food, and adequate sleep—then you should notice some changes weekly or monthly.
How to lose water weight?
- Exercise: Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce water weight in the short term. All forms of exercise will involve sweating, which will cause you to lose water and thus help with water weight management. During exercise, your body shifts a lot of water into your muscles. This can help reduce water outside the cell and help get rid of that ‘soft’ look people often associate with water retention.
- Take electrolytes: Electrolytes are minerals with an electric charge, such as magnesium and potassium. When electrolyte levels become too low, they can cause shifts in fluid levels, which can lead to water weight. Electrolytes are beneficial if you drink a lot of water, exercise a lot, live in a very hot and humid environment, or don’t consume salty foods. Balance is key here as too many electrolytes can lead to your body retaining water.
- Manage salt intake: Sodium obtained from daily salt is one of the most common electrolytes. A high salt intake, usually from processed foods, tends to cause the body to retain most of its water. Reducing the amount of processed and salty foods consumed is a great way to reduce excess water in the body.
- Drink more water: While this might seem counterintuitive, drinking more water helps reduce water weight. Your body is always trying to maintain a healthy balance, so if your body is constantly dehydrated, then your body tends to store more water to prevent water levels from becoming too low. Balance is optimal; drinking too much water might cause you to gain water weight. Simply drink water when you’re thirsty and stop when you’re hydrated.
- Sleep more: Sleep is extremely important for most bodily functions. Lack of sleep can affect sympathetic renal nerves in the kidney, which regulate sodium and water balance. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep to avoid any such problems.
- Stress less: Prolonged periods of stress can lead to the increase of a hormone called cortisol, which is a stress hormone. This hormone can lead to fluid retention and water weight. Try minimizing long-term stress.
- Reduce carbohydrate consumption: Reducing carbs is a common strategy to quickly drop excess water weight. Carbs are stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen, but glycogen stores water along with it. Try reducing the carbs being consumed or cutting carbs with the supervision of a medical practitioner or coach.
- Drink more tea and coffee: Caffeine and beverages that contain caffeine act as diuretics and help flush the excess water out of the body. Diuretics will cause you to urinate more in the short run and can help reduce water weight. Try adding more coffee and tea to your diet to reduce water weight.
- Water pills: Prescription diuretics and water pills can also be used to help treat water weight. These work by flushing out the excess salt and water from the kidneys through urine. Before using these pills or prescription diuretics, make sure to consult a licensed medical professional and take them under supervision.
Water weight is typically not something to be very worried about as it can usually be treated fairly easily. However, understanding that you are retaining water weight and doing something about it is important to maintain optimal health. If the water weight is stubborn and does not seem to be going away, it could be an indication of a medical condition that needs to be treated.
At the end of the day, the best way to combat water weight is to identify the cause and treat the issue.
Some of the causes of retaining water weight, such as processed foods and excessive stress, are linked to poor health and disease, which feature as even bigger reasons to avoid them.
Disclaimer:The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new health care regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.