You might be surprised to learn that the human body is largely made up of water. Babies are born containing between 70-80% water, and as you grow that number goes down a bit. The average adult contains about 60% water (1).
Despite this, excess water (edema or bloating) is not normal, and is usually due to chronic inflammation (unless extenuating circumstances are present, such as pregnancy or extremely hot weather that your body isn’t used to). If bloating and excess water weight is a regular occurrence for you, read on to learn more.
First and Foremost: What is Inflammation?
“inflammation” has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent years, but for good reason. With that said, do you really understand what inflammation is, how it is caused, and what to do about it? Most people aren’t quite so sure, and in order to understand excess water weight, it’s important to understand inflammation. Many chronic conditions and diseases are linked to systemic, chronic inflammation (2).
Chronic vs. acute inflammation
Inflammation is a natural healing process that is actually necessary to defend and protect the body from infection and disease. What is not natural and is at the root of many chronic condition (water weight/edema definitely being one), is when inflammation becomes generalized and chronic, rather than acute.
Bottom line: While acute inflammation is normal, chronic inflammation is problematic and leads to water weight, among many other conditions.
Causes of Water Weight Gain
Now, what leads to this type of inflammation and excess water weight? Lifestyle and diet factors play a huge role, and the average American has a diet high in inflammatory foods, coupled with a lack of adequate exercise. Let’s take a look at the most common dietary reasons for bloating and water retention:
Excess Sugar in the Diet
By now, you probably know that a diet high in processed and refined sugar is not healthy. But, did you know it is the leading cause of inflammation and water retention? Unfortunately, water weight is the least of your worries if you eat a high sugar diet, as you should also be thinking about insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes and a myriad of other health problems (3).
Similar to refined sugar, refined carbohydrates are known to contribute to obesity and inflammation in a serious way. If you regularly eat refined foods like pasta, bread, cereals, and baked goods, you are likely experiencing excess water weight, not to mention the diseases mentioned above. An abundance of fresh veggies and fruits along with plenty of water can help to balance this out, but decreasing refined carbs is essential.
Oxidized (Rancid) Cooking Oils
Oxidized (aka, rancid) oils are regularly used in modern day cooking and also are notorious for causing chronic inflammation in the body. These oils cause free radicals, which are known to contribute to many types of cancers and other diseases. Common oils that are almost always rancid before even leaving the shelf of your grocery store include canals, grapeseed, corn and soy.
Studies have shown that rancid oils cause an excess of omega 6 fatty acids compared to omega 3’s, and this in and of itself can cause inflammation and excess water weight (4).
Packaged and Processed foods
For largely the same reasons that refined carbs and sugars wreak havoc on your body, so do many packaged and processed food-like “products.” Be wary of long ingredient lists full of words you can’t pronounce and don’t recognize as foods (because they’re not). These products often contain hidden trans fats, sugars, chemicals and additives that can lead to water weight and the problems.
Too Much Alcohol
Sorry, but overindulging in booze will almost alway leave you bloated. Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked with higher CRP (C-reactive protein) markers, which signal inflammation in the body (5).
Lack of Exercise
Movement and exercise iare one of the best way to reduce water weight in the short and long term, and a lack of exercise is highly inflammatory. Remember that exercise doesn’t have to be intense gym workouts, simply walking every day will help. Fascinatingly, the average water loss in 1 hour of exercise ranges between 16-64 oz. (depending on the type of activity, temperature, etc), and water is shifted to our muscles (6).
Poor or Inadequate Sleep
Inadequate sleep alone can lead to inflammation, and will often leave you bloated the next day. In fact, sleep stimulates the sympathetic renal nerves of the kidneys, which regulate sodium and water balance. Also, certain key detoxification processes that occur while you’re sleeping are important for preventing excess water weight.
High Stress Levels
This is often the factor that is hardest to change, so be kind to yourself. Do be aware that high levels of chronic stress (ongoing), can increase water weight. Stress produces a cortisol response, which is the body’s main stress hormone that also affects water retention and bloating.
Too Little or Too Much Salt
Sodium plays a key role in managing water weight, as it is the most common electrolyte in the human body. If levels are inadequate (too low or too high), this can lead to fluid imbalances. Adding salt to taste on your home cooked foods is rarely the problem, but eating a diet high in processed foods with added sodium, is.
So, How do I Lose Water Weight?
Now that we’ve gone over the main causes of water weight, let’s learn how to prevent and treat it through diet.
Inflammatory foods to avoid:
- Refined carbohydrates such as white flour, bread, pasta, commercial baked goods and gluten (gluten is the protein in wheat, and is inflammatory for many people).
- Refined sugars found in baked goods, candy, soda and packaged foods. Stick primarily to natural sugar sources such as honey, maple syrup and fruit.
- Processed soy can be highly inflammatory, such as tofu and soy milk. Fermented sources are okay, and include miso, nato, tamari and tempeh.
- Hydrogenated fats such as margarine and crisco, or anything with an ingredient that says hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.
- Vegetable oils such as canola, soy, corn and grapeseed.
- Vegetables from the nightshade family might be inflammatory for some, especially sufferers of arthritis, This family includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, goji berries and tobacco.
Anti-inflammatory foods to include:
- A wide variety of vegetables and fruit (organic and seasonal whenever possible).
- High quality meat, poultry and seafood.
- Pasture raised or organic eggs.
- Healthy fats such as olive oil, flax oil, coconut oil, organic butter, ghee, nuts and seeds and avocados.
- Whole grains and legumes in moderation (although those with severe gluten sensitivity might also react to grains and legumes).
- Anti-inflammatory superfoods such as garlic, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric.
- Herbal teas, fresh squeezed vegetable and fruit juices and plenty of water.
- Dark chocolate (70% or above).
Other Safe Ways to Lose Water Weight
Supplement with Magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral and electrolyte that plays over 600 crucial functions in the human body. Studies show that magnesium levels greatly affect fluid balance, and can be especially helpful with PMS related water mention in women.
Drink Plenty of Water
Never to be underestimated is the power of clean, filtered water. While it might seem counter-intuitive, if you are chronically dehydrated, your body will try and make up for this by retaining more water. Drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water, per day. And don’t forget that often thirst is mistaken for hunger, so simply getting plenty of water can help with weight loss.
By staying active, drinking water, avoiding refined sugar and carbs and following the other (relatively) simple tips and tricks outlined in this article, you can be sure that your body does not retain excess water weight. If you already follow these guidelines and are still experiencing chronic bloating, you should consider speaking with your doctor.
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