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What Is Water Weight?

The world of medical terminology can seem like a vast landscape of esoteric code used to describe the ins and outs of the human body, but when it comes to water weight, the term is pretty self-explanatory. Water weight is the collective mass of the water that’s inside and around our cells.

The human body is 50-to-70% water, and those levels are constantly fluctuating in every human being. That’s a wide percentage range for water in the human body, so it makes sense for changes in that range to manifest as a shift in body weight of up to 2-to-4 pounds when you step onto a scale. Shifts of water weight in either direction can be caused by a number of different factors, so what can contribute to an increase in water weight?

What Causes Water Weight Gain?

Diets High in Sodium

Sodium benefits packaged and processed foods by giving them a longer shelf life, but all that extra sodium won’t benefit your body if you’re out to lose or reduce water weight.

A diet high in sodium—from the aforementioned foods or from a high salt intake—will convince your body it should hold on to more water in an effort to balance out its levels of salt.

Diets High in Carbohydrates

If you’re taking in more carbohydrates than your body’s using, it’ll store that energy as glycogen. In the body, glycogen is stored in its hydrated form—meaning that for every gram of glycogen, three grams of water will be present because it's bound to the glycogen. This can be especially noticeable if you begin introducing larger levels of carbohydrates back into your routine after following a low carb diet for a period of time. Conversely, those who start a low carb diet lose weight quickly at first since they’re burning excess glycogen.


You may know cortisol as the stress hormone, but this hormone also plays a part in combating inflammation, creating memories in the brain, regulating metabolism and balancing blood sugar levels. Elevated cortisol can cause increased water retention, but it isn’t common—and the changes in cortisol caused by your stress level probably won’t be enough to trigger this.

Tumors on the adrenal or pituitary glands may cause too much cortisol to be released into the bloodstream, elevating levels to a place where water retention is a possible side effect. Additionally, low levels of thyroid hormone can cause swelling around the eyes.


Advancements in technology and engineering have greatly improved the efficiency of travel, making it possible for a human being to cross into different time zones, countries and continents faster than ever. Although, it seems our bodies aren’t always up for the trip. In addition to common complaints like fatigue or stiffness, the uncomfortable, bloated feeling that can accompany water retention may be brought on by long-distance travel.

Sitting still for extended periods of time can cause muscles to contract, leading to pooling fluid in the feet and legs. A lot of the body’s water is located in blood cells, and those cells are pulled to lower extremities naturally by the Earth’s gravitational pull.

This problem can also impact those who are sedentary at home or in the workplace. Some forms of travel and some workplaces may make it hard to get up, but doing so for a minute or two every half hour should help alleviate any retention due to inactivity. People who suffer from poor circulation may also find themselves retaining fluids in the lower extremities.


Water retention can be a side effect of medications that treat depression and blood pressure. Over-the-counter pain relievers called NSAIDS can influence the amount of water your body hangs onto, as well as diabetes drugs called thiazolidinediones. If you use any of these medications and you’re concerned about excess water weight, talk to your medical advisors about possible alternatives.

Menstruation and Birth Control

Having a body that’s biologically female means you’re likely to live through certain experiences—some of those experiences can impact your water retention.

Some biological females may retain more water weight the week before they experience their period thanks to hormone fluctuation, with retention peaking on the period’s first day. There may be noticeable swelling in the face and extremities, as well as chest tenderness and a feeling of fullness.

Hormonal birth control can also cause water retention due to changes in hormones. It usually isn’t an extreme change, but if it makes you uncomfortable, you may want to explore other options.


Does water make you gain weight? Not drinking enough can.

If you aren’t consuming enough water every day to stay hydrated, your body will hold onto extra fluids as a sort-of emergency measure until fluid balance is restored through proper water intake. It might seem counterproductive to shedding water weight, but making sure you drink more water if you feel thirsty can keep your body at a healthy hydration level and help your body avoid water retention.

Can You Lose Water Weight?

It’s possible to combat water retention and alleviate any bouts with water weight or its side effects. There are ways to do this safely and effectively—since the majority of your body is made of water, try aiming to reach a balance instead of the eradication of all water in the body.

How To Prevent Water Weight Gain

Usually, prevention comes down to a change in routine or diet.

Exercise addresses three different causes of water weight by helping promote blood circulation, burning excess glycogen and causing the body to sweat. A healthy sleep schedule can help control hydration levels and may impact nerves in the kidneys that regulate the balance between water and sodium. Balanced electrolyte levels can help your body balance its water levels. These are just a few examples of lifestyle changes that can positively impact water weight management.

Should You Be Concerned About Water Weight?

Those water levels will always be in flux—once again, the body is 50-to-70% water, and that number will vary day-to-day in every human body. Usually, the cause of any water retention can be surmised based on habits and routine, then addressed accordingly. However, if you have noted swelling in a specific part of the body or noted swelling accompanied by pain, these may be signs of medical conditions and you should consult a medical professional.

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