What causes water weight and how can I lose it?

Mystified by and struggling with water weight? Here we explain how to avoid water retention, and how to lose water weight if you have it, so you can feel comfortable and confident in your skin this summer.

Water weight can make us feel swollen overnight. Startled, we wonder if it’s in our imagination, the feeling of being heavier, of having ballooned. But our waistband feels tighter, our face looks rounder, and we’re bloated for no clear reason. While water weight is temporary and doesn’t mean we’ve gained fat, it can add more than a kilogram to our body weight in a single day. Fortunately there are things we can do to prevent and treat it.

What is water weight?

More than half of an adult human body is water. If the body doesn’t receive enough water from the outside, it conserves the water that it has in order to protect itself from dehydration. This water, which the body would normally flush out via the kidneys, is stored instead in the tissue between the skin and the organs. The tissue swells as a result, which adds to our overall body weight, and makes us bloated and uncomfortable.

What causes water weight?

Besides air travel and the associated dehydration (along with changes to air pressure and sitting for too long) water weight is symptomatic of other states, conditions and aspects of lifestyle, namely:

  • Hot weather
  • Menopause
  • Menstruation and pregnancy
  • Not drinking enough water in general
  • Eating too much salt, sugar, and/or carbs
  • The contraceptive pill
  • Other medications, including some for blood pressure, and over-the-counter pain meds
  • Poor circulation

What can I do about water weight?

Drink even more water 

While it may sound counterintuitive to put more water into what seems like an overflowing cup, drinking water reduces water weight because it allows your body to release the water it’s been keeping in reserve, and flush it out of your system.

Drinking at least two litres of water a day – or, in much hotter conditions than you’re used to, up to three – will help the body to regulate water.

If you’re flying, don’t be tempted to drink alcohol or sugary drinks on the plane. If you’re staying at home, try adding miso soup, broths or a cool gazpacho to your meals for additional liquid intake. Adding cranberry juice, a well-known diuretic, can also help rid the body of some excess water.

Reducing dehydrating drinks, like coffee and alcohol, will help you lose water weight. Try cutting down before and during your period too, if you, like 90% of menstruating women, suffer symptoms of water retention during this time.

Sip instead of gulping water  

Sipping, rather than gulping a lot of water in one go, allows the body to more efficiently hydrate. Gulping water also means you’ll be paying significantly more trips to the bathroom, making the kidneys overwork. Sipping water, juices and herbal teas throughout the day results in consistent hydration and elimination of toxins. It also ensures nutrients and oxygen are distributed throughout the body, to cells and major organs.

Carry a reusable, non-plastic water bottle 

Getting into the habit of carrying a reusable water bottle wherever you go will help balance water in the body. Most of us have one, but remembering to fill and take it out is another matter! Starting to do this won’t only save you money but will also reduce the number of disposable plastic water bottles that end up in landfill, and in our oceans and rivers. Most plastic water bottles also contain chemical compound/s BPA and/or PET, which are hazardous to human health.

Add salt to water for extra hydration…! 

Salt? Are you sure? Yes, a small amount of salt to your water once or twice a day can help increase hydration, especially during vigorous exercise or in very hot climates where you might be sweating heavily or losing water and electrolytes rapidly. Where possible, use sea salt over table salt, as it has no negative sodium content and is more effective in removing excess liquid from the body.

Eat watermelon! 

“You brought a watermelon?” Well done, you! Watermelon is an impressive 92% water, and it contains magnesium, which helps with water retention and bloating. So, it really is your number one water retention busting fruit. You can also add it to savoury salads in place of tomatoes for a sweeter, more refreshing twist.

Other water-filled friends, with H2O contents of over 95%, include cucumber, celery and lettuce. A diet of crunchy salads and water-filled fruit and veg will plump the skin in general, help you prevent and lose water weight.

Add raw onions to salads 

Try adding raw onions to your salads, as these help to release extra water that is found under the skin. This can also play a role in preventing and reducing the appearance of cellulite.

Avoid foods high in salt 

We realise that sounds at odds with the advice to add salt to water, but if we eat too much salt in our food, the body conserves extra water. In Western diets, foods high in salt are often processed. These are also, typically, high in fat, so cutting down or cutting these foods out, will only have a positive effect on your overall health.

Cut down on carbs 

Oh how we love pasta… Enough to put up with the inevitable bloat of a second plate, but if we are really worried about water retention, before our periods or beach holidays, it’s worth knowing that high-carb foods cause the body to store extra water. The energy from carbohydrates that isn’t used immediately is retained in the form of glycogen molecules. Worryingly, each gram of these molecules is accompanied by a whole 3g of water…

Try replacing ordinary flour with almond flour, try seaweed spaghetti if you’re bored with courgetti, or use cauliflower for dough or rice. Or just add more protein or veg to your plate. Find these and other inspiring carb alternatives here.

Move your body 

Exercise stimulates blood flow and improves circulation. This reduces fluid buildup throughout the body, especially in the legs and feet. If we sit for too long, not only does gravity cause fluid to rest in the lower extremities, causing swollen legs and ankles, but it also means the body is holding onto water rather than processing and flushing it out.

When exercising intensely, remember to drink even more water to replace lost fluids, so you don’t end up back in a cycle of dehydration and water retention!

If you work seated, engrossed in a project and working to a deadline – or you’re on a longhaul flight – set a timer to remind you to move around, even just for a few minutes, to keep the blood circulating.

Prioritise quality sleep, as much as you can

For many of us, a full eight hours is a luxury. However, anything you can do to help yourself relax and get a better quality night’s sleep, will obviously be beneficial all round. Sleep also helps with water weight. Here’s how.

During the late stages of sleep, circadian signals cause the body to increase the antidiuretic hormone, vasopressin. It does this to help the body avoid dehydration after a long period of no fluid intake. When this sleep period is missed through poor quality or short sleep, however, the balance of water in the body is disrupted. The result is that we are not adequately hydrated, which results in – you guessed it – water weight!

Reduce stress 

When our bodies perceive stress, our adrenal glands produce and release cortisol into the bloodstream. Too much of this ‘stress hormone’ increases water retention, with cortisol levels directly correlating to the levels of antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which controls the amount of water in our bodies. Stress is a part of life, and anything we can do to centre ourselves will have short and long term benefits. Exercise is always recommended as a first step to combat stress, because it really does work, but it isn’t the only way to start reducing your stress levels.

Take herbal supplements or water pills  

HRI’s unique herbal medicine is a natural solution to relieving the symptoms of mild water retention.

Its main ingredient, dandelion, is traditionally used to treat the symptoms of bloating associated with unwanted fluid. (The dandelion’s roots and leaves also have antioxidant properties and can improve the immune system, detoxify the liver and help digestion.)

Other ingredients include uva-ursi (or ‘bearberry’, on account of the fruit being popular with furry foragers), used for centuries to effectively treat urinary tract infections and bladder inflammation; and buchu leaf, a traditional diuretic also used medicinally for inflammation of the kidneys and urinary tract infections.


Of course all of these solutions to water weight have much broader benefits and, if implemented into daily life, will not only aid with unwanted water weight but will impact positively on the appearance of your skin and hair, and more crucially, transform your health and wellbeing.

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