Temporary water weight gain happens to everyone once in a while. But that doesn’t make it any less annoying. You wake up in the morning with puffy eyes, and your fingers are so swollen that you can’t push your rings past the first knuckle. You hop on the scale and bam! – you’re suddenly three pounds heavier than you were yesterday.
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The good news is that temporary water weight gain is just that – it’s temporary, and it’s water… not fat. (Just for the record, it would be nearly impossible to gain three pounds of fat overnight. To store a pound of fat, you’d need to eat 3500 calories more than you need – which means you’d need to eat more than 10,000 extra calories to gain 3 pounds of fat in one day.)
But how do you wake up with a few pounds of temporary water weight? If you’re in good health, temporary fluid shifts are normal and often can be traced back to something you did – or didn’t – eat. Your body uses a complex system that involves hormones and minerals – like sodium and potassium – to maintain the proper balance. But sometimes that balance gets temporarily tipped, and you wake up feeling a little ‘spongy’.
Eating too much sodium – from salty and highly processed foods – is often to blame. Sodium serves very important functions in the body, but the amount in your bloodstream needs to be kept in a fairly narrow range. So if you eat a very salty meal, (which then dumps a load of sodium into your bloodstream) your body will do what’s necessary to ‘dilute’ it – mostly by holding onto fluid that you see the next morning in the form of a puffy face and hands.
A meal high in refined carbohydrates can sometimes be at fault, too. If you have an evening meal comprised mainly of sweet and starchy foods like pasta, white rice and sugary drinks, it will lead to a quick rise in your blood sugar, which signals your body to release insulin – a hormone which helps your body shuttle sugar from the bloodstream into your cells. But high insulin levels can also lead your body to retain sodium and fluid. Since a carb-heavy meal can lead to an insulin spike, fluid retention might just tag along.
Other hormones can come into play as well. For women, hormonal shifts that occur with monthly cycles can also lead to water weight gain – often in the range of a kilogram or two that can stick around for a week or more. While you can’t avoid the fluctuations in hormone levels, dietary changes may help.
Temporary water weight gain can often be tackled with a few simple dietary changes. That said, there are medical conditions and certain medications that can also cause fluid retention, so if are experiencing frequent or prolonged water weight gain, be sure to speak with your health care provider.
– Reduce your salt intake
Focus on foods that are as close as possible to their natural state, since the more processed a food is, the more sodium it’s likely to have. Keep salty snacks, soups, condiments and sauces to a minimum and use the salt shaker lightly in cooking and at the table.
– Cut back on refined starches and sweets
Rather than highly refined carbohydrates like white bread, regular pasta and white rice, turn to whole grain varieties. Since they take longer to digest, they’re less likely to cause a big spike in blood sugar – and insulin – when you eat them. And, switch from sugary drinks to water or tea instead.
– Drink plenty of water
It seems like that last thing you’d want to do – put more fluid into your body when it already feels overloaded. But drinking fluids will help your body to eliminate excess salt and water. Aim for 6-8 glasses a day.
– Push potassium
Potassium plays a critical role in maintaining fluid balance in the body, and needs to be in the proper balance with sodium. Potassium is found in abundance in fruits and vegetables, but most people don’t get nearly enough potassium in the diet. Try to have a fruit or veggie at every meal or snack.
Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.