Contrary to popular belief, water retention is not the enemy. It’s actually quite a helpful signal, because it lets us know that something is out of balance in the body. It’s really just the body’s way of taking steps to protect itself.
The thing with fluid retention is that if you don’t understand what is going on, which most people do not, then you can get pretty discouraged by the excess water weight (aka bloat) especially if you are in the midst of a fat loss program.
Normally, if you are eating healthy, whole foods, and drinking lots of water, fluid retention is not a issue.
But there are still some instances when it can get out of whack, and it is important to understand what is happening within the body, so that you can bring your fluid levels back to optimal levels – water in, water out.
With a bit of attention and a basic understanding about what causes water retention, you can keep your body in a state of optimal fluid flow.
Here are the three most common causes for water retention (simplified)
1. Excess Sodium
The body needs sodium and potassium to achieve optimal levels of fluid balance. With proper nutrition, i.e. eating primarily whole foods, this tends to happen naturally.
However, things like excessive sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, and a sudden increase in intake of foods high in sodium can throw these levels off balance.
This ties into the idea that many people think carbs are what make you bloated, but in reality, it is not the carbs that cause water retention, it is the sodium that typically accompanies the higher carbohydrate foods that causes the bloat.
Potassium is a big player specifically in bodily functions relating to digestion and muscle contraction.
In the book, The Metabolic Repair Manual, Leigh Peele suggests that daily potassium intake should be about 2 to 4 g.
She goes on to state that, “this is why seemingly simple digestive aggravation like heartburn, IBS, and GERD are actually screaming signs to a constantly imbalanced fluid system”.
Also, if the body is too acidic or too alkaline, this can also cause fluid retention as well.
2. Overtraining (Physical Stress)
As many women know firsthand, hormones play a huge role in water retention.
Guys, you need to pay attention here too though, don’t think you are exempt from this factor. Some hormonal causes for water retention are:
- an increase in estrogen
- a decrease in progesterone
- a decrease in testosterone
- over production of the adrenals
So you might be wondering, ok what does this have to do with overtraining? Well… all kinds of chaos can be created within the body through chronic intense exercise and lack of proper rest periods.
3. Emotional Stress
Emotional stress affects our hormone levels as well, in much the same way as physical stress. Lack of sleep, tenstion, constant worrying… these are all examples of things that can cause stress on the body over time.
How to know if your water levels are out of whack?
1. Mirror test
If you look in the mirror and your face looks round, your eyelids and/or your cheeks look puffy… you are retaining water.
If you wake up in the morning, and have bed sheet marks all over your body, or deep indention lines from your underwear, socks, bra etc, then you are retaining excess water.
3. Thirst, lack of urination or extremely dark yellow urine, and lack of sweat when exercising
The most obvious of the symptoms of dehydration is thirst. When you feel thirsty, your body is asking for more water.
Typically, if you reach this state, you are or will be soon retaining excess water, until the body trusts that you are giving it hydration on a consistent basis.
This is why it is important to drink water throughout the day.
Lack of urination, extremely dark yellow urine, and lack of sweat are all system related responses to dehydration, meaning the body literally starts shutting down various processes in order to hold on to fluid.
What to do?
1. Drink more water
Check out this article for more details on proper hydration.
2. Watch your sodium and mineral intake
Again, if you eat primarily whole foods, this should not be an issue for you, but if you tend to go out to eat, or eat a lot of packaged foods, you may want to scale back, as restaurant meals and processed foods tend to be higher (much higher) in sodium.
Also, make sure that you are getting a wide range of mineral, mostly through whole food sources.
Pay careful attention if you are in a job that is highly physical, or if you are a runner for example, because you want to make sure you are replacing the sodium that you are sweating out through your physical activity.
3. Chill out
Make sure to take training breaks, roughly every six weeks. Take time to relax, both mentally and physically.
Taking care of yourself emotionally and physically is really the most important factor of all. The more you allow yourself the freedom to relax and unwind, the more easily wellbeing and health will flow naturally to you.
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