What Does Everyone Mean When They Say “Water Weight”?

It’s one of those expressions commonly misapplied as a balm to soothe frustrated dieters, sodium lovers, exercise fanatics, or health gurus. 

But when it comes down to defining it, most people are at something of a loss. 

Is it good? Is it bad? Aren’t we basically made of water – why wouldn’t we have water weight? Do you lose it first when you’re trying to lose weight, or last?

We’re going to clear things up. 

We’ll go through what water weight is, how one comes to retain it in the first place, the effects of holding it, and how to drain it!

Water Weight: Edema

The scientific term for water weight is edema, meaning fluid retention. The body clings to water around body tissues (between your organs and your skin) and in circulation, specifically in the extremities – the arms, hands, feet, ankles, and legs. 

The water that’s clinging to your tissues is water that’s meant to be flushed through the kidneys along with toxins, waste, and excess body salts, but for a variety of possibilities, it’s just not going.

Our bodies are 50-60% water. Anything over that is unnecessary, and like most abnormalities in the body, usually a sign that something else is going wrong.

Let’s outline some of the reasons your body retains water weight…

Causes of Water Retention

When you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll often hear fitness experts and trainers tell you not to worry if you’re gaining weight – it’s just water weight…

What they mean is that micro tears in the muscles induce the body to hold more water for healing, as well as for inflammation soothing purposes… especially if you’ve been inactive for a while.

Beyond that, there are quite a few other reasons, such as:

  • High Carb: Eating a diet high in carbohydrates (without adequate hydration) can be a cause for water retention. This is because whenever we don’t use energy right away, we store it as glycogen in our lean muscle mass… but each gram of glycogen stored keeps three grams of water with it.
  • High Sodium: Your body is always trying to maintain a balance between salt and water. You know the feeling – you eat a bunch of peanuts at the bar and all of a sudden you’re thirsty. When your diet contains too much sodium, your body holds onto water to keep the balance intact.
  • Inactivity: Frequent traveling or sitting at a desk all day can actually cause your body to pool water, especially in your extremities. When you don’t move enough, circulation slows down and water builds up around body tissue. 
  • Menstrual Cycle: Because hormone quantities and types shift before menstrual cycles, so do our water retention habits. Not to mention, we tend to crave salty foods and carbs during that time!
  • Low on Magnesium or B-6: When you’re low on these vitamins which support the kidneys, they have to work extra hard to flush your toxins, waste, and water, which means they aren’t doing it as often.
  • Dehydration: Funny, we know. But when you’re dehydrated, your body starts to panic about when it’s going to get water again. It’s a survival instinct – hold onto the water you’ve got in case you won’t get anymore for a while! 

The Effects of Water Weight and What to Do

This is sort of a no-brainer… but to reverse the effects, correct the issues above!

When you’re retaining too much water, you’ll weigh more, feel bloated, swollen, and generally uncomfortable – especially around the extremities and stomach. It’s typically not considered dangerous, unless you’re experiencing those symptoms to an extreme degree. If that’s the case, definitely get in touch with your primary care physician!


Try to drink a lot of water if you’re eating a lot of carbs, or cut down so you’re not eating so many! 

Limit your salt intake as much as possible – really, we’re not supposed to have more than about a teaspoon of salt a day. Most of the salt we eat comes from processed foods, not regular table salt. Avoid them, mostly the high-sodium ones, as often as you can!

Make sure to get up and walk around once an hour to keep your blood flowing.

Stay hydrated right before your menstrual cycle!

Take supplements of magnesium and B-6 – you need them for way more than just getting rid of water weight, so it’s a good idea in general!

And remember…

None of us are drinking as much water as we’re supposed to.

If you can’t make it to a gallon a day, try to at least get to two liters!

All of the internal issues that can cause you to retain water are also issues that cause low energy, including dehydration.

So much goes on at the molecular level that we’re unaware of. Most of us don’t make an effort to be healthier until something goes wrong in a big way. But that’s because Western medicine isn’t about prevention, it’s about solving problems.

But you see…

That’s a problem.

Click here to sign up to watch the docu-series we’re about to drop about what’s really causing your exhaustion and draining the energy out of your life. You might be surprised at how often those symptoms coincide with areas of your life… 

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.