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2 min read

Water Retention and Weight Loss

In July 1995, Universal Studios released "Waterworld" starring Kevin Costner. At the time, it was the most expensive film ever made. Critics panned it. Audiences didn't show up in record numbers to see it. It might have a small cult following today, but in 1995, it was a box-office flop.  

It's 2018 and the sequel is here: "Waterworld II," and you're the star. It's a story of high expectations and potential letdowns. What does this have to do with fitness? Let me set the scene for you.

You've decided to lose body-fat and start a program. In this story, you're making the right decisions. You're in control of your caloric intake. You eat protein-rich foods. You don't shy away from weight lifting. You reach your 10,000 step quota and you do a little extra cardio on the side for good measure. All things considered, you're doing well.

Any reasonable person would expect to see body-fat loss. In this story, unfortunately, what you see on the scale does not match expectations. 

Week 1: 180 

Week 2: 181 

Week 3: 180 

What gives?! You're overcome with emotion.  

"This eating right and exercising thing is a scam! Why am I not losing weight?!" You're not alone in these frustrations. You're the star of "Waterworld II." 

 Water retention can: 

  • feel like fat 
  • mask visual progress  
  • prevent changes in scale weight 

What's causing all this ruckus?  

1) Stress 

As a response to stress (of any kind), the body tends to hold water. 

Imagine that during the 3 weeks I outlined above, you experienced the following: 

  • an important work project 
  • lack of sleep 
  • your in-laws are in town 
  • your kid took apart your iPad to "see how it works" 

Yikes, I get stressed from looking at the list. In response to these and other stressors, your body ramps up water retention.  

2) Carbohydrate 

Think about the word Carbohydrate. Carbon+H-2-O. This is an oversimplification but you get the idea. For every gram of carb eaten, you will hold ~2.7g of water. This explains the rapid drop in weight when someone begins a low-carbohydrate diet. It also explains the surge of water that comes when that person eats carbs again. The water retention from carbs is a good thing. It helps you train harder, give your muscles a more "fit" look and keep your cells hydrated.  

3) Excessive Sodium  

We usually recommend 1g of sodium per 1,000 calories. So, if you eat 1500 calories, that's 1500mg of sodium. The average American consumes ~3400/day. That's enough to skyrocket your blood pressure and hold onto over 2lbs of water weight

So, what can we do about all this? Are we trapped in this "Waterworld" forever? Luckily, there is hope. Here are some things to help you: 

  1. Be patient.  

Plateaus are not an "on/off" occurrence. They are gradual. Don't expect record-breaking weight changes immediately.  

2) Manage stress.  

Meditate, pray, get away, take a bath, get a pedicure, get a massage. Breathe. Progress is not linear.  

3) Fix your sleep. 

Insufficient sleep is stress-increasing nightmare. Remember, high stress = high water retention. It can also cause increased appetite (more calories) and decreased energy (less exercise). The combination can stop fat loss in its tracks. 

4) Don't default to low-carbs 

Don't get me wrong. Lower carb diets work. Higher carb diets also work. Which one you choose depends on many factors. Don't assume very low carb intake will keep water completely at bay. You'd be wrong in that assumption. 

 5) Don't take diuretics 

Trust me on this one. You'll lose water but you'll also lose Sodium and Potassium. These are essential for your cell's function, blood pressure, among others. The end result can be catastrophic. On the less-severe end: fatigue. On the extreme side: coma. 

Stay true to your program and use these strategies. In doing so, you can see the following

Week 1: 180 

Week 2: 180 

Week 3: 180 

Week 4: 174 

Perhaps we can name the sequel: "Waterworld II: Escape from Waterworld." 

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