Feeling puffy and water-logged? Stepped on the scale to see that- eek!- you’re up to three lbs from yesterday? What gives?!
While slow increases in weight (over the course of weeks) are usually attributed to weight gain, a more rapid flux on the scale may be due to water retention or bloat. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, the causes of excess fluid and girth are different.
Bloating occurs when the abdominal cavity expands, due to gas and/or swelling. Bloat is usually caused by foods that are difficult to digest.
Certain foods typically cause bloat when consumed in large quantities, thanks to gasses given off indigestion. Healthy, high-fiber foods often cause bloating, especially if you’re not accustomed to large amounts of fiber and/or vegetable matter. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts), peppers, spicy foods, whole grains, beans, and lentils are all common culprits.
However, over time, the body becomes less susceptible to bloat when these foods are consumed regularly. So, sorry, bloat is no excuse to skip your brussel sprouts!
In addition to food triggers, eating too fast, consuming carbonated beverages, drinking through a straw, and chewing gum can all cause bloat. In general, most bloat is caused by gas, meaning that fluctuations on the scale are very minor. If you’ve gained an lb or more, you’re likely experiencing water retention, not bloat.
Water retention, like bloat, has many causes. Common causes include menstruation, exercise, and large amounts of sodium. Additionally, certain medications may cause the body to hold onto water.Water retention tends to cause larger increases on the scale than bloat. If you’ve woken up and gained 2 lbs overnight, you’re likely experiencing the effects of water retention. However, if that 2 lb creeps on over the course of 1-2 weeks, it may be due to fat accumulation/weight gain.
Reducing water retention depends on your ability to address the specific cause of the retention. Hormonal fluctuations due to menstruation typically abate on their own. Water retention due to exercise also goes away with 24-48 hours, with the body holding on to extra fluid to improve the delivery of enzymes and chemical messengers, enhancing recovery and promoting muscle growth.
In many cases, reducing your consumption of sodium will also help reduce water retention. Water follows sodium, increasing the risk of sodium retention in individuals consuming high salt diets. If you suspect that you’re feeling the effects of sodium-induced water retention, try monitoring your sodium intake for 1-2 days, using food labels and dietary guides to estimate your sodium consumption. Higher than 2,300 mg? Then you may want to cut back.
While 2,300 mg is a good goal for most people, some individuals need more and some less. Be sure to speak with a physician about the amount of sodium that is right for you, especially if you have a preexisting condition, are pregnant, or exercise regularly, as exercise can cause you to lose large amounts of sodium.