When you consider your weight, you presumably consider it a semi-static measurement that, for the most part, correctly represents your overall fat and muscle mass. While this is partially correct, weight is a highly complicated metric!
Body weight is dynamic and constantly shifting. It can be influenced by an apparently infinite number of lifestyle and environmental factors. Stress, the foods and beverages you ingest, and changes in your hormonal levels all contribute to the number you see on the scale, which fluctuates throughout the day.
As a result, the number reported as your weight will fluctuate as your body tries to maintain homeostasis (balance) as you go about your daily activities.
One way your body keeps balance is through its ability to retain water during times of metabolic need or stress. This phenomenon, also known as water weight or fluid retention, is extremely common — and, in most cases, not cause for worry.
This article will delve into the science of water weight, examining what it is, why it occurs, and what you can do to avoid and treat any water weight symptoms that may emerge. Because the treatment required for each of these conditions varies significantly, this article also distinguishes between mild edema (another word for water weight) and its more insidious form, chronic edema.
Are you interested in learning more about your body and its changing weight? Let's get this party underway!
It is important to remember that water weight is not the same as chronic edema.
Before we go any further, there is an essential difference to be made between water weight and mild water retention vs. chronic edema.
While both conditions involve excess fluids held within the body, the severity and treatment options for each are drastically different. So, for the sake of clarity, here are the definitions of each circumstance that will be used throughout the rest of this article:
Water weight or mild edema — This is a low-grade condition that causes the body to retain small quantities of extra fluid. It is usually not a severe medical condition, but rather a temporary occurrence brought on by certain lifestyle factors.
Chronic edema — A much more severe condition, chronic edema is frequently seen as a complication of another medical comorbidity, such as heart or kidney failure. Chronic edema symptoms are more noticeable than minor edema symptoms and can be debilitating. This type of swelling must be treated by a doctor.
What is the weight of water?
Both water retention and water weight gain refer to an increase in your total body weight caused by fluid accumulation in your body tissues. The human body is composed of approximately 60% water, which is distributed among your systems, blood, and cells. Water moves through the membranes of your cells throughout the day, helping to keep your body's balance and homeostasis.
There are instances when it is advantageous for the body to hang on to, or retain, excess water due to a variety of factors. This is an example of water weight or mild edema, which is a temporary increase in the quantity of fluid in your body. When this happens, you may feel mildly bloated or your hands, feet, and ankles may feel puffier than usual. In most instances, this mild form of fluid retention resolves on its own, often within a few hours.
What causes my body to acquire water weight?
To better comprehend fluid retention, you must first understand that water can be stored in two places in the body: the intracellular and extracellular spaces.
Intracellular space — All fluid held within the membranous walls of an organism's cells is referred to as the intracellular compartment. Under healthy and balanced circumstances, approximately 23% of your body's water (or 28 liters of fluid) is stored within your cells at any given moment. During times of dehydration or overhydration, this fluid can flow into and out of the cells as required to maintain balance.
Extracellular space — The extracellular compartment is made up of two lesser parts: blood plasma (the fluid component of your blood) and interstitial fluids. (which can be found between individual cells). The remaining 13 percent of your body's water is made up of neural and hormonal sensors that are extremely sensitive to variations in the volumes of these fluid compartments.
Water Balance in the Body
The renal system (particularly the kidneys) is heavily engaged in maintaining this delicate fluid balance between the compartments. Your kidneys are made up of tiny filtering units called nephrons that act as a filter for your blood. Essential nutrients and water are reabsorbed into the bloodstream as your blood passes through the nephron based on your body's metabolic requirements.
The quantity of water retained during this process can rise as a result of dietary changes, activity levels, or hormonal imbalances, resulting in a higher level of extracellular fluid and the development of water-weight symptoms.
The most prevalent signs of water retention
Because fluid retention is a systemic condition that affects multiple tissues and organs, water-weight symptoms are prevalent throughout the body. Some of the most prevalent water weight symptoms are as follows:
- Bloating in the abdomen region
- Pain and rigidity in the joints
- A sensation of swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs
- Face puffiness, pelvic puffiness, and foot puffiness
- Variations in your starting weight
Symptoms of water weight gain usually subside within a few hours or days as your body returns to a state of homeostasis.
However, if your symptoms persist for several weeks or worsen, it may be an indication that they are being caused by more serious health issues that should be addressed by a healthcare provider. Among the signs to be on the lookout for are:
- Swelling and puffiness in the feet, ankles, and thighs
- Skin that is stretched and glossy
- Moving limbs can be difficult.
- Feeling heavy or full in the affected extremities
- Areas of skin that, when pressed, briefly take on the shape of a thumbprint. (also known as pitting edema)
- As the condition worsens, you may experience shortness of breath and trouble breathing.
Why are you gaining water weight?
As previously stated, the majority of cases of water weight gain are not the outcome of a serious medical condition. Instead, if you observe that your body is retaining more water than usual, it could be due to one or more of the following environmental and lifestyle factors:
You consumed more sodium than usual — While sodium is an important nutrient that you must obtain through your diet, eating a meal high in sodium can cause the body to retain excess water for a brief period of time afterward.
You altered your level of activity — Prolonged sitting or standing in one place can cause fluid to pool in the extracellular spaces of your feet and ankles. Regular exercise can help to alleviate these problems.
You are starting a new drug — It is critical to discuss the potential side effects with your primary care provider before beginning a new medication. Mild fluid retention and water weight gain should be avoided in some instances during the early stages of treatment.
Your hormones are changing — Hormones are important in regulating your body during times of transition and stress. You may gain water weight during times of high anxiety because your body generates higher amounts of the stress hormone cortisol.
Identifying water weight increase
Because of its short-term and mild symptoms, water weight is frequently misdiagnosed as a medical problem. However, this does not mean you should dismiss any symptoms you are having. If you observe persistent or recurring water weight symptoms over a long period of time, consult your primary care provider.
Body composition testing may also be beneficial if you want to learn more about the quantity of water your body carries on a regular basis. You will be able to monitor changes in these measurements over time that may be signs of early-stage fluid retention if you record your average body water percentage to get a better grasp of your baseline values.
The majority of instances of water weight do not necessitate treatment.
Allowing some time to pass may be all that is required to treat your water weight increase — yes, really! Because mild fluid retention is frequently a short-term reaction to a change in lifestyle or environment, your body will most likely be able to resolve this problem on its own over time. Furthermore, paying greater attention to your diet, engaging in regular exercise, and getting a good night's sleep can all aid in the treatment of mild forms of fluid retention.
Chronic edema, on the other hand, is a much more advanced and involved procedure. Chronic edema is often a side effect of another illness that isn't being treated well, so the first step in treating edema symptoms is often to treat the underlying illness.
Other chronic edema treatment alternatives to consider include:
- Elevating the afflicted tissue above the level of the heart for 30 minutes at a time
- lowering sodium consumption through dietary means
- Diuretic (water pill) medicine use
How to Avoid Gaining Water Weight
As a result of living in a stressful modern world, it is difficult to completely eliminate the possibility that your body will experience periods of mild fluid retention from time to time.
However, there are some lifestyle adjustments you can make to help manage fluid retention and lower your vulnerability to frequent bouts of water weight gain. Some of our best recommendations for avoiding water weight gain include:
- Cutting back on salt consumption
- Maintaining your body's hydration levels throughout the day
- Elevating your knees after prolonged standing
- Engaging in regular physical exercise
- Wearing compression stockings on the feet and legs
So, what have we discovered?
While fluctuating body weight is entirely normal, sudden increases in weight and the development of mild puffiness and swelling may indicate that you are carrying some extra water weight. That is not always a bad trait!
Water weight symptoms can be a useful indicator that you should change your current lifestyle habits because they are mild and non-life threatening conditions that will likely resolve within a day.
Just because your scale indicates an increase in weight does not necessarily mean that you have gained muscle or fat mass; it could simply mean that your body is retaining a little extra water for a while. However, if your water weight symptoms persist, you should consider calling your healthcare provider.
We hope this article was useful in dispelling some of the most prevalent myths about weight gain and fluid retention. Perhaps it will also serve as a reminder to show your body additional compassion and TLC the next time water weight gain occurs!