Water retention: How to lose it for good

Bloating caused by water retention is something most of us deal with at some point in our lives. One day your favorite jeans fit perfectly… and the next they may feel two sizes too small.

Water retention makes you feel puffy and stiff. It’s the first thing you lose when you diet, and the first thing to come back. It’s annoying, irritating, bothersome… and totally unnecessary.

So it’s time to send it down the drain once and for all…

Signs you’re retaining water

First of all, how do you know if the extra padding you wake up to one morning is water and not sudden weight gain, an allergic reaction… or something else? Before you panic, look for these tell-tell signs that usually indicate water retention is to blame:

  • Your weight fluctuates more than the typical one to three pounds day-to-day.
  • You have visible swelling in your hands, ankles and feet.
  • If you push on an area that looks “puffy,” your imprint remains rather than disappears immediately.
  • You get visible sock marks on your ankles or lines on your legs from elastic pants.

Counter these causes of water retention

Sometimes water retention can be a sign of an underlying medical condition that needs to be assessed by a physician. But we’re going to look at some common causes of water retention — and a few that may surprise you — as well as what you can do to look and feel less bloated…

  1. Not enough exercise. Breaking a sweat daily is a natural ‘check’ that helps your body rid itself of excess water. But exercise can also act as a preventative against retention. That’s because it increases circulation that will help keep your body from retaining water in the first place. Exercise also helps you rid your body of the next water retention culprit…
  2. Too much sodium. You may have to take a closer look at what you’re eating, even healthy foods. So-called health foods often pack a load of sodium, so don’t assume something is as healthy as the label boasts. Avoid adding salt to your food. Try a new spice instead—or better yet, good old black pepper. It’s a bioactive food that can help reduce inflammation and keep weight off.
  3. Travel. Tied to #4 below, yet in addition, the pressure in the cabin of a plane or closed space can be a problem. Cabin pressure is dehydrating, and your body will try to hold onto all the water it can.
  4. Long periods of sitting and or standing. Your body needs to move in order to circulate and flush fluids out. Just driving in the car for hours to my home state, having exercised in the morning and after drinking hourly to stay hydrated, my ankles are somewhat swollen by the time I arrive.
  5. Medications. Some are worse than others and each of us reacts differently, but some common culprits include birth control and pain relievers, like NSAIDs.
  6. Nutrition: Carbohydrates, sugar (natural and artificial), and carbonated beverages each can cause water retention. Surprisingly, caffeinated beverages can contribute to water retention. Odd, I know, because caffeine is a diuretic. The problem? Your body is confused by caffeine’s signals to rid itself of fluid, so it goes into defense mode to prevent dehydration.
  7. Micronutrient deficiencies. Both protein and potassium are nutrients that help your body regulate fluids. Low levels of either of these can lead to water retention. When water retention causes swelling in parts of the body, leaky capillaries may be to blame. Vitamins A and C can strengthen them. Vitamin B12 has diuretic properties, but unlike caffeine, your body works better with it. Make sure your B levels are good.
  8. Alcohol. Yes, alcohol is a diuretic, but long-term drinking can contribute to water retention.
  9. Hormone fluctuation: Women generally deal with water retention around menstruation, pregnancy, and again during menopause. But everything in this list can worsen it.
  10. Hormone replacement therapy. HRT may cause bloating, fluid retention and nausea.

Habits that reduce the recurrence of water retention

After countering any of the water retention causes in the previous section, you’ll want to develop some healthy habits that help reduce the recurrence of water retention, including:

  1. Drink water consistently through the day. Drink early. Drink often. This advice may sound counterintuitive, but as you learned above in #6, your body will go into defense mode if it thinks you’re getting dehydrated and hold onto water — in the wrong places.
  2. Add apple cider vinegar or lemon to your water. A few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar will do it. Squeeze fresh lemon juice into your water throughout the day.
  3. Eat foods that are natural diuretics: artichokes, asparagus, beets, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, oats, watermelon, strawberries, cucumber, and green tea.
  4. Drink (limited) caffeinated beverages: coffee (black) or tea. (Carbonated beverages are never a good idea).
  5. Add Epsom salt to your bath and or alternately, apple cider vinegar.
  6. Swimming can draw water out of your system.

If you’re retaining water, most likely these causes and solutions should help you find some relief.

But if you think you need to dig into it deeper, barring any medical condition you may have discovered with the help of your doctor, my After 50 Fitness Formula for Women and the 28-Day Kickstart both include a-three step process for determining what could be causing bloating, digestive issues, lack of energy, weight loss resistance, as well as water retention. Your gut health is the real target of the plans but secondary to that is what happens as a result of removing foods your body isn’t processing well and increasing the ingestion of nutrient-dense foods that help you thrive. The basics of the steps include:

  1. Remove anything — food or drink — that causes potential bloating or water retention.
  2. Reintroduce offenders one at a time.
  3. Identify a long-term way to infrequently eat those foods that cause retention, bloating, lethargy, if you can’t forego them all together. Mostly, at least 80-90 percent of the time, eat foods that make you feel your best. Periodically — since your stressors, activity, and gut health can change —repeat this process to get back to a best-fit plan.
Debra Atkinson

By Debra Atkinson

Debra Atkinson Is the founder of the Flipping 50 movement and host of the Flipping 50 podcast and TV show available on your iphone, ipad, and Apple TV. She is the author of four books including You Still Got It, Girl! The After 50 Fitness Formula For Women and Navigating Fitness After 50: Your GPS For Choosing Programs and Professionals You Can Trust.

Debra is a contributing blogger on the Huffington Post, ShareCare, Prime Woman, and Livingbetter50. She provides solutions for women approaching 50 or who have already turned the corner on what to eat, how to move, and the mindset for lifestyle change with hormone balance that will make the next years as the best years. Find her resources here.