If you’ve ever had one (or let’s be real, more than a few) of those days when you feel super bloated and puffy, you know that they’re the worst. While there are admittedly are a lot of different things that can cause you to feel that way, there are two primary culprits: gas and fluid retention. If you’re pretty sure it’s not gas (after all, it’s not so tough to tell if that’s the problem), it’s likely to be water that’s causing your unusual puffiness. Luckily, this annoyance is easy to spot and simple to treat. By making some basic adjustments to your diet and lifestyle, you’ll be well on your way to feeling comfortable in those high-waisted jeans again.
Here’s what you need to know about water retention and how to fix it.
What Is Water Retention Anyway?
If you’re wondering what it means when someone says they’re retaining water, you’re not alone. “Water retention is when your body is holding on to too much water, which results in swelling or puffiness,” says Danielle Capalino MSPH, RD. This can happen anywhere in your body, but there are spots that are more noticeable and common than others. “For example, hormones that fluctuate during your menstrual cycle cause you to hold onto water in your abdomen, but you can also retain water in your feet, ankles, and even your face,” Capalino explains.
How Do You Know You're Retaining Water?
As it turns out, it’s not hard to tell when your body is hanging on to some extra fluid. “You might notice puffiness around the eyes, fingers, or even in the ankles,” says Felicia Spence, a registered dietitian for Hilton Head Health in South Carolina. And of course, if your waistline seems to have expanded overnight, that’s a relatively sure sign that you’re retaining water. “Generally, a person can tell when their body has extra fluid retention somewhere and, at times, can feel that the area is warmer and softer to touch.” Another telltale heads up that it’s happening? “Water retention can cause your weight to fluctuate on the scale as well,” Spence says. So if you haven’t changed your eating habits over the past several days and you notice a spike in your weight from one day to the next, it’s likely that water retention is to blame.
How Food Factors In
So what causes this to happen in the first place? Well, one of the most common determining factors is eating too much sodium. “High-sodium foods are anything cured, like cold cuts, or processed meats, like bologna, sausages, bacon, and hot dogs,” Spence says. “Crunchy, savory snacks like pretzels and chips are also high in sodium. Beverages like V8 juice, soda, and even sports drinks can also be high in sodium," she adds. In short, if you’re eating something packaged, it’s a good idea to check the sodium content first, especially since not all foods high in sodium taste salty.
Water Retention During Your Menstrual Cycle
Aside from food, another thing that can cause you to retain water is your menstrual cycle, and it’s quite common to experience some fluid retention in the days before your period. “A combination of hormonal fluctuation, diet, lifestyle, and perhaps even some genetic predisposition are probably to blame for your PMS fluid retention,” Capalino explains. Sadly there’s not much you can do about your hormones, but you can take steps to fight the symptoms you’re having.
How to Fix It
Drink Water: “Water, water, water. Everyone is different when it comes to how much,” Spence says, but’s it’s a good ideal to drink more water than you usually would if you’re retaining water. “Drink until your pee is pale yellow,” she advises. “That can be anywhere from eight to 14 glasses of water per day.”
Eat Right: Of course, one of the best things you can do to fight water retention is to reduce your sodium intake. “Look at hidden sources of sodium like bread,” Capalino recommends. Another strategy is to amp up your intake of certain nutrients that can help alleviate it. “Magnesium has been shown to help lessen the impact of water retention. Good sources of magnesium include dark leafy greens like spinach, nuts, and seeds, and luckily since retention is so prevalent around the menstrual cycle, dark chocolate.” Another nutrient to aim for is potassium. “Good sources of potassium include potatoes, dark leafy greens, and bananas,” she notes. Vitamin B6 (which is also prevalent in these foods) may also help.
Exercise: Spent Sunday on the couch bingeing on Netflix? That could be the source of your problem. “Lack of movement can cause pooling of fluid,” Spence explains. “If you have ever been a long flight, you may have noticed some fluid retention in your hands and ankles. Movement helps move things along, fluid in particular. Get up and move around—even if it’s just a short walk.”
For more health tips, head to our wellness vertical, THE/THIRTY.