Tackling Water Retention

Written by Sophie

Water retention is something I had never really thought about until I moved to Singapore.  Being on the other side of the world in tropical climates caused all sorts of unfamiliar experiences for me; new levels of frizzy hair, stomach aches from exotic food, dehydration from the heat (and excessive expat socialising) and above all….water retention!!

I was experiencing the growth of club feet, uncomfortable ankles, a very bloated stomach and my weight could go up by 5 pounds over night!  As you can imagine, in a place where you live in summer clothing and swimwear it wasn’t ideal to feel like this.  I did a lot of investigating and tried a lot of things over the following couple of years and here is some info and tips from my own personal research and trial.

What is water retention?

Essentially water retention occurs when your body isn’t efficiently removing the fluids from your tissues, most commonly around your stomach, legs or other parts of your body.  Sometimes water retention is cause by medical conditions which actually need to be treated, but for the majority of people it occurs as a reaction to something where the body is either holding onto the fluids in order to help you function better, or alternatively it isn’t removing the fluids as your system isn’t functioning as well as it should be.

What can cause water retention?

  • Dehydration – when your body is dehydrated it’s reaction is to hold on to liquids that are already in the body. An example of this is, when you are hungover and therefore dehydrated, your body will hold on to the water/liquids that you feed it because it is trying to rehydrate itself rather than allow them to pass through you as they usually would.
  • Humidity – this affects people differently, but particularly if you’re not used to living in humid climates then it is likely that your body will react to humid conditions and hold on to excess water.
  • Vitamin/nutrient deficiencies – if your body is lacking in vitamins, minerals and nutrients such as protein, calcium, magnesium and vitamins B1, B5 and B6 then this can cause your body to hold on to water.  This affects the function of organs such as your kidneys and liver which are part of your natural ‘detoxifying’ system.
  • Food allergies – often when you are consuming foods that your body doesn’t tolerate well (e.g. gluten or lactose) your body will be less efficient at removing the fluids from your tissues because your toxicity levels are higher and therefore not in full health and functioning well.  There are many elimination diets which will help you with this, e.g. the Waterfall diet (although this one is quite extreme).
  • Alcohol – this one is the main cause for me….if I’ve had a few drinks the night before then I often wake up with club feet and an alarming number on the bathroom scales.  For me, this is heightened by drinking in humid climates as well as my intolerance to the alcohol, I find that some alcohol is worse than others, e.g. vodka versus wine causes me much more water retention.
  • Too much salt in your diet – high levels of sodium in your diet can cause your body to hold onto water in order to balance out the levels of sodium.
  • Hormonal changes – this is one for the ladies really.  It is a common fact that during the ‘time of the month’ your body will hold on to more water to aid you with the changes that it’s going through.  Hormonal imbalance can also be caused by other things though such as stress, whether it’s from working too hard or just sleeping badly so it’s important to manage this in order to ensure your hormones are as naturally balanced as they can be as this can also impact your body negatively in other ways.

How to reduce water retention without relying on medication?

  • Exercise – this improves circulation and enables you to sweat out some of the toxins/excess water.  I find this the most effective way to alleviate my body of water retention, particularly when exercising in hotter conditions, e.g. outdoor bootcamps (in hot climates) or hot yoga, as your body will produce more sweat.
  • Increasing water intake – this won’t be the first time you’ve read this one.  As I said above, dehydration causes your body to hold on to water, so if you are drinking more water you are giving your body no reason to hold onto excess.  Drinking more water also helps flush out any other toxins that might be causing water retention.
  • Isotonic drinks – I don’t mean the ‘sports drinks’  with excess sugar and sodium added, but natural isotonics such as (pure) coconut water which give your body a bit of extra help in rehydrating.
  • Reducing sodium intake – cutting down on salt, foods containing MSG and high sodium levels, your body won’t be given a trigger to hold on to more water.
  • Balanced diet – ensuring you include plenty of fruit and vegetables as well as ‘clean foods’ getting a good balance between carbohydrates and protein.  Excess in carbs can cause your body to hold onto water, and higher levels of protein can encourage your body to let go of water it’s holding on to.  That’s why people who go on diets (and generally reduce carbs and increase protein) tend to loose ‘water weight’ quite quickly at the start of their diet.  Ensuring you have a diet rich in nutrient dense food will mean that your organs all get the right fuel to function as well as possible, e.g. food containing potassium and magnesium are particularly good for water retention.
  • Natural diuretics – including foods which have naturally detoxifying qualities and are seen as ‘diuretics’ can have a positive effect on reducing water retention. Foods like cabbage, cucumber, parsley and salad leaves and herbal teas such as nettle, peppermint, camomile and dandelion are particularly good.
  • Tackle food intolerances allergies – first of all, if you know your body doesn’t tolerate certain foods then remove these from your diet as a starting point.  If you aren’t sure what it is affected by then a food diary can help with this, or starting with a straight-forward elimination diet.  Usually you are advised to cut out ‘typical allergens’ such as wheat/gluten, dairy, processed food etc.
  • Skin brushing – this is one I always get laughed at for, but I swear by now!  Skin brushing helps your lymphatic system (which is the system of tissues and nerves just below your skin) to detoxify.  Skin brushing helps to encourage the function of the lymphatic system and therefore the removal of toxins which in turn helps reduce water retention.
  • Epsom Salt Baths – apparently this is something which models swear by (obvs not the only thing they do to look the way they do!) The salts draw out excess fluids and toxins from your body. Putting 1-2 cups in a bath can also soothe sore muscles and calms the nerves.
  • Elevating your legs – this one makes me feel like SUCH an old woman, but since doing it in yoga classes and reading about it’s help with water retention, it is actually a very restoring pose and will make you feel relaxed and re-energised…even if your housemates think you are a little strange.

All of these tips are based on my own research, trials and opinion on what has been the most effective for me, so if you have any other ideas about things that help then please do let me know!