Water weight, also called edema, is when you have a build-up of fluid in your body. Some ways that may help you lose water weight include making dietary changes, exercising, and taking supplements.

The human body contains around 60% water, which plays a key role in all aspects of life.

You may experience weight fluctuations from one day to another. This is most likely due to water retention, which may happen for various reasons like eating foods high in salt. This type of water weight is usually temporary and harmless.

That said, persistent water weight or symptoms like swollen ankles, feet, and legs may signal a chronic medical condition called edema.

Keep reading to learn more about 8 ways to reduce water weight safely, its causes, and when to see a doctor.

woman runningShare on Pinterest
Image credit: Aleksandar Nakic/Getty Images

Exercise may help reduce water weight in the short term because it increases sweat, which means you lose water.

It’s also not uncommon to lose a small amount of body weight from sweating during exercise, depending on factors such as heat and clothing.

During exercise, your body also shifts a lot of water into your muscles.

This can help reduce water outside of the cell and decrease the “soft” look people report from excessive water retention. That said, you still need to drink plenty of water during your training session.

The sauna may also help increase sweat and water loss, which you could add in after your gym session.

2. Increase potassium consumption

Potassium is an important electrolyte involved in regulating fluid balance. It helps counteract the effects of sodium by increasing excretion and urine production. This could help prevent water retention and fluid build-up.

Eating more potassium-rich foods may be beneficial for reducing excess water weight. These may include:

3. Manage salt intake

Sodium is one of the most common electrolytes in the human body and is obtained daily from salt.

It plays a major role in hydration levels. If sodium levels are too low or too high, it will lead to imbalances within the body.

Consuming high levels of salt may increase fluid retention, which could add water weight. However, this seems to depend on several factors, such as:

The authors of a 2017 study also suggest that a sudden increase in sodium consumption may lead to increased thirst and fluid intake. This could result in fluid retention.

4. Take a magnesium supplement

Magnesium is another key electrolyte and mineral that has over 300 roles in the human body, including managing hydration and fluid retention levels.

Studies suggest that magnesium can ease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) like water retention.

These changes occur because magnesium plays an integrative role with other electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium. Together, they help control your body’s water balance.

In addition to magnesium supplements, magnesium-rich foods are also recommended. These include dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

5. Take a dandelion supplement

Dandelion, also known as Taraxacum officinale, is a herb used in alternative medicine to help treat water retention. For example, some bodybuilders use it to lose water weight for aesthetic purposes or to meet a weight category.

Dandelion supplements may help you lose water weight by signaling the kidneys to expel more urine and additional salt or sodium. A 2009 study shows that taking dandelion supplements may increase the frequency of urination over a 5-hour period.

That said, more research is required on the effectiveness of dandelion supplements on water retention and weight.

6. Consider certain foods and herbs

Some foods and herbs may help you lose water weight and combat water retention, including:

It’s important to note that research on the diuretic properties of these herbal ingredients is mostly limited to test-tube and animal studies. Larger human studies are needed to better understand the diuretic benefits of these herbs.

Additionally, though bloating is usually not caused by water retention, you may also wish to limit or temporarily remove foods that may cause bloating.

7. Cut carbs

Cutting carbs is a common strategy to quickly drop excess water weight. Carbs are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. However, glycogen pulls water inside along with it.

Around 3–4 grams (0.11–0.14 ounces) of water may be stored for every gram of glycogen. This may be why people experience immediate weight loss when switching to a low carb diet, which reduces glycogen stores.

Carbs may also spike insulin levels. This could increase sodium retention and reabsorption of water in the kidneys. Low carb diets lead to a drop in insulin levels, which could lead to a loss of sodium and water from the kidneys.

Try altering your carb intake and see what works best for you.

8. Take caffeine supplements or drink tea and coffee

Caffeine and beverages that contain caffeine like coffee and tea may help you lose water weight.

Caffeine may have a diuretic effect and increase short-term urine output. This could increase the amount of water that leaves your body, therefore decreasing water weight.

However, this varies depending on the amount of caffeine that you consume.

For instance, a 2017 study found that drinking about 537 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, or approximately 6 cups of coffee, significantly increased urine production. On the other hand, drinking 269 mg of caffeine, or around 3 cups of coffee, had no effect on fluid balance.

Water weight may have several different causes, such as:

It’s important to speak with a healthcare professional if your water weight doesn’t go away after a few days. It may be a sign of an underlying health condition that needs medical treatment.

How do I know if it’s water weight?

You could check for water weight at home by using a method that doctors use to assess for pitting edema.

Apply pressure to the swollen area. If this leaves an indentation, it’s usually water weight. If the area simply bounces back, it’s usually true weight. This method may not work for relatively healthy people trying to figure out if the fast food they ate last night increased true weight or water weight.

Other signs of water weight may include:

  • rapid weight gain
  • gaining more than 4 pounds (lbs) in 3 days
  • swollen extremities, such as feet, ankles, hands, and wrists

It’s best to speak with a healthcare professional if you’re unsure about water weight.

Can water weight be 10 pounds?

It’s possible to experience up to 10% of your body weight before detecting pitting edema. This means that water weight can be 10 pounds or higher.

How long does water weight last?

Short-term fluid retention may go away on its own or after exercising, returning to a well-balanced diet, or until your hormones are rebalanced. If you have edema, you may experience swollen ankles, feet, or legs for a longer period of time.

Speak with a healthcare professional if your water retention problems persist, are severe, or increase suddenly.

In some cases, excess water retention can be caused by a serious medical condition.

The best way to combat excess water weight is to identify and treat the cause. This may include excess salt intake, inactivity, or the regular consumption of processed foods.

Water weight is common. It will typically go away on its own or with at-home interventions, such as exercise.

That said, water weight that doesn’t go away may be a sign of edema, which could require medical treatment. Speak with a healthcare professional if your water weight doesn’t get better after a few days of treatment.