How Water Weight Affects Weight Loss

How Water Weight Affects Weight Loss



If you’re just starting out in your weight loss journey, you may notice your weight fluctuate on the scale. You may even be shocked at how much weight you’re losing. That weight is water weight.

What is water weight?

When we lose weight we lose fat, muscle and water. In fact, we can lose as much as 5 pounds of water weight in a day.

During the first weeks of losing weight (especially while on a low carb plan), you may notice significant weight loss that then slows down in the succeeding weeks. That’s just a normal part of losing weight.

You see, when you cut down calories and create a calorie deficit; your body gets energy from its glycogen storage. Glycogen is stored in the muscles and liver where your body can quickly turn it into glucose to give you much-needed energy. Glycogen molecules contain water. So the more glycogen you use up for energy, the more water you lose. Unfortunately, that water weight loss is temporary.

What are the other causes of water weight?

You can retain water through a number of ways including:

Salt – sodium binds with water and keeps it trapped in the body. It’s why you feel bloated after eating a bag of chips.

Carbohydrates – when your body doesn’t use the carbohydrates you consume for energy right away, the body stores it as glycogen. The body can only store roughly 600 grams of glycogen. Any excess is converted into triglycerides which can either enter the bloodstream or are stored in fat cells. If you consume a diet high in carbohydrates, any excess that doesn’t get used up for energy gets stored as fat.

Hormones – many women feel bloated a week before their period. Your hormones can cause fluid retention and you may feel swelling and tenderness in your breasts, belly and other areas. You may also notice that your face, legs and arms might look fuller just before your period. You can also experience this same hormone-related water retention during pregnancy and when you use hormonal birth control.

Stress – stress releases cortisol or the “stress hormone”. Cortisol can be responsible for water retention.

Poor circulation – older people and people with vein issues can experience water retention in their extremities. In cases of venous insufficiency, the valves in the veins of the legs don’t work properly so blood refluxes, pools, and collects in these veins. Your legs may retain fluid and swell.

What should I do to start losing fat and not water weight?

Cutting carbohydrates is a good start. When you cut carbs, your body is forced to turn to burning fat for energy. After depleting your glycogen stores, your body will start breaking down fatty acids into ketones through a process called ketosis. At this stage, your body is using its fat storage for energy which leads to weight loss.

As you continue with your diet and exercise plan, you’ll start to lose fat and muscle. The rate that you lose fat will be much slower compared to water weight and you’ll notice that you’re losing less weight compared to when you started. During this stage of weight loss, it’s crucial to add strength training to your workouts in order to prevent excessive muscle loss, preserve muscle mass and burn more fat for energy.

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Summary

When we lose weight we lose fat, muscle and water. In fact, in the first weeks we tend to lose more water weight. When you start to lose weight, your body gets energy from its glycogen storage. Glycogen is stored in the muscles and liver where your body can quickly turn it into glucose to give you much-needed energy. Glycogen molecules contain water. So the more glycogen you use up for energy, the more water you lose. Unfortunately, that water weight loss is temporary In order to burn fat you have to force your body to burn its fat stores. After depleting its glycogen stores, your body will start breaking down fatty acids into ketones through a process called ketosis. You can do this by consuming a low carbohydrate diet and adding strength training to your workouts.

References

"Do Carbs Make You Retain Water?" - HuffPost, June, 11, 2017
 
"Getting past a weight-loss plateau" - Mayo Clinic, February 5, 2018
 
"Burning Fat Vs. Glycogen" - Livestrong, May 17, 2019