Most of us have been there: You’re eating healthily, working out, and the pounds are coming off, then there’s a break in the momentum and you gain a few pounds out of nowhere. It’s a frustrating setback, to say the least.
Tired of yo-yo dieting and determined to find out what was keeping her from losing those last few pounds, Sylvia Tara, Ph.D., author of The Secret Life of Fat, spent five years researching fat and speaking with more than 50 world leaders in the field. The complicated answer involves genetics, bacteria, viruses, gender, age, hormones, and, yes, water weight.
Gaining a pound or two in just a few days is almost always the culprit of water weight, because fat takes more time to accumulate. Glycogen, the stored form of glucose, holds much more water than fat because of its biochemical makeup. Tara compares it to a checking account: something we reach for when our glucose levels are low. “It’s not as readily available as glucose, the ‘cash’ in this scenario, but is nearby,” says Tara. “Fat is a whole different, long chain molecule that follows a completely different pathway than fat. Fat can be compared to a certificate of deposit. You will burn it last. It holds a lot more energy, the most compact energy we have compared to glycogen.”
Stored in the liver and muscle cells, glycogen is hydrated with three to four parts of water. (It’s essentially hydrophilic or “water loving” and fat is hydrophobic or “water hating.”) So, when you lose weight quickly, you lose glycogen stores, but that leaves the liver and muscles greedy and wont to hold onto any bit of glucose consumed and its accompanying water. Here’s how to stabilize or lose water weight, according to Tara.
1 Fast intermittently.
Tara recommends intermittent fasting as a way to knock out stubborn fat. The goal is to go 16 hours or more between meals. “Growth hormone is an excellent fat buster[that] peaks overnight,”says Tara, adding that in middle age, growth hormone decreases and, as a result, the body doesn’t build as much lean tissue or burn as much fat as it used to. “When you eat, it actually mitigates the level of growth hormone in the blood,” says Tara. Delaying eating through fasting prolongs the time that growth hormone is in your bloodstream. This strategy isn’t for everyone: “A diet has to work for you,” says Tara. “Certainly letting go of sugar and things that produce insulin or provoke insulin would help a lot too. The key is to pick a diet that works for you biologically, psychologically, and for your lifestyle as well.”
In a typical day, Tara eats a light breakfast around 9 a.m., a salad with meat and cheese and a few gummy bears at lunch, and a light dinner of prebiotic foods such as legumes, bananas, artichokes, and salad around 3 to 4 p.m. “Salads give bacteria a run for the money,” she says.
Intense exercise can actually cause water retention due to swelling during the muscle repair process, but in the long term, exercise stimulates blood flow and lymphatic fluid buildup in the extremities.
3 Drink more water.
It sounds counterintuitive, but replacing sugary sodas, juices, and alcoholic beverages with the equivalent of water increases weight loss. Studies have found that drinking 2 liters of water can impact your estimated daily energy expenditure by 95 calories.
4 Cut back on the salt.
Sodium cause the body to retain water. Large variations in salt consumption can lead to large variations in water weight.
5 Replace simple carbs with fiber-rich fruits and veggies.
Replace simple processed carbs, which usually include excess salt, with fresh green vegetables, berries, or supplements like chia seeds or psyllium husks powder. Start by cutting 100 grams of carbohydrates per day from your diet and subtract until you start seeing results.
6 Take supplements during your period.
As Tara explains in her book, women often crave fats and carbohydrates during the second half of the menstrual cycle, when estrogen levels decrease and progesterone simultaneously peaks. This clears the blood of triglycerides and stores them in fat tissue. With the blood devoid of this nutrient, the body craves to fatty foods. To curb water weight, Tara recommends a daily supplement of 200 mg of magnesium oxide, which has been shown to reduce mild premenstrual symptoms like fluid retention. Dandelion root, black coffee, and tea are natural diuretics that can be used while drinking plenty of water. Always consult your physician first before adding any supplements to your existing medication regimen.