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  • Writer's pictureCecilia Rockford

Swelling or water retention is a common problem during weight loss

Updated: Mar 20, 2021

Swelling or water retention is a common problem during weight loss. There are 2 reasons for swelling: 

1) Heart/kidney/liver diseases. Usually, it’s functional malfunction - retention of 8-12 litres of water, swelling skin, indentations after compressing. In case you are seeing at least one of the symptoms - visit your doctor right now! Your health is the first priority!

2) Insignificant water retention as a consequence of stress or diet changes, the so-called “swelling”. A situation is similar to depression. Most individuals are saying “I have a depression” in case they are tired, bored, sad, but it has nothing to do with depressive disorder.

Causes of water retention:

1) Stress. Physical or mental. 

2) Diet changes.

Let’s view it more detailed. 

Stress. It can be physical (lack of sleep, overtraining, lack of time for renewal) and mental (worries, strong emotions). On the hormonal level, stress triggers the following mechanism - lowering testosterone level and increasing the cortisol one.

Lack of sleep leads to an increased level of cortisol. Lack of renewal time between physical training leads to an increased level of cortisol. Cortisol increases causes to metabolic slow down (slow down of the weight loss processes) and water retention.

Conclusion - enough sleep, no “Game of Thrones” before the bedtime, adequate training without demonstration of the “beast mode”. It means normal training without additional repetitions.

Diet changes. A low-calorie diet is a step-sister of water retention. At first, it’s stressful for the body, It’s hunger, which means the increase of the cortisol level and the mechanism described above. Secondly, it’s a lack of carbs. Every gram of glycogen leads to retention of 2.7 grams of water. The increase in carbs in the diet will increase the amount of water in the body.

There is nothing to do with it.  Each try to “leak” the water will end with the bigger water retention. Dropping down a low-calorie diet will always end at water retention. With the time, the body will adapt and water retention will be less visible. The slow carbs can partly fix the situation, but it is not the treatment.  

The second reason is obvious. 

Everything said above was confirmed empirically in  «Minnesota starvation experiment» - 36 male volunteers were on the 1560 kcal diet for half a year. The following was proved а) calorie deficit is working. b) after several weeks of dieting, the weight loss becomes irregular because of water retention. Also, the refeeds were tested. This experiment was conducted after the Second World War but still have not been included in the fitness textbooks.

The progress in the field of scientific fitness is very slow, but stable 😃

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