The Bloat Brigade
You wake up one morning feeling lean-- you feel good! You catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and you look good, you weight yourself and you're liking what you see on that scale. You continue on with your typical day, eating healthy foods, getting your exercise in, drinking your water, and finally you head back to the bed. You wake up the next morning and you feel like a balloon. Your muscle definition from yesterday is almost nonexistent, your fingers feel swollen, the number on the scale has increased, you feel like you someone pumped yesterday's version of you full of air. But you did nothing out of the ordinary yesterday!? What gives???
You, my friend, are experiencing the cruel, cruel effects of water retention/bloat.
Now, ladies, I know you may be familiar with this around a certain time each month, but that's not the kind of bloating I'm talking about right now. I'm talking about the random, out of nowhere, "wtf, it's not even my time of the month" bloating, and this kind is far more frustrating!
So, how did we get here? How did we get to this "fluffy", undefined version of ourselves so suddenly? Well, there are a number of potential culprits; the most common being...
1.) You ate a big, salty meal.
As many know, sodium can often be the leader of the "bloat brigade". Dramatically increasing your sodium levels (by eating a large meal high in salt) can throw off your body's intra-cellular balance and cause cells to "hold" water. The same goes for eating a decent amount of high-sodium items (condiments, lunch meat, processed foods...) in one day.
2.) You are not drinking enough water!
I know, it sounds kind of counter-intuitive, right? But in order to release water, you need to be drinking water! Why? Because if you aren't giving your body enough water, it will start holding onto whatever water it does have.
3.) You ate something new that your body is not agreeing with
Maybe you didn't know you had a slight dairy aversion or that artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols upset your stomach and/or leave you feeling cramped and "gassy" until it was too late. If you are suddenly feeling bloated after eating something new, chances are your body is not a fan of that item.
But what if it isn't that easy? What if, like in our scenario above, you are drinking enough water, you are eating your usual foods, nothing new or particularly more salty than usual, and you're still waking up on random days feeling like a walking blimp?
Well, let me start by saying that is the boat I'm in probably about 50% of the month (excluding the time in which it is expected to feel that way), and it is an infuriating boat to be in! And, while I still don't know exactly what causes my 'bloat' or water retention at all times, here are some factors that I have found play a role in it...
1.) Potassium/sodium levels
Keeping these somewhat consistent is important in keeping your system balanced. If you have a day where you were either way higher or way lower than usual on either sodium or potassium, you may expect to see some bloating later on. Start by first noting how much of each you typically take in per day, then go from there (if you're like most Americans, you may find that you're taking in a ton of sodium, but not much potassium-- that can also be a problem, up that potassium intake through various fruits/veggies!).
2.) Too little food/calories
A common problem many on a "starvation-esque" diet will face-- thinking that decreasing the amount of food will allow them to drop fat and become skinnie-minnies, only to find they are now watery, bloated, and hungry. Creating too harsh of a calorie deficit can result in large increases of fluid retention, so even if fat loss is happening, it's being overshadowed by equal, if not more, amounts of water retention.
3.) Too much exercise
Again, you counter-intuitive, right? You would think lots of exercise=lots of sweat, lots of sweat=release of water, therefore lots of exercise=no more water retention. Wrong. Too much exercising can be taxing on the body, and stress on the body can induce water retention. This ties into the next factor...
4.) Increased cortisol levels
Cortisol plays a big role in the body. For one, it helps the body use sugar/fat for energy (aka your metabolism), but it also helps the body manage stress. Like I just said in #3, if our bodies are stressed, they will retain water (which will then make us stress more, and thus that horrid cycle snowballs). So, keeping cortisol levels low with relaxation techniques will help in de-bloating.
5.) Not enough sleep
Tying back into the cortisol levels, inadequate rest increases cortisol which, yep, you know it already-- increases waster retention. Sometimes all you need is a good night's sleep and/or a nap to reset your body and drop those cortisol levels.
6.) Not enough carbs
Similar to #2, perhaps you're in a (healthy) calorie deficit/carb deficit-- this could result in your body holding some water (due to a spike in cortisol) . One of the best ways to release this water is by -temporarily- giving the body some more carbs. One large carb-filled meal (or "refeed") after a long period of lower carbs can lower cortisol levels and lead to an expulsion of water.
And for those days where your "bloat" feels more like abdominal cramping/like your stomach is puffed out with air as opposed to swollen with water, it might be a digestive issue. Probiotics, stool softeners, and/or fiber supplements may help alleviate the belly bloat by getting things moving in there.
So, for a quick, little "SparkNotes" recap:
High cortisol levels=water retention
High cortisol levels can be caused by anything that stresses the body (diet, exercise, lack of sleep, everyday-life-stressors...)
High spikes up or down in terms of sodium=water retention
And a bonus one not mentioned:
Too many carbs= water retention
Glycogen in the body -aka carbs- love to hold onto water
As you see, there are many reasons as to why our bodies may decide to hold more water/bloat more some days than others, and trying to decipher which exact one is the cause each time can certainly be frustrating, but identifying is key to eliminating.
So, next time you're feeling "bloaty", do your best to run through this list and pinpoint the culprit. Once you've done that, you can work to clear it up and expunge yourself of the extra water (and hopefully set yourself up so that it doesn't happen again so quickly!).
Remember, stressing about bloat will only result in more bloat! Keep calm & carry on (without also carrying water weight...)!
(For all my Bridesmaids fans out there! If only we could all be like Megan Price...)