Are you looking less than svelte now that you can finally take your shirt off without worrying about frostbitten nipples? Adipose fat piled on during winter is just a part of the reason why; a significant portion of that jiggle is actually subcutaneous water.
Unlike pounds of body fat—which can only be eliminated via a calorie deficit over a period of weeks or months—body-transforming quantities of “water weight” can be shed quickly, safely and easily (albeit only temporarily). If, like me, you’ve delayed getting beach-ready a bit, this weight-dropping stopgap should come as heartening news.
Each of the 10 behaviors listed below could result in at least a pound in water weight loss over a few days. Adopt some or all of them today and you’ll look noticeably better by and for the weekend.
Green tea activates fat-burning genes around your midriff, speeding weight loss by an incredible 77 percent.
1. Drink more water.
Though it sounds somewhat paradoxical, part of the reason why your body is holding so much extra water is that you’re likely not drinking enough of the stuff. A dearth of H2O can mean that your body doesn’t have the fluid it needs to flush out waste. Drinking more water will hydrate your cells and allow your body to breathe, sweat and pee out the pants-tightening liquid your body is hoarding. Drinking more water will help optimize your body’s metabolic process and have you pooping on the reg too. Score!
• Chain-guzzling pints of water all at once is not an effective strategy for losing water weight as your body doesn’t have time to absorb much of the extra hydration and you end up peeing almost all of it out. (It also can be dangerous.) Instead, fill a flask and sip throughout the day.
• If you don’t like the taste of water, adding slices of lemon, lime or cucumber will make the extra intake more manageable.
• If you are going to glug water, do it before meals. It will make you feel full, preventing overeating.
2. Drink green tea.
While caffeine is a diuretic and can get rid of some water in the short term, it can also dehydrate you in high doses. Instead of drinking coffee, sip green tea throughout the day. You’ll still get some of the diuretic effect of the caffeine—a cup of green tea has significantly less than a cup of coffee—but you’ll also benefit from green tea’s polyphenol catechins. Various studies have shown that these substances have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that catechins may also affect accumulation of body fat. Furthermore, research done at Tufts University has shown that epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, in green tea activates fat-burning genes around your midriff, speeding weight loss by 77 percent.
3. Get more sleep.
Of all of the methods to lose water weight on this list, sleeping more has to be the easiest. You can do it with your eyes closed. In fact, you have to do it with your eyes closed, because the hormone melatonin—which has been associated with the body’s ability to regulate fluids—is naturally secreted when it’s dark. Additionally, a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed a link between obesity and the level of light in study participants’ bedrooms—the lighter the room, the greater incidence of higher BMI.
• Get slim for summer by aiming to sleep an extra 30 minutes longer than you currently do.
• Experiment with making your bedroom darker at night or investing in a sleep mask.
4. Hit the sauna.
According to a study by Harvard Medical School, the average person could expect to lose about a pint of water weight—nearly one pound—during a 15-to-20 minute session in the sauna. Like everything else on this list, this is a very temporary weight-loss solution, and you should replace the prodigious amount of fluid you sweat out by immediately drinking an adequate amount of water. But if you absolutely, positively need to cut a slender figure quickly, schvitzing out some water weight is an effective way to do so. Just ask any athlete who’s had to make weight. However (and these are big howevers):
• Fifteen to 20 minutes is the recommended time limit of most saunas.
• If you have an illness, high blood pressure or heart disease, avoid the sauna until you’ve discussed these issues with your doctor.
• Drinking alcohol in the sauna can be dangerously dehydrating and negate any attempts to lose water weight. Don’t do it.
You may find that nixing any and all carbs for a week or two has a dramatic effect.
5. Avoid carbs and refined sugar.
Here’s the thing with pasta, rice, potatoes and the like: These carbohydrates kick-start your body’s production of insulin. That’s bad because a main function of this hormone is to tell your body to store energy from food as fat. Conversely, the less insulin coursing through your system, the more your body utilizes your doughy parts for energy. But for those of us looking to shape up in days and not weeks or months, a lowered level of insulin will cause your kidneys to push excess sodium—and, relatedly, water—out of your body. Swearing off carbs for months is a tall order, but if you’re committed to looking your best in a short time frame, you may find that nixing carbs for a week or two has a dramatic effect.
6. Replace salt with spice.
According to the CDC, the average American consumes about 3,436 milligrams of sodium (salt) per day, significantly more than 2,300 milligrams the FDA deems healthy. If you want to start dropping water weight by reducing your salt intake, you’re going to have to cut that recommendation in half. But the sacrifice, however unsavory, should pay off big. Experts have calculated that just by getting your salt intake down into the 1,000-1,500 milligram range, you could expect to lose about two-and-a-half cups of unsightly water weight in a day. Keep up a very low sodium diet for a whole week, and the total loss of water weight should be around three pounds.
• Processed and preserved foods can contain a lot of salt. Your best bet is to stick to a diet of foods in their most natural state, seasoning them with cracked black pepper, spices or garlic powder rather than salt.
• If you can, avoid eating in or from restaurants in the lead-up to a weekend of shirtless summer shenanigans.
7. Eat foods with diuretic properties.
A diuretic refers to a substance that will cause you to pee out excess fluid in the body. Diuretics can be bought over the counter in pill form, but there are plenty of common items that can be helpful in losing water weight. As mentioned above, caffeine is a diuretic, as are lemons, broccoli, watermelon, onions, cucumber, garlic, pineapple, asparagus and parsley. Foods rich in potassium will also help you excrete the water that’s robbing you of a trimmer physique. Potassium-rich foods include potatoes, lima beans, tomatoes, bananas, prunes and kiwis. Load up your basket with these items on Monday, eat them throughout the week, and your Bermuda shorts will fit better when you give them their seasonal debut at the lake.
After a night of drinking, some people might see a weight gain of as much as four pounds.
8. Increase fiber.
While Americans routinely consume way more sodium than the FDA recommends, we also can also be counted on to eat way less than the suggested amount of fiber. Experts tell us that 25-35 grams is optimal, but most adults eat less than half of that amount. Fiber, as you probably know, helps us digest food properly, enabling us to shed liquid as well as solid waste. Many of the diuretic, potassium-rich foods that are mentioned above are also great sources of soluble and insoluble fiber, meaning that fresh fruits and vegetables are somewhat of a panacea when it comes to dropping water weight in a hurry. Experts say that switching to a high-fiber diet can cause people to lose up to five pounds of solid and liquid junk weight in a week.
• At mealtime, accompany your protein and vegetables with wild rice, quinoa and other “ancient grains.”
• Since your digestive system may need time to adjust, introduce fiber into your diet in stages for less, ahem, comical results.
9. Swear off booze.
After a night of even moderate drinking—a couple glasses of wine, a few beers—some people report a weight gain of as much as four pounds. That’s because, in addition to an uncanny ability to make the people around you more interesting, alcohol is also very effective at causing you to retain water and look pudgy. In addition to the water weight you’ll drop and the empty calories you’ll be consuming, you’ll also notice that by cutting back on drinking, you’re also snacking less. As any franchisee of a Taco Bell knows, alcohol triggers carbohydrate cravings.
• The best way to avoid alcohol-induced fleshiness is to avoid booze altogether.
• If you’re trying to cultivate an image of a carefree rake while staying lean, adopt consummate boozer Dean Martin’s trick of drinking one or two rocks glasses of seltzer or apple juice in between stiffer drinks.
10. Eat coumarin-rich foods
Many sources suggest that this naturally occurring compound can help you regulate fluid in your body. It works by degrading extracellular albumen, allowing faster reabsorption of fluids. Cassia cinnamon—one of the two main types of cinnamon—is a good source of coumarin, though you’d be wise not to go crazy with it; in higher doses it’s been shown to cause liver damage.
• Limit your consumption of coumarin to small, healthy levels.
• Sprinkle cassia cinnamon on your cereal or in your coffee. Chamomile also contains coumarin. Add a cup of chamomile tea to your morning routine.
In the same way that post-workout pump is a tantalizing preview of how you can affect your musculature over the medium term, dropping 10 or 15 pounds of water weight is a glimpse of how you’ll look by becoming lean through diet an exercise. Just don’t overdo it. Use a water-weight blitz as motivation for making some real and lasting change.
Photo: Getty Images/Brand X Pictures/PhotoAlto/Antoine Arraou