Everyone who struggles with Eating Disorders, endless dieting or over exercising probably knows this feeling: today easily pull up your favorite jeans, but yesterday it took quite some time. What is the reason for the bloating of the abdomen , the swelling of the legs and the puffiness of the face? The answer might be water retention also known as edema! There are several conditions that can cause it. We will take a look at some of the possible causes, but firstly let’s understand what is water retention.

What is Water Retention?

Water Retention/Edema is the main sign of a violation of the circulation of water in the body, it is formed as a result of the accumulation of fluid in the intercellular water space, which, in turn, leads to an increase in its volume. There are many factors due to which fluid is retained in the body. As a rule, this is due to poor functioning of the urinary or endocrine system – violation of the production of antidiuretic hormone, thyroid hormones and female sex hormones. Sometimes fluid retention in the body can be related to our metabolism, body temperature and also to the food that we eat. 

Water Retention and Eating Challenges 

Basically, water retention is a side-effect that occurs in many people who diet and over exercise or struggle with an eating disorder such as binge eating disorder, orthorexia, anorexia and bulimia or exercise addiction. Water retention is among top sources of all the fears that people face during their recovery phase since it is noticeable as weight gain. However, our body is smarter than we might think it is, and water retention has a logical explanation, especially during the recovery from calorie restriction and Eating Disorders. 

When you twist your ankle, it swells and hurts terribly. This is how your body “heals” the damage. A tumor is the actual fluid retention, and pain is the reaction of body tissues, which signals to you to give up active movements and allow you to rest. In the process of recovering from Eating Disorders to normal functioning after calorie restriction, fluid is also trapped in the areas that are most affected by unhealthy eating habits. Fluid is needed to speed up the healing process and normalize their work.

But water retention can be quite dangerous, causing swollen feet and hands, headache and other rather unpleasant symptoms that complicate life. It is possible to remove fluid from the body by turning your back on dieting, calorie restriction and over exercising. In the following paragraphs I present you the most common reasons for the change of our body’s water exchange.

Causes for water retention/edema

Slow Metabolism – Low Body Temperature – Thyroid issues

There are many reasons that stand behind water retention, but one of the causes, that people with Eating Disorders or people who go on a diet or fitness program face is low body temperature due to a slowed down metabolism. This happens because of a thyroid hormones malfunction. A slowed down metabolism caused by eating too little calories leads to low body temperature means a slowdown in temperature-dependent biochemical reactions and thus, water retention. The easiest way to find out if your water retention is caused by thyroid issues is to regularly check your body temperature (should be around 97.8F or 36.6 ºC) or take a thyroid blood test. If you notice that your temperature is constantly low that might be the reason for the water retention. In this case, the water retention problem can be fixed with adequate sleep and eating enough macro and micro nutrients and foods that contain iodine and omega-3 fatty acids as well as selenium.


As we know, stress increases the production of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol has the ability to make our body store more water since water retention stands also for a form of protection of our body. Dieting and food restriction are huge stress factors for the body. Our body’s main task is to keep us healthy and alive. When the body doesn’t get enough nutrition it starts working its own ways. Under stress, our body thinks we are forgotten on a desert island without food and water and as a result, it jumps right into a so-called «survival mode». This «survival mode» means an increase of the hormone cortisol which helps our body to survive. 

On the other hand, binge eating cycles can bring our body into a stress-response mode too. Our bodies love consistency and rhythm in eating. Binge eating cycles consisting of restricting and binging also brings a lot of imbalance into our body. Every organism lives after a certain rhythm and so should humans do too. If there is no rhythm in eating, working, sleeping, and living, it means there is a lot of stress for our body. 

No matter with which kind of eating challenge you are struggling with, it is a huge stress factor for your body. Surprisingly, but the recovery stage, especially in the very beginning, is also stressful, because the body is overwhelmed with all the re-building processes, and healing the digestive system. The whole digestive tract is weakened, there is not enough good gut bacteria any more, hormones, nails, hair and muscles need to be re-built – all this stress can cause water retention. 

Imbalance of electrolytes 

In addition to water, electrolytes are vital for our life – ions such as Na +, K +, Cl – . Imbalance of electrolytes – minerals with an electric charge – can also cause water retention and electrolyte dehydration. Those, who exercises too much, vomit, lacks salt or carbs in their diet or not eats enough overall, uses laxatives or supplements/teas to reduce water weight (weight loss teas, detox teas, asparagus capsules etc) may need additional electrolytes (such as magnesium or potassium) to replace those that are lost.

Those are few of many reasons for water retention. If you have any questions or you want to add anything to this article, you’re welcome to leave a comment down below or to contact me via christina@waistlove.com

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