I Have Water Retention From Sitting at a Desk All Day—This Is What Worked

Relief has arrived.

By Sacha Strebe
water retention

If you’re like me, you have quietly (or not so quietly) suffered from the discomfort of water retention at some point, especially during the warmer months, and definitely around your menstrual cycle.

Retaining water (mostly water retention in my legs) has always been an issue for me and it’s safe to say, I’ve pretty much tired all of the internet’s tips to get rid of water weight—drink more water, exercise, eat celery, add salt to your water, etc.

Some have worked, some made it worse, and luckily for you, I’m here to reveal which ones are worth trying (based on my personal experience). As I suffered on my own, reading countless internet articles (which were near carbon copies of the same advice—sigh) I started to feel hopeless and, in all honesty, shame. Yes, as someone who makes health and wellness a priority—I rarely drink alcohol, I eat a balanced diet, and sleep well—I couldn’t understand why I was still suffering from this very common health concern. And then it clicked. 

Not unlike many other female health concerns, there is a stigma attached to them—PMS, urinary tract, libido, water retention, and bloating, to name a few—which in turn prevented me, and so many other women, from opening up and talking about it. This also means any real progress on creating products to help prevent and minimize them has also been stalled. 

Isn’t it time we ended the stigma and opened up the conversation around these traditionally taboo topics? 

If you’re nodding your head in agreement reading this or verbally saying “me too!” then keep reading to learn about the water retention treatments that have helped me. But I’m always looking for new remedies, so if something you tried didn’t make this list, please share it in the comments below! 

And in the meantime, let’s create a safe space to speak about female wellness where nothing is TMI no matter how silly, crazy, or embarrassing they may be. We’re all in this together!

Editor’s note: This story is documentation of my personal journey in treating water retention and what has worked for me. As always, it’s important to check with your doctor before taking any supplements or to see if something out of the ordinary is causing your water retention. 

Feature image by Sacha Strebe

Camille Styles skincare routine

First though, what is water retention?

Your body is mostly made up of water so if your hydration levels get out of balance, then your body will hang onto that water. Water retention can make you feel heavier than normal, it’s generally pretty uncomfortable, and can make you feel less nimble or active. Some symptoms of water retention include bloating, swollen legs, feet, and ankles, puffiness of the abdomen, face, and hips, stiff joints, weight fluctuations, and indentations in the skin. I know I have water retention when the skin on my legs feels really tight and when I push the skin in, it leaves a dent.

What causes fluid retention?

There are so many reasons we hold fluid, but generally standing or sitting too long (I sit at my dining room table for at least eight hours a day), menstrual and hormonal changes, excess sodium, medications, and fluctuations in cabin pressure while sitting for long periods on a plane journey are some causes.

Below are 8 remedies that helped me treat water retention:

Drink smart fluids.

Google “how to get rid of water weight” and the first tip will usually be “drink more water.” But in all honesty, whenever I have done this, it feels like I’m making it worse. I can feel the additional fluid building up in my legs throughout the day and sometimes it shakes when I walk (is it just me or do other people experience this symptom too? Please sound out in the comments so I know I’m not alone). So, now, I add electrolyte tablets like Nuun Sport or The Beauty Chef’s Hydration inner beauty boost to my H20 so I can get boost my hydration and refuel my body with essential nutrients and vitamins—it’s a win-win!

I also start my day now with a mug of warm water and half a squeezed lemon. Kimberly Snyder is a big proponent of this step before you reach for your morning coffee. She writes: “It’s so important to start the day on an up note and not something that is flushing your liver with caffeine. The hot water with lemon will do just that,  giving you a dose of beauty-building vitamin C and supporting your liver (which is your main detoxifying organ!). It also will re-hydrate you, which is so important to get into the habit of hydrating before treating yourself to that morning brew (if you must).”

Throughout the day, I will up my fluid intake by drinking lots of herbal tea, especially ones that help with detoxification and elimination which I list further down.

Quit coffee.

I know most of you will roll your eyes at this one because I know how much you love it and I know how hard it is to give it up—believe me!—but quitting coffee more than two years ago was a game-changer for my fluid retention. I swapped my morning java for decaf (yes, I’m aware it still has a small percentage of caffeine but I only have one cup) and switched to healthier coffee alternatives. From most articles I’ve read online, the diuretic effect of caffeine on the body can help to reduce water weight but the dehydration after consumption really counteracted any positives for me. Of course, everybody is different—what works for me might not work for you—but if you suffer from water retention, I would give it a try (just be prepared for some serious migraines and muscle aches when you do!).

Start foam rolling.

I first experienced foam rolling during a retreat in Ojai and I have been addicted ever since. According to body alignment, fascia, and movement specialist, Lauren Roxburgh, aka “The Body Whisperer,” foam rolling can also help to beat the bloat, achieve a stronger core, and improve gut health. I started with a soft foam roller and then, as I got used to the feeling of the fascia being rolled out—it’s a good pain!—I upgraded to the firmer, full-body version. I really notice a significant difference when I do this every day, especially at night. According to Roxburgh’s website, the roller gets into the fascia in much the same way that a deep-tissue massage does. This improves circulation throughout your entire body which helps to oxygenate the blood, boost lymphatic drainage, and flush toxins from the body. Not only did it help to flush the water weight, but it also helped to smooth out and hydrate the fascia which in turn helped to reduce the appearance of cellulite on my thighs. Outside of fluid retention, however, there are so many amazing health benefits to foam rolling that I’d recommend you try it anyway.

Give yourself a lymphatic drainage massage.

In a bid to get rid of water weight, I became very interested in all of the practices that gently support the body’s detoxification so I can flush it out naturally. One of them is lymphatic drainage massage. I have had the professional version and I highly recommend it (my goal is to see Anna Zahn of Ricari Studios at the Santa Monica Proper Hotel) but it’s not something I can afford on a regular basis and when water retention strikes, I need to do something to ease the discomfort in the moment. So, I typically reach for Wildling’s Aura Collection. It comes with a dry body brush, body serum (which is full of activating ingredients to encourage detoxification), body oil, and a body gua sha stone. You can read these tips on how to do it but it’s one of the best I’ve tried to increase circulation, help release muscle tension, and stimulate lymph flow to flush excess water. It also feels amazing!

Another oil I love is called the Olio Meastro Body Detox which you can also purchase with a suction cup to massage into the fascia and encourage a ‘lipo-drainage’ action.

jen pinkston home tour

Have a Himalayan salt bath.

There are so many health benefits of Himalayan salt but the main two that target my concerns are “regulating the water levels within the body for proper overall functioning” and “providing circulatory support.” When I feel like I’m holding water, I make myself a detox bath by adding a cup of fine Himalayan salt to some hot water and soak myself in it. I buy a big bag of it on Amazon and sometimes mix in some of my other favorite oils or bath treatments to elevate the experience. My current favorite is the Fur Bath Drops—they smell amazing and make my skin feel buttery soft.

Take a detox supplement.

I am a huge fan of holistic nutritionist, Kimberly Snyder and after some research into her new supplements line, I started taking her Feel Good Detoxy 2.0. Snyder believes that ongoing cleansing is essential to energy, beauty, wellness, vitality, and feeling good. Her “daily cleansing” philosophy appealed to me in my quest to reduce water weight too because I do believe that if you tune into your body, those concerns or discomforts you feel are usually a sign that there’s something wrong—more often than not, it’s something you’ve overlooked. This supplement helps your body to eliminate waste and toxin build-up in your digestive system so, it’s best to start slow and ease your way into it. I started with two tablets 3-4 times a week and noticed the “elimination” effects straight away! This non-laxative colon cleanse also helps to decrease bloating and reduce gas which I also needed help with so it’s a total win-win for me.

Drink detox herbal tea.

As I mentioned earlier, I like to drink a lot of herbal teas throughout the day for hydration and detoxification. I am a huge fan of the Sakara Detox Tea with red rooibos, lemongrass, and rose which all help to detox the digestive tract, liver, kidneys, bladder, and pancreas. I always reach for this one when I have bloat issues too. I also love adding freshly cut ginger or lemongrass to hot water, sometimes with a splash of lemon. Green tea or matcha, oolong, fennel, and white tea are also great detox teas to sip slowly throughout the day.

Analyze your diet.

I recently finished up the Prolon fasting-mimicking diet (a full review is coming!) and while it was very challenging (it’s packet soups, olives, and herbal teas for five days) the positive change I feel in my body and overall health was so worth it. I truly cannot recommend it enough—just make sure you’re mentally ready before you do! But one thing I noticed at the end of the five days was how much better I felt in my body—it felt lighter, brighter, cleaner, and more energized. It was definitely the reset I needed. And while I was ready to eat food again, I didn’t want to fill my body with ingredients that might cause inflammation. Much like an elimination diet, I stopped eating gluten and dairy after the cleanse, and two weeks later I am still feeling incredible and have managed to prolong the “good feeling” of the cleanse. Now, it’s made me realize, that perhaps these foods were causing inflammation in my body that has in turn been the culprit behind my fluid retention all these years. Of course, this is purely based on my own personal investigation through trial and error, but I cannot tell you how much this simple diet change has improved my water retention. If you suffer from water weight too, and you haven’t tried any diet changes yet, then try an elimination diet or a cleanse and see if you achieve similar results as I. You’ve got nothing to lose, only something to gain.

morning movement; stretching; exercise

Move your body.

Since a lot of water retention can be caused by prolonged periods of sitting, moving your body frequently throughout the day can help. Try to get up every 30 minutes to walk around and stretch (there are even app reminders for that now) or take a meeting while going for a walk outside (if you’re able!). I also found that scheduling some kind of movement into my day, every day has been a gamechanger for me—I’m a huge fan of Megan Roup. Now that I work from home, I add “movement” to my calendar so I have a physical reminder to work out, exercise, stretch, do yoga, or something that moves my body and stimulates circulation. With so much time spent indoors during quarantine, we aren’t taking the usual steps we once did each day so movement has become a critical part of both my physical and mental health. If you don’t get time for movement but are feeling it in your body, then put your legs up against the wall to help drain the water—Melissa Wood Tepperberg swears by it.

Consider an Infrared sauna blanket.

I just bought this infrared blanket (it’s one of the most affordable options I’ve found) after several friends (including our producer, Michelle Nash, and intern, Bridget Chambers) told me how much they’ve helped with water retention, stress, and sleep! Far Infrared saunas use light to create heat and have been known to detoxify, relieve pain, boost mood, and promote circulation. They also make you sweat, which is what you want when you have excess water being retained in your body. Since infrared heat penetrates human tissue versus simply heating the surface of the skin, Katie Kaps, the co-founder and co-CEO of HigherDOSE told Byrdie that infrared saunas are seven times more effective than traditional saunas at detoxifying the body. She notes: “By raising the body’s core temperature, infrared saunas can produce a sweat composed of 20% toxins versus only 3% toxins with a traditional sauna.” Of course, I know that purchasing an infrared sauna blanket is an investment, so if you’re not in a position to purchase one right now, don’t! All of the above options worked for me without using this product, so try those first.

Is there something you’ve tried for water retention that didn’t make this list? Share it with us below. We’re all ears!