Salt, sodium, and weight loss: How much can you really lose?

Written by , Published: , Updated: July 29, 2016

Hey, and welcome to my experiment on how salt (or more precisely, sodium) can mess up your weight loss results.

You probably already heard that sodium forces your body to hold on to more water than necessary. But you're probably still wondering just how much extra weight you might be carrying around because of that.

Salt, sodium, and weight loss: How much can you really lose?

Well, sodium is actually one of the little-known reasons why you can lose up to 20 lbs in just one day (even when you're not necessarily losing any body fat at all).

But because I was unable to find much (reliable) information on this, I decided to go through with my own sodium weight loss experiment. As you'll see, my experiment shows pretty nicely how much extra weight sodium can bring to the table as you're trying to lose weight.

How I designed my sodium weight loss experiment

Before I started my weight loss experiment, I stuck to a very low sodium diet (so the levels of sodium in my body would be low at the beginning of my experiment).

The experiment lasted for 10 days and I kept eating about 1.500 calories every day. I also made sure to keep the ratio of carbohydrates, proteins and fats the same throughout the experiment (because changing that could mess with my weight loss results as well).

I also tried to do the same amount of exercise every day, burning about 300 calories per day. My net calories (the calories I ate minus the calories I burned) came down to around 1.200 calories per day.

For the first 5 days of the experiment I ate a very high sodium diet. But to make the effect of sodium on my weight loss results as obvious as possible, I switched to a very low sodium diet for the last 5 days of my experiment.

I didn't measure the exact amount of sodium I got in during the first 5 days, but I did go over the maximum recommended daily amount. Getting in too much sodium is unhealthy (and can be life threatening if taken to extremes), so I suggest you never try something like this on your own.

During the experiment, I also made sure I was getting in enough fluids to keep my body properly hydrated. Like I said, the more sodium you eat, the more water your body will need to hold on to. So for health reasons, I really wanted to make sure I was providing my body with enough water at all times.

Let's take a look at what happened in those 10 days.

The weight loss results of my sodium experiment

Here are the results for the 10 days of my sodium weight loss experiment:

DayTotal weight lbs / kgBody fat %Body fat weight lbs / kg
0*181.7 / 82.426.748.5 / 22.0
1183.9 / 83.424.945.9 / 20.8
2185.6 / / 19.5
3181.9 / 82.525.145.6 / 20.7
4179.5 / 81.425.345.4 / 20.6
5179.9 / 81.625.145.2 / 20.5
6177.5 / 80.526.246.3 / 21.0
7178.1 / 80.826.046.3 / 21.0
8179.0 / 81.225.545.6 / 20.7
9178.6 / 81.024.944.5 / 20.2
10176.8 / 80.224.542.8 / 19.4

And here are the same results displayed in a nice bar chart, that shows how my weight changed during the experiment much more nicely:

Because my net calories were at 1.200 every day, you can see how my weight dropped from 181.7 pounds (82.4 kilograms) before the diet, to 176.8 pounds (80.2 kilograms) at the end of the diet.

But since I increased my sodium intake over the maximum recommended daily amount for the first five days, my weight didn't drop little by little every day. Instead, my weight increased pretty sharply during the first two days, and only then started dropping.

You can also see from the chart that my weight went up and down quite a bit during the experiment (notice the unrealistic drops on days 4, 6, 7). This happened mostly because of normal daily changes in body water. Those can be caused by the daily differences in my diet, amount of fluids I got in, higher daily temperatures, sweating, etc.

You can also see from the table how my body fat percentage jumps up and down by a few points every day. This happened because my home body fat measuring scale isn't the most precise device on the planet (I'd need access to some pretty complicated equipment to get accurate results).

But in any case, the sharp increase of my weight because I increased the amount of sodium in my diet (and the drop that happened after I switched back to a low sodium diet) are still pretty obvious.

How much weight can sodium make you gain?

To sum my weight loss experiment up, I gained 3.9 pounds (1.8 kilograms) of weight in just two days simply by switching to a high sodium diet.

And this happened in spite the fact that I limited my calorie intake quite severely (and only came in at about 1.200 net daily calories). If I didn't restrict my calories like this, I would probably gain even more weight because of increased sodium intake.

While my personal experiment didn't exactly match the strict scientific standards, I still demonstrated that sodium can indeed force our body to quickly gain a couple of pounds of water weight. And of course, that we lose that extra weight if we switch to a low sodium diet.

Another important takeaway from all this is that while sodium can mess up you weight loss results on just about any diet (it can make them look better or worse than they actually are), those fluctuations will have absolutely nothing to do with your body fat.

David Brown

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