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

Written by , Last updated: May 31, 2017

Hey, and welcome to my personal experiment on sodium, salt and weight loss.

Read this article all the way through and you'll find out exactly what happens to your weight if you eat a lot of sodium.

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

You'll see real life results you can expect to get if you decide to lose weight on a low sodium or a high sodium diet.

But first...

The difference between sodium and salt

Table salt is also known as sodium chloride, simply because it's made up of sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl).

As soon as salt hits just about any liquid (when you add it to a soup, for example) it starts to dissolve into sodium and chlorine. Once salt is broken down into the two basic elements, sodium can be absorbed by the body.

Why should you care about any of this if you're only interested in weight loss?

Well, the difference between sodium and salt mostly comes into play when you're thinking about how much sodium you're actually getting in.

You see, sodium makes up for around 39% of salt. So if you eat 3 grams of salt, you'll be getting in around 1 gram of sodium.

My personal sodium weight loss experiment

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

During the 10 days of my experiment I ate 1.500 calories per day. All of the foods I ate were extremely low in sodium. Also, I stuck with the same meals every day to make sure nothing else would mess up my weight loss results.

Also, I did the exact same amount of exercise every day. I burned off about 300 calories per day. By eating 1.500 calories and exercising off 300 calories per day, I got in a "net" of 1.200 calories every day.

For the first 5 days of the experiment I added a lot of salt to my meals. I didn't measure the exact amount of sodium I got in during the first 5 days, but I went over the maximum recommended daily amount.

But for the last 5 days of the experiment, I added zero salt to my meals.

So, a low sodium diet before the experiment, a high sodium diet during the first half of the experiment and a low sodium diet for the last half of the experiment.

Let's take a look at what happened.

The weight loss results of my experiment

Here are the results of my 10-day sodium weight loss experiment:

DayTotal weight (lbs)Total weight (kg)
0*181.782.4
1183.983.4
2185.684.2
3181.982.5
4179.581.4
5179.981.6
6177.580.5
7178.180.8
8179.081.2
9178.681.0
10176.880.2

Here are the same results displayed in a nice chart that shows what sodium did to my weight:

The results of a 10-day sodium weight loss experiment.

Because I only got in a net of 1.200 calories per day during my weight loss experiment, my weight should be dropping steadily from day 1 to day 10.

But since I added so much salt to my diet, my weight actually rose pretty sharply during the first couple of days. Because of sodium, it took 4 days before my weight dropped below what I started at.

I stopped eating all that extra sodium on day 5 and finished the experiment a couple of pounds lighter on day 10.

You can also see that my weight jumped up and down quite a bit during the experiment. This happens because of normal daily changes in body water. Those can be caused by the amount of fluids you get in, higher temperatures that cause you to lose more water, sweat more, etc.

But still, the sharp increase of my weight after upping the amount of sodium in my diet was pretty obvious.

How much weight can sodium make you gain?

By adding a lot of sodium to my diet, I gained 3.9 pounds (1.8 kilograms) of weight in just two days.

This happened in spite the fact that I dropped my (net) calorie intake to just 1.200 calories per day. In other words, even though my weight should have dropped from day 1, a high sodium diet actually boosted my weight by almost 4 pounds (2 kilograms).

Now, my personal sodium weight loss experiment doesn't exactly count as scientific evidence.

But it still nicely shows that sodium can indeed force our bodies to gain a couple of pounds of water weight. And of course, that we can easily lose that extra weight if we simply switch to a low sodium diet.

But there's a dark side to this as well.

How sodium can cause fake weight loss results

As you know by now, staying away from sodium can help you drop a couple of pounds pretty quickly. You also know that this doesn't mean you're actually losing any of that stubborn body fat, you're only losing the sodium and the water bound to it.

And this is exactly what happens if you go on some a weight loss diet or a cleanse that delivers awesome results practically overnight.

Most of such food plans are made up of low sodium foods or they only allow you to eat little to no salt. So, if you switch to such a food plan from a high sodium diet, you could lose a lot of body water, that's even without you losing any body fat at all.

And guess what happens after you return to a standard, high-sodium diet?

Naturally, you gain all the lost, sodium-bound water weight back over just a couple of days. Fake weight loss results, anyone?

Actionable takeaways

In this article you learned everything you needed to know about sodium, salt and weight loss.

You saw that sodium can bump your weight up by as much as 4 pounds (2 kilograms).

Also, if you switch from a high sodium diet to a low sodium diet, your weight will probably drop pretty quickly.

But after you get off such a diet and return to your standard, high sodium diet, that weight will come back.

If that happens to you, the good news is, you didn't necessarily gain any extra body fat, but the bad news is, you also didn't lose any.

David Brown

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