6 ways to avoid weight gain when you quit smoking

May 29, 2018
Medically reviewed by Dr. Maroof Ahmed, MD on 
Oct 27, 2019

So you’re worried you’ll gain weight if you give up the cigs.

That’s a fair concern, but if it’s preventing you from making that all-important leap, it’s probably something we should address sooner rather than later.

What’s the link between smoking and weight gain?

It sucks, but there is some truth to the claims. Research suggests that quitters could gain an average of 5 to 10 pounds in the year following smoking cessation. Here’s why:

1. Smoking is an appetite suppressant

When you quit you may notice that, after a meal, you’re not as full as you would have been had you lit up afterwards.

As a result, you could end up going back for seconds or raiding the snack cupboard between meals.

2. Nicotine has a slight effect on metabolism

Nicotine raises resting metabolic rate by up to around 10%, meaning smokers burn calories at a slightly faster rate than non-smokers (unfair, I know). Don’t panic though, once your body adjusts to your smoke-free lifestyle, your metabolic rate will begin to stabilise.

3. Cigarettes mess with your senses

You may not realise it but smoking can dull your taste buds. Once you kick the habit, your food might taste so damn good that you’re tempted to load your plate in order to make the most of your new-found flavour-sensing skills.

4. Some quitters adopt behaviours that promote weight gain

You could confuse your nicotine cravings with food cravings, or instinctively replace the hand-to-mouth action of smoking with picking at food throughout the day, either of which could lead you to consume more calories than before.

Research suggests that the heavier the smoker you are, the higher your chance of gaining weight post-cessation. So if you are worried about your waistline, the quicker you quit the better!

So is piling on the pounds inevitable?

No — definitely not! While quitting smoking may increase your risk of gaining weight, that doesn’t mean that you’re destined to balloon from here on out.

It’s also important to remember that the figures for average weight gain are simply averages! Some people gain more than this, some less and some will even lose weight after smoking.

So stick with me, we’re going to look at some ways to minimise weight gain as much as possible, and maybe even prevent it from occurring in the first place.

How can it be avoided?

1. Plan plan plan

If you’ve already chosen your quit date, you’ll have given yourself time to mentally prepare but you can also take advantage of this period to prepare physically too.

Try to remove any unhealthy temptations from your kitchen (we’ve all given in to that pack of cookies staring at us from the counter, right?!). Stock up on healthy food and snacks such as fruit & veg, nuts or some lightly salted popcorn.

2. Practice mindfulness

Slow down, chew your food well and focus on the act of eating, without any distractions (don’t be scrolling through Instagram while you eat your dinner). This will help to prevent overeating as you’ll be focused on savouring each mouthful.

Remember that it takes around 20 minutes for a meal to be fully digested, so you won’t necessarily be able to tell if you’re full until then.

If you are still having hunger pangs after the 20-minute mark, try drinking a glass of water or doing some light exercise to see if that makes any difference.

3. Get moving

Make the most of your increased stamina and clear airways by taking up a new activity. Physical activity will promote weight loss, decrease cravings and improve your mood (let’s face it, you might be a bit cranky) through the release of endorphins.

Cardio exercises — such as aerobics and running — are great for burning calories whilst strength training (i.e. workouts using free weights or your own body weight) increases muscle mass and thereby raises metabolic rate. Your best bet would be to incorporate a combination of the two into your fitness regime.

4. Pace yourself

Smoker or non-smoker, it’s always going to be hard coming to terms with the fact that you just can’t eat all the food all the time.

Control your portion sizes and try to remember that there will still be new things to try tomorrow…and the day after…and the day after that.

5. Get help from nicotine replacement therapy

Quit-smoking aids such as nicotine gums and patches not only help with the overall process of cessation, but have also been shown to reduce associated weight gain.

If you’re not experiencing nicotine cravings, it’s unlikely you’ll have the same urge to replace cigarettes with food.

6. Give yourself a break

You’re already taking on a challenge by deciding to quit smoking. It’s probably going to be up there with one of your best ever decisions, but it is going to take some perseverance.

Don’t overwhelm your body by obsessing about your diet at the same time. Doing so could leave you stressed or unhappy, which could lead you to eat more or even relapse into smoking.

The amount of weight we’re talking about here is pretty minimal, and can easily be shed once you’re at a stable point in your quitting programme. Plus, experts agree that gaining a few extra pounds does not detract from the health benefits associated with quitting smoking.

Nevertheless, if you can get one step ahead and prevent weight gain altogether — by careful planning, maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise throughout your journey — you’ll be onto a winner!

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