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Quit smoking without putting on weight

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Stopping smoking and weight gain have long been linked. But when you stop smoking, is it inevitable that you will put on weight?

Most smokers gain weight when they stop, but this weight can be lost in time with some simple lifestyle steps.

Yet the fear of weight gain is so great that many smokers cite it as the reason they continue to smoke. Although the benefits of stopping far outweigh the possibility of putting on extra pounds, few smokers want to swap nicotine addiction for food addiction.

Why do smokers tend to gain weight when they stop smoking?

There are a couple of reasons. First, nicotine is known to raise your metabolic rate. It increases the amount of calories you use and a heavy smoker may burn as many as 200 extra calories a day. Nicotine also serves as an appetite suppressant, so when you stop smoking it is normal for your appetite to increase.

Many people find that when they stop smoking their ability to taste and smell is enhanced, which can lead to increased eating. It is common for people to say that before they stopped smoking they never had much of a sweet tooth but now they find that they eat sugary foods. Studies show that people want more sweet and fatty foods once they stop smoking.

Finally, smoking is often a socially soothing activity for shy or anxious people. When the urge to light up hits, foods - especially fattening, salty or sweet snacks - become a substitute for the physical and emotional comfort that smoking provides.

Studies show that women who give up smoking are more likely than men to start smoking again as a way to avoid putting on weight.

Clearing the smoke

It takes tremendous willpower to stop smoking and this can falter when you start to crave nicotine. Changing your diet and lifestyle at the same time as you stop smoking is the best way to stop yourself gaining weight.

Here are some tried and tested ways to help you stop smoking without gaining weight:

  • Pick a date. Choose a day - a couple of weeks away so you can mentally prepare yourself and plan.
  • Address eating issues first. If you are anorexic or bulimic, seek professional help for these problems before you attempt to stop smoking.
  • Start exercising. By exercising for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, you can increase your metabolism and help combat weight gain. Exercising also distracts you from cravings and restless energy.
  • Substitute benefits. It is important to recognise the benefits you get from smoking, such as relaxation, and find new activities that will help you achieve the same results.
  • Watch your alcohol intake. For many people, drinking is a trigger for smoking. Also, alcohol is high in “empty calories” and can pile on the pounds. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink or stop it altogether to reduce the chance of a nicotine relapse.
  • Trick your mouth and hands. Do you miss the feel of cigarettes in your mouth? Try flossing with mint-flavoured floss, chew on a toothpick or chewing-gum, or suck a boiled sweet. Take up knitting or cards to keep your hands busy.
  • Clear it out. Throw away all tobacco, ashtrays and lighters so you won't be tempted. Clean your home to get rid of the smell of smoke.
  • Notice the social stigma. Many people consider smoking to be a repulsive habit.
  • Snack sensibly. Limiting the amount of fat you eat is one way to control your weight. When you have cravings, it helps to have your fridge and cupboards stocked with handy low-fat foods such as carrots and grapes, or high-protein foods such as sliced turkey, yoghurt and cheese. Avoid salty, sweet and processed foods. If you reduce or avoid high-calorie sweet foods, you are less likely to gain weight.
  • Drink more water. Water and herbal teas keep you hydrated, provide a sense of satisfaction and flush toxins from your newly clean system.
  • Get support. Tell your family and friends you are stopping smoking and ask them to support you.
  • Focus your energy. It’s hard to stop smoking, so this is not the ideal time to redecorate your house or start a new job. Conversely, if you want to stop smoking by your 40th birthday, for example, this can be a great motivator.
  • Reduce stress. Consider self-relaxation techniques to reduce withdrawal symptoms and the tendency toward emotional eating. Let it pass. Acute cigarette cravings often last just five minutes. Distract yourself by doing the laundry, phoning a friend or reading to your child. Remember, the severity of your cravings will decrease over time.
  • Try hypnosis. While this may not work for most people, some seem to do very well with it.
  • Keep motivated. Make a list of the reasons why you want to stop smoking and keep it handy. If you start thinking about cigarettes, remind yourself why you want to stop. This could be because you want to make sure your children never smoke, you want to be able to breathe better, or you don’t want smoking to age you.
  • Use treatments such as nicotine replacement therapies, or prescribed medication. Get free advice on which might be best for you from the NHS Stop Smoking Service.
  • Put yourself in control. Smokers are told constantly that they are not in control of their addiction and that their cigarettes control them. It is simply not true.
  • Avoid smokers and smoking environments.
  • Reward yourself. Stopping smoking is a major achievement. Treat yourself to a new lipstick, a weekend away or a trip to the cinema.
  • Exercise. Activities such as walking, jogging or swimming can burn off 200-600 calories an hour and being active increases your metabolic rate. Exercise also suppresses appetite. When you exercise, fat is broken down and released into the bloodstream, which can suppress your appetite.
Reviewed on September 19, 2017

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