Why You Gain Weight When You Quit Smoking and What to Do About it
|Expert Reviewed||Dr. Charlie Seltzer, Physician and Weight Loss Expert|
Advice From a Former Smoker
It's not what you want to hear, but the truth is that more likely than not, you will gain weight when you quit smoking. That said, don't let it stop you. If you are sick of smoking, now is the time to stop.
It won't get any easier later on and you'll still gain weight. Besides, there are many ways to minimize the weight gain. On top of that, I guarantee that you will feel so much better, both mentally and physically, that a few extra pounds are not going to bother you.
I have a few credentials in this department, by the way. I was a heavy smoker for more than 30 years and I've been smoke-free ( albeit a bit heavier) for more than a decade. You can read my tips for giving up cigarettes.
Now, I'm going to give you an explanation of why you gain weight when you quit smoking and what you can do to counteract or minimize it. Most of all, I don't want you to use the probability of weight gain as an excuse not to quit. You can get a new wardrobe. You can't get a new pair of lungs. With some determination and a little patience, you can quit smoking and lose what you gain in good time.
What's the Typical Number of Pounds Gained After Quitting Smoking?
People gain about two pounds within the first couple of weeks of quitting. On average, former smokers gain between 5 and 7 pounds within six months of kicking the habit.
Some people gain as much as 30 pounds, but that is more likely to happen to a person who is very underweight or very overweight. Others gain no weight at all. It depends on your gender, age, activity level, food intake, and genetic predisposition.
Don't worry about it. Most people will shed the extra weight as the body adjusts to life without nicotine. For others, a real effort at weight loss will be required. For a few the weight gain is permanent. But as one doctor told me, "you would have to gain 100 pounds to equal the health risk of continuing to smoke."
Studies show that most weight-gain happens in the first six months after quitting smoking.
How Long Do You Gain Weight After Quitting Smoking?
Studies show that most weight gain happens within the first six months after quitting. People who are either underweight (with a BMI of 18) or overweight (BMI over 29) tend to gain the most weight. In one study, about 10% of smokers who quit smoking gained close to 30 pounds.
How to Quit Smoking Without Gaining Weight
- Eat at least 250 fewer calories a day than you ate before you quit.
- Write down everything you eat. This will help you avoid mindless snacking.
- Eat regular meals.
- Avoid alcohol.
- If you used to smoke when you had a cup of coffee, switch to tea.
- Exercise a half-hour every day. Include weight-bearing exercise in your routine at least twice a week.
- Drink lots of water.
- Include high-fiber foods in your diet.
What to Eat When You're Quitting Smoking
Nutritionists recommend a diet that is high in:
- protein (keep you full longer and good for brain chemistry)
- minerals (nuts and seeds)
- healthy fats (avocado)
- complex carbohydrates (also keep you full longer)
- fiber and water (to help your body eliminate toxins)
I Quit Smoking but I Can't Lose Weight!
“My best advice is to work with a registered dietitian nutritionist who can help guide you through the transition," says Malorie Blake, a registered dietitian nutritionist with EduPlated. "I often see individuals who are trying to quit smoking use food to replace tobacco and end up creating addictive behaviors surrounding food. Working with an RD can help with intuitive eating, an approach that uses mindfulness to help you stay on track with your food choices. This can be a huge help for those that are struggling.”
Why Is Weight-Gain a Side Effect of Quitting Smoking?
"Nicotine increases metabolism and is a potent appetite suppressant," says Dr. Charlie Seltzer, a Philadelphia-based physician who specializes in weight loss. "As well, smoking keeps your hands busy, and when that goes away, nibbling and picking at food is a common behavior people substitute for the activity."
Nicotine also constricts your blood vessels and makes your heart beat faster. When you quit smoking, your metabolism slows down to the tune of about 250 calories a day. That means that even if you don't eat any more than you did when you smoked, you will gain some weight unless you eat at least 250 calories less. The actual calorie count varies from person to person, but in general, that is the drill.
Add to this the fact that nicotine dulls the appetite and the taste buds. When you quit smoking you are suddenly hungrier and food tastes better. Do you remember losing a few pounds when you first started smoking? I know I do. Well, when you quit it is payback time. That's all.
Actually, back in the day, when half the adult American population smoked and nobody knew about the dangers, doctors recommended smoking as an aid to digestion and a way to lose weight. Can you believe it? Nobody thought about the health consequences because nobody knew there were any, and the tobacco companies were raking it in hand over fist, so who cared?
It was only in the 1970s, after the connection between lung cancer and smoking was firmly established, that anyone even hinted at the fact that smoking was truly an addiction. Before that time it was billed as merely a " bad habit" which left the truly addicted feeling pretty rotten about their inability to just stop cold turkey.
How I Minimized Weight-Gain and Stayed off Cigarettes
- I concentrated on one thing at a time. For the first three months or so, you will have enough to do to just concentrate on not picking up the first cigarette. There will be physical cravings as your blood sugar goes up and down and your body gets used to being without nicotine. This is a very tough addiction to crack, so do not worry about whether or not you are gaining weight. Don't think about it and do not, under any circumstances weigh yourself. If your clothes feel tight, buy new clothes. Trying to focus on losing weight while in the early stages of smoking cessation is a good way to fail at both things. Keep your mind on not smoking. However, if you can, I would suggest at least one-half hour of aerobic exercise every day—anything from a brisk walk to running a marathon or swimming laps will do, depending on your level of fitness and what is available. Walking is available to everyone and requires no special clothing or equipment and best of all, almost everyone knows how to do it. At the very least, take a half-hour walk once or twice a day. Exercise will not only help with the cravings, it will help you use up those extra 250 calories to rev up your metabolism.
- I ate regular meals. Food is going to taste good and you are going to be hungry. Do not, under any circumstances, skip meals, especially if you used to do it routinely when you smoked. This is a real no-no. You need to keep your blood sugar as even as possible and skipping meals will just make you hungrier. It will be easier to exercise some sort of portion control if you eat three meals and two snacks a day. Forget skipping breakfast. No more coffee and cigarettes in the car on the way to work in the morning.They say you should eat healthy things like carrot sticks and apples, but frankly, when I was giving up smoking they just didn't do it for me. I was more into pretzels and nuts. It is wise to stay away from sweets and junk food as much as you can, but give yourself permission do what needs to be done so you don't start smoking. Remember that most cravings don't last more than 15 minutes. Try to ride them out.
- I ate well. Do not deny yourself, but do be mindful and try to concentrate on whole grains, fruits, and veggies rather than processed snack foods. Stay away from the french fries and cheese doodles, not to mention M&Ms and banana splits. You want to avoid sweets because they cause a spike in blood sugar and a corresponding dip afterward. The blood sugar roller coaster increases cravings.
- I avoided alcohol. There are two problems with alcohol for the new ex-smoker: It lowers your inhibitions and make it more likely that you will give in to the urge to smoke, and it's full of empty calories. Avoiding it is an easy way to keep from gaining weight in your early post smoking days, not to mention that smoking and drinking just seem to go together. If you drink you are definitely going to want to smoke. I don't know why, but booze and coffee are both powerful triggers that make most newly ex-smokers want to light up. One day you will be able to have a beer or a glass of wine with no accompanying desire to smoke and one day your metabolism will have adjusted to your non-smoking life, but for now, stick to mineral water, OK?
- I included some weight-bearing exercise in my routine at least twice a week. Muscle burns more calories than fat, and since you want to keep your metabolism perking along, an increase in muscle tissue is in order. You can achieve this by adding hand weights at home or a workout with a trainer at the gym to your schedule. Don't tell me you can't afford it or don't have time. In a pinch, get out in the garden and lift heavy rocks or fill gallon containers with water and lift them. You'll find lots of workouts online. No excuses here, please. Weight-bearing exercise is really important to minimize your post smoking weight gain and any cravings you may still be experiencing.
- I drank lots of water You want to flush your system by drinking at least eight glasses of water a day. It takes at least three months to get all the toxins out of your system and being well-hydrated will speed up the process. Nicotine isn't the only thing your body is getting rid of. There are something like 300 toxic substances in cigarette smoke, including carbon monoxide, lead, and formaldehyde.
- I chose high-fiber foods and complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates don't cause a spike in blood sugar and fiber makes you feel fuller, especially if you are following rule number 5 above. Avoid sweets as much as you can and leave the soda alone too. Sugar will cause spikes in blood sugar that will increase cigarette cravings andall those sweet goodies will pack on the pounds.
Will Nicotine Replacement Therapy Keep Me From Gaining Weight?
Nicotine-replacement medication delays but does not prevent weight-gain after quitting smoking. Once the drug regimen is over, your weight will begin to increase to the level it would have been if you hadn't taken the medication. However, some health professionals recommend this temporary solution to increase a smoker's motivation to quit, allowing them time to focus on quitting smoking first and then address diet and exercise later.
Unlike tobacco, marijuana stimulates the appetite. Men in particular gain weight while smoking marijuana. When they quit, they lose weight.
If I Stop Smoking Weed, Will I Gain Weight?
Most likely, no. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal found that cannabis and tobacco have opposite effects on weight gain. While tobacco suppresses appetite, cannabis stimulates it. According to the study, gender plays a role in whether marijuana smokers gain weight, or not. Men who smoked marijuana gained weight, while men who smoked tobacco did not. Women who smoked marijuana were not as likely to gain weight as men.
To sum up, some weight gain when you give up smoking is probably inevitable, but it need not be permanent. You can minimize it, or avoid it entirely, by staying hydrated, getting plenty of both aerobic and weight-bearing exercise, and choosing foods that are good for you as well as good tasting. Quitting is not easy, but millions of people have done it and you can too. It's well worth the effort. I promise.
Dr. Charlie Seltzer
- The article has been modified since this review was written.
Questions & Answers
what is the usual time period for gaining weight after quit smoking ?
It is very individual -- depends on many things and some people gain only a few pounds. Others gain a lot, as I did, but then again I was smoking two and a half to three packs a day for many years. I can only tell you about my own experience. I gained 60 lbs (I am very tall and have a large frame) in just under a year. I eventually lost about 30 lbs. It took me several years to do it. Just two years ago I went low carb, and took off the other 30 lbs -- I have not smoked a cigarette in 18 years.
© 2010 Roberta Kyle