The Truth About Why You Gain Weight When You Quit Smoking and What to Do
It's not what you want to hear, but the truth is that if you smoke a pack a day or more, you will definitely gain weight when you quit. That said, don't let that 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 and 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 your weight gain. Mostly, I want you not 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 and with determination and a little patience you can quit smoking and either not gain much weight or lose what you do gain in good time.
Why You Gain Weight
Nicotine, which is what causes you to become addicted to cigarettes, is a central nervous system stimulant. It is a powerful drug that speeds up your metabolism, constricts your blood vessels and makes your heart beat faster. Thus, when you quit smoking, the absence of nicotine slows down your metabolism to the tune of about 250 calories a day. That means 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 as well as the taste buds and that when you quit smoking you are suddenly hungrier and food tastes better and you'll begin to get an idea of what you are up against. 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 of smoking, Doctors recommended smoking as an aid to digestion and as 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.
You can expect to gain five to ten pounds in the first few months after you stop smoking. Some lucky people gain no weight at all and there are others who gain a good deal more. 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"
Why You Gain Weight When You Quit Smoking
How to Minimize Your Weight Gain and Stay off Cigarettes
1. Concentrate 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 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 and help to rev up your metabolism.
2. Eat 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. 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 afterwards. The blood sugar roller coaster increases cravings.
. You'll be more apt 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 definitely 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 and try to ride them through.
3. Avoid alcohol There are two problems with alcohol for the new ex-smoker. One is that it lowers your inhibitions and make it more likely that you will give in to the urge to smoke, The second is that alcohol is full of empty calories and 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 and 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?
4. Include some weight bearing exercise in your 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 lot of workouts online. NO excuses here, please. Weight bearing exercise is really important to minimize your post smoking weight gain and to minimize any cravings you may still be experiencing.
5. Drink 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.
6. Choose 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.
To sum up, some weight gain when you give up smoking is probably inevitable, but it need not be permanent AND you can minimize your weight gain, or perhaps eliminate 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.