Many smokers rate the fear of weight gain as their number-one barrier to quitting. They worry that the weight they gain may be a greater risk than their present smoking habit. This is unrealistic; to reach the same heart disease risk as posed by smoking just one pack of cigarettes per day, they would have to gain over 40 kg above thier recommended weight. The fact is that many, but not all, ex-smokers do gain some weight after they quit. One study found that 60 percent of men and 51 percent of women ex-smokers put on extra kilos. But the degree of weight gain is relatively small in most cases (between 2 to 5 kg during the first few months of cessation).

What is the connection between quitting smoking and gaining weight?

The main reason that people gain weight when they quit smoking is simple: they eat more. There are several reasons why this happens:

  • Nicotine curbs your appetite. It also perks you up when your energy is low because of hunger. When you quit smoking, you may feel hungry more often and eat more as a result.
  • Nicotine dulls your taste buds. So when you quit smoking, food tastes better and you may want to eat more.
  • Without cigarettes, you may turn to food as a replacement. You may need something to do with your hands and mouth at certain times of the day when you used to smoke. Not only does it fill the void left by the cigarette, food can be an emotional comfort, easing the pain of withdrawal.
  • In a heavy smoker, smoking burns up to 200 calories a day. Also, the metabolism is increased slightly. So when you quit, your body isn’t burning calories as fast as it used to. This can lead to small weight gain.

Studies show that the more cigarettes you smoke, the more likely you are to gain weight when you quit. A study also showed that the more you worry about gaining weight as a result of quitting smoking, the more weight you are likely to gain.

How do I avoid this weight gain?

Here are some Tips for avoiding weight gain:

  1. Think positive, and keep temptation away. Remind yourself every day of how much healthier you are for having quit smoking.
  2. Don’t quit smoking during holiday periods. You’re more likely to eat more then.
  3. Stay away from alcohol. Alcoholic drinks have a lot of calories, so avoiding them will help you control your weight. And drinking can weaken your willpower, especially if you usually smoke when you drink.
  4. Eat at least 3 healthy meals a day so you don’t get hungry. For some people, eating smaller healthy meals more than 3 times a day works better. And eat more whole-grain foods. They stay with you longer and help keep you from getting hungry.
  5. Consider getting professional help. Dietitians or nutritionists, fitness instructors, and therapists can all help you control your weight when you quit smoking.
  6. Make regular activity part of your life. Regular physical activity will give you energy, help to relieve stress and increase your sense of well-being. Walk, bike, swim, dance; choose activities you enjoy and you’ll stick with them.
  7. Weigh yourself at least once a week. Keep a pencil and paper near the scales, and write your weight down. That way the extra pounds won’t “sneak up” on you.
  8. Nicotine can decrease your appetite. When you quit, you may notice that your food cravings increase. Don’t worry, these cravings will pass. Have plenty of healthy snacks around you to satisfy your urge to nibble. Some examples of healthy snacks include herbal or green tea, fresh fruit, fat free yogurt, sugar-free chewing gum and vegetables (such as carrot and celery).
  9. Make plain tap water your number one drink of choice! Water helps to flush the nicotine from the body during the first few days of quitting. Besides water, your best choices are low fat milk, 100% fruit or vegetable juice, mineral or soda water.
  10. Ask your family and friends for support. Be direct. Ask for healthy snacks at get-togethers or invite them to join you for a weekly walk. Ex-smokers often have great tips for quitting, so ask for their advice.
  11. Reward yourself for not smoking. Don’t use food as the grand prize! Put your “cigarette money” aside and spend it on something special for yourself, such as a new pair of running shoes or a holiday.
  12. Don’t give up! Changing any habit, such as smoking, is always a challenge and can be stressful. Take charge of your life. You’ll feel proud of yourself and be much healthier once you’ve kicked the habit.

By quitting smoking, you are taking a big step to improve your health. Instead of worrying about weight gain, focus on quitting. Once you are tobacco-free, you can work toward having a healthy weight for life by becoming more physically active and choosing healthier foods.

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