Quitting tobacco is hard. It’s even tougher to quit without piling on the pounds.
Research from the UK and France indicates that smokers put on around 10 pounds in the first 12 months after they quit, with most of the weight gain coming in the first three months.
Exercise, dieting and stop-smoking treatments can all help you control your weight gain throughout your quitting journey.
Here is our guide to giving up tobacco cigarettes without putting on weight.
Why Do Quitters Put on Weight?
Ditching tobacco is a healthy lifestyle choice. After 24 hours, carbon monoxide is eliminated from your body and your lungs start to clear out mucus and other nasty stuff caused by smoking.
But weight gain can diminish some of the benefits of quitting. If you want to stop smoking without plumping up, you first need to understand why quitters put on weight.
There are five key reasons:
- Nicotine increases your metabolism – Your metabolic rate is the amount of energy you use over time. Nicotine reduces bodyweight because it raises the resting metabolic rate, meaning your body uses energy faster. This means that when you stop smoking, your body actually needs fewer calories.
- Nicotine can suppress your appetite – A receptor in your brain mediates nicotine’s ability to reduce food intake. This explains why you can feel less hungry after you have a cigarette.
- Food tastes better when you quit – Food starts to smell and taste better about 48 hours after you quit smoking. This might lead to more food cravings, particularly cravings for sugary foods.
- Food can distract from nicotine cravings – It is possible for quitters to mistake nicotine cravings for hunger. Quitters can also use food to distract themselves from nicotine cravings.
- Food can replace the ‘hand-to-mouth’ smoking action – The action of putting your hand to your mouth to smoke is a comforting habit. Smokers’ hands and mouths often become fidgety when they quit and food and gum can help satisfy this desire to fidget.
How to Avoid Weight Gain
Exercise, dieting and nicotine replacement therapies can all be used to prevent weight gain when you quit smoking.
When you quit smoking, your metabolism slows down, so your body burns calories slower. Even if you eat the same as you did when you were smoking, you can still put on weight.
You can keep your metabolism high by completing exercise regularly.
Research also shows that regular moderate exercise can help reduce the severity of nicotine withdrawal symptoms, making it easier to quit.
Taking moderate exercise could mean simple things in your everyday life. You could walk where you might otherwise drive , for example, or take the stairs where you would have previously used an elevator.
You can also start running, go to the gym or take up a new activity or sport. For more advice and inspiration, read our blog post on 14 basic exercises to help you ditch tobacco.
Dieting is tough, but not as tough as quitting smoking. If you are struggling to juggle dieting and quitting, most stop smoking services will recommend that you concentrate on quitting first and think about your food intake later.
With that being said, there are some simple things that you can do to limit your weight gain while you ditch tobacco. Eating a healthier diet can also help you realise more of the benefits of stopping smoking.
You can combat hunger pangs and nicotine cravings by carrying a store of healthy treats around with you. Nuts, fruit and vegetable sticks make great healthy snacks and they can help satisfy your hand-to-mouth cravings.
Another strategy is to eat smaller portion sizes until your metabolism stabilizes. Chew your food slowly and savor each mouthful.
Remember that it takes 20 minutes for the body to feel full, so take a break after eating before you go back for a second helping.
Nicotine replacement therapy
As well as helping you ditch tobacco, nicotine replacement therapies can help boost your metabolism and satisfy cravings.
There are dozens of nicotine replacement therapies on offer including nicotine patches, nicotine gums and special lozenges.
The FDA has also approved two smoking cessation medicines that do not contain nicotine. Chantix and Zyban are both available in tablet form and by prescription only.
Chantix acts in your brain to inhibit the rewarding effects of nicotine. The precise way that Zyban helps with smoking cessation is so far unknown.
E-cigarettes are not currently approved by the FDA as stop smoking aids. But most vaping products contain nicotine and many former smokers have used e-cigarettes to help them ditch tobacco.
One recent study from the UK found that vaping helps support long-term smoking abstinence. Funded by Cancer Research UK, the study found that e-cigarettes helped hardened smokers and people who didn’t even want to stop smoking quit.
Researchers concluded that: “This study suggests that vaping is a viable long-term substitute for smoking, with substantial implications for tobacco harm reduction.”
Read our beginner’s guide to start vaping in five easy steps.