As you’re going through the quitting process, you may have got on your bathroom scales and noticed that you’ve gained some weight. Many ex-smokers do gain weight after quitting. In fact, concern about weight gain is a real hurdle for most people. It’s the reason many smokers are afraid to quit. And when smokers do quit, if they gain weight, they often go back to smoking to lose weight.
Of course, this is an unrealistic concern for most smokers. The degree of weight gain is relatively small in most cases. To reach the same health risk as smoking one pack of cigarette per day, the average smoker would have to be roughly 125 pounds overweight!
Why Ex-Smokers Gain Weight
Smokers weigh less because smoking depresses the appetite for certain foods, while quitters, whose appetites are not suppressed, gain weight because they take in more calories. While food intake may not be the only factor operating – nicotine may also alter the smoker’s metabolism so that smokers burn more calories and convert fewer calories into fat.
Smoking also affects digestion. Research has shown that food remains in the stomachs of smokers longer than it does in nonsmokers. Fullness of the stomach signals to the brain that you don’t need to eat. This could be one of the ways that smoking tends to reduce smokers’ body weight. Some other reasons for smokers not gaining weight are:
- Smoking provides the smoker with a substitute activity for eating.
- Smoking increases the passage of food through the lower digestive tract by increasing the propulsive activity of the colon. Thus, some food may be swept through before all nutrients are absorbed.
- Smoking serves as a marker of the end of a meal. Rather than taking a second or third helping or having dessert, smokers are likely to stop eating and have a cigarette.
Recent studies of certain enzymes in our fat cells suggest that the reason some smokers gain weight after quitting while others do not may be in part a matter of genetics. One of the key enzymes in the regulation of fat storage is lipoprotein lipase. This enzyme breaks down circulating triglycerides, liberating free fatty acids that can then be taken up and stored by the fat cells. High activity levels of this enzyme are thought to increase the efficiency of fat storage, and thus to produce weight gain. Low levels are thought to produce less efficient energy storage, and thus to promote weight loss. Researchers believe that genetic differences account for high or low levels of lipoprotein lipase in different people.
Studies have also shown that smokers with high levels of lipoprotein lipase gained more weight after they quit, while smokers with the lowest levels of this enzyme actually lost weight after quitting.
The researchers concluded that a test that measured lipoprotein lipase activity might help predict a smoker’s potential for weight gain after quitting.
Another factor contributing to lower body weight in smokers could be impaired lung faction. Research suggests that it is only those smokers with the most extensive smoking-produced lung damage who exhibited weight loss. The researchers found that smokers with normal lung function weighed roughly the same as nonsmokers.
Another recent study found that smokers who consumed more food or liquids, or avoided other cigarette-associated substances such as alcohol and coffee, were more successful in cutting down their smoking than subjects who attempted to reduce smoking with no specific plan. Thus weight gain following quitting may be due to the fact that the quitters are using eating as a substitute for smoking.
Here are some points that will help you control your weight as you quit smoking.
1) Ignore weight gain. Go ahead and quit. After all, you may be one of the lucky ones who gains little or no weight. This is a good approach for light smokers and those who would not be greatly upset by gaining a few pounds. If you take this approach, go ahead and get yourself permanently separated from cigarettes. So don’t worry about it, and go ahead and quit.
2) Use exercise to control weight. Quitting really takes all your energy and effort, so the best way to use exercise to help control weight after quitting might be to begin a regular exercise program, several months before your planned quitting date. Exercise will help you keep your weight down, and it can also make it easier for you to quit and will provide you with an alternative activity that will help you make it through the most difficult parts of cigarette withdrawal.
3) The sugarfree solution. As with exercise, it’s difficult to quit smoking and to change your eating patterns at the same time. The best guideline here seems to be to start taking control of your eating before you quit. Here are some good foods to stock up on:
- Fruit juices
- Sunflower seeds
- Spring or mineral water
- Popcorn (without butter)
- Yogurt (low-fat, unsweetened)
- V-8 juice
- Dry-roasted peanuts
4) Pay special attention to your mealtime routine during you pre-quitting and quitting efforts.
Here are some mealtime tips to help ex-smokers watch their weight:
Take smaller portions (use a smaller plate).
Eat slowly. Try to be the last one done.
Take smaller bites. Chew and swallow each bite before taking the next. Become aware of the taste and texture of your food.
Put your fork down between mouthfuls.
Pour yourself a large glass of ice water with every meal. Take frequent sips between bites.
Have a family member prepare your portions and put extra food away so that seconds are not easily accessible.
Serve sliced fruit for dessert – or skip dessert altogether.
As soon as you finish, get up from the table.
Pick a nonsmoking activity to be a sign of meal termination. Take a walk, brush your teeth, wash the dishes, take a shower, puff on a plastic cigarette, eat an artificially sweetened mint, or develop your own meal termination ritual.
Recent quitters frequently experience strong urges to snack or have something in their mouths. If sweets are available you may feel a powerful urge to nibble. You may also feel an urge to hold something in place of a cigarette. Here are some tips to help you avoid overdoing it on high-sugar snacks:
Allow yourself unlimited amounts of raw vegetables, such as carrot or celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, broccoli flowerets, cauliflower buds, etc. Keep these in the front of the refrigerator where they are easily accessible.
Always carry a good supply of sugarless gum, mints, and candy. Eat only one piece of candy or gum at a time and try to make each piece last as long as possible.
Allow yourself moderate amounts of low-calorie snacks, such as bread sticks, Rykrisp, unbuttered popcorn, pretzels, etc. Avoid snacks that contain large amounts of sugar or fat.
Stay away from alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are high in calories. Also, alcohol can produce breakdowns in self-control that may lead to eating binges or a smoking relapse.
Unshelled sunflower seeds or unshelled peanuts are particularly good snacks. They keep both your hands and your mouth busy, and the process of removing the shell slows down how much you eat.
Don’t keep high calorie snacks in the house for 3-6 months after you quit. If this is not possible, seal high-calorie snacks in plastic bags and put them in a hard-to-reach cupboard.
Ask friends and family not to offer you food.
When you feel the urge to snack, go for a walk instead.
During the early stages of quitting, avoid parties where high-calorie snacks will be served.
Take healthy snacks with you when you will be away from home.
Go to bed earlier than usual to avoid the temptation to snack.
Keep yourself busy with hobbies, puzzles, knitting, gardening, creative crafts, housework, home repairs, etc.
In order to keep your weight down, here are useful tips that you should use to help you along:
If possible, don’t set your Quit Day shortly before holidays when it is usual to eat high-calories foods and drinks. The temptation to munch may be too hard to resist.
Weight Watchers or other such groups can be a big help in your efforts to control your weight. The best time to join such a group is before you quit.
Weigh yourself daily, at the same time every day. Record your daily weight on a chart or calendar. This will make you more aware of weight changes.
Drink plenty of liquids such as mineral water, iced tea, iced coffee, or diet sodas.
Realistic Goals for Weight Control
The problem of smoking and its effect on weight control can be especially difficult for people who feel that they have a weight problem even with smoking. In this case, you have to be realistic and say to yourself what is more important your health or a few extra pounds, which you can work towards losing at a later date.
For smokers who want to quit and don’t want to make changes in their eating habits, the best course of action is to go ahead and let yourself gain those extra pounds. Being a few pounds overweight is a lot healthier than smoking.
You may quit, gain five pounds, go back to smoking, lose the five pounds, quit smoking and regain those five pounds. Here’s how you can get off this vicious cycle:
First of all, quit smoking for good.
Work to recognize that the weight gain is less important than staying off the cigarettes. Consider buying some health books or magazines that will help give you healthy choices to follow.
Don’t worry about eating less. Concentrate on eating more healthily and exercising more.
When you can cut back on calories without finding yourself tempted to smoke, you can start planning how to lose the weight.
In short, you need to solve the smoking problem first, and then work on the weight when you can do so without triggering those strong urges to smoke.
If you’re still gaining weight after being successfully off cigarettes for a month or more, then you could be reaching for food whenever you get the urge to smoke. Instead of eating, try drinking non-alcoholic liquids. Keep a glass of water, club soda, juice, or diet soda handy throughout the day.
Overall, you should eat more healthy foods. Think about what you eat; this way you will overcome your desire for fatty foods and sweets.
Here’s what to do:
Eat more lean meat and fish. Lean meats such as veal, chicken, and turkey are low in fat and calories and high in vitamins and minerals. The same is true of fish.
Eat more fruits and vegetables. The FDA advises that you “Strive for Five” which means that you should have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
Eat less sugar. If you take in more sugar than the body needs, the excess sugar is converted into body fat. Sugar is an obvious ingredient in cookies, cakes, candy, and also hides in many canned and frozen convenience foods. Check the labels on the products you buy for: Glucose, sucrose, and other sugars.
Cut down on fat. Use low-fat milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese instead of whole-milk products. Trim fat from meats. Broil, bake or steam instead of frying foods in fat.
Go easy on alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t provide nutrients, but it does provide a high dose of calories.
Eat three square meals a day. Skipping breakfast and lunch will not help you control your weight, but is liable to give you headaches, jitters, and a ravenous appetite that may lead you to binge or look for a cigarette. Eating three moderate meals through the day will make you feel better, will get your metabolism going better, and will probably result in your having fewer total calories than if you skip a meal or two.
Eat the right snacks. Good choices are foods that take a long time to chew, like apples, unbuttered popcorn, carrots, and celery sticks.
Cook with herbs and spices. That way you’ll use less butter, margarine, oil or fattening sauces.
Start your meals right. Have a clear soup, or an “undressed” salad, or a low-calorie drink (water, seltzer, tomato juice, tea) before eating a meal. It will help fill you up.
What you do and don’t do is just as important as what you eat or don’t eat. For example, do get lots of exercise. That will burn calories, cut stress, and make you feel good. Also, do eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re bored. And finally, when you’re through eating, get up. Don’t sit there thinking about dessert – or a cigarette.
You may be looking at the scale every day and worrying about your weight. But have you been looking in the mirror? If not, take a look right now! Have you noticed any changes? Many ex-smokers notice that their color is better, their teeth are whiter, and their eyes are brighter.
And remember what’s happening inside you is even more important than what you see on the outside. Your body has already started to repair the damage that smoking has caused.
So you should feel really good about yourself! After all, quitting smoking is no small accomplishment. For lots of people, it’s as important as starting a new job, or buying a house. What’s more, quitting smoking can give you a better sense of being in control on your life.