Quitting Smoking and Weight Gain Explained

Weight gain is a common concern for people who are thinking about quitting smoking. And new research shows that a person’s dependency on nicotine determines how much weight he or she is likely to gain after quitting.

Researchers at the Kyoto Medical Center in Japan examined the factors that lead to weight gain in people who stop smoking. They found that the more heavily addicted a person is to nicotine, the more weight he or she is likely to gain.

They studied 186 patients at a smoking cessation clinic with an average age of about 60 who smoked more than one pack a day, on average.

In the three months after quitting, those with a greater dependence on nicotine experienced the most weight gain—about 2.5 pounds.

Since most of the study participants were using some form of nicotine replacement, such as a patch or varenicline (Chantix), the weight gain was less significant than it would have been had they gone cold turkey, like two of the participants in the study.

“Body weight gain itself is considered a factor that hinders the desire to quit smoking.

From these considerations, for effective smoking-cessation treatment, at the initial outpatient examination for smoking cessation, one must determine the patients expected to gain weight after ceasing smoking, and perform weight control accordingly,” researchers concluded.

Their study published this week in the journal PLOS One.

How Much Weight Will I Gain When I Quit Smoking?

Weight gain after quitting smoking is attributed to numerous factors, including increased appetite, a decreased rate of metabolism, decreased physical activity, and increased lipoprotein lipase activity, which affects fat transportation in the body.

The Kyoto team dug through prior research and found that, on average, men only gain about six pounds after quitting smoking, while women only gain about eight pounds.

About 10 percent of quitters of both genders gain 28 pounds or more.

However, post-quitting weight gain typically only lasts for about three years, while quitting smoking remains a good long-term health decision.

While tobacco use affects a person’s weight by increasing their rate of metabolism, its negative health impacts are considerably worse than those of a few extra pounds.

Besides the array of cancers linked to tobacco usage, smokers are also more likely to develop blindness or degenerative disc disease, have a limb amputated, or suffer from impotence.

Causes of weight gain when quitting smoking

The two main causes of weight gain when quitting smoking are thought to be:

  • eating more food – many smokers find their eating habits change when they quit cigarettes. Some people experience increased hunger as a withdrawal symptom, but research suggests their eating patterns eventually return to normal.
  • the effect of nicotine on the body – nicotine is the addictive substance in tobacco that causes smokers to continue their habit. Although nicotine isn’t thought to cause cancer, it does speed up the body’s food processing system, the metabolism. After many years of smoking, smokers tend to weigh slightly less than non-smokers.

Researchers suggest that one of the reasons why smokers tend to put on some weight after quitting is because their metabolism slows down, and they burn fewer kilojoules than while they were smoking.

This would explain why some ex-smokers put on weight even if they do not eat any more than usual.

Eating instead of smoking

Some ex-smokers eat more, particularly in the first few weeks after quitting. Some of the reasons include:
The restless, empty feeling of nicotine withdrawal can feel very similar to hunger pangs.

The smoker may be ‘fooled’ into thinking they’re hungry when they are not.

Missing the oral satisfaction of putting a cigarette into their mouths prompts some ex-smokers to substitute food for cigarettes. Instead of lighting up, they eat something.

Food can be comforting. If an ex-smoker is having a hard time during the withdrawal period, they may reward themselves with treats and snacks in an attempt to feel better.

Some smokers regularly skip meals – for example, breakfast may be a cup of coffee and a couple of cigarettes. Once you stop smoking, you may find that you don’t feel like skipping meals anymore.

Many ex-smokers find that food tastes better, and this may lead to more helpings.

Tips on healthy eating and exercise

Suggestions include:

Exercise more often – being inactive is a risk factor for weight gain. Aim for around half an hour of moderate activity every day, for example, brisk walking, gardening, swimming or cycling.

You can do 10 minutes of exercise at a time, adding up to a total of 30 minutes over the day, if you prefer.

Muscle tissue burns more kilojoules than fat. You can boost your metabolic rate by including one or two weight training sessions into your weekly exercise program to build up muscle.

Don’t crash diet. If you eat too few kilojoules, the body will respond by lowering the metabolism and burning muscle tissue for fuel.

It can be tricky telling the difference between hunger pangs and withdrawal cravings. Get into the habit of ‘listening’ to your body before you decide to eat something.

It takes about 15 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that it’s full, so wait before having second helpings.

You might find you don’t want it after all.

Find ways other than eating to cope with withdrawal cravings. Some people drink water, while others count to 100 – experiment until you find your own method.

Put safe, non-edible items in your mouth if oral cravings bother you. For example, you could use cinnamon sticks, or chew on sugarless gum.

If you need to snack, keep raw vegetable sticks and other low-fat, low-kilojoule foods on hand.

Eat more fruit, vegetables and wholegrain foods.

Cut back on high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar products. You can do this easily by not stocking these types of foods in your kitchen pantry.

Be kind to yourself if you do put on a few kilos. You are boosting your health by quitting.

If you put on weight after quitting smoking

If you’ve gained weight despite your best efforts, don’t despair. A few extra kilograms are a much lower risk compared to the risk of continuing to smoke.

You would have to gain over 40 kilograms above your recommended weight to equal the risk of heart disease posed by smoking.

Don’t think that taking up smoking again will mean you will shed the weight – sometimes it doesn’t. Concentrate on improving your diet and increasing your physical activity. See your doctor or dietitian for help and advice.

Things to remember

About 80 per cent of smokers put on weight after they quit.

The causes of weight gain may include the effect of nicotine on the body, and the ex-smoker’s inclination to eat more food.

You would have to gain over 40 kilograms above your recommended weight to equal the risk of heart disease posed by smoking.

Adding in Exercise and Diet to Smoking Cessation

Adding exercise and a healthy diet to your post-smoking routine can help mitigate weight gain, which is exactly what the Kyoto researchers recommend for people with severe nicotine addiction.

Not only can exercise and diet prevent weight gain, it will also help lower the risk of heart problems and glucose intolerance (a pre-diabetic condition) associated with excess weight gain.

So, if you’re concerned about the weight gain that usually follows quitting smoking, it’s best to quit now before you become more dependent and gain more weight as a result.

Source & More Info: Healthline and Better Health

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1 Comment

  • Great article. I often get clients and blog visitors asking about this topic specifically (as my blog is on weight loss and fitness). I’ll share some of your pointers at my blog in the future 🙂

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