Quitting smoking: Dealing with weight gain

Introduction

Many people worry about gaining weight when they quit smoking. Most people do gain weight, but it's usually less than 10 pounds.1

The good news is that there are steps you can take to keep your weight gain small.

The important thing is to quit smoking. The minute you quit, you'll be starting a much healthier life.

Key points

  • Smoking is much worse for your health than gaining a few pounds.
  • If you try to lose weight at the same time that you try to quit smoking, you will probably have a harder time quitting. So deal with quitting first. Then worry about weight gain.
  • While you are trying to quit, focus on eating healthy foods and being more active.
 

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.
  • Nicotine makes your body burn calories faster. So when you quit, your body isn't burning calories as fast as it used to.

Studies show that the more cigarettes you smoke, the more likely you are to gain weight when you quit.2

Test Your Knowledge

People gain weight when they quit smoking because nicotine curbs your appetite and dulls your taste buds.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Without nicotine, many people have a better appetite and find that food tastes better.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Without nicotine, many people have a better appetite and find that food tastes better.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

First of all, not everyone gains weight. Some people are able to keep their weight down when they quit smoking.

And if you do gain a little weight, it's still better than smoking:

  • A few extra pounds can be lost later. Serious damage to your lungs if you keep smoking can't be fixed later.
  • Most people would have to gain a lot more than 10 pounds to put their health in danger the way smoking does.
  • As soon as you quit smoking, you lower your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke.
  • After 10 years of not smoking, your chances of getting lung cancer are much lower.
  • By quitting, you lower your chances of getting cancers of the voice box, mouth, throat, esophagus, intestine, bladder, kidney, and pancreas.
  • When you quit, you get rid of the secondhand smoke that may be putting the health of your family in danger.
  • When you quit, you stop smelling like a smoker. You'll have fresher-smelling clothes and fresh breath.
  • With the money you save by quitting, you can buy other things that you want.

Test Your Knowledge

Smoking is far worse for your health than gaining a few pounds.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Exactly right. You'd have to gain a lot more than 10 pounds to hurt your health as much as smoking does.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Smoking is a lot worse. You'd have to gain a lot more than 10 pounds to hurt your health as much as smoking does.

  •  

Which of the following are reasons to quit smoking even if it makes you gain weight?

Continue to How?

 

Be aware

Knowledge is a powerful thing. Now that you know that quitting smoking can make you want to eat more, or eat more often, you can be ready for it.

  • Remember that the secret to weight control—whether you smoke or not—is eating healthy food and becoming more active.
  • Start reading food labels. Know which foods are high in calories, especially fats, and don't buy them.
  • Don't try to diet when you quit smoking. Most people who try to lose weight at the same time they are trying to stop smoking have an even harder time of stopping smoking. Instead, eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods. And try as much as you can to avoid foods that have a lot of sugar or fat.
  • Find ways to get more active. Take the stairs. Park farther away. Take walks. Start a program at the gym, or take up a new sport.

Have a plan

Keeping control of your weight will be easier if you have a plan. Before your quit day:

  • Know what activities will tempt you to smoke or eat, and avoid them. It may help to keep a journal of the times when you're most tempted.
  • Think about how you will fill the time when you usually smoke. For example, if you love that after-meal cigarette, don't replace that cigarette with more food. Get up and brush your teeth, go for a walk, or wash the dishes.
  • Try to get all high-fat, high-sugar foods out of your house. Family members may be very happy to help if it will help you quit smoking.
  • Make a list of healthy foods that you especially like. Try some new low-calorie, low-fat snacks and drinks. Stock up on the ones you like.
  • Think about how you can work more exercise into your life. Besides helping you stay away from cigarettes, exercise burns calories. Plan to take short walks or do some stretches at times when you would ordinarily smoke.

Tips for avoiding weight gain

Think positive, and keep temptation away:

  • Don't quit smoking during holiday periods. You're more likely to eat more then.
  • Stay away from alcohol. Alcohol 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.
  • 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.
  • Consider getting professional help. Nutritionists, fitness instructors, and therapists can all help you control your weight when you quit smoking.
  • Make regular activity part of your life. Walking is a great exercise that most people enjoy and can do. It may help to walk or exercise with a partner or group.
  • 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.
  • Remind yourself every day of how much healthier you are for having quit smoking.

Remember, looking good is much more important than how much you weigh. Smelling clean and smoke-free, having fresh breath, having fingers and teeth free of yellow tobacco stains, and feeling healthier all make you more attractive.

A big reason people gain weight is that they reach for food instead of a cigarette after they quit.

  • When you have a craving for a cigarette or food, remember that cravings usually last only a few minutes. Do something else to occupy your time for those few minutes.
  • Rather than eating candy or other food to replace the cigarettes, try chewing on a drinking straw, toothpick, or coffee stirrer.
  • If you must have something sweet in your mouth, eat fruit or try sugar-free gum or candy.
  • Come up with something else to keep your hands busy so you don't use them to eat. For example, take up knitting, beading, doing crossword puzzles, or just doodling.
  • People often turn to food at times of tension or stress. Find other ways to deal with those times. Go for a walk. Vacuum the floor.

Test Your Knowledge

The best way to control your weight when you quit smoking is to go on a diet.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    You should focus instead on eating healthy food and getting more exercise. It's hard enough to quit smoking. To go on a diet at the same time could lower your chances of success.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    It's hard enough to quit smoking. To go on a diet at the same time could lower your chances of success. Focus instead on eating healthy food and getting more exercise.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to control your weight as you quit smoking.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, make an appointment with your doctor and take the information with you. Your doctor may have more ideas on how to help you quit smoking and control your weight.

If you would like more information on quitting smoking, the following resources are available:

Organizations

American Cancer Society (ACS)
Phone: 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345)
TDD: 1-866-228-4327 toll-free
Web Address: www.cancer.org
 

The American Cancer Society (ACS) conducts educational programs and offers many services to people with cancer and to their families. Staff at the toll-free numbers have information about services and activities in local areas and can provide referrals to local ACS divisions.


American Lung Association
1301 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Suite 800
Washington, DC  20004
Phone: 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872)
1-800-548-8252 (to speak with a lung professional)
(212) 315-8700
Web Address: www.lungusa.org
 

The American Lung Association provides programs of education, community service, and advocacy. Some of the topics available include asthma, tobacco control, emphysema, asbestos, carbon monoxide, radon, and ozone.


National Network of Tobacco Cessation Quitlines
Phone: 1-800-784-8669 or 1-800-QUITNOW
 

The toll-free number is a single access point to the National Network of Tobacco Cessation Quitlines. Callers are automatically routed to a state-run quitline, if one exists in their area. If there is no state-run quitline, callers are routed to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) quitline, where they may receive help with quitting smoking, informational materials, and referrals to other resources.


Return to topic:

References

Citations

  1. Pisinger C (2007). Waist circumference and weight following smoking cessation in a general population: The Inter99 study. Preventive Medicine, 44(4): 290–295.
  2. Eisenberg D, Quinn BC (2006). Estimating the effect of smoking cessation on weight gain: An instrumental variable approach. Health Services Research, 41(6): 2255–2266.

Other Works Consulted

  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (2006). You Can Control Your Weight as You Quit Smoking (NIH Publication No. 03-4159). Bethesda, MD: Weight-Control Information Network. Also available online: http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/smoking.htm.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2004). The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. Also available online: www.cdc.gov/tobacco/sgr/sgr_2004.

Last Updated: July 22, 2009

Author: Bets Davis, MFA

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & John Hughes, MD - Psychiatry

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