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How can I avoid putting on weight when I quit smoking?

Posted by Be Well

How can I avoid putting on weight when I quit smoking?
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Some people find that when they quit smoking, they put on weight.

The main physical reason is that nicotine is a stimulant, which means it speeds up the rate at which your body burns calories. So when you give up, your body doesn't burn as many calories as it did when you were a smoker.

This means if you carry on eating the same amount and type of food as before, you may find that your body takes longer to burn calories and you put on weight.

If you are planning to give up, bear in mind that this may happen, and get into the habit of eating healthier foods and exercising more.

However, weight gain can be due to a number of other, psychological reasons.

If you are in the process of quitting smoking and are worried about weight gain, identify which of the following triggers is likely to affect you. Once you have identified the potential trigger you can take steps to prevent any weight gain before it happens!

Reducing stress

Quitting smoking can be stressful at first. Nicotine affects levels of the chemicals dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain. When you quit smoking, the levels are altered again, which causes you to feel irritable and stressed.

Some people find that when they are stressed they tend to snack on unhealthy foods such as chocolate, cookies and chips for comfort.

To combat this, try to find other ways to reduce your stress. You could:

  • exercise,
  • listen to your favorite music,
  • try massage techniques with your partner,
  • have a long, relaxing bubble bath,
  • talk to someone you trust about your stress, or
  • ask your doctor about other ways to cope with your anxious feelings.

Something to do

After being a smoker, you may be so used to holding a cigarette in your hand and bringing it up to your mouth to smoke it, that not having anything to hold feels a little strange.

Many ex-smokers find that they want to keep their hands and mouth busy, and so end up eating more than they did as a smoker.

Try holding a pencil in your hand instead. Or you could cut a straw into a cigarette sized piece and hold that in your mouth.

If you are in the process of giving up, and feel caught between two evils (smoking and constant snacking), you could try nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) inhalers.

These provide you with the nicotine that you are craving, without the tar and chemicals that are found in cigarettes. They also provide you with a way to keep your hands and mouth busy so you are less likely to turn to food. Make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions on the correct dose.

Old habits die hard

It could be that at times when you would have smoked before, you now feel a little restless. Maybe you used to head outside on your breaks at work and smoke. Or, maybe you liked to sit in the pub with a drink and a cigarette.

Once the cigarettes have gone, the void is filled with food. You could eat more at work for something to do, or end up having a bag of chips in the pub, where before you would have smoked. Find ways to break the cycle:

  • ask yourself, 'am I hungry or just eating this for the sake of it',
  • find a new hobby that you enjoy and will keep you busy,
  • try exercising more, or
  • work out what situations trigger your snacking and avoid them - this could mean avoiding going to the pub for a while, or chatting with colleagues on breaks to keep yourself occupied.

If you are craving a cigarette, and are determined not to have one, brilliant! However, you may end up craving food as a substitute, or 'reward' for your good behavior.

Cravings usually pass after ten minutes so take a few deep breaths, and try to think of something else entirely!

When you eat, eat well

Smoking dulls your sense of taste and smell. It also dulls your appetite. So it's no wonder that when you give up, your tastebuds reawaken and you find yourself enjoying food more. This is great news! Except sometimes you may end up overeating, or eating the wrong foods.

The first rule is, only eat when you are actually hungry. Try not to constantly snack out of boredom or as a way of replacing cigarettes.

Also try to stick to healthy foods. Everyone should be getting five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

So, if you want something to keep your hands and mouth busy, snack on those! You could also try nibbles such as nuts and seeds.

It will also help if you exercise more! Try swimming, jogging, walking, or taking up a new sport or activity. Keeping busy will take your mind off your cigarette and food cravings, and will also help you stay in shape.

Further information:

Will I put on weight if I quit smoking?
What is a healthy well balanced diet?

Can NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) be addictive?
Smoking (quitting)


NOTICE: The information provided on this site is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your physician or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on Wellsphere. If you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
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