Lots of smokers worry about gaining weight when they quit smoking.1 Some people worry about it so much, they never actually quit!
It’s important to remember that most ex-smokers only gain a modest amount of weight2, the average amount being 5kg in the first year after quitting and 6–7kg overall.2But don't despair, even if you do put on a few kilos, some small changes to your diet and a bit of exercise can make all the difference.3
The big question: Is quitting really worth it?
The answer is a resounding YES. Any weight you may gain is marginal compared to the health benefits of quitting. In fact, you would need to put on over 40kg more than your healthy weight to equal the risk of heart disease caused by smoking!2
Smoking changes your body and how it works. Women who smoke tend to put on fat around their waist. Not only is this how men distribute fat – we’re all familiar with the beer belly – but it is associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even death. Once you quit, any weight a woman gains will be distributed in a healthier pattern, with preference to her hips, rather than her belly.2
If you’re still worried about potential weight gain, then you should consider some of the other benefits of quitting:4
- your skin will look younger
- you can avoid staining your fingers and teeth
- you will have better breath
- your hair and clothes will smell better.
Why do people gain weight when they quit smoking?
There are a few reasons why people put on weight when they quit. Some are because of nicotine, and some are because of habit.
- Nicotine speeds up your metabolism. Without cigarettes, your body burns food more slowly.4
- Smoking reduces your appetite and dulls your taste.When you quit smoking you might find that you are hungrier, but you’ll also find that your food will taste better.3,4
- The habit. When you quit, you might not know what to do with your hands without the hand to mouth action of smoking. You might also miss the ‘reward’ that nicotine gives after a smoke. The natural replacement for both is often food – eating fulfils the urge to do something with your hands. All of this extra food could contribute to weight gain.5
What can I do about it?
There’s lots you can do before and after you quit. The first is all about attitude. Think about being as healthy as you can be.2Once you’re in that mindset, try a few of these tips:
- Exercise. Take advantage of your newly improved lung function and enjoy becoming more active. Not only does exercise help you burn calories, it can help ward off cravings for unhealthy foods and unhealthy cigarettes.4
- Plan, plan, plan. Write a shopping list, plan your meals and snacks before you get to the supermarket. Stock your fridge with plenty of fruits and veggies and other foods that you enjoy. Include lots of healthy foods to help keep your hands busy throughout the day. Try carrot sticks, apple slices or small serves of raw nuts. If you want to keep your mouth busy too, you might want to pick up some sugar-free chewing gum.4
- Don’t let hunger take over. If you get to that point where you could eat anything…anything at all, you’ve gone too far and you’re more likely to gorge on unhealthy foods. When you plan your meals, make sure you pick foods that will fill you up, and keep you full. Eating healthy doesn’t mean being hungry.4
- Manage your drinks too. Alcohol, soft drinks and fruit juices are packed with calories and can lead to weight gain. Try drinking water instead – not only will it keep you hydrated, it can boost your metabolism as well.4,6
- Get enough sleep. Believe it or not, people who regularly miss out on a good night’s sleep are more likely to put on weight. Another good reason to get your nightly beauty rest.4
If you find it difficult to quit smoking and maintain your weight at the same time, do your best not to worry about it. Focus on quitting first.2 That’s the most important thing. Once you’ve mastered that, you can begin to introduce some small changes into your life that will help you to manage your weight too.3
Quitting smoking has so many benefits for you and your family. Don’t let a few kilos stop you from enjoying a smoke- and nicotine-free life.
If you're ready to quit smoking, it's well worth making an appointment to see your doctor, who can help you with a plan to quit smoking and manage potential weight gain.