Weight gain is a significant source of worry for many people who are quitting smoking. It is enough of a concern that some people as if they cannot quit smoking because of it. Scott McIntosh, PhD, who is the associate professor of community and preventative medicine at the University of Rochester in New York, has much to say on the topic. Scott says, “That’s a bad idea for many reasons.” The director of the Greater Rochester Arena Tobacco Cessation Center also says, ““Not every smoker who quits gains weight. Even those who do tend to gain on average, just 4 to 10 pounds.” Read on to learn the truth about smoking, metabolism, and weight gain.
How Smoking Affects Metabolism
Nicotine, the main chemical found in cigarettes, has been shown to boost metabolism directly. This increases the amount of calories burned by the body, both at rest and when active. Researchers have been able to identify that most individuals experience a heart rate boost of up to 20 beats per minute, right after they smoke a cigarette. This gives the body a slight stimulant effect, but it can also trigger heart disease in the body. This can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. However, when you stop smoking, this increase drops back to normal fairly quickly. The problem occurs when most smokers continue to eat an increased level of food, as would be required when they were smoking. Because the metabolism is back to normal, pounds can be accumulated.
Defeat Weight Gain by Eating Smarter
There’s no need to fear that weight gain after quitting smoking is a fact. There are many ways to prevent weight gain when you quit. The most important thing for you to remember is to be smart about the foods you eat, and to be aware that your metabolism may be slower than before. Many people also turn to food to assuage the oral fixation that smoking resolves. There are other ways to assuage these needs without turning to food. And turning to food can be a perfectly reasonable way to help yourself to quit smoking, if you choose the correct foods. Try any or all of the following:
- Low-calorie gum and candy
- Cut up crunchy vegetables, like celery or carrots
- Green, red, or yellow peppers
- Sliced fruit
You will probably need to try a few different foods or items before you find one that works well for you. Some smokers may prefer sweeter foods, while others may find sweet foods trigger nicotine cravings. the important thing is that you find foods that balance nutritional needs with the need to quit smoking and sway cravings. Although researchers aren’t sure why, it appears that foods that must be peeled, unwrapped, or otherwise prepared seem to work better for this purpose than those that do not.
Crash Diets Are Dangerous and Ineffective
Healthy eating doesn’t mean going on a sudden crash diet as you are quitting smoking. It means choosing foods that fill nutritional needs, while balancing your desire to soothe cravings. Low-calorie, low-fat foods are the best choice for this purpose, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t need to eat healthy, whole meals. Try to stick to your original eating style as often as possible. “Quitting is tough enough without adding the stress of extreme dieting,” says Steven Schroeder, MD, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of San Francisco. If you do gain a small amount of weight, it’s ok not to panic about it. A small amount of weight gain is usually not significant enough to cause serious health issue, and you will have plenty of time to focus on losing it once you are free from nicotine and cigarettes. Don’t beat yourself up for weight gain during a time when you are already highly sensitive.
Keeping Yourself Occupied
When a craving to smoke hits, try to distract yourself from the urge for at least five minutes. Try to make a list of things you can do to distract yourself before these issues occur. Try to engage in non-eating activities prior to giving into food cravings to solve your nicotine withdrawal. Because exercise can be a great way to stop cravings, consider walking, or engaging in another physical activity you enjoy. Also consider any of the following activities:
- Watching a movie
- Going to the library to read
- Visiting art galleries
- Going to the zoo
- Going to a play
- Calling a friend
Many public spaces now have laws against smoking. This means that just moving into those public spaces can mean that you may not smoke.
How Your Doctor Can Help
Your doctor can help in a number of different ways. Products and prescription medications are available that can help you during the quitting process. For example, Champix, also known as bupropion, is a prescription medication that can keep weight off and stop nicotine cravings from occurring. Fluoxetine, an antidepressant medication, can also have this benefit for many people. Your doctor can also help you to access therapy, if you both agree that it is something that may benefit you.
Keep Your Health in Perspective
Remember: don’t stress yourself out over gains of a small amount. Weight that is gained during the quitting process can usually be lost quite easily. In the end, gaining a few pounds is a reasonable trade-off for finally being free of cigarettes.