Avoiding the Pounds: Quitting Smoking & Weight Gain
There are numerous reasons to quit smoking. Smoking causes lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and a whole host of other health problems. Quitting can help prevent these serious conditions, so the downside to ditching tobacco would seem to be nil.
Some smokers hesitate to quit however, due to concerns about weight gain. It’s a commonly held belief that smokers who quit gain a lot of weight after giving up tobacco. There is some validity to this idea. According to dietitians at the University of Birmingham, the average weight gain during the first year after quitting is around 11 pounds. While this isn’t a huge amount of weight, it’s enough to scare some into continuing to smoke.
What Causes Weight Gain While Quitting?
There are several potential reasons someone may gain a small amount of weight after quitting. One potential cause is that nicotine, the stimulant found in tobacco products, speeds the metabolism slightly. Once the nicotine is stopped, the metabolism may slow to some degree, and weight gain is the result.
Others theorize that weight gain may occur because nicotine withdrawals cause mood swings and dips in the “feel good” neurotransmitter, serotonin. Eating foods rich in sugar or carbohydrates can help improve mood temporarily, but they also lead to weight gain.
Others may simply consume more calories because they are bored. During usual smoke breaks, those who are quitting may turn to snacks to fill the void.
Is Weight Gain a Concern?
The amount of weight most people gain after quitting is not substantial enough to worry about from a health perspective. This may not be the case for those who are already overweight or obese, but for most individuals the slight increase in weight will not have a huge impact on health. In any case, even in those who can’t afford to gain the extra pounds, the added weight is going to be less harmful than smoking.
Can Weight Gain be Prevented?
Weight gain while quitting doesn’t have to be the rule. There are several factors which may play into whether or not someone gains weight while quitting tobacco.
First, many smokers are already eating an unhealthy diet. Overconsumption of processed foods, sugar, and refined carbohydrates will lead to weight gain in anyone. In some cases, the nicotine metabolism boost leads to an artificially slimmer body in those who do not eat very well. These individuals would do well to avoid unhealthy foods in order to prevent weight gain, although changing one’s diet can be difficult. This would only be compounded by quitting tobacco at the same time. Trying to give up junk food and cigarettes at once is too much for many people to handle, making this solution impractical in the long-term.
Using a nicotine substitute may also help to alleviate most of the symptoms linked to weight gain in those who want to quit without putting on the pounds. Nicotine replacement therapies and products will be first small step to a big success.
Overall, the key to preventing weight gain while quitting is the same as for anything else: a healthy diet and an exercise program.