Everyone dreads weight gain, smoker or not. But as a smoker, maintaining your weight can be especially challenging when you quit.
It's fairly common to gain weight after you stop smoking, especially in the first few months. Smokefree.gov reports four out of every five people who stop smoking gain some weight. However, six months after quitting, most people have lost at least some of the weight that they gained.
It is important to know that you can quit smoking and control your weight. It may take some time and effort, but it can be done.
Research shows that nicotine from tobacco boosts the body's metabolic rate, increasing the number of calories it burns. Immediately after you smoke a cigarette, your heart rate increases by 10 to 20 beats a minute. When you quit smoking, your appetite and metabolism return to normal - which may lead you to eat more and burn fewer calories. Even after just two days of no smoking, nerve endings start regenerating and your sense of taste is enhanced. This can make food more appealing, which may lead you to eat more. And if you substitute snacking for smoking, the calories add up quickly.
To avoid weight gain when you quit smoking, it's important to recognize your smoking rituals - smoking after meals, social situations, stress relief throughout the day - and make alternative activities part of your stop-smoking plan. A few suggestions from the American Heart Association include:
- Get moving. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Regular exercise not only burns calories but also helps relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
- Choose healthy snacks. If you're hungry between meals, or craving your regular post-meal smoke break, opt for snacks such as fresh fruit or canned fruit packed in its own juices, low-fat air-popped popcorn or fat-free yogurt.
- Be smart about what you put in your mouth. Miss the habit of lighting a cigarette and putting it in your mouth? If you feel the need for what some smokers call "oral gratification," choose low-calorie or zero-calorie options like sugar-free gum and candies or celery and carrot sticks.
Experts agree that quitting is tough enough without the added stress of weight gain. Once you have successfully broken the addiction to tobacco, you can work on losing any weight you've gained. Above all, remember that the health benefits of being smoke-free far exceed the problems associated with even moderate weight gain.