quit smoking without gaining weight
One of the biggest fears smokers have about quitting is that they will gain weight. We hear horror stories of quitters putting twenty, thirty or even forty pounds on, and worry that the same will happen to us.
But is it really necessary to put weight on when you quit smoking? And does weight gain depend on the method used to stop? I believe there are three main reasons that many people gain weight when they quit smoking.
The first is that for many people, physical withdrawal from nicotine feels a lot like a hunger pang. In the period immediately after quitting, smokers going through withdrawal find themselves feeling ‘hungry’, when in fact they are experiencing a nicotine pang. So essentially, they get tricked into eating when they aren’t genuinely hungry.
This is actually what is behind the myth of the cigarette as an appetite suppressant. Smokers give the cigarette the credit for removing a ‘hunger’ pang when they weren’t actually hungry!
The second is the myth of the cigarette as something to speed the metabolism up. It is true that smoking elevates the metabolic rate, but only by a very small amount (1-2%) and it does it in the most dangerous way imaginable: by clogging up your bloodstream, elevating heart rate and blood pressure and by dumping adrenaline – the fight or flight chemical – into the bloodstream. Does this sound like relaxation or stress relief to you? It sounds like the recipe for a heart attack to me!
This extra burden on the metabolic system has the effect of burning off around 100 additional calories per day, so it is not as if smokers have this fabulous fat-burning capacity just because they smoke. If that were true you would never see an overweight smoker and there are certainly plenty of those around!
Whilst these myths may account for some modest weight gain, they are not sufficient to explain why we hear stories of people putting large amounts of weight on. This is explained by our third reason: that the vast majority of people who quit smoking – whether they do it on their own or use a quit smoking aid or medication – do so without addressing the beliefs they have about smoking that create their desire to smoke. For example, the belief that smoking helps them relax or cope with stress.
As a result of this, when they quit they feel deprived. Part of them wants to quit, but part wants to smoke because they still believe that the cigarette provided some benefit, pleasure or crutch. This emotional conflict creates symptoms of fear, anxiety, edginess and irritability. They feel like they’ve lost their best friend and they look for a substitute. In many cases, perhaps because of the hand-mouth connection which resembles smoking, the substitute they use is food.
To make sure you don’t gain weight when you quit, follow these three simple steps:
- Understand that physical withdrawal from nicotine, which lasts around three days, can sometimes feel a bit like hunger, so before tucking into that extra snack ask yourself whether you are genuinely hungry or whether it could just be a nicotine pang
- Realize that being a smoker put a substantial burden onto your metabolism, and used up around 100 calories a day. To retain your body weight at its current level as a non-smoker you may need to reduce your intake of calories by around 100. Alternatively, you can get a bit more physically active and burns those 100 calories off. As a non-smoker, you will have much more energy, so this is probably your best option and exercise of course has many other benefits too…
- Don’t substitute. By quitting smoking you haven’t lost a friend, you’ve killed an enemy. Take this attitude to quitting and there will be no sense of deprivation and therefore no desire to substitute food for cigarettes.