Quitting smoking and weight gain

Quitting smoking and weight gain

Smokers are more likely to develop fat around the organs.

Quitting smoking and weight gain

Smokers are more likely to develop belly fat and fat around the organs – the ‘apple’ body shape. This unhealthy fat distribution is linked to stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Quitting smoking can actually reduce this belly and organ fat, decreasing the health risks.

The average amount of weight gained after stopping smoking is about four to five kilograms over five years, although many people do not put on weight. There are also steps you can take to reduce weight gain (see below). In terms of heart health, you would have to gain more than 40 kilograms over your recommended weight to equal the risk of heart disease posed by smoking.

If your concerns about weight gain are related to your appearance rather than your health, keep in mind that quitting smoking can improve your appearance:

  • healthier looking hair, skin, nails and eyes
  • fewer wrinkles
  • lower chance of acne and psoriasis
  • whiter teeth
  • finger staining gone.

One thing at a time …
How to avoid or reduce weight gain when quitting smoking
Why do people put on weight when they quit smoking?
Eating more when you are quitting smoking
Nicotine withdrawal
Amanda’s story

One thing at a time …

Trying to make too many changes in your life at one time can make quitting harder. Be patient – once you are confident about your non-smoking status, then you can deal with any weight you may have gained. For motivation, see Amanda’s story.

How to avoid or reduce weight gain when quitting smoking

There are ways to avoid or reduce weight gain when quitting smoking:

  • Do some exercise. This could be walking instead of catching the bus or joining a gym or a sports team. You will find exercising is easier once you have stopped smoking.
  • Have healthy craving busters on hand such as nuts, fresh fruit or raw vegetable sticks.
  • Try to eat smaller portions of food. Remember, it takes 20 minutes to feel full after eating. Take a break such as a walk after your main meal and see if you are still hungry after half an hour. If you are, have a healthy snack.
  • Food may taste better, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat more of it. Chew your food slowly and mindfully to savour each mouthful.
  • Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink. Alcohol-based drinks contain a lot of calories and drinking may result in a ‘slip up’.
  • Get some support from a dietitian, other health professional or the Quitline (13 7848).
  • Use nicotine patches in combination with a faster-acting type of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as gum or an inhalator to keep cravings under control. The better you are feeling, the easier it will be to manage what you eat.
  • Instead of replacing cigarettes with food:
    • chew on sugar-free gum or toothpick
    • keep your hands busy with a stress ball, doodling pictures, or a hobby such as knitting or fixing something.
    • in times of stress, go for a walk, do some stretches or try out a mindfulness exercise.
Why do people put on weight when they quit smoking?

There are two main causes of weight gain associated with quitting smoking:

  • eating more
  • nicotine withdrawal.
Eating more when you are quitting smoking

You may eat more when you are quitting smoking for a variety of reasons:

  • Nicotine withdrawal can feel like hunger pangs, fooling you into eating more.
  • If you are missing the hand-to-mouth action of putting a cigarette in your mouth, you may use food as a replacement.
  • Food can be used as a comfort, a distraction to get through cravings, or a reward when you are going through a tough time.
  • Some smokers regularly replace meals with cigarettes. Once the cigarettes are gone, you will probably want to have meals to feel satisfied.
  • Food generally tastes better once you quit smoking, making it tempting to eat more.
Nicotine withdrawal

Nicotine can have an effect on metabolism – the body’s system for processing food. According to research, people who quit smoking may put on weight even if they don’t change what they are eating because their metabolism can be affected when they do not have nicotine.

Amanda’s story

Successful quitter Amanda empathises with individuals who put on weight while quitting, but says weight gain can also be addressed. Almost every time Amanda tried to quit smoking, she put on weight. “I decided I had to quit smoking before I addressed the weight issue – one thing at a time,” she said. A few years after quitting smoking for good, Amanda was ready to deal with the weight she had put on during her previous quit smoking attempts. With the knowledge and mental strength she’d gained from all her quit smoking attempts, she was well equipped to take on and successfully overcome her weight gain.

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