The good news for anyone considering quitting is that weight gain linked to smoking cessation is not an inevitability, and there are plenty of ways for you to quit for good without gaining weight. Here, we look at why smoking and weight gain are often linked, what you can do to prevent piling on the pounds, and how you can take control of your withdrawal symptoms and quit smoking for good.
Does Quitting Smoking Lead to Weight Gain?
The short answer to this question is no, not necessarily. The longer answer involves looking into the mechanisms that drive weight gain after quitting smoking. There are a number of factors to consider when quitting, and by recognising them ahead of time you can take action to prevent weight gain. Factors include:
- Smoking speeds up your metabolism
- Smoking suppresses your appetite
- Food may taste better, and you may crave sugary of fatty foods after quitting
- You may mistake nicotine cravings for hunger pangs
- You may replace the habit of smoking with that of snacking
While all of these factors should be kept in mind when considering giving up smoking and weight gain, they can generally be split into two main categories that should be addressed separately. Here, we go into more detail about quitting smoking and weight gain so you can prepare for your stop smoking journey.
Smoking and Your Metabolism
When you smoke, the harmful chemicals and nicotine combine to speed up your metabolism, with some people showing up to 10% increase in metabolic rates1. This means that smokers generally don’t put on weight in the same way as non-smokers, with the increased metabolic rate burning calories at a faster pace.
When you quit smoking, your metabolism begins to revert to a more natural rate, and this is one of the reasons many smokers experience some kind of weight gain in the first few months of cessation. However, the fact that your body is reverting to a more natural cycle is generally considered a good thing, and as long as you take steps to mitigate weight gain when you quit smoking, you will be significantly healthier than if you continued.
Smoking and Your Appetite
Smoking affects your appetite in a variety of ways, and there are both physical and psychological factors to consider relating to weight gain and stopping smoking. Firstly, you may find that your appetite increases when you quit since nicotine works as an appetite suppressor by influencing the hypothalamic melanocortin system2. This means you are more likely to want to eat once you have quit, a clear factor for unwanted weight gain.
Secondly, as you deal with smoking withdrawal symptoms, you may find that your appetite changes as you try to replace the missing nicotine. This means you may crave sugary or fatty foods, as well as generally feeling hungrier more often. Additionally, studies have shown that smoking cessation leads to rapid recovery of the taste buds3, meaning that food will taste better and you’re more likely to eat more.
Finally, the simple yet habitual action of moving a cigarette to your mouth can have some surprising consequences. Many smokers discover that they subconsciously try to replace this action with snacking, keeping both your hands and mouth busy during nicotine withdrawal. This can have the unintended effect of weight gain, particularly if you are snacking on unhealthy foods.
How to Minimise Weight Gain After Quitting Smoking
There are plenty of steps you can take to minimise your chances of gaining weight after quitting smoking that target both your appetite and your metabolism. In fact, building lifestyle changes during this time that you can continue even after you have dealt with the withdrawal symptoms and cravings will ensure you remain healthy and give your body the best chance of recovery beyond the timeline for smoking cessation.
- Exercise – Regular exercise will help mitigate any weight gain while quitting smoking by raising your metabolism. The added bonus is that exercise can help you deal with withdrawal symptoms and cravings, while also helping you feel generally healthier
- Eat Healthily – Buying healthy produce and snacks, planning your meals, controlling your portions, and eating lots of fruit and vegetables can help you control your weight after quitting smoking and minimize overeating.
- Chew Gum – Gum can help with your appetite while also keeping your mouth busy for prolonged periods of time.
- Get Plenty of Rest – Sleep helps your body regulate your metabolism, so getting plenty of rest will help you minimize weight gain while also making you feel healthier.
- Use NRT – Nicotine replacement therapy helps you deal with withdrawal symptoms and may help you control your appetite during your stop smoking journey.
It is important that you approach your decision to stop smoking with positivity, and when it comes to weight gain and quitting smoking, you can rest assured that it is not an inevitability. Additionally, the benefits of quitting far outweigh a little weight gain, and by implementing the steps above, you can work towards becoming healthier in every aspect of your life.
For more information and advice on quitting smoking, speak to you pharmacist about NRT products or contact the NHS stop smoking service in your area.