Dealing With Weight Gain After Quitting Smoking

For many smokers, just the thought of weight gain after quitting smoking is enough to put them off the process entirely. However, smoking can impact your weight in a number of ways and can actually help you lose weight long term.

While weight gain may be considered unhealthy in general, the benefits of quitting smoking far outweigh the negatives and quitting today can help you stay healthy for years to come.

So, why does stopping smoking make you gain weight? And how can you actually lose weight by giving up the habit for good?

Here, we look at how smoking and quitting lead to changes in weight and how you can take control of your withdrawal symptoms to manage these changes and quit smoking for good.

Will I Experience Weight Gain After Quitting Smoking?

There are lots of misconceptions about smoking and weight changes, with many people concerned about weight gain after quitting smoking.
While there are a number of factors that could lead to weight gain when you quit, by recognising them ahead of time you can take action to prevent excessive weight gain. These factors include:

  • Smoking speeds up your metabolism
  • Smoking suppresses your appetite
  • Food may taste better, and you may crave sugary or fatty foods after quitting
  • You may mistake nicotine cravings for hunger pangs
  • You may replace the habit of smoking with that of snacking

It’s important to remember that quitting smoking will have a huge impact on your body and affect different people in different ways.

But why exactly do you put on weight when you stop smoking?

To answer this question, let’s take a look at how smoking can influence metabolism and appetite and how quitting can result in weight changes.

Smoking and Your Metabolism

When you smoke, the harmful chemicals and nicotine from the cigarette combine to speed up your metabolism, with some people showing up to a 10% increase in metabolic rates [1]. This means that smokers generally don’t put on weight in the same way as non-smokers, with their increased metabolic rate burning calories at a faster pace[2].This increased metabolic rate is also why many people associate smoking with weight loss.

When you stop smoking, you may experience weight gain as your metabolism begins to revert to a more natural rate. While you may dread the prospect of gaining weight, the fact that your body is reverting to a more natural cycle is a good thing, and if you take steps to mitigate any extra weight gain after quitting smoking, you will be significantly healthier than if you continued smoking.

Smoking and Your Appetite

Smoking affects your appetite in a variety of ways, and there are both physical and psychological factors to consider when answering the question “why do you gain weight when you quit smoking?”.

Firstly, nicotine works as an appetite suppressor by influencing the hypothalamic melanocortin system[3]. While you may be tempted to ask “does continuing smoking make you lose weight?”, there is actually little proof that the habit keeps you slim[4].

When you stop smoking, however, you may find that your appetite increases as nicotine levels decrease. This means you are more likely to want to eat once you have quit, which could cause 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. You might 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 buds [5], meaning food will taste better and you’re more likely to want to eat more.

Finally, the simple habit of moving a cigarette to your mouth can lead to you subconsciously trying to replace this action with snacking when you quit, 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.

Quitting Smoking to Lose Weight

On average, most smokers who stop the habit will gain some weight in the first few months of their quitting journey. However, quitting smoking can actually contribute to long term weight loss.

Everyone’s metabolism is different, and returning yours to a more natural cycle without the stimulating effect of nicotine will provide a healthier lifestyle that may help you to maintain a healthier weight throughout your life. In fact, in one study, 16% to 21% of smokers lost weight after 12 months of being smoke-free.[6]

Your new healthier lifestyle may allow you to lose weight more quickly than if you were still smoking. For example, when you quit, your lung capacity will increase and circulation will improve, allowing you to exercise more easily and lose any extra weight you gained at the start of your quitting journey.[7]

Steps to Take to Stop Smoking and Lose Weight Today

Ready to start your quitting journey but still concerned about weight changes?

Don’t worry!

There are plenty of steps you can take to minimise the chances of weight gain after quitting smoking that target both your appetite and your metabolism. These include:

  • Exercise – regular exercise will help mitigate any weight gain from quitting smoking by raising your metabolism. The added bonus is that exercise can help you deal with withdrawal symptoms and cravings, while also making you feel generally healthier. [8]
  • Eat healthilyplanning your meals, controlling your portions, and eating lots of fruit and vegetables can help you control your weight after quitting smoking and minimise overeating.
  • Chew gum – gum can help you manage 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 should help you minimise weight gain while also making you feel healthier.
  • Use NRT – 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, especially when it comes to quitting smoking and weight gain. Putting on some weight after you stop smoking is completely normal, and the benefits to your overall health that come from quitting can far outweigh a little weight gain, which may only be temporary anyway.

By following the steps above, you can reduce any excess weight gain after quitting smoking and work towards becoming healthier in every aspect of your life.

Making lifestyle changes as soon as you quit will help you maintain a healthy way of life after withdrawal symptoms and cravings have passed.
For more information and advice on quitting smoking, speak to your pharmacist about NRT products or contact the NHS stop smoking service in your area.

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