Smoking Cessation and Weight Gain

Dr. Jeffrey Heit Health Guide
  • Many patients I have had who are smokers lament about the "inevitable" weight gain that accompanies smoking cessation. Certainly, patients who are already overweight are concerned about more weight gain. The truth is, it is not uncommon to gain 5-15 lbs. once smoking has stopped- but is the weight gain truly inevitable? And, if so, what can you do about it?

     

    First, we must understand why people tend to gain weight once they stop smoking. There are a number of reasons. Firstly, nicotine is a stimulant. Hence, it revs up metabolism and may have a hand in burning calories. Moreover, nicotine acts as an appetite suppressant- remove the suppressant, and appetite increases along with weight.

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    Second, some people miss the habit of "having something in their hands" or "putting something to their mouths". The act of eating can sometimes provide a "substitute" for smoking and people can find that comforting.

     

    Thirdly, smokers have reported that food actually tastes and smells better once the aroma of tobacco and smoke is no longer with them. Frankly, they just enjoy food more than they did when they smoked. Also, those who turned to smoking during stressful situations may turn to food instead.  So, while weight gain may not be inevitable for all those who quit smoking, it remains quite likely that most people who stop smoking will, in fact gain weight.

     

    That's the bad news. Here's the good news. For many who gain weight after smoking cessation, it may turn out to be a temporary thing. Most people, who gain weight after smoking, do so in the first six months after quitting. As they adjust to being a non-smoker, their weight tends to return to where it was before they quit. In other words, the weight gain may be temporary. One or two years later it is quite likely the person will be close to pre-cessation weight- which brings me to my next point.

     

    It is pretty common for smokers to use potential weight gain as an excuse to not try quitting. "Oh, I've tried quitting before and I blew up", they say. Now, they're wrong on two counts. First, the weight gain is probably temporary. Second, the risks of continued smoking far outweigh the risks of the extra 5-15 lbs. of weight put on. I frequently tell patients that they're better off a little heavier and not smoking than the other way around. If one is already obese, smoking simply makes matters much worse. Risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke are significantly elevated.

     

    If you are obese and smoke, you're turning yourself into a time bomb. Quit as soon as you can. It may help to be aware of the likely weight gain you'll experience. Be prepared for it and realize that the weight gain is likely temporary. It's very difficult to stop smoking and diet at the same time. One vice at a time I always say. Also, realize that with the cessation of smoking also comes more cardiovascular endurance- which should help with an exercise regimen. That might also counteract some of the weight gain too. Of course, talk with your primary care provider about the options available to you and what course of action might be the best in your particular case.

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    Check out our smoking cessation site StopSmokingConnection.com.

Published On: September 18, 2008