Best Ways to Avoid Gaining Weight When You Quit Smoking

Many newly quit smokers eat when they want a cigarette
Many newly quit smokers eat when they want a cigarette | Source

Why You Gain Weight When You Quit Smoking

© Roberta Kyle 2012, all rights reserved

Gaining weight, or the fear of it, is the biggest stumbling block most people encounter in their attempts to unhook themselves from a smoking addiction. Women are traditionally twice as fearful of weight gain as men, but it is a real consideration for both genders.

Gaining weight really doesn't have to be a deal breaker, but it increases your chances of success to know what you are up against and to know that you are dealing with powerful physiological forces when you quit smoking and not just your own willpower.

There are real bio-chemical reasons why you gain weight during the process of quitting smoking. However, you are an individual and your age, gender, activity level, metabolism and how much and how long you have smoked are also part of the picture. Remember that when comparing your experience with quitting to that of somebody else.

Some people can quit cold turkey. Others need the help of Nicotine Replacement Therapy or a support group. Hypnosis, medications and acupuncture have worked for others. No matter what method or combination of methods you use to unload a smoking addiction, the fact of the matter is that you can succeed and you probably will gain at least a few pounds until your body gets used to not getting regular hits of nicotine-- you can lose whatever you gain, but not until your body has completely adjusted to being without nicotine and that can be a question of weeks, months, or in some cases years. Only 20% of smokers gain more than 10 lbs when they quit and even those who gain a lot of weight are able to lose it eventually and remain smoke free-- it just takes a little time and patience.

Everybody is different. The point is not to underestimate the power of nicotine and not to short change yourself by thinking that you are just weak willed if you start piling on the pounds and eating everything that is not nailed down. Get all thoughts of your willpower being the problem out of your head. This is addiction and bio-chemistry at work and it is stronger than you will ever have imagined. You can beat it, but you need to be informed about exactly what is going on in your body and plan accordingly. Do not, under any circumstances pick up a cigarette.

Great Cookbook for New Non-Smokers

The How to Quit Smoking and Not Gain Weight Cookbook
The How to Quit Smoking and Not Gain Weight Cookbook

I used this book and it helped me a lot. Filled with simple advice and easy recipes. It is well worth owning


Here's What Happens in Your Brain

Nicotine is a powerful drug which goes right for the centers of pleasure in the human brain and which changes the brain's chemistry big-time. 15 seconds after lighting up the smoker's brain gets a hit of the fight or flight hormone,Norepinephrine. This sends a heads up to the body to energize, become alert and stay vigilent.. It also speeds up the heart rate, spikes blood pressure and blood sugar. This is one of the contributing factors to the increased risk of heart attacks and strokes for long time smokers.

At the same time, nicotine stimulates the release of the feel good neuro-chemicals, Dopamine and Serotonin. These have a lot to do with mood, and emotions, as well as appetite and even sleeping well at night . An addicted smoker needs to maintain certain nicotine levels in the brain in order to function on a variety of levels. If a smoker does not get his jolt of nicotine when he needs it, things like headache,lethargy, fatigue, irritability and even nausea and depression set in. Cravings begin. Do you know that feeling that you must must must have a cigarette right NOW, because you absolutely cannot think about anything else until you have one?The brain starts sending desperate messages because it needs Dopamine and Serotonin It's called addiction.

Dopamine and Serotonin

Now, both Dopamine and Seritonin are involved in appetite and satiety as well as pleasure (surprise surprise) so for a variety of reasons, when a smoker can't get his hands on a cigarette, he may well start eating to try to stave off the withdrawal symptoms. Does that sound familiar? Are you beginning to get that smoking is much more than just a bad habit? There are powerful chemical and biological reasons why once you start smoking, and your brain chemistry has been changed, you absolutely NEED that hit of nicotine. Without it you get drowsy, grumpy, anxious and yes, HUNGRY. How entrenched the need is depends on a number of things including how heavy a smoker you are, how many years you have smoked and how old you were when you started.

On top of that, when you quit smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure go down, along with your metabolism, so your body isn't working quite as hard. The result is that you need, on average, 200 calories less a day than you did when you were smoking, just to stay even. Do the math and you'll see why almost every smoker who quits will gain at least some weight during the first few months without cigarettes.

Why You Want Sugar and Carbs

Your body is in shock after you quit smoking. It often cannot tell the difference between cigarette and food cravings which is why you may find yourself wanting to eat 24 and 7. Part of your desire to eat is just your normal appetite returning, but some of it is also your brain's desperate need to get it's nicotine fix and its supply of those neurotransmitters we were just talking about.

The connection between nicotine and neurotransmitters is why you feel jumpy, edgy and are constantly reaching for high carb and sugary things to stuff in your mouth at all hours of the day and night right after you quit in an effort to appease the brain's needs.The short term fix of a high carb or sugary snack wears off and leaves you even more irritable and hungry than you were and may even increase the cigarette cravings you are having too.

Eat a good, hi protein breakfast every morning
Eat a good, hi protein breakfast every morning | Source

A Few Simple Tips Can Help a Lot

If you follow a few simple rules in terms of eating, and if you can offset your calorie intake with energy outgo by upping your activity level, you may be able to manage to quit smoking and not gain any weight at all. You will surely minimize your weight gain and get healthier. What have you got to lose? Here's what you need to do.

  • Eat Breakfast This is the most important thing you can do for yourself from quit day on. Even if you never ate breakfast before,eat breakfast now. It's the best thing you can do to stabilize your blood sugar for the whole day. Stay away from donuts and danish and even too much coffee. Have an egg and whole grain toast or a bowl of oatmeal and fruit. You need a real stick to your ribs high protein breakfast to minimize your brain's discomfort and to keep your blood sugar from dropping till your next meal.
  • Eat Protein and Complex Carbs. What your brain is screaming for is serotonin. By eating complex carbohydrates(whole grains,legumes and green veggies) as well as protein (eggs,meat and fish) and staying away from sugars and processed carbs, you will remain satisfied and avoid blood sugar spikes that can lead to cigarette cravings, mood swings and food binges.
  • Eat Every Two to Four Hours. Three meals and two snacks should keep your blood sugar as even as possible and genuine hunger pangs at bay. This will minimize the desire to smoke. Suck on lifesavers or chew gum in between meals and snacks. Do not eat after 8pm at night and resist the urge to snack if you are having trouble sleeping.
  • Portion Control is Key Eat often, but eat mindfully and watch the size of your portions. Meat poultry and fish should be in 4oz portions, whole grains and legumes, one cup is one portion. Green veggies and fruits-- unlimited. Dairy and cheese-- eat sparingly.
  • Stay Away from Caffeine One cup of coffee in the morning won't kill you, but if the idea of coffee without a cigarette just doesn't cut it, drink tea instead. Ditch the soda(even diet) and power drinks too. They are of full of caffeine AND sugar or artificial sweeteners.
  • Drink lots of water. You need to stay well hydrated and to flush the toxins from your body( there are over 4,000 toxins and carcinogens in cigarette smoke) How many years were you inhaling that stuff into your lungs? Try for at least 6-8 glasses of water a day. This will help stabilize your body and keep both food and nicotine cravings down as well.
  • Avoid Fad Diets and Fasting. I shouldn't need to say that this is not the time to go on any kind of fad diet or to opt for a cleansing juice fast. Starving yourself will only lead to bingeing later and could lead to an eating disorder or food addiction.
  • Get More Exercise. You need to expend at least 200 calories more than you take in in order not to gain weight when you quit smoking. The easiest way to do it is to up your physical activity level by walking. Buy a pedometer or download an app that measures your pace and try to get up to 10,000 steps a day. If you are already active, get more active. If you are a couch potato get off the couch and go to the gym.. Physical activity will not only rev up your metabolism, it will calm you down and help quash cravings too
  • Get Enough Sleep Upping your physical activity should help with any insomnia quitting smoking brings on, but especially in the early weeks, pamper yourself a bit and be sure to get enough rest. Most adults need 7-8 hrs of sleep a night. Try to keep stress levels low and get to bed at a regular time. Sleep is an amazing restorative for the nicotine starved brain.

Quitting smoking is hard. Quitting smoking without gaining weight is even harder. But if you can stay positive, stay motivated you can do it. After all, millions of people have already done it. You are following in their footsteps. Use their experience to help you. Follow the simple suggestions for eating and exercise outlined here, ride through the cravings( they rarely last more than ten minutes) and just think about how great it will be to be a happy, healthy non smoker.


More How-To Hubs on Quitting

If you enjoyed this hub, I hope you'll want to read other hubs I've written about various aspects of quitting smoking. I'm not a medical professional. I am an ex smoker. I smoked heavily for more than 30 years. I tried everything -- cold turkey( not for me), acupuncture, hypnosis, support groups, therapy, herbal remedies, tranquilizers nicotine patches, gum and lozenges. You name it. I did it... over and over again.

I managed to stay smoke-free for varying lengths of time. Sometimes it was only a matter of hours or days, other times I put together months and even years, but every attempt at quitting taught me something. I finally quit for good in 2000. You can read more about what I learned along the way plus some interesting recent research by checking out the links below.

If you are quitting or thinking of it, there's information you can use there. Feel free to share your own experiences and tips or to leave a comment of any kind.

More Hubs on Quitting Smoking by Robie2

Five Good Reasons to Really Motivate You to Quit Smoking Now

The Truth About Why You Gain Weight When You Quit Smoking and What to Do

Are You Addicted to Nicotine Gum or Lozenges?

Why Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey Is So Hard And Tips For Success

Best Way to Really Quit Smoking

How Smoking Cigarettes Affects Young vs. Older Smokers

Plain-Packaging and Kids: The Case for Cigarettes Sold in A Plain Brown Wrapper


More by this Author

Comments 30 comments

Diane 4 years ago

Wow, what a treasure chest of information. I am quitting again after a recent relapse. I am certain I will be re-reading this as a reminder of what to expect and an explanation of what my body and brain is going through. I've added this to my FAVORITES so I can access it quickly. Thanks, Robie!

robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

My pleasure Diane. Keep on keeping on. You'll get there. You only have to succeed once and relapses are part of the learning process. Upwards and onwards and I''m glad you found this hub helpful

posts profile image

posts 4 years ago

Very insightful hub. Thankx for those points which i was unknown of. With the help of this hub, i think i need to update some posts in my blog as well..**thumbs up**

Mark Knowles profile image

Mark Knowles 4 years ago

I put quite a lot on when I quit and have still not dropped it all. How long have you been quit now?

robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thanks Posts for taking the time to read and comment and for the thumbs up:-)

Hi Mark-- I 've been quit since 2000, but it took me many tries to permanently get off tobacco. I was a heavy smoker for 30 years and quit numerous times-- once I went back after 4 years. The first time I managed to actually quit was for 6 months back in the late '80's and I gained a huge amount of weight( 50 or 60 lbs-- two or three dress sizes. I don't remember now). I've never taken all of it off, but I am down to what I consider acceptable for my height and age-- but I am still carrying about 20 extra pounds of avoirdupois.

I'm with Catherine de Neuve who observed that " at a certain age a woman has to choose between her ass and her face" I'd rather have a bit more meat on my bones and fewer wrinkles or at least that's my rationalization :)

Mark Knowles profile image

Mark Knowles 4 years ago

lol - Good for you. I am 3 years quit now after 36 years of smoking. I Gained 60 lbs and have onoy managed to lose 30.

Still feel better though. :D

robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Congrats on getting unhooked. I think that the heavier a smoker you are ( I was 2 and a half to 3 packs a day) and the younger you were when you started, the more weight you gain when you quit. Just personal observation-- no science behind this at all. The good news is you can lose most or all of it if you really want to.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks

Interesting hub about a dilemma many people face. Though I have never smoked, I imagine that part of the problem is also an adjustment to a lower metabolism, not just the desire to replace nicotine with carbs.

What might help to keep the metabolism high are two things:

1. weight training -- muscle increases metabolism and burns calories even when at rest.

2. High fat diet. You mentioned fish, eggs and meat as protein, but believe me, it's not the protein in these foods that helps-- it's the fat. Even if someone is vegetarian, they can get a high fat diet by eating nuts, sesame seed oil and by-product, such as tehina, olives and olive oil and other oily and fatty foods. Because the body burns calories just in digesting fat, the overall effect of a high fat diet is weight loss and stabilization.

robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Good points Aya-- yes, weight bearing exercise builds muscle and muscle uses more calories than fat so weight bearing exercise is great. As for fat-- right you are. What you don't want is saturated fat as in butter cream and whole milk or deep fried anything. What you do want are the good oils you mention. Thanks for sharing that.

mmsu profile image

mmsu 4 years ago from Pakistan

Good informational hub!!Well written.Voted up

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

You are one of those hubbers who I don't get notifications on....I'm a little annoyed by this. I don't know I'm missing hubs until someone comments on one of mine and then it dawns on me I haven't seen anything by them in awhile. The hub gods are not happy with me nor I them.

Great hub my friend; wonderful information and explanations.

robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Not to worry, Billybuc-- I'll just have to keep reading and commenting on your hubs which isn't a chore at all:-) Also, if you follow me, you should get notification. It's more likely that I don't write as often as I should-- I try for four a month, but don't always make it. Thanks for stopping by. It's always good to see you:-)

Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

I don't smoke but I know lots of people who smoke. And I'm sure they will find this useful. Sharing this hub socially.


anupma profile image

anupma 4 years ago from India

Smoking is injurious to health, everybody knows it. Even then some smoke. Your hub is so informative. People who smoke must read this hub. I am sure they will get much information and can be able to get rid of this habit.

Very informative hub.

Thump up all except funny. Sharing with my all friends and hope they will share to their friends.

Thanks for sharing.

Suzie HQ profile image

Suzie HQ 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

Hi robie2,

What a great article packed with great advice and tips written from experience. Good job have voted up more and shared!

robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi anupma and SuzieHQ-- glad you both stopped by and thanks for sharing this hub. I'm an ex smoker myself and know first hand how hard it is to kick the habit, but how wonderful it is when you finally manage to do it. Fear of gaining weight is such a big obstacle( especially for women) and most people who are quitting don't realize the facts.

KDuBarry03 4 years ago

I cannot lie when I say this: the process that goes into making a cigarette actually is disgusting. I'm definitely sharing this across all boards because the information in this article is so useful. Thank you for sharign this, robie2!

itsjustnormita profile image

itsjustnormita 3 years ago

This is a great hub, sure is a fact about the weight gain. I quit smoking last August. It was not easy. Two years before that, I was admitted to the emergency room. I thought I was having a heart attack. I was 38 at the time and I had unsually highblood pressure for someone my age. Well, so I thought I really was having a heart attack or stroke. My chest felt like someone was squeezing me with a vice. After all the questions and test were done, the doctor finally comes in the examining room. He asked me " Has anyone ever told you that you have asthma?" I replied "No. I just always had highblood pressure and they could never find out why. I was not over weight or too stressed. I always have a hard time working out, when I did. One Dr. Told me I just need more excersie. " Well, the pain in my chest ,he told me was being cause from my left lung was trying to colapse. Also , that I had broncoluar asthma from the smoking. He said to me, while I was being adminstered breathing treatment, " If you don't quit smoking , you will die from it. Next time you may not be so lucky." As hard as it hit me that day, I tried everything, to quit for 2 years. On and off quitting from 1 day up to 3 months. Thankfully, in August of last year, I finally quit. I still want a cigarette sometimes. I realized, Iwill always be a smoker, just never will I smoke again. I did gain the wieght, I gained about 40lbs or so. I was no longer the same person, I refused to pick up smoking again, for the sake of my girls, my dad and my new love, who also quit smoking after over 20 years of smoking. He saw I did it, he didn't want tobring me down. We both quit, we both gain weight. It was kinda funny at first, cause we met each other thin, now we not. Since then, I started and exercise and diet plan and he also he gone back to his normal weight. It was not an easy road and anyone who thinks it is just that easy to stop smoking, they have no idea.

robie2 profile image

robie2 3 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi itsjustnormita and thank you so much for your long and wonderful comment-- oh and congratulations to you and your guy on quitting. Don't worry about the weight. It will come off, I promise. I smoked for over 30 years and quit numerous times-- once for four years and then went back. I was a heavy smoker and started when I was very young so I gained 60 lbs-- most of which came off eventually-- but it did take several years and to be honest, I never did get rid of that last 15 lbs but I really don't care. I like to quote Catherine de Neuve who said " at a certain age a woman has to choose between her ass and her face" I chose my face:-)

itsjustnormita profile image

itsjustnormita 3 years ago

LOL, that is funny, I live by that moto.. I tell my girls that all the time. I am happy to say, I have lost 40lbs already.

robie2 profile image

robie2 3 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

That's great. The rest will come off . It gets easier all the time. heh heh I've written some hubs on losing weight too -- they say write what you know about sooooooooo

itsjustnormita profile image

itsjustnormita 3 years ago

That's great, I am always looking for good ideas on weight loss. I certainly, will look over your hubs.

DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Great ways indeed most helpful and useful to anyone in this position it is always so easy to gain extra weight after smoking.

robie2 profile image

robie2 3 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

For sureDDE and thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Much appreciated.

TurtleDog profile image

TurtleDog 2 years ago

Ha! Good point... I commented on this subject on your last post but really should have saved it for here.... excellent work

Narelle Ryan 2 years ago

It's really good to read all of the things that happen to you when you stop smoking it really helps. I started smoking at age 11 and I'm now 52 and have been off smokes for 22 days .. I think it's the hardest thing I've had to go in my whole life .. I feel I have lost my best friend and really having some bad days but I don't want to smoke anymore and my weight is increasing I ride my bike everyday and try hard to eat healthy .. I can only hope it will get easier as time goes on but hearing you say you had stopped for 4 years then started again wow does it reall y consume us that long ? Are we always gunna feel like a smoke ? Well I hope not I hope I kick my smoking for good

Patrizio Racco profile image

Patrizio Racco 16 months ago

Thank you!

robie2 profile image

robie2 16 months ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thanks Turtledog, Narelle, and Patrizio...... it's been awhile since I checked this Hub. Sorry not to have replied sooner. Narelle, I agree it is soooooo hard for those of us who are truly addicted. But if you don't give in, the cravings do get weaker and further apart eventually. Hope you are still nicotine free and whatever happens, don't give up giving up. To all of you, thanks for reading and commenting :-)

Patrizio Racco profile image

Patrizio Racco 15 months ago

I quit 3 years ago after over 10 years of crazy smoking! :-)

robie2 profile image

robie2 11 months ago from Central New Jersey Author

Congratulations on quitting and thanks for stopping by and reading and commenting.

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