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Best Ways to Avoid Gaining Weight When You Quit Smoking

Updated on April 25, 2014
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


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