Quitting smoking and weight gain have long been
linked. But when you kick the butts, is it inevitable yours will expand?
True, four out of five people who smoke gain some weight. On average, people
who quit gain between 4-10 pounds. Most weight tends to be gained in the first
six months after quitting.
The fear of weight gain is so great many smokers cite it as the reason they
continue to puff away. Although the benefits of quitting far outweigh the
possibility of extra pounds, few want to swap nicotine addiction for food addiction.
"I was an avid smoker for over 16 years -- at least a pack a day, the
traditional coffee and cigarette Type-A personality -- who feared gaining
weight if I quit," says Dawn Marie Fichera, director of special projects for a
communications firm. In September, she celebrates two years being smoke-free.
"I genuinely enjoyed it: the taste, the feel of it in my mouth, the sweet sting
of nicotine as it traveled through my veins."
But smokers need not fear quitting will lead to weight gain, experts say. By
combining diet and lifestyle changes with a smoking cessation program, you
can throw away the cigarette pack and avoid packing on extra pounds.
Why do smokers seem to gain weight when they quit?
There are a couple of reasons. First, nicotine is known to raise metabolic
rate. It increases the amount of calories used; a heavy smoker may burn as many
as 200 calories daily. Nicotine also serves as an appetite suppressant; after
quitting it is normal for your appetite to increase.
Many people report that when they quit smoking their ability to taste and
smell is enhanced, a temptation that can lead to increased eating. It is common
for people to say that before quitting they never had much of a sweet tooth but
now they find that they eat sweet foods. Studies show that people want more
sweet and fatty foods after quitting.
Finally, smoking often provides a socially soothing activity for shy or
anxious people. When the urge to light up hits, foods -- especially fattening,
salty, or sweet snacks -- become a substitute for the physical and emotional
comfort smoking provides.
Women at Greater Risk
Studies have shown that women are more likely to return to smoking as a way
to avoid weight gain after quitting. The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I.,
is conducting a female-specific research study that focuses on innovative ways
to quit smoking, including exercise.
Launched in 2007, "Commit to Quit" is a 12-week, NIH-funded group program
and smoking cessation research study led by researchers at the hospital's
Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at Brown University. Designed by
women for women, it provides information on how to prepare to stop smoking;
ways to handle nicotine withdrawal; the skills needed to quit; and the tools to
stay smoke-free. Each participant receives a free, three-month membership to
one of three local YMCA branches. (Researchers hope to roll out the program to
YMCA communities nationwide).