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Smoking Cessation Health Center

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Smoking: Drop the Habit Without Picking Up Weight

Proven strategies for quitting smoking -- including diet and exercise -- can keep you smoke-free and prevent weight gain.
By Suzanne Wright
WebMD Feature

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.

Oral Fixation

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.

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