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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.

Women at Greater Risk continued...

The women are divided into two groups: an exercise group and a health and wellness group. Participants meet with staff on a weekly basis at the YMCA. Those in the exercise group are given a regimented exercise program to follow, and those in the health and wellness group are taught about lifestyle changes, healthy eating strategies and stress management. Both strategies have proven to be effective in helping with smoking cessation.

Bess Marcus, PhD, director of the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, has been running smoking cessation programs for 20 years. She says most people have to go through several attempts to successfully kick nicotine and most will gain some weight as a result. She counsels program participants to "think of quitting smoking as a lifestyle change. Women often set themselves up negatively. A slip doesn't have to become a relapse and a relapse doesn't have to become a collapse. [Women need to] give themselves permission while working at the process to reframe it as a learning experience instead of being so hard on themselves."

Administrative worker Liz Sandberg of Providence smoked a pack a day for three decades. A graduate of Commit to Quit, she celebrated her one-year smoke-free anniversary July 19.

Her motivation for quitting was financial. "I was spending $3,000 a year on cigarettes. I thought, 'This is crazy.'" A nagging cough was a secondary concern, though she told herself, "It wasn't a smoker's cough."

She says the accountability of the group is key to ensuring that participants stick with the program. As for the all-female dynamic? "It removes the distraction; the focus is on quitting. I can't prove it, but I think men and women smoke for different reasons."

Friends, family, and colleagues are thrilled with Sandberg's success. Her cough is gone, she's been able to quit a part-time job freeing up her weekends, and she's earmarked some of her financial savings to continue her YMCA membership. "I'm training for a triathlon. I went from not being able to do anything for six minutes to exercising 45 minutes to an hour every day."

Clearing the Smoke

Quitting smoking requires tremendous resolve, which can falter in the face of a nicotine craving. When you quit smoking your body goes into shock initially; that's why weigh gain is greatest in the first six months of smoking. However, of those who gain weight, most lose weight over time with no special action.

By combining diet and lifestyle changes with a smoking cessation program, you arm yourself with the best one-two punch for beating post-smoking bulge. As Marcus says, "Every time you put out a cigarette is a time to become a nonsmoker."

These are tested techniques and proven strategies that can help you ditch tobacco without gaining weight:

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