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Predicting Weight Gain in Ex-Smokers

Quit Smoking, Gain Weight? It Ain't Necessarily So

Nicotine and Weight Gain

Cigarettes kill. One reason they do: They're full of nicotine, one of the world's most addictive substances. But nicotine isn't all bad. It has anti-inflammatory effects. So quitting smoking may, in some people, open the floodgates to inflammation.

Nicotine also suppresses appetite, says Linda A. Thomas, program manager for the tobacco consultation service at the University of Michigan Health System. When a person quits smoking, appetite returns.

"The kind of appetite suppression nicotine causes is the appetite for carbs," Thomas says. "So not only is there more appetite, but there's more appetite for fattening foods."

But an increase in your appetite isn't the only reason people who quit smoking tend to gain weight.

"A week after you quit, your nose and palate clear and your senses of smell and taste come back," Thomas says. "And then there is the hand-to-mouth thing that you want to replace when you quit smoking."

How to Quit Without Gaining Weight

The good news: You don't have to gain weight when you quit smoking. Thomas offers these tips:

  • Be aware that appetite will increase and that food really will be more appetizing. Being aware of what is going on helps to fight the urge to overeat.
  • Avoid white foods: Anything made of sugar or white flour is off limits.
  • A diet isn't as good as a healthy lifestyle -- and that means exercise. "We start out with exercise for 20 minutes a day, three days a week," Thomas says. "One of our coping strategies is to speed up or slow down when you have an urge. So if you're sitting on the couch when you get the urge to smoke, get up and walk the dog or get a drink of water. If you have been running around doing errands, and get urge to smoke, you need to slow down and take a break -- without a cigarette."
  • Carry a bottle of water. Drinking water cuts hunger -- and it gives you something to remember to carry around, the way you always carried your cigarettes and lighter.
  • Use smart snacks, instead of cigarettes, to jump-start your metabolism. Eat a sensible breakfast within an hour of waking. Have small, healthy snacks throughout the day to cut the urge to eat huge meals -- and to replace the boost you're used to getting from nicotine.

Not everyone who quits smoking gains weight. But the average person gains seven pounds.

"You have to gain a whole lot of weight to do the same damage to yourself as you do by smoking," Thomas says. "It is far better to gain seven pounds than to keep smoking."

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