5 Ways to Avoid Gaining Weight When You Quit Smoking

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on April 16, 2023
3 min read

You probably have your own reasons for not quitting smoking. For a lot of people, just the fear of gaining weight is enough to keep them from kicking the habit.

But if you’re serious about quitting, don’t let the thought of weight gain make you second-guess your decision. Just understand that it’s important you know why it happens, and how to keep your weight in a healthy, stable place once you finally quit smoking for good.

While it’s true your weight can go up once you quit smoking, it’s not an automatic result of quitting. While many smokers do put on some weight once they quit, it’s usually pretty small: less than 10 pounds.

In reality, the negative health effects of continuing to smoke are far more dangerous than putting on a few extra pounds.

There are a few reasons you might gain weight once you quit. First, smoking is an appetite suppressant. When you have a cigarette, you feel less hungry.

Smoking also affects your senses of smell and taste, so the actual experience of eating may not be very pleasurable.

Finally, there’s evidence that smoking slightly speeds up your metabolism, making it easier to keep your weight down.

Just because weight gain is common when people quit smoking doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. There are many things you can do to keep your scale steady.

  1. Plan ahead. Instead of making spontaneous food choices, plan your meals and snacks in advance so you’re less likely to stray off course and impulsively reach for something unhealthy. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and limit sugar, sodium, and trans fats. Read food labels to understand the nutrition and calories you’re actually getting so you make better choices.
  2. Control your food portions. Portion control is an important tool that can help you from eating or drinking more than you need. Restaurant portions are often oversized, so sticking to these basic guidelines can help:
  • One 3-ounce serving of chicken or meat is about the size of a deck of cards, and a 3-ounce serving of fish is about the size of a checkbook. A 1-cup serving is about the size of a baseball, and a half-cup serving is about the size of a lightbulb. An ounce (2 tablespoons) is about the size of a golf ball.
  • Eat your meals on smaller plates to encourage smaller portions.
  • If you’re still hungry after your meal, wait 10 minutes before getting seconds. You might not actually still be hungry after the time has passed.
  • When you go out to eat, either split an entree with a friend or ask for half of your meal to be put in a to-go box.
  • Measure out single servings of snacks so you know exactly how much you’re getting and you’re not tempted to reach for more.

3. Exercise daily. Staying physically active can help you manage your stress and keep your weight in check. In addition to boosting your mood and controlling your appetite, exercise burns calories, which can help you maintain or lose weight if that’s your goal. Exercise is also essential to boosting your metabolism. Since your metabolism may slow once you quit smoking, regular workouts can help speed it up naturally. You don’t need to be an athlete to reap the benefits; just 10 minutes of exercise a day can have an impact. Activities like walking, gardening, dancing, and bike riding are all fair game.

4. Learn mindful eating. Staying mindful (aware) when you select, prepare, and eat your food can help you make better choices and become more in tune with your body so you don’t replace your smoking habit with mindless snacking or unhealthy meals. Take the time to set the table and sit down for meals when you can, and turn off all distracting devices like your phone and television. Focus on what you’re eating and pause during your meal to gauge whether you’re really hungry for more or if you’re using food to cope with your feelings or fill a need.

5. Find a professional who can help. Don’t be afraid to seek help from a professional. Some people need the support and guidance of a dietician or nutritionist. These experts can give you personalized advice, and help you create an individualized plan that fits your needs.