Does quitting smoking lead to weight gain?

At the end of this month, health campaigners all around the world will be celebrating World No Tobacco Day. Held on May 31st, the day is designed to draw attention to the huge health risks associated with smoking and chewing tobacco, and hopes to encourage people to quit for good.

The problem is, giving up tobacco just isn’t very easy. While Ireland has one of the lowest rates of smoking in the EU (well done us!), it’s also true that a lot of Irish people who do smoke are having a hard time of giving up. ASH Ireland estimates that 70% of smokers wish to quit, and even though we know it’s very possible to do so, many people are easily discouraged.

One of the key deterrents that people are facing is the fear that they will gain weight after quitting. As we all know, there are numerous benefits to giving up smoking. Quitting decreases your risk of serious conditions such as cancer and heart disease. It also boosts your breathing and circulation, gives you more energy, improves your appearance, and can have a seriously positive impact on your sex life.

Ignoring these benefits for fear you might gain weight may seem irresponsible, but for many smokers it’s still a serious cause for concern – and one that’s put some people off quitting altogether.


The link between smoking and weight gain

There are several reasons why some people gain weight when they quit smoking. Firstly, smoking is thought to raise your metabolism, which means you burn more calories than usual in a day. When you stop smoking, your metabolism returns to normal, which means you might eat the same amount of calories as before, but burn them off slower.

The nicotine in tobacco can also suppress your appetite. When you combine this with the fact that smoking dulls your ability to taste and smell, it’s understandable that many smokers simply eat less than non-smokers.

Withdrawal symptoms can also have an effect. Those who’ve tried to quit know it can be hard to control nicotine cravings. As a substitute, many people find themselves eating more – they may even take comfort from a routine of eating or drinking that mimics the cigarette breaks they used to take.


How to quit smoking without gaining weight

Though there is a link between giving up smoking and gaining weight, it’s important to recognise that the upsides of quitting still outweigh the downsides. What’s more, there are plenty of ways to avoid putting on weight in the period after you quit.

A great place to start is with gentle exercise. After you’ve quit smoking, you should notice that your energy levels go up and your breathing becomes easier. This has a knock-on effect of making physical exertion easier and more enjoyable. Begin gently with walking, swimming and taking the stairs more often. Then slowly work up to more strenuous exercise. The endorphins you’ll release will keep stress levels down and distract you from cravings.

The second thing to do is tackle your diet. This isn’t always easy, but if you can set an early precedent, you’ll make life much easier for yourself. Be careful not to overeat – it takes 20 minutes for your body to register that it is full, so don’t automatically go for seconds after you’ve finished a meal. Substitute junk food snacks for fruit, nuts and raw veg, and avoid sugary energy drinks. If you’re experiencing a craving and want to eat to distract yourself, just do something else; have a walk, take a shower, or even call a friend for a chat!

Lastly, remember that you don’t have to struggle on without help. Using Champixnicotine gums, sprays or patches will help you combat withdrawal symptoms and cravings. The nicotine they contain can also suppress your appetite, which is helpful if you’re often tempted to overeat.

The most important thing is not to be too hard on yourself. Quitting smoking is stressful for your body, and gaining a little weight in the first year is nothing compared to the benefits that you’ll enjoy in the long term.


For more information about quitting smoking, visit our online Stop Smoking clinic.

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