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Going Up In Smoke: Weight gain when you quit smoking

Many people seem to gain a couple of kilos when they quit smoking, but is it really a problem? Well, the jury’s been out for a while on this one, and the verdict seems to be: forget your weight and focus solely on the puffs (or lack of them).

It’s not often in this day and age that health experts say ‘okay' to gain weight, but this is one situation where you’ll get an all round thumbs up for an extra kilo or two. Several studies have now shown that smokers who concentrate on the single goal of giving up their tobacco habits have a much higher success rate than those who simultaneously have the goal of weight maintenance in mind. But the really good news is that, in the end, quitters who step away from the scales actually end up gaining less weight than those who watch their waistlines.

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Why the weight gain?

Even if you keep strictly to your regular diet and exercise routine when you give up smoking, you are still likely to gain a small amount of weight. That’s because when you smoke, your body burns slightly more calories in order to cope with carbon monoxide and other tobacco toxins. When you quit, your metabolism slows down to more normal levels, which means fewer calories are burnt.

Another possible reason for weight gain is that you start to taste your food again! Smoking dulls the sensitivity of your taste buds, so when you quit you start to experience the flavours of food in a more enjoyable and satisfying way. This may increase your appetite for a short while.

And of course, food is often eaten as an oral substitute for smoking and to cope with the stresses of nicotine withdrawal. You may find you consume more high-fat, high-sugar snacks and alcoholic drinks than usual, which will result in some weight gain.

Don't worry, be slimmer

Although a few years ago the advice may have been different, health experts now say it’s best not to worry about weight gain while you’re giving up smoking. The new recommendation is to focus first on giving up smoking, and after you’ve achieved that goal, to then worry about giving up your extra kilos. This may sound like advice you don’t want to heed if you are concerned about gaining weight, but, surprisingly, it’s actually your best bet for avoiding the unwanted weight.

The research shows that people who try to focus on both smoking cessation and weight maintenance from the outset usually wind up failing at both, and even gain extra weight. In a 2003 study published by the Association for the Advancement of Behavioral Therapy, women who were encouraged not to worry about their weight only gained an average 2.5 kg compared with the control group who did focus on weight control and gained an average 5.4 kg.

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