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Avoid Weight Gain When You Quit Smoking

For many people, the fear of gaining weight prevents them from quitting smoking. But weight gain isn't an inevitable result of stopping smoking, provided you take a few easy precautions.

Understanding the effects of smoking on weight is the first step:
Smoking does burn calories, up to 200 a day in a heavy smoker. Smoking increases energy expenditure, or metabolism. Quitting smoking causes weight gain because the body begins to work more efficiently. The body's metabolism slows and food is digested more efficiently. Insulin levels increase, which enable the body to process more sugar for energy.

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Outsmarting the Pounds:

Although a modest weight gain (5 to 10 pounds) is common, you can take several simple steps to ward off those extra pounds and improve your general health:

  • To burn an estimated 200 calories used by smoking, for example, walk briskly for 45 minutes or swim laps for 30 minutes each day.
  • Eliminate 200 calories of food intake, and you've used up the extra calories from not smoking. What does that translate to?
    • 2 lite beers (220 calories).
    • 20 regular potato chips (220 calories).
    • 4 chocolate sandwich cookies (213 calories).
    • 2 tablespoon of butter (200 calories)
    • 2 oz. of cheddar cheese (220 calories).
    • 1 small order of McDonalds fries (210 calories).
    • 1 hot dog and roll (250 calories).
    • 2 frozen waffles (240 calories).
    • 1/2 cup macaroni and cheese (205 calories).
  • One benefit of quitting is that as your body realizes the benefits of not smoking, your energy levels will increase, and you will begin to feel better physically. A moderate increase in physical activity can keep weight gain to a minimum.
  • Try not to satisfy the oral fixation of smoking by snacking. Wait to eat until the urge to smoke subsides, so that the smoking activity is not replaced psychologically by eating.
  • Exercise daily. A daily moderate workout not only distracts you from smoking, but also helps reduce tension and stress. Endorphins released in the brain during exercise actually make you feel better. Exercise also increases metabolism, helping you burn more calories.
  • Eat square meals based on sound nutrition, and keep track of what you are eating, how much and why. Many smokers reward themselves with food instead of cigarettes, leading to weight gain. Some resume smoking to lose the weight they've gained, only to have to try and quit smoking again thus repeating a difficult cycle.
  • Weigh yourself weekly and keep track of your weight. Don't wait until your clothing is tight to realize you've put on a few pounds.
  • Remember that the ultimate goal is to stop smoking. Do not try to lose weight while quitting smoking, but instead monitor your current weight. Getting caught up in losing or maintaining weight may distract you from your primary goal of quitting smoking.


Plan Ahead:

Once you've reached the decision to stop smoking, stay focused on that goal and plan for the unexpected. If you are concerned about weight gain, make a plan to avoid it:

  • Stock up on healthy snacks before you quit smoking.
  • If you crave crunchy foods, try fat free pretzels, raw carrots or celery instead of potato chips.
  • Keep snacks on hand when you are away from home. Bananas, apples, oranges or a small bag of healthy nuts like almonds or sunflower seeds travel easily in a purse or backpack.
  • Avoid high calorie, sugary soft drinks (a 12-ounce can typically contains 144 calories). Flush your system by drinking lots of water. This also helps wash out the toxins from smoking that have been trapped in your body.
  • Craving a candy bar? Instead try a piece of whole-wheat toast with honey or fruit jam.
  • Your sense of smell and taste will reappear when you quit smoking. Fight the urge to eat salty, high fat, high carbohydrate foods by having whole grain cereals, fruits and vegetables on hand. With your improved senses, you'll soon be able to appreciate their more subtle flavours and will begin to develop a taste for these healthier foods over time.

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Updated March 2021