Weight gain after quitting
Quitting smoking is unquestionably good for your health, but it's not necessarily good for your waistline. Here's how to stop smoking without piling on the pounds.
A recent study of 1500 quitters by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US found that on average, smokers gained nine pounds in their first year as a non-smoker.
"Weight gain is one of the biggest fears of those trying to kick the habit," says Angela Chalmers, a pharmacist at Boots' Holloway Road store in London, where she runs a NHS stop smoking programme. "When you look into the history of people's previous quit attempts, putting on weight is one reason why they go back to smoking again. Obviously it's a major issue and people are really scared about putting on weight."
There are a number of reasons people gain weight when giving up cigarettes. "Nicotine speeds up the metabolism, so even if you eat exactly the same food as you did before you quit, you could still gain weight as your basal metabolic rate (the energy your body needs just to sustain itself) is likely to drop," says Deborah Lycett, a consultant dietitan and doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham.
But this is not the sole cause of the problem. According to Deborah, the change in metabolic rate probably only accounts for about 40 per cent of the weight that people put on. "The other 60 per cent is due to environmental factors - people have a habit of putting something in their mouth, so they replace cigarettes with food," she says.
Effects on appetite
Nicotine is widely believed to act as an appetite suppressant, though research has produced some mixed outcomes on this topic. One way nicotine is thought to affect hunger is by raising the blood sugar level, which produces a 'high' similar to that experienced by eating sweet food - though in a much shorter time frame without any of the associated calorie intake. It also increases the level of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter that plays a part in controlling hunger and pleasure.
Some experts, however, believe the main reason smoking suppresses appetite is purely because smokers use cigarettes as a meal replacement; many smokers may have a cigarette at a mid-morning break, while non-smokers have a snack.
Avoiding weight gain
One of the best ways to quit smoking without gaining weight is to plan ahead. Have plenty of healthy, low-calorie snacks to hand and limit your access to junk food. It's natural to want to eat more, particularly as nicotine dulls your taste buds so your sense of taste starts to return. But the difference between a Krispy Kreme doughnut (at least 200 calories) and an apple (50 calories) becomes a lot more significant if you start snacking every time you crave a cigarette.
If you feel you deserve a treat, buy something nice at the end of the week with all the cash youve saved.
Try not to reward your quitting efforts with food. If you feel you deserve a treat (and quitting is tough, so you probably do), buy something nice at the end of the week with all the cash you've saved.
You could also boost your metabolism by taking a quick walk for 10 or 15 minutes every day.
Pete Cohen, life coach and author of the book Stop Smoking, says people need to recognise the place smoking held in their life and find something else to replace it with other than food.
"People smoke because it's doing something for themselves to make them feel good, so that's why they turn to food when they quit, because food also makes them feel good," he explains. "People get stressed and they turn to cigarettes and cigarettes help. If they then replace it with nothing then they could end up being a nervous wreck."
He suggests using the time usually spent smoking to take a break and do something else, such as making a cup of tea, going outside for some air, or even just drinking a glass of water.
Angela says finding other things to do with your mouth can also help. She recommends nicotine lozenges, gum or inhalers, or sugar-free chewing gum for those who want to quit without nicotine products. Glucose tablets can also help control blood sugar levels and reduce cravings.
Deborah warns against going hungry. "If you're hungry, you get more cravings for cigarettes," she explains. "It's best to quit smoking first and not be too hung up about your weight - you can deal with the weight later on. It's important that anybody who gives up smoking realises that gaining weight is something that might happen, but the benefit of giving up cigarettes far outweighs the weight they are going to gain."
Written by Joanne Christie
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