People who quit have very different experiences of weight gain, ranging from those who actually lose weight to a minority of people who gain over 10 kg. If weight gain becomes a problem for you, there is help available.
Why do quitters sometimes put on weight?
Weight gain is common in the months after quitting for a number of reasons.
- When you quit smoking you’re looking for rewards, treats and something to do on breaks so it’s easy to start over-snacking.
- Smokers often miss the hand-to-mouth action of smoking and eating is the most obvious first option that springs to mind to fill this desire.
- Nicotine slightly speeds up metabolism. After quitting it may slow down to a healthier, more normal rate, which can cause some weight gain.
- Nicotine can act as an appetite suppressant, so you may feel hungrier than normal in the first few weeks of quitting – though this will decrease over time.
Being prepared for changes to appetite and eating habits after quitting can help you prevent or minimise unwanted weight gain.
How to prevent weight gain or keep it low
- Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time
- Stock the fridge and fruit bowl with healthy foods like fruit, vegetables and nuts. Don’t have too many processed snacks (e.g. chips, biscuits, lollies, soft drink) in the pantry or fridge. Try to keep most of your eating to meals, whenever possible.
- Increase your exercise
- To help keep your weight down and also as a distraction, to beat cravings. Even an increase in regular walking can help lessen weight gain.
If worrying about weight gain is stopping you from quitting, talk to a health professional who can give you advice on the issues that are important to you. They can help you make a healthy eating and exercise plan that suits your lifestyle. Your doctor can also refer you to a dietician or other specialist. You can also find a dietician at the Dieticians Association of Australia.
I have put on weight, what now?
If you’ve put on a few kilos, the best approach to manage your weight is to focus on how you look and feel rather than your weight itself. Many people will put on a few kilos in the first six months of quitting but will tackle the weight gain down the track when they’re more comfortable as a nonsmoker.
Remember, putting on a couple of kilos might not be desirable but it’s not a major health problem compared to smoking. It may be preferable to put on a kilo or two in the first few weeks than to be too strict with yourself, which could in turn cause a relapse to smoking.
Don’t be alarmed if you put on some weight early on, as weight gain from quitting does slow down the longer you stay quit, providing you have a reasonably healthy diet.
As a non-smoker, your fitness capacity and energy levels will increase, which means you can get more benefits from exercise, including losing weight, further down the track.
Tips to help manage your weight
- Use the time and money you've saved from not smoking to plan and cook tasty, healthier meals.
- Avoid strict diets.
- Constant bouts of hunger will make quitting more difficult and could put your success at risk.
- Try not to skip meals, especially breakfast.
- Limit sugary treats
- such as sweet drinks, lollies, biscuits, sweetened dairy products and cakes.
- Prepare healthy snacks
- such as celery and carrot sticks or vegetable strips, and whole fruits (not fruit juice, which is often high in sugar).
- Be realistic – allow yourself some treats occasionally.
- If you use food to help you deal with feelings such as depression or loneliness, try increasing other activities that make you feel better.
- Emotional eating and binge eating can sometimes be difficult to deal with by yourself. For help and support, consider seeing a health professional who specialises in people's relationship with food. Your GP can refer you to a psychologist. Medicare rebates are available.
The Better Health Channel is a great resource for good, reliable health-related advice, including god advice on healthy eating, exercise and managing weight gain.