How to Avoid Weight Gain When You Quit Smoking

A woman wearing an apron, sitting at a table, sprinkling herbs into a bowl of vegetable stew.
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Statistics tell us that most people who quit smoking gain some weight initially. On average, that weight gain is between 5 to 10 pounds. For a lot of folks, the gain is temporary and the extra weight is lost within the first year of quitting.

For some, however, the extra weight stays on. Losing the weight may take some added effort due to quitting-related changes like shifts in your metabolism or your diet. Many find that their metabolism slows slightly after quitting and that they eat more than they did when they smoked.

While an important aspect of quitting for many, the potential for weight gain should not discourage you from quitting or sticking with quitting. Extra weight can be lost, and the benefits of not smoking far outweigh the challenges associated with quitting.

If you haven't quit smoking yet, there are strategies for keeping post-cessation weight gain in check. If you've already quit and are concerned about weight gain, you can use many of these same strategies for maintaining a healthy weight and supporting the healthiest version of yourself.

Set Realistic Goals

Perhaps the easiest way to keep your head above water with cessation and weight management is to avoid overloading yourself with too many expectations. Smoking cessation, while far from impossible, is hard work for most early on. Starting a new diet and other lifestyle changes at the same time that you quit smoking can be a lot to juggle.

Don't Take On Too Much at Once

Many folks get energized by quitting tobacco and decide to tackle other new challenges at the same time. When this happens, it can be hard to do everything, and eventually, certain goals may suffer. With too much on your plate, you may risk a smoking relapse. Make quitting the priority at first.

Aim to Just Maintain Your Current Weight

Rather than weight loss, try to focus on maintaining your current weight while you manage nicotine withdrawal and those initial months of your quitting journey. Once you're comfortable with your smoke-free status, you can turn your attention to losing any extra weight you're carrying.

Why Food Becomes a Substitute for Smoking

For people who have newly quit smoking, food often takes on added importance that can quickly become an unhealthy coping mechanism. Why? In part, it has to do with needing a substitute for the act of smoking.

Hand-to-Mouth Association

"Hand-to-mouth" describes the gesture used to smoke. It can be part of a person's smoking habit and tough to break away from.

The act of eating is an easy replacement for the act of smoking. People who smoke commonly have a powerful hand-to-mouth association, and eating is another hand-to-mouth activity that can fulfill that drive.

Food Tastes Better Now

Food may taste better after you've stopped smoking. Smoking can affect taste perception and sensitivity. Research has also suggested that many see fast improvement of taste sensitivity after quitting. It's not uncommon for people who have quit smoking to note that some foods taste entirely different than they did when they smoked. You may find that you eat more simply because it tastes better.

Food Is Comforting

Then there is the fact that food signals comfort for many of us. That sense of comfort comes from a dopamine rush in the brain, which happens to be the same mechanism for smoking "enjoyment." Researchers believe dopamine is a key factor in addiction, be it to nicotine, food, alcohol, or other addictive substances. It's no wonder then that many reach for food when craving a cigarette.

Tips for Minimizing Quit-Related Weight Gain

While you cannot simply quit eating like you quit smoking, you can make choices that can help you avoid weight gain when you stop smoking. A diet rich in nutrients helps support physical and mental well-being, which, in turn, makes it easier to maintain the daily effort that is necessary during the first months of smoking cessation.

Use the tips below to help you start thinking creatively about how to use food as a tool for good health rather than a replacement for smoking.

Pay Attention to Portions

If the amount of food you eat is more than your body needs, try downsizing your portion sizes, or how much you eat in one sitting. Consider using a lunch-sized plate rather than a dinner plate, and take a break to make sure you're still hungry before getting seconds.

Be especially mindful of portions when eating out at restaurants, snacking from a large package (like a giant bag of chips), or when eating in front of the TV. It can be especially easy to overeat when you're distracted and have easy access to more than the serving you intend to eat.

Read Labels

Know what you're eating and look beyond calorie counts. Aim for foods with healthy fats that are and high in satiating protein and fiber. And speaking of portion sizes, be sure to check the serving size on packaged food labels so you have accurate nutrition stats for the amount you eat.

Keep Temptation Out of the House

If it's not there, you can't eat it. Stock the fridge and cupboards with healthy food choices so that when the urge to snack strikes, those foods are within easy reach.

Go Out to Indulge Your Sweet Tooth

Don't allow a half-gallon of ice cream shelf space in your freezer. Instead, head out to the ice cream parlor when you're in the mood for a sundae. Going out for a sweet treat rather than keeping it at home helps support healthy habits by encouraging moderation.

Drink Plenty of Water

If you have the urge to snack, drink a glass of water first. You may be surprised that thirst can be misread as hunger. Staying hydrated comes with its own health benefits, but drinking water can be especially helpful when trying to manage cravings while you quit smoking.

Eat More Often

Try eating five or six small meals throughout your day. The urge to snack is intense early on in cessation, so snack-size meals may suit your needs perfectly. And the good news is, small meals every few hours could give your metabolism a boost and help keep blood sugar levels stable. Just watch your calories, and keep the total for the day within the appropriate range for your body.

Go for a Walk

Exercise can help you avoid weight gain. As little as a half-hour walk a day can be enough to help you keep your weight stable, as long as you're eating a healthy diet, too. Exercise can also help improve mood and manage stress, which are important benefits for everyone, but especially when quitting tobacco.

Distract Yourself

Boredom is a big trigger for smoking and for eating. Making an abrupt change in what you're doing can help distract yourself away from mindless snacking and cigarette cravings.

Find Some Support

In-person support groups and online forums can provide a great supportive community for people who are working to quit smoking. In addition to working with a healthcare provider, the additional support from people who understand the challenges you're facing first-hand can be a game-changer.

Focus on Quitting and Quit for Good

Early smoking cessation is an awkward, uncomfortable stage for most people. Add weight gain into the equation, and it can be easy to be tempted to start smoking again.

Don't be tempted to return to smoking as a means to control your weight.

Focus on your addiction to nicotine first and any extra weight second. Once you're comfortable in your nonsmoking skin, you'll be better equipped to apply your time and energy toward losing weight successfully.

And speaking of success, there is absolutely nothing better for a person's self-confidence and ability to tackle challenges effectively than succeeding at smoking cessation.

A Word From Verywell

Health experts agree that quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your health. While you may experience some weight gain in the process, remember all the health benefits you'll achieve in the long run.

If trying to quit smoking is overwhelming and a lot to handle on its own, just focus on that and seek support. Once you're smoke-free, you can put the rest of the building blocks of your healthy lifestyle together.

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16 Sources
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