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Weight gain after quitting smoking: What to do

Many people gain weight when they quit smoking cigarettes. On average, people gain 5 to 10 pounds in the months after they give up smoking.

You may put off quitting if you are worried about adding extra pounds. But NOT smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. Fortunately, there are things you can do to keep your weight under control when you quit.

Why People Who Quit Smoking Gain Weight

There are a couple of reasons why people gain weight when they give up cigarettes. Some have to do with the way nicotine affects your body.

  • The nicotine in cigarettes speeds up your metabolism. Nicotine increases the amount of calories your body uses at rest by about 7 to 15%. Without cigarettes, your body may burn food more slowly.
  • Cigarettes reduce appetite. When you quit smoking, you may feel hungrier.
  • Smoking is a habit. After you quit, you may crave high-calorie foods to replace cigarettes.

What You Can Do

As you get ready to quit smoking, here are some things you can do to keep your weight in check.

  • Get active.Physical activity helps you burn calories. It can also help you ward off cravings for unhealthy foods or cigarettes. If you already exercise, you may need to exercise for longer or more often to burn the calories nicotine used to help remove.
  • Shop for healthy groceries. Decide what you will buy before you get to the store. Make a list of healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, and low-fat yogurt that you can indulge in without eating too many calories. Stock up on low-calorie "finger foods" that can keep your hands busy, such as sliced apples, baby carrots, or pre-portioned unsalted nuts.
  • Stock up on sugar-free gum. It can keep your mouth busy without adding calories or exposing your teeth to sugar.
  • Create healthy eating habits. Make a healthy meal plan ahead of time so you can combat cravings when they hit. It is easier to say "no" to fried chicken nuggets if you are looking ahead to a roast chicken with vegetables for dinner.
  • Never let yourself get too hungry. A little hunger is a good thing, but if you are so hungry that you have to eat right away, you are more likely to reach for a diet-busting option. Learning to eat foods that fill you up can also help ward off hunger.
  • Sleep well. If you often do not get enough sleep, you are at greater risk of putting on extra weight.
  • Control your drinking. Alcohol, sugary sodas, and sweetened juices may go down easy, but they add up, and can lead to weight gain. Try sparkling water with 100% fruit juice or herbal tea instead.

Why Quitting is Worth It

Giving up a habit takes time to get used to, both physically and emotionally. Take one step at a time. If you do put on some weight but manage to stay off cigarettes, congratulate yourself. There are many benefits of quitting.

  • Your lungs and heart will be stronger.
  • Your skin will look younger.
  • Your teeth will be whiter.
  • You will have better breath.
  • Your hair and clothes will smell better.
  • You will have more money when you are not buying cigarettes.
  • You will perform better in sports or other physical activities.

When to Call the Doctor

If you have tried to quit smoking and relapsed, your doctor may suggest nicotine replacement therapy. Treatments that come in the form of a patch, gum, nasal spray, or inhaler give you small doses of nicotine throughout the day. They can help ease the transition from smoking to going totally smoke-free.

If you gain weight after quitting and cannot lose it, you might have better results in an organized program. Ask your doctor to recommend a program with a good record that can help you lose weight in a healthy, lasting way.

References

Audrain-McGovern J, Benowiz NL. Cigarette smoking, nicotine, and body weight. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2011;90:164-168. PMID: 21633341 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21633341.

Chiolero A, Faeh D, Paccaud F, Cornuz J. Consequences of smoking for body weight, body fat distribution, and insulin resistance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87:801-809. PMID: 18400700 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18400700.

Mahan KL, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL, Krause MV, eds. Krause's Food & the Nutrition Care Process. 13th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2012.

Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in men and women. N Engl J Med. 2011;364:2392-2404. PMID: 21696306 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21696306.

Ussher MH, Taylor AH, Fauklner GE. Exercise interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Aug 29;8:CD002295. PMID: 25170798 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25170798.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. You can control your weight as you quit smoking. 2010. NIH Publication No. 03-4159.

Update Date 9/22/2014

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