Quitting smoking? Good for you. Here’s how to avoid gaining weight.
If you’re a smoker, it’s no secret that one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself (and others around you) is quit. But quitting smoking presents more challenges than simply holding out through the cravings. One potential side effect of quitting is weight gain because tobacco helps suppress a person’s appetite and boosts the body’s metabolism. In many cases, former smokers turn to food as a substitute for cigarettes, and the pounds creep on.
“I’ve had patients tell me they keep smoking because they are afraid they’ll gain weight,” said Barbara Migliaccio, a bariatric (weight loss) clinical social worker at St. Luke’s University Health Network who specializes in addiction recovery and preparing patients for weight loss surgery. “Some people might not gain any weight after quitting, but others might gain 25 pounds or more.”
It’s important to remember quitting smoking can make you healthier overall and lessen your chances for developing cancer or coronary heart disease, despite the possibility you might put on a few pounds. It’s also possible to quit smoking without gaining weight by changing your lifestyle and daily habits.
Get a new hobby
One of the biggest reasons people gain weight when they quit smoking is that they replace one addiction (smoking) with another (food). Both habits occupy your hands and your mouth, and both trigger pleasure centers in the brain. “The first thing I tell people who are quitting smoking is to find a new hobby that will occupy their hands and challenge their minds,” Migliaccio said. “It could be anything from cross-‐stitch to crossword puzzles.” Another good idea is to keep healthy snacks on hand such as carrots, apple slices or sugar-‐free gum. That way you can munch away without loading up on foods heavy in sugar or salt. She also recommends that bariatric surgery patients try to avoid nicotine-‐replacement solutions such as nicotine gum or patches and only use them as a last resort if cravings become overwhelming.
To improve your chances of successfully quitting, don’t go cold turkey on your own. Take advantage of medical expertise and smoking cessation programs like those at St. Luke’s. “Your doctor can prescribe medications that don’t contain any nicotine and that make a big difference in your cravings,” Migliaccio said. “We also offer a variety of support services to help you build new, healthy habits as you quit, including consultations with dietitians and physical therapists to develop meal and exercise plans, and recommendations for individual therapy or online support groups to make necessary behavior changes.”
Get some exercise
Skip the vending machines and go for a win-‐win solution: exercise. Now that you’re not taking smoke breaks, you might find your days filled with extra time. If you start to feel a craving for a cigarette, take a few deep breaths and head out for a walk around your neighborhood. Join a yoga class or sign up for a fitness boot camp. You’ll burn calories while cutting down on food and tobacco cravings. “Exercise really helps because it literally has a chemical effect on your brain, releasing endorphins that can satisfy cravings in a healthy way,” Migliaccio said.
—Travis Marshall, Content Solutions Writer