Debunking the myth of weight gain after quitting smoking

If the thought of gaining weight is what is standing between you and quitting smoking, then you are a silly sausage. The myth of automatic weight gain has been bandied around so much, it has become collective gospel.

The idea that you will gain weight the minute you stub out your last cigarette holds no more truth than the idea that the moon is made of cheese.

Yes, people have been known to put on weight when they quit smoking (according to NHS website, on average ex-smokers will gain 5kg in the first year after they quit smoking), but that doesn’t mean it will happen to you.

Why people have gained weight when they quit smoking:

  • Smoking speeds up your metabolism, meaning that smokers tend to burn through more calories than non-smokers.

  • Smoking suppresses your appetite, meaning you don’t eat as much when you smoke.

  • Smoking dulls your taste buds and your sense of smell, so when you quit, you might get overjoyed at tasting your food and want to eat more than you should.

  • Some people want to replace the hand to mouth action that quitting smoking leaves, and the closest action is eating.

  • Sometimes nicotine cravings can be misread as hunger cravings and food is used to fill the void left by cigarettes.

So how can you prevent weight gain after quitting smoking? Here are our 5 tips.

#1. Keep your metabolism high

Smoking speeds up your metabolism, so when you quit smoking you require fewer calories than you did before. Adjust your food intake levels to the new quantity required and don’t worry about weight gain. Or better yet, keep your metabolism high through exercise.

The more physical activity you undertake the faster your metabolism will go, and if you do HIIT (high-intensity interval training - short bursts of high-intensity exercise) your body will keep whirring through those calories long after you’ve finished exercising.

And the best bit of all. The endorphin high you’ll get from exercising far outstrips the nicotine high of your last cigarette.

#2. Eat healthy foods

If you suddenly find your appetite restored to full health when you quit smoking, rejoice at being healthy again, but try and eat smaller portions of food until your body’s metabolism has resumed normal jogging.

On average, it will take you 20 minutes into eating a meal to feel full, so if you finished your meal, but you’re still peckish, take a break briefly - do a household chore, read a book, go for a walk, wait and see if you’re still hungry after you’ve done your activity (half an hour) and if you are, choose something healthy to nibble on.

If you are still hungry, instead of indulging on sweet treats and unhealthy snacks, opt instead for nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables or whole grains.

#3. Chew slowly

Because it takes us approximately 20 minutes for the full signals to reach our brain from our tummies, rather than wolfing your food down in one go and still feeling ravenous, eat more slowly.

Take your time to chew your food: take a leaf out of the mindfulness movement and take joy in what you’re experiencing. You might have regained your sense of taste after so many years of smoking that you’re excited to keep tasting new foods, and that is great. Just don’t eat them all at once. Chew your food slowly, and delight in each mouthful.

#4. Switch out your tobacco cigarettes for e-cigs.

This isn’t a case of switching one habit for another, if you have your heart set on ditching the nicotine, then opt for nicotine-free e-liquids in your vape device.

You’ll go through all the motions of smoking without actually smoking. Smoking cessation aids may seem gimmicky, but there’s a reason even the NHS are advising e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking.

A major UK clinical trial, published this year (2019) revealed that when combined with face to face support, e-cig users were twice as likely to quit smoking than when using any other cessation aids.

#5. Understand your emotions

You might not be aware of this, but our emotions have a tendency to govern our behaviour. When you quit smoking and you find yourself struggling, you might find you turn to something else to give you support, and that thing can be food.

Don’t be a slave to your emotions any longer, learn to understand them, but more importantly, find new ways to cope with stress that don’t include self-destructive tendencies.

  1. Talk to other people about what you’re feeling
  2. Go for a walk to help clear your head
  3. Make sure your diet is healthy
  4. Avoid alcohol and caffeine - known stressors
  5. Practice deep breathing

If you need more information, check out our in-depth guide about how to quit smoking, and kick that habit for good.