Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. If you’re like many people, you may worry about gaining weight after you quit. This concern may even be preventing you from trying to quit. It’s an understandable concern because many people who quit smoking experience some weight gain after quitting.
The good news is that there are steps that you can take to lower your chances of weight gain when you stop smoking. Even if you do gain some weight, the health benefits of quitting are far more than health problems that may develop from the extra weight.
Why do people gain weight when they quit smoking?
Different factors can contribute to weight gain when you quit smoking. Some common ones include:
- Decreased metabolism: Smoking can increase your metabolism by up to 15%. When you stop, your body burns calories more slowly.
- Increased appetite: Nicotine in cigarettes suppresses your appetite, so you may feel hungrier when you quit.
- Improved taste and smell: After smoking, your taste buds return to normal, and food may taste better, making you want to eat more.
- Eating for comfort or habit: You may substitute food for cigarettes to occupy your hands and mouth. You may also be more likely to eat to deal with emotions or stress.
- Craving unhealthy foods: When you quit smoking, you may eat more junk food or foods with more sugar and less protein.
How much weight do people usually gain?
On average, people gain between 5 lb and 10 lb in the months after they stop smoking. Keep in mind that not everyone gains weight, and some people actually lose weight.
Different factors can affect how much weight you gain. Lighter smokers (less than 15 cigarettes a day) gain less weight than heavier smokers and smokers with obesity. Having binge eating behavior may also increase the amount of weight you gain when you quit.
How long does weight gain last after you quit smoking?
This can vary from person to person. Some people will lose the extra weight over time, and others won’t. But it’s important to realize that over time, the weight gain when you stop smoking may not be much different from the weight gain of those who never smoked at all.
When does your appetite start to change after you quit smoking?
An increased appetite is a common withdrawal symptom when you quit smoking. This change can be one of the first symptoms you notice just a few hours after your last cigarette, and it can sometimes last the longest.
There also appears to be an overlap between craving nicotine and craving certain foods. Nicotine withdrawal has been shown to lead to cravings for foods high in fat, sugar, and salt.
Does how you quit smoking affect weight gain?
It depends. There are different programs and treatments available to help people control their weight as they stop smoking. These include things like learning behaviors to manage cravings, personalized weight-management programs, and exercise programs. These programs may work for some people but may not help everyone consistently.
Can medication help with appetite changes when you quit smoking?
Yes. Using certain medications to help you quit smoking may also lower the amount of weight that you gain while you’re on the medication. Medication examples include bupropion (an antidepressant) and nicotine-replacement products, such as nicotine gum and lozenges. But the weight management effects of these products may not be long lasting. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if starting a medication makes sense for you.
What are the best ways to avoid weight gain after quitting smoking?
Quitting smoking is hard. Trying to manage your weight at the same time may make quitting even harder. If that’s the case for you, focus on quitting first. As you quit, develop healthy habits, like doing regular physical activity and getting quality sleep. These habits may help you stay away from cigarettes and help you prevent weight gain.
Here are some basic steps that you can take to help lower your chances of gaining weight after you quit smoking. If you do gain weight and have a hard time losing it, your healthcare provider or a nutritionist may be able to provide solutions.
Keep yourself busy
- Be physically active. Exercise increases your metabolism and keeps food cravings away.
- Chew sugar-free gum to keep your mouth busy and satisfy any sweet cravings.
Rethink how you eat
- Develop healthy eating habits. Focus on nourishing whole foods, and plan your meals ahead of time as much as you can.
- Keep healthy snacks in your house to help with any food or cigarette cravings you have.
- Avoid empty calories, like sugary sodas and juice.
- Avoid or limit alcohol, which can increase your cravings for food or cigarettes.
- Eat mindfully and intuitively. Listen to your body to know the difference between real hunger and withdrawal cravings.
- Eat smaller portions of food.
- Avoid emotional eating. Learn to cope with your feelings without using cigarettes or food.
- Get plenty of sleep, which helps regulate your metabolism.
- Practice self-compassion, and remember the positive health step that you took by quitting smoking.
Article Written by Maria Robinson, MD | Reviewed by Karla Robinson, MD