We’ve long been told that weight gain is a sign of poor health and weight loss indicates good health. This assumption has led us astray in many ways, because a number on the scales actually doesn’t tell us much about a person’s health. Consider the relationship between smoking and weight loss. In many cases, smoking is associated with weight loss, but this does not indicate that the smoker is healthier than they were before — in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
For people looking to quit smoking, a common concern is the possibility of weight gain. For those who have already kicked the habit, many find themselves wondering why they can’t lose weight after quitting smoking. While you may experience some weight gain after you quit, in most cases, this is a sign that your body is returning to health and functioning properly again. Below, we unpack why you may experience weight gain after you quit, and explore what you can do to keep yourself healthy.
I Quit Smoking…What’s With The Weight Gain?
If you’ve noticed some weight gain after quitting smoking, you’re not alone. This is very common experience.
So, why does it happen?
Chat to an Aussie GP today
Bulk-billed phone consultations
TGA-authorised Aussie doctors
Nicotine vaping scripts available
To understand why you might gain weight after you quit smoking, we need to first take a look at what happens to your body when you smoke.
Many smokers are hesitant to curb their habit because it’s helped them lose weight. There are a couple of reasons why smoking can cause you to shed a few kilos:
- Smoking and metabolism – Smoking can actually speed up your metabolism by 7 to 15%. Nicotine, the addictive component in cigarettes, also causes the metabolic rate to increase, meaning you’ll burn through calories quicker. This change can be dangerous, as an elevated metabolic rate puts stress on the heart.
- Smoking and hormones – When you smoke, you may consume less food because smoking impacts the hunger hormone in our bodies.
- Smoking and hunger receptors – Research shows that smoking may cause weight loss because nicotine attaches itself to fight-or-flight receptors in our brains, which reduces feelings of hunger. When this attachment occurs, our hunger cues are essentially ‘switched off’.
When you quit smoking, your metabolism returns to its baseline rate, and your hormones and hunger receptors begin to function normally again. Essentially, your body begins to naturally regulate your appetite and weight.
So, any weight loss you experienced as a result of nicotine will level out again. Remember, this is a good thing — smoking-related weight loss is a sign that harmful chemicals are interfering with your natural bodily systems.
How Much Weight Gain Can You Expect After Quitting Smoking?
The average amount of weight gained after quitting smoking is 5kg over a 5 year period. In most cases, this weight gain occurs a couple of months after quitting, and then stabilises.
However, quitting-related weight fluctuation varies from person to person depending on lifestyle and genetic factors. Some people report gaining over 10kg after giving up smoking while others experience weight loss, noting a decrease in abdominal fat soon after quitting and a reduction in overall body fat later down the line.
It’s important to note that the average body weight for people who have quit smoking is similar to the weight of those who have never smoked. This furthers the point that most weight gain experienced after quitting indicates that your body is returning to a natural, healthy state.
Can You Quit Smoking Without Gaining Weight?
Some factors related to weight gain after quitting will be out of your control. For instance, your metabolism will return to its base rate, which is primarily set by genetics.
However, there are some steps you can take to keep yourself as healthy as possible during this time.
- Eat well and often – While cigarette withdrawal symptoms may have you reaching for comfort food or fast food, try to maintain a well-balanced diet. That’s not to say you should avoid these foods altogether — they have a place in your diet, too! Just be sure to enjoy them in moderation. Pack your meals and snacks with healthy proteins, fruit and vegetables. Think chicken and salad sandwiches, tofu stir fry, eggs on toast, and protein snack balls. These kinds of foods will help to keep you full and fuelled.
- Exercise daily – Whether it’s a brisk 45-minute walk, a yoga class, or a gym session, be sure to fit in some movement each day. You’ll likely find exercise more enjoyable after quitting thanks to clearer lungs and improved circulation.
- Plan other activities to replace smoke breaks – Identify the times that you would usually smoke throughout the day, and plan activities for those blocks of time. You might like to head out for a short walk, call a friend, chew some gum, or play some music. This will help to distract you from your cravings and prevent you from reaching for snacks you may not actually want.
- Practice mindful eating – To become reacquainted with your body’s natural hunger cues, experiment with mindful eating. Keep all screens off when eating, paying attention to how you’re feeling and noticing the tastes, aromas, and textures of your meal. Mindful eating will help you gague when you’re hungry or full and makes eating a much more enjoyable experience. It will also help you identify when you’re thirsty; if you’re not drinking enough water, your body can read this as hunger, so it’s important to hydrate properly.
- Consider Nicotine Replacement Therapies – If you find yourself struggling with overeating as a way of coping with cravings, it might be a good idea to discuss Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) with your doctor. NRTs are designed to wean you off nicotine gradually, which reduces the severity of withdrawal symptoms and may help to combat craving-related overeating.
While you may be disheartened by weight gain after quitting, it’s important to refrain from engaging in damaging behaviours. Restricting, binging, over-exercising, and dieting are harmful and dangerous behaviours that can lead to significant health issues.
If you notice yourself avoiding certain foods, skipping meals altogether, or engaging in intense exercise several times a day to keep the weight off, it is important to make an appointment with your doctor or mental health professional.
What If I Can’t Lose Weight After Quitting Smoking?
Unless you notice significant weight gain or you’re engaging in overeating to cope with cravings, weight gain after quitting smoking is nothing to be concerned about. Keeping up with regular exercise and maintaining a well-balanced, unrestricted diet will help to keep your body healthy and nourished.
If you do find yourself overeating or you’re concerned about your weight gain, get in touch with a doctor. They will be able to address these concerns and suggest some additional strategies to help you.
Remember that any weight loss you may have experienced as a result of smoking was a sign that your body was not functioning properly; in most cases, weight gain from smoking cessation signals your body is recovering.