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Your decision to quit smoking is one of the best actions you can take to improve your health. However, you may be concerned about gaining weight, but try not to worry about it as you quit. Focus on stopping smoking first, and then continue to improve your health in other ways, such as reaching and maintaining a healthy weight for life.
Health Risks of Smoking
Smoking greatly increases the risk of lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Smoking is also linked to cancer of the esophagus, larynx, kidney, pancreas, and cervix. It also increases the risk of lung disease and heart disease. In pregnant women, smoking is linked to premature birth, low birth weight babies, and delivery complications.
Will I Gain Weight if I Stop Smoking?
Not everyone gains weight when they stop smoking. Among people who do, the average weight gain is between 6 and 8 pounds. Roughly 10 percent of people who stop smoking gain a large amount of weight - 30 pounds or more.
What Causes Weight Gain after Quitting Smoking?
When smokers quit, they may gain weight for a number of reasons. These include:
- Feeling hungry. Quitting smoking may make a person feel hungrier and eat more than usual, but this feeling usually goes away after several weeks.
- Having more snacks and alcoholic drinks. Some people eat more high-fat, high-sugar snacks, and drink more alcoholic beverages after they quit smoking.
- Burning calories at a normal rate again. Every cigarette you smoke makes your body burn calories faster, but is also harmful to your heart. Once you quit, you are no longer getting this temporary effect. Instead, you are burning slightly fewer calories on a daily basis.
Can I Avoid Weight Gain After I Quit Smoking?
While it is a good idea to be physically active and eat healthy foods as you quit smoking, try not to worry about your weight. It may be easier to quit first and focus on controlling your weight when you are smoke-free. The next several slides offer suggestions to lower your chances of gaining weight when you stop smoking.
If you gain a few pounds when you quit, do not dwell on it. Instead, feel proud that you are improving your health. Quitting smoking may make you feel better in many ways:
- increased energy
- whiter teeth
- fresher breath and fresher smelling clothes and hair
- fewer wrinkles and healthier-looking skin
- a clearer voice
Get Regular, moderate-Intensity Physical Activity
Regular physical activity may help you avoid large weight gains when you quit smoking. It may also boost your mood and help you feel more energetic. It is likely that you will be able to breathe easier during physical activity after you quit smoking.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week, preferably every day. You can accomplish this by breaking it up into shorter sessions - it does not need to be done all at once. After you quit smoking and are ready to lose weight, you may need to do more than 30 minutes of physical activity a day to achieve your weight loss goals.
Ideas for Being Active Every Day
- Use your lunch break to walk around and stretch, or take a walk after dinner.
- Sign up for a class such as dance or yoga. Ask a friend to join you.
- Get off the bus one stop early if you are in an area safe for walking.
- Park the car further away from entrances to stores, movie theaters, or your home.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Make sure the stairs are well lit.
Limit Snacking and Alcohol
Having more high-fat, high-sugar snacks and alcoholic drinks may lead to weight gain when you quit smoking. The ideas below may help you make healthy eating and beverage choices as you quit smoking.
- Do not go too long without eating.
- Eat enough at meal times to satisfy you, but try not to overeat.
- Eat slowly so you can pick up on your body's signals that you are full.
- Choose healthy snacks (fresh fruit, canned fruit packed in juice (not syrup), air-popped popcorn, or fat-free yogurt) between meals.
- Do not deny yourself an occasional treat. If you crave ice cream, enjoy a small serving, which is 1/2 cup.
- Choose an herbal tea, hot cocoa made with fat-free milk, or sparkling water instead of an alcoholic beverage.
Consider Using Medication to Help You Quit
Talk to your health care provider about medications that may help you quit smoking. Some people gain less weight when they use medication. Medications that may help you quit smoking include nicotine replacement therapy (the patch, gum, nasal spray, and inhaler), or antidepressant medication. The patch and gum are available at pharmacies without a prescription from your health care provider.
Consider Getting Professional Advice about Weight Control
You may find it easier to control your weight with the help of a health professional. Ask your health care provider if there is a weight management program in your area. You may also consider speaking with a registered dietitian, nutritionist, or exercise professional about becoming physically active and adopting a healthy eating plan.
Will Weight Gain Hurt My Health?
Although gaining weight is not desired after you stop smoking, keep in mind that the overall health benefits of quitting outweigh the health risks of weight gain. By quitting smoking, you are taking a big step to improve your health. Instead of worrying about weight gain, focus on quitting. Once you are tobacco-free, you can work toward having a healthy weight for life by becoming more physically active and choosing healthier foods.