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If you want to stop smoking but are worried about gaining weight, this topic
may help you. Many ex-smokers do gain a few pounds, but only a few gain a lot of
weight. The best action you can take to improve your health is to quit smoking.
Smoking is much more harmful to your health than gaining a few pounds. Making
some simple changes, like developing healthier eating and physical activity
habits, should help you control your weight gain when you quit smoking.
Not everyone gains weight when they stop smoking. On average, people who quit
smoking gain only about 10 pounds. You are more likely to gain weight when you
stop smoking if you have smoked for 10 to 20 years or smoked one or more packs
of cigarettes a day. You can control your weight while you quit smoking by
making healthy eating and physical activity a part of your life. Although you
might gain a few pounds, remember you have stopped smoking and taken a big step
toward a healthier life.
Will I Gain Weight if I Stop Smoking?
What causes weight gain after quitting?
When nicotine, a chemical in cigarette smoke, leaves your body, you may
- Short-term weight gain. The nicotine kept your body weight low, and
when you quit smoking, your body returns to the weight it would have
been had you never smoked.
- You might gain 3 to 5 pounds due to water retention during the first
week after quitting.
- A need for fewer calories. After you stop smoking, you may use fewer
calories than when you were smoking.
Will this weight gain hurt my health?
The health risks of smoking are far greater than the risks of gaining 5 to
10 pounds. Smoking causes more than 400,000 deaths each year in the United
States. You would have to gain about 100 to 150 pounds after quitting to
make your health risks as high as when you smoked. The health risks of
smoking and the benefits of quitting are listed below.
The Health Risks
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|When you smoke...
- Your heart rate increases.
- You expose yourself to some 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke and
40 of these chemicals cause cancer.
- You are much more likely to get lung cancer than a nonsmoker. Men
are 22 times more likely to develop lung cancer, while women who smoke
are 12 times more likely.
- You are twice as likely to have a heart attack as a nonsmoker.
- You increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, some types of
cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and other lung diseases.
- You are hurting not only your own health, but the health of anyone
who breathes the smoke, including nonsmokers.
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|When you quit
- Your body begins to heal from the effects of the nicotine within 12
hours after your last cigarette.
- Your heart and lungs start repairing the damage caused by
- You breathe easier and your smoker's cough starts to go away.
- You lower your risk for illness and death from heart disease,
stroke, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, and other types of
- You contribute to cleaner air, especially for children who are at
risk for illnesses because they breathe others' cigarette smoke.
Adapted from the National Cancer Institute's
"Smoking: Facts and Tips for Quitting"
What Can I Do to Avoid Gaining Weight When I
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|To avoid gaining weight when you quit smoking,
you need to become more physically active and improve your eating habits before
you stop. Physical activity helps to control your weight by increasing the
number of calories your body uses. Making healthy changes to your eating
habits will prevent weight gain by controlling the amount of calories you
eat. Try to reduce your chances of gaining weight by being more physically
active and improving your eating habits before you stop smoking.
Become More Physically Active.
Becoming physically active is a healthy way to control your weight and
take your mind off smoking. In one study, women who stopped smoking and
added 45 minutes of walking a day gained less than 3 pounds. In addition
to helping control your weight, exercise increases your energy, promotes
self-confidence, improves your health, and may help relieve the stress and
depression caused by the lack of nicotine in your body.
You can become more physically active by spending less time doing
activities that use little energy, like watching television and playing
video games, and spending more time doing physical activities. Try to do
at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day on most days of the week.
The activity does not have to be done all at once. It can be done in short
spurts -- 10 minutes here, 20 minute there -- as long as it adds up to 30
minutes a day. Simple ways to become more physically active include
gardening, housework, mowing the lawn, playing actively with children, and
taking the stairs instead of the elevator. See the Weight- control
Information Network's (WIN) fact sheet Physical Activity and Weight
Control for more information.
Improve Your Eating Habits.
Try to gradually improve your eating habits. Changing your eating
habits too quickly can add to the stress you may feel as you try to quit
smoking. Eating a variety of foods is a good way to improve your health.
To make sure you get all of the nutrients needed for good health, choose a
variety of foods from each group in the Food Guide Pyramid (pictured
below) each day. The Nutrition Facts Label that is found on most processed
food products can also help you select foods that meet your daily
nutritional needs. For a healthy diet, use the Pyramid to guide your daily
food choices and make sure you:
- Eat plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits.
- Choose lean and lowfat foods and low-calorie beverages most often.
Choose lowfat dairy products, lean meats, fish, poultry, and dry beans
to get the nutrients you need without extra calories and fat.
- Choose less often foods high in fat and sugars and low in nutrients.
What Counts as a Serving?
Food Guide Pyramid
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||Bread, Cereal, Rice,
and Pasta Group
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
- 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta
- 1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables
- 1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw
- 3/4 cup of vegetable juice
- 1 medium apple, banana, or orange
- 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
- 3/4 cup of fruit juice
Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group
- 1 cup of lowfat or nonfat milk or yogurt
- 1 1/2 ounces of lowfat or nonfat natural cheese
- 2 ounces of lowfat or nonfat processed cheese
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts
- 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
- 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or 1 egg counts as 1 ounce of lean meat.
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of nuts counts as 1 ounce
||Pick a day to quit smoking during a
non-stressful period. For example, try not to quit smoking during
holiday seasons when you might be tempted to eat more. Quitting during a
stressful time at work or at home might cause extra snacking or a smoking
Try to focus on quitting smoking and healing your body. Your
first goal should be to quit smoking and let your body heal from the
effects of nicotine. After you feel better and are not smoking, work
harder on improving your eating and physical activity habits to help you
lose any weight that you might have gained.
After You Quit
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|Learn how to reduce cravings for both
cigarettes and food. Once you stop smoking, it is important to learn
how to handle cravings for cigarettes and food. Remember, a craving only
lasts about 5 minutes. Consider these actions to help deal with your
- Replace smoking with other activities.
Snack on fruit or sugarless gum to satisfy any sweet cravings. Keep
your hands busy. Replace the action of holding cigarettes with
activities like doodling, working puzzles, knitting, twirling a straw,
or holding a pen or pencil.
- Drink less caffeine. Try to avoid
drinking beverages that contain caffeine, such as sodas. Nicotine
withdrawal will make you feel jittery and nervous, and the caffeine
may only make nicotine withdrawal worse.
- Get enough sleep. When you feel
tired, you are more likely to crave cigarettes and food.
- Reduce tension. To help relieve
tension, relax by meditating, taking a walk, soaking in the tub, or
taking deep breaths. Find something that will help you relax and
replace the urge to smoke.
- Get support and encouragement.
You need a lot of support when you quit smoking. Talk to a friend when
you get the urge to smoke or join a support group such as Nicotine
Anonymous. You can also participate in workshops offered by health
care providers that will help you quit smoking. If you can, find a
friend to quit with you for mutual support.
- Talk to your doctor about nicotine
replacement. If you have significant withdrawal symptoms or
are concerned about weight gain, talk to your doctor. Some nicotine
replacement products, formerly available by prescription only, are now
available over the counter. Using nicotine gum or a nicotine patch,
along with improved eating habits and physical activity, will help you
reduce your risk of a smoking relapse. Nicotine gum has been shown to
delay weight gain after quitting. You may also want to talk to your
doctor about prescription medications that are available to help you
- Try not to do things that tempt you to smoke
or eat when you are not hungry. Keep a journal of where and
when you feel most tempted to smoke and avoid these situations.
Substitute healthy activities for smoking to help you avoid the urge
to smoke or eat when you are not hungry.
Try not to panic about modest weight gain. Accept some weight
gain as a normal result of the nicotine leaving your body. Know that
quitting smoking is the best thing that you can do for you and those
around you. If possible, before you quit, prepare a plan to quit smoking
that includes simple changes in your eating and exercise habits. Improving
your lifestyle as you stop smoking can help you prevent a large weight
gain and become a healthy nonsmoker.