Gaining weight after quitting is a major concern for many smokers, especially women.
As a smoker you are artificially underweight. When you quit the body returns to the weight it would have been if you had never smoked. However, not everyone gains weight. One in four quitters loses weight or stays the same. (1)
The average weight gain is 3kg in the first 3 months after quitting and 4-5kg after one year. (2) Over the long term, quitters gain 7kg on average, compared to continuing smoking.(3)
The good news is that the substantial health benefits of quitting far outweigh the effects of any weight gain. It has been calculated that you would need to put on 42kg to neutralise the health benefits of quitting. (4)
After quitting, your appearance will improve in a number of ways. Your skin colour improves and you will develop fewer wrinkles. (5) You will lose those yellow tar stains on your fingers and teeth. You will no longer smell like an ashtray.
Why do people gain weight after quitting?
Weight gain after quitting is mainly due to stopping nicotine. There are two ways that nicotine keeps your weight down.
- Nicotine reduces the appetite. After you quit, you may become hungrier for a while and eat more.
- Nicotine also speeds up the metabolism and helps the body burn fat faster. As a result you may gain weight even if you don’t eat more.
Other reasons for gaining weight after quitting are:
- Using food as a substitute for smoking
- The improved taste of food after quitting
- Eating to relieve tension
Can weight gain be prevented?
Research has shown that trying too hard to control your weight when quitting does not generally work and can also reduce your chance of quitting successfully. (3,6) The best advice is to follow a sensible, low-fat diet, exercise regularly and accept that some weight gain is likely to occur.
Simple dietary advice
- Eat more salads, fruits, vegetables, cereals, rice and pasta
- Reduce fried and high-fat foods such as cakes, pastries, creamy desserts, chocolate
- Eat less take-aways such as hamburgers, pizza and pies
- Choose low-fat dairy foods
- Beware of nibbling, especially on high-fat or high-sugar foods. Chew sugarless gum instead
- Drink lots of water or low-kilojoule drinks
- Try to reduce or avoid alcohol. It is fattening and can weaken your resolve to avoid overeating or smoking
- Watch your portion size
- Use sugar free gum and mints
Exercise reduces weight gain, relieves cravings and stress. It also reverses some of the health damage done by smoking.
Choose an activity that is enjoyable and convenient. Where possible, exercise with family or friends.
Try to exercise on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes at a time.
Stop-smoking medication can help
Some of the drugs used to help you quit can delay weight gain during the quitting process. This lets you focus on quitting without being distracted by weight gain. Nicotine patch, gum and lozenges and bupropion (Zyban) are effective and probably varenicline (Champix). Unfortunately, most people gain the weight when they stop the medication.
The bottom line
It is best to accept some weight gain in the short term if it occurs. Focus on quitting as your number one priority and deal with the weight gain later once non-smoking has become firmly established.
1. Richmond RL. Weight change after smoking cessn Medical Journal of Australia 1993
2. Aubin H-J. Weight gain in smokers after quitting cigarettes. A meta-analysis. British Medical Journal 2012
3. Parsons A. Interventions for reducing weight gain. Cochrane Review 2011
4. McGee D. Smoking, body weight and CHD mortality. Preventative Medicine 2004
5. Seitz CM. Cigarette smoking and facial wrinkles.A review of the literature. Journal Of Smoking Cessation 2012
6. Spring B. Interventions for cessation and avoiding wt gain. Addiction 2009
Last Modified: 05-02-2013