Control Your Weight As You Quit Smoking
If you want to stop smoking but are worried about gaining
weight, this brochure 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
Will I Gain Weight if I Stop
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.
What causes weight gain after
When nicotine, a chemical in cigarette
smoke, leaves your body, you may experience:
- 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
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
- 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
- You increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, some types
of cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and other lung
- You are hurting not only your own health, but the health of
anyone who breathes the smoke, including nonsmokers.
- 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
- You lower your risk for illness and death from heart
disease, stroke, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer,
and other types of cancer.
- You contribute to cleaner air, especially for children who
are at risk for illnesses because they breathe others'
Adapted from the National Cancer
Institute's "Smoking: Facts and Tips for Quitting"
What Can I Do to Avoid Gaining
Weight When I Quit Smoking?
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
What Counts as a Serving?
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
Yogurt, and Cheese Group
- 1 medium apple, banana, or orange
- 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
- 3/4 cup of fruit juice
Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts 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
- 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
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of nuts counts as
1 ounce of meat.
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 relapse.
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
After You Quit
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 cravings.
- 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
- 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
- Get enough sleep. When
you feel tired, you are more likely to crave cigarettes and
- 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
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
Klesges, Robert C. and Margaret
How Women Can Finally Stop Smoking.
CA: Hunter House, 1994.
How to Quit Smoking Without Gaining
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994.
Shipley, Dr. Robert H.
Stop Smoking Kit: Quit Smart Stop Smoking Guidebook, Hypnosis Audiotape, and Cigarette Substitute. CA: QuitSmart, Inc, 2000.
Shapiro, Howard M.
Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss: The Visual Program for Permanent Weight Loss. New York: Rodale Press, 2000.
WannaLearn Smoking Cessation and Losing Weight categories.
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(Public Law 103-43), WIN assembles and disseminates to health
professionals and the public information on weight control,
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develops communication strategies to encourage individuals to
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