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 quit smoking.

Will I Gain Weight if I Stop 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.

What causes weight gain after quitting?

When nicotine, a chemical in cigarette smoke, leaves your body, you may experience:

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
of Smoking

When you smoke...

The Benefits
of Quitting

When you quit smoking...

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:

What Counts as a Serving?

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group
Vegetable Group
Fruit Group
Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group

When You Are Ready to Quit Smoking

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 gained.

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.

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.

Additional Reading

Klesges, Robert C. and Margaret DeBon.
How Women Can Finally Stop Smoking.
Alameda, CA: Hunter House, 1994.

Katahn, Martin.
How to Quit Smoking Without Gaining Weight.
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.

Weight-control Information Network

1 Win Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3665
Phone: (301) 984-7378 or 1-800-WIN-8098
Fax: (301) 984-7196

The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health, under the U.S. Public Health Service. Authorized by Congress (Public Law 103-43), WIN assembles and disseminates to health professionals and the public information on weight control, obesity, and nutritional disorders. WIN responds to requests for information; develops, reviews, and distributes publications; and develops communication strategies to encourage individuals to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Publications produced by WIN are reviewed for scientific accuracy, content, and readability.