One of the common fears associated with giving up smoking is that it will lead to uncontrolled weight gain. Indeed, this fear has its grounds. Four out of every five people who stop smoking gain some weight. While the health benefits of quitting far exceed the problems of gaining weight, many people do not like it if they put on a few extra pounds. However, six months after quitting, most people have lost at least some of the weight that they gained. It is important to know that you can quit smoking and still control your weight in the desired interval.
How Much Weight you can Gain?
The average person who quits smoking gains between 4 and 10 pounds. It turns out that the average smoker weighs 4-10 pounds less than the average non-smoker–even if they have the same levels of exercise and food intake. Thus, it seems that the weight gained by quitting smoking brings most ex-smokers up to what they would weigh if they had never smoked. The more cigarettes that a person smoked per day, the more weight he or she is likely to gain after quitting. Someone who quit smoking two packs per day may expect to gain more than someone who quit smoking only one pack per day.
Please note that these numbers are only averages. You may be above average or below average. Half the people who quit smoking gain less than the average 4-10 pounds. And, about one out of ten ex-smokers gains as much as 25-30 pounds. Most weight tends to be gained in the first six months. Then, after six months many people start to lose the weight they gained as they adjust to being an ex-smoker.
Why do you Gain Weight?
One of the reasons we gain weight is that we eat more calories than we use. There are 3500 calories in a pound of body fat. When a person eats 3500 more calories than he or she can use, the person will gain one pound. When a person burns 3500 more calories than he or she eats, the person will lose a pound. The number of calories that a person burns each day depends on age, sex, body weight, metabolism, and amount of exercise. These factors determine how many calories a person can eat without gaining weight, or while losing weight.
Metabolism is the energy needed for the body’s functions, like the functions performed by the heart, brain and liver. About 70% of the calories burned each day are for these functions. The nicotine in cigarettes raises the “metabolic rate” of smokers, which increases the amount of calories used. But it is a very unhealthy way to burn calories. After smoking a cigarette your “metabolism” increases right away. Your heart may beat roughly 10-20 more times per minute after you have a cigarette. This is one reason for the high rate of heart disease in smokers.
When you quit smoking, your metabolic rate slows down to a healthy level. It may even slow down an extra amount before going back to normal. It can take a few weeks or even months for your metabolism to rise back to a normal level. Meanwhile, this slower rate burns fewer calories. There are more healthy ways than smoking to increase metabolism, like physical exercise, for example.
Changes in Eating Habits
Another reason you might gain weight after quitting is because of changes in your diet. It is normal for your appetite to increase after quitting smoking. Studies show that people who quit smoking increase their food intake. Increased appetite is a common withdrawal symptom after quitting. It tends to last somewhat longer than other symptoms. Actual reason for the appetite increase after quitting smoking is the scientific fact that nicotine is a natural appetite suppressant. Smokers often avoid between meal snacking by lighting up. Nicotine is a stimulant, and may also interfere with the release of the hormone insulin. Insulin controls glucose levels in the blood. When this function is blocked, a person will become slightly hyperglycemic, and as a result, the body and brain may slow down the hormones and other signals that trigger feelings of hunger.
Not only does appetite increase with quitting, but people’s likes/dislikes might change. It is common for people to say that before quitting they never had much of a sweet tooth but now they find that they eat sweet foods. Studies show that people want more sweet and fatty foods after quitting. Even rats in nicotine withdrawal show more desire for sugar. And, as you know, sweet and fatty foods also tend to be high in calories.
When you quit smoking, your senses of taste and smell improve and return to normal. This may also increase your appetite. Also, studies show that alcohol use often increases after people quit smoking. Alcohol is very high in calories, so increased drinking may cause weight gain.
Oral Gratification (Feeling the Need to Have Something in Your Mouth)
Another reason that people gain weight after quitting is because of what ex-smokers often call “oral gratification.” Ex-smokers often report that they miss the feeling of having something to do with their mouth and hands. Eating or snacking is like the action of smoking. The need to have something in your mouth goes away over time. Keep your hands and mouth busy with objects, such as toothpicks or straws. Or you can chew on foods such as carrots, celery, or even sugar-free mints.
Other Reasons for Eating
Last, research has shown that people tend to use food in the same ways they used cigarettes. They use them to deal with stress or boredom, to reward oneself, to pass time, or to help be social. It is important to know why you eat even when you are not hungry.
Statistical data confirms that weight gain after quitting smoking is likely, but not a sure thing. About 80% of people who quit smoking gain weight at first and most lose weight over time with no special action. But there are things that can be done to reduce the chances of gaining weight after quitting.
Weight gain occurs when people take in more calories than they use. Weight is controlled best when calories are reduced and metabolism is increased. Calories can be reduced with a proper diet. Metabolism can be increased with regular exercise.
The types of foods you eat can help you control or lose weight.
1. Limiting fats is one way to control weight. Fats are loaded with calories. Each gram of fat contains 9 calories compared to 4 calories per gram in proteins and carbohydrates. So you can eat the same amount of food that is low in fat and still lose weight. Today many foods have less fat. Also, most foods have labels that make it easy for you to check the fat content. You may be surprised at how much hidden fat there are in common foods. Come up with low fat foods you most enjoy and keep these in mind when preparing or purchasing meals.
2. A better way may be to focus on the foods you can eat rather than on what you should not eat. Your diet can include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lean meats.
3. If you have the urge to snack you may want to cut up carrots, cantaloupes, and strawberries, or eat pretzels rather than chips. Some ex-smokers also like drinking ice water or sucking on ice cubes or popsicles.
4. Remember that sweet foods also tend to add calories. People seem to like sweet foods after quitting. If you reduce or avoid high calorie sweet foods weight gain will be less likely. If you must have sweet foods, there are now a lot of products with sweeteners in them that are low in calories.
5. Another way to reduce caloric intake is to change your eating habits. For example, perhaps you are used to having a cigarette after a meal, but since quitting you have been eating more. You may want to get up from the table right after your meal and find something else to do. Some people eat to deal with stress. If this is the case, you may want to find other ways to deal with these feelings. Try relaxing or deep breathing exercises.
Exercise after quitting smoking is good for many reasons:
1. First, exercise burns calories. Exercise such as walking, jogging, or swimming can burn off 200 to 600 calories per hour. Not only do you burn calories but your metabolism increases and you burn calories at a higher rate for up to 24 hours after exercise.
2. Exercise depresses appetite and makes you want to eat less. When you exercise, fat is broken down and released into the bloodstream. This acts as a built-in appetite depressant. This makes you want to eat less.
3. Third, exercise is hard to do while smoking. Many smokers do not enjoy exercise because less oxygen reaches their heart and muscles. This can cause cramps and shortness of breath. Quitting smoking makes exercise easier and more fun. Without the carbon monoxide from smoking in your system, exercise may seem more fun. You may not want smoking to get in the way of those good feelings.
4. Last, you can use exercise as a healthy way to deal with stress, boredom, and tension. Exercise helps relieve tension. It has been found to improve well-being. Exercise also improves the skin, body tone, and strength.
Not only is alcohol high in calories, it can be a huge trigger to smoke. For many people, smoking and drinking go together like a hand in a glove. Avoid the empty calories in alcohol, but more importantly, don't put yourself at risk of relapse by drinking early in your quit.
Not only is it a great craving-buster, water will help to flush residual toxins from cigarettes out of your body more quickly. Metabolism slows when the body is dehydrated, so drinking water will offset weight gain by giving your metabolism a boost. Good hydration also helps you feel better in general, which will make a difference in how you weather nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
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