As a nutritionist in private practice, I've met with many women who complain that the decision to quit smoking caused them to gain unwanted pounds. Typically, it's not a huge amount of weight gain—it's maybe 5 or 10 pounds. But the frustration is obvious and understandable: they feel they've replaced one negative habit with another—excessive consumption of calories.
The cause of hunger and weight gain after quitting smoking is related to a few different factors. For one, the nicotine in tobacco can slightly raise metabolism, enabling you to burn more calories than you typically would on a daily basis. When you kick the habit, you experience a slight decline in metabolism, which increases your susceptibility to weight gain. Another theory suggests that when you quit smoking, levels of
serotonin—the neurotransmitter responsible for calm, relaxed
feelings—are low, and this can lead to irritability and carbohydrate
cravings. Consuming sweet and starchy foods increases serotonin levels
and enables you to feel more at ease.
Aside from these biological factors, your smoking habit probably consumed some amount of time during your day. Whether it was during a work break, or once you got home, taking time out for a cigarette was probably a regular part of your routine. As a result, it's not uncommon to find other activities to occupy the time you previously spent smoking. I'm talking about walking to the nearest vending machine and treating yourself to M&Ms or a Snickers, or heading down to the company cafeteria to grab a bag of chips.
Rest assured, by quitting smoking, you've made a smart decision that will improve your overall health and physical fitness. I understand that watching the scale go up is not exactly what you would call a reward for your behavior, though. To help you avoid packing on pounds after you've kicked the habit, follow my suggestions below:
Tips to Minimize Hunger and Weight Gain after Quitting Smoking
1. Plan activities for times when you have the urge to grab a cigarette. Go for a coffee break, call a friend, take a walk, or do some errands.
2. Keep your hands busy at all times. This is key for the evening hours. Take up knitting, catch up on emails, or indulge your nails: give yourself a manicure or plan for a daily polish change.
3. Carry a water bottle with you whenever you can. This will occupy your hands, and sipping calorie-free water throughout the day will help you avoid weight gain.
4. Bring healthy snacks with you, in portion controlled Ziploc bags. Dried fruit and nuts, string cheese, and low-calorie energy bars are good choices.
5. Keep sugarless gum, mints, or a travel-size mouthwash in your pocketbook. It's great for cleansing your palate when you're craving sweets. At night, brush your teeth right after dinner.
6. Get moving! If you haven't been exercising, now is a good time to start. Exercise will minimize your hunger, boost your metabolism, help you burn calories, and improve your mood.