Will I put on weight when I stop smoking?
Not necessarily, although many people do.
On average, people gain 5kg (11lbs) in the year after they stop smoking, according to Deborah Lycett, consultant dietitian and researcher at the University of Birmingham.
Why do you put on weight when you quit?
There are five main reasons:
- Smoking speeds up your metabolism so your body burns calories at a faster rate. So, when you stop smoking, you actually need fewer calories.
- Smoking can suppress your appetite.
- You may find that food tastes better after you stop smoking and you crave sugary foods.
- It's possible to mistake nicotine cravings for feeling hungry, or to eat to distract yourself from them.
- You may replace the "hand-to-mouth" action of smoking with snacking.
How can I avoid putting on weight when I quit?
- Keep your metabolism high by taking regular exercise. Try walking rather than getting the bus or using a lift, start a gym class, or ask your local sports centre about the activities they offer.
- Combat hunger pangs by keeping a stash of healthy treats to hand. Nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit and veg sticks are ideal.
- Eat smaller portions of food until your metabolism has stabilised. Remember it takes 20 minutes for you to feel full after eating, so take a break (go for a walk) after your main meal and see if you still feel hungry in half an hour. If so, dip into your healthy treats.
- Just because food tastes better, it doesn’t mean you need to eat more of it. Remember to chew your food well and savour each mouthful rather than trying to finish it a quickly as possible.
- Make sure that you are taking your medicines regularly to help suppress cravings. The less you crave nicotine, the easier it will be to keep focused.
Exercise to avoid gaining weight
After you quit smoking, your body burns calories more slowly. Even if you eat no more than when you smoked, you may put on weight – but being more active can help.
Regular exercise may prevent about half the weight gain expected after a year of quitting smoking. It burns off calories and reduces cravings for cigarettes.
Build up to at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as fast walking, swimming or cycling, every week.
Moderate-intensity activity means working hard enough to make you breathe more heavily than normal and feel slightly warmer than usual. The more exercise you do, the more calories you'll burn.
Read more about how to get into exercise, or try our Couch to 5K, which will get you running 5km in nine weeks even if you're an absolute beginner.
Use stop smoking medicines to prevent weight gain
Stop smoking medicines, such as nicotine replacement therapy and the prescription tablets Zyban (bupropion) and Champix (varenicline), can double your chances of quitting successfully and also seem to help reduce weight gain in the first few months.
Read the patient information leaflet about Champix
Read the patient information leaflet about Zyban
Diet carefully while stopping smoking
The important thing about stopping smoking is that you see it through. If you're concerned about weight gain but think that stopping smoking and dieting at the same time will be too much, stop smoking first and deal with any weight gain afterwards.
If you're really worried about putting on weight, ask your GP to refer you to a dietitian for a diet plan tailored to your individual needs.
This plan will guide you on how much to eat based on your current weight, age, gender and activity level, and stop you gaining more weight.
Find a registered dietitian.