Not everyone gains weight when they stop smoking, but the average weight gain is about 10 pounds. Weight gain is more likely when someone has smoked for 10 to 20 years or smokes a pack or more a day. Water retention may cause a deceptive weight gain of up to 5 pounds in the week after quitting smoking, but this is not a real weight gain, and your body will go back to normal.
Even if you do gain weight when you quit smoking, the health risks of smoking are far greater…you would have to gain over 150 pounds to make your health risks as high as when you smoked.
The most important components of preventing weight gain when you quit smoking are:
1. Physical activity
- To prevent weight gain at this time, you need to become more physically active. Beginning to increase your physical activity before you quit smoking may remind you how much smoking slows you down, when you have trouble breathing or start to cough during exercise.
- Becoming physically active will not only help you control your weight, but will also give you more energy, improve your health, take your mind off smoking, and help relieve the stress and moodiness that may occur as a result of withdrawal from nicotine.
- Try to do at least 30 minutes of physical activities on most days, even if it is in a few shorter increments. Physical activity does not have to be planned exercise; it may include taking the stairs, mowing the lawn, or playing with children.
2. Healthy eating
- Improving your eating habits gradually can help prevent weight gain, as well as help you feel better as you quit smoking. But changing too much too quickly can increase the stress you feel as you try to quit smoking. Eating a variety of foods each day is a good start, and eating regularly so you never get too hungry.
- To prevent extra snacking as a result of quitting smoking, do not try to quit smoking during a stressful period. This can cause extra stress that can lead to extra snacking, especially over the holidays when more food is around, or relapsing back into smoking to cope with the stress.
3. Managing cravings
- Once you stop smoking, it is important to learn how to reduce your cravings for both cigarettes and food. A craving only lasts about 5 minutes. If you can distract yourself for 5 minutes, the craving will usually pass.
- Replace smoking with other activities that occupy your hands and your mouth. Snack on fruit or chewing gum to satisfy any sweet cravings. Keep your hands busy with doodling, crossword puzzles, knitting, or twirling a straw, pen, or pencil.
- Drink less caffeine; although you may think it will make you feel better, caffeine can worsen the jittery nervous feeling that may accompany nicotine withdrawal.
- Get enough sleep; when you are tired, you are more likely to crave cigarettes and food.
- Remember H.A.L.T.– never let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.
- Reduce tension by meditating, taking a walk or a bath, or taking deep breaths. Find something that will replace smoking as a way to relax and do it consistently.
- Get support and encouragement; talk to a friend when you get the urge to smoke; talk about something other than smoking.
- Make a list of when and where you are most tempted to smoke, and list healthy activities you can substitute when you have the urge. Try not to do things that tempt you to smoke, such as drinking or socializing in a bar, or tempt you to eat when you’re not hungry, such as bringing a bag of chips in front of the television.
- If you are struggling or anxious about trying to quit smoking, talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement such as nicotine gum or a nicotine patch. These can help prevent a relapse, and nicotine gum has been shown to reduce weight gain.
4. Positive attitude
- As you focus on quitting smoking and healing your body, your exercise and eating goals will become easier. When you quit smoking, you can breathe and get around more easily, and nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables taste better when you are not smoking.
- Try to stay positive, and try not to panic about modest weight gain; if you do gain weight, your healthy habits will help you lose the weight once your body gets back to normal. If you need more guidance, talk to your doctor or dietitian.
- Be confident that you are making a healthy choice! Your whole body will thank you!
Jessica Setnick is a registered dietitian in Dallas, Texas who travels the world spreading nutrition wisdom. As an accomplished speaker and writer, Jessica’s passion is promoting a positive relationship with food and eating as a key component of a healthy and happy life. Find out more or contact Jessica to speak at your event by visiting her website at www.understandingnutrition.com.
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