Why do you gain weight after quitting smoking?
Scientists say many people gain weight when they try to quit smoking because the part of the brain that craves nicotine needs replacement fuel when the substance is eliminated.
They also say the new hunger may cause people to eat more foods high in carbohydrates and sugar, leading to weight gain after quitting.
Experts say people trying to quit smoking should be aware of the problem of weight gain and develop a plan to replace food cravings with activities such as exercise or spending time with friends.
A study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that people who try to quit smoking don’t just eat more.
They reach for sweet foods that contain a lot of carbohydrates and sugar.
There is a certain part of the brain that is activated when quitting smoking and other addictions.
This causes a person who is trying to quit smoking to reach for those foods that contain more carbohydrates and fats.
This is a “compensatory behavior” that often leads to weight gain, which prevents many people from successfully quitting.
The study was conducted with a group of smokers and non-smokers. Some were given naltrexone, a drug used to treat opiate use disorders, while others received a placebo.
Participants were asked to quit smoking for 24 hours and then given a choice of food.
The researchers reported that naltrexone helped normalize caloric intake in the smoking group to a level consistent with the nonsmoking group.
More smokers who did not receive naltrexone than non-smokers in the study reached for foods high in carbohydrates, sugar and fat.
What happens is that they feed their nicotine addiction with another method instead of fighting it, and they may not even realize it.
This happens because food activates the same dopamine in the brain that smoking does.
This could mean that focusing on food choices could help more people quit smoking and not gain weight.
What to do about it
So what should a person hoping to quit smoking do?
The first thing is simple, experts say: Know that the effort will be worth it. Weight gain should not be a reason not to give up.
Your weight may increase initially, but as you settle into the routine of your new (tobacco-free) life, you will eventually return to your natural weight. It may be slightly more than what you were before you quit smoking, but if you have healthy habits, this will be the natural weight you should be.
If you’re worried about gaining weight after quitting smoking, try to remember:
- Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health right now.
- There are things you can do to prevent weight gain when you quit smoking. Take small steps like eating a healthy breakfast, watching your portion sizes, or moving more.
- If you gain weight after quitting smoking, it doesn’t have to be forever. There are healthy ways to lose weight.
Quitting smoking can give you the confidence and skills to achieve future goals – such as losing the weight you may have gained when you quit.
Set realistic goals
When trying to lose weight, take steps that are manageable, positive, under your control, and specific.
Every step towards your goal is a step towards your better health. If some of these steps aren’t as small as you think, or if your current plan isn’t working, change it.
It may take a few tries to figure out what works best for quitting, but making healthy lifestyle choices is important.
Healthy weight loss
The absence of tobacco smoke will give you more energy and confidence, which will help you lose weight after quitting smoking.
There is no magic number for a healthy weight. Everyone is different. Trying to lose weight through extreme diets or excessive exercise does not work in the long term.
The key is to lose weight slowly and steadily. Find what works for you and recognize your successes. Celebrate milestones like losing 5 percent of your body weight, wearing jeans that were too tight before, or improving your running pace.
If weight gain is a big problem, think about why. Many women struggle to change their bodies because they have unrealistic expectations of what they should look like.
Our bodies are capable of amazing things and the better we treat them, the more they can do. Try to be kinder to yourself and find the things you love about your body.