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June 14 2010

How to Handle Weight Gain When You Quit Smoking

Fred Kelley,

Weight gain is a common side effect of quitting smoking. Typical weight gain is 5 to 10 pounds, but can be more. Although common, weight gain is not inevitable.

There are several causes of weight gain from a quit smoking program. Often, cravings from nicotine withdrawal cause people to substitute food for smoking. The subsequent increase in caloric intake leads to gaining several pounds. Couple increased food consumption with lack of exercise and gaining weight is only natural.

People who have recently ended a long-term smoking habit don’t often start exercising right away. The harmful effects of smoking on the body remain for some time after quitting, making starting an exercise program difficult for an new ex-smoker. Fatigue and shortness of breath often block smokers and newly quit smokers from doing even moderate exercise.

Another cause of weight gain after quitting smoking involves real, physiological changes caused by cigarettes. Smoking elevates the heart rate. That stimulating effect plays a role in causing the body to burn more calories (of course, the long term detrimental effects of smoking far outweigh any benefit from the calories burned). Thus, when a smoker quits, their body no longer burns the extra calories.

The combination of increased food consumption, reduced calories burned and little or no exercise creates the common situation causing weight gain when you quit smoking.

Fortunately, weight gain is not inevitable, nor is it permanent. As you begin your new smoke free life, begin to make other lifestyle changes as well. Make eating a healthy variety and a healthy amount of food part of your plan. Also, start a simple exercise program. Ask your doctor for help planning your new life.

Like any other challenges in a quit smoking plan, or life in general, some willpower is required. Eating a piece of fruit or vegetable like carrots is an easy way to hold off the cigarette cravings. Just make sure to balance out the extra calories by reducing food intake somewhere else. Be careful to limit large amounts of high calorie foods as you try to find substitutes for cigarettes.

You may find careful dieting particularly difficult the first few days after you quit, as the your body flushes out the chemicals introduced by smoking. That’s a good time to focus on your new diet and exercise plan. It’s short enough that only modest weight gain is likely.

Drink plenty of water during the first couple of weeks after you quit. The water will show up as extra weight on the scale. Just remember that it is flushed out later when you taper off, so the extra weight isn’t permanent. Extra water helps the body more quickly purge the remaining contaminants from smoking. Also, water is a zero calorie way to beat your cravings and it’s definitely not fattening.

For most ex-smokers, the biggest struggle will be to stick with the new smoke-free lifestyle long term. Be sure to visualize the positive benefits and results. See the new, healthier, more attractive you. Imagine how easily you can breathe, and how calm you are. See yourself with unlimited amounts of energy, and more able to accomplish your other goals in life.

Weight gain after quitting smoking doesn’t have to happen to you if you’ll just follow a few simple guidelines and keep focused on your goal.

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