Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
Quitting Smoking: Is Weight Gain Unavoidable?
If you are a smoker, the absolute best thing you can do for your health is to quit. Quitting smoking trumps weight loss, exercise, even a healthy diet -- although you’ll be better off if you choose a lifestyle that embraces all of these healthy practices.
It’s estimated that in the U.S. alone, over 430,000 lives are lost each year due to smoking. Half of all smokers die prematurely, and over 25 percent are dead before they reach the age of 70. It’s no surprise that surveys find that as many as 80 percent of smokers want to quit.
For nonsmokers, it’s hard to understand why a smoker can’t simply throw the cigarettes in the trash and never look back. Unfortunately, nicotine is horribly addictive. Although it can be done, it is easier kick a heroin habit than it is to quit smoking. For many people, especially women, the fear of weight gain prevents them from taking the first step towards independence. But a recent analysis of 62 clinical trials found that many smokers who quit will not gain any weight at all, and some will even lose a few pounds.
In the report, published in the British Medical Journal, researchers found that the average quitter will gain 5 kg, or about 11 pounds in the first year. However, they also found that half of those who quit will not gain much weight at all, and about one in six will actually lose weight. The study did not find a difference between those who used medical therapy (including Chantix, nicotine patches, or buproprion) and those who quit without medications.
Since it is easy to substitute one bad habit, such as snacking or sodas, for smoking, it’s important to have a strategy in place to deal with the possibility of weight gain. Starting an exercise program or pledging to follow a healthy diet at the same time that you commit to quit may head off weight gain and help you to feel better in the process. Don’t hesitate to get your friends and family involved. Couples and friends who quit together tend to be more successful than those who try to go it alone. Your doctor can also be a great resource when you need encouragement and motivation.
If you’ve already tried and failed, don’t give up. Sometimes the second, third, or even fourth time’s the charm.
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