woman doing a bench press

You know smoking is bad for your health. You know you're increasing your risks for cancer and heart disease every time you light up. But when you think about quitting, you think of blowing up like a balloon. Maybe you have a friend who quit smoking and put on 30 pounds or a relative who reduced their risk of disease by tossing out the cigarettes, only to take on new risks by being overweight. You like the weight you're at now, and you really don't want to see that change. Do you have to choose between smoking and weight gain or is there another way?

Is Weight Gain Inevitable?
It's not all in your head. According to the Mayo Clinic, it's fairly common to gain weight after you stop smoking, especially in the first few months. Smoking acts as an appetite suppressant and may also increase your metabolism--both functions that can help keep your weight under control. Some studies have found that smoking can burn about 200 calories a day. When you stop smoking, your appetite returns to normal and your metabolism may slow down. You may feel driven to eat more, while your body is less efficient at burning off those extra calories.

Then there's snacking. Part of it is looking for a way to keep your hands and mouth busy. Another part is looking for another way to get that "feel-good" boost during the day. More often than not, that means reaching for snacks. Most of the time, people tend to choose the unhealthy ones, like candy, sugary beverages, and high-fat items like pastries and chips.

Smoking Is Worse Than Gaining a Few Pounds
If you're using weight gain as an excuse to keep smoking, consider this: according to most studies, the average amount of weight gain within the first one to two years after quitting is less than ten pounds. Only rarely do people gain more. The health risks associated with gaining ten pounds are much lower than those associated with smoking. So even if you do gain a little weight, you'll still be doing your body a big favor!

If you're worried about your appearance, just think after quitting smoking, you'll have whiter teeth, fresher breath, healthier skin, and you won't smell like smoke. In addition, as many people consider smoking unattractive, you'll look better without a cigarette in your mouth, even if you're a few pounds heavier.

Pump Iron
Though weight gain may be a possible outcome of quitting, it isn't an inevitable one. Several studies have shown that it's possible to quit without putting on the pounds. The key is to adopt healthy habits that will counteract the tendency to gain weight.

A recent study showed that men and women who completed a resistance training program such as lifting weights were twice as likely to kick the habit as those who didn't lift weights and were less likely to gain weight while doing it. Getting into a regular exercise program, no matter the type, can help you avoid weight gain. You can burn off those 200 calories that smoking burned by walking briskly for 45 minutes or swimming laps for 30 minutes a day. Exercise is a great way to:

  • Distract you from smoking
  • Ease withdrawal symptoms
  • Flush harmful chemicals from smoking out of your body
  • Ease tension and stress
  • Releases "feel-good" endorphins in the brain to help you feel better

Plan Ahead
The best thing you can do is to plan ahead. If you're prone to snacking, choose your snacks carefully. Cut up fruits and vegetables to have them ready to go. Try low-fat popcorn and fat-free yogurt, and try to stay away from salty, high-fat, and processed snacks. If you need something to distract your mouth, try Tic Tacs, sugar-free hard candies, gum, and flavored toothpicks. Finally, drink plenty of water. Being hydrated boosts your metabolism and helps deter cravings.

Find Something That Works
Partner up with someone who will support and encourage you in your new exercise routine. Learn relaxation techniques to help get past cravings. Reward yourself for achievements with something besides food, like a new lipstick, a weekend getaway, or night out with friends. And remember, even if you do gain a few pounds, you can always lose them.

Weight gain is a possible but not inevitable part of quitting. If you put your energy behind creating a new, healthy life, you'll likely quit without the weight gain and emerge feeling better all over.