Smoking cigarettes can decrease appetite, increase metabolism, and serve as a distraction from hunger and eating. When a person quits smoking, they may gain weight because their appetite returns.

People may see cigarettes as a way to manage their weight and therefore be reluctant to quit. However, smoking leads to serious and lasting health problems such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, while any weight gain resulting from quitting may be temporary. This article discusses why some people may gain weight after quitting smoking, and the effects of tobacco and nicotine on body weight.

Why can a person gain weight after quitting smoking?

The nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco products causes loss of appetite and increases metabolism. Therefore, smoking can contribute to weight loss. Quitting smoking can reverse this appetite suppression and lead to weight gain. When a person quits smoking, their brain no longer receives the effects of nicotine, such as a feeling of well-being, relaxation, and the release of dopamine. The absence of nicotine means that the brain increases the rewarding value of other dopamine-inducing substances, such as food. Many people may feel apprehensive about quitting smoking because of the risk of weight change, including weight gain.

Relationship between smoking and weight

A study suggests that despite the fact that the general public knows about the negative health effects of smoking, weight gain after quitting smoking is the main reason why people start smoking again after quitting. Nicotine suppresses the appetite, which means quitting smoking can cause a person to eat more than they did while smoking.

Compared to people who don’t smoke, those who smoke tend to have:

a lower body mass index (BMI)
a less nutritious diet
a lower likelihood of obesity

In a study of smoking and body weight in China, researchers found that smoking cigarettes increased the risk of being underweight by 2.7%. Additionally, participants who smoked were 12.7% more likely to be a healthy weight and 13% less likely to be overweight or obese. This figure included a 10% reduction in the likelihood of obesity.

Specifically, a 2019 study in BMC Public Health found a consistent association between smoking and a smaller hip circumference. Researchers have previously linked a lower percentage of buttock and thigh fat to higher cardiovascular risk. The results of this study confirmed this hypothesis. The authors suggested that smoking increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing fat storage capacity in the lower body.

How does quitting smoking affect weight?

People who quit smoking usually gain weight, but it’s not as simple as some people think. Quitting smoking can have different effects on body weight in different people. Some people can lose weight, while others can gain it. However, this loss or gain tends to balance out over the long term. A 2018 study in the British Medical Journal found a link between having a lower BMI and increased appetite 3 months after quitting smoking and gaining more weight. She also found a link between using nicotine replacement therapy and gaining less weight 1 year after quitting smoking. Overall, the authors concluded that people who gain more weight shortly after quitting smoking do not necessarily continue to gain large amounts of weight after a year.

Causes of weight gain when quitting smoking

A person’s body weight and the amount of cigarettes they smoke can help predict whether they are likely to lose or gain weight when they quit smoking.

Causes of weight gain

Researchers don’t know exactly why people gain weight when they quit smoking. However, it can be related to:

Eat more: Increased hunger can be a symptom of smoking cessation, but people usually end up going back to their regular eating habits.
Nicotine: Nicotine accelerates the metabolism, that is to say the transformation of food into energy. When a person quits smoking, their metabolism slows down, so they burn fewer calories.
Physical activity: Inactivity can increase the risk of weight gain.

Tips for managing weight when quitting smoking

Managing weight when quitting smoking involves eating a nutritious diet to reduce cravings and staying active to improve mood and overall health.

Physical exercise

In addition to helping with weight management, regular exercise has many health benefits, including:

reduce the risk of certain health problems, such as heart failure and diabetes
contribute to extending the lifespan
improve quality of life

A little physical activity is better than none at all. However, to achieve substantial health benefits, adults should aim for 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. They can also do an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week.

A healthy diet

Limiting what a person eats when they quit smoking may seem like an obvious way to avoid weight gain, but restricting food intake can increase cravings and increase the risk of starting to smoke again.

Here are some healthy eating tips to help a person quit smoking:

plan healthy meals in advance with more fruits, vegetables and whole grains
reduce or eliminate processed foods like candies and pastries
limit snacking to nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables
talk to a doctor or dietician to establish a personalized diet plan
avoiding crash diets, which make quitting smoking more difficult and can cause the body to lower its metabolism and burn muscle for food if the person is not eating enough
finding ways that don’t involve food to deal with cravings
keep your mouth busy with something like sugar-free chewing gum or a nicotine inhaler.

Benefits of Quitting Smoking

The health benefits of quitting smoking begin immediately:

Duration after quitting smoking and health benefits

24 hours: decrease in nicotine levels in the blood
several days: decrease in the level of carbon monoxide in the blood
1 year: decrease in symptoms such as shortness of breath and cough
2 years: reduced risk of heart attack
5 to 10 year reduction in the risk of certain cancers, such as those of the bladder and kidneys.
Quitting smoking has other health benefits, including longer life expectancy and a lower risk of premature death.

When a person quits smoking, they are likely to gain weight. This is mainly due to the fact that smoking can decrease appetite and increase metabolism. A person’s appetite usually returns when they stop smoking. Some may see this as a barrier to quitting smoking, but there are healthy ways to manage weight while quitting smoking. For example, people can plan nutritious meals and reduce or eliminate the consumption of processed foods.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.