Quitting smoking is one of the hardest things you can do, but it's necessary. I'll spare you the dangers of cigarettes--I'll bet my first born that no one smokes out of ignorance. If and when you finally decide to take the plunge and quit, the mental and physical toll it takes can drain you and make it hard to have anything left in the tank to deny yourself in other areas, such as food. Add to that an almost unconscious need to find something else to fill the gap of cigarettes--again like food--and you have a recipe for weight gain.
The average person gains eight to eleven pounds the first year they quit smoking. If that number has you raising your eyebrows, you aren't alone. The number actually keeps many people from quitting in the first place, especially women, who find the weight gain more than they are willing to tolerate.
But fear not: just because most people do gain, doesn't mean you have to.
Why is there weight gain?
You must first understand where the gain comes from in order to combat it. Yale University associate research scientist Yann Mineur recently discovered that nicotine stimulates brain cells that normally signal people to stop eating when they're full, so the absence of nicotine makes addicts eat beyond satiety. This is supported by the fact that research shows quitters who used a nicotine aid gained less than those that quit on their own. And here's a fact we all know that's worth repeating: weight gain occurs in the body from an excess of calories that are not burnt off through daily physical activity.
No matter where the urge to eat comes from, the bottom line is, if you don't eat the calories, you can't gain the weight. Saying no to comforting foods can be even harder when you are already saying no to your cigarette crutch, so here are some ways to avoid extra calories while quitting:
Find your triggers, and sooth them without food.
Every smoker is different, but it's important to figure out what your biggest triggers are that make you want to smoke. Is it stress? Is it after a big meal? Is it driving? Drinking? You know yourself best and when you want a cigarette the most, so prepare for these times with a back-up plan that doesn't involve food. Chew gum while you're in the car. Go for a walk after filling meals. Do yoga or meditate when you're feeling stressed. There are unlimited ways to deal with the anxiety of a cigarette craving that don't involve food.
Research shows that more significant weight gain was seen in quitters who did not use a nicotine replacement therapy. Using quitting aids like patches and gum, combined with cessation classes may help cut down on added pounds.
Eat your veggies.
Research also shows that smokers who eat more fruits and vegetables smoked fewer cigarettes per day, waited longer to smoke their first cigarette of the day, and scored lower on a nicotine dependence test. The connection isn't quite clear, and further research needs to be done to distinguish if it is a cause-and-effect link, but one possible explanation is the high amount of fiber that can make people feel more full, alleviating the desire to both smoke and mindlessly snack.
Use what works.
Here's a wild idea: quitting smoking can actually help you lose weight instead of gain it. The fastest way to get rid of an old habit is to replace it with a new one. Exercise is the perfect replacement for cigarettes. It improves your mood and can eliminate stress. You may also be surprised how well your body reacts to exercise when its lungs are clear and blood vessels aren't constantly restricted.
Nothing makes you gain weight except for putting extra food in your mouth. Quitting smoking may test your resolve by making it harder to say no to indulgent foods, but it doesn't make you put the food in your mouth. Quitting smoking is a great decision to do and something great for your health. Don't counteract your healthy step forward with an unhealthy step back.
Kelly Turner is a Seattle-based ACE-certified personal trainer and professional fitness writer. She began writing after becoming frustrated with the confusing and conflicting fitness information in the media and the quick-fix, gimmick-centered focus of the fitness industry itself. Her no-nonsense, practical advice has been featured on DietsInReview.com, FitnessMagazine.com, Yahoo! Shine, and she has a regular fitness column in The Seattle Times. Kelly has her own blog at www.kellyturnerfitness.com or follow her on Twitter @KellyTurnerFit.