Smoking and weight gain

Gaining weight after you quit smoking is not inevitable

Weight gain after giving up smoking is a fear shared by many smokers, but it is also one of the many accepted beliefs associated with smoking. Statistical data indicates that a third of smokers who quit smoking do not gain any weight and approximately 5% lose weight!

To avoid any potential weight gain (on average around 3 to 4kg, which is approximately equivalent to the weight smokers would have gained if they had not experienced the ‘appetite suppressant’ impact of nicotine), you need to understand a few basic principles.

Today, there is evidence which indicates that smoking influences the way we eat. When it comes to eating, the tastiest foods are often the most fattening. As the act of smoking alters the sense of taste of smokers, having a partial ‘anaesthetic effect’ on their taste buds, they consume more fatty foods such as dishes containing sauces, cheeses and processed meats…because they are tastier! In addition, if they begin smoking at a young age, their eating habits will encourage them to favour fatty foods at the expense of a varied, balanced diet.
Knowing what to consume in order to ‘eat well’, using appropriate nicotine replacement products in the process to quit smoking and taking exercise are all useful guidelines to avoid weight gain after you quit smoking.

Body mass index (BMI)

The risks of developing cardiovascular diseases are many. Although it is not possible to tackle some of these risks, such as gender, age, family history and certain genetic predispositions, it is realistic to address others such as alcohol consumption – a maximum of 7 to 14 standard sized glasses per week – smoking, lack of physical exercise and an unbalanced diet.

A poor diet can lead to excessive weight gain which increases the likelihood of certain anomalies associated with cardiovascular disorders, such as arterial hypertension, an excess of ‘bad’ cholesterol or a deficiency of ‘good’ cholesterol, diabetes and kidney failure. That is why excess weight is considered as a risk factor.

Body mass index (BMI) is used to determine whether individuals are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease. However, it does contain some ambiguities: designed for adults aged between 18 and 65, it cannot recognise gender and does not take into account variance in age (nevertheless, there is a specific calculation tool for individuals under the age of 18). It is not appropriate for athletes because it is not able to differentiate between body fat and muscle mass. In spite of this, the BMI calculation tool is used worldwide as it is simple, objective and reliable.
To calculate your body mass index, you must divide your weight by your height squared: BMI = weight (in kg)/height (in cm)². The table below explains BMI values.

Your BMI is below 18.5
You are clinically underweight. You need to gain a little more weight…but this is not an excuse to start indulging in sweets and chocolate!
Your BMI is between 18.5 and 25
You are a healthy weight, neither under or overweight. Continue to eat a balanced diet and, if possible, exercise regularly. Refer to the paragraph which addresses weight gain if you are anxious about putting on weight after you quit smoking.
Your BMI is between 25 and 30
Statistically, these figures indicate that you are overweight. However, they are only an estimate and factors such as your age and whether or not you participate in intensive sporting activity should be taken into account…If you would like a more accurate diagnosis, you may consult a nutritionist or certified dietician. During the process of quitting smoking, we suggest you pay particular attention to quick-release sugars and fats.
Your BMI is above 30
Unless you are a high-level athlete, you are classified as being obese. If you have not already done so, consult a doctor or certified dietician who will be able to provide you with an update on your health and help you to lose weight. During the process of quitting smoking, we suggest you pay particular attention to quick-release sugars and fats.
The impact of nicotine on weight
To deal with the possibility of weight gain, it is useful to understand the impact of nicotine on the body. Nicotine acts on the basal caloric expenditure (the ‘basal metabolic rate’). Even at rest, we burn energy to ensure essential bodily functions (breathing, blood circulation, etc.). Each one of us has a different basal metabolic rate which is dependent upon age, gender and level of physical activity. In the case of smokers, nicotine increases their basal metabolic rate: smokers need more calories than non-smokers for their body to function properly.

Nicotine leads to a more significant fat loss. In view of this, the smoker weighs less than the non-smoker. In addition, immediately after smoking a cigarette, blood sugar levels increase slightly for a short time, therefore masking the sensation of hunger and curbing the appetite. After quitting smoking, everything returns to normal. The caloric expenditure of the basal metabolic rate is reduced. The solution? Exercise! Thirty minutes of physical activity speeds up the basal metabolic rate, increasing energy expenditure from 70 to 75 calories a day.

A few useful tips

Do not skip meals: the body’s reaction in this situation is immediate because its first thought is to avoid a state of continued deprivation. The body retains its caloric reserves, transforming everything it has consumed into fat, burning fewer calories during basic activities. You can even eat more often: eating three light meals and one or two well balanced snacks speeds up the basal metabolic rate. That does not mean constantly nibbling! Do not snack on sweets, chocolate or crisps, instead opt for a piece of fruit, a yogurt, or even a slice of wholemeal bread…The more muscle mass you have the more your basal metabolic rate will increase!

What will happen after you quit smoking?

By quitting smoking:

·       Fats will be burnt less efficiently. The solution? Reducing the fat contact in your diet! Cut down on cheese, processed meat, etc.

·       Your sensation of hunger will return to normal. The solution? Incorporating slow-release sugars into your diet, so that your blood sugar levels remain stable, curbing food cravings.
In short: follow a balanced diet and exercise…

Quit smoking without gaining weight
Today, there is evidence to prove that regular exercise can contribute to maintaining a healthy weight, but this should still be combined with a healthy diet!
The health recommendations proposed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2010 encourage all 18 to 64 year olds to spend at least 2.5 hours a week participating in ‘moderate intensity’ physical activity. Walking at a brisk, sustained pace, gardening, getting off the tube or bus one or two stops before your final destination, taking the stairs rather than the lift, all these activities are contributory to maintaining good health… Buy a pedometer to calculate the number of steps taken each day, in order to increase your motivation to better your performance and improve your scores over time.
If you wish to participate in more intensive physical exercise, consult your doctor beforehand to check that you are in an adequate state of health. But above all, you must select activities which are going to give the most pleasure. Before making any decisions, ask yourself how much time you can spend exercising, where and when you can exercise, at work if this is feasible, or elsewhere: stadiums, swimming baths, public or private sports centres, etc.
Recommended sports include swimming, cycling, dancing, etc. and, for the fittest, Nordic walking, running, badminton, rollerblading…

A balanced diet: the key indicators
Good eating habits are based on simple, common sense ideas. A crash diet is not necessary. Beware of the ‘rebound effect’ which can affect dieters, whatever method they choose.

It is essential to follow a varied, balanced diet. You may eat any kind of food, but must consume at least one foodstuff from each of the five main food groups every day:

·       With each meal: grain-based foods (rice, pasta, flour, wheat, corn, preferably wholemeal and organic bread to avoid pesticides), as well as starches (lentils, peas, haricot beans or broad beans, potatoes, manioc or tapioca)

·       Three times a day, as part of a meal or snack: dairy products, preferably semi-skimmed

·       Twice a day: fruit, as part of a meal or snack, raw or cooked vegetables, meat, preferably lean, fish and eggs.

Vary your diet by choosing different foods from each of the five main foods groups each day. Visit:

Limit sugary foods, Danish pastries and commercially baked pastries, salt and alcohol. Prioritise non-hydrogenated oils and margarines which do not contain copra or palm kernel products.

It is however recommended to drink unlimited water (at least a litre and a half per day) both during and between meals, to supplement the water contained in our food.