How Smoking Affects Metabolism


I have smoked for about 25 years and recently stopped. Now I am fighting weight gain. What can I expect and what can I do to keep the weight gain to a minimum? What is it that happens to the metabolism that causes the weight to go on so fast?

Congratulations on your wise decision to stop smoking. More Americans die from smoking-related diseases than from AIDS, drug abuse, car accidents and murder – combined. You have taken a big step towards better health for yourself as well as for those around you.

Nicotine, one of the components of cigarette smoke, increases energy expenditure by stimulating the central nervous system. Once this drug is removed from a person’s system, energy expenditure returns to normal. This difference is not very significant and the person should adjust to it in a short period of time. Smoking also appears to ease feelings of hunger. Smokers can usually overcome hunger signals by lighting up. Consequently, weight gain is often experienced soon after a person quits smoking. The average weight gain for people who quit smoking is less than 10 pounds. Being aware of the problem will help in avoiding or minimizing the weight gain. It is often necessary to adjust eating habits and physical activity to maintain weight during and after quitting.

Smoking cessation, however, lengthens life expectancy by an average of 2-4 years and is well worth the effort. Here are some guidelines to help you avoid the weight gain:

  • Eat three balanced meals every day.
  • Choose plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, avoiding high-fat and high sugar items.
  • Avoid skipping meals. It leads to hunger and a tendency to snack on high-calorie foods.
  • Keep fresh fruit and cut-up raw vegetables handy and choose them when the need for snacking arises.
  • Keep busy to keep your thoughts away from food. Choose an activity that you enjoy (except eating) and do it more often, especially if you feel the urge to smoke or eat.
  • Increase your physical activity: join a gym, walk more, use the stairs.
  • Initially, stay away from other smokers and situations that led you to smoke (or eat).
  • Join a support group.

Never let the fear of weight gain keep you from accomplishing your goal. With a little effort and determination you will succeed in achieving both goals: quit smoking and avoid putting on weight. Your health depends on it.

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