The majority of people will gain some weight after stopping smoking. On average, ex-smokers put on a couple of pounds over the year after quitting. However, it is not a foregone conclusion and there is a lot of variation: 16% of people actually lose weight after stopping smoking whereas one in ten will gain more than one and a half stone (10kg).
The reasons for weight gain are various. Nicotine supresses the appetite and so consequently many people who smoke are underweight to begin with. Stopping smoking allows the appetite to return to normal levels, meaning weight will normalise. However, it is a common experience for an ex-smoker to find themselves eating more in an attempt to ‘fill the space’ left by smoking or to snack to stifle cravings.
Eating more is now no longer believed to be the only reason why ex-smokers put on a few pounds. Nicotine is a stimulant drug and so smokers tend to be a bit more active, burning off more calories throughout the day. Nicotine also appears to boost the body’s natural metabolic rate and also encourages the body to break down fat (‘lipolysis’).
For a smoker, all this makes quitting sound scary. But it needn’t be. Research shows conclusively that choosing to take up exercise when you quit will help control weight in the long term – more so than joining a diet club. Plus, stopping smoking has benefits in the bucket load: a healthier heart, better breathing, reduced chance of diabetes, less likelihood of cancer, better sleep, better sex life… (the list is very long)
So it’s not a tough decision, really.
Answer by Dr Stu (ex-smoker)
Question from Fran via Facebook
Aubin, H., Farley, A., Lycett, D., Lahmek, P., & Aveyard, P. (2012). Weight gain in smokers after quitting cigarettes: meta-analysis BMJ, 345 (jul10 2) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e4439
Parsons AC, Shraim M, Inglis J, Aveyard P, & Hajek P (2009). Interventions for preventing weight gain after smoking cessation Cochraine Collaboration DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006219.pub2