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Coach Corner

Conquer Your Fears of Quitting Smoking and Weight Gain

June 22, 2022
By Pivot

Is gaining weight stopping you from quitting? If so, this blog is for you! Learn how to be in control of your fears and stop letting weight gain erode your determination to quit. 

First, let’s rip the band-aid off - no sugar-coating here! Weight gain after quitting smoking is real for most people. After quitting, most gain an average of five to 10 pounds within the first two years following cessation. 

Why do you gain weight when you quit smoking?

There are many reasons nicotine and the routine of smoking, keep the pounds off: 

  • Nicotine has an appetite suppressing effect, making you feel fuller, and longer. 
  • Nicotine speeds up your metabolism, increasing the number of calories you burn even when you’re not exercising.
  • Nicotine triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, causing it to seek a  replacement and increasing cravings for foods that are high in carbs, fats and sugar.  
  • After quitting, many people replace the familiar, hand-to-mouth motion of smoking with snacking. 
  • Using tobacco can suppress negative emotions as your go-to stress reliever. When you quit, you may use food to feel better, causing you to gain weight as a result. 
  • Also fun fact, nerve cells regenerate after quitting -  literally making food taste and smell even better than before.

At first glance, this list may seem to provide good reasons to keep using tobacco. But did you know that continuing your tobacco use is actually more harmful than gaining a few pounds? 

This is not simply a matter of trading one health concern for another. To put it in perspective, you would have to gain about 80 pounds above your recommended weight to be in the same ballpark of heart disease risk posed by smoking. In fact, when contrasting the health effects of quitting against weight gain, there is simply no comparison. 

Health benefits of quitting smoking

Multiple studies confirm that people who quit will:

  • Reduce their risk of heart disease and death by 50% in their first smoke-free year
  • Decrease their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 30%
  • Experience a reduction in the severity  of COPD progression
  • Lower the risk of developing 12 types of cancer

It’s important to point out that weight gain is likely temporary and reversible with lifestyle shifts such as increased activity like walking, restful sleep, and an increase of whole foods in your diet, such as fruits and vegetables.

At Pivot, you don’t have to build a healthy lifestyle alone. Instead, your Pivot coach is a strong ally that places their full support on you.

We know that feeling good about your body can be hard, especially if you put on weight and don’t feel like your best self. Most women identify weight as the key factor in determining how they feel about themselves. Having a positive body image is a key factor in taking control of your fears to quit, and this means loving yourself more than the scale.  

Control the inner dialogue  

Befriend your body. It’s important to combat the negative thoughts we say about ourselves when we look in the mirror, as this type of self-talk can lead to depression, social anxiety, and eating disorders. Feeling fabulous will not happen overnight. It takes practice, just like quitting. 

That’s why we’ve pulled together a few things you can do to start loving yourself: 

  • Reframe negative thoughts
    When you start to talk badly about yourself, flip the thought and say positive qualities about yourself out loud.
  • Find your inner circle
    Surround yourself with positive people who see your beauty - not just on the outside, but inside too. They can remind you that you are unique and wonderfully made! 
  • Define healthy
    Think about what is important to you. What does being “healthy” look like as it relates to your lifestyle? Then, ask yourself how smoking could negatively affect that vision of health versus gaining weight. 
  • Mind your media
    Try to be more intentional about the media you consume. If social media makes you feel worse about yourself, give the platforms you use a break while you're quitting or follow some figures that promote body positivity! 

After you’ve built a resilient inner dialogue - now what?

Setting realistic goals is paramount to long-term success. Conversely, lofty or complicated health goals can be overwhelming and make it hard to stick with the change. That’s why setting your plan in motion to quit smoking while managing potential weight gain - and ensuring it’s sustainable - is so important. Here are a few ways you can do that: 

Taper to quit

Reduce your total number of daily cigarettes by one every week. This will allow you the space needed to slowly adjust to decreased nicotine levels and make it less likely that there will be a steep change in your appetite. Start replacing the cigarettes being removed with a habit that you want to build, like brain breaks or a brisk walk.

Plan for the munchies

Less nicotine means that your body will need to adjust, and as a result, you may experience a temporary increase in hunger cues. Prepare the pantry and fridge by keeping nutritious items within reach.
Consider stocking the fridge with options like fresh fruit, crunchy veggies and hummus, nuts and seeds, pickles, air-popped popcorn, lean meat, and a small serving of cheese. Not only are these foods lower in calories, but they pack in lots of nutrients, fiber, and water - all of which keep you fuller longer and make it less likely you’ll overdo it.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

You may have heard that water is beneficial for everything from brain function to digestion and even clear skin, but did you know that water can actually help ease withdrawal symptoms? Proper hydration can help stave off headaches, fatigue, and – you guessed it – hunger! While you’re stocking up on nutritious items for the fridge, don’t forget the water, flavored seltzer water, or herbal tea so you can sip throughout the day.

Leap over mental hurdles

In the process of change, it’s helpful to adopt a mindset that views challenges as opportunities. This will allow you to focus your energy on things that are within the sphere of your control.

As your body adjusts to less nicotine, there will be shifts that you do not have direct control over. Instead, design action steps that you can plan for, such as exercise or flexing your mental muscles, which also play a role in managing weight gain. 

Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling: 

  • Start a relaxation practice such as listening to calming music or deep breathing.
  • Build an exercise routine (even walking or dancing!) 
  • Explore a fun new hobby.
  • Reach out to your inner circle for support and encouragement or to join you on your walk!

Treat yourself with kindness as you work to quit  

You may gain a few pounds in the process of quitting tobacco, and that can feel hard. Be kind to yourself as your body adjusts and you navigate building the healthy lifestyle you envision. A few extra pounds are a considerably lower risk to your health than continuing to smoke. It’s important to remember that a few pounds are not enough to negate the positive, lifelong health benefits of quitting. Don’t let the fear of gaining weight stop you from living your healthiest life!

Authored By: 

Laura Dotson, MS-MPH, TTS, NBC-HWC

Ariana Lohmann, BS, TTS, NBC-HWC

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