You Can Control Your Weight As You Quit Smoking

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If you want to stop smoking but are worried about gaining weight, this brochure may help you. Many ex-smokers do gain a few pounds, but only a few gain a lot of weight. The best action you can take to improve your health is to quit smoking. Smoking is much more harmful to your health than gaining a few pounds. Making some simple changes, like developing healthier eating and physical activity habits, should help you control your weight gain when you quit smoking.

Will I Gain Weight if I Stop Smoking?


Not everyone gains weight when they stop smoking. On average, people who quit smoking gain only about 10 pounds. You are more likely to gain weight when you stop smoking if you have smoked for 10 to 20 years or smoked one or more packs of cigarettes a day. You can control your weight while you quit smoking by making healthy eating and physical activity a part of your life. Although you might gain a few pounds, remember you have stopped smoking and taken a big step toward a healthier life.

What causes weight gain after quitting?

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When nicotine, a chemical in cigarette smoke, leaves your body, you may experience:

  • Short-term weight gain. The nicotine kept your body weight low, and when you quit smoking, your body returns to the weight it would have been had you never smoked.
  • You might gain 3 to 5 pounds due to water retention during the first week after quitting.
  • A need for fewer calories. After you stop smoking, you may use fewer calories than when you were smoking.

Will this weight gain hurt my health?

The health risks of smoking are far greater than the risks of gaining 5 to 10 pounds. Smoking causes more than 400,000 deaths each year in the United States. You would have to gain about 100 to 150 pounds after quitting to make your health risks as high as when you smoked. The health risks of smoking and the benefits of quitting are listed below.

The Health Risks of Smoking

When you smoke...

  • Your heart rate increases.
  • You expose yourself to some 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke and 40 of these chemicals cause cancer.
  • You are much more likely to get lung cancer than a nonsmoker. Men are 22 times more likely to develop lung cancer, while women who smoke are 12 times more likely.
  • You are twice as likely to have a heart attack as a nonsmoker.
  • You increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and other lung diseases.
  • You are hurting not only your own health, but the health of anyone who breathes the smoke, including nonsmokers.

The Benefits of Quitting

When you quit smoking...

  • Your body begins to heal from the effects of the nicotine within 12 hours after your last cigarette.
    • Your heart and lungs start repairing the damage caused by cigarette smoke.
    • You breathe easier and your smoker's cough starts to go away.
  • You lower your risk for illness and death from heart disease, stroke, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, and other types of cancer.
  • You contribute to cleaner air, especially for children who are at risk for illnesses because they breathe others' cigarette smoke.

Adapted from the National Cancer Institute's "Smoking: Facts and Tips for Quitting"

What Can I Do to Avoid Gaining Weight When I Quit Smoking?

To avoid gaining weight when you quit smoking, you need to become more physically active and improve your eating habits before you stop. Physical activity helps to control your weight by increasing the number of calories your body uses. Making healthy changes to your eating habits will prevent weight gain by controlling the amount of calories you eat. Try to reduce your chances of gaining weight by being more physically active and improving your eating habits before you stop smoking.

Become More Physically Active.

Becoming physically active is a healthy way to control your weight and take your mind off smoking. In one study, women who stopped smoking and added 45 minutes of walking a day gained less than 3 pounds. In addition to helping control your weight, exercise increases your energy, promotes self-confidence, improves your health, and may help relieve the stress and depression caused by the lack of nicotine in your body.

You can become more physically active by spending less time doing activities that use little energy, like watching television and playing video games, and spending more time doing physical activities. Try to do at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day on most days of the week. The activity does not have to be done all at once. It can be done in short spurts -- 10 minutes here, 20 minute there -- as long as it adds up to 30 minutes a day. Simple ways to become more physically active include gardening, housework, mowing the lawn, playing actively with children, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. See the Weight- control Information Network's (WIN) fact sheet Physical Activity and Weight Control for more information.

Improve Your Eating Habits.

Try to gradually improve your eating habits. Changing your eating habits too quickly can add to the stress you may feel as you try to quit smoking. Eating a variety of foods is a good way to improve your health. To make sure you get all of the nutrients needed for good health, choose a variety of foods from each group in the Food Guide Pyramid (pictured below) each day. The Nutrition Facts Label that is found on most processed food products can also help you select foods that meet your daily nutritional needs. For a healthy diet, use the Pyramid to guide your daily food choices and make sure you:

  • Eat plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits.
  • Choose lean and lowfat foods and low-calorie beverages most often. Choose lowfat dairy products, lean meats, fish, poultry, and dry beans to get the nutrients you need without extra calories and fat.
  • Choose less often foods high in fat and sugars and low in nutrients.

What Counts as a Serving?

Food Guide Pyramid

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta

Vegetable Group

  • 1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw
  • 3/4 cup of vegetable juice

Fruit Group

  • 1 medium apple, banana, or orange
  • 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
  • 3/4 cup of fruit juice

Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group

  • 1 cup of lowfat or nonfat milk or yogurt
  • 1 1/2 ounces of lowfat or nonfat natural cheese
  • 2 ounces of lowfat or nonfat processed cheese

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group

  • 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or 1 egg counts as 1 ounce of lean meat.
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of nuts counts as 1 ounce of meat.

When You Are Ready to Quit Smoking

Pick a day to quit smoking during a non-stressful period. For example, try not to quit smoking during holiday seasons when you might be tempted to eat more. Quitting during a stressful time at work or at home might cause extra snacking or a smoking relapse.

Try to focus on quitting smoking and healing your body. Your first goal should be to quit smoking and let your body heal from the effects of nicotine. After you feel better and are not smoking, work harder on improving your eating and physical activity habits to help you lose any weight that you might have gained.

After You Quit

Learn how to reduce cravings for both cigarettes and food. Once you stop smoking, it is important to learn how to handle cravings for cigarettes and food. Remember, a craving only lasts about 5 minutes. Consider these actions to help deal with your cravings.

  • Replace smoking with other activities. Snack on fruit or sugarless gum to satisfy any sweet cravings. Keep your hands busy. Replace the action of holding cigarettes with activities like doodling, working puzzles, knitting, twirling a straw, or holding a pen or pencil.
  • Drink less caffeine. Try to avoid drinking beverages that contain caffeine, such as sodas. Nicotine withdrawal will make you feel jittery and nervous, and the caffeine may only make nicotine withdrawal worse.
  • Get enough sleep. When you feel tired, you are more likely to crave cigarettes and food.
  • Reduce tension. To help relieve tension, relax by meditating, taking a walk, soaking in the tub, or taking deep breaths. Find something that will help you relax and replace the urge to smoke.
  • Get support and encouragement. You need a lot of support when you quit smoking. Talk to a friend when you get the urge to smoke or join a support group such as Nicotine Anonymous. You can also participate in workshops offered by health care providers that will help you quit smoking. If you can, find a friend to quit with you for mutual support.
  • Talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement. If you have significant withdrawal symptoms or are concerned about weight gain, talk to your doctor. Some nicotine replacement products, formerly available by prescription only, are now available over the counter. Using nicotine gum or a nicotine patch, along with improved eating habits and physical activity, will help you reduce your risk of a smoking relapse. Nicotine gum has been shown to delay weight gain after quitting. You may also want to talk to your doctor about prescription medications that are available to help you quit smoking.
  • Try not to do things that tempt you to smoke or eat when you are not hungry. Keep a journal of where and when you feel most tempted to smoke and avoid these situations. Substitute healthy activities for smoking to help you avoid the urge to smoke or eat when you are not hungry.

Try not to panic about modest weight gain. Accept some weight gain as a normal result of the nicotine leaving your body. Know that quitting smoking is the best thing that you can do for you and those around you. If possible, before you quit, prepare a plan to quit smoking that includes simple changes in your eating and exercise habits. Improving your lifestyle as you stop smoking can help you prevent a large weight gain and become a healthy nonsmoker.

Additional Reading

  • Klesges, Robert C. and Margaret DeBon. How Women Can Finally Stop Smoking. Alameda, CA: Hunter House, 1994.
  • Katahn, Martin. How to Quit Smoking Without Gaining Weight. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994.
  • Physical Activity and Weight Control. NIH Publication No. 96-4031. This fact sheet explains how physical activity helps promote weight control and benefits your health. It also describes different types of physical activity, along with tips on how to become more physically active. Available from WIN.
  • Weight Loss for Life. NIH Publication No. 04-3700. This booklet describes the different types of weight-loss programs and important elements of a successful weight-loss plan. Available from WIN.

    "Are You Eating Right?" Consumer Reports. October 1992, pp. 644-55. This article summarizes advice from 68 nutrition experts and includes a discussion on weight control and the health risks of obesity. Available from WIN.

  • Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Fourth Edition, 1995. U.S. Department of Agriculture. This booklet answers some of the basic questions about healthy eating and describes the Food Guide Pyramid and food labels. It also emphasizes the importance of physical activity in maintaining or improving your weight. Available from WIN.

Additional Resources

  • Office on Smoking and Health Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Mail Stop K-50
    4770 Buford Highway, NE
    Atlanta, GA 30341-3724
    Tel: (770) 488-5705; (800) CDC-1311
    E-mail: [email protected]
  • American Lung Association
    1740 Broadway
    New York, NY 10019-4274
    Tel: (212) 315-8700; (800) LUNG-USA
  • American Cancer Society
    1599 Clifton Road, NE
    Atlanta, GA 30329
    Tel: (404) 320-3333; (800) ACS-2345
  • American Heart Association
    National Center
    7272 Greenville Avenue
    Dallas, TX 75231
    Tel: (800) AHA-USA1
  • Weight-control Information Network
    1 Win Way
    Bethesda, MD 20892-3665
    Tel: (202) 828-1025 or 1-877-946-4627
    Fax: (202) 828-1028
    E-mail: [email protected]

The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health, under the U.S. Public Health Service. Authorized by Congress (Public Law 103-43), WIN assembles and disseminates to health professionals and the public information on weight control, obesity, and nutritional disorders. WIN responds to requests for information; develops, reviews, and distributes publications; and develops communication strategies to encourage individuals to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Publications produced by WIN are reviewed for scientific accuracy, content, and readability.

NIH Publication No. 98-4159: July 1998: e-text posted 7 October 1998

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