How to I stop or maintain weight gain after quitting smoking?
April 15, 2015 9:30 AM   Subscribe

I quit smoking about a month ago after 10 years of consistently smoking half a pack a day (YAY!). I have been diligent in NOT changing my diet or exercise during this process as I need to focus on one goal at a time. One of my biggest struggles with quitting is fear of weight gain, and it is happening. I would like to stave off some of that effect. I need advice from other people who have gone through quitting either smoking or other serious addiction and how they mentally coped with weight gain or physical changes and in general what can work to get back to your previous weight or accept the extra pounds. More details below the cut.

Just some basics to paint the picture - I am a 30 year old female and consistently walk 3-4 miles every night and have no special diet (yet). I have gained 7 lbs and rising since I quit smoking a month ago. I no longer have cravings (except when I drink and even then it's not a craving for a cigarette but just this antsy "I need to go outside or move around or something"). I have a very supportive boyfriend of both my quitting and potential weight gain. He just eats like a jack rabbit on crack and stays super skinny and so I'm not sure how to approach him about being supportive of a diet I may need to try out.

Again, I am very happy with my decision but am at phase two of figuring out a new normal for my body and also staving the rising weight gain either through a temporary / long term diet or exercise advice / support. Thank you guys, I have received nothing but wonderful advice through this community so thought I'd give this question a try :)
posted by hillabeans to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Generally the first line of defense against weight gain is to check calories. When you lose one addiction, especially one so orally-oriented as smoking, many people find themselves reaching for a snack.

Tracking exactly what you eat every day can pull into focus if this is something you can adjust to try to drop some pounds. You may want to start making substitutions, like nuts instead of simple carbs, or water instead of soda or coffee with sweeteners.
posted by xingcat at 10:05 AM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I found that taking a walk helped "time out" the craving (they generally last about as long as smoking a cigarette takes) and kept me from snacking-as-alternative.
posted by Etrigan at 10:09 AM on April 15, 2015

i have researched this a lot. I learned that the average weight gain when you quit smoking is about 8 pounds, so you should be plateauing soon.

And also, the metabolism slows when you quit because you aren't consistently raising your heart rate by smoking. So some of this would happen even if you had the same diet as you did before. I think the best thing to do is keep up the healthy eating and exercise and wait for your body to recalibrate and then go on a diet.
posted by catspajammies at 10:13 AM on April 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yeah, that metabolism shift is a bitch, and you probably do need to give yourself time. Don't let it turn into a shame-spiral situation, but do let your body have 3-6 months to get its new equilibrium.

I think there's always been this old wives' tale that you definitely must be eating more, but I honestly found I ate (and drank) less when I quit. But I did give up however-many trips outside a day, and probably wasn't as mindful of my water after I quit, and I just wasn't running at quite the burn I used to.

Don't decide you have A Problem at just a month in. It took months for my sleep and digestion (also another thing that can contribute to alleged weight gain - another reason to make sure you're getting your water, and maybe up your fiber a bit) to normalize off nicotine.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:31 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

It might not be for everyone but I know people who subsituted sugar-free gum for the cravings instead of snacking. (I don't mean nicotine gum, just regular gum.) They went through a lot of gum but it did help. I've seen some scaremongering about sugarfree gum but the American Dental Association seems to think it's fine.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:51 AM on April 15, 2015

Wow, good on you for quitting and staying quit! I congratulate you. IT IS NOT EASY.

From my experience, similar circumstances to yours, a month later I was definitely still in transition. I'd say give your body a few more months to adjust if you can stand it. Focus on sleep, stress reduction, maintaining your exercise, treating yourself well. Slowly add in healthy habits-- up the water, up the exercise, up your vegetable intake-- rather than taking things away from yourself right now.

If after, say, six months to a year, your weight is a problem, then you can look at exactly what you are eating and how much of it and decide to refocus your diet. If you're like most of us, you'll discover your portions could be smaller, you'll discover you could painlessly lose a few empty calorie snacks and replace them with nutrient-dense foods, you may discover you do not get enough of one thing (e.g. protein or fiber) and too much of another (carbohydrates/sugar/processed foods.) You might also want to look into changing up your exercise routine to add weight training or something more intense to boost your metabolism/muscle mass.

But honestly, one month in you are doing GREAT and you can expect your body to reward you in time. For now, you're still adjusting.
posted by kapers at 10:55 AM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

First, congratulations. Smoking cessation is SO much harder than losing weight. You've really done a great service to yourself for a thousand reasons, only one of which is your health.

As I understand it, after you've spent a number of years speeding up your metabolism with nicotine, it takes two years for your metabolism to return to a normal state. So that means, unfortunately, that maintaining the pre-quit status quo will in fact cause you to gain weight. I also found (apparently you didn't?) that, without cigarettes, (i) I never knew when a meal was over so I just kept eating, (ii) food tasted so much better that I kept eating, and (iii) finally, the metabolism shift kind of whacked me out. It didn't help that my go-to diet for 30 years was to smoke more and eat less. However, it can be done. Just keep affirming your successes, and if you increase your calorie burn rather than or in addition to decreasing your intake, I would suggest getting a good scale with a fat monitor. The fat monitor won't be right, but it will be relatively right, in other words, you'll be able to gauge whether you're gaining or losing fat, and if you're losing fat, then weight gain more or less should not result in a change in clothing size -- don't forget that muscle is denser than fat, so you could weigh the same and be smaller.

Again, though, congratulations. If you can quit smoking, you can do anything you set your mind to.
posted by janey47 at 11:04 AM on April 15, 2015

Gain the weight, fight the cravings, and exercise or do hobbies all the time. When you're feeling better, start exercising and you will lose the weight quickly. It's sad you have to swallow this bitter pill to quit but you'll thank yourself for doing it.
posted by parmanparman at 12:37 PM on April 15, 2015

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