SMOKING AND WEIGHT GAIN
Smoking cessation is associated with weight gain as Nicotine increases energy expenditure as it is a stimulant, works as an appetite suppressant and also mutes your sense of smell and taste! Having your taste back can lead to greater enjoyment of food and may result in increased food intake - the rewarding feeling from enjoying food can offset some negative feelings experienced while quitting smoking.
It is no secret there is a relationship between smoking, quitting smoking and weight gain in that generally smokers have a lower body weight than non-smokers. However, this is not a reason to use tobacco as a form of weight control! The negative health effects from prolonged cigarette smoking far outweigh any benefit of weight control that smoking may present.
Anyone who has had a smoking habit for a prolonged period of time will have felt some of the negative health effects: shortness of breath, higher blood pressure, to name a few. But there are several other things going on that may be harder for a smoker to perceive.
Weight gain is when your body is storing excess energy sources as fat. Due to the biological differences between us, human body fat distribution varies between us - mostly, fat is stored in adipose tissue under the skin, but just because you are skinny doesn't mean you are healthy! Fat can be stored around our internal organs and is known as 'visceral fat', and while this is typically an element of defence, excess fat stored here can lead to problems and is indicative of high cholesterol and insulin resistance. This can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, increase risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
WHY DO SMOKERS LOSE WEIGHT?
There are a few contributing factors that explain why, on average, smokers weigh less than non-smokers. Many of these aren't apparent when you initiate smoking, however long-term tobacco use carries serious health risks, so don't think it's a good idea to start smoking to control weight gain!
Nicotine is a stimulant, and so increases heart rate. This increased heart rate leads to an increased metabolic rate, which means you are burning more calories; even at rest your heart rate will be higher than if you were a non-smoker, so you will burn more calories in daily life.
Nicotine also confuses the body's expectation of energy output and energy needed, which is the appetite suppressing effect. Normally you would get hungry if in a caloric deficit, encouraging you to increase your caloric intake - which is to say, eat more food! Nicotine gets in the way of this messaging, so you don't experience the hunger associated with burning more calories.
Another contributing factor to the appetite suppressing effect is that smoking increases your insulin resistance. This is when sugar in the blood isn't effectively absorbed by cells, leading to a generally higher level of sugar in the blood. This means that there may be energy in your blood that isn't being used, even though your body may perceive it has energy to spare.
It's not all about caloric intake though - prolonged smoking is associated with a reduction in bone density as it affects the body's ability to absorb calcium; an effect that impacts female smokers more than men (smoking appears to throw off the balance of female sex hormones that help to maintain bone strength).
WHY DOES QUITTING SMOKING LEAD QUITTERS TO GAIN WEIGHT?
Smokers tend to gain weight when they quit smoking, primarily because all of the effects associated with cigarette smoking described above are eliminated with time. The thing to remember about quitting smoking is that it is a real challenge and, in times of stress, weight gain occurs because many of us resort to eating more unhealthy foods as it can help us to feel happier!
Quitting smoking eliminates the intake of harmful chemicals found in tobacco that cause oxidative stress to the body. These cause inflammation, so removing them will give your body an opportunity to start healing. Smoking is a major risk factor for gastrointestinal issues so quitting smoking, alongside eating healthy foods, can help to improve digestive health.
Removing smoking means removing the appetite suppressing effects of smoking, this alone means your body will start to relay the energy intake/deficit better, which will normalise the appetite: this means eating more, which means increased caloric intake, which on its own can lead to weight gain.
Stopping smoking means that your body will start to utilise the sugar in the blood better. This does mean that less energy is readily available in the blood, however this will reduce blood pressure and the risk of diabetes as well as change your eating behavior.
WILL YOU GAIN WEIGHT WHEN YOU QUIT SMOKING?
Positive Weight Gain
While it is typical for a quitter to gain weight when stopping smoking, it is not a certainty! Realistically, not all weight gain is bad, either! If stopping smoking improves your body's ability to use calcium, the bone density loss may recede - especially if you eat healthy foods and get the right vitamins and minerals - like vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 that are essential for using calcium for bone repair.
Another not-so-bad aspect of the weight gain after quitting smoking could be increased muscle mass. As quitting smoking will improve blood flow, your muscles will be better supplied with oxygen and nutrients to stay strong and working effectively!
Would you believe it, that you can be too skinny? Recommended body mass index changes with age, increasing as you get older. For the older smokers coming in at a much lower BMI than recommended, quitting smoking could help to get your BMI to a healthier level.
Negative Weight Gain
So while these forms of weight gain after quitting smoking are actually positive, there is no doubt that there is increased potential for 'negative' weight gain.
Quitting smoking is so tough that new evidence suggests it could take the average smoker over 30 quit attempts to finally quit smoking. This stress is often what leads to eating more (increased caloric intake) comfort foods, quite often sugary foods, to boost our mood. Constantly eating unhealthy foods like these bring a whole new set of risks to the table if not kept in check.
Current smokers may find they gain weight after quitting smoking even if they haven't increased their caloric consumption. With the speeding-up of the metabolism by smoking removed, over time your metabolic rate could slow by around 10% - which means less calories will be used over the same period of time (with the same physical activity).
Long-term smokers may have particular trouble trying to combat excessive weight gain as they may struggle to exercise due to the stress on the cardiovascular system and clogged up lungs.
STUDIES ON SMOKING CESSATION AND WEIGHT GAIN
A lot of studies have been conducted with regard to smoking cessation and weight gain because it is a common occurrence and there are certain risk factors that increased body weight presents.
For example, obesity and diabetes are a particular risk as smoking increases insulin resistance and this takes time to normalise when you quit smoking. At a time when the body cannot process blood sugars very well, consuming the typical comfort foods that are rich in fats an sugars to help you feel better is risky.
One 2012 meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal found that the average weight gain 12 months after quitting was 4-5kg. This analysis also found that 16% of quitters lost weight, 37% gained less than 5kg, 34% gained between 5kg and 10kg, with 13% gaining over 10kg. This indicates that the majority of smokers will experience weight gain after quitting smoking.
An evidence review from the National Library of Medicine agreed with the average weight gain being around the 5kg mark (5-6kg) but indicate that the risk of weight gain is highest in the 2 years after you stop smoking, with the main risk factors being older age, high body mass index, and higher numbers of cigarettes smoked.
Interestingly, the same review indicates that evidence on the permanence of the weight gain when you quit smoking is conflicting. An Australian study found that the increased weight gain when you quit smoking presents a 'trivial risk of harm' compared with the health benefits of smoking cessation, so people with weight concerns should consider quitting smoking and then worry about weight control.
HOW TO MINIMISE WEIGHT GAIN WHEN QUITTING SMOKING
When it comes to preventing weight gain during smoking cessation, there is plenty for you to do that can positively contribute to staying a healthy weight!
Exercise is the number 1 answer for combining weight management with tackling cravings and improving your mental health. Exercise will burn excess calories, help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and encourage sweating out toxins from cigarette smoking! The mental health benefits will help you stay strong while you quit smoking!
It's great to exercise down at the gym, but studies have shown that spending time in nature has a positive effect on mental health, so consider doing your exercise or just going for a walk surrounded by the green of nature to give yourself another mental boost and hit two birds with one stone!
Quitting smoking is associated with feelings of depression and anxiety, which is why it's so important to look after your mental health during this time. These feelings can impact your quality of sleep and chronic bad sleep has a dramatic effect on your mental wellbeing and ability to deal with daily stress, as well as bringing its own risks. Again, exercise can help with sleep quality, so whether it is just a short walk or an hour on the treadmill, be sure to exercise if you can.
It may be more involved, but watching your dietary intake and counting calories is another way you can prevent weight gain when you quit smoking. If you are limiting your calories, it is all the more important to maintain a healthy diet to ensure you are getting everything your body needs, otherwise you may be adding to the burden on your mental health.
HOW QUITTING WITH AN E-CIGARETTE CAN HELP
One of the ways to ease the stress of quitting smoking is to use a nicotine replacement therapy product. These products deliver nicotine to the body without all of the harmful chemicals found in tobacco, and those produced by burning it. This means you can eliminate the harm done by smoking while effectively tackling the nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine replacement products include:
Nicotine replacement products have been used for almost 40 years now, however there is a new option available that is proving to be more effective: the E-Cigarette.
The E-Cigarette was designed as a less harmful alternative to smoking; for this reason the experience is close to cigarette smoking, allowing the user to get their nicotine in a similar fashion to their current habit, but with 95% of the harm removed, according to Public Health England. This is likely to be one of the reasons that studies have found E-Cigarettes could be up to twice as effective as other forms of nicotine replacement products.
When you stop smoking with an E-Cigarette, you are still giving your body nicotine and so nicotine withdrawal isn't an issue (unless you are using a zero nicotine e-liquid), but you are eliminating the intake of harmful chemicals found in tobacco - like heavy metals that the plant absorbs from the soil - as well as the harmful stuff made by burning tobacco - like carbon monoxide and tar.
As a general rule, heavy smokers do well starting at the maximum nicotine strength available for retail - a 2.0% or 20mg/ml e-liquid, where light smokers may find starting at a lower strength of 1.8% or 1.5% to be satisfactory.
If you want to kick the nicotine, then smokers choosing the zero nicotine option will still experience nicotine withdrawal, however the E-Cigarette market allows heavy smokers to reduce their nicotine intake over time by incrementally lowering the nicotine strength of their e-liquid!
SMOKING AND WEIGHT GAIN CONCLUSION
While it is known that smokers tend to gain weight when they stop smoking, it isn't always the case. Poor diet will result in greater weight gain, but exercise and a healthy diet will help to control weight gain during smoking cessation. Try to watch the comfort food intake, and try to remember that some of the weight gain may result from your body functioning better.
If you are worried about gaining weight when you quit smoking, consider quitting with an E-Cigarette! E-Cigarettes cut out the harm from tobacco cigarettes while supplying nicotine to satiate cravings. This nicotine intake could help with weight control as it is a stimulant while reducing the harm from smoking; helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes!
Make the switch with SMOKO today!