Ask An Adult: How Can I Avoid Gaining Weight If I Stop Smoking?

If you're avoiding quitting smoking 'cause of the weight gain, here's how to nail it and avoid piling on the nonsmoker pounds

Ask An Adult: How Can I Avoid Gaining Weight If I Stop Smoking?

by Stevie Martin |
Published on

After four years of 20-a-day, I quit smoking last year and (minus the odd drunken slip-up) have managed to remain pretty much smoke-free without gaining any noticeable weight. Yes, I am a God.

Anyway, while I didn’t gain any noticeable weight and found myself coughing up hard green balls of phlegm way less every morning, this isn’t the same for everyone. A lot of people I know gained weight after quitting, and when you Google ‘quitting smoking’, you get ‘weight gain’ (alongside ‘benefits’ which is mad – surely everyone knows the benefits of quitting smoking is ‘not dying’?) so I decided to collar a professional to discuss exactly where this weight gain rumour has come from, and how we can myth-bust it so smokers can stop using it as an excuse to keep puffing on their fiery badboys.

Turns out, it’s not a rumour. People often put weight on when they stop smoking, according to Dr Helen Webberley, a GP in Wales who specialises in online medicine for one of the UK’s leading pharmacies, and it’s not because smoking speeds up your metabolism. Oh, no.

‘No, people don’t always gain weight but lots of people do. Patients want an excuse, so they’ll always say “Smoking slows my metabolism” but that’s a bit like saying, “My family have big bones and are prone to putting on weight”,’ she says.

‘It’s a neat explanation, but actually, it’s down to eating more than they need. It’s the one reason people don’t want to hear: You’ve put on weight, because you’ve eaten too much.’

But why is it that smokers eat so much less than non-smokers? If you think about it, the reasons are small but quickly add up – especially if you like an after-dinner smoke and, let’s face it, which smoker doesn’t?!

‘People who smoke will finish their food a bit earlier than other people, because they want that after-dinner fag. Once they’ve had that, then they don’t tend to go back to the food. They don’t tend to have an extra portion, because they’ve had their fag and that signifies the end of the meal.’

Personal tip: have a cup of coffee after every meal. If you don’t like coffee, then start getting to like coffee, because not only will it speed up your metabolism but it basically does exactly the same thing as a cigarette. And if you’re at a dinner party or something, you can go outside with the smokers and drink your coffee while they choke themselves. I did this, and it worked.

I also forced myself to feel smug rather than jealous every time I opted for caffeine over nicotine because then you start genuinely feeling like you’re not missing anything – because you’re not. You’re gaining, like, years of your life.

It’s not just the bookending of meals that can promote smoking binges, it’s also the general substitution that happens when the smoker is quitting – something I refused to engage with because every time I tried to chew gum instead of smoke, it’d remind me of how much this gum wasn’t a cigarette and I’d end up exploding and eating 20 Marlboro menthols.

Subtituting works for some people, though; you just have to be really careful that you’re not replacing fags with Pringles.

‘If you need a replacement, you’ve got to replace it with something that isn’t going to give you loads of calories,’ says Dr Webberley. ‘Hypnotherapy works really well, because they show patients images of a life without smoking. And that life doesn’t involve pictures of you eating giant bags of crisps. It’s about being healthy and outdoors and running around in fields.’

Damn straight. Since I’ve quit I’ve done nothing but run around in fields. To be honest, I’m surprised I can hold down a job.

‘When you’re watching TV, or doing something where you’d normally smoke, don’t have a bag of crisps. Have something else in your hands, something else to do,’ Dr Webberley says. ‘Sugar-free gum is a great one, because chewing gum is good for your teeth and metabolism.

‘And also the very important one is knowing when the meal has stopped. Give yourself a portion, don’t have food on the table and, when you’ve finished, put the food away. Wash up. Brush your teeth. Do something to symbolise that the meal is done.’

I like to lock myself in a cupboard for three hours, or suck car exhaust pipes. Just some free non-medical advice from me, there.

Another piece of advice is, while you’re quitting, join a gym or start exercising – it’ll counteract any extra stuff you’re eating, and you only have to do it until you feel like you’re a happy non-smoker. Plus, you’ll be able to do cardio because your lungs won’t be covered in tar. Bonus.

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Follow Stevie on Twitter: @5tevieM

Picture: Eugenia Loli

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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