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Study finds quit smoking weight gain temporary

by John R. Polito, founder of WhyQuit & author of Freedom from Nicotine - The Journey Home

Compared to smokers who continued smoking, a new study found that among smokers who quit smoking that women weighed an average of 2.6 kg more and men 5.1 kg more. But the good news is that nearly all of that weight gain was temporary. Among ex-smokers who had quit at least five years, their weight and body mass index was nearly the same as the weight of someone who had never smoked.

"Our finding that former daily smokers [who were five or more years since quitting] demonstrated equivalent BMI increases to never smokers is in line with evidence suggesting that the average body weight of quitters tends to stabilize over time to levels of never smokers," writes the authors of an August 2009 study in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health.

The good news is that any immediate spike in weight gain upon quitting appears to be relatively short-lived,” says the study's lead author, Deborah L. Reas, Ph.D, of the University of Oslo's Institute of Psychiatry.

How to Minimize Quitting Weight Gain

"There are several tried and true things you can do immediately to prevent or minimize any potential weight gain," says Dr. Reas, who works in the eating disorder clinic at Oslo's University Hospital. "It is important to view all changes as lifestyle changes for long-term weight management, not temporary fixes to be quickly abandoned."

"Eat breakfast, walk everywhere you can and take the stairs, and build some form of exercise into your daily routine,” advises Dr. Reas.

"Trash the low-nutrient, energy dense, highly processed foods and beverages in your cupboard. Have healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables washed, cut, and in see-through, ready-to-go containers or sitting on the counter ready to grab."

"Timing is everything," says Dr. Reas. "Spacing meals too far apart puts you at risk for overeating and making poor choices, as well as signaling your body to conserve energy. Ideally, meals should be eaten about 4-5 hours apart, and it's important to consume a healthy snack in between meals."

Weight Control Consensus Developing

While many smokers fear smoking cessation weight gain, as Dr. Reas's research suggests, such fears are totally out of perspective. "Quit," says Dr. Reas, "The risks of continuing to smoke to both you and your loved ones far exceed any minor weight gain you might experience."

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, roughly half of adult smokers are losing an average of 14 years of life if female and 13 years if male.

"The health implication of a minor weight gain is negligible in comparison to the health risks posed by smoking," writes Joel Spitzer, author of the free PDF quit smoking book Never Take Another Puff . "The average smoker would have to gain 75 to 100 pounds to put the additional workload on the heart that is experienced by smoking, and this is not saying anything about the smoking cancer risk."

As documented in Freedom from Nicotine - The Journey Home, it isn't unusual to see up to 5 pounds of water retention weight gain during the first week of quitting, pounds that can be shed as quickly as they arrived.

Dr. Reas nails how to avoid having to deal with over-eating in asserting that the timing of calorie intake is everything. One of the most challenging aspects of recovery is re-learning to properly fuel the body. Nicotine activates the body's fight or flight response, instantly pumping stored energy into our bloodstream. Never-smokers who get hungry can't instantly satisfy the onset of hunger. They have to eat food and then wait for digestion to turn off the body's hunger switch.

Once we become ex-users, whether we eat with a toothpick or shovel we will need to wait for digestion to satisfy hunger. By re-learning how to properly feed ourselves again we diminish the risk of adding food craves to nicotine craves, of witnessing our body's hoarding instincts kick into high gear.

As Dr. Reas advises, don't skip meals, and learn to eat little, healthy and often. If we insist on skipping meals we should fully expect to confront hunger. If in the throws of hunger, eat healthy and slowly, savoring each bite for as long as possible, so as to allow time for digestion to satisfy it.

As Spitzer notes, a cigarette may have been our cue that a meal had ended. You may benefit by adopting a new healthy cue such as tooth brushing, a toothpick, clearing the table, doing the dishes or stepping outside for fresh air.

One of the most valuable lessons taught by Joel Spitzer is that minor daily adjustments in the number of calories consumed or burned can result in significant weight change over time. As Joel puts it, "eating just an additional 100 calories a day will result in a one-pound fat gain in just over a month, 10.4 pounds in one year, and an extra 104 pounds in ten years." The same formula works in regard to weight reduction and the loss seen when burning an extra hundred calories a day or consuming one hundred fewer.

Unfortunately, most of us fell into rather unhealthy eating and exercise patterns once addicted to smoking nicotine. Free for more than a decade, I can still picture myself smoking during walks or bike rides. Why wasn't I jogging or running? Truth is, I couldn't.

One-half of the carbon monoxide inhaled with that last puff is still circulating in the bloodstream four hours later. Carbon monoxide hijacks our blood's ability to transport oxygen. It isn't that we didn't want to participate in prolonged vigorous physical activity but that we couldn't.

One of the most exciting aspects of recovery is when we're at last brave enough to venture beyond our former prison cell and attempt activities we previously avoided. It isn't unusual to discover that we can go longer with less fatigue than we've known in years. It can feel like turning back the clock. As Dr. Reas suggests, make your favorite activity a part of each day.

Why wait? The next few minutes are all that matter and each is entirely do-able. Your mind and body can become 100% nicotine-free within 72 hours, with peak withdrawal behind you. We hope you'll explore WhyQuit as we've assembled the Internet's largest array of free recovery tools.

Embrace coming home, don't fear, dread or fight it. There was always only one rule determining the outcome for all ... no nicotine just one hour, challenge and day at a time! Yes you can!

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Written September 1, 2009 and updated June 5, 2015 by John R. Polito