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Nicotine withdrawal to snack attacks: Managing weight gain after quitting smoking

The link between smoking and weight has long been debated.

Written by
Sophie Overett
Medically reviewed by
Dr Darran Foo
Last updated
January 16, 2024
6
4
min read
5
citations
Nicotine withdrawal to snack attacks: Managing weight gain after quitting smoking
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When it comes to quitting smoking, the benefits are well-documented. From reducing the risk of cancer to improving your overall heart, kidney and circulatory health [1], giving up nicotine is a fast way to feel better.

Literally, in fact, as your body starts to repair itself within 20 minutes of smoking your last cigarette [2]! That said, the symptoms that come along with smoking cessation can sometimes take their own toll.

Weight gain, insomnia, anxiety and irritability are all normal things to experience in the weeks following giving up tobacco and nicotine, and can sometimes be enough to push you straight back to smoking cigarettes.

Weight gain in particular can be a hard thing for some to navigate. Studies find up to 80% of quitters gain weight, and as the most visible of these symptoms, it can have its own risk factors [2].

After all, changes to our body can alter our sense of self, and combined with the anxiety and irritability that quitting smoking can bring, these changes can sometimes leave us feeling worse for wear.

What's the link between smoking and body weight?

The first question for many is does smoking make you skinny, and interestingly, there actually is a strong connection between weight and smoking, with cigarettes even having been used historically as a method of weight control.

While it’s true that smokers tend to have a lower body mass index than non-smokers [3], the serious health risks associated with smoking far outweigh the benefits of initiating smoking as a means to lose weight.

That said, understanding why smoking and weight are linked is important to understanding the impact quitting has on the body.

Ultimately this link comes down to 3 factors:

  • Nicotine is known to suppress appetite, meaning that cigarette smoking can impact eating behaviour and limit food intake
  • Nicotine increases energy expenditure, in other words, it's also known to speed up the metabolism
  • The act of cigarette smoking is a behavioural alternative to eating [4]

Is it common to gain weight after quitting smoking?

Yes, it is. In fact, up to 80% of people who quit smoking find they gain weight, although it’s generally a pretty modest amount of only 4-5 kilos over 5 years, with the majority of that gained in the immediate aftermath of quitting [2]. In other words, while weight gain occurs, excessive weight gain is pretty rare.

Smoking cessation results in losing nicotine from your diet which will generally make your metabolism slow down, but withdrawal from tobacco also can give you cravings and an increased appetite [3].

If this isn’t managed through a healthy diet, or if you don’t adjust your exercise habits to accommodate these things, it’s normal for you to put on that additional weight.

What are the other side effects associated with smoking?

The side effects and ramifications associated with smoking are many and varied ranging from high blood pressure to insulin resistance to cancer (mainly lung cancer, but also throat, mouth and oesophageal), respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease.

It’s also a leading risk factor for stroke, blindness, deafness, back pain, osteoporosis and peripheral vascular disease [5]. On top of that, it also has been found to reduce fertility in both male and female smokers, increase the risk of miscarriage as well as increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia [5].

These are serious health concerns that can have a drastic impact on your life, even leading to death.

What are the health benefits of quitting smoking?

Your body starts to repair itself as soon as you’ve smoked your last cigarette [1], meaning the sooner you quit, the sooner you’ll find yourself recovering, regaining your sense of taste and smell, and reducing the long-term risks of smoking.

Maintaining a smoke-free lifestyle long-term will also help you to reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease and more.

How to approach weight loss after quitting smoking

Knowing the potentially lifesaving benefits of quitting smoking is one thing, but managing your symptoms as you go cold turkey can be a whole other story.

Talking to a medical professional or support service is always advised, and taking a holistic approach to your health will help you to tackle weight gain, insomnia and anxiety in the meantime.

In particular though, instead of focusing on weight control or dieting, the best way to minimise weight gain after quitting smoking is to think about building healthy habits.

In particular:

  • A plan to deal with cravings and withdrawal symptoms should be a part of your quit plan (1). This gives you some foresight and flexibility to help you curb the urge to smoke or snack. In particular, grab yourself some quitting aids such as nicotine gum, prepare healthy snacks and keep water or tea handy.
  • Plan out your food intake and try to stick to a regular schedule. Training your body to know when it's time to eat is a way of maintaining a routine, something crucial when giving up cigarettes. If you find it hard to find the time to cook, consider trying Pilot’s Weight Reset Shakes to keep you nourished while on the go.
  • Get regular exercise. Whether you download that yoga app or finally sign up at your local pool, good habits are tantamount to good living.
  • Ensure you get enough sleep and stick to a regular sleep schedule. Our bodies repair and rebuild as we sleep, something crucial to recovering from smoking [4].

It’s understandable to be worried about gaining weight or having weight concerns, but it’s not something that should stand in the way of your quitting journey.

Engaging with a program like Pilot’s Metabolic Reset Program can help take the pressure off. Our Metabolic Reset Program combines clinically-proven hunger-regulating medication and health coaching, which includes one-on-one goal setting with an Aussie practitioner as well as round-the-clock community support from our medical team, health coaches, and like-minded men that keep you accountable, to help you lose weight.

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