Stop Smoking and Gain £££s not lbs!
By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
The fear of gaining weight can be a major psychological hurdle in any attempt to kick the nicotine habit. The cigarettes you are smoking have made controlling your weight easier although the reasons why smokers, in general weigh less than non-smokers are not well understood.
Let’s weigh up the facts. The dangers of smoking to your health are well documented. Giving up smoking will significantly reduce the risks of major heart diseases and cancers. Putting on a few pounds in weight as you kick the habit pales into insignificance when you recognise the overall health benefits of giving up. It’s far easier to shed a few pounds in weight than face a fight against a major illness.
Not everyone gains weight after giving up smoking. In reality, few put on more than a few pounds. A little knowledge will give you the power to minimise possible weight gain and enjoy the benefits of being a new, healthy you!
Why do some people gain weight after giving up?
Nicotine and Metabolism
Nicotine acts as both a stimulant and a sedative. Immediately after a puff of nicotine there is a rush of adrenaline which causes the liver to release glycogen (sugar) which raises the blood sugar levels slightly. Remove nicotine and your body slows down your metabolism. You are expending fewer calories. Consequently, if you eat the same number of calories as before, your body is using less and stores more as fat.
Nicotine and Appetite
Nicotine can reduce your appetite by directly affecting the activity of serotonin and dopamine, which are substances that control neural transmission in areas of your brain, that turn your appetite on and off. Nicotine elevates the activity of these substances in a way that is similar to what happens when you eat a sweet. For a period after smoking a cigarette you feel less hungry.
Food can act as a comfort factor. You crave foods to replace the relaxing feeling and buzz that nicotine was providing.
Holding and lighting cigarettes is a well-developed habit. Remove the cigarette and what are you going to do with your hands? You can feel the need to occupy your hands – picking and snacking on food fills this gap.
Put Yourself in Control
Focus on the positive aspects of giving up smoking. Remember all the reasons why you want to kick nicotine out of your body with all its negative health consequences.
Keep a food diary. This will help you to identify the times when you are eating more and snacking as a replacement for cigarettes. This knowledge means you will be aware of the ‘danger’ times and have plans to deal with them. (You can use the food diary in WLR free for 24 hours.)
Try to eat regular meals and reduce the need and desire to snack. Plan ‘healthy’ meals to encourage your new health kick. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Remember smoking has drained your body of many essential vitamins and minerals, particularly Vitamin C. Stock up on lots of healthy and nutritious snack foods.
Occupy Your Hands
Make plans to occupy your time and your hands. What can you do to take your mind off smoking – puzzles, crosswords, jigsaws, doodling, knitting, drawing
Be as active as possible. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to avoid weight gain is increase your physical activity. This will balance out the effects that nicotine had on your metabolism. Make definite plans to exercise more. Set aside times in the week for 30 minute sessions of exercising – walking, gym, swimming, cycling…As your lungs recover from the effects of smoking you will find exercising easier and will enjoy it. Feeling fitter and healthier you will be more motivated to keep to a regular routine.
Use the ££’s saved from not buying cigarettes to buy something to reward your efforts – a treat at a health spa, some new clothes, some sports equipment, days out, etc.