Stop smoking without putting on weight

13-07-2011
You may be worried about gaining weight when you stop smoking, but there are steps you can take to manage this.

Try not to let the propect of putting on weight put you off quitting smoking. Not everyone puts on weight and, even if you do gain some pounds, certain strategies can help you control it. These include:

  • doing more exercise
  • using stop-smoking medicines
  • postponing dieting until you've successfully quit

According to Deborah Lycett, consultant dietitian and researcher at the University of Birmingham, people gain on average 5kg (11lbs) in the year after they stop smoking.

But she urges prospective quitters not to let the prospect of weight gain deter them in their goal. She points out that the benefits of stopping smoking more than make up for the negatives of putting on weight. Although you may have gained a few pounds, you've stopped smoking and taken a big step toward a healthier life.

"It’s natural to be worried about putting on weight, but the health risks from this weight gain are far less than if you were to continue smoking," says Deborah. "The priority is to give up smoking rather than worrying about putting on weight. You can tackle the weight gain later." There is very little evidence that weight gain leads to a relapse in people who have given up smoking, she adds.

Who’s at risk?

Some people are more likely than others to put on weight when they stop smoking. You are more at risk of weight gain if you:

  • are already very overweight
  • are a heavy drinker (or you don’t drink any alcohol at all)
  • are a heavy smoker

Tips to curb weight gain

Deborah Lycett recommends these steps to avoid weight gain after quitting:

Do more exercise

Regular exercise may prevent about half the weight gain expected after a year of quitting smoking. It burns off calories and reduces cravings for cigarettes. Build up to at least 150 minutes (two-and-a-half hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as fast walking, swimming or cycling, every week. Moderate-intensity activity means working hard enough to make you breathe more heavily than normal and feel slightly warmer than usual. The more exercise you do, the more calories you'll burn.

Read more about how to do more exercise or try our Couch to 5K programme, which will get you running 5km in nine weeks even if you're an absolute beginner.

Use stop-smoking medicines

Stop-smoking medicines such as nicotine-replacement therapy and the prescription tablets Zyban (bupropion) and Champix (varenicline) can double your chances of quitting successfully and also seem to help reduce weight gain in the first few months.

Postpone your diet

Studies suggest it’s better to tackle stopping smoking first before trying to lose any weight gained while quitting. If you’re really worried about putting on weight, ask your GP to refer you to a dietitian for a dietary plan tailored to your individual needs. This plan will guide you on how much to eat, based on your current weight, age, gender and activity level, and stop you gaining more weight.

Find a registered dietitian.


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