Trying to break the cigarette addiction is not easy. And to deal with the withdrawal symptoms and the intense urge to smoke that follows soon after can be excruciating. Add to this, the frustration of gaining unwanted kilos post quitting smoking and we may end up blowing away our best intentions in a puff. The fear of ‘going from cigarettes to sweets’ is real among quitters and this concern may sometimes deter smokers from giving up the habit.
No need to fret, yet! No need to let the weight gain fears erode the determination to stay away from smoking. Rest assured, the decision to quit smoking and be healthier is a smart one and there are many constructive ways to stay on track and keep waistlines trim and weight gain at minimum.
Understanding the Smoking and Body Weight Connection
It is indeed a fact that smokers tend to have a lower BMI or body weight than nonsmokers, that nicotine addiction reduces appetite and that a small weight gain may follow smoking cessation. But, this weight gain is not substantial (usually around 3-5 kg in first few months) and poses a far lesser risk to health than those associated with the continuance of smoking.
The effect of smoking on our body weight is related to an increased metabolic rate, higher rate of energy expenditure and a reduced caloric absorption and appetite – all of which may contribute to a lower body weight in smokers. When we stop smoking, the metabolic rate drops down and even if we are eating the same kind of food and following a similar daily routine, we may end up gaining some weight. Nicotine works as a stimulant and interferes with the release of insulin and the levels of sugar in the blood (less insulin release means higher blood sugar levels), leading to a sense of reduced hunger and craving.
When we quit smoking, our appetite improves due to a better sense of smell and taste, the digestive processes become more efficient and the insulin activity returns to normal. Also, as the urge to smoke increases, comfort foods (sweets, fried foods and alcohol) get frequently used as emotional support systems and offer replacement for smoking to ease the discomfort of withdrawal; resulting in overeating and weight gain. The risk of weight gain is higher in women, already overweight people and heavy smokers and drinkers.
If gaining weight during the nicotine recovery period isn’t on your radar, and if you are looking out for ways to avoid tipping the scale in the wrong way when you quit smoking, then here are a few evidence backed diet tips that are sure to help you stay focused and motivated.
8 Ways to Avoid Weight Gain when you Quit Smoking
Kicking the smoking habit and also keeping the extra pounds off becomes easy with these simple eating strategies:
- Drink plenty of fluids such as freshly prepared vegetable juices, warm water, buttermilk, coconut water and green tea throughout the day to cleanse the body off the nicotine toxins. Going on a detox diet at the start of the ‘quit smoking’ resolve regime is recommended to reduce the free radical irritation, and enhance nutrient absorption.
- Switch to complex carbs from refined and processed ones (maida and products), include adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole pulses, nuts and lean meats (fish and chicken) and have small and fiber dense foods at regular intervals. These strategies will prevent hunger pangs, provide consistent energy, and work together to maintain proper metabolic efficiency and weight loss.
- Increase the fiber content of the diet to keep appetite in control. Have healthy snacks like roasted chana, whole fruits, whole wheat bread sandwiches, carrot sticks, cucumber as oral substitutes to deal with the psychological ties to smoking.
- Research links chewing cinnamon, ginger and celery sticks and drinking low fat milk to help in overcoming the smoking urge. Healthy foods like flaxseeds, berries, string cheese, nuts, popcorn and apples keep the smokers’ hands busy and nibbling tendencies away. They also keep the weight in control.
- Incorporate a regular physical activity routine to boost up your metabolism, burn calories and release the feel good hormone, dopamine. Other moderate intensity exercises that help are cycling, lunges, swimming, playing squash, tennis, climbing stairs, dancing, etc.
- Restrict alcohol consumption to minimum as for most people smoking and drinking go hand in hand.
- Avoid the temptation to go on a strict weight loss diet while trying to quit smoking. Focus on tackling the smoking habit first and rely on mindful eating, healthy distractions and an active lifestyle to combat weight gain.
- Cravings tend to be more profound during stressful situations. Cope up with yoga, breathing exercises, meditation, music and relaxing massages.
Written by Panchali Moitra, originally published in B Positive Magazine, an Apollo Hospital Ltd initiative.