Stop smoking without packing on the pounds
According to the American Lung Association, your heart rate drops to normal levels in 20 minutes, your lung function improves in a couple of weeks and your risk of heart disease drops by half in a year.
But as your body repairs the damage smoking has done, it also adjusts to life without nicotine. The stimulant was suppressing your appetite, reducing your ability to smell and taste, raising your metabolic rate and keeping you up at night if you smoked in the evening. Once it’s out of your system, you may feel hungry more often, your metabolism slows, food tastes and smells more appealing, and you may sleep better.
These changes in your body could lead to modest weight gain – typically no more than 10 pounds. This small and manageable amount won’t increase your risk of death, but smoking does.
So as you re-invent yourself as a non-smoker, there are three straightforward ways to combat weight gain and keep you distracted while coming off that smoking habit. Plus, in the long run, doing these things will help you live a healthier life.
1. Move more
I often suggest focusing on exercise before food because most people who smoked weren’t working out because it was hard to get enough oxygen. As you start a new chapter, begin with something positive like getting active. You don’t have to go to the gym, use that former smoke break time to go outside for a walk or take the stairs instead of the elevator. I’ve even seen some people start running because they can move and breathe better. The increased activity will help you burn more calories and boost your slowing metabolic rate.
2. Eat better
Nicotine suppresses appetite, which is one reason people will gain weight when they stop smoking – their hunger increases. But I’ve also seen former smokers lose weight since better breathing made their taste buds more attuned and, therefore, they don’t eat as many salty and sugary foods.
Try some new foods that you didn’t like before – they may taste different now and you may learn you like them. Put that money you spent on cigarettes towards purchasing healthier foods. And use your new free time for meal planning and cooking, so you’re not dining on high-calorie fast food.
If you’re used to having something in your mouth, try sipping water from a straw or chewing gum. Eating fruits and vegetables that require a lot more chewing can also help with this.
3. Get some sleep
One of the things I talk about with all of my patients – smokers and non-smokers – is the importance of getting enough sleep each night. Nicotine is a stimulant and, if you smoked later in the day, it was probably affecting your sleep in the same way as when people take in caffeine. Sleep is important in preventing weight gain. It’s one of those pillars where we know people who get enough sleep tend to have balanced hunger hormones so they have less hunger during the day. Try to sleep seven to nine hours each night.
Liz Weinandy is a registered dietitian in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.