Quit Smoking Without Weight Gain

Edited by Grimm, Anonymous, Eng


This guide is part of our series of articles on improving and maintaining your health and wellness.


You Can Quit Smoking and Lose Weight at the Same Time

Forget most of what you know about smoking and weight gain, because it's only part of the truth.

This VisiHow guide will show you how to set realistic goals for quitting smoking. Part of those goals will be exercise and weight loss. If you've heard that it's next to impossible to quit smoking without gaining significant weight, this article will show you why that's not true, and how most people can actually quit smoking without gaining weight.

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Before we start, take your best guess at how much weight you think someone gains when they quit smoking. Feel free to draw on personal experience, or stories you may have read or heard about from others. The idea is just to get a number in your head that you think is reasonable, and then check below to see how close you were to the actual number. If you prefer to pick a percent, we've also listed percentages. When you've picked one, and you're ready, read on for the scientific facts.

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According to an NIH funded study published March 13th, 2013, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people who quit smoking gain about five to ten pounds. That's an average of seven and a half pounds. The CDC lists the average weight of people over 20 years of age at just over 180 pounds. Seven and a half pounds is 4.17% of that figure.

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This means that the average person who quits smoking will gain about four percent of their total body weight. Consider that figure in comparison to how much weight you or someone you know planned to lose the last time New Year's Resolutions were made. Probably, it was more than the 7.5 pounds someone who quits smoking will gain.

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Now, think about the fact that the people in this study who gained weight are mostly people who aren't exercising or making any major life changes, other than quitting smoking. In fact, the data this study is based on was collected over a period of almost 30 years, from 1984 to 2011. Most of the groundbreaking research into quitting smoking wasn't even completed until after this study was finished. That means this research is actually based on people who quit smoking when it was harder to quit, with less alternatives and support groups.

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Based on this, it should come as no surprise that an increasing number of people are able to quit smoking without gaining weight. It should also be much easier to accept that people can indeed lose weight and quit smoking.

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We're going to show you how.

The Facts About Weight Loss, Exercise, and Quitting Smoking

Huge gains have been made in the study and understanding of quitting smoking and weight gain.

If you didn't already know it, nicotine creates it's own little private neural network. It's driven by addiction, and triggers almost irresistible cravings when nicotine isn't present in the bloodstream. Nicotine also triggers an almost instant release of fats and sugars into the bloodstream. This process takes about seven seconds. A meal or a snack takes about 20 minutes to release fats and sugars into the bloodstream.

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Then there's the problem of habit, where pattern behavior is developed, such as always holding something, or 'always doing something' with the hands or mouth. Often this can be battled with snacks, chewing gum, or even cinnamon sticks. While those are great placeholders to help manage the pattern behaviors associated with smoking addictions, they're just baby steps to help you over the initial nicotine withdrawals.

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What you really need to focus on are the following three things:

  1. 1
    Understanding How Many Calories Are In What You Eat:
    Very few people have any real idea of how many calories they eat. Most of the time they just have a general idea, and that idea is usually way off the mark. For example, a large latte with vanilla syrup and whipped cream is about 50 minutes worth of jogging. Consume three of those in a day, and you'll be jogging around for two and a half hours.
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  2. 2
    Understanding How Many Calories You Burn When Exercising:
    Just like eating, few people really understand the calories exercising burns. Most of the time, people think that exercise burns far more calories than it really does. In actuality, the human body is a very efficient machine that does not want to lose calories. That means you need to really work hard to lose them. For example, it takes an hour and a half of bicycling to burn off the calories in a medium size order of fries. If you feel like bicycling for more than three hours, then get a large order of fries. Keep in mind, that's just the fries, and doesn't account for the burger or the shake.
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  3. 3
    Understanding How This Affects Weight Gain and Weight Loss:
    Just as different models of cars consume fuel differently, and use more or less depending on what those cars are doing (going downhill empty uses less fuel than going uphill with a car full of people and luggage), so do people. Calories are fuel for the body, and weight loss is what happens when more calories are burned than the body takes in. It's that simple, but there are so many diets and 'formulas' out there that sometimes even professional dietitians have a hard time deciphering the latest diets.
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How You Can Quit Smoking, Get Fit, and Lose Weight

Eat less calories than your body needs, and you'll lose weight. It's that simple.

Simple, yes. Easy, not so much. The rough but accepted average is that 3,500 calories equals a pound. Based on that, one could consume 500 calories less per day, and lose a pound a week. In practice though, this isn't quite accurate. The body is a master of conservation and energy storage. It's why we get fat. When we eat less, our bodies try to conserve energy and store fat. Then, when we eat more at a later date, our body remembers the time we were starving, and stores even more fat to prepare us for the next time it thinks we have no food.

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So, losing weight is actually much more complex than just eating less, although the end result is that if you eat less, you will lose weight. It's just not the best way to do it. The best way is through exercise.

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When you try to quit smoking, the body will be very upset, and you'll be overwhelmed with intense cravings for nicotine and food. You see, your body has learned that nicotine triggers a sugar release in the bloodstream. That sugar release satisfies your need to eat, while the nicotine sates the brain's neural network dependency. When you stop smoking, your body first requests nicotine to satisfy the network and the hunger. When it doesn't receive it, the brain freaks out, and starts informing your body that you are starving. Despite knowing that you aren't starving, you begin gorging yourself on food, not stopping until about 20 minutes later, when the sugar from that meal hits the bloodstream.

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In reality, a half serving of nuts would have the same effect as a whole chicken, in that the body would receive an energy boost in about 20 minutes. The difference is that a half serving of nuts has about 220 calories. It will take about an hour of walking to burn off those extra calories. A whole chicken has about 2,200 calories, and significantly more if it's fried, like Kentucky Fried Chicken or Popeye's Chicken. Most people who get hit by a craving can tell you that eating a whole chicken in 20 minutes is absolutely possible. However, most don't know that it will take more than ten hours of walking to burn off the calories in a whole chicken.

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To combat this, you need to manage portion sizes, and pay attention to what you're eating. Once you can do that, you're on the way to not gaining weight. From there, you need to start exercising.

By 'exercising', we don't mean you need to go to the gym or start running around the block every day. Rather, you need to put in at least 15 minutes a day of exercise.

This can be walking, running, or even taking the stairs. Just consider how easy it is to work these items into your every day activities. For example, if it takes three minutes to walk up the stairs to your office, and you do that twice a day at work, you'll burn 300 calories a week. Add in another 15 minutes to walk to and from work each day, that's another 250 calories you'll burn a week - without really doing anything extra.

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  • 15 minutes of walking up the stairs will burn about 150 calories.
  • 15 minutes of jogging will burn about 125 calories.
  • 15 minutes of walking will burn about 50 calories.

When you add in 15 minutes of extra exercise, you'll burn an extra 125 calories. When you get accustomed to this, you'll start unconsciously working the exercise into your daily routine. Then you'll naturally burn hundreds of extra calories a day, and get more fit in the process.

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One of the secrets a lot of weight loss pro's will tell you is to start exercising before you even get out of bed. Stretch, do some crunches, and lift your legs and make a bicycling motion. This will get you energized before the day starts, and give you a little extra pep. It will also burn a few extra calories.

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After a month or two of this, you'll be ready to hit the gym, or increase your daily exercise from 15 minutes to 30 minutes a day. This will help you lose weigh and improve your fitness levels, while looking and feeling better than you have in ages.

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The Impact of 500 Calories on Your Total Body Weight

It may not seem like much, but 500 calories is more than you think, and it adds up fast.

Taking the earlier example of cutting 500 calories per day to lose one pound every seven days (3,500 total calories lost), we can make a quick list of some foods and beverages that equal about 500 calories each. For reference, it takes about an hour of jogging to burn off 500 calories:

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  • One large order of McDonalds fries.
  • One small milkshake from Burger King.
  • One extra crispy breast from Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • One apple pecan Chicken salad from Wendy's.
  • One 20 ounce White Chocolate Crème Frappuccino (Whole Milk)
  • Two 20-ounce bottles of Coke or Pepsi.
  • Three 12-ounce alcoholic drinks at your favorite bar (general average).
  • Six ounces of Pizza Hut pizza with toppings (general average)

Since a great many people in the modern world are enjoying these meals and beverages on a regular basis, it's important to consider just how much of this food impacts our lifestyle.

Using the above examples, a 40-ounce coke, large fries, and burger for lunch will be around 1,500 calories. That's more than most women working in offices are supposed to eat in an entire day. Add in breakfast, some snacks, and dinner with a few drinks, and it's easy to see how someone can easily consume far more than an extra 500 calories a day.

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This is why you gain weight when you aren't smoking. Smokers who don't already manage their calories and start eating more to compensate for nicotine withdrawals can easily start putting on pounds in no time.

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Therefore, to avoid gaining weight when you quit smoking:

  1. 1
    Change your eating habits, and try to only eat healthy foods.
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  2. 2
    Don't drink Coke, Pepsi, or Starbucks drinks, and avoid alcohol.
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  3. 3
    Avoid eating processed or pre-made foods - none of them are healthy.
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Why Exercise Helps You Quit Smoking and Lose Weight

When you smoke, your body has less of everything it needs, and weakens over time.

Most smokers find that the day comes when they can no longer run as far as they once could, or suddenly find themselves winded and unable to do something they thought they could. When they quit, suddenly they are battling nicotine withdrawal symptoms, and a range of related sicknesses associated with quitting. For about a week, they generally feel worse than they ever have. In that time, the body starts to regenerate, and there's no better time to build up positive reinforcement through exercising.

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When you feel the need to do something with your hands, you can exercise. Do some push ups, use the arms of your office chair to do some exercises, or get some hand exercise balls to occupy your hands. You can also keep some lotion or antibacterial hand gel nearby, and use it when you aren't able to exercise, but feel the need to do something with your hands.

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Remember that an increasingly large number of people are quitting and losing weight at the same time. If they can do it, so can you.

Tips and Suggestions to Quit Without Weight Gain

  • Keeping yourself occupied is one of the best ways to battle cravings and nicotine withdrawals, and exercise is a great way to do this.
  • Part of portion control is paying attention to what you eat. Seeds and foods in shells are a great way to track how much you're eating.
  • Fast food isn't healthy, no matter what any restaurant says. Eat at home, or eat a snack you brought with you, and you'll lose weight. Eat out, and you won't.
  • Focus on quitting smoking for the first week, and then gradually work in maintaining weight (not gaining any), and later start on exercise.
  • Exercise also rewards the body, and when used to combat cravings, can more quickly build up healthy neural networks that crave healthy and natural highs, instead of nicotine.

Article Citations and References to Quit Without Weight Gain

The following articles, government sites, and medical journals were used in this guide.


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