Health & Wellness Articles

Stop Smoking and Gain Weight? Not Necessarily!

15 Tips to Avoid Weight Gain While Kicking the Habit

Congratulations! You’ve decided to quit smoking. You know it’s a smart move—quitting cigarette smoking is the number one thing you can do to dramatically improve your health and avoid several potentially life threatening illnesses. You're feeling ready and committed to breaking the habit once and for all.

Or are you? Is there a little voice in the back of your mind warning you that if you do stop smoking, you are sure to gain some weight? Is that little voice causing you to hesitate, and delay the big step for a while? Are you thinking you want to get a little closer to your goal weight before embarking on this next big lifestyle change?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, that is OK. It makes sense that you are fearful about gaining weight when you quit cigarettes. Research says that the majority of adults gain an average of five to eight pounds when they kick the cigarette habit, and there are many reasons why this happens. However, with some planning, education and insight, it is not an inevitable consequence. There are tools and techniques you can use to keep the scale steady.

First, let’s get an understanding of why weight gain can be a problem when you give up smoking. Smokers may have a slightly elevated metabolism due to the calorie burning effect of smoking. It’s estimated that smoking cigarettes burns between 200-250 extra calories per day. Nicotine acts as an appetite suppressant, so you may eat less. Along with the fact that many replace the urge to smoke with eating, daily caloric intake can easily escalate.

Nicotine also increases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that leads to relaxed and calm feelings. When the levels of serotonin decrease, we end up feeling irritable, cranky and stressed. To complicate matters, carbohydrates increase our serotonin levels, which explains the cravings for starchy or sweet foods. If you are used to reaching for a cigarette to calm down when faced with outside stressors, and you’re working hard to get cigarettes out of your life, food can easily become part of your stress-management toolbox.

Seasoned smokers tend to have an oral fixation; they’re used to having something in their mouth. Without cigarettes, food can become the thing that satisfies the need to keep your mouth busy. And last, but not least, stopping for a smoke is often a break in the action. It’s what you may reach for to signify the end of the meal, or a reason to take five during your workday, or just have a rest from anything you are doing. Once again, it would be easy to let food be the replacement when it’s time to take a breather (no pun, intended).

Although it may seem like the odds of not gaining weight are stacked against you, there are several things you can do to beat them. The good news is, as a SparkPeople member, you may already have lots of good habits and tools that will help you succeed. You probably know a lot about making healthy, satisfying food choices to help with weight loss. You’re most likely exercising on a regular basis. And you’ve got a Community for support and encouragement.

Let’s take a look at some of the other things you can do to avoid putting on the extra pounds when quitting cigarettes—or at least, keeping them to a minimum.
Tell them what you wantstart an exercise programkeep your mood elevatedstrength trainingfoods that are easily portablealcohol is high in empty caloriessupportive smoking cessation groupjust get back on track
    1. Pick a "Quit Day" and pre-plan. Let your friends and family know when you plan to quit, and be specific about how you would like them to help you. —and don't want— them to do. Make a decision about what will work best for you; cutting back slowly over time or going cold turkey. Embark on this journey at a time when your stress level is low, and your schedule is fairly routine. If you are not already exercising, ask your doctor if it's appropriate for you to now, and if so, establish a routine for a few weeks before your quit date.

    2. Track your cigarette triggers for a few days before your quit date. You may notice you always smoke a cigarette after eating, or as soon as you get on the phone with your mom. Begin to brainstorm alternative activities to replace smoking. Perhaps a cup of herbal tea or brushing your teeth after each meal might help. While on the phone, keep a pad and colored pencils nearby and doodle to keep those fingers busy.

    3. Share your plans with your doctor, and have a discussion about smoking cessation tools. The prescription medication Zyban, nicotine replacement therapy patches, and support groups or counseling have all been shown to help smokers quit successfully—with less weight gain.

    4. Do a major cleanup. Take your car to be professionally cleaned. Have carpets and draperies steam cleaned. The smell of cigarettes will increase your urge to smoke, so the less residual scent, the better. Try scented candles, potpourri, or oil-infused room fresheners. Use peppermint scented products; the smell of peppermint has been shown to be an appetite suppressant.

    5. Exercise regularly, possibly even more than before. Aside from burning extra calories, working out will ease stress, help beat cravings, and . If you are not already , add it to your routine. Muscle is metabolically more active than fat tissue. So if you add more muscle to your body composition, you’ll increase your metabolism and burn more calories no matter what you are doing. During the quitting process, it can be helpful to burn an additional 100-200 calories through additional exercise each day. This will help offset the temporary decrease in your metabolism, and possibly any additional eating you're doing to compensate for not smoking.

    6. Have lots of low-cal, healthy snacks on hand at home and at work. Carrots, celery and bell-pepper sticks, air-popped popcorn, fruit, sugar-snap peas, edamame, and grape tomatoes are all low-calorie, high density .

    7. Satisfy your oral fixation with healthy alternatives. Try sugar-free lollipops, gum or hard candies. Even sucking on cinnamon sticks can help!

    8. . Drinking water will keep you feeling full, and sipping through a straw or water bottle might help with the desire to have something in your mouth.

    9. Avoid alcohol. Aside from the fact that , it is often coupled with smoking. Alcohol will also lower your inhibitions and make it more difficult to resist both overeating and cigarettes.

    10. Plan break activities. Create a list of activities that are appealing to you for when you need a break in the action. Take a walk, call a friend, read a book or magazine, do a crossword puzzle, or catch up with emails.

    11. Keep your hands busy. Rather than reaching for food when you're not even hungry, try a healthy alternative such as knitting, crocheting, giving yourself a manicure, answering emails, or playing online games.

    12. Do not go on crash diets or a VLCD (very low calorie diet). Consciously try to reduce your daily intake by just 100-200 calories per day for the next six months. This small reduction will help offset metabolic changes that happen when you stop smoking. However, don't go to extremes: When your calorie intake is too low, it decreases your metabolism and affects your mood. Both will work against you, rather than for you, when it comes to weight loss. VLCD have been shown to make dieters feel very stressed, which of course will increase your desire for food and cigarettes.

    13. Have a toolbox of stress management techniques ready and on-hand. Try massage, yoga, playing with your dog, listening to music you love, or taking a bath. If you’ve always depended on cigarettes to ease stress, have lots of other options aside from food ready and available.

    14. Join a support group. Just as you find the support and camaraderie of the SparkPeople community helpful with your weight-loss journey, a can make things a little easier—and you can find many right here at SparkPeople!

    15. Be kind to yourself and . Giving up cigarettes is a momentous step and trying to do so without gaining weight makes the process more challenging. Forgive yourself for minor slips, and . Plan small rewards for each progress step you make. Keep in mind the goal should be to "maintain" your current weight and put continued weight loss on hold.
So now you’ve got a plan and you’ve stacked the cards in your favor to quit smoking without gaining weight. So don’t wait! Keep in mind that the health benefits of quitting smoking far exceed the risk of 5 to 8 extra pounds. And remember, if you should gain a little weight, you’ll no doubt take off any extra pounds you picked up along the way once cigarettes are a thing of the past.

This article has been reviewed and approved by health educators Becky Hand, M.S., R.D., L.D., and Nicole Nichols

Source List:
How to Quit Smoking Without Gaining Weight. Marcus, Bess H., Jeffrey S. Hampl, and Edwin B. Fisher. 2004. New York: Pocket Books
Diet Tips When You Quit Smoking, from
Quit Smoking Without Gaining Weight, from
Stop Smoking, from the American Lung Association

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Member Comments

  • This is my 4th day of non-smoking and my eating has been crazy, albeit NOT as crazy as before I started SP, so my hope is to maintain and even if I have a small gain this week, I know not smoking will benefit me so much more and eventually I will get that gain back off. I am increasing exercise and general movement because if I don't my cravings are really bad! I can do this!!
  • Great article!!! No matter your age or how many times you've tried, believe that YOU can!!!

    There's always help and this article is proof of that!! Many blessings!!
  • I have decided that today is my day to stop smoking and begin step 1 with the patches that my Dr. prescribed for me.
    Excellent article. Since my normal smoking place was in my garage my goal for today is to have it completely cleaned and aired out.
    My support system is my family.
  • I quit smoking cold turkey after more than 40 years. Several days later, I had shortness of breath and attributed it to cessation of smoking. Upon examination at the hospital emergency room, I was told that my lungs were at the best measurable rate of more than 95%. Unfortunately, as a doctor told me, it probably meant a heart attack instead; addition examination confirmed his statement. In the first six months after, even with going through rehabilitation physical therapy for 4 of those months, I gained 15 lbs. The primary reason was I became sedentary except for the therapy rather than increasing my food consumption.
  • I quit smoking 6 months ago. I did it cold turkey and I was scared of weight gain during this. First I tried to regulate my smoking and perhaps do it only at parties and gatherings, but when I went 1 week without cigarettes and gained 4 lbs and on the weekend I smoked again and lost 6 lbs... a realised (first hand) the impact cigarettes have on my body and that's when I decided to quit for good. I smoked my last cigarette, I gained 3 lbs, I fought with the cravings for 3 or 4 days and then I started loosing weight steadily and started to feel better and better every day.

    I was afraid of all the weight gain and that's why I hesitated so much to take this decision (a friend of mine quit a couple of weeks before me and he gained almost 30 lbs in 3 weeks, but he replaced smoking for eating, so I knew it was paramount I kept my good eating habits as much as possible).

    It's doable and indeed is the best you can do for your health!! Breath again, feel great.
    Gaining weight when you quit smoking is indeed a real concern for a lot of people. It's best to go into such an endeavor with no reservations so that you can remain diligent and motivated. I found my motivation in my desire to have children and I was amazed at the technologies and programs that have been so helpful.
    Helene |
    I quit smoking and continued losing. I do wring my hands a lot though. I used the patches, they were invaluable, no withdrawal. I was a very heavy smoker, 2 1/2 packs a day, and was very afraid of the withdrawal, but my doctor said to double up on the patches, so I did, and it worked beautifully. The only difference is I have to stay busy. I have trouble relaxing until everything is done, this is typical of my personality though, and was being overridden by the cigarettes.
  • It may be a good idea to build up a few healthy habits before quitting.
    I did not plan to quit, but after reading The Spark I revised my meal plan and started to exercise, and after one month I felt so healthy and clean that somehow smoking seemed dirty. I smoked a few cigarettes fin the next week than quit completely, and never missed it.
    And there was no negative impact on my weight loss at all.
  • To gain weight or lose weight you need to have a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a proper diet plan can help you with both. Regular exercising is must and will be beneficial. Read more on how to choose right weight loss program www.consumerhealt
  • For me it's just a matter of discipline. If you quit the habit of smoking, that means you are making a good start to improve your life. We all know that smoking can really bring your health a lot of negative effect and it has to stop. Gaining weight I think is another issue. And there are appropriate things you can do with the help of people around you to loose again and be back in shape!
  • Wow...just re-read this....I've quit several times during my life..for long periods of time and started this article back in 2012 and continued to smoke...honestly if a person is trying to lose weight and get fitter...this article just is not the best motivator--as pragmatic as it may be.

    I've had a cold and been smoke free again for three days....thought I'd quit again..and trying to prepare..rereadin
    g this I want to go burn a whole helpful as I find most content here, this one seems pretty gloomy to me...
  • It has been three months since I quit. I am using Nicorette lozenges in the smallest dosage. I noticed that the 1st month after I quit, I gained 10 pounds (pretty much consistent with what's mentioned in the article. I started walking daily when I quit,but apparently not enough. I bought a FitBit, got more addicted to walking & I've maintained the weight. I want to lose about 20 pounds, but I'm okay with dealing first with getting over the smoking (honestly,I miss it,but will never go back to it). I want to congratulate everyone that has quitor is trying to quit. You can do it!
  • It's been 10 days quit for me after having smoked for 39 years, usually only on the weekends, two packs each time. That doesn't translate to a heavy smoker, nonetheless, the poisons were being ingested and doing their harm. Before I quit I had also lost 36 pounds after finding SP and am at a healthy weight.

    I discovered and log on every single day, reading testimonials, posts, info about withdrawals, in short, everything I can on there to understand this deadly addiction. It killed my mother (lung cancer) and my cousin (pancreatic cancer, only age 51). I read Allen Carr's book "The Easy Way to Quit Smoking" and learned you MUST have the strong desire to quit, otherwise you won't be successful which I wholeheartedly believe because if it's half-hearted, your addicted brain will find a way to justify picking it up again.

    Personally, I believe it's easier to lose the weight first and solidify the change in eating habits before you try quitting; but since I've been reading so much about how bad smoking is for you and that you will more likely than not develop a smoking related disease if you continue this deadly habit by virtue of the cancer causing agents in cigs, it's much better to toss the cigs!! As so many people on quitnet have said, it's much easier to lose the weight, not replace a lung or fight cancer! If you do try both, just keep low calorie munchies around. For me, it's baby carrots and something to dip it in and drinking lots of water and track, track, track, keeping the calories around 1550.


  • I am trying to quit cold turkey! Yesterday was day 1. Last night I woke up about 3 to 4 times drenched in sweat and has found it very hard to focus today. I also have headaches. My plan is to use exercise when I crave a cig. I read that cravings last about 3 minutes to I figure doing sit ups and or push ups during those cravings will give me something to do. This is day two so I am hoping to get better sleep tonight. My food cravings are about the same so far. Hopefully I can quit without the weight gain.....

About The Author

Ellen Goldman Ellen Goldman
Ellen founded EllenG Coaching, LLC to help individuals struggling with health issues that can be impacted by positive lifestyle change, such as weight loss, stress management, exercise, and life/work balance. As a certified professional wellness coach and certified personal trainer, Ellen holds a BS and Masters in Physical Education and is certified by ACSM, AFAA, and Wellcoaches Corporation. Visit her at Get her complimentary report, 52 Tips, Tools & Tricks to Permanent Weight Loss Without Going on a Diet, at

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