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10 Ways to Battle Weight Gain After Quitting Smoking

Shannan Bergtholdt author image
Cigarette resting on an ashtray
Successfully quitting smoking is the most powerful health improvement a person can make. Though, many people find that the process of quitting can be met with its own challenges, including weight gain.

People reportedly can gain an average of 5 to 10 pounds in the first year after quitting smoking. This is largely due to the fact that nicotine suppresses the appetite and increases metabolism. 

Adopting healthful habits as a part of smoking cessation can help prevent unwanted weight gain. Let’s explore 10 ways to battle weight gain after quitting smoking. 

As you go through these ten tips for battling weight gain, recall that your smoking cessation journey is unique. 

You don’t have to implement all of these tips at once; you are already doing the important work of quitting smoking. Challenge yourself to try one of these tips at a time. You can then introduce another approach so that you build positive momentum. 

1. Choose a Plan that Fits Your Life

Finding a plan that fits your life, not the other way around is the first key to success. It is tempting to try what worked for a friend, colleague, or family member. Keep in mind that success looks different for each person and you know what will work best for you. 

There are many different weight management apps and plans available across multiple platforms. Search for the best weight loss plans designed to meet your individual needs and budget. 

When selecting a plan, think about three key questions to determine what type of approach serves you best. 

  1. Do you prefer one-on-one coaching or the support of a group environment? 
  2. Do the results seem too good to be true?
  3. Does the plan appear reasonable or does it seem too challenging to maintain? 

Answering these three questions will help you determine whether a plan seems right. 

2. Healthy Habit Inventory

Quitting smoking can feel like you are starting from square one building a new routine that doesn’t include nicotine. This may usher in feelings of overwhelm, but taking note of healthy habits you already have in place gives you a foundation. 

Like many things, smoking is a habit. Quitting a habit without replacing it with a new, or better, habit can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Think about what your daily routine is like before you quit smoking. Did you take regular smoke breaks at work? Did you smoke on the drive to or from work as a means to calm yourself? Ask yourself when you feel good, what does your life look like. What habits do you have?

What else can you do during the time that you committed to smoking that will honor your health? You can choose to get up from your desk, stretch, and go for a brief walk during the workday. You could also try a breathing exercise during your drive, which can help you feel relaxed.

3. Move More

Nicotine increases metabolism, which is why quitting smoking, and the subsequent decrease in metabolism can contribute to weight gain. 

One way to naturally and effectively speed up metabolism is to exercise. Simply moving the body more frequently throughout the day can help support a healthy metabolism. 

Studies examining exercise alone as a means to prevent weight gain after smoking cessation didn’t have promising results. However, exercise when combined with other healthy habits is much more likely to have sustained results. 

Adults should be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Find a way to incorporate 30 minutes of movement into your day. You can break the 30 minutes into smaller intervals, such as three 10-minute walks if needed. 

4. Smart Snacks

For some individuals, weight gain can be attributed to replacing the hand-to-mouth habit of smoking with snacking. This is especially true if the snacks contain significant calories, fat, or sugar. 

One can choose to either snack less often or find more nourishing options. Try these quick and nutritious snack ideas:

  • Yogurt
  • Popcorn
  • Mixed nuts
  • Fresh fruit
  • Beef jerky
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Protein bar

Keep smarter snack options visible and readily available at home and at work to prevent a trip to the vending machine. Just knowing that you have a better alternative available is part of success. 

5. Portion Control 

Portion control is particularly important after quitting smoking. Nicotine suppresses the appetite and so when nicotine is eliminated, it is natural to expect appetite and hunger to increase.

Being mindful of portion control is a way to counteract the effects of an increased appetite. One approach is to use the MyPlate method by rating your plate.

When looking at your plate, half of the plate should be plants such as fruits and vegetables. A quarter of your plate should be a protein serving such as meat, fish, beans, and legumes. The other quarter of your plate should be whole grains. 

6. Stock Up on Good Nutrition

You are more likely to make sound choices if you have nutritious foods readily available in the house. Stock up on good nutrition at the store with some whole foods and meal ingredients. 

When time is tight and you don’t have time to plan, discover quality meals from BistroMD. Your new healthy eating habit will be easier when you can quickly access pre-portioned, balanced meals that taste good. 

BistroMD features chef-prepared meals that fit any dietary preference and with meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, keeping portions under control is only a click away. 

7. Sugar-Free Gum 

Grab a pack of sugar-free gum next time you are at the store. Chewing sugar-free gum serves two purposes for helping battle weight gain after quitting smoking. 

First, sugar-free gum has very few calories, approximately 5 calories per serving. Chewing gum instead of snacking may be a way to prevent unwanted extra calories. Though, as one randomized control trial suggested, chewing gum alone is not enough to promote weight loss. 

Secondly, there is evidence to support that chewing gum can help reduce nicotine cravings and reduce the effects of nicotine withdrawal. 

8. Prioritize Sleep

What does sleep have to do with preventing weight gain? First, let’s consider what happens when we sleep. 

At night, the brain re-calibrates and recovers. After a good night’s sleep, the hormones that regulate stress, hunger, appetite, and mood are restored. 

After a poor night’s sleep, these same hormones are not restored, leaving us feeling tired, more stressed, and hungrier. It is not uncommon to experience cravings for sweet, carbohydrate-rich foods after a bad night’s sleep because they are a quick energy source. 

Adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Naps are okay after a night of short sleep but are only a short-term solution. 

9. Cut Liquid Calories 

Soda, juice, energy drinks, and alcohol are all calorie-containing beverages. When trying to prevent weight gain, eliminating liquid calories is a good place to start. 

Explore sugar-free or diet versions of your favorite soda, tea, or flavored beverage. You can also try different types of sparkling water or seltzer water that have no calories and can help you stay hydrated. 

The good news is that your morning coffee is here to stay. A serving of coffee has very few calories and is only as caloric as what you put into it. For example, sweetened flavored coffees can have several hundred calories per serving and as much sugar as a candy bar. A small amount of coffee creamer and sweetener can be part of your routine to prevent weight gain. 

10. Find Accountability 

An accountability partner or coach can help you stay on track with your commitment to quit smoking and prevent weight gain. 

One way you can stay accountable to yourself is to track your progress. Keep a food and/or activity journal and it can be a way to visibly measure your results. 

Accountability is one area where you can invest in your success. Hiring a professional to help guide your food choices can make a significant difference in how quickly and successfully you meet your goals.

Noom pairs science with accountability to provide a personalized health journey with coaches. Use the Noom app in a way that fits your schedule with daily tips and accountability to your goals. 

The coaches at Noom can help you understand your personal relationship with food with messaging and support. 

Final Thoughts

It is natural to be concerned about how to battle weight gain after quitting smoking. What is important to remember is that the benefits of smoking cessation far exceed the risks of a small or modest weight gain. 

Don’t be discouraged if the scale starts to show a higher number. You can always start on a weight loss program to help moderate your weight gain. Start implementing the ten steps outlined above and find a plan that fits your life. Begin by stocking up on good nutrition, take a habit inventory, then layer in your new habits including regular exercise and good sleep. 

Lastly, you don’t have to take this journey all on your own. Reach out to a friend, family member or hire a coach who can help keep you accountable to your goals. 

Shannan Bergtholdt author image
Shannan Bergtholdt, MS Ed, RDN writes for top10.com and is a Registered Dietitian with over 20 years of experience. Her original research studies were published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association as well as Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise. As a consultant, she has diverse sales copywriting and freelance experience delivering practical and actionable nutrition information.

The information on this site is based on research, but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new diet plan, we recommend consulting with a physician or other professional healthcare provider. Results may vary based on various health factors, individual weight loss plans and adherence to the meal plan.