One of the biggest mental roadblocks to stopping smoking is the fear of gaining weight. In today’s article, guest blogger, Helen Farthing, shares with us a few hacks in avoiding weight gain on our stop smoking journey.
If you’ve just decided to quit smoking, congratulations are in order. Smoking is one of the hardest habits to let quit, prompting Mark Twain himself to remark, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.”
The American Cancer Society states that the culprit is nicotine, which studies have shown to be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Smokers quickly become physically (but also emotionally) addicted to nicotine, and quitting leads to an array of withdrawal symptoms, which can include depression, anger, dizziness, and, sadly, increased anxiety, appetite and weight gain.
Recent studies have shown that the average weight gain when kicking the habit is around 4.5 kg (or 10 pounds). It is important to note that this is just an average; researchers noted that there was great variability in the amount of weight gained, with some people even losing weight. One quarter of participants to the study only put on less than two pounds, while an equal number of persons gained over 17 pounds!
There are two main reasons why smoking cessation can result in weight gain. Firstly, nicotine slightly raises the metabolic rate, so that more calories are burned than normally. Secondly, quitting can lead to irritability and anxiety, since levels of serotonin (a feel-good hormone) can decrease, leading to strong cravings. When we cannot rely on cigarettes to quell these cravings, we logically turn to food.
We know that quitting cigarettes can lead to weight gain, but we also know that the latter can be insignificant. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we suggest these tips to reduce the likelihood of weight gain:
- Increase your physical activity: We know that smoking increases your metabolism, so why not boost the latter through exercise? Weight gain ultimately arises when we consume more calories than we burn, so up your calorie expenditure with a daily cardiovascular workout lasting at least 30-45 minutes daily. Cycling, brisk walking, running, aerobics, kickboxing, CrossFit and dance are just a few ideas to start off with. Exercise is useful in another way: for many ex-smokers, it may open up a whole new interest in fitness and health which may have been buried while they were indulging in unhealthy cigarettes. If you can manage to turn your life around and embrace fitness as a hobby, you will reap many additional health benefits, including a lower risk of Type II diabetes, some cancers, and heart disease.
- Try cigarette substitutes if you must: Many experts feel that cigarette substitutes such as herbal and e-cigarettes should not be used, because they continue to foster the idea of dependence. ‘Quit cold turkey,’ they say, yet for some people, the drastic approach does not work. Many quitters say that one of the most difficult things is figuring out what to do with their hands; these ex-smokers like to feel they can rely on a substitute. If you do purchase an e-cigarette, rather than using a low-nicotine filer, we suggest a zero-nicotine filler – try a tempting flavour like chocolate, cheesecake or vanilla! Herbal cigarettes don’t have the best fragrance, but they can be useful to at least rid your body of nicotine.
- Try natural stress busters like yoga and mindful meditation: Yoga, which involves a blend of controlled breathing, asanas (poses) and mindfulness, has been found in various studies to lower levels of stress hormone, cortisol. Mindful meditation on its own is also fast gaining ground in the nation’s top addiction centers, owing to its success at helping patients through cravings. Instead of pushing the thoughts of cravings out of their heads, patients are encouraged to rely on meditation to ‘ride them through’ cravings. Deep breathing (pranayamic breathing), also used in yoga and mindful meditation, is another powerful way to stave off anxiety and to lower rising heart and breathing rates.
- Experiment with natural calming methods: These include essential oils, which have a powerful vibrational energy you can harness in times of stress. One popular essential oil blend includes a few drops of chamomile, lavender, clove, citrus (orange or lemon) and marjoram.
- Take healthy snacks with you to work: Prepare controlled portions beforehand so you don’t overdo it. Remember that even when it comes to healthy snacks, moderation is key.
About the Author
Helen (Farthing) is a freelance writer and mother. Previous to this she worked in healthcare and helped people source advice and guidance on fitness and nutrition. She firmly believes that a healthy and balanced lifestyle is key to longevity and wants to now help others through her written work.
Do you have any tips to add to this list from personal experience?