When you give up smoking, maintaining a healthy weight can prove challenging.
There are several reasons why quitting cigarettes often results in weight gain. For a start smoking suppresses your appetite and when you stop, it will return with a vengeance – along with your sense of taste. Your craving for cigarettes can quickly become replaced with a craving for sugary foods.
There is a risk too that you will comfort eat to cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms, reaching for a sugary or salty snack when you feel the cravings coming on.
Many people feel the need to replicate the hand to mouth action of smoking that they have become so accustomed to and find that eating is a good substitute.
A more scientific reason for weight gain after quitting smoking is that smoking speeds up your metabolism, so that your body burns calories at a faster rate. Unless you consume fewer calories when you give up, this could lead to weight gain.
However, fears over weight gain are not a good reason to continue smoking -the multiple health risks associated with smoking far outweigh the risks of putting on weight. And there is plenty you can do to avoid replacing cigarettes with calories.
Here are some top tips on maintaining a healthy weight when you quit:
After quitting smoking your body will burn calories more slowly. This means it’s important to speed up your metabolism by keeping active.
Taking regular exercise is said to prevent about half the weight gain expected after a year of quitting. Ideally you should build up to around 2.5 hours a week of aerobic exercise such as swimming, fast walking or cycling.
You could join a local gym or find out what classes are available at your local leisure centre. Alternatively make simple changes to your lifestyle that will allow you to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, such as walking to work or to the shops instead of driving.
The more exercise you do, the more calories you will burn. Exercise is also a great way to take your mind off the challenges of giving up smoking and will distract you from your cravings.
To combat cravings for unhealthy snacks, keep a supply of healthy nibbles handy. Fresh fruit is ideal as are nuts and vegetable sticks.
When you stop smoking, try to eat smaller portions of food until your metabolism stabilises. It takes 20 minutes for you to feel full after eating so take a break after your main meal before moving onto snacks or desserts. You may feel that after a 30-minute breather, you no longer feel the need to consume anymore.
Keep mid-morning hunger at bay by filling up with a wholesome bowl of porridge for breakfast. Porridge is made from oats which release energy slowly because they increase blood sugar levels over a longer period of time. This means you are less likely to feel hungry or want to eat unhealthy snacks which can help with weight control.
If you are struggling to eat healthily, ask your GP to refer you to a dietitian who can put together a specially tailored diet plan that will suit your needs.
Quitting smoking through will power alone is tough and can heighten your chances of resorting to comfort eating to cope with cravings. Nicotine Replacement Therapy can double your chances of quitting smoking successfully and will help you to cope with cigarette cravings. There is a wide variety of different products to choose from depending on your individual requirements, from patches you wear to gum or lozenges you take when you feel a craving coming on.
To find out the best product for you see your GP or pharmacist. If you are giving up smoking and would like to find out what support is available to help you quit, contact NHS Wales’ Help Me Quit service on 0800 085 2219 or visit www.helpmequit.wales.