Smokers delay quitting smoking due to weight gain fears

October 26, 2016

Weight gain after quitting smoking is a serious concern for many smokers. In fact a recent survey has shown that half of smokers delay quitting smoking for years because they worry about getting fat. On average these smokers delay stopping smoking for seven and a half years during which time it is estimated that about 41 000 cigarettes are smoked at a cost of R650 000 and life expectancy is cut by 314 days, almost a full year.

Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Nutrition at Slimming World was “horrified” that so many people continue to smoke for many years simply because they assume they will gain weight if they quit smoking.

Although 80% of smokers gain some weight when they stop smoking, most ex-smokers only gain a modest amount of weight of around 2 to 3kgs in the first year.

Causes of weight gain when quitting smoking

1. Eating instead of smoking:

Many smokers find their eating habits change when they quit cigarettes. They tend to eat more, particularly in the first few weeks after quitting smoking. Some of the reasons include:

  • The restless, empty feeling caused by nicotine withdrawal can feel very similar to hunger pangs. The smoker thinks they’re hungry when they are not.
  • The oral satisfaction of putting a cigarette into their mouths is missing and that prompts some ex-smokers to substitute food for cigarettes. Instead of lighting up, they eat something.
  • Food can be comforting. If an ex-smoker is having a hard time during the withdrawal period, they may reward themselves with treats and snacks in an attempt to feel better.
  • Some smokers regularly skip meals – for example, breakfast may be a cup of coffee and a couple of cigarettes. Once you stop smoking, you may find that you don’t feel like skipping meals anymore.
  • Many ex-smokers find that food tastes and smells better, and this may lead to more helpings.

 2. Slower metabolism:

Nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco, speeds up the body’s metabolism causing smokers to burn more calories than non-smokers. When a smoker quits smoking their metabolism slows down and they burn fewer kilojoules which would explain why they put on weight even if they do not eat any more than usual.

How to avoid putting on weight when stopping smoking

  1. Raise your metabolic rate by taking regular exercise. Go for a walk every day, start a gym class, take the stairs rather than the lift.
  2. Be smart about what you put into your mouth. Eat healthy snacks and treats such as nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit and vegetable sticks.
  3. Eat smaller portions until your metabolism has stabilised. Chew your food well and eat slowly – remember that it takes about 20 minutes for you to feel full after eating.
  4. Use nicotine replacement therapy regularly to help suppress cravings and combat hunger pangs.
  5. Satisfy the need for oral gratification with low or zero-calorie treats such as sugar-free gum and sweets, or healthy alternatives like carrot or celery sticks. Brushing teeth and drinking water also helps reduce the urge to smoke. Sometimes playing with a toothpick or straw can alleviate this oral fixation.

Keep your health in perspective

Quitting smoking can add years to your life – years of being in good health rather than sick or disabled.

Don’t make weight gain a make-or-break issue – those few extra kilograms are a small price to pay. A person would need to gain in excess of 40kg over and above his or her recommended weight to equal the risk of heart disease associated with smoking.

Don’t try to lose weight while attempting to quit smoking. You may well gain a few kilograms in the beginning – stop smoking first and deal with any weight gain afterwards. Be realistic in your expectations.

Best way to stop smoking

Research shows that behaviour change therapy not only increases your chances of stopping smoking and staying stopped but also showed the least average weight gain when compared to a group that did not undergo behaviour change therapy.

Triple your chance of successfully stopping smoking with the GoSmokeFree smoking cessation programme which uses a proven combination of behaviour change therapy, support and medication such as nicotine replacement therapy. Visit or email for more information.


This article contains opinions and facts and references to other information sources. You should always consult a registered healthcare professional for any personal advice.

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