How to avoid weight gain when stopping smoking

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Oct 8, 10:45 PM in and . No comments.

Weight gain

So you’ve made the choice. You want to stop smoking… But you’re afraid of weight gain? Ultimately stopping smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. If you experience a small weight gain, you may have to “weigh up” the health risks between the effects of smoking or a small weight gain. A small weight gain may be the least of your worries. Weight gain when considering stopping smoking is, however, as barrier for a lot of people considering the change. So is weight gain inevitable and how can you avoid it?

Is it true that people gain weight when stopping smoking?

It’s not necessarily inevitable and not all people do gain weight but it does seem to be generally accepted that there is an average 8-10 pounds weight gain after stopping smoking. This appears to happen mostly in the first year of stopping after which the weight gain will ease off or the weight will decrease again. (Good news!).

There have been quite a few studies demonstrating that there is weight gain after stopping smoking. A massive study (over 300, 000 people in nine European countries) looking at smoking cessation and weight gain showed that smoking cessation tends to be followed by weight gain; when compared to stable smokers and that the excess weight gain following smoking cessation appears to mainly occur in the first years after stopping . Another recent study on smoking cessation and weight change in female prisoners showed the women who quit had a significant weight gain at three and six month follow-ups with a net difference in weight of 10 pounds. By the 12-month follow-up, weight gain decreased. It also seems that people who are obese before stopping smoking have more of a risk of gaining larger amounts after stopping

So what are the possible reasons for the weight gain?

  • Smoking slightly increases the rate at which the body ‘burns up’ food energy (by about 200 Kcals). When you stop smoking this returns to normal, meaning less food energy is required to maintain the same weight.
  • Smoking can reduce your appetite, so when you stop smoking it may increase again.
  • Stopping smoking can make food taste better causing you to eat more.
  • If you usually smoke at the end of a meal, this may be replaced with extra food.
  • Stopping smoking may increase cravings for sweet foods.

How to Avoid Weight Gain

You don’t necessarily have to eat less. You may just have to have a look at what you eat rather than how much. Reduce the need for snacks and extra calories by eating three regular meals a day, (based on general healthy eating guidelines).


Its best to avoid snacking to keep weight down.
Having snacks, however, may help with cigarette cravings so if you really feel you need them, try to keep them healthy, low fat and low sugar. Try to plan ahead. Get rid of tempting high fat, high calorie food, and plan your “emergency snacks” for those times when you just can’t avoid the munchies. It’s also wise to avoid alcohol and to take your healthy snacks with you when you are out and about. This will reduce temptation

Healthy snack ideas to have at hand if you get hungry between meals

  • A piece of fruit
  • Low fat yoghurt
  • Raw vegetables (e.g. carrots, celery, baby tomatoes) (these are especially important as smoking can deplete your vitamin stores)
  • Rice cakes, air popped popcorn or fat free pretzels
  • Crispbreads (grainy) spread with low fat spread
  • Bowl of high fibre, low fat, low sugar cereal with semi-skimmed or skimmed milk – e.g. Branflakes, Shredded Wheat, Weetabix, Porridge.
  • Slice of wholemeal/granary toast spread thinly with low fat spread
  • Low calories soups – vegetable soups ad broths
  • Water
  • Low sugar ice lollies

Is it just about food?

When trying to avoid weight gain, remember physical activity is also important, it burns up excess calories. To gain real benefits try to exercise regularly and choose something you enjoy and fit it into your daily routine.

Easy ideas to increase your activity levels include:

  • Walking instead of driving or catching a bus on short journeys
  • Using the stairs rather than lifts or escalators
  • Cycling instead of using a car or catching a bus
  • Joining a local keep fit class
  • If you have children – join in with their energetic games
  • Set time aside for a walk, swim, bike ride or other form of activity

Most of all congratulate yourself, be kind to yourself and concentrate on giving up the smoking. You are doing a great thing for you and your family so keep your eye on the prize.
You will be able to keep your weight from increasing if you just make sure you keep active, follow a healthy diet and avoid constant snacking on high calorie foods.


Travier, N. Agudo A. et al. (2011). Longitudinal changes in weight in relation to smoking cessation in participants of the EPIC-PANACEA study. Prev.Med. Sept

Lycett D, Munafò M, Johnstone E, Murphy M, Aveyard P. (2011) Associations between weight change over 8 years and baseline body mass index in a cohort of continuing and quitting smokers. Addiction. Jan; 106(1):188-96.

Cropsey KL, McClure LA, Jackson DO, Villalobos GC, Weaver MF, Stitzer ML. (2010). The impact of quitting smoking on weight among women prisoners participating in a smoking cessation intervention. Am J Public Health. Aug; 100(8):1442-8.

Tags: Smoking, Snacks, Weight Gain

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.


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