Fear of weight gain is one of the reasons that many female smokers often avoid quitting, which can be difficult for non-smoking friends and family to understand. This choice of thinness over health speaks to a strong social pressure to be skinny that confronts many women in this day and age. Unfortunately, tobacco marketing has extensively targeted women over the years to reinforce associations between thinness, smoking, and attractiveness.
The link between smoking and body weight has been known for years and, on average, smokers do weigh less than non-smokers. Stopping smoking probably causes weight gain because nicotine is an appetite suppressant. Evidence suggests that nicotine increases the basal metabolic rate, and quitting smoking (removal of nicotine) results in a decrease in energy expenditure, and thus fewer calories are being burned at the same time that a person’s appetite is most likely increased.1 However, there are other factors that can determine how much weight someone might gain when they stop smoking.
So what can women and adolescent girls do to combat weight gain that is commonly associated with quitting smoking? Of all the interventions for smokers who are concerned about weight, increasing physical activity makes the most sense. Not only is exercise known to aid weight control in general, but it acts to reduce stress and help control negative feelings – two common risks for relapse.
Here are a few other suggestions to consider as you work to remain smoke-free:
1) Switch your attention from the scale to your appetite, and practice believing that hunger is for fuel and pleasure not for meeting emotional needs.
2) Forget about “good” and “bad”, remind yourself that foods fall on a nutritional continuum of high value or low value, not on a moral continuum (good/bad).
3) Give yourself praise. Do not put yourself down for the mistakes you make with food. Instead, praise yourself for your successes, even the tiniest ones.
1. Aubin, H., Farley, A., Lycett, D., Lahmek, P., & Aveyard, P. (2012). Weight gain in smokers after quitting cigarettes: Meta- analysis. British Medical Journal, 345, 4439-4459.