Anyone who has attempted to quit smoking in the past has heard about or experienced weight gain. The statistics say that on average most people gain between 8 and 10 pounds after stopping smoking. Fortunately, about 25 % of smokers who quit will not gain any weight (1) and only a very small percentage of people will gain greater than 20 pounds.
The mechanism of weight gain after stopping smoking is complex and not completely understood. We know that nicotine raises the metabolic rate about 10%, which is equal to burning about 200 calories in someone that is eating 2000 calories per day. We also know that compulsive eating can replace the nicotine reward the brain misses when quitting smoking. One particular treat the brain seeks is sugar. Despite having little nutritional value, sugar works on the reward circuitry similarly to nicotine and can create cravings for more. As it is not very filling, we can consume a lot of sugar which can lead to greater weight gain.
A few alternatives to eating foods high in sugar and fat is to focus on eating foods that are filling and will satisfy you for a longer period of time. These foods include whole grain breads, fruits, vegetables, and foods that are high in protein. If you incorporate more of these foods into a daily meal plan, you will be less likely to overindulge on high sugar foods. Another suggestion is to eat more frequently throughout the day-think about eating three meals and two to three snacks. People who follow this sort of pattern of eating are much less likely to overeat. If weight gain is a concern for you, make sure to talk to a professional such as a dietitian who can help you to develop a nutrition plan.
1 Audrain-McGovern, J. and Benowitz, N. (2011), Cigarette Smoking, Nicotine, and Body Weight. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 90: 164–168. doi: 10.1038/clpt.2011.105