When you learn that your patient or client smokes, do you recommend quitting? If so,it’s likely that you hear some concerns that smoking cessation leads to weight gain.Well indeed, it does appear that way. However, it’s not a guarantee, nor is there necessarily a large amount of weight to gain during the process.
In a meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal in July 2012, researchers learned that the average weight gain after 12 months of smoking abstinence is 4-5 kilograms (kg) and that most of the pounds are added within the first three months. However, the variation among quitters is quite large. In this analysis, sixteen percent of quitters lost weight and more than one-third gained less than 5 kg. Unfortunately, 13 percent of participants gained more than 10 kg. The Lung Health Study suggests that continuing smokers gain on average 0.3 and 0.5 kg per year for men and women respectively. Not all the extra pounds are the result of giving up tobacco.
Nicotine increases basal metabolic rate, so it’s not surprising that weight gain is common once the nicotine is removed. Additionally, many quitters report an increased appetite, improved sense of taste and smell, and a strong desire for oral gratification. Each of these effects can lead to weight gain.
We can help our patients quit smoking and minimize weight gain by suggesting that they reach for sugar-free gum or cinnamon sticks instead of cigarettes or candy. We can also encourage them to increase their physical activity to offset the drop in metabolic rate and by remind them just how important being tobacco-free is for their health... and the health of those around them.
By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE
Aubin HJ, Farley A, et al. Weight gain in smokers after quitting cigarettes: meta-analysis. BMJ, 2012; 345: e4439 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e4439
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.