Will I put on weight when I give up smoking?

Not necessarily, although many people do. On average, the long-term weight gain for each smoker who quits is about 3-4kg (6-8lb).

Why can ex-smokers put on weight?

Giving up smoking can lead to weight gain for several reasons. For example:

  • Nicotine speeds up your metabolism. When you smoke, your body burns calories at a faster rate.
  • Nicotine suppresses your appetite. It can affect the part of your brain responsible for making you feel hungry. When you stop smoking, your appetite and sense of taste may improve, tempting you to snack more often.
  • Food can act as a substitute for cigarettes. Eating comfort food can act as a substitute for the 'high' that you felt after smoking a cigarette.
  • Eating gives you something to do with your hands. Many ex-smokers find that they miss the physical 'hand-to-mouth' habit of lighting and smoking a cigarette.

Should I try to avoid putting on weight?

Focus on giving up smoking first, rather than worrying about your weight. The health risks of smoking are much greater than those of gaining a few pounds temporarily.

Trying to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time could put a lot of strain on your willpower. You may prefer to wait until you’ve given up smoking successfully.

However, if you do want to avoid weight gain, be ready to avoid temptation. For example:

  • try not to eat more than you were eating before you quit, and
  • don’t replace smoking by eating fattening foods

If you find you want to snack, try to have healthy snacks rather than sweets and biscuits. You could try sticks of raw vegetables such as carrot, celery or cucumber, or pieces of fresh fruit. Many ex-smokers find that sugar-free lollipops or chewing gum can help to replace the physical sensation of drawing on a cigarette.

Exercise

After you quit smoking, your body burns calories more slowly. Even if you eat no more than when you smoked, you may put on weight, but being more active can help.

Exercise can help your body cope with withdrawal symptoms from nicotine, as well as boosting your self-confidence. Even simple changes can help, such as:

  • using the stairs instead of the lift or escalator
  • getting off the bus one stop early and walking the rest of the way
  • walking or cycling for short journeys, instead of driving

Losing weight

If you do put on weight, you can start to lose it by making changes to your lifestyle.

For example, you can:

  • try to eat more healthily by changing your diet
  • avoid drinking alcohol
  • take more exercise

After you quit, you’ll probably find it easier to exercise. Walking and swimming are both good ways of getting back into exercise if you’ve been inactive.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 14/01/2014

Next review due: 13/01/2016