Healthy Weight, Healthy Mind: Gaining Weight After Quitting Smoking

Many people who successfully quit smoking gain some weight. Dr. Creel offers some practical steps to maintain a healthy weight.

Women breaking a cigarette in half

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We are pleased to bring you this regular column by Dr. David Creel, a licensed psychologist, certified clinical exercise physiologist and registered dietitian. He is also credentialed as a certified diabetes educator and the author of A Size That Fits: Lose Weight and Keep it off, One Thought at a Time (NorLightsPress, 2017). See all of David Creel’s articles here.

This week’s column is based on a question from a reader. Do you have a weight loss question for Dr. Creel? Email him at [email protected]. He may answer your question in a future column.


Reader Question: Help!!!  I am one of those older women who finally quit smoking and find myself twelve pounds heavier. I eat the same way I have always eaten, although not necessarily the healthiest. All the weight is in the midriff/waistline area. I am so uncomfortable I can barely bend down. I hate the word diet, but I need to do something that I can hopefully stick to. Can you help?


First of all, congratulations on your persistence with quitting smoking—what an accomplishment!

Although smoking cessation often leads to weight gain, the net effect is generally a great improvement in overall wellbeing. One large study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed gaining weight after smoking cessation did not offset the beneficial effects on heart health.

But to your point, weight gain is something few desire, and gaining fat around our organs is related to increased risk of diseases. The obvious, ideal situation is to remain tobacco-free while maintaining a healthy weight.

Although there might be a slight change in metabolic rate after quitting smoking, it appears that increased appetite is more to blame. Although it might not seem like your eating has changed since you stopped smoking, sometimes these changes are so subtle we don’t recognize it. Consuming only 100 calories more than we burn each day can lead to 10 pounds of weight gain in one year. So, to your question—what’s a person to do?

There is no perfect diet for weight loss. In order to lose weight, we must create a calorie deficit. Many different diets/plans can help you accomplish this. Unfortunately, successful weight loss is often short-lived because the plan is unrealistic or people struggle to commit to a new lifestyle. Although I don’t know anything about your medical conditions, limitations, or preferences, I usually encourage the following:

  • Begin monitoring what you are doing—track your food intake and your physical activity.
  • Identify problem areas such as mindless snacking, skipping meals and overeating later on, late-night eating, portion problems, dining out, eating too few vegetables, or low levels of physical activity.
  • Focus on a few small changes related to improved eating and increased physical Perhaps you could start by walking an extra mile per day and decreasing your calories by 300-500 per day.
  • Consider professional accountability with a registered dietitian, fitness professional, physician or mental health provider specializing in weight management.
  • Monitor trends on your scale to help you figure out what is working.
  • Lastly, be patient. Frustration and perfectionism can kill commitments before they ever begin.

Thank you for your question. We’d love to hear back from you in the future. Good Luck!


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