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Does quitting smoking make you gain weight?

Published on January 7, 2020 at 14:26 / Updated on June 7, 2022 at 15:16

More often than not, smokers fear the appearance of extra pounds when they decide to quit smoking. This fear even prevents many people from giving up their daily dose of nicotine, despite the proven benefits of giving up this bad habit. Does quitting smoking necessarily mean weight gain? Do you think this is a myth or the reality?

Weight associated with smoking cessation

It’s true that smoking cessation is often accompanied by weight gain, but it’s not as significant as one might think. More specifically, several studies have shown that one year after stopping smoking, the average weight gain was between 2.5 kg and 5 kg, and that it occurred especially during the first two years after stopping and then lessens. Also, a third of smokers won’t gain weight at all, while about 5% of them will even experience a slight loss.

Tobacco alters the perception of flavours

Smoking often causes changes in taste and smell. In fact, once inhaled, cigarette smoke, which is composed of chemical and toxic substances, spreads along the mucous membranes that line the mouth, palate and throat. The taste buds, which help distinguish the taste of food, are also affected, as is the nasal mucosa. Therefore, smokers end up with less taste and smell than non-smokers. Hence, this causes them to turn to tastier foods that are often much higher in sugar, fat and salt, in order to enhance the flavour of dishes. When they quit smoking, smokers don’t immediately resume enjoying an optimal level taste and, consequently, have to reappropriate food’s flavours, which can take a bit of time. In the first weeks after stopping smoking, they’ll therefore continue to consume foods that give them a pleasant sensation on the palate, such as sweets and pastries from the store.

The compensatory effect of food for smokers

When they’ve quit smoking, ex-smokers inevitably experience a feeling of withdrawal that they attempt to compensate in many ways. Frequently, food becomes, in a way, a lifeline for them. In fact, snacking plays the role of a cigarette substitute for smokers by giving them the feeling of enjoyment and well-being that they associate with tobacco. In addition, the consumption of food acts as a diversion by helping them to forget, for a moment, their urge to smoke. In addition, this compensatory effect can alleviate withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, sleep disorders and anxiety. Quitting smoking can be particularly difficult and unsettling, as smokers feel like they’re losing control of part of their life. Food therefore becomes a source of comfort that helps them better manage their stress and adjust to their new reality. Snacking also recreates some of the gestures associated with the act of smoking, such as quickly unwrapping something, putting a product in your mouth, or having strong aromas. This compensation can therefore result in weight gain, especially as ex-smokers generally have processed foods, such as chocolate, cookies and cakes in their sights. However, the weight gain may subside over time as the ex-smoker adjusts to their new (healthier) situation.

The neurological effects of tobacco

Some studies have shown that tobacco decreases the appetite of smokers, which is why they may have a lower weight than non-smokers. In fact, the nicotine present in tobacco has an appetite suppressant effect. More precisely, it has a hyperglycemic effect, thus increasing the level of glucose (sugar) in the body. Once released into the blood, it is detected by specialized cells that send a message to the nervous system informing it of the presence of glucose in the brain. At this point, the hypothalamus activates, which is a region of the brain involved in the control of hunger and satiety, and the sensation of hunger will then be reduced. Therefore, when they stop smoking, the appetite suppressant effect of nicotine disappears, and individuals hooked on cigarettes experience weight gain. However, when we analyze the situation, we learn that this is closer to the normal weight smokers would have had if they had never used tobacco. In addition, not all smokers experience a decrease in appetite every time they puff a cigarette.

In conclusion, it’s true that smoking cessation can lead to weight gain, but this is far from inevitable, especially if you adopt a healthy lifestyle including a balanced diet and regular physical exercise. In short, the fear of weight gain is not a sufficient reason to maintain the bad habit of smoking. As the saying goes: it’s better late than never!

Familiprix in collaboration with Hubert Cormier

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