Many people associate quitting smoking with weight gain but research shows that gaining weight is not inevitable when you stop smoking.
The study, led by Professor Deborah Lycett from Coventry University’s Centre for Intelligent Healthcare and published in BMJ Open, shows it is even possible with support for quitters to lose weight while they abstain.
As research suggests that both smoking1 and obesity2 are risk factors for developing
severe COVID-19 symptoms and dying from it, there has never been a better time for people to stop smoking and begin managing their weight.
Here are some expert tips to help you successfully overcome some of the common Danger Zones we often associate with giving up smoking – and reach a healthy weight at the same time!
Danger zone 1: Hunger
Nicotine suppresses appetite, and many smokers find they feel hungrier when they stop. This can lead to weight gain because quitters often replace cigarettes with sweets, chocolate or high-fat snacks.
Top tips for when hunger strikes:
- Satisfying your appetite on low energy dense Free Foods like fruit and vegetables, beans, lentils, pasta, potatoes, rice, eggs, fish, chicken, lean meat, tofu and meat alternatives means you can eat more food for fewer calories. And the really great news is that these are the key ingredients for lots of family favourite meals – from spaghetti bolognese and a Sunday roast to a veggie curry.
- As well as making sure your meals are super satisfying you can also choose healthy low energy dense snacks that will keep hunger at bay.
When people stop smoking, they often find they enjoy their food much more, as their taste is enhanced!
- When people stop smoking, they often find they enjoy their food much more, as their taste is enhanced! Try cooking from scratch and treat your freshly awoken taste buds to a host of flavours. You can make a simple pasta sauce with tomatoes, garlic, onion and herbs like basil or rosemary and bulk it out with low energy dense vegetables like carrots, mushrooms and peppers.
- Another great way to manage your weight and give your health a boost is to get more active. To start with, aim to move more than you normally would – so stand rather than sit, walk rather than drive, dance round the kitchen, do the housework or gardening, wash the car or take the stairs instead of the lift!
Danger zone 2:
Breaking the habit
For many, the act of smoking is an ingrained habit. When people have been smoking for a number of years, it becomes an automatic response to have a cigarette with a morning tea or coffee, after a meal, while taking a break from work or during a regular journey. Often friends, family members and colleagues smoke, and it becomes normal to smoke together, and often a way to socialise.
Top tips for breaking a habit:
- Think about which moments of your life call for a cigarette, and why. If you’re mindful about spotting these routine habits, you can make effective plans for steering clear of situations where you might have usually smoked, or you can plan to do something else rather than reaching for a cigarette. Do you tend to smoke at the end of a meal? If so, could you replace it with a piece of fresh fruit, or fruit salad and fat-free fromage frais?
- If breakfast used to be followed by a cigarette, could you do something that will take you away from this, such as leaving the house 10 minutes earlier? You could walk part of your journey instead of driving – which is a great way to increase your activity levels and boost your mood, too!
- When smokers quit, they often say they miss having something in their hands, and that can lead to them reaching for unhealthy foods. Low energy dense snacks like fruit, vegetable sticks, cherry tomatoes and sugar-free ice lollies mean smokers can indulge their desire to have something in their hands while still making healthy choices.
- Adding a new meal to your day instead of your usual cigarette ‘meal replacement’ is not a problem with
Slimming World’s flexible and filling Food Optimising eating plan. Whether it’s a breakfast of eggs and bacon with the fat trimmed off, a jacket potato with tuna for lunch or a delicious home-made curry, you can satisfy your appetite while losing weight.
Danger zone 3:
Boredom, stress and feeling low
Because of nicotine’s ‘feel-good’ effect on the brain, many smokers may have become accustomed to smoking as a way of coping with feeling bored, tense or fed up. When you have a bad day, it can seem like cigarettes are your only friend.
Top tips for coping with low mood:
- Moving more can help you to keep weight off and ease the cravings and irritability associated with nicotine withdrawal, as being active is a fantastic mood-booster. You could start your day with an early morning yoga session or swim. Or, when you get a craving to light up, get into a new habit of standing up and going for a short brisk walk. You’ll soon be brimming with energy and endorphins, which will leave you feeling great all day long.
- Weight loss is also fantastic for improving mood. With every pound lost, you’ll have so much more energy, confidence and motivation. For every milestone reached, why not reward yourself. The money you’ll save from not buying cigarettes will earn you new clothes or can be spent on day trips, holidays or whatever else takes your fancy. If you put the money you would have spent on a pack of cigarettes to one side, you’ll quickly see it mount up.
Weight loss is also fantastic for improving mood. With every pound lost, you’ll have so much more energy, confidence and motivation.
- Try cooking healthy, wholesome meals from scratch that the whole family can enjoy – think curries, chilli, pasta dishes, big breakfasts and even burgers! They’ll leave you feeling satisfied and many people find cooking is a great way to relax. Base your meals around things like vegetables, potatoes, lean meat, pasta and beans – foods that are low in calories but super satisfying, not to mention delicious!
Danger zone 4:
Overcoming cravings can be the hardest part of giving up smoking and can leave you feeling miserable. That’s exactly when you might turn to emotional eating.
Top tips for managing comfort eating:
- If you find yourself turning to food for comfort when you give up smoking, you can combat it by choosing foods that are low in energy density and highly satiating – so that you satisfy your appetite for fewer calories. With Food Optimising, you can make comforting meals like roast dinners, fry-ups, sausage and mash and hot puddings.
- Instead of reaching for the biscuit tin when cravings come knocking, try distracting yourself by having fun getting active. Take the kids (borrow some if necessary!) out bowling, ice skating or for a kick-around in the park or head out into the garden for some hula-hooping or trampolining. Anything that warms you up, makes you breathe quicker and gets your heart beating faster counts and it’ll improve your health and boost your weight loss, too.
- Set up strategies, such as working out when your danger times are and developing ‘choice power’ to protect yourself, for example, think to yourself: ‘Instead of having a cigarette, I’m going to stop for a cuppa and read that new magazine, check social media or catch up with a friend. Getting the support of people who understand your challenges and who are also on a journey to better health and wellbeing can also help.
If you find yourself turning to food for comfort when you give up smoking, you can combat it by choosing foods that are low in energy density and highly satiating – so that you satisfy your appetite for fewer calories.
For more support to help you stop smoking, visit the official NHS quit smoking page www.nhs.uk/better-health/quit-smoking/
1 Reddy, R. K., Charles, W. N., Sklavounos, A., Dutt, A., Seed, P. T., & Khajuria, A. (2020). The effect of smoking on COVID‐19 severity: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Journal of medical virology.
2 Kassir, R. (2020). Risk of COVID‐19 for patients with obesity. Obesity Reviews, 21(6). Dietz, W., & Santos‐Burgoa, C. (2020). Obesity and its Implications for COVID‐19 Mortality.
Make 2021 your year
At Slimming World, we understand the impact these past months have had on our health, our happiness and
our weight. If you’d love to make a fresh start this new year, we’re here to support you all the way to your dream weight. Our real-life groups are open (where local guidance allows) with extra measures to keep you safe and sound. Local groups: Jacobs Well, contact Nicky on 07399 953818; Bellfields & Parkbarn, contact Tony 07999 377811.