On more than one occasion we will have heard or read that quitting smoking is fattening , something that many people may doubt the idea of quitting this harmful habit.

In fact, it has been noted that weight gain is one of the most common concerns of people who want to quit smoking. This undoubtedly makes it an area of great interest to investigate and one where doubts may arise as to whether or not this is true.

In this article we will see what is true in the belief that quitting tobacco is fattening, to help determine if we are facing a reality or an urban legend, why it happens or if we can do something to avoid it.

Does quitting make you fat?

With regard to whether quitting smoking is fattening or not, the truth is that several studies seem to indicate that, in fact, quitting smoking favours weight gain , in many cases with an increase of up to four and a half kilos.

However, there are many factors that influence whether or not we can gain weight, among them our eating habits and the levels of physical exercise we do .

It is also important to bear in mind that weight gain is not continuous or exponential, but is usually very limited to a stage or interval after the cessation of consumption. Specifically, on average, weight gain tends to occur mainly during the first three months after quitting, after which weight gain for this reason is usually minimal.

Regardless of this possible weight gain, the different studies also indicate that the benefits of quitting smoking far outweigh both this gain and other discomforts , in addition to returning life expectancy to normal (that smoking can reduce by up to ten years) and in fact favouring that in the future we can lose weight more easily, by reducing the level of fatigue and increasing lung capacity (something that would allow us, for example, greater physical capacity and the practice of sport).

Why does this happen?

As mentioned above, quitting smoking has been correlated with an increased chance of gaining weight (though usually less than is often thought). But why is this the case?

There are several elements that can explain this trend , many of which are not directly related to tobacco but to smoking.

1. Deceleration of the metabolism

Nicotine is a stimulant type substance , just like for example caffeine, something that makes our brain and our body in general accelerate. This also affects our metabolism and the heat that our body emits.

When you stop smoking, this metabolic acceleration generated by nicotine decreases, which can translate into the body spending fewer calories in the same time . However, this factor, although it exists, is not the most relevant of all, although it does participate in possible weight gain if other conditions are present.

2. Increased appetite

Another consequence of the cessation of nicotine consumption has to do with its anorectic effect . This is because, like other substances, nicotine has the property of reducing appetite and hunger.

Quitting smoking, therefore, generates an increased appetite , which together with the increased anxiety and irritability that come with abstinence, encourages eating more.

3. Regeneration of taste and smell

Nicotine consumption tends to generate a slight atrophy of our ability to perceive the aroma and taste of food.

As we stop smoking, little by little these senses return to normal. This means that we will find food more appealing , as it will have a more noticeable aroma and taste. And although this is good, it can lead to us eating more.

4. Abstinence and anxiety

Probably the most important factor in explaining why there is a tendency to gain weight after quitting smoking is found in the fact that the smoker is used to functioning with a substance to which he is dependent, so that its disappearance (and especially if you stop smoking suddenly) often generates an increase in anxiety levels as a result of abstinence.

In the face of this anxiety and based on the above points, many smokers resort to increasing the number and amount of their intakes, eating more and more often as a way of reducing this anxiety. And this increased intake results in weight gain.

What to do about it?

It is possible that quitting smoking favours weight gain, but it is also true that this gain is not something inevitable and that we can carry out different strategies and activities in order not to gain weight.

Firstly, one of the simplest, most general and effective indications would be to increase the level of physical activity. Practicing sport helps to reduce the calories we might be gaining and helps to reduce the level of anxiety.

Moreover, the practice of exercise also allows us to see one of the many advantages of quitting smoking : our lung capacity will increase compared to when we smoked, and we will gradually see how it costs us less to make physical efforts. In this sense, in addition to not gaining weight, it also increases the perception of self-efficacy and helps to maintain abstinence.

Another fundamental aspect is to take care of the food. In this sense we must reduce the consumption of high-calorie foods, especially if we talk about pastries and sweets, since this is the type of food that is usually preferred when we are anxious.

It is advisable to plan meals and include mainly healthy foods, such as those typical of the Mediterranean diet. We should also keep a sense of proportion with regard to the quantities we eat, not increasing them. However, controlling oneself does not mean going hungry (which would be counterproductive).

Using chewing gum (nicotine or non-nicotine) can help reduce the anxiety level and occupy the mouth in order to avoid trying to compensate for the anxiety with food or drink.

Finally, we can also use the services of professionals such as nutritionists, personal trainers or specialized psychologists to reduce or eliminate this possible side effect of quitting smoking.

Bibliographic references:

  • Aubin, H.J., Farley, A., Lycett, D., Lahmek, P. and Aveyard, P. (2012). Weight gain in smokers after quitting cigarettes: meta-analysis. BMJ, 345.
  • Tian, J., Venn, A., Otahal, P., Gall, S. (2015). The association between quitting smoking and weight gain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Obesity reviews, 16 (10): 883,901.