One of the most common reasons I hear from patients regarding why they don’t want to quit smoking is a fear of gaining weight. Since cigarette smoking is the #1 most avoidable cause of death in our society, quitting is crucial for your well-being. Let’s examine what to do about the weight gain. It is true that smokers who quit gain on average 5-8 lbs over the first year that they are no longer smoking. Part of that is because some smokers replace a smoking addiction with a food addiction when they feel those cravings hit. But, that’s not the only reason it happens. Nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes. It binds to nicotinic receptors in the brain and elsewhere in the body in just 11 seconds after you light up. Nicotine is mostly a stimulant. It increases your heart rate, cardiac output, blood pressure, and thus increases your overall metabolic rate (or how many calories your body burns). The net effect of this is that on average a smoker’s body burns about an extra 200 calories a day. So, when you stop smoking, you will stop burning through these 200 calories a day. ( Don’t forget- you’ll be healthier without artificially increasing your heart rate and blood pressure to burn those 200 calories. That’s what makes heart attacks and strokes so common in smokers. )
When you quit, you need to have a plan in place for how to eliminate 200 calories a day from your diet or to get some extra activity to make up the difference. There are 240 calories in one 20 ounce coke so eliminating just that 1 drink a day would do it. The key is, have a plan for those 200 calories.
Call 1-800-QUITNOW for more help on how to quit smoking.
Brooke Uptagrafft, MD
Dr. Brooke is a family medicine doctor.