Why do people gain weight after they stop smoking? by Kajs Hadzic
Even though the “trend” of smoking is widely accepted in the 21st century as unhealthy and doesn’t represent a status symbol in society as it once did, statistical data shows that the number of smokers is increasing every year and that smoking is the number one reason of premature death. Smoking takes millions of people per year into an early grave and an increase in the number of smokers (passive smokers included) is especially pronounced in the middle to low class, while educations is also an important factor (reverse ratio, the higher the educational degree of an individual, the lesser the possibility that this person becomes a smoker).
Other than the typical illnesses that are attributed to smoking (cardio-vascular and cancers), smokers have a higher suicide rate*1, higher triglyceride (fat) levels in blood plasma*2, lower HDL – high density lipoprotein aka. good cholesterol*3, they often suffer from fatty liver that is usually contributed to alcohol use and abuse*4, and they also have a higher chance of developing insulin resistance*5.
Smoking is a problem that affects all spheres even on a global level which led to the establishment of a campaign named MPOWER under the guidance of the WHO – World Health Organisation. This campaign was started in 2008 and its goal is to decrease the number of smokers to relieve all systems of a nation (economical, social, health). Each letter of the name states a goal.
- M – Monitor, the number of smokers, trends and tendencies
- P – Protect, the non-smoker and the ones exposed to passive smoking·
- O – Offer, help to those who want to quit smoking·
- W – Warn, the public about potential risks
- E – Enforce, bans
- R – Raise, taxes for tobacco and tobacco products
Other than the WHO’s campaign goals many countries have started enforcing some goals of the MPOWER campaign in their own way. One of the best examples is found in Germany who took the “warn” part to a whole new level, shock therapy to be exact. The typical warning labels on cigarette packages were replaced by images as of the 5/5/2016. (twentieth of May) that show common diseases associated with smoking (teeth problems, lungs coated in tar, prostate cancer etc.). They also introduced stricter laws regarding e-cigarettes and set a deadline for termination of menthol-cigarettes (5/20/2020).
Reasons for weight gain
Research (questioners) has shown that one of the reasons smokers (especially women) have a fear of quitting is a sudden weight gain associated with it. The weight gain is most pronounced in the first 3 months with the BMI and weight gain have a negative correlation: the lower the staring BMI of the person the higher the weight gain and vice versa. But what is the reason behind the weight gain and can it be prevented.
Factors that contribute to weight gain are diverse, form metabolic changes to habits that smokers develop over time and carry over into their lives after they quit:
- LPL – lipoprotein lipase is an enzyme from the lipase family which hydrolyses (breaks chemical bonds with the help of water) triglycerides (fats) into lipoprotein (lipoprotein transport fats through a water like surrounding) and transforms them into free fatty acids which the body can use. LPL helps the body mobilize fat deposits and allows the body to use those deposits as fuel. *6
- Nicotine activates the SNS – SNS or sympathetic nervous system is one of three parts of the autonomic nervous system in the body that maintain balance in the body. The SNS is distinguished by the way it is activated, under stress which provokes a “fight or flight” response from the body by secreting adrenalin and noradrenalin which have a positive metabolic affect and contribute to an increase in energy expenditure. - Melanocortin – nicotine activates the melanocortin 4 receptors which have an anorexigenic effect (suppresses hunger) *7
- Leptin – smoking leads to an increase in leptin levels in the body, leptin is also an anorexigenic enzyme and it is produced by the fat cells. *8
- Substitution of an addiction – the ritual of smoking and the behavior that is connected to it (drinking coffee, having a sit down with friend etc.) change to different patterns. Putting a cigarette to the mouth is often replaced by putting food into the mouth and that leads to a positive energy balance (taking in more than you burn) and weight gain. Research has shown that an average surplus created in this manner is around .45 pounds a week or 227kcal/day *9
- Bad habits – smoker tend to generally have less healthy habits than their non-smoking counterparts. Not only that they move less but they also tend to have more fat and sugar in their diet. That in combination with the previous aspect (addiction substitution) is the perfect combination for weight gain.
Quitting smoking is a long and hard process and very few individuals manage to get rid of this bad habit on their own. The whole process of quitting should be used to try and prepare as best as you can to try and avoid the potential weight gain or at least control it. Some metabolic processes and reflex arcs are inevitable but we should try and use them to our advantage. Developing good habits and effective tools will enable us to ensure a good start into the life of a non-smoker while the “positive” effect of nicotine still last:
- Get familiar with the consequences – if you read this article you already have a good idea what awaits you and what will happen to your body when you quit. It is very important to get familiar with all the possible changes so that you are aware that you can’t control all aspects. This info should not be used as an excuse but rather as a tool to recognize situations when you for example really have a need for food or you just want to eat something to replace a cigarette.
- Developing and reinforcing good habits – start making good habits and better choices today. Eat more fruits and veggies, have more smaller meals instead of stuffing yourself, get moving. Develop a healthier lifestyle which will be a good base, find some way to relieve stress be it through training, walking or something else and develop a good relationship with food.
- Trick your body – when your body conquers the mind and you are not able to control that urge for food try and trick your body. Drink a glass of water or choose high volume foods (broccoli, cauliflower etc.). A full stomach is a much stronger signal to your brain that you are full than the act of eating itself.
- Dedicate yourself to the process – smoking cessation is much more than just resignation of cigarettes. It is a process which will last for multiple years. From forming new and healthy habits to your body repairing itself, each step is crucial.
Disclaimer: each body is different, we are anatomically pretty much the same but the physiology of every single body is different and based on so many factors. While one person will just quit and gain maybe 2lbs the other person will do everything to try and stop the weight gain but still gain more than 10lbs. Weight gain can occur no matter the work and effort you put it to try and avoid it but don’t let that stop you. Look at weight control as some sort of bonus after you quit smoking which comes in a package with a healthier lifestyle and better life quality. Sources: