Prevent Weight Gain After Quitting Smoking

It is no secret that smoking cigarettes leads to an increased risk for a number of health issues, including numerous cancers, heart disease, aneurysms, bronchitis, emphysema and stroke.   According to the American Cancer Society, it is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the United States and is the most preventable cause of death in our society. With this in mind, we would hope more patients would be receptive to and interested in efforts to help them quit.  However, recent research out of the Penn State College of Medicine reveals a fear of weight gain may be the preventing cause.

The study, published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, found that 53 percent of study participants gained weight during previous quitting attempts. Among these smokers, those who were highly concerned about weight gain were less likely to seek treatment to help with quitting.  So how can you help your patients successfully quit and avoid potential weight gain? Here are 5 tips:  

1. Get Active

The nicotine in cigarettes slightly increases the metabolic rate, so quitting will return it to normal.  To prevent potential weight gain, suggest your patients promote calorie burning with physical activity, including both aerobic activity and some form of strength training.  If they’re new to exercise, recommend they start with something simple like a brisk daily walk.

2. Choose Snacks Wisely

After quitting, many smokers struggle with the urge to satisfy the hand-to-mouth action done with smoking cigarettes.  In turn, this is often replaced with food, which can ultimately lead to weight gain. Therefore, patients should choose low- or no-calorie foods instead of those that are energy-dense. These include:

  • Crunchy vegetables – carrots or celery sticks, sliced peppers or cucumbers
  • Fresh fruit – grapes, blueberries and apple slices
  • Sugar-free gum
  • Sugar-free hard candies

3. Keep Their Hands Busy

Another way for patients to curb the hand-to-mouth temptation is to find hobbies that don’t involve eating to keep both their hands and mind busy.  These activities, which can be especially effective during times when they are used to having a cigarette, can act as a distraction until the urge passes.  The following activities are not only a good distraction to keep from lighting up, but they don’t involve any added calories:

  • Gardening
  • Doing chores
  • Reading a book
  • Calling a friend or family member
  • Taking the dog for a walk
  • Watching a movie

4. Get Hydrated

A great way to satisfy the oral craving after quitting is by keeping a water bottle with you at all times.  This not only keeps your hands occupied, but also allows you to sip all day without any added calories.  If patients want something with flavor, suggest they flavor their water naturally by adding slices of citrus fruits, cucumber or fresh berries.

5. Avoid Alcohol

Drinking alcohol and smoking often go hand-in-hand, so avoiding it helps patients elude potential triggers. In addition, the alcohol can reduce their inhibitions making it more likely a patient will give in to the temptation to both light up and indulge in unhealthy foods.


Erin DeMito, RD, LDN works as a clinical dietitian with the Crozer Keystone Health System and Lower Bucks Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In addition, she is a contributing nutrition writer for the Crozer Keystone Healthbeat and Healthy Bites blogs.