“How much weight will I gain if I quit smoking?” is a question many women ask when they’re contemplating their last cigarette, and according to French and British researchers, quitters who don’t use any supplements or quitting aids gain an average of ten pounds in the first 12 months after they quit. That’s not only higher than the standard answer given (most quitting lit cites a figure around six pounds) but it’s also twice the amount that many female smokers say they’d be comfortable gaining. But researchers still emphasize that, even considering the health risks associated with weight gain, quitting is the better choice, and that the data doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll gain that much weight.
You don’t have to gain weight when you quit smoking, but the harsh reality is that when you ditch appetite-suppressing, metabolism-boosting drugs like nicotine, it’s be hard to keep the numbers on the scale from creeping up. Researchers analyzed data from 62 randomized control trials of quit-smoking program, leaving out data for anyone who used nicotine replacement therapy or drugs to assist their quitting (in case either one impacts weight gain). They found that, for participants who succeeded in quitting for at least 12 months, they On average, quitters who didn’t rely on drugs or nicotine replacement to kick cigarettes, had gained two and a half pounds after a month, five pounds after two months, 6/3 pounds after three, 9.3 after six, and 10.3 pounds after the full 12 months.
Still, the researchers emphasize that quitters’ weight changes varied greatly; some lost weight, and many lost extra fat. They also suggest that the subjects in the studies may have gained more weight than “real-world” smokers would if they quit, because they had all volunteered for assisted programs, meaning they might lack the kind of self-control that quitters who don’t seek assistance would have:
Those who decide they need help to stop smoking tend to lack self-efficacy. They might have similar problems with the dietary and physical activity behaviors important in weight control. So these results may not be generalizable to all smokers who quit because two-thirds to three-quarters of ex-smokers stop smoking without professional help or interventions.
This seems like a stretch (most smokers could probably use some help smoking, whether it’s from supportive friends and family, or a regimented quit-smoking program), but their main point—that not everyone should fear gaining a full ten pounds, especially given the overall health benefits of quitting—is worth taking to heart:
Quitting smoking at age 40 increases life expectancy by nine years, even taking into account the possible post-cessation weight gain.
Photo: flickr user SuperFantastic