Weight-Gain Problem Inevitable When You Quit Smoking

“My pants are already tighter,” I moaned to my best friend as we stood in front of her full-length mirror. “I knew this was going to happen!” Like thousands of Americans, I made the New Year’s resolution to quit smoking. So far so good on the quitting, but I was terrified of the weight gain that everyone says is inevitable. I had begun anxiously checking myself daily in front of the mirror for those sneaky pounds. My best friend, never a smoker and lifelong stick insect, didn’t have a lot of sympathy.

“Stop complaining,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Your lungs are going to be clean again! No more smoking!” As her size 4 butt sauntered away, I shamefully muttered under my breath, “I’d rather be smoking than be fat.”

As ridiculous and pathetic as it is, I’m not the only one saying it. One reason many women in their 20s are reluctant to quit smoking is the fear of weight gain. It is a rather sadistic situation. Once we have the self-control to toss out the Marlboro Lights, after we deal with the nervous energy, the insomnia, irritability, after we learn to coexist with smokers sitting next to us at bars, after we renounce our addiction in the name of health âÂ?¦ what do we get in reward? FAT.

That’s right – an average of seven extra pounds sitting around our waist, our thighs, our butt – wherever it is that will stand out, make our clothes uncomfortable and make us feel unattractive – that’s where the weight goes. (I might not mind as much if a few pounds went towards my cleavage, but rest assured, it’s the buttons on my pants that are bursting, not the snap on my bra!)

We do nothing to deserve this. The nicotine speeds up your metabolism so that you’re burning calories more quickly than your normal system. Sadly, this sole benefit of nicotine vanishes the moment you stop smoking. So, even if you don’t eat a bite more than usual after you quit, you’re still going to gain weight. Plus, many women snack to ease their cravings for a little smoky-treat, and the powerful cravings are not for broccoli and whole grains. No, the strongest cravings are for sugar and fat combinations. Goodbye cigarette, hello chocolate.

The irony doesn’t stop there. Even if we get by the fact that our bodies will slow down chemically, and we fight replacing our hand-to-mouth habit with food instead of cigarettes, we also have to deal with the re-awakening of our appetite and senses. Shortly after you quit, your sense of smell will revive, making food even more desirable. And with nicotine, our handy appetite suppressant, out of our system, that tantalizing food can be irresistible.

The sad thing is that a few extra pounds should not be a huge concern when everyone knows how much damage smoking causes the body. Unfortunately, we live in a society where many women consider smoking to be more acceptable than carrying those few extra pounds. As Mary Donkersloot, R.D., a Beverly Hills based nutritionist puts it, “the prospect of looking in a mirror today scares them more than the idea of looking at an X-ray of their lungs in twenty years.” Surrounded by the glossy photos of today’s top models and actresses – most of whom are not just thin, but skinny -staying trim and fit seems like a necessity to be considered attractive, especially for women in their 20’s.

Dr. Dru Copeland, a clinical psychologist with twenty-five years of experience in treating addictions and eating disorders, suggests that for women in their 20’s, the idea of thinness goes beyond simply feeling attractive. “We’re in a culture that places high value on thinness, and that’s an age where identity issues are taking hold; people want to be seen as successful, and thinness is a part of that ‘success image'”.

If we relate thinness to success and cigarettes to thinness, it is no wonder it’s hard for so many women to give them up. However, if we can move into a more positive mindset, we will be doing ourselves a huge favor. Copeland explains that people who quit smoking in their 20’s will probably have an easier time quitting than people of other age groups. “I always tell people that age – You are so lucky! In terms of habit breaking, people in their twenties have a natural advantage because they simply have not been smoking as long as someone who’s 45 and wants to quit. I have a great admiration for that group of quitters because they can change the rest of their lives.”

The way we shape our experience is related to our attitude. Perhaps we need to convince ourselves that the decision to quit is not about giving something up – it’s about enhancing the quality of our lives. If we can put our transition into perspective, perhaps the few pounds of weight we gain or the lifestyle changes we have to make to keep them off will seem insignificant.

You may be thinking, “This attitude adjustment is all well and good, but what the hell am I supposed to do about zipping my pants up in the morning?” Get help! The amount of resources available to would-be quitters is amazing. One quick search on the Internet will flood you with information. From entire health/fitness programs to simple lists of tips, there is information available for any future non-smoker.

If you’re not interested in professional help to keep the pounds off, you might be interested in something like The How to Quit Smoking And Not Gain Weight Cookbook. The Cookbook is a great resource for satisfying recipes and information on which smoking cessation aids work best and why. Each recipe also has a “Health Check” which explains why it is tasty and healthy for ex-smokers. For example, a recipe for an iced mocha latte notes that “The sugar in this recipe can help boost the seratonin levels in your brain that were previously raised by nicotine, and thus give you a sense of calm and pleasure.” The recipe for melon popsicles reminds that “These frozen treats are a great alternative to a cigarette after a meal, and help gratify the urge to put something in the mouth.”

The most important advice to a would-be quitter is: Have a plan. “Using a strategy to control your cravings and keep the weight off will be so much more effective than just saying ‘I’m quitting!’ on impulse and then having no idea on how to handle what your body will throw at you,” advises Dr. Copeland.

I have almost a month of non-smoking under my belt. True, that belt is being fastened a little looser these days, but with all the help I have available to me, I’m confident that I won’t be poking any new holes into it.

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