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How Much Weight Will You Gain When You Quit Smoking?



One of the key drivers of smoking, especially amongst younger women, is to control their weight. No doubt cigarettes can reduce appetite and increase metabolic rate thus making it easier to avoid weight gain.

Unfortunately, this also means that many, who try to give up smoking, will probably put on a few pounds – but just how many pounds are we talking about?

This question was addressed in a paper by Henri-Jean Aubin and colleagues from the Université Paris Sud just published in the British Medical Journal.

The authors identified all studies listed in the Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) and trials listed in Cochrane reviews of smoking cessation interventions (nicotine replacement therapy, nicotinic partial agonists, antidepressants, and exercise) for randomised trials of first line treatments (nicotine replacement therapy, bupropion, and varenicline) and exercise that reported weight change. They also searched CENTRAL for trials of interventions for weight gain after cessation.

A total of 62 studies were included in their analysis.

In untreated quitters, mean weight gain was 1.12 , 2.26, 2.85, 4.23, and 4.67 kg at one, two, three, six, and 12 months after quitting, respectively.

At 12 months after smoking cessation 13% of untreated quitters gained more than 10 Kg, 34% gained 5-10 Kg, 37% gained less than 5 Kg, and 16% actually lost weight.

There was no differences in changes in body weight between those who appeared concerned about their body weight and those who were not.

Treatment for smoking cessation (nicotine patch or buproprion) did not seem to have much effect in preventing weight gain.

Thus, it appears that smoking cessation is associated with a mean increase of 4-5 kg in body weight after 12 months of abstinence, with most of this weight gain occurring within the first three months of quitting.

However, there is a remarkable variation in weight change is large with about 16% of quitters losing weight and an almost equal number (13%) gaining more than 10 kg – a substantial weight gain by any standard.

If I had to guess, I’d say that those with the strongest addiction are the ones most likely to gain more weight, as they are also the ones most likely to shift their addiction from nicotine to food. Non-dependent smokers will likely fall into the lesser weight gain or even weight loss categories. At least that is a hypothesis that I’d like to see tested.

With or without weight gain, the risks of smoking by far outweigh the risks of even a 10 Kg weight gain – this why fear of weight gain should not discourage anyone from quitting.

On the other hand, as always, it may be far easier to prevent the weight gain in a quitter than to try and lose the weight once the pounds have been packed on.

Thus, prevention of weight gain should probably be an essential part of any smoking cessation strategy.

AMS
Edmonton, Alberta

ResearchBlogging.orgAubin HJ, Farley A, Lycett D, Lahmek P, & Aveyard P (2012). Weight gain in smokers after quitting cigarettes: meta-analysis. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 345 PMID: 22782848

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7 Comments

  1. From the Heart and Stroke Foundation Healthy Weights brochure:

    When you quit smoking, you may gain weight.
    Research shows that the average weight gain
    is about 8 pounds. You may use this fact as an
    excuse to keep smoking. But think about it:
    You would have to gain as much as 100
    pounds to counteract the health benefits
    of quitting smoking.

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  2. It’s stopped me a few times from quitting, embarassingly enough. Even if eating habits don’t change (and usually they do), metabolism still slows. I notice from past sporadic experience quitting, when I first quit, I won’t feel hungry for a while, but if I smoke, all of a sudden, I’m starving. It feels like it takes a few weeks for my metabolism to kick into gear.

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  3. You don’t necessarily have to gain weight when you quit smoking. If you replace your habit with something calorie free like Quit Tea you won’t end up replacing it with high calorie snacks. And if you add exercise, which will help you quit smoking anyway, then you might lose weight.

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  4. “On the other hand, as always, it may be far easier to prevent the weight gain in a quitter than to try and lose the weight once the pounds have been packed on. Thus, prevention of weight gain should probably be an essential part of any smoking cessation strategy ”

    Until today my personal advice as GP was different : don’t challenge two major health problems at the same time , “smoking” and “overweight/obesity”. Both, “smoking cessation” and “weight loss” will disturb temporally your life balance. One disbalance at a time is enough … So, don’t go on a diet during an attempt of smoking cessation, but simply keep some healthy eating habits, while saving your money you will earn after three – six month quitting smoking to buy a present for … your partner 🙂

    So, accept your possible weight gain as a temporarily consequence of change in metabolism by quitting smoking habits. After six months or one year, we’ll take a look at the “weight problem”.

    Is there any evidence that this approach is not correct ?

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  5. @Thoelen – good question. In fact, preventing weight gain with smoking cessation is much easier said than done. On the other hand, gaining weight and waiting to address it always raises the concern of shifting the set-point to a higher level (remember, the set-point only moves up – not down) after which the body will defend this new higher weight.

    How long does it take for the set point to reset? Is it already at a higher level in a smoker, where smoking is what is keeping the weight down? Is there a way to prevent resetting? All of these are interesting and important questions.

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  6. Timely post, Dr Sharma.

    I have recently been pondering the cost-benefit of weight gain after smoking cessation. I certainly know that smoking carries great health risk. I also know – and all your work supports – that obesity carries great health risk. My general question, then, is ‘what is the tipping point?’. Is there any point at which the risk reduction in quitting smoking (say, from 3 cigarettes/day) outweighs (um, sorry about that) the risk of weight gain (let’s use your 10kg upper limit, above)? You state that “the risks of smoking by far outweigh the risks of even a 10 Kg weight gain”. I hate to ask you to have your fingers do the walking for mine, but could you point me (and the rest of us) to some literature supporting that assertion?

    And, to poach a phrase from another great blog, if that would require some number crunching, “I’d love to help”.

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  7. First disadvantage of smoking is lung cancer and second is you lose your weight. So please quit the smoking. After quitting the smoking you will gain 5.5 kg in one year. After quitting the smoke the, smoker must be do the exercise and yoga on regular basis.

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