My client is 37 years old. When I first met her, she was at the acknowledgement stage of bulimia, a disease she had suffered since her late teens. She wants to quit smoking and is having trouble mentally with the thought of potential weight gain that is associated with smoking cessation. I have suggested that something as simple as a 30 minute walk each night would be more than enough to compensate for her smoking, but it is daunting because she has heard many stories of people “blowing up” after quitting (in one case, her sister). I was just wondering if there were any tips or research that might help to provide her with some reassurance.
Four out of every five people who stop smoking gain some weight. While the health benefits of quitting far exceed the problems of gaining weight, many people do not think it is acceptable if they put on a few extra pounds. While giving up cigarettes is much more important than gaining a few pounds, many people return to smoking to lose weight. Six months after quitting, most people have lost at least some of the weight they gained. It is important for your client to know that she can quit smoking and control her weight. It may take some time and effort, but it can be done, and by working with a personal trainer, she drastically increases her chance for success!
The more cigarettes a person has smoked per day, the more weight she is likely to gain after quitting. So someone who quits smoking two packs per day may expect to gain more than someone who quits smoking only one pack per day. The average person who quits smoking gains between four and 10 pounds. It turns out that the average smoker weighs four to 10 pounds less than the average non-smoker, even if they have the same levels of exercise and food intake. As a consequence, it seems that the weight gained by quitting smoking brings most ex-smokers up to what they would weigh if they had never smoked and if there was no other change in lifestyle.
Half the people who quit smoking gain less than the average four to 10 pounds. And about one out of 10 ex-smokers gains as much as 25 to 30 pounds. Most weight tends to be gained in the first six months. Then, after six months, many people start to lose the weight they gained as they adjust to being an ex-smoker. These numbers are only averages, and your clients can be above or below this average... but your clients will more than likely be below average (gain less weight or gain no weight!) because she will have already addressed one of the biggest areas associated with weight gain by working with you, which is diet and physical activity!
As you already know, one of the reasons we gain weight is that we eat more calories than we use. There are 3500 calories in a pound of body fat. When a person eats 3500 more calories than she can use, the person will gain one pound. When a person burns 3500 more calories than she eats, the person will lose a pound. The number of calories a person burns each day depends on age, sex, body weight, metabolism and amount of exercise. These factors determine how many calories a person can eat without gaining weight or while losing weight.
Metabolism is the energy needed for the body’s functions, like the functions performed by the heart, brain and liver. About 70 percent of the calories burned each day are for these functions. The nicotine in cigarettes raises the “metabolic rate” of smokers, which increases the amount of calories used. But, as you might imagine, it is a very harmful way to burn calories. After smoking a cigarette, “metabolism” increases right away, and the heart beats 10 to 20 more times per minute. This is one reason for the high rate of heart disease in smokers. When smokers give up smoking, their metabolic rate slows down to a healthy level, and it may even slow down an additional amount before getting back to normal. It can take a few weeks or even months for metabolism to climb back to a normal level. Meanwhile, this slower rate burns fewer calories. Thankfully, there are more healthy ways than smoking to increase metabolism, and as a personal trainer, you already are aware of the best way: EXERCISE!
Another reason your client might gain weight after quitting is because of changes in diet. It is normal for appetite to increase after quitting smoking. Studies show that people who quit smoking experience the desire to eat more. Increased appetite is a frequent withdrawal symptom after quitting and tends to stick around longer than other symptoms.
Not only does appetite increase, but also after quitting, taste or cravings might change. It is common for people to say that before quitting, they never liked sweets, but after they stopped smoking, they craved sugary foods. Even rats in nicotine withdrawal show more desire for sugar. And, as you know, sweet and fatty foods also tend to be high in calories. Another thing to consider when a person quits smoking is the senses of taste and smell improve, and this may also lead to an increase in appetite. And finally, studies show that alcohol use often increases after someone quits smoking. Alcohol, like sugary and fatty foods, is very high in calories and low in nutrients, so increased drinking may cause weight gain.
A further explanation of why many people gain weight after quitting is because of something referred to as “oral gratification.” People who have stopped smoking frequently miss the sensation of having something to do with their mouth and hands. The need for oral gratification dissipates over time. But until the urge goes away, stocking up on items such as straws, toothpicks, chewing gum, celery or carrot sticks that can keep the hands and mouth occupied may be helpful.
Finally, studies have shown that people often are inclined to use food in many of the same ways they used cigarettes (i.e., cope with stress or boredom, reward themselves, pass time, be social). It is important for your clients, especially anyone who is recovering or coping with an eating disorder or overweight or obesity, to know why they eat even when they are not hungry. Working with them to identify their “triggers” and list some of the ways they use food even when they are not hungry is a good way to raise awareness of this potential problem and help nip it in the bud before it can derail their efforts to stop smoking!
As you have just learned, weight gain after smoking cessation for the general population is likely but not a sure thing. About 80 percent of people who quit smoking gain weight at first and then most lose weight over time with no special action. Let me repeat that: with no special action! Your client is already way past the point of “no special action” simply because she is working with you! Make sure she understands this! Also make certain she knows you will create an action plan with her and be there every step of the way as she fights the battle to quit!
Armed with the knowledge and support supplied by a good personal trainer, the odds of quitting smoking for good without an unacceptable weight gain are excellent!