Updated 24 August 2015

Quit smoking, control weight gain

For many women smokers (and men too), the fear of gaining weight can be a huge deterrent to quitting.


For many women smokers (and men too), the fear of gaining weight can be a huge deterrent to quitting – a terrible indictment of a society where it is still more acceptable to slowly poison yourself, and those around you, than gain a few kilo’s.

The unfortunate fact is that yes, most people do gain weight when quitting smoking, because smoking does increase your metabolism to a certain degree. However, this weight gain can be manageable if the quitter takes a sensible approach to her lifestyle during this time.

Using food as a substitute for cigarettes, or mistaking the “empty” feeling of withdrawal from nicotine for hunger, can and does lead to excessive weight gain that can be difficult to shift. Proper nutrition, however, can not only minimize weight gain, but it can actually help smokers to quit more easily.

According to registered dietician, Celynn Erasmus of Complete Nutrition, smokers would be wise to take nutritional steps to help them prevent cravings as the desire to satisfy them, either with a cigarette or with unhealthy food choices, can be overwhelming at times.

She suggests a 3-pronged strategy: Balance blood sugar levels using the GI (glycemic index), use super booster foods and eat balanced meals.

Step 1: Balancing blood sugar levels
While all carbohydrates digest into sugar, they do so at different rates and this impacts on blood sugar levels. Fast sugar-releasing foods (high GI foods) like refined cereals, sweets, cakes, confectionary, white and some brown bread, result in a sugar spike causing the body to release a rush of insulin - a hormone that in excessive amounts contributes towards fat gain.

This spike is followed by a sugar dip, resulting in energy slumps, hunger and cravings. However, low GI carbohydrates (such as sweet potato, hi fibre foods, soya, legumes, multi-seed bread) release sugar into the bloodstream more steadily and slowly resulting in feelings of fullness, fewer cravings, sustained energy and easier fat loss.

For more information on the GI (glycaemic index) visit

Step 2: Use super booster foods for meals during the first 2 weeks when the cravings are at their worst
For breakfast: raw rolled oats with grated apple, cinnamon and a small dollop of honey, citrus and/or berry fruit salad with vanilla yoghurt and topped with a handful of almonds or walnuts or omelette filled with chopped sweet peppers and tomato served on a slice of seed loaf bread

For lunch/dinner: Super salads with lots of variety and colour and a good helping of lean protein (e.g. chicken or turkey strips with sesame seeds), include legumes such as chickpeas, lentils or baked beans as often as possible, lean protein (e.g. pork, chicken, egg, soya, haloumi cheese) or fish with selection of roasted veggies, baked or boiled sweet potato filled with baked beans and chunky cottage cheese and avocado, cooked barley with lots of chopped veggies and a lean protein (chicken, turkey, pork, ostrich)

For savoury snacks: a handful of lean biltong (preferably ostrich or game), low fat cheese, fresh fruit, popcorn – air popped and lightly salted, crudités with low fat cottage cheese, avocado or peanut butter dip, boiled egg, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, unsalted almonds or cashews, or even crackers with peanut butter.

For those sweet-tooth moments: Soft dried fruit i.e. Turkish apricots or fruit bars e.g. Trufruit, low fat fruit yoghurt eg. vanilla, hot chocolate made with low fat milk or low fat milks, fresh fruit salad with low fat custard, instant pudding made with low fat milk, small portions of sorbet or even marshmallows with boudoir biscuits.

Step 3: Eat balanced meals and remember the golden rule:
The more naturally colorful the food (like fruits and vegetables) the better. Divide your plate into a half and two quarters. Fill the half with fresh fruit and vegetables, a quarter with lean protein and a quarter with slow release carbs.

Eat regularly and don’t allow yourself to get hungry because that is bound to increase your cravings.

The quality of what a quitter eats, and how much exercise they do, will all play a role in whether or not they have what every aspirant ex-smokers seems to consider as their worst nightmare those increasing numbers on the scale.

Step Up the Pace
If you are generally inactive, embarking on a regular exercise programme when you quit will soon have you looking and feeling so good that you’ll wonder why you didn’t quit sooner.

Start off slowly, for example walking for half an hour three times a week, and as your fitness increases, step up the pace, duration and frequency.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy and managing weight gain
According to Linda Gotlieb, Group Product Manager for Nicorette®, smokers who use Nicorette® gum when quitting gain less weight on average than those who don’t use nicotine gum.

In 2003 Nicorette® released the results of a study on 253 women who had stopped smoking. Their research showed that those who used little or no gum had put on an average of 3.4 kg 12 weeks after they stopped smoking, compared with an average increase on only 1.3 kg in women who used nicotine gum. And those women who used more gum experienced significantly less weight gain.

Says Gotlieb, “This is encouraging news for the vast number of smokers who are currently discouraged from giving up smoking because of fears about gaining weight. The more effectively a smoker manages to substitute their nicotine intake from cigarettes with nicotine from Nicorette® gum, the better he or she will be able to control their weight gain when quitting.”

“The research is in about the benefits of using Nicorette® gum to combat weight gain. Together with the gum, however, women stand a much higher chance of successfully quitting without the kilo’s piling on if they adopt a holistic, healthy lifestyle.”

(Nicorette, December 2007)


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Exercise benefits for seniors »

Working out in the concrete jungle Even a little exercise may help prevent dementia Here’s an unexpected way to boost your memory: running

Seniors who exercise recover more quickly from injury or illness

When sedentary older adults got into an exercise routine, it curbed their risk of suffering a disabling injury or illness and helped them recover if anything did happen to them.