Nearly 68 percent of smokers say they want to quit, according to the American Cancer Society. It often takes several attempts before a smoker becomes smoke-free. Many put off quitting out of fear they will gain weight. This fear is not unreasonable given the cultural emphasis on thinness.
Smoking does speed up the metabolism creating an additional calorie burn of about 250 calories a day for a pack-a-day smoker. On average, ex-smokers gain five to seven pounds during their first six months without tobacco. However, this weight gain is not automatic, and with some proactive steps, smokers can become ex-smokers without expanding their waistlines.
Preparation is key to a successful smoking cessation plan. Set a quit date, giving yourself at least two weeks to make lifestyle changes that will allow you to quit without adding extra pounds. Research shows that choosing a milestone date gives resolutions more sticking power, You may wish to join the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, which is scheduled for the third Thursday of November each year, or you can make kicking the habit a New Year’s resolution with a January 1 quit date.
Once you’ve committed to a day, follow these steps to prepare for a life without tobacco that won’t have you replacing cigarettes with food:
1. Clean up your diet before your quit date — keep a food journal and figure out where you can cut the 250 calories your body no longer needs to support your smoking habit. If you wish to lose weight, bump this up to 500 calories a day. Often making simple replacements, such as exchanging regular bread for a light-style bread, or eliminating sugary soft drinks is all you need to do.
2. Launch a new exercise program — find a physical activity you enjoy and commit to a half-hour a day. It may be a walk after dinner or working out with an exercise video. To make this commitment a habit, connect your new routine with a physical reminder, such as leaving your walking sneakers in a conspicuous spot or the case to your workout video in front of the TV.
3. Mix up your daily routine — in your food journal, record each cigarette you smoke. You will notice patterns in your eating and smoking habits. Find ways to change these patterns. For example, if you always light a cigarette after eating, put off that smoke for five minutes and use that time tidying up the kitchen. Any kind of break in your normal routine will help weaken engrained behaviors and strengthen new ones.
4. Practice mindfulness — much of the eating and smoking you do is most likely done without thinking. Slow down and pay attention to each bite of food, savoring tastes and textures. When you find yourself reaching for something to eat, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry? Why do I want to eat?” You may find you are eating out of boredom or anxiety. Find other ways to deal with these stressors.
5. Keep your eye on the prize — list the reasons it is important for you to quit smoking. Write them out on index cards. These are your motivators. Pull out the cards daily and read through them. Visualize yourself as smoke-free. Think of your expanding lung capacity drawing in fresh air; imagine life without having to tote around cigarettes, lighters and breath mints. Gone will be the anxious moments when you desperately need a smoke, but are stuck in a no-smoking area. Keep a favorite article of clothing, or buy a new piece, and keep it the front of your closet as a daily reminder that your don’t want to outgrow it with unnecessary eating.
Breaking the physical and psychological addiction to cigarettes is difficult. It may take several tries to make quitting permanent. If you begin to put on weight, don’t be discouraged. Re-think your eating and exercise habits. Figure out what is triggering your weight gain and find a solution other than returning to your smoking habit.