Many smokers do gain some weight when they quit. But even when steps aren’t taken to try to prevent this, the gain is usually less than 10 pounds. Women tend to gain slightly more weight than men. There is some evidence that smokers will gain weight after they quit even if they do not eat more. For some, a concern about weight gain can lead to a decision not to quit. But the weight gain that follows quitting smoking is usually very small. It is much more dangerous to keep smoking than it is to gain a small amount of weight. While there are some studies that suggest that nicotine replacement therapy or bupropion may help delay weight gain, they do not prevent it.
You are more likely to be quit smoking successfully if you deal with the smoking first, and then later take steps to reduce your weight. While you are quitting, try to focus on ways to help you stay healthy, rather than on your weight. Stressing about your weight may make it harder to quit. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and limit the fat. Be sure to drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep and regular physical activity.
Walking is a great way to be physically active and increase your chances of staying quit. Walking can help you by:
- reducing stress
- burning calories and toning muscles
- giving you something to do instead of thinking about smoking
No special equipment or clothing is needed for walking, other than a pair of comfortable shoes. And most people can do it pretty much anytime. You can use these ideas as starting points and come up with more of your own:
- walk around a shopping mall
- get off the bus one stop before you usually do
- find a buddy to walk with during lunch time at work
- take the stairs instead of the elevator
- walk with a friend, family member, or neighbor after dinner
- push your baby in a stroller
- find a dog (yours or a neighbor’s) you can take out for a walk
Set a goal of 30 minutes of physical activity 5 or more times a week. But if you don’t already exercise regularly, please check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Smokers often mention stress as one of the reasons for going back to smoking. Stress is a part of everyone’s lives, smokers and non-smokers alike. The difference is that smokers have come to use nicotine to help cope with stress and unpleasant emotions. When quitting, you have to learn new ways of handling stress. Nicotine replacement can help to some extent, but for long-term success you will need other strategies, too.
As mentioned above, physical activity is a good stress-reducer. It can also help with the short-term sense of depression that some smokers have when they quit. There are also stress-management classes and self-help books. Check your community newspaper, library, or bookstore.
Spiritual practices such as admitting that you cannot control your addiction and believing that a higher power can give you strength have been used with much success to deal with other addictions. These practices, along with the fellowship of others on a similar path, are a key part of 12-step recovery programs. These same principles can be applied to quitting smoking.
Taking care of yourself
It is important for your health care provider to know of any present or past tobacco use so he or she can be sure that you will get the preventive health care you need. It is well known that using tobacco use puts you at risk for certain health-related illnesses, so part of your health care should focus on related screening and preventive measures to help you stay as healthy as possible. For example, you will want to be certain that you regularly check inside your mouth for any changes. Have your doctor or dentist look at your mouth, tongue, or throat if you have any changes or problems. The American Cancer Society recommends that medical check-ups should include oral cavity (mouth) exams. This way, tobacco users may be able to detect changes such as leukoplakia (white patches on the mouth membranes) early, and prevent oral cancer or find it at a stage that is easier to treat.
You should also be aware of any of the following changes:
- change in cough
- a new cough
- coughing up blood
- trouble breathing
- chest pain
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- general tiredness
- frequent lung or bronchial infections
Any of these could be signs of lung cancer or a number of other lung conditions and should be reported to your doctor. While these can be signs of a problem, people with lung cancer often do not notice any symptoms until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Remember that tobacco users have a higher risk for other cancers as well, depending on the way they use tobacco. You can learn about the types of cancer you may be at risk for by reading our document that discusses the way you use tobacco. Other risk factors for these cancers may be more important than your use of tobacco, but you should know about the extra risks that might apply to you.
If you have any health concerns that may be related to your tobacco use, please see your health care provider as soon as possible. Taking care of yourself and getting treatment for small problems will give you the best chance for successful treatment. The best way, though, to take care of yourself and decrease your risk for life-threatening health problems is to quit using tobacco.
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