Quitting smoking is a top New Year’s resolution, but can prompt weight gain; dietitian says no big deal, quit anyway; offers tips

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Of the 44 percent of American adults who said they would make a New Year’s resolution this year, 12 percent said they plan to quit smoking and 10 percent said they plan to lose weight, according to a Marist College poll.

Since Kentucky has the nation’s second-highest smoking rate, 24.6 percent, and the seventh-highest obesity rate, 34.3 percent, both those resolutions are probably common in the state.

It might be best to not set both goals at the same time, since quitting smoking can sometimes lead to a modest weight gain. And many could forgo trying to quit smoking because they don’t want to gain weight.

But a registered dietitian from Ohio State‘s Wexner Medical Center, Liz Weinandy, says the weight gain is usually minimal, and nothing to worry about, because it won’t increase your risk of death — but smoking does — and the health benefits that come from quitting are almost immediate.

After quitting, a smoker’s heart rate drops to normal levels in 20 minutes; carbon monoxide level drops back to normal in 12 hours, allowing a person’s blood oxygen to increase; lung function improves in just a couple of weeks; the risk of heart disease drops by half in one year, says the American Lung Association.

Weinary said people tend to gain some weight when they try to quit smoking because nicotine “was suppressing your appetite, reducing your ability to smell and taste, raising your metabolic rate and keeping you up at night if you smoked in the evening. Once it’s out of your system, you may feel hungry more often, your metabolism slows, food tastes and smells more appealing, and you may sleep better. . . . But as your body repairs the damage smoking has done, it also adjusts to life without nicotine.”

In a university news release, Weinandy notes that a typical weight gain for those who try to quit smoking is usually 10 pounds or less. She offers three tips on how to minimize it, adding that they are also generally good tips to live a healthier life. In fact, these suggestions would improve the success rate of the top four New Year resolutions in the poll: exercising more, stopping smoking, losing weight, and eating healthier.

First, Weinandy says it’s important to be more active after you quit smoking. She suggests that former smokers take a walk during their former smoke-break time or to start taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Increasing activity will help you burn more calories and boost your slowing metabolic rate. “I often suggest focusing on exercise before food,” she says, “because most people who smoked weren’t working out, because it was hard to get enough oxygen.”

Second, she encourages people who are trying to quit smoking to plan their meals, cook at home and to generally eat better, suggesting that they put money formerly spent on cigarettes towards healthier food. She notes that food may taste differently after quitting, so it’s a good time to try new foods.

“Nicotine suppresses appetite, which is one reason people will gain weight when they stop smoking – their hunger increases,” Weinandy said. “But I’ve also seen former smokers lose weight since better breathing made their taste buds more attuned and, therefore, they don’t eat as many salty and sugary foods.”

Her third suggestion is to make sure you sleep seven to nine hours a night, since this helps to balance hunger hormones, decreasing hunger during the day. “One of the things I talk about with all of my patients – smokers and non-smokers – is the importance of getting enough sleep each night,” Weinandy said. “Nicotine is a stimulant and, if you smoked later in the day, it was probably affecting your sleep in the same way as when people take in caffeine.”

The poll, sponsored by NPR and PBS NewsHour, surveyed 1,075 adults between Nov. 28 and Dec. 4 via cell phones and landlines. The margin of error for those who were likely to make a New Year’s resolution in 2019 was plus or minus 5.7 percentage points.

The poll also found that of those who made a 2018 New Year’s resolution, 68 percent said they kept it or kept part of it and 32 percent said they did not.

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