Q. I have a friend who just quit smoking. He’s started to gain the typical weight and went into his local GNC yesterday to get some supplement that’s supposed to speed up his metabolism. He already has a fairly good diet. I told him he might be better off just letting his metabolism balance itself out, rather than substituting one stimulant for another. Any ideas on how he can naturally adjust better?
A. People who quit smoking do often gain a few pounds but changes in metabolism are the least likely culprit. Nicotine does slightly increase one’s metabolic rate. More significantly, however, it acts as an appetite suppressant. Ex-smokers often eat more when they stop smoking because they have more appetite. The mental and physical stress of nicotine withdrawal may also drive cravings for certain “comfort” foods. Add to that the fact that ex-smokers need something to do with their hands (and mouths) to fill the time that they used to spend smoking and it’s easy to see why quitters often gain a few pounds.
But because a slower metabolism isn’t really the main issue here, a “metabolism booster” from the health food store probably isn’t going to be a very effective solution. Here are some tips to help manage this transition.
Up Your Protein Intake
Protein from lean meats, dairy products, nuts, fish, or legumes increase satiety, or the length of time it takes you to get hungry after eating. To help deal with an increased appetite, try to include some form of protein in every meal and snack.
Avoid Sugar and Things Made With White Flour
These “fast carbs” are easy to over-eat and quickly leave you hungry for more (the opposite of protein-rich foods). Also because your brain chemistry is in the process of adjusting to life without nicotine, you may be especially susceptible to the quasi-addictive nature of fast carbs. Instead, choose foods that are low in sugar and high in fiber, such as whole grain breads and pastas. These supply nutrients that support healthy brain chemistry without over-stimulating the pathways.
Stock Up on Low-Calorie Snacks
Knowing that your appetite–as well as emotional urges to eat– will probably be elevated for a while, arm yourself with plenty of raw vegetables and other low calorie foods that you can reach for when the urge to snack strikes.
- Baby carrots
- Celery sticks
- Snow peas or sugar snaps
- Red pepper strips
- Frozen grapes
- Air-popped popcorn
Find Other Outlets for Stress and Boredom
Sports, exercise, and other physical activities are a great way to ease stress and anxiety, and to distract yourself from urges to smoke. Plus, being more active will more than compensate for the small bump in metabolism you used to get from smoking.
Use Quitting as a Springboard to a Healthier Lifestyle
Three years ago, my friend Amy quit smoking after 35 years…and something very interesting happened. Shortly after she quit, Amy told me:
“I never paid attention to stuff that had to do with diet or nutrition. I figured that because I was a smoker, there was no point in doing anything for my health. Now, for the first time, I feel like I deserve to eat a healthy diet. I find myself thinking about what I can put in my body that will make me even healthier. I’m eating healthy foods that I never used to care about, like fish and nuts. I feel like I deserve to eat better now.”
Rather than spending all the money you’re saving on cigarettes on metabolism boosters or other nutritional supplements with little to no proven benefit, why not reward your healthier new body with delicious, nutritious foods? Approach the whole project as a healthy new lifestyle and I think any weight gain will probably take care of itself!
Any ex-smokers out there want to weigh in with advice?