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Quit Smoking Without Losing Control of Your Weight

Life After Cigarettes


Updated April 21, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Quit Smoking Without Losing Control of Your Weight

Dr. Cynthia Pomerleau

Photo © Cynthia Pomerleau

What advice would you give women who are afraid to quit smoking because they don't want to gain weight?

Dr. Pomerleau: As I indicate in Life After Cigarettes, even though many women state that they don’t want to gain even a pound (who does?), I believe the real, bedrock fear is not of putting on a few pounds but of weight spiraling out of control. These fears are fueled by the fact that post-cessation weight gain often starts very shortly after quitting; fortunately, it generally levels off quickly.

If a woman can keep her weight gain within 5-10 pounds, most of her clothes will still fit and her BMI will go up by only a unit or so. This is a very realistic goal and is in fact where the vast majority of quitters end up. Those who substantially exceed these limits may have other problems, such as binge-eating, that emerge when they quit and may require additional help in their own right.

A few women fail to gain weight because they become depressed. Depression can have differing effects on appetite, often increasing it but occasionally suppressing it. If you don’t gain weight because you’re too depressed to eat, that’s a poor trade off. Again, serious depression requires additional help in its own right.

It is possible to gain no weight but that will require dropping a few calories per day in a context where most people tend to add a few calories per day and/or increasing the amount of exercise you get. These are positive goals and if they can be achieved, so much the better.

What perspectives can you share to help women change their relationship to smoking and embrace a life that is truly free of any desire to smoke?

Dr. Pomerleau: The short-term goal is to become an ex-smoker – someone who used to smoke but doesn’t anymore. The long-term goal is to become a non-smoker – someone whose life is not controlled, even for a moment, by thoughts and feelings about smoking.

How to make this transition? Be prepared to give it some time. When you first quit, you are acutely aware of missing and craving cigarettes. You may have mood swings, flashes of anger, and hunger attacks. These start to subside after a few days (though unfortunately for the weight-conscious woman, increased appetite is one of the more persistent withdrawal effects). Eventually they fade into the background so that you can go for increasingly longer periods of time without thinking about cigarettes.

How long it takes to reach that point varies from person to person, as does the occurrence of setbacks triggered by stress or exposure to smoking cues (e.g., people or events associated with smoking in the past). You can ease things along by developing your own personal set of tricks and techniques for keeping intrusive thoughts at bay, managing your weight, and jollying yourself up when you feel blue. A brief bout of exercise, a single piece of dark chocolate, or a side-splitting movie, well timed, can do wonders. Experiment to find what works for you.

Eventually, with time and practice, you’ll find yourself focusing not on what you’ve lost, not even on what you’ve gained, but on your life here and now. You’ll experience the joy of long walks without half your mind planning your next smoke; of coffee breaks spent sharing confidences, not cigarettes; of precious moments with your child or grandchild, fully attentive and undistracted by a vague “something else” tugging at your consciousness. That is what I refer to in Life After Cigarettes as “the chic of quitting.” It’s a good feeling.

From your Guide to About.com Smoking Cessation, Terry Martin:

As a woman who lost more than one quit attempt due to smoking cessation-related weight gain, I know how much putting on weight can hurt a person's motivation to stay smoke-free.

Cynthia Pomerleau's insightful book not only educates us about the issues women face with nicotine addiction, it lights a fire under our desire to free ourselves from the shackles tobacco keeps us in.

If You Want to Change Your Life, Change Your Mind

You can abstain from smoking for years, but if you never change the relationship you have with cigarettes, nicotine addiction will continue to hold you tight. Change the way you think and you can free yourself in an instant. You'll still have to do the work to undo the years of habit of course, but once you free your mind, you are on your way.

Dr. Pomerleau's gem of a book should be required reading for any woman who wants to find her way to a permanent change of mindset about smoking. It lays the groundwork for successful smoking cessation through education, sound advice and positive support.

Most importantly, this book shows us that indeed there is a life worth living after cigarettes, one that is achievable for each and every one of us.

If you're still smoking, pick up a copy of Cynthia's book today, and start reading. It will change your mind, and from there...your life.

If you'd like to read more from Cynthia Pomerleau, please visit her weblog:

Full Disclosure from Terry Martin: Cynthia uses several quotes from my quit story -- and those of other women who have quit smoking successfully -- in the last section of her book.

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