How to Prevent Weight Gain When You Quit Smoking
Part Two

The fear of unwanted pounds can be so strong that it is one of the major reasons why some people, women especially, wont give up their cigarette smoking habit. They say they can take the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms but not the excess pounds.

This is unfortunate because smoking is one of the most “effective” ways to destroy your health. Coupled with chronic stress, poor nutrition, and a sedentary lifestyle, smoking is almost guaranteed to reduce the quality of your life in your later years.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to prevent weight gain when you quit smoking.

Don’t “diet”, meaning don’t go on a drastic diet that severely restricts calories. Self-starvation won’t just make you moodier and more irritable than you already are without your cigarettes, it will also induce a drop in metabolic rate. That is definitely not what you want or need.

Diet advice for ex-smokers is the same advice for everyone else. Eat healthy. Eat whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, lean meats and lean dairy products. Eat reasonable-sized portions. Eat less high-fat and high-sugar foods and drinks. One study found that the people who did not gain weight after quitting smoking were those who decreased their sugar and refined carbohydrate intake.

Avoid temptation by removing all high-calorie snacks and have lower-calorie alternatives readily on hand like raw vegetable sticks, singkamas or unripe papaya, and squash seeds. These types of snacks take time to chew and crunch so your mouth is kept occupied. It goes without saying that snacking on chocolate candies and potato chips are a bad idea.

Drinking cold water or another zero-calorie beverage every time you feel the urge to smoke can help in two ways – it keeps your mouth busy and you burn 25 calories per 500 ml to warm the liquid to body temperature.

Research has found that moderately increasing the level of physical activity in your daily life can help minimize weight gain. Studies have also shown that people who exercise are more successful at quitting than people who don’t.

This is probably because exercise calms the nerves and boosts mood, which can be a big help during times of nicotine withdrawal.

Exercise can take the ‘edge’ of nicotine cravings by bringing temporary relief until the craving passes. Even just a five-minute walk may take your mind off your craving and improve your circulation to make you feel good.

If you have been a heavy smoker for many years, get your doctor’s clearance before you start working out. He will surely be enthusiastic about your desire to exercise but because smoking increases the risk of heart disease, emphysema, and certain cancers, you may require special modifications for your exercise program.

Type of exercise
You need the three basic components of fitness to control your weight and to aid you in quitting.

Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise will burn the greatest number of calories in a short period of time. However, you have to start at the lowest intensity to avoid fatigue and shortness of breath.

Start with whatever you can handle (walking is the easiest), even if it’s just for five to ten minutes, at an intensity where you can easily talk while exercising. When you can comfortably do thirty to forty minutes, gradually increase the intensity (you will be breathing hard but can still say a few words at a time). Do this at least three times a week.

Resistance training or lifting weights firms up your muscles, improves your shape, and slightly increases metabolic rate. Becoming stronger is also empowering since it makes you feel like you have more control over your life. Twice a week sessions are the minimum.

Flexibility exercises or stretching helps to relieve stress because it brings on feelings of relaxation. Stretching can be done after your cardio or resistance workouts. Mind-body programs like gentle yoga or tai chi done once or twice a week are also helpful.

Even if you relapse and smoke again, continue exercising. The Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research discovered that fit smokers have a lower mortality rate than unfit non-smokers.

However, don’t use this as a reason to continue smoking because the Institute also found that fit non-smokers have less health problems and live longer than fit smokers do.

Different strokes
Some studies indicate that people are more successful at quitting and gaining the least amount of weight if they tackle one change at a time rather than make several major lifestyle changes simultaneously.

Quitting cigarettes, exercising, and dieting might be so overwhelming that it causes some people to relapse in all three areas. Research suggests that people like this would be better off focusing on the process of quitting cigarettes first then when that is under control, turn their attention to losing whatever weight is gained.

Difficult advice for weight-concerned individuals but as someone has said, “It’s easier to lose weight than to lose your lungs”. Besides, the additional pounds may not be there forever.

A Japanese study found that for the first few years after quitting, heavy smokers weighed more than non-smokers and moderate smokers but after they crossed that “threshold”, they lost weight and ended up weighing the same as the non-smokers. In terms of weight management, it seems like the body takes a while to adjust to a smoke-free life but it eventually does.

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