BERLIN – As if fighting off mood-altering cravings wasn’t difficult enough, many people who quit smoking have to deal with the possibility or even the reality of weight gain related to quitting. Although the average gain is about 10 pounds many people experience an even more significant increase weight, which can be a quitting-deterrent and even an excuse to take up smoking.
As part of the Worcester County Smoking Cessation Support Group program, run by the county health department, a nutritionist stops in occasionally to help participants prepare for or deal with the eating implications of quitting and its concomitant cravings.
Kathy Wool, R.D., L.D.N. gave a talk at the most recent smoking cessation class to either inform or reinforce the importance of good nutrition and a rational approach to eating especially when quitting smoking.
She began by adding strikes against smokers who are already pre-disposed to overeat. Setting aside the hand-to-mouth comfort that drives many quitting smokers to overindulge food wise, there’s the added difficulty of returning taste bud functionality. After having quit for even a relatively short time, a former smokers ability to taste and smell is enhanced — or returned to normal, depending on your view of the matter. The practical implications are that food tastes and smells better than it has since a smoker stated smoking.
On top of the fact that food tastes and smells better, there’s also more room for it in a way. Nicotine, like caffeine, acts as an appetite suppressant. So where many smokers were perfectly content for cigarettes and coffee for breakfast as well as in place of afternoon and evening snacks is only the craving to smoke added to an increased appetite for and appreciation of the taste of food. Of course this is why quitting smoking can end poorly for your waistline.
Rather that worry too much about tactics, Wool focused on making the ratio to between calories and weight gain clear in an effort to help the participants make better decisions when it comes to eating and snacking.
Whatever success particular diets may or may not bring, Wool reminded us that weight loss and weight gain are inexorably tied to calories in versus calories burned. Although it can vary widely among different aged and sized adults, 2,000 or so calories per day can be considered a fair average. A large burger, fries and soda will has about 1,400 calories. A person can have more than half their daily calories in one meal and not really notice it.
While the burger for lunch scenario might be a little extreme it helps to drive home the importance of understanding, even if only in broad terms, how quickly calories can add up. Using this knowledge to help if not prevent weight gain while quitting smoking at least to hedge against it a bit, can be the difference between gaining only a little and gaining a lot.
But it’s also an opportunity to install significant life alterations on top of quitting smoking. While almost everyone agrees that full blown dieting and quitting smoking don’t mix, paying closer attention to your daily calorie count is a good habit you can develop while replacing a bad one.
Even if you don’t lose weight while quitting smoking, if making reasonable, healthier food choices develops into the kind of habit smoking did, nothing but good can come of it in the long term.