There’s no easy answer for quitting smoking or preventing related weight gain. One thing is clear for both: lifestyle interventions work. You may have to try more than one to find what works best for you, but research has found taking the time to develop healthy habits can bring you success. Here are a few that may tackle both.
1. Move more
Exercise should be part of any plan to quit smoking, says Karen Johnson, MD, who studies women’s health and obesity. She recommends getting at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. “If you’re more physically active, your metabolic rate will be higher, and you won’t gain weight as easily,” she says.
In the short term, you might gain some weight after quitting. But sticking with an exercise routine for a year, a a systematic review found quitters lost an average of 2.07 kilograms, or more than 4.5 pounds.
Short bouts of exercise also significantly reduce cravings for cigarettes, says Alicia Allen, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of Arizona School of Medicine, who studies substance abuse disorders. “Cravings tend to last five to 10 minutes at times. After you get past the first couple of days, cravings will last shorter, closer to five minutes,” she says. “When a craving hits you, look at the clock, and for the next five minutes, run up the stairs or do some jumping jacks. That’s going to help you deal with your cravings and maybe even burns some calories and avoid that weight gain.”
If you smoke to improve your mood, exercise is a great alternative to relieve anxiety and depression, says Johnson. Of course, if somebody struggles with depression, they should also talk to their doctor about the many effective treatment options out there.
2. Get a safe nicotine fix
All nicotine replacement products—skin patches, nasal sprays, gums, lozenges, and inhalers, help smokers quit increasing their chances of quitting by 50 percent to 60 percent, according to a 2018 systematic review. Studies have also found that these nicotine replacement therapies, or NRT, reduce related weight gain, says Allen.
To replace the oral sensation and hand-to-mouth motion many smokers miss when they quit smoking—and might cause them to reach for food instead—Allen recommends using nicotine gum or lozenges in combination with the nicotine patch.
Some smokers vape to get their nicotine fix while quitting, but a comprehensive report by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says research hasn’t shown e-cigarettes are an effective tool for quitting long-term. Johnson advises to skip the e-cigarettes. “E-cigarettes contain some of the chemicals that cigarettes have in them,” she says, “It would be better if you used a nicotine replacement therapy instead.”
3. Talk to your doctor about prescription medications
Smoking cessation medications, such as varenicline (Chantix), may reduce the amount of weight you gain, says Allen. If weight gain is a major concern, your doctor can help you choose the one that’s best for you.
For both NRTs and medications, studies have found that weight loss benefits don’t continue once you stop taking them. It’s a short-term solution, says Allen. “Making changes in diet and exercise are what’s going to maintain the weight loss long term.”
4. Join a support group
Don’t know where to start? 1-800-QUIT-NOW connects you with expert resources from the National Cancer Institute to help you quit smoking.