It’s been decades since we learned that smoking can kill you, but why is it that people – especially young people – continue to smoke? One surprising reason is to get and stay slim.
While smoking rates have continued to decline in this country, there are still 40 million adults who smoke. That’s about 15% of all adults.
It’s well known that if you start smoking as a teenager, there’s a higher chance that you’ll smoke later in life. Unfortunately, a new study shows a disturbing trend with teens, revealing that obese and overweight teens, 46% of girls and 30% of boys, are much more likely to smoke for weight loss.
Deal with the Devil
The science shows that smoking may increase metabolism and decrease appetite, with the average smoker weighing between 4-10 pounds less than a nonsmoker. But this perceived benefit, coupled with the highly addictive properties of nicotine, makes it increasingly hard to quit smoking once you start.
Additionally, there is no guarantee that smoking will make you thin. Some studies have found that heavy smokers are more likely to be overweight than other smokers.
And the harmful effects of smoking are much more costly than any potential “benefit,” as smoking is linked to a long list of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), all types of cancers (especially lung cancer), cataracts, macular degeneration, type-2 diabetes, periodontal disease, and weak bones.
The good news is that these risks are cut dramatically the moment you quit.
How to Kick the Habit
The third Thursday of November is the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout. This year it’s November 17th. Make this the year to quit and get healthy without worrying about your weight.
A new study shows e-cigarettes may be a tool to help smokers trying to quit and prevent weight gain. Researchers found that nicotine suppresses appetite, and while e-cigarettes are not risk-free, they may cause significantly less harm than tobacco smoke.
Nicotine gum and patches, available over the counter, are commonly used to help you wean off smoking. They work by gradually decreasing the amount of nicotine in your body, reducing cravings, and eventually stopping the need for them completely.
Prescription medications like Chantix, which boasts a 44% success rate, may also help you quit smoking in under a year by blocking nicotine receptors in the brain.
Want a full range of options to quit smoking for good? The American Cancer Society offers a great Guide to Quitting Smoking with numerous resources, and check out our Benefits & Tips on How to Quit Smoking.
How to Stop Cravings
To deal with nicotine cravings after quitting, a lot of people end up snacking because it activates both the pleasure center of the brain and satisfies the hand-to-mouth action they became used to when smoking.
Given that cravings are one of the biggest reasons why people have a hard time losing weight, this craving double-whammy is the main reason people gain weight after quitting.
The typical gain is only about 5-7 pounds, most of it gained during the first 6 months after quitting.
But if you want to prevent cravings and extra pounds, here are some ways to do it:
Exercise. Being active can induce the release of feel-good hormones and has the added benefit of burning off extra calories.
Stay Hydrated. Sipping on water will keep you hydrated, make you feel full, improve the way you look (because smoking dehydrates skin), and give your hands something to do.
Snack Smart. If you’re going to snack, feed your body and not your cravings. Stay away from fatty foods, sweets, and empty refined carbs like chips and cookies. Healthy, lean protein sources like eggs, nuts, and legumes help to keep your hunger and your weight down. Foods with high water and fiber content also help you feel full and satisfied.
For a one-two-punch, our LeanMeal RS Drink Mix provides 18 grams of protein and 8 grams of prebiotic fiber (that feeds the beneficial bacteria in your GI tract), as well as 24 vitamins and minerals, for just 120 calories.
Take a Probiotic. The latest research shows that your gut bacteria directly influence your cravings, with “bad” bacteria causing cravings for sugary, fatty foods and “good” bacteria linked to healthier weight. Check cravings by taking a probiotic that will increase the number of beneficial organisms in your digestive tract and help promote weight loss.
It doesn’t make sense to do pick up or continue a deadly habit to lose weight when there are better, healthier options out there. If you’re a smoker, you can quit today and still keep the pounds off!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.