Your worst fear about quitting smoking is true: It will make you gain weight.
A paper in today’s New England Journal of Medicine confirms that long-held belief. After analyzing 10 years’ worth of data, researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics found that men who stop smoking gain an average of almost 10 pounds, and women averaged 11.
That extra poundage accounts for a small percentage of the much-noted increase in obesity in the United States since 1980, the authors say.
Despite the increased weight, those who quit smoking did the right thing, said Katherine Flegal, the study’s lead author.
“One of the best things you can do for your health is stop smoking, regardless of the risk of weight gain,” she said, pointing out that approximately one-third of smokers in the study were overweight as well.
Flegal said the problem isn’t actually that ex-smokers pack on fat; it’s that they get back the pounds they should have had all along. Nicotine boosts the body’s metabolism; “when that effect is removed, you go back to weighing what you would have if you had never smoked,” she said.
And because the body is returning to its natural weight, smoking-cessation programs that try to keep the returning pounds off may be doomed to fail, she said.
“If there is any weight gain past that (10-11 pound) point, that’s worth dealing with,” Flegal said. “But the initial weight gain may not be preventable.”