The nicotine in cigarettes acts as a stimulant to rev up your metabolism, which means you burn more calories as a smoker than you will when you quit. Keep your diet and exercise the same through the quitting process, and you could end up gaining a few pounds. But by staying active, you can boost your metabolism the healthy way—and burn through more calories in the process. “It helps combat weight gain and helps flush nicotine out of your system and get through those first rough few weeks,” says Bill Blatt, MPH, national director of tobacco programs for the American Lung Association. Clock in extra time at the gym if you’re a regular exerciser, or start taking walks around your block if you aren’t used to working out, he says. Try one of these other easy ways to speed up your metabolism.
Enjoy your food
Smoking dampens your taste buds, so your food tastes duller. The good news is, your taste buds will recover when you stop smoking, making food even more appealing than it was before. “It’s a good advantage of quitting, but as food tastes better than it has in years, you are eating more than before,” says Blatt. To celebrate the good taste without adding calories, slow down your chewing. You’ll be able to fully appreciate how delicious your food is and give your body more time to register fullness. Here are more reasons you always feel hungry.
While you’re starting your journey, you might miss the feeling of having a cigarette in your mouth. “Some people want something that mimics the cigarette itself,” says Blatt. Celery and carrot sticks can satisfy that feeling, or you could try keeping a cinnamon stick in your mouth without chewing it, he says. (Related: Don't miss these smart habits that help prevent lung cancer.)
Munch on low-calorie snacks
You might find yourself snacking more when you’re craving that hand-to-mouth action of smoking. “People will replace a cigarette with a snack because it provides some comfort, their hands are doing something, and there’s something in their mouth,” says Blatt. Get that gratification without packing on snacking pounds by choosing low-cal munchies like butter-free popcorn, which has large servings and a satisfying crunch. Add these flat-belly foods to your diet too.
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Keep your hands occupied
Instead of reaching for snacks when you’re feeling anxious, keep your hands occupied without getting your mouth involved. “Sometimes just the hands is enough,” says Blatt. “Something to preoccupy.” Try snapping a rubber band, shuffling a deck of cards, or playing with Silly Putty, he recommends.
Or keep your mouth busy
If you need something in your mouth but don’t miss the hand action, try chewing some sugarless gum. When you’re not hungry, it’s a great way to keep your mouth occupied without increasing your calorie intake.
Call in reinforcements
You might be inclined to keep quitting a secret so you don’t disappoint loved ones if your first attempts aren’t successful. Don’t be afraid to let people around you know though—they’ll be a huge support when you’re looking to get through a craving without distracting yourself with food. “Friends can be there if you need to call and talk you through a craving,” says Blatt. “Instead of having a snack after dinner, you’re on the phone with friends. It’s breaking that routine to get through cravings.” Pick up the phone for a gab session, or ask a friend to buddy up for a walk during your usual afternoon cigarette break time. (Related: Here's how social media can help you lose weight.)
Sipping water is part of what Blatt calls the “four Ds” for crushing cravings. “Delay, deep breathe, drink water, and do something else,” he says. Water can fill you up if you’re feeling hunger pangs, helping you steer clear of the fridge. Plus, it can distract you during a craving and help flush nicotine out of your system while you’re in the early stages of quitting. Try these tricks that guarantee you'll drink enough water.
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Focus on one thing at a time
Between quitting smoking and trying to maintain a healthy weight, you’ll be dealing with a lot of lifestyle changes. If extra pounds start to creep in, give yourself permission to gain a bit of weight. After all, the health benefits you get when you quit smoking will mean way more to your overall health than any weight gain. After all, most people who gain weight when quitting smoking will be just seven to twelve pounds heavier, which will be easy enough to shed again once you’re less focused on avoiding cigarettes. “If you get tobacco out of your life, you’ll be a much healthier person, even if a few pounds heavier,” says Blatt. “Don’t let potential weight gain scare you from trying to quit.” (Related: Here's how to get over a weight-loss plateau.)