As a practitioner of stop smoking hypnosis in the City of London, I am often told by smokers that fear of weight gain is the reason they do not want to stop. But is this really a good reason to put off quitting?
Do people actually change shape after they stop smoking?
A meta-analysis of 62 studies was published in the British Medical Journal in 2012. It found that, a year after giving up smoking, 16 per cent of quitters had actually lost weight. But 37 per cent had put on less than 5 kilos. 34 per cent had gained 5 to 10 kilos. And 17 per cent certainly had a new silhouette: they had gained more than 10 kilos.
Oh, fantastic (not!). So I’ll definitely put on weight if I stop smoking?
Not necessarily! While these studies clearly showed a percentage of quitters gained weight after quitting, the only reason the meta-analysis provide for this is a speculation that nicotine suppresses appetite. It doesn’t examine all the reasons some people put on a lot of weight, while others lost weight or gained only a little.
Here is what I’ve observed in the clients I see my City of London stop smoking hypnosis practice.
Nicotine and stress chemicals
Nicotine addiction runs on the same basic circuitry that is responsible for alerting us when we are hungry, thirsty, or in danger. These circuits are ingenious, delicate systems that have ensured the survival of mankind for millennia, but nicotine interferes with the way they work.
When you are hungry, your body releases certain hormones and chemicals that let you know it is time to eat. But your body also releases these chemicals when you haven’t had a cigarette for a while, making you feel as if you want to smoke. If you don’t smoke, your body will intensify this chemical stress response until you finally do, after which it will stop and you will feel relaxed.
But here’s the thing: your body can’t tell the difference between the feeling of relaxation you get from stopping the cigarette craving and the feeling of eating something to stop your hunger! The result is that you really feel you have eaten even though you haven’t, and decide to carry on with your day, substituting healthy, regular food for cigarettes whenever you feel hungry. Consequently, you will eat a lot less than you ordinarily would if you didn’t smoke.
The truth is that smoking fundamentally distorts your sense of hunger and relationship with food. So although many smokers are able to stay slim because of their smoking, this is not a healthy or natural state.
The real reason smokers gain weight once they quit
When people quit, their body returns to its natural baseline and they find they are hungry! But a lifetime of being a smoker is almost guaranteed to change your eating habits, making it much easier simply not to eat or only to eat smaller amounts when you are extremely hungry. So now, these new non-smokers, who are unaccustomed to having to think about the amount and kind of food they eat, are unprepared to properly deal with their body’s needs.
You might find that it was easy to get through a whole work day on just a flapjack and a packet of crisps when you were smoking, but now that you are not – you find it very hard, and reach for unhealthy fast or processed food to kill these new, unwelcome hunger pangs.
But of course, the solution to this is to plan balanced, healthy meals according to your schedule to ensure you are eating properly – which is what you would have been doing all along if you hadn’t been smoking instead. For people who weren’t taught about healthy eating early in life and have smoked all of their adult lives, working with a nutritionist to learn this and transition to eating a healthy, balanced diet might significantly increase their chances of quitting without gaining weight or falling in to unhealthy eating habits. Although this isn’t something I provide in my stop smoking hypnosis practice in the City of London, I can recommend nutritionists who can support your process.
Oral fixation: another possible reason for weight gain after quitting
There’s also a behavioural explanation for how smokers stay slim. Simply, their hands and mouth are occupied with a cigarette while other people’s hands and mouths may be wrapped around a chocolate bar. This isn’t as common as the first reason, but it really is an issue for some of my City of London stop smoking hypnosis clients. However, it is typically surmountable. Substitutions like chewing sugar-free gum, drinking cups of tea or eating healthy snacks instead of unhealthy ones is typically all that is needed – although sometimes sucking on something like a mint or lozenge is preferred. If someone needs to engage their hands, then a crossword puzzle or something of this nature can be used.
Food, nicotine and feelings
In my stop smoking hypnosis City of London practice, I frequently find that as well as pushing down hunger with cigarettes, people also push down feelings. These clients describe a less intense, less colourful and more muted experience of life: smoking allows them to distract themselves from unpleasant things they would rather not think about or feel, and these feelings and thoughts go unaddressed.
If smokers do not deal with these thoughts and feelings when they quit, they will find they suddenly feel them more intensely and might not be willing to deal with them. Instead, they may substitute food instead to push down their emotions, and consequently gain weight. Seeing a stop smoking hypnotherapist in the City of London can support you as you feel and integrate your feelings before quitting so you don’t need to distract yourself from them with food. As a result, you will be able to quit easily without gaining weight, feeling much healthier and clearer than you ever did as a smoker.
What is the medical risk of gaining weight compared to smoking?
One client told me that her family was prone to diabetes type 2 and she feared that, if she quit cigarettes, then she would gain weight and probably become a diabetic. In fact, one of the big health hazards of continuing to smoke – and, as you know, there are many – is diabetes type 2, because nicotine also suppresses insulin production. However, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2018 seemed to confirm her fears: in the short-term. There is, temporarily, an increased risk, when you give up smoking, of diabetes – and the more weight you put on, the higher the risk. In which case it may seem to the smoker that quitting would be dangerous because weight gain might increase a lot of other risks too. For instance, what about that global enemy, cardiovascular disease?
I have, on occasion, heard smokers arguing that they might as well keeping smoking because the weight they would put on after giving up would increase their risk of cardiovascular disease. That same study in the NEJM confirms that putting on 18kgs or more after giving up smoking is just as risky as continuing to smoke. But for anyone who gives up smoking and puts on no kilos – or, anyway, fewer than 18, the risks are reversed. It is much more dangerous to carry on smoking.
Stopping smoking with hypnosis in the City of London without any weight gain
If the all the factors that could potentially cause weight gain in new non-smokers that I’ve addressed in this article are handled at the time of quitting, then you should not gain weight, and will only be at a decreased risk of diabetes or cardiovascular diseases: your health will improve and you will feel fantastic. This is exactly what I help people do with my stop smoking hypnosis in the City of London.
I often work with smokers who are worried about weight gain quit for good and help them address any obstacles to doing this healthily. If you’d like to find out more about how I could help you do this, then book a free discovery call so I can find out more about you and work out whether we’d be a fit to work together.