Bad News: Weight Gain After Quitting Smoking is Real. Good News: You’ll Live Longer

Quitting smoking could lead you to gain up to 10 pounds in the short-term, but many will later lose the weight, some never gain weight in the first place, and in any event — a few extra pounds won’t kill you, but smoking likely will.

That’s the consensus of French and British researchers who studied a group of hardcore smokers, reported July 12. It’s a major psychological as well as physiological challenge: the fear of gaining weight is often cited by smokers as a barrier to quitting, and women say they won’t tolerate more than a five-pound weight gain as the price of stopping smoking.

The findings come with lots of caveats, however. For example, one in four quitters gained 2 pounds or less, or even lost weight; on the other end of the spectrum, an equal number gained 17 pounds or more.

“Although our study has confirmed that there is substantial weight gain on average during the first year of continuous abstinence, a prediction of average weight gain will be wrong for most individual smokers,” says study author Henri-Jean Aubin, a professor of psychiatry and addiction medicine at the Hôpital Paul Brousse in France. “The good news is that after the first [three months], weight gain is decelerating substantially. Nearly 20 percent of the smokers actually lose weight after one year of continuous abstinence.”

Experts say that you should start exercising if you plan to quit smoking. “Quitting smoking at age 40 increases life expectancy by nine years, even taking into account the possible post-cessation weight gain,” says Aubin.

The research was published in the British Medical Journal.

(Photo © Javier Psylocybin via Flickr)