The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the way we all live our lives and how we think about our health.
The NHS campaign, Better Health, is inspiring people to use this time for a health ‘kick-start’ – by losing excess weight and getting more active. With many Londoners now thinking about this, Stop Smoking London spoke to Dr Emma Eade, a London GP, for her advice on how best to quit smoking whilst keeping any weight gain to a minimum.
Dr Eade explained: “Some smokers tell me they’re concerned about putting on weight when they quit. It’s true this can happen because increased appetite is a nicotine withdrawal symptom. But if you’re worried about putting on extra kilos when you stop smoking, making a plan before your quit date is a good idea. Even small changes, like having healthy food options to hand and taking some gentle exercise, are good.”
“But it’s important to not give yourself too many challenges or to make too many changes all at once. The main thing initially to focus on is quitting smoking and feeling confident as a non-smoker. Once you have successfully quit, then you can focus on losing any excess weight. And you’ll find you’ll have better fitness and more energy to get active."
"The best thing you can do for your health at this time is to quit smoking as soon as possible. The benefits will be immediate.”
To help you to kick the habit whilst avoiding excess weight gain, Dr Eade and Stop Smoking London have put together the following tips.
1: Use Nicotine Replacement Therapies
Nicotine raises your resting metabolic rate by around 10 percent, this means you burn calories at a slightly faster rate than non-smokers. The good news is that once your body adjusts to being a non-smoker, your metabolic rate will begin to stabilise.
You could use quit smoking aids like nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or Varenicline (Champix) as these will help you to successfully stop smoking. The evidence shows that using NRT or Varenicline (Champix) will also reduce your risk of putting on excess weight. Always read the packet or leaflet before using NRT or any medication to check it's suitable for you.
You might be tempted to replace the ‘hand to mouth’ action of smoking with snacking. Think ahead about what you can do instead, and make sure you have your healthy snacks prepared.
If you’ll miss holding a cigarette there are handheld quit smoking aids that you may want to try like e-cigarettes (remember to use an e-liquid containing nicotine). Almost 3 million people use e-cigarettes in the UK, and over half of those have now given up smoking cigarettes completely. Learn more about e-cigarettes.
3: Exercise Regularly
Being more active, even by taking just a short, brisk walk will boost your mood, reduce stress and help you sleep better. It will also help reduce your urge to smoke!
Once you have quit smoking, you may want to begin a new exercise routine, like the popular Couch to 5K app. There are also lots of activities and how to exercise videos for a range of abilities available on the NHS website.
4: Practise Mindful Eating
You may find you miss having a cigarette after your meal. To overcome this, try ‘mindful eating’. This means eating slowly and focusing on your food by removing distractions like the TV or your phone. Concentrate on the taste while you eat and chew your food properly, about 32 bites before swallowing.
Another mindful eating practice is a 20 minute pause after a meal, because feeling full can take time. To distract yourself from the urge to smoke, you could clean the kitchen or do the washing up.
If you’re still hungry or want to smoke after 20 minutes, try drinking water as you may actually be thirsty not hungry. Also, if you are using NRT have these ready and use them to beat nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Struggling to sleep can be a nicotine withdrawal symptom but this usually gets better within a week of quitting.
When you are tired the hormone grehlin, also known as the ‘hunger hormone’, is released. Leptin, another hormone which helps to control food intake and energy expenditure, is lowered. This means we are more likely to eat more and do less when we feel tired.
Lack of sleep can also make everything feel so much harder, including quitting smoking, eating healthier and taking exercise. For advice on how to get a good night’s sleep as you quit smoking, see Good Thinking’s comprehensive set of downloadable factsheets about sleep.
6:Ask For Help
We know that stopping smoking can be hard, and if you are worried about weight gain this can be an extra thing that puts you off trying to quit. But it is important to remember that the health benefits of stopping smoking outweigh the risk of weight gain. Once you have successfully quit you can focus on losing excess weight.
You’re much more likely to succeed at quitting with support. If you’d like help at any stage of your stop smoking journey, search for your local stop smoking service. You can also call 0300 123 1044 to speak to a Stop Smoking London advisor.