You may have heard that cigarettes suppress appetite, but does smoking make you skinny? What about quitting – will it make you gain weight? Here we talk about why tobacco products have this reputation, the truth behind it, and what you should do if you’re a smoker worried about weight gain with quitting.
Why Does Smoking Make You Skinny?
Studies show that light smokers weigh an average of 5-10 pounds less than their non-smoking counterparts. However, heavy smokers – people who smoke a pack (20 cigarettes) per day or more – are more likely to be obese than light smokers or nonsmokers.
There’s a few theories as to why light smokers are slimmer than nonsmokers, on average. While the exact mechanism is not completely understood, science indicates there’s two main guesses: faster metabolism or decreased appetite. While smoking, energy expenditure (EE) – the number of calories you burn at rest – increases. The more cigarettes you smoke, the stronger this effect. However, obese smokers saw less boost in EE and heavy smokers are more likely to be obese, so there’s probably a limit. After 30 days of not smoking, EE may decrease to one similar or lower to that of nonsmokers.
Smoking also suppresses appetite right after you smoke a cigarette, for about 2-3 hours. Studies show people eat less calories just after consuming nicotine. This may, then, be part of the explanation for why smokers are often leaner than their nonsmoking peers. However, researchers weren’t convinced this negative energy balance was the whole reason since smokers also tend to be less physically active. Although they eat less, they also tend to exercise less, so it’s unclear how much benefit smoking has on maintaining negative energy balance.
With heavy smokers, higher rates of obesity are probably related to two factors. First, smoking over a pack-a-day is often indicative of poor lifestyle choices in general. These choices work together to contribute to obesity. Added unhealthy habits include less physical activity and worse nutritional choices. The other factor that may impact the relationship between heavy smoking and obesity is correlational rather than causational. Studies show that teenage girls who struggle with weight are more likely to pick up smoking as an attempt at weight control. The same pattern may extend to other populations as well. This suggests that obese people are more likely to be heavy smokers not because the smoking causes the obesity, but instead because overweight people are more likely to start smoking in the first place.
Smoking and Weight-Related Health Problems
Smokers are at higher risk for lung disease, heart & blood vessel disease and cancer. You may not know they’re also at increased risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Metabolic syndrome is a term used to describe a group of conditions that increase your risk for cardiovascular and other health problems. The conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or triglycerides, high blood glucose and excess abdominal fat. Smokers have a higher risk of metabolic syndrome. The two most studied aspects of this syndrome are higher waist circumference and insulin resistance in smokers. Scientists think this larger amount of visceral abdominal fat (VAT) likely results from higher levels of certain hormones in smokers. Specifically, smokers tend to have more cortisol and testosterone, and less bioavailable estrogen.
The other risk for smokers is type 2 diabetes. Smokers are more likely to develop insulin resistance, which can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes. Thankfully, risk decreases as soon as you quit and continues to decrease the longer you stay tobacco-free. After a few years of not smoking, your risk of type 2 diabetes returns to normal (a rate comparable with nonsmokers).
Smoking and Weight Loss
The general recommendation is that you quit smoking first, and then lose weight second. This is because quitting smoking is already really hard, and so is losing weight. So, trying to make two major lifestyle changes at once is simply too much for most people. Instead, give yourself the best chance at success and tackle one mountain at a time.
Once you’ve successfully quit smoking, then you can move onto weight loss. Since, as we said, most quitters only gain about 5-10 pounds, this is an achievable amount to lose once you’re living tobacco-free. So: smoking cessation first, weight loss second.
What do you think: does smoking make you skinny? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!