I was talking to my mom this week and she told me a story that made me angry. She had a friend who quit smoking, gained 30 pounds, was put on a strict diet by her doctor, and didn’t lose the weight. So they sent her to a psychologist (maybe a psychiatrist, I am not positive) with the implication that she was lying about what she was eating, and that is why she was not losing the weight.
I cannot say how this makes me burn, how it fills me with rage. When I quit smoking almost 6 years ago, I also gained 30 pounds. And because I have body dysmorphic disorder, it took a real toll on my mental health. So I started scouring the Internet.
Now, in general, don’t do this. The internet can be a dark, crazy-making place. But I am really glad I did. Oh, I was not at first. Because the first thing that I found was a lot of sites like Web MD telling me that people only gain 2-10 pounds, and mostly because they eat more to make up for not smoking.
Then I went on forums where I found a bunch of traumatized people asking why they gained 20-40 pounds after quitting smoking, and a bunch of trolls telling them it was because they were making up for their “oral fixation” with food. And often fat shaming them. (And it felt like they were fat shaming me. As if I haven’t gotten enough of that BS in one lifetime.)
I read a lot of things along the lines of.
Stop eating so much and exercise. Quitting smoking doesn’t affect your weight. There is no scientific evidence that says that quitting smoking makes you gain weight.
But by the time I quit smoking, I had already had my eating under control for 6 years. I had already been strictly controlling my portions. And my quantities on some foods were cut in half. I was not eating more. I was eating less. And I knew it. It was quantifiable. And I was keeping track like I always had. Plus I had started walking more. While I had been generally walking 3-5 miles a day in my daily life in the city, I then added 8 mile walks 2 or 3 times a week.
What eventually helped me was when I found forums for fitness buffs. These were filled with people who, like me, were already tracking their food and exercise routines. They already knew what they were eating and how much fuel they were burning.
What they had to say was not pleasant. And I did not want to believe it. But in the end, it turned out to be true for me. They generally gained 26-40 pounds. And their bodies and metabolisms didn’t go back to normal for about 3 years.
I quit smoking in June of 2012. Between June and December of that year, I gained 30 pounds. I went from a US size 6 to a US size 10, I stayed a 10 for 3 years, and then in June of 2015, pretty suddenly, I was a size 6 again.
There is also an article in Time from 2017 (5 years *after* I quit smoking) that says that one French study showed that while a quarter of participants gained less than 3 pounds or even lost weight, a quarter of participants gained more than 17 pounds.
When people, especially doctors, say that there is no evidence that quitting smoking causes weight gain, I remember those fitness forums. I hope more studies like the French study are done about smoking cessation and weight gain. Because gaining weight when you quit smoking is basically understood to be the norm. But blaming the people who quit for being gluttons also seems to be the norm. And I, personally, have had enough of that crap. It’s already hard to quit. And blaming people for something they have no control over makes us feel crazy! I was committed to quitting, no matter what. And I had a food regimen in place that kept me grounded. But I promise you, if I hadn’t, I would have said “screw this” and just started smoking again. Because I am vain. And because society judges us on what we look like, more than how healthy we are. In fact, society equates thin with healthy. It does not ask if that person is a smoker.
I am not sorry I quit. But only because I got through those awful 3 years and got my body, the one I am comfortable in, back. So if you have quit smoking and gained more weight than is comfortable, and you feel crazy because you know you are not overeating, I have been there. And this, too, shall pass. You are not crazy. You are not a glutton or a liar. Your body will stabilize again. Don’t quit quitting!