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Beat the butt

If things start to go a little pear-shaped after you quit smoking, follow these simple steps to shed the excess flab. Dr Anjali Mukerjee suggests some interesting tips...

health and fitness Updated: Apr 30, 2009 19:32 IST

There are many people who believe that you gain weight when you stop smoking. This fear of gaining weight may lead some to delay the decision to quit smoking. If we critically evaluate the relation between smoking, body weight, body fat distribution, and insulin resistance, supported by scientific findings, we’ll find that smokers do tend to have a lower body weight than non-smokers.

Also, once you quit smoking, there is some amount of weight gain. But this gain is not much and can be dealt with easily. This weight gain poses a far lesser risk to health than those posed by smoking.

Here are the reasons you may gain weight after you quit smoking:
* Smoking increases a person’s metabolic rate by forcing the heart to beat faster by up to 10 to 20 times more per minute for a particular period of time. Thus, a smoker’s body burns up food a bit faster than a non-smoker’s. When you stop smoking , the metabolic rate drops. Even if you are eating the same kind of food and following a similar daily routine, you tend to gain some weight (usually less than 4-5 kgs)

* Nicotine is a stimulant. It interferes with the release of insulin, and thus the feeling of hunger. When you quit smoking, the food gets digested efficiently, and your appetite returns to normal.

* Very often, food becomes an emotional crutch to lean on, to ease the discomfort of withdrawal. Thus, you tend to snack more to curb the urge to smoke. This may lead to weight gain.

Why you should kick the butt
There are many good reasons for you to kick the habit. Smokers are at additional risk for artery damage, respiratory disorders, rapid skin ageing, memory loss, impotence, Alzheimer’s disease, peptic ulcers, hernia, cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Smoking affects the endocrinal system and changes the body shape, increasing the waist-to-hip ratio. Therefore, despite possibly weighing less, smokers tend to store fat in the abdomen and are usually pot-bellied with thin legs. This gives rise to the “apple” shape, which poses a bigger risk to your heart health.

You will be able to quit smoking successfully if you follow a good detoxification diet and a sound exercise regime. A detox diet is one which is high in fibrous content and fresh food, and low in fat and refined foods.

Here are some tips to keep your weight in control once you quit smoking:
* Drink plenty of fluids like fruit juices, vegetable juices and warm water throughout the day to cleanse the body. These fluids also pump in antioxidants which reduce the amount of free radicals in the body during detox.
* Replace smoking with a regular physical activity to boost your metabolism and burn calories. Exercise also breaks down the fat, releasing it into the blood stream and hence curbs the feeling of hunger. Besides walking, try out other common aerobic exercises like cycling, swimming, playing squash,
tennis, climbing stairs, spot marching, etc.
* Switch to complex carbohydrates from refined and processed ones (like maida). Include adequate amounts of fruits,vegetables, whole pulses, nuts and lean meats. Having small portions of fibre-dense foods at regular intervals will prevent hunger pangs and provide consistent energy. This is the most effective way to maintain metabolic efficiency and achieve sustained weight loss.
* Have healthy snacks like roasted chana, whole fruits, whole wheat bread sandwiches and carrot sticks as oral substitutes to deal with the psychological ties to smoking.
* Pranayam clears your lungs, purifies your blood and improves your metabolism.
* Most importantly, make the decision to quit smoking during a period of low stress, such as a vacation or the New Year.

So go ahead and kick your smoking habit without any fear of weight gain. It will benefit your life in more ways than you can imagine.

Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre