When Cigarette Smoking is Used as an Appetite Suppressant

Woman using smoking as appetite suppressant

Tobacco use in the United States continues to be the leading cause of preventable deaths, disease, and disabilities, with nearly forty million adults smoking cigarettes in our nation [1]. It is estimated that approximately sixteen million people live with a serious illness caused by tobacco smoking [1].

Tobacco use and smoking often co-occur with other mental illnesses, such as eating disorders, which can compound and intensify any potential underlying issues. The issue of tobacco use among eating disorder sufferers is much more prevalent than is recognized.

This may be related to the fact that tobacco and cigarettes are legal and accessible, compared to other substances, and perhaps even glamorized in our society.

Cigarette Smoking and Eating Disorders

While research has identified that tobacco use generally dulls appetite, there has been more recent investigation into the direct connection between cigarette smoking and eating disorders.

The idea that cigarette smoking is helpful in controlling body weight has been part of popular culture for many decades, dating back to 1930s advertisements that suggested women could smoke to help curb cravings for sweets [2].

Nicotine, the main component of cigarettes, is thought to release neurochemicals in the brain such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which work to suppress appetite and facilitate weight loss [2].

A study completed by the University of North Carolina Department of Psychiatry found that subjects with eating disorders of any type, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and purging disorder, had increased rates of smoking and higher nicotine dependence compared to controls [3].

Interesting, among the 1500+ women who participated in the study, women with bingeing and purging subtypes had the highest rates of smoking overall [3].

Researchers hypothesized that smoking in eating disorders is related to impulsivity, which is often characteristic of individuals with bulimia and binge eating disorder.

Other research has also identified how cigarette smoke is frequently turned to in attempt for weight loss, where many individuals falsely believe that smoking can either help maintain body weight, curb cravings, prevent weight gain or help with weight loss.

Woman smokingThe sad reality is that the combination of eating disorder behaviors and substance abuse via smoking can be disastrous and potentially lethal.

Smoking is often introduced in adolescence, where teenagers may be susceptible to both body changes experienced in puberty and peer pressure to try cigarettes.

This can potentially set up an individual with damaging habits for the long-term, particularly if interventions are not made early on.

Identifying Problematic Behaviors

The mental health community as a whole, health care professionals, parents and caregivers, can begin to recognize destructive patterns associated with cigarette use, particularly among adolescents and young adults.

Screening individuals who smoke cigarettes regularly can potentially help identify co-occurring eating disorders and implement strategies for treatment and recovery.

Trends that should be carefully observed among smokers include:

  • The use of cigarettes in place of food and/or eating
  • Frequent cigarette breaks during and/or after meals
  • Using cigarettes to “curb” cravings for certain foods
  • Avoiding social events due to time spent smoking

Any potential eating disorder behaviors observed along with cigarette use should not be ignored and help sought immediately.

Seeking Help and Treatment

While cigarette use and smoking has unfortunately become the norm in our culture, there should be careful attention toward individuals with eating disorders who also smoke. The combination of these behaviors can lead to devastating consequences, and addressing these issues as early as possible can help prevent a host of complications.

Woman smoking a cigaretteIdeally, treatment should be sought simultaneously for both the smoking and eating disorder issues, and many treatment programs offer support for co-occurring conditions.

Cigarette smoking may be justified as “harmless,” or perhaps brushed aside as “mild” compared to other drugs, but substance abuse in general should always be addressed in treatment to allow for healing and progress toward full recovery.

If you or someone you care for has used cigarette smoking as part of your eating disorder or in an attempt to control or manipulate your appetite and weight, consider speaking with a professional to begin your healing journey today.

Finding freedom from both substance use and an eating disorder is possible with comprehensive care and treatment for co-occurring disorders.


Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as the Director of Content and Social Media for Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH/AH and nutrition private practice.


[1]:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Smoking and Tobacco Use – Data and Statistics”, https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/

[2]:  Audrain-McGovern, J., & Benowitz, N. (2011). Cigarette Smoking, Nicotine, and Body Weight. Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 90(1), 164–168. http://doi.org/10.1038/clpt.2011.105

[3]: Anzengruber D, et al.  Smoking in eating disorders. Eat Behav 2006 Nov; 7(4): 291-9.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 11, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 7, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com