How to Avoid Falling into Using Food to Replace Tobacco

It’s the classic story. You stop smoking and “Bam!” Immediately the weight packs on. How did this happen? What’s going on? I have several close friends who deliberately went back to smoking because they found the weight gain so unbearable. How do you avoid this?

Presumably, you have reasons for wanting to quit smoking. Maybe you don’t like the smell? Maybe your family has complained that it’s bad for your health? Maybe it’s putting extra strain on your budget that you just don’t need. But how do you stop smoking without eating to compensate?

Increased Weight Is Common and Almost Expected

The evidence suggests that you don’t. You are likely to eat more when you first quit smoking, but that increased eating is healthy. It might feel like you are binge eating at first because you are eating more than you did when you smoked, but this isn’t necessarily binge eating. The truth is that smoking suppresses your appetite so when people are smoking, they under-eat.

This means that when you stop smoking, your BMI simply returns to a healthier (but higher) set point weight. This seems counter-intuitive. Everyone I know will attest to the fact that they gained weight when they stopped smoking. And that’s true. Most people do gain weight when they stop smoking. However, their weight rarely goes above the average for people who never smoked.

How to Reduce Anxiety About Weight Gain

So what can you do if you’ve tried to quit (possibly numerous times) but have been put off because you gained weight? Research shows that programs that help reduce anxiety about weight gain help smoking quitters to stay stopped (Perkins et al, 2001). The health consequences of quitting smoking are so beneficial that they far outweigh the problems associated with your weight returning to a healthy set point.

So, if you are thinking about quitting smoking here are some key steps;

  1. Understand nicotine addiction
  2. Know why you want to quit smoking
  3. Ask yourself the following questions
    1. How does smoking affect your health and the health of your family?
    2. What activities would getting fit help you to do?
    3. How does smoking affect your social movements and enjoyment?
    4. Do the people around you notice the smell of cigarettes on your clothes, hair, and breath?
    5. Are you cutting down on things because of the growing financial cost of cigarettes?
  4. Learn from past mistakes
  5. Work out a Quit Plan
  6. Ask for help from a professional or family and friends

Tips for Not Replacing Cigarettes with Food

You might feel like you are using food to replace tobacco. If you feel like this is the case, it might be helpful to practice some mindfulness around your eating. Some tips to consider are;

  1. Ask yourself if you’re eating because you’re hungry, anxious, lonely, bored or tired?
  2. Try to eat sitting down at the table.
  3. Prepare foods that you love to eat.
  4. Eat slowly and enjoy the smell, texture, and taste of your food.
  5. Try not to watch television or other screens while you’re eating.
  6. Think about what foods will really nourish you and help you feel positive, energetic and motivated.
  7. Listen to some relaxing music while you eat.
  8. Make the meal special like you’re on a date even if you’re eating alone.
  9. Take a moment to feel grateful and breath deeply before diving into the food.

It can be difficult if you feel like you are replacing tobacco with food when you are trying to quit smoking. If you feel like this is the case, it might help to practice some mindfulness more generally. There are a number of free mindfulness tools available on the internet, for example: Free Mindfulness, UCLA’s free meditations, University of Massachusetts Mindfulness course.

Article Contributed By: Michelle Lippey

B. Arts (Hons), B. Sci (Psych), Grad Dip. Counselling

I am a qualified Counsellor and member of the ACA (the Australian Counsellors Association. I have worked for Butterfly, Foundation for Eating Disorders in Australia for two years and specialise in my private practice treating Eating Disorders. I have frequently counselled people in remote areas around the world via Skype as well as face to face. My website is:


  • Williamson, D.F., Madans, M.S., Anda, R.F., Kleinman, J.C., Giovino, G.A., Byers, T. (1991). Smoking Cessation and the Severity of Weight Gain in a National Cohort. New England Journal of Medicine, 324:739-45.
  • Perkins, K. A. (1993). Weight Gain Following Smoking Cessation. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61 (5), 768-777. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.61.5.768
  • Perkins, K.A., Marcus, M. D., Levine, M. D., D’Amico, D., Miller, A., Broge, M., Ashcom, J., Shiffman, S. (2001) Cognitive–behavioral therapy to reduce weight concerns improves smoking cessation outcome in weight-concerned women. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69 (4), 604-613. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.69.4.604

Related Reading