Study suggests that insulin may drive weight gain after stopping smoking

I am away at the moment and have limited time and internet access. So this post, as well as anything else I write this week is going to be short and sweet.

I saw this story today which is concerned with the weight gain that often comes after stopping smoking. In this particular study, 3 months after smokers had stopped, their weight and fat mass had increased by 4 and 22 per cent respectively. At 6 months, these figures had risen to an average of 5 and 35 per cent. Not good. But the point of this study was to assess the mechanisms behind this phenomenon.

What this study showed is that insulin secretion after challenge with glucose rose. In all likelihood, this means when individuals ate food, they secreted more insulin than before – an insulin is a hormone which has a major role in determining how much fat gets stored in the body.

But there’s another problem with insulin, in that it lowers blood sugar levels. Now, while this is one of it’s jobs, surges of insulin run the risk of episodes of low blood sugar which can trigger ‘false’ hunger and food cravings (usually for chocolate or other sweet foodstuffs). Also, we don’t even need low blood sugar to trigger hunger – all is required is for blood sugar levels to be falling quite quickly. This is perhaps why individuals can sometimes feel a craving for sweet foods immediately after a meal.

Anyway, low and behold, it was found in this study that, in general, those who had stopped smoking were more drawn to eating carbohydrate at a free buffet (which is exactly what you expect in individuals secreting copious quantities of insulin.

What can individuals stopping smoking do to help this situation? I’d suggest as much as possible adopting a diet that is not going to compound the insulin surges and blood sugar disruption that they’re at increased risk of at least transiently after stopping smoking. This looks like a diet based on natural ‘primal’ foods including meat, fish, eggs, nuts, non-starchy vegetables and perhaps a little fruit. Who knows, such a diet may well not only help to prevent weight gain after stopping smoking, but will likely lead to healthier weight control and improved overall health in time too.

10 Responses to Study suggests that insulin may drive weight gain after stopping smoking

  1. Jo 11 May 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Yes, I gained weight after quitting smoking and only managed to lose some of it by going primal. Still carrying around the spare tyre I gained. Taubes in GCBC posited a theory on weight gain after quitting smoking which was more involved than just an insulin response. Sorry I don’t have the book to reference it, but it made sense to me.

  2. Emma Styles 11 May 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    What a brilliant article, I live in the UK and following Paleo when giving up smoking has meant I have lost 28lbs in 3 months, I have now been smoke free for 8 weeks also. The amazing thing is the craving for sugar feels very much like a craving for nicotine, it shows just how toxic the substance can be.

  3. Frederica Huxley 11 May 2012 at 9:04 pm #

    Interesting article, as many people (myself included) tended to max out on the sweeties while fighting the urge to smoke again! Bad, bad idea. It took my husband and myself a good year and a half to off load the extra weight from giving up smoking.

  4. Jarray 12 May 2012 at 12:22 am #

    I have been smoke free for just over 3 years now and whole heartedly put my success down to eating Paleo style with a massive emphasis on NO SUGAR. I came across a 2nd hand book called ‘Sugar Blues’ By William Dufty (Published in the 60′s) and there was a chapter that sparked interest for me called Reach for a lucky instead of a sweet, which informed me of a tobacco process where they use sugar for curing. Interesting.

    Al in all, one is better equipped to deflect cravings when the brain is kept healthy and happy and I believe the healthy fats I eat (animal fat, olive oil, butter, avocados, cream) keep my blood sugar balanced and my brain nourished. It has been amazing. I also supplement with B12, Vit D and omega 3′s for the same reason.

  5. Jarray 12 May 2012 at 12:27 am #

    Oh, and also as important, I trimmed down and I now stay a sustained great weight.

  6. Galina L. 12 May 2012 at 1:16 am #

    Many people who appreciate benefits of low-carbohydrate eating, still recommend very-low-carbs diets for only “sick” people (Dr. Emily Dean is a good example), however, the list of conditions which require VLC to manage is growing. For example, I use ketosis to manage migraines, but simultaneously it completely takes care of pre-menopause symptoms(all of it) Your article adds quitting smoking to the long list of the conditions that require LC diet.

  7. Helen 16 May 2012 at 8:02 pm #

    @Galina – I came across Dr Briffa only a few months ago, but I had been easing in to a ‘stone age’ diet for quite some time, i.e. by cutting right down on starchy carbs as well as sugar, on the advice of Dr Sarah Myhill. Now I appear to be in menopause I am reaping the benefit of the diet: no hot flushes. Dr Myhill’s website has an interesting explanation for this – it’s the action of insulin that’s responsible for this symptom. Do have a look at her site.

    Now, the rapid menopausal weight gain is altogether harder to tackle, even on a primal diet. No progress in sight!

  8. Galina L. 18 May 2012 at 12:28 am #

    Helen,
    Thank you for the recommending another interesting blog, I will definitely read it.
    I think that besides eating LC diet, I also benefit from completely avoiding snacks and eating in the narrow eating window(6 – 8 h.). I also fast 22-24 hours once a week http://gettingstronger.org/2010/11/learning-to-fast/ , it also makes insulin lower as well. Many people don’t realize that it is still possible to over-eat LC foods, they got used to snack often on previous “balanced” diet and don’t utilize in full the advantage of LC diet to keep people not hungry for hours. We all got used to eating too much food.

  9. Carol 25 May 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Do you think there is a correlation to the sugar soaked tobacco and the craving for carbs when giving up smoking? I gave up sugar in coffee a few weeks beforehand and have to say, I missed the sugar dreadfully but giving up smoking has been simple…I think the two are related. I have a gained a couple of kgs but I put this down to giving up work at the same time so have become more sedentary. We went low carb when I stopped smoking too.

  10. rick 1 September 2013 at 1:50 am #

    I gave up smoking in Feb 2011 and have put on around 60lbs since quitting

    I am an anxiety / comfort effort eater and I eat as often as I used to smoke i.e when I feel anxious I eat now, when before I lit one up

    have recently started an 18-6 fasting-eating plan and that’s working well, I don’t get hungry and
    I’m not comfort eating

    need to lose around 80 to 100lbs total

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