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Quit Smoking and Keep Weight Gain Down

You don't have to diet, study finds

FRIDAY, Aug. 3, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Women who want to quit smoking but don't want to gain weight at the same time shouldn't diet, new research suggests.

A University of Pittsburgh study shows female smokers who were taught not to worry about gaining some weight while quitting were not only the most successful at breaking the nicotine habit, they also packed on the fewest pounds.

Traditionally, anti-smoking counselors include diet and exercise advice in therapy for women who want to quit smoking but who are worried about weight gain, says study co-author Michele Levine.

"But that approach hasn't always been successful in preventing weight gain or smoking cessation. In this study, we didn't target their diet or exercise. We targeted their thoughts about weight gain," Levine says.

Researchers randomly assigned 219 women smokers to one of three groups. The first group received standard smoking-cessation therapy. A second group received the same therapy, plus diet advice. A third group received anti-smoking therapy, plus counseling designed to reduce concerns about gaining weight. Women in the third group were taught that the health benefits of quitting smoking were far greater than the health risks of even a large weight gain.

"We challenged the women to think about the importance of weight in their life, and the minor impact gaining 10 pounds would have on the quality of their lives," Levine says.

"We asked them: 'Wouldn't you be happier thinking of yourself as a person who is a non-smoker, who has less wrinkles, who is healthier and who will live to see your grandchildren'?" she says.

One year after treatment, 21 percent of the women who received therapy to ease their concerns about weight gain had quit smoking, compared with 13 percent in the group in which dieting was encouraged and 9 percent of those who had standard smoking-cessation therapy without diet advice.

Researchers say the real surprise came when they looked at weight gain.

Women in the third, don't-worry-about-you-weight group gained an average of 5.5 pounds after one year, compared with 11.9 pounds among women in the diet-conscious second group and 16.9 pounds in the first, standard smoking-cessation group.

Levine says, "We're not sure why. Maybe the [no-dieting] technique promoted more healthful attitudes toward eating. Maybe making people less worried and less focused on weight gain eliminates some of the bad habits of dieting, such as skipping meals."

The study appears in the August issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Dr. John Hughes, spokesman for the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, says the study is important because it's the first to test the effectiveness of teaching women not to be overly concerned with gaining a few pounds when they quit smoking.

"Prior studies have shown when smokers diet to prevent weight gain after smoking cessation, that undermines their ability to quit," says Hughes, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont. "So we have a dilemma. Many smokers don't want to gain weight when they quit, but if they diet, then they jeopardize their ability to quit."

To combat this, doctors typically recommend smokers try the nicotine patch or other drugs such as Bupropion.

"The problem is that the medication works only while you're taking it," Hughes says.

What To Do: The Internet has plenty of resources to help you quit smoking. Try Kickbutt.org, the American Lung Association or the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Interviews with Michele Levine, Ph.D., clinical psychology fellow, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh; John Hughes, M.D., spokesman, Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, Burlington, Vt.; August 2001 Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
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