Smokers who plan to quit are often concerned about the weight gain that often accompanies it. A recent study has uncovered a potential explanation for this occurrence.

According to the study results presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity, which evaluated data from more than 80,000 UK adults, smokers tend to eat less and stick to unhealthy eating habits compared to nonsmokers.

"Quitting smoking is undoubtedly a positive move for overall health, but it can introduce challenges related to diet. Nicotine suppresses appetite and increases metabolism, which can help smokers with weight control. Yet, cessation often results in increased appetite and cravings, leading to potential weight gain," the researchers wrote in the journal published in BMC Public Health.

The study participants were divided into two groups based on their status as smokers or non-smokers. The age, sex, socioeconomic status, smoking status, usual eating, and dietary behaviors were estimated based on questionnaires. The BMI of the participants was measured during the health assessments.

The results showed several interesting facts about the eating habits of smokers compared to nonsmokers:

  • Smokers are two times more likely to skip meals.
  • They are 35% less likely to snack between meals and do not typically eat food as a reward or out of boredom, compared to non-smokers.
  • They are 50% more likely to go more than three hours without food.
  • They tend to have fewer meals per day and find it hard to leave something on their plate.
  • They are 8% more likely to eat fried food, 70% more likely to add salt, and 36% more likely to add sugar to meals.

The researchers noted that these relationships are stronger in older individuals compared to younger adults. The likelihood of adding salt and sugar to meals was stronger in males compared to females, making male smokers more susceptible to poor eating habits.

"The worry of gaining weight is a common reason for smokers not attempting to quit or being unsuccessful in their attempts to quit smoking. Our findings indicate that smoking is associated with eating behavior patterns consistent with reduced food intake and worse diet quality, characterized by frequent intake of fried food and adding salt and sugar to meals. This could help explain the weight gain commonly observed when people stop smoking," said chief investigator Dr Scott Willis in a news release.

The researchers say the results call for better nutritional and weight management assistance for those attempting to quit smoking.