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Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.

I quit smoking 3 months ago and I have gained 20 pounds. I have been working out and eating right, but I get frustrated when I notice there is no change in my weight at all and then I stop at Taco Bell 'cause I'm mad! My doc told me that I need to give my body some time to adjust to not smoking and that it would be awhile before I will notice any weight loss. I cannot fit in any of my clothes and I don't know what to do. Should I just maintain my normal workout pattern or should I step it up?

(Article continued below.)

You've given one big clue as to what the problem may be: I get frustrated when I notice there is no change in my weight at all and then I stop at Taco Bell 'cause I'm mad! If you are trying to lose weight, taking out your frustrations this way will only cause you grief. Let's take a closer look at smoking and weight gain, and figure out what can be done about it.

Smoking cigarettes does a couple of things to keep a person thin (or thinner than they might be under normal circumstances) - it suppresses your appetite and it gives you something to do with your hands and mouth. Nicotine also raises your metabolism slightly. So when you quit, the appetite suppressant is gone, your metabolism slows down a bit and you're generally tempted to put something in your mouth other than a cigarette. If that thing is extra food, then it's only logical that you are going to gain weight. The actual truth is that people gain an average of 5 to 10 pounds when they quit smoking (although some people don't gain anything at all, and others, believe it or not, actually lose weight). Those extra pounds, however, tend to disappear after about a year, leaving you back where you started when you had freshly quit (only healthier). Those who gain more than 10 pounds after quitting smoking generally gain because they are consuming more calories.

So think about it - are you replacing the smoking with something else? A couple of indulgent trips a week to Taco Bell, combined with any other high-calorie snacks (chips, chocolate, pastries, etc.) can add up significantly. Try keeping a food diary for a couple of weeks, and list every morsel you consume. Even if you are sure you are eating right (at least most of the time), you may find a few surprises, and it could inspire you to make some modifications to your current diet. Ideally, people who are considering quitting smoking should keep a food diary before and after they quit so that they can become aware of any dangerous eating behaviors that may develop later on, and make adjustments.

In addition, your Taco Bell comment suggests that you are eating emotionally at least now and again, and you may want to examine that. You should eat when you are hungry, not when you are angry or moody. What can you do instead of reach for food? That's something you'll have to examine for yourself - maybe you should keep a journal and write about your feelings (regarding food and other things), or call up a friend. Maybe if you're really mad, you could beat up a pillow (at least that would burn up some calories!). Perhaps you should up your cardio, or take some kickboxing classes, just as a release.

You don't say whether you had already been working out before you quit, of if this is something you began after you stopped smoking. Nor do you say how long you work out, or how many days a week you do it. So it's hard to say whether you should intensify your exercise program. The important thing when it comes to exercise is consistency, so work out as often as is comfortable for you, and don't try to force yourself to do a lot more than that - that may backfire, and you could end up not exercising at all. Just make sure you do both cardio and weight training (not necessarily on the same days), stretch when you're done, and consider supplementing your exercise with a Yoga or Pilates class for flexibility and added toning. If you would like to step it up, go ahead, but don't stress out about it. Just the fact that you are exercising regularly is a very good thing. Keep it up.

Even though you are having a battle with your weight at the moment, you should congratulate yourself for quitting smoking - you've done great things for your health! You've lessened your risk of respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, premature wrinkling and a host of other ailments, big and small. Cigarettes have thousands of toxins, and smoking them is one of the worst things you can do to your body. The negative affects from smoking make those 20 extra pounds pale in comparison. If you make adjustments to your diet and still are not seeing results, ask your doctor about it, but you may not be as far off track as you may believe. When your doctor says to give your body time to adjust to your nonsmoking lifestyle, it's worth listening to that advice.

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