Whenever you see models puffing away on their Marlboro Lights or even school girls sneaking a cigarette, the excuse more often than not is that it helps them lose weight either by suppressing their appetite or speeding up their metabolism. But does smoking really increase your metabolic rate and enables you to control our weight more easily?
Some studies have shown that smoking does indeed increase our basal metabolic rate – the rate at which calories are burned by the body each day as it takes care of essential functions such as the rhythm of the heart, breathing, digestion, thoughts and movement.
Around 60-75% of our daily calorie expenditure can be accounted for by basic bodily functions and experts believe that one way smoking raises metabolic rate is by stimulating the nervous system to produce catecholamines – hormones which cause the heart to beat faster, thus making the body burn more calories. Nicotine also produces more thermogenesis, the process by which the body produces heat. This too, causes the body to use up more calories.
Some research suggests that the increase in metabolic rate during smoking could equate to smokers burning up to 200 extra calories a day more than non-smokers.
Examining all the evidence together it would seem that each cigarette smoked will contribute to a temporary increase in the metabolic rate and that the more you smoke, the higher a proportion of the timeyou will be experiencing this faster running metabolism. But does this actually help you control your weight more easily?
Many believe that smoking suppresses the appetite and that smokers eat less than non-smokers. In fact, most studies comparing the calorie intake of smokers and non-smokers show that smokers actually eat as much or more than non-smokers. The reason they are sometimes able to manage their weight more easily is not that they eat less but rather that they burn off more of the calories consumed due to their metabolism running faster when they smoke.
The increase in metabolism while smoking may also explain why some people gain weight when they quit. It is true that many ex-smokers reach for more food than they are used to just to fill the gaps created by not using cigarettes, but even those who maintain a steady amount of food will run the risk of increasing in weight due to the fact that their metabolism is now running at normal speed for most of the time now rather than being artificially boosted by smoking.
So, rather than smokers being their ‘normal’ weight when they smoke and then gaining weight when they stop, it may be more accurate to say that smokers may be artificially slim while they are smokers and then they return to what is a more natural weight when their metabolism is allowed to regulate itself without interference from nicotine. Longer term studies comparing people who smoke for a period and then give up with people who never smoke show little difference in weight gain at the conclusion of the studies though those who smoke experience periods of being thinner.
Having said all that, smoking does not rank highly as a weight management strategy. Exercise and healthy eating will guarantee you positive results in this area by speeding up your metabolism but without any of the potentially fatal and critical negatives such as lung cancer, emphysema, leg amputation, heart disease, clots in the lung, stroke, infertility……the list goes one. And of course, shortened life span.