Study suggests that insulin may drive weight gain after stopping smoking

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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.

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