Many young, college-aged women will tell you point blank: They won't quit smoking for fear of gaining weight. But the results of a small study suggest that learning how to love your body can be very effective (even more effective than exercising alone) in mitigating that dreaded post-puff weight gain. The study was presented recently at the Society for Behavioral Medicine's annual meeting in Montreal.
What started out as an investigation into how exercise could impact smoking cessation in women ages 18 to 24 quickly switched gears to include body image therapy, too. The study was conducted in two phases. First, researchers talked to 43 young women and learned that weight gain and body image were major concerns in quitting smoking. That's when researchers decided to add a body image component for the study's second phase.
"The body image component was useful, because 44 percent of participants [had] said they would go back to smoking if they gained weight," says study author Melissa Napolitano, PhD, clinical psychologist at the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University in Philadelphia.
During stage 2, researchers took 24 college-aged women and put them into two groups: those who exercised with a group once a week and also were urged by texts and e-mails to work out independently, and those who attended a body image skills class once a week for 8 weeks. Both groups received information on healthier eating and could choose to use nicotine patches or gum Ten percent more women in the body image class stuck with quitting smoking after 1 week and lost more weight than the exercise group, as well.
"Using something like body image skills training can be helpful for smoking cessation, because it provides skills and tools to help people feel better about themselves and not turn to smoking for weight control," says Napolitano.
Women often gain 4½ to 11 pounds as they're quitting smoking, and some gain up to 28 pounds during a smoking cessation effort. But as this study shows, you can potentially lose weight when you quit. Continuing to smoke is far riskier to your health: According to a study just published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine, of the 2.5 million U.S. deaths in 2005, smoking accounted for about 20 percent of fatalities.
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