Sept. 18, 2011 -- 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.
More from Rodale.com:
Kick the Habit Without Gaining Weight
Try these tips to kick the smoking habit and keep your weight steady—or even lose a few pounds in the process:
Buddy up for a book reading
Women in the study followed Body Image: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice by Thomas F. Cash, PhD, and Thomas Pruzinsky, PhD (The Guilford Press, 2004), in which they learned about their bodies and treating them right. During weekly meetings, researchers introduced a body image topic and let a group discussion follow. "Women developed a bond with one another and provided each other with a lot of support and encouragement," says Napolitano. "They started viewing each other in a positive way." If you can't find body image counseling, borrow the book from a library or persuade a few girlfriends to pitch in and buy one. Then talk together about what you've read. It could help you think about your body in a much better way.
Look in the mirror with a positive eye
Body image treatment often includes mirror exercises, in which women look at their reflections and instead of criticizing body parts, they focus on the aspects of their appearance that they admire. "What they take away from that exercise is to try to remember that our bodies enable us to live our lives in the way we want to, and to try to view our bodies as functional and as something we like—rather than focusing on the one or two things that we don't like," says Napolitano. "It's learning to be a little nicer to ourselves."
Be mindful of what you put in your mouth
Smoking is a hand-to-mouth habit, and so is eating. Women are particularly prone to look to food as a substitute for cigarettes. But you can avoid this by turning to hands-on health foods. You can snack on an orange, tangerine, or grapefruit, or crack open some nuts, to keep your hands busy while eating nutrient-packed foods. The American Cancer Society recommends that you stretch out meals by eating slowly and pausing between bites.
More from Rodale.com: