Healthy Eating

Many smokers delay quitting because they are worried about gaining weight. Building healthy eating habits can help you avoid weight gain or help you shed the pounds you may have put on after you quit.

Weight Gain

There are many reasons why people gain weight when they quit. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Smoking lowers your appetite.
  • Smoking increases your metabolism.
  • Eating can be a substitute for smoking.
  • Eating may soothe the feelings that smoking used to soothe.

The good news is that you can take charge of your weight even while quitting smoking. 

Here is some basic information on healthy eating and tips to help you reach your healthy eating goals. (For more information and resources on healthy eating, visit What's on Your Plate? Smart Food Choices for Healthy Aging.) For best results, combine healthy eating with physical activity.

Healthy Eating

Healthy eating involves eating a wide variety of foods that are high in nutrients and low in sugar and fat. When choosing what to eat, remember these healthy eating guidelines:

  • Fill up half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
  • Vary your veggies. Brighten your plate with vegetables that are red, orange, and dark green.
  • Try to choose grain products made from whole grains.
  • Choose lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans, eggs, and nuts.
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
  • Get plenty of fluids each day such as water, fat-free or low-fat milk, and low-sodium broth-based soups.
  • Limit saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.

Smoking dulls your sense of taste and smell. You will enjoy your food more after you quit. Take more time to enjoy your food, but don't eat more food.

Healthy Snacks

If you find yourself reaching for food more often, pick a sugar-free or low-calorie snack. Try some of these healthy alternatives:

  • Mix seltzer water with fruit juice.
  • Suck on low-sugar or sugar-free hard candy.
  • Munch on a graham cracker (28 calories) or a hard pretzel (24 calories).
  • Make trail mix with granola, oats, nuts, and raisins.
  • Choose sweet treats with fewer than 100 calories, like 1 cup of strawberries, a peach, a frozen fruit pop, a handful of raisins, or low-fat yogurt.

Setting Goals for Healthier Eating Habits

Don't get discouraged if you have difficulty following all the guidelines. It may take some time to make healthy eating a habit. Start by setting small goals that you know you can achieve. When you reach your goals, create new ones to challenge yourself.

Follow these 3 steps to set your goals:

  1. Think about what kinds of goals you might set. One key to setting realistic goals is to identify what you want to get out of it. Here are some examples of things you might want to achieve with healthier eating. Choose one of these, or get creative and come up with your own.
    • Learn about good nutrition.
    • Buy healthier foods.
    • Learn how to cook.
    • Learn healthier cooking techniques.
    • Try out new types of healthier foods or dishes.
    • Set a new challenge (e.g., going vegetarian once a week) to work toward.
  2. Identify 2 goals for healthier eating over the next month.
  3. Create a plan. Identify 4 steps that you will take to reach your goals for healthier eating. To reach your goals, it may help to set small goals along the way. Think of steps that are reachable, positive, under your control, and specific. For example:
    • For breakfast, add unsalted nuts, raisins, or other dried fruit to whole grain cereal.
    • For a healthy snack, add fresh fruit to a low-fat yogurt.
    • For lunch, add a vegetable to your sandwich.
    • For dinner, switch from frying foods to baking or roasting.

Not sure how to start? Learn more about how to shop smart and healthy and how to plan for healthier meals.

Remember: Even the best plans sometimes need tweaking. If you find that some of these goals aren’t as reachable as you thought, or if your current plan isn't quite working, try something new. It probably took you more than one try to find what worked best to help you quit smoking. Making changes toward healthier eating could take several tries, too.