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Smoking vs. weight gain: Which is worse for you?

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What’s stopping you from ditching cigarettes for good? It might be your worry about weight gain, suggests a new study from Penn State University researchers.

The study looked at nearly 300 frequent smokers and found that over half of them had gained weight--an average of 22 pounds--when they tried to quit previously. This past experience often prevented smokers from trying to quit a second time, says study coauthor Susan Veldheer.

Here’s why dropping your cigarettes puts your gut in danger. Quitters have increased appetites because nicotine suppresses your urge to eat, and nicotine also stimulates your metabolism, so without it, your body may burn fewer calories. And then there’s your hand-to-mouth habit--ex-smokers may sub in snacks just because they need that pattern. 

Eat more, stay full longer, and still lose serious weight with these 7 Ways to Outsmart Hunger.

Don't be fooled, however. The health benefits from quitting--such as lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease--outweigh any negatives from gaining a modest 5 to 10 pounds, suggests a 2013 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

You know going cold turkey is difficult, but FDA-approved nicotine replacement medications like the nicotine patch, lozenge, inhaler, or nasal spray dial down withdrawal symptoms so your appetite doesn't go haywire. Using a combo--a nicotine replacement therapy and medication like bupropion (a.k.a. Zyban) that helps with cravings--also helped people gain less weight compared to those on one drug or placebo, suggests a 2013 study in Addictive Behaviors. 

If you’re still puffing, it’s time to kick ash for good. Start with these five proven strategies to help you quit smoking.

Another strategy? Keep your focus on dropping the tobacco first since trying to quit and diet at the same time is a recipe for disaster. “As anyone who has ever tried to quit smoking knows, it’s a difficult thing to do and takes a lot of focus and energy,” says Veldheer. So you may want to hone your efforts on quitting for several weeks and accept a little bit of weight gain. Then once you’re sure of your success with putting down those cigs, work on losing that excess weight, she says. 

Here are the six dieting traps most likely to trip you--and ways to avoid them.

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