Staying healthy while stopping smoking

a photo of Caroline Wood
Head of Behavioural Insights and Research at Bupa UK
02 August 2023
Next review due August 2026

Sometimes, stopping smoking can lead you to pick up other unhealthy habits. Because giving up smoking can be hard, it might be tempting to reach for food or alcohol to help you cope. Here I’ll share some tips about how to stay healthy while stopping smoking.

a woman cooking in the kitchen

Eat well

You might find your eating habits change once you have given up cigarettes, and lots of people notice that they gain weight. This can be for several reasons.

  • Smoking speeds up your metabolism, so you might be used to eating larger portions than you now need.
  • Smoking can reduce your appetite, so stopping smoking makes you feel hungrier.
  • Your sense of taste and smell might improve, making food more enjoyable.
  • You might eat to cope with the stress of nicotine cravings.
  • You might be eating as a way to keep your hands and mouth busy.

If you find that you’re hungrier after stopping smoking, try to make sure you are eating regularly. Focus on healthy balanced meals and snacks throughout the day. You might find it helpful to keep healthy snacks within easy reach. When you eat, try to be mindful; focus on the food that you are enjoying and pay attention to signs you are full.

It’s also important to stay hydrated, because sometimes we can confuse feeling thirsty with feeling hungry. Fill a water bottle up first thing in the morning and try to take small sips regularly throughout the day.

It’s also useful to remember that even if you do gain some weight, the benefits of stopping smoking are far more important for your health.

Stay active

If you’ve recently stopped smoking, doing more exercise might help you stay smoke-free. Setting exercise goals can help distract you from focusing on your cravings. Try taking movement breaks instead of smoking breaks to create new, healthier routines.

Exercising can also be a great way to give your mood a boost, and you might find it easier now you are no longer smoking. Increasing your exercise may also help to minimise any weight gain.


Some people find they drink more alcohol when they give up smoking. Because of this, it’s important to be aware of your drinking habits.

When drinking alcohol, you should aim to have no more than 14 units per week. One unit is roughly equivalent to:

  • half a pint of beer or lager
  • a single shot of spirits
  • a small glass of wine

If you regularly drink 14 units a week, try to space out your drinks over three or more days.

Keeping an eye on your drinking habits might also help you to stay away from cigarettes. People are more likely to smoke when they’ve had an alcoholic drink. When you’re drinking, try to do so slowly, alternating with water or soft drinks.

Situations like parties and special occasions can be difficult to navigate as an ex-smoker and make it harder to avoid temptation. Try to think of some other ways to spend time with friends and family, like going for a walk or meeting in a smoke-free venue.

Mental health

People who quit smoking tend to be less stressed and anxious than those who continue. However, the early stages of quitting can be difficult to cope with.

As your body goes through nicotine withdrawal, you might find that you feel tense, anxious or irritable. These are normal reactions to stopping smoking. Try to look after your mental health by doing things you find relaxing like watching a film, reading, or taking a bath.

Make sure that you still set aside time for a break, even though you’re no longer taking cigarette breaks. You might find taking up a hobby, learning a new skill, or reading a book helps you to relax.

Getting help

It’s important to remember that stopping smoking can be very difficult. If you find yourself starting unhealthy behaviours during this time, try not to be too hard on yourself. Be mindful of your choices and try to stay as healthy as you can.

There are also some things which may help you to become smoke-free.

  • Stop smoking services offering one-to-one help, as well as group sessions, where you can talk about quitting and how it’s effecting you.
  • Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as patches or gum, which might reduce your withdrawal symptoms.
  • Medicines such as bupropion or varenicline which are available on prescription and can reduce your cravings.
  • Using e-cigarettes (also known as vaping). These are considered less harmful than smoking cigarettes and many people find them helpful, however they are not risk-free.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

a photo of Caroline Wood
Caroline Wood
Head of Behavioural Insights and Research at Bupa UK



Julia Ebbens, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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