“I would rather die than be fat!”

John C. Dicey
11 min readOct 6, 2022

Is it possible to cope without cigarettes as an appetite suppressant?

For more than 35 years we’ve received requests for advice by letter, email, and postcard from all over the world. We’ve answered every single one of them, and continue to do so with pleasure. I’ve undertaken to publish as many replies as I can in the hope that it will help even more people to freedom. Real-life questions from struggling smokers.

Dear John,

I’ve realised since quitting how much I used cigarettes to control my appetite and in the last 3 days I have been extraordinarily distressed that I am gaining weight and that my eating is out of control. I feel like I’ve left one prison for another.

I don’t miss smoking, I miss the tool of an appetite suppressant.

I would rather die than be fat! Help!

Joanna, Surrey, UK

Dear Joanna,

I hope you can accept my apologies for providing you with such a lengthy reply. I’m certain that if you manage to wade through it — the world will feel like a far better place.

It sounds like you’ve been on an amazing journey escaping the issues you describe, and I can imagine how worrying it must be to feel the way you do having stopped smoking. But please don’t panic — I am sure that the information below will explain why you have perhaps gained weight since quitting and more importantly — how to stop that weight gain in its tracks.

At this point I need you to understand that your belief that cigarettes act as an appetite suppressant is deeply flawed. Yes, I know it always felt that way and I know that’s how you feel at the moment — but please do open your mind to the possibility that what I am saying is true. Once I’ve explained “how” I am sure you will understand.

Is smoking really an appetite suppressant?

Well, you know yourself, you see plenty of overweight smokers — so surely if smoking was an efficient appetite suppressant or means of controlling weight — how can that be the case? More importantly, if that was the case, the more someone smoked, the slimmer they’d be — but chain-smokers tend to be the most overweight of all.

Smoking does indeed increase your metabolic rate, the rate at which your body burns calories. Glossy fitness magazines hark on endlessly about this. What they don’t tell their readers is that the impact of smoking on your metabolic rate is insignificant in terms of weight control. Think how hard and long you have to pedal on an exercise bike at the gym to burn off a few hundred calories. There simply isn’t this fat-burning, calorie-burning process going on in the body of a smoker.

It is a favourite myth of glossy magazines that smoking acts as an appetite suppressant. It seems to make sense to us as smokers. We get hungry, have a cigarette, and the hunger goes. In our mind it’s the cigarette that’s magically taken away our hunger. What we don’t realize is that, when a non-smoker ignores hunger for a couple of minutes, their hunger also disappears. Non-smokers don’t give the credit for this to cigarettes; but for smokers, it confirms the myth that smoking suppresses appetite. They ignore the fact that, when they experience more severe hunger, a cigarette won’t do the trick. And it never did.

Hunger and appetite is an extraordinary thing and it’s essential that you understand that a) smoking never acted as an appetite suppressant (even though it appeared to do so), b) ignoring a hunger pang leads to that hunger pang simply disappearing, and c) mistaking a hunger pang for REAL hunger and responding to it by eating food is fulfilling no physical need whatsoever.

There is no genuine hunger, no need to eat anything at all, and more importantly, the result is weight gain.

Phantom Hunger

The situation is made harder by the fact that boredom, or an idle thought, or even slight anxiety, create feelings so similar to hunger. Eating will never truly relieve those feelings, neither will a cigarette, and if we use food to attempt to counter them (albeit mistakenly believing the feelings are caused by hunger) all it does is cause us to overeat.

Overeating = eating in response to something other than genuine hunger.

It does sound like at those times — since you quit smoking — you’ve been substituting, i.e. eating or drinking instead of smoking.

I hope that makes sense…and that you can see how you’ve been fooled into thinking that smoking acted as an appetite suppressant. Once you’ve understood it — you can counter it and no longer be vulnerable to it.

It might not be boredom or anxiety that is causing you to substitute (to eat at a time that you would’ve previously smoked a cigarette) it can be something as simple as a thought. The great thing about thoughts is that you can decide how to react to them — they are not controlled by any drug. I’ll explain more about that in a moment…

The Lap of Honour

There are only three other explanations for you experiencing weight gain having eaten more since you stopped smoking. The first is what I call the ‘lap of honour’. This is where someone has no desire to smoke — they are finding it easy — but begin to use their success and joy about having quit smoking as an excuse to treat themselves to all sorts of things they wouldn’t normally eat or drink. The attitude is very much, “Awww I have done SO well — I am not smoking — I should reward myself by having that biscuit, that cake…that cake…that pastry…that chocolate…”, and so on.

It is easy to imagine how this thought process can lead to over-eating — it’s like a sudden ‘green light’ to eat all sorts of things that you would normally, as a result of a logical thought process, avoid eating.

Actually, worse than that — it can quickly create and then perpetuate a feeling of deprivation that was never there in the first place….creating a substitution issue all of its own. The thought process becomes, “I can’t smoke — I’ll eat THIS instead”.

The fact is that you are NOT someone who CAN’T smoke. You are someone who has decided that they DON’T WANT to smoke.

That’s a subtle but important difference…and it’s easier to allow one’s thought processes to slip into the former rather than to happily assert the latter.

If this sounds like your situation — be cool — put the “brakes on” your lap of honour and start making the same decisions about what you will eat as you made whilst a smoker. The lap of honour is over and it’s time to move on with your life and just rejoice at being a happy non-smoker. You will find this process easy — as long as you accept all of the above and follow the guidance and advice below.

Ups and Downs

The penultimate issue causing an increase in food intake and weight may be that you have experienced peaks and troughs in your weight throughout your lifetime. Ups and downs in how controlled about your food intake you have been. Is it possible that your current predicament is something that has also previously occurred while you were a smoker? In this kind of case, we often find ourselves wanting to blame a period of increased food consumption and weight gain on something like having stopped smoking rather than just realizing that it’s actually just a normal pattern of our life. If this sounds like it applies to you — be sure to use whatever healthy regime it is that you have used in the past to ensure you remained comfortable about your food intake and weight.

Tickling Taste Buds

The last remaining possible cause of overeating and weight gain could be that having stopped smoking your taste buds have returned to normal and you are really enjoying your food much more. It happens very quickly and if this is the case — as long as there is no feeling of being deprived of cigarettes — it is easy to remedy.

Firstly, you’ll soon be taking your newfound taste buds for granted (you soon consider them normal and go back to eating normally). How long is it after wearing a smashing new coat that it just becomes a coat rather than anything special? In the meantime, make sure you concentrate on eating foods which you can enjoy without guilt — this is pretty easy — particularly because you will find the taste of fresh fruit, salads and vegetables truly amazing now. Please note — this is not a green light for substitution — this is only relevant if you are finding it easy not to smoke and need to accept that your taste buds have been tweaked for a while. You can enjoy your food more — just make sure your selections are right.

With all the above in mind — we now need to address how you react to thinking about cigarettes or smoking. I suspect this is what lays behind the substitution issue, appetite suppressant myth etc.

First though — an exercise.

Write on a page a record of what it was about your life as a smoker which made you want to stop. Make sure you write it in the past tense. It is what you escaped from so it must be in the past tense.

I’d like you to expand on it also. For example, you could say “life as a smoker smells” which is true — but it is probably more accurate and truthful to say, “life as a smoker — my body, my breath, my clothes, my home, my hair stank and made me feel dirty”. It is important that you say what smelt, how did it smell, and how did it make you feel — all in the past tense because it is what you have escaped from.

Do this with all the aspects of your life as a smoker. For example, you could say, “it controlled my life, what I did, when I did it, and how I felt when I was doing it and that made me feel weak”.

Once you’ve done that for every aspect of your life as a smoker, I want you to keep that record to hand, in your purse or your wallet because I want you to refer to it at certain times.

REWIRE Your Brain

Lastly, as I’ve alluded to a couple of times, make sure that you get comfortable that you are going to think about cigarettes or smoking — even though you probably feel worried that you might think about them too much at the moment — but ‘worrying about it’ is the problem. I’ll explain…

For starters — if you try not to think about it — you will think about it even more!

If I say, “WHATEVER YOU DO — YOU MUSTN’T THINK ABOUT A BANANA NOW”, you are almost certainly thinking about a banana!

It doesn’t matter if you think about cigarettes — even if you think, “I WANT ONE”, it doesn’t mean that you do.

Some people find this difficult to accept but it is true. Think about it for a moment. If you were arguing with a friend — at the height of the argument you might think, “I COULD KILL YOU NOW!”. That doesn’t mean that you could REALLY kill them — it doesn’t make you a bad person — it’s just a thought. It’s what you do with the thought that matters.

It is very much like, for example, if parked your car in the same parking space every day for a year, at work or at home, and after a year your parking space was moved one space down. You wouldn’t be at all surprised if you parked your car in the old parking space by accident. Neither would you worry about it. And it wouldn’t bother you if it happened a dozen times in a row.

When that happened — you wouldn’t turn the engine off, throw your hands in the air and think to yourself “DAMN — I’M INFATUATED WITH THIS PARKING SPACE — I’M EMOTIONALLY ATTACHED TO IT — I CAN’T POSSIBLY PARK MY CAR IN THE NEW SPACE!”. In fact, you would just re-park your car. It doesn’t mean you want to park in one space rather than the other one — it just means that your brain has forgotten that your parking space has moved.

And that is all that is happening if you think about cigarettes after you’ve stopped — it doesn’t mean you want one — it just means your brain has forgotten that you’ve stopped, which after years of smoking isn’t surprising. At that point rather than worrying about it, or panicking about it, or trying not to think about it, OR reaching for food, welcome it and think to yourself, “GREAT I’M A NON SMOKER”, and feel good about it. If you need a nudge in the right direction this is an excellent time to read your record of what life was like as a smoker. The idea is not to be scared and think, “OH NO! I MUSTN’T SMOKE OR I’LL HAVE TO GO BACK TO THAT!”, the idea is to look at it and smile — it is a description of what you have escaped from.

I hope that all makes sense to you Joanna — you’ve done an amazing thing in so many ways. If you can understand all the above, complete the exercise, and enjoy re-wiring your brain (in the same way as you might if you parked your car in the wrong parking space) you’re going to be fine and dandy.

Please do let me know if you have any questions or are unsure about anything — but other than that — congratulations on being a happy non-smoker and even more congratulations on taking back control of your food intake and weight.

Best wishes

John at Allen Carr

From the desk John C. Dicey, Global CEO & Senior Therapist, Allen Carr’s Easyway, London, England.

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John C. Dicey

Former 80-a-day smoker who was freed by Allen Carr. Now Global CEO & Senior Therapist at Allen Carr’s Easyway (since 1998) & co-author of Allen Carr books.