Smoking and Weight Loss: Is it possible to lose weight with smoking?


Is Nicotine Truly a Weight Loss Solution for the Future?

The first professional bodybuilder I ever met long before I ever attended or competed in a bodybuilding contest was a guy named Jerry Winick. I was only 12 years old and had dabbled in weight training but not to any serious degree. Then one day at the Jewish Community House in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, I watched the reaction that Winick elicited as he walked the halls of the JCH toward the weight room. "Look at that guy! He's an animal," was a typical sotto voce comment made as a shirtless Winick strode by with pecs pumping and lats flaring. Watching people react to Winick's physique left a profound impression on my young psyche - an effect far more potent than endless viewings of Steve Reeves' Hercules films.

When I talked to him, Winick proved to be personable and provided a few helpful hints. He had placed second to Larry Scott at the 1962 IFBB Mr. America contest, and he regaled me with stories of visiting Joe Weider at Joe's headquarters, which were then in Union City, New Jersey. But the thing that really stands out in my mind about Winick, besides his great physique, was the shock I experienced while casually chatting with him outside the JCH one day. He did something that stunned me, leaving me slack-jawed and speechless: He lit up a cigarette. Then he smoked two more.

Magazines such as Joe Weider's MUSCLE BUILDER! POWER constantly warned about the health dangers of smoking. In fact, I recall that Joe was preaching about eschewing cigarettes long before it became de rigueur.

Later, when I became a competitive body- builder myself, I continued to be amazed whenever I saw a bodybuilder smoke. I noticed that this habit was particularly common among European bodybuilders. Finally, I asked one top European pro why he smoked. "I do it just before contests," he replied, in the gathering haze of tobacco smoke, "because it helps me get cut."

What a cheap excuse for a bad habit, I thought at the time. But over the years, I've noticed that people who quit smoking invariably gain weight, usually in the form of bodyfat. Obviously, smoking helps allay the accumulation of bodyfat. At first, I thought it might be the result of a tobacco toxin, such as nicotine, inhibiting appetite.

As it turns out, recent studies concerning the effects of smoking on bodyfat deposition display contradictory results. Some studies, for example, show that smokers tend to have increased body- fat stores in the central, or trunk, region of the body. Other metabolic abnormalities coexist with this type of increased fat deposition, such as glucose intolerance and elevated blood fats. Other studies, however, show that the latter two effects are independent of increased bodyfat as a result of smoking.

Still other studies indicate that nicotine found in tobacco products slightly increases energy expenditure in individuals who are sedentary and, more significantly, individuals who are exercising. With regular smoking, however, this increased metabolism seems to subside. People who stop smoking for a month show a 10% drop in oxygen consumption - an indication of decreased metabolism.

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (80;2181-2185, 1995) centered on a group of healthy young volunteers who each smoked 10 cigarettes. The subjects exhibited increased fat burning with increased nicotine intake.

So, what is it about smoking that may affect fat-burning?

A recent study involving rats appears to solve the mystery. The rats were infused with either saline (salt solution) or nicotine for one week. The rats infused with. nicotine gained 37% less weight and had 21% smaller fat pads than their counterparts did. Their rate of fat-burning was a whopping 78% higher than the salt-solution group. The nicotine rats also showed a 30% decrease in the activity of lipoprotein lipase, a fat-cell-synthesizing enzyme. The conclusion of this animal study was that "nicotine diverts fat storage away from adipose tissue towards utilization by muscle." So we should all light up, right? Not so fast. Nicotine is extremely addicting. It's also a deadly poison. Besides the well-known risks of smoking, such as developing cancer and cardiovascular disease, other elements in tobacco, such as carbon monoxide, can tie up the oxygen-delivery system, impede energy production and produce premature fatigue. These effects, however, are often masked by the stimulant effects of nicotine.

Any way you look at it, smoking to lose or maintain weight just isn't worth the risk. The negative factors clearly outweigh any virtues. And Jerry Winick? I heard that he married one of Joe Weider's secretaries and quit training. I hope he also quit smoking.

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