In Life After Cigarettes, I mentioned my one-time wish to create a website to which a woman smoker could upload a current photograph. The idea was to use age-progression software—what the police use to visualize how someone who has been missing for several years might look now—to project two different outcomes: how she would look in ten or twenty years if she continued to smoke, vs how she would look if she quit smoking today. “The keep-on-smoking version would have more wrinkles, grayer hair, and other signs of more rapid aging than the stop-smoking version. The smoker would probably be slightly thinner but also—the flip side of thinner—more haggard and less shapely.”
I never had the chance to carry out this project, but here's a website that will allow you – not to visualize yourself in ten years, but at least to get an idea of your body shape in a few weeks or months if you quit smoking now and gain a few pounds as a result. You can either upload a photo of yourself or modify the model in the picture to reflect your current body shape by entering your weight and height. Note: I have no connection with this site or with Redbook. For all I know, there are many similar sites out there. Redbook created the site to show how you’d look if you lost a few (or many) pounds, but it works in reverse as well. I have no idea what algorithm they used to accomplish the morph nor how accurate it is, but it’s good enough for the present purpose.
Once you’ve entered your current weight and height, go ahead and dial it up ten pounds; or add a unit of BMI (5-7 pounds, depending on your height), which the site also allows you to do. I think you’ll be surprised. I think you’ll see it’s not all that big a deal, compared with the myriad improvements in your appearance and health that you’ll gain along with that handful of pounds.
Because this website fouses solely on weight, what it doesn’t show you is the beauty bonuses you’ll see as soon as you quit smoking: no more cigarette burns on your clothes, no smell of tobacco smoke in your hair, no nicotine-stained nails and fingertips, whiter teeth, fresher breath – the list goes on and on.
It also doesn’t show you the longer-term benefits for how you look and feel – fewer wrinkles, less gray hair, clearer voice, more feminine body shape, more energy, less stooped posture – marks of aging that happen earlier if you smoke than if you don’t.
But wait, what if you gain more than ten pounds? Please remember, the odds are very good that you, like the majority of quitters, will end up within the ten-pound window, particularly if you follow the suggestions I’ve made in Life After Cigarettes and elsewhere in this blog. Even a blip of two or three pounds the first week after quitting doesn’t presage out-of-control weight gain; it’s just your body readjusting to the loss of nicotine’s effects on appetite and blood volume. A few women may need some additional help in managing or adjusting to their new weight, but most of you just need to concentrate on growing into your virtual body, the one you see on your computer screen, and enjoying it.
Cynthia S. Pomerleau, Ph.D., is currently research professor emerita in the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. From 1985 to 2009 she served as director of the Nicotine Research Laboratory, where much of her research focused on the impact of smoking on women. She is the author of more than a hundred articles and book chapters on smoking and a contributor to the 2001 Surgeon General’s Report on Women and Smoking.