I began smoking cigarettes as a teenager because I wanted to be thin. I was a semi-pro ballet dancer. One of my teachers smoked. She was thin. To my 17-year-old mind, that made sense. And the alternative weight loss methods I saw being used by other dancers (bulimia, anorexia, drug abuse) seemed like bad news.
So began a horrible habit that would last 25 years. I never once tried to quit during that time because I told myself when the time came, there would be no going back. There would be no relapsing.
That day came in 2014. Sort of.
The e-cigarette thing was booming, so I took the plunge – scary as it was. I spent a couple weeks vaping, slowly weaning my way off cigarettes until I no longer wanted them. But it would take another three years of vaping to kick nicotine altogether.
On January 30, 2017, I became fully nicotine free. I don’t need to tell any smokers here what an absolute nightmare that first week was – the irritability, insomnia, and overall doomsday feeling that hanged around until the monkey finally got off my back. It sucked.
Here’s what didn’t happen: The American Cancer Society says people gain on average 10 pounds after quitting smoking. I have actually lost 14 pounds (and counting) since I quit nicotine altogether.
Here’s how I did it:
1. I replaced smoke/vape breaks at work with brisk walking. Yes, I know every single advice column on quitting puts this on the list, but doggone it – it works for me, so there it is. I stand up and leave my office once every two hours to walk around the neighborhood and then walk a couple of miles on my lunch break. I have comfortable shoes sitting under my desk for the long walks. I clock at least four miles a day (around 10,000 steps) at work.
2. I developed an Apple Watch activity ring obsession. I don’t know what it is, but something seems wrong with my world if I can’t complete those move/exercise rings. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, the rings symbolize how much activity you’ve done throughout the day, whether it’s rising from your desk for a minute, sitting on your butt doing nothing, or jogging five miles. Don’t have an Apple Watch? There’s plenty of activity tracker alternatives like FitBit that can motivate you!
3. I count calories – RELIGIOUSLY.
This may be a no-brainer for you, but it really didn’t sink in for me until I downloaded My Fitness Pal. This app has pretty much turned my life upside down. It influences what restaurants I go to, what I cook at home, and even how much water I drink!
The concept is simple: set a daily calorie allowance, offset it with calories burned from exercise, and make sure you stay under the allowance (operate at a deficit).
The more accurately you track your calories, the higher likelihood you’re going to see your weight decrease. You may be saying, “That sounds like a pain in the neck. Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Okay, fair enough.
But ask yourself, do you know with absolute certainty whether you burned more calories than you consumed yesterday? Do you remember how many calories were in that so-called healthy salad you had for lunch? How much fat? Well, I know I can’t remember things like that unless I jot them down. And unless you’re an Olympic athlete who trains all day long, guessing and winging it doesn’t generally lead to results. Not for me, anyway. Once I realized exactly what kind of nutrition (or lack thereof) was in the entrees I thought were healthy, it really changed my perspective on things. There are numerous items I don’t eat anymore because of this app.
4. I kicked my exercise routine into high gear.
Being more aware of things like target heart rate and calories burned really helped me realize that I was dogging it (not working hard enough). Up until this year, I was working out about three times a week, but there were many weeks when I couldn’t work up the motivation to hit the gym even once. This helped me maintain a perfect state of frump. For getting super fit? Not so much. I have bumped up my workouts to at least five days a week – three weekdays and both Saturday and Sunday. I try to recover two days per week, but I’m still walking four miles a day on those days.
5. When all else fails, chew on it.
I’ll probably catch grief for this, but I don’t care. Quitting smoking/vaping is hard. And when you no longer have cigarettes or a vape to fill that oral fixation, you have around four choices: nicotine replacement therapy, food, willpower, or chew on something besides food until the cravings subside. To me, NRT (nicotine gum and prescriptions) is putting off the inevitable. You’re eventually going to have to quit for real. And I’ve read horror stories about people getting addicted to the gum. But, hey, if it helps you quit, congrats! Willpower? Yeah, I don’t have much of that. And food, well, that’s pretty much the reason I started this blog!
For me, the solution at the moment lies in chewing gum, mints, or small amounts of beef jerky. Does that mean you should partake in these things excessively? No. Should you aim to cut down on them once you feel confident you won’t light up again? Yes! But the choice is yours. Just be aware that chewing gum and most mints contain phenylalanine, which to some people can be bad news. And as most people know, jerky is high in sodium. The whole conversation about sublimation is a topic for another day.
Are you a former smoker/vaper? How did you handle the aftermath of quitting? Share in the comments!