I started smoking when I was 12. By 20 I was fully committed to the cause - we were good friends, my cigarettes and I. They would keep me company, compliment my coffee and oh what a delicious unity we were - me, my cigarettes and a glass of Lambrini.
I had always been afraid that quitting smoking would be synonymous with gaining weight. I had heard so many stories of people turning to lollipops and mints to stave the cravings, was told the average person puts on 12 pounds after quitting. So I kept on puffing.
A visit to the doctors was the catalyst. She told me that, at 5ft 6 inches and weighing 14.5 stone, I was massively overweight, obese even - not just curvy but dangerously wobbly. And what's more, I smoked.
That day at the doctors stays with me, even now, 7 years later, and at that time it shook me so much that I decided to try and give up smoking - if I gained weight, so be it. I could tackle that later.
What I actually found was I began to lose weight and 18 months after I smoked my last cigarette, I was over four stone lighter. Here's how:
Because I started smoking so young, I had been completely robbed of all my energy. Smoking restricts the supply of oxygen to the brain, which in turn makes you sluggish. Suddenly I could breathe again and I had more energy than I knew what to do with.
I started volunteering for things, little things that kept me moving. If someone wanted something from the kitchen, I always made sure I would be the one to get it. I started walking all the small distances I would once drive and I was getting there in half the time.
I joined the gym - that sounds like the obvious move when you want to lose weight but I had joined many gyms before, gone for a while and let myself slide not-so-gracefully off the hook.
This time I had a goal - I was going to climb to the top of the Atlas mountains (13,500 ft). With the incentive of achieving this goal, I made myself go to the gym three times a week. Exercise, at least at first, didn't make me lose weight quicker but it did make me feel fitter and stronger and my body shape began to change.
I also used movement to ward off the cravings. Every time (within reason) I felt like I really needed a cigarette, I went for a short power walk instead. The rush of endorphins from getting my heart rate going made me feel better and the act itself took my mind of the desire for delicious nicotine.
This isn't necessary for everyone, in fact there are increasingly more studies that show going gluten free is not healthy for those who are not negatively affected by gluten. However, I have noticed a huge difference in my physical well-being since I gave up eating wheat.
My appetite has considerably decreased, I no longer have joint pain and my moods are far more stable. I know it may seem ridiculous to cut out so many things at once but for me it was a case of re-aligning my thought processes. I tried to stop thinking of cakes and chocolate as treats and instead focussed on how much better I felt without eating them.
All of this means you have to get better at planning. This isn't easy, in fact it's kind of a pain, but planning for snack breaks is quite important, especially if you're going to go gluten free. There are a range of really great, gluten-free alternatives that give you the sugar hit and are loaded with protein and/or fibre, which lessens the impact on your blood sugar levels and makes you feel satisfied for longer.
Quitting smoking doesn't make you put on weight. You make you put on weight. Ultimately you control what you eat and how much you move. Quitting smoking is a huge achievement and so is losing a lot of weight. It is important to own this, making excuses for yourself is no way to achieve these goals.
Mindfulness is a great practice to help with stopping smoking and losing weight. Essentially it involves checking in with yourself, bringing attention and awareness to the reasons why you want to quit or lose weight, which in turn helps you to break patterns and habits. There are several apps that help you do this - craving to quit and quit smoking are good places to start.
It wasn't easy but with each milestone, I felt more and more in control of my body and my actions, which gave an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pushed me to keep going.
It's important to remember that you are always in control. As soon as you start saying things like 'I can't' or 'it's too hard, I'll never be able to', you are creating a self-actualising prophecy. Of course you can do it.
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