You finish your last cigarette and in 20 minutes time your blood pressure and pulse return to normal. Just 48 hours later, there’s no nicotine left in your body. Between 2 and 12 weeks after that, your circulation improves. Fast forward 5 years, and your risk of suffering a heart attack is halved.
There are myriad benefits of quitting smoking, so why doesn’t everyone just quit for good? For many people – especially women – one reason is the fear of putting on the pounds. But take heart: your chances of quitting successfully are improved if you also focus on losing weight.
THE BENEFITS OF CHANGING 2 BEHAVIOURS AT ONCE
A NEW STUDY PUBLISHED IN THE JOURNAL ADDICTION SHOWS THAT WOMEN WHO QUIT SMOKING WHILE TRYING TO MANAGE THEIR WEIGHT ARE MORE SUCCESSFUL AT ACHIEVING BOTH.
The research was led by Bonnie Spring, Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. A total of 2,233 smokers were studied. Of those treated for weight control and smoking, 29% were more likely to quit smoking in the short term (3 months) and 23% in the long term (6 to 14 months), compared to those treated for smoking alone.
Professor Spring says, “These findings show that, at least in the case of smoking and eating, you actually get an added benefit when you try to change a couple of behaviours at once.”
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN SMOKING AND OVEREATING
Clinical psychologist Linda Temple-Harris agrees with Professor Spring’s findings. She claims that overeating and smoking share many similarities.
“BOTH ARE QUICK FIXES THAT PERPETUATE THE PROBLEM WITH A SUDDEN BOOST AND THEN A PLUMMET. THAT’S WHY PEOPLE BECOME ADDICTED – IT’S AN ADDICTION TO THE WANT TO FEEL BETTER,” SHE SAYS.
Likewise both habits are deeply set, which makes them all the more difficult to conquer.
Nonetheless, there are also several distinct differences between eating and smoking to be acknowledged.
Firstly, many eating habits stem from childhood – even as young as babies – whereas the habit of smoking develops when you’re much older.
The second key difference is that you can’t go cold turkey with food as you have to with cigarettes. Linda Temple-Harris says, “If you suffer a relapse with a binge, you can get back on track, but just 1 cigarette and you’re likely to be hooked again.”
But she believes the similarities between the 2 significantly outweigh the differences.
KEY FACTORS TO HELP YOU CONTROL YOUR WEIGHT WHILE QUITTING SMOKING
- Determination: Words such as ‘try’ and ‘hope’ are not enough. Temple-Harris says, “There has to be a compelling reason why you absolutely have to make the change now.” Say to yourself, ‘I can’ and ‘I will’.
- Visualisation: You have to imagine yourself as a slim non-smoker. Everything starts off as an idea in our minds, whether it’s a campaign for work, a makeover on the house or a healthy start.
- Self-esteem: Many people who are overweight struggle with low self-esteem. However, if you want to make changes, you have to want to feel better about yourself.
- Social situations: Eating and smoking often go hand-in-hand at social gatherings and while taking breaks at work. Unfortunately, these situations are part of your unhealthy habit. Temple-Harris says, “Try avoiding smokers and occasions for social eating for the first few weeks. Then find something else to do with your friends, such as an activity or sport.”
- Support: Giving up smoking and losing weight both require bags of support from friends, family and colleagues. They have to understand your situation and the sacrifices you must make. Also, they should not jeopardise your success. Talk to them about your personal goals. You don’t have to cut them off completely, but suggest other fun, active things you can do together rather than going to restaurants for dinner and pubs for drinks and ciggies.
- Triggers: Generally, there is an underlying cause or trigger that prompts you to reach for a packet of cigarettes or a packet of biscuits. What that is depends on individual circumstances, but it could be anything from stress at work, feeling low or anxiety about certain situations.
Whatever it is, you have to find a new way to deal with it.
Temple-Harris explains, “Your trigger leads you to smoke and/or eat because that is your habitual reaction to it, but these triggers can be satisfied with other things.”
For example, if work breaks entail a cigarette or coffee and biscuit, then find something else to do to unwind. Exercise is one key activity that Temple-Harris recommends. A brisk walk down the road or an intense session at the gym will make you feel better. Afterwards you are less likely to want to eat or smoke.
- Breathing deeply: Temple-Harris says, “Strange as it may seem, the act of smoking improves your breathing. When you are anxious your breaths are shallow, but if you smoke a cigarette you drag in deeply and exhale completely.”
Instead of performing this controlled breathing with a cigarette in hand, she advises replicating it to help overcome a fag or food craving. Taking 4 or 5 deep breaths when you are in the grip of a craving can help you deal with the intense feelings until they subside.
Results May Vary: Causes for being overweight or obese vary from person to person. Whether genetic or environmental, it should be noted that food intake, rates of metabolism and levels of exercise and physical exertion vary from person to person. This means weight loss results will also vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as typical.