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I’ve quit smoking – now how do I stop eating?

Dear Advisor,

Here it is, mid-January, and I did manage to quit smoking for 2010, so far at least.  However, now I have another problem:  my middle is expanding noticeably.  In fact, I’ve already outgrown several of my pants.  I know why – it’s because I’m eating almost constantly!  Any advice?

Signed,

Smoke-free but Still Growing…

Dear Growing,

First, congratulations on quitting – that’s a HUGE accomplishment.  Just for some perspective, the health risks of smoking outweigh the health risks of being overweight so dramatically that you’d have to double or even triple your body weight to even come close to equivalent risks.

So make no mistake, even if you’re gaining weight, quitting was the right move, health-wise.

Vanity-wise, though, no one wants to be overweight, and there are some things you can do to begin to put a stop to that out-of-control [gravy] train.

1.  The first thing to do is find stuff to eat and/or drink that’s not-so-bad for you.

For instance, if your constant grazing includes raiding the donut supply in the break-room at work, or constantly popping candy into your mouth, you’re taking in a lot of calories that you don’t have to.  Sure, it’s better than picking up a cigarette, but there are other options:

  • Raw or Blanched Veggies – most have very few calories, and plenty of fiber and micronutrients, so you can eat them in almost unlimited quantities without expanding further around your middle.  You don’t have to limit yourself to carrot and celery sticks – try some small cherry tomatoes in a bowl where your candy dish used to be, or cut up some cucumber sticks and add a little salt and pepper.
  • Herbal Tea – having something hot to drink that doesn’t make you jittery and nervous (like too much coffee) can be a good thing.  Herbal tea is caffeine free, and there are lots of different flavors out there now.  If you drink it without sweetener, you can allow yourself practically unlimited amounts with no ill effects.  It’s hydrating, too, so it will help you flush all those toxins from your system.
  • Fruit, especially apples – fruit is not quite as low calorie as most veggies, but it’s still much lower in calories and higher in fiber than the chips, donuts, and candy that you may be snacking on.  You would have a seriously hard time gaining weight from eating too much fruit, so this is a good choice.  Apples are an especially good choice because: 1) They require a lot of chewing, satisfying that oral desire.  2) They are high in fiber, so they can help ‘clean you out’ a bit.  (One of the physical effects of quitting smoking can be constipation – so an apple a day may help…)  3) They are loaded with pectin, which can bind to toxins in your body to help remove them.  4) Finally, they’re easy to carry, and you can even buy them already sliced up, so they’re convenient.  But heck, if you prefer strawberries, or pears, or even kumquats, go for it.  It all works.

2.  The second thing to do is figure out what need you’re trying to satisfy.

If you’re like most [ex] smokers, you smoked for a number of reasons: you probably smoked when you were bored, anxious, stressed, wanted to relax or reward yourself, and so on.  Now that you’ve quit, a lot of your eating is following a similar pattern.

So the next thing to do is to start to analyze what exactly you are responding to, and begin to substitute more appropriate responses.  For instance, if you used to smoke to combat boredom, you probably now want to eat when you’re bored.  But a better response would be something that would more directly alleviate boredom – like physical or mental activity – do a puzzle, or take a walk…  Same thing is true if you’re responding to anxiety, stress, or some other emotion.  Try to identify the emotional trigger, and brainstorm more effective responses to that emotion.

If you like things that are systematic and analytical, keep a food log and analyze it later. Record things like the time, the situation or setting, what you chose to eat, and what kind of emotion you think you were responding to.

If you prefer a less formal approach, just begin to get into the habit of asking yourself – why am I eating this now?  If it’s because you’re hungry, great.  Eating is an appropriate response to hunger.  But if there’s another reason, brainstorm some ideas for a different, better response.

Initially it may not feel as satisfying, but as you get into the swing of it, you’ll find that your new responses actually work better than your old ones did.  For instance, eating is not really a great way to reduce stress – especially if you’re already worried about gaining weight.  But taking a walk, or a bubble bath, or doing a meditation – those are good ways to reduce stress, and as you get better at them, and more consistent at doing them, you’ll find your urges to eat (or to smoke) in response to stress diminish.

3) Finally, know that you don’t have to be perfect, just persistent.

No one is saying that you can never have another donut.  But if you do choose to eat a donut, don’t shrug your shoulders and say to yourself, “Well, today is shot.  Might as well eat the rest of the box…”  Instead, allow yourself the occasional donut – savor it, even – and then quietly go back to your plan.

Just keep going back to your plan…

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If you found these suggestions useful, or have suggestions you think may be helpful to others, leave a comment and share your experience.  Or Ask the Advisor your own question.  If you haven’t managed to quit yet, but still want to, read more about the Complete Quit System.

{ 21 comments… add one }

  • Rita Craver January 23, 2010, 10:15 AM

    Am still trying to Quit smoking. Everyday I say I’ll do it tomorrow. Same thing happens every day. Don’t know what to do. Tried the Chantix again and can’t stand the side effects. Need some help bad. Wonder if getting hypmotized would work. Would want to go to a real Dr. instead of a semimar. Tried that and it worked for about a day. Might ask my pulmo about this. What do you think?

    • Donna January 23, 2010, 1:20 PM

      Hi,

      My friend quit with the help of Chantix. It worked for her good. The only down-side is that there are a lot of (bad) side affects so beware of that. I finally quit on January 8th, 2010 at 2:45PM. I am on the nicotine patch and it’s AMAZING!! I dont crave the nicotine at all but I do still have problems with the habit side of smoking…like while driving, after eating, with a drink, so that’s the worst part but I am on day 15 and have not been able to breathe this good in years and years!!

      Good Luck To You!! You can do it!!
      Donna

    • Deanna January 25, 2010, 9:24 AM

      Rita,

      The research on the effectiveness of hypnosis is very mixed – in some cases it appears to work pretty well, in others not at all. My best guess is it depends on who you get. I’d recommend trying to find someone who has experience and a good track record with smoking cessation specifically.

      I do know a fellow who has run a successful quit-smoking hypnosis practice in his area that he has re-created in a self-help model, which is available online. His name is George Wissing, and his site is stopsmokingu.com.

      If you are interested in hypnosis, I’d encourage you to give it a shot (whether George’s program, or someone you find locally). It doesn’t work for everyone, but if it works for you, that’s all that matters, right?

    • TRACY MOORE June 3, 2016, 4:34 PM

      You know you can do LOW DOSE Chantix, right! No side effects using 0.5 mg once a day or even 1 mg a day. Take first thing in the morning with a slice of toast & you’re good to go.

  • Jane January 23, 2010, 10:42 AM

    Quit last May. Put on 20# in 3 months or so. Just can’t get it to go off. Am trying the apple a day when I get the urge to eat. My husband died also, so I think eating is just a comfort. How do I change my attitude and feeling that I need food?

    • Deanna January 25, 2010, 9:30 AM

      Jane,

      You probably are eating for comfort – they don’t call it ‘comfort food’ for nothing, right? I don’t know how long ago you quit, or when your husband died, but I’d bet you are still going through the grief process – both for your husband, and probably for smoking, as well. (If you’re not familiar with grief processing as it relates to smoking, you can read more about that here.) If you can, consider getting some grief counseling as well. And begin to look for other things that provide you comfort – whether it’s soaking in a bubble bath, finding a place to take a quiet, thoughtful walk, or calling a friend.

      Best of luck to you.

  • Judith Hatgfield January 23, 2010, 2:54 PM

    I quit with chantix. It took me awhile. I smoked for 45 years. But I was able to quit with Chantix!

  • Cindy January 23, 2010, 9:12 PM

    I’m taking Chantix…and quit Jan 6th…still doing good. Panicked about actually trying to quit, but since I’m turning 50 this year wanted to at least try. Goal was 3 days…one week….one month … I was tired of my life being controlled by cigarettes (as much as I loved to smoke-30 years). I wanted to take charge of the things I could in my life. So far doing well…weight gain is a concern, however, I don’t drink as much alcohol as before and I’m trying to be more health conscious…I’m also not drinking as many sodas…interesting!!!! Good luck ….one day at a time is the key!!!

    • Tubby May 19, 2016, 8:36 AM

      Drinking water helps . I quit 3 months ago an I gained 15 lbs. Also my cholesterol is really high from eating. I’m depressed from not smoking. I don’t know what’s worst. This or smoking. But the water helps to fill me up an take food craving g away. Ok on my way to mcdonalds.

  • Bonnie January 24, 2010, 12:04 PM

    I have not had a cigarette since January or February of 2008..I smoked one and it made me sick to my stomach on the day I quit while on my way to the ocean. Thought it was because I hadn’t had one since the night before..Tried another one on my way home. That one made me sick also. Had to go to the grocery store then too..I threw the rest of the pack into the trash can in the parking lot and have not touched another one since. I don’t even think about one, suprisingly..especially when I am stressed, or depressed and I have been feeling depressed for the last three weeks..But I am getting better..My Mom passed away the first of the month and last Monday I lost one of my puppy dogs.. I think having to worry about my other dog is what has helped me. They were buddies for 12 yrs. and I think it traumatized her.. but there is my story. This is the third time I have quit, and hopefully the last..

  • Pat January 24, 2010, 1:02 PM

    I am nicotine free for 56 days now and I feel great. I took advantage of a free class and the support was wonderful. Free supplies of NRT were also available. I found that you can use the patch along with the gum and/or lozenge and this has helped tremendously. You can also do thid for longer than the package recommends as long as your doctor approves it. I plan ti continue at least 3 months and taper everything gradually.I was really scared to quit and thought one of the biggest hurdles would be to keep my hands busy. I found instead that I need something in my mouth almost constantly and have gained about 7 pounds. One day I placed a toothpick in my mouth and relaxed immediately. I also chew sugarless gum, drink plenty of water and never go anywhere without my quit bag which contains hard candy, gum, toothpicks and my lozenges.I hope this helps someone else.

  • Deanna January 25, 2010, 9:33 AM

    Great comments and suggestions from folks – nice to hear the success stories, too! Best of luck to all of you, and if you have a question or topic you’d like to see in this blog, by all means, use the ‘ask a question’ tab at the top to ask your own question!

  • nini December 16, 2010, 12:07 PM

    i want to stop so bad. Im weak and give in to smoking.
    What about Chantix, can someone help? I hear so many bad things about it.

  • lindsey September 3, 2013, 5:48 PM

    I took champix and have quit easily. The only down side Ive experienced is the weight gain..2st or 28lbs so far. I started gaining weight as soon as I went on the full dose. Ive been smoke free for over 5 mths now and feeling good. My Asthma is so much better as well. So I guess the initial weight gain is worth it will just have to work harder to get it off again !!

  • tinabobina January 20, 2014, 12:04 AM

    I quit using the e-cigarette “Blu” and nicotine lozenges found in the quitting smoking section of walmart. id use both in the morning, after that a lozenge when I needed it…I let the lozenge melt (didn’t suck on it) in the side of my mouth, they last forever. either way…both are still cheaper than cigarettes. im 1 month no cigarettes. no side effects…the blu helps with the hand to mouth addiction. I barely use either now. :) Good luck. You have to WANT to quit. I was simply tired of the smell but loved cigarettes. after 21 days I tried to smoke a cigarette it was the nastiest thing in the world. I cant stand the smell of others that smoke, etc. I could never go back. its disgusting to me now. if you can get past those first 3-4 days its a cake walk after that. I was making cigarette companies rich while they killed me smh awful life plan smh.

  • Nattyp February 18, 2014, 2:59 AM

    I’m now 8 days, 22 hrs, and 34 minutes into being an ex-smoker. I read the Alan Carr the easy way to stop smoking and am definetly a convert. However I too have had an over eating problem emerge to the point where I am eating to feeling sick. I will be looking to carry an apple with me from now on.

  • V March 6, 2014, 1:43 PM

    I quit drinking and smoking December 8th, 2013, cold turkey. In two months time, I’d packed on 18 lbs. Oh, I might add this as well; I also stopped taking a medication for anti-depression without my doctor’s advise or notification. I’ve smoked 7 yrs, drank all of my adult life and was placed on Seroquel XR for 2 or 3 mos after a devastating event took place. I’d stopped taking the anti-depressant almost three weeks before deciding to quit smoking/drinking. My problem is this – I started dieting after my second month of not smoking thinking I would concentrate on that more, but for the past 3 weeks have diligiently adhered to a high protein, low (very low) carb diet but my appetite is off the charts!! I am irritable and very frustrated because I’ve lost weight on this diet before but now nothing comes off and I mean I haven’t lost one frecking pound!!! In the beginning after the first week, I lost 2-3 lbs but two days later, those 2-3 lbs came back according to the scale, and I haven’t lost or gained anything since. Can anyone tell me why? Let me add, my exercise level is very low, I’m 55 yrs old, and work behind a desk all damn day long. I know I need to exercise more, but can anyone tell me what’s up with the appetite and why am I no longer losing weight. I drink 56+ oz water a day…

  • Yeyis October 18, 2015, 5:13 AM

    I am not really suirrpsed from the fact that Nadine Labaki won the “Celebrity of the year title”. If we got back in time, we know that her movie “Caramel” put her on “Variety’s 10 Directors to Look Out for List.” Also, She also directed Nancy Ajram’s video, Akhasmak Ah. Among many other interesting accomplishments she has done, which you can read on . Her last movie “Hala2 lawayn” was a great hit! Which I believe made her win the tittle.

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  • Mary January 6, 2016, 6:27 AM

    I quit cold turkey, because of bad bronchitis. I find myself eating out of control. This was one of the things I didn’t want to happen. But yes this site has brought some insight. Thank you.

  • Stephanie January 6, 2017, 4:48 AM

    I quit smoking 8 weeks ago. Vaping helped me, couldn’t have done it without help. I had smoked for 50 years. I have gained a stone in weight but as I was underweight to start with it’s not a problem as long as I stop eating all the time now. I feel that not eating all the time can’t be as hard as not smoking surely. Fingers crossed. X

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