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?
Smoke-free but Still 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…
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.