A very common New Year’s Resolution is smoking cessation. Many people who smoke want to quit. It makes sense given that the leading cause of preventable death in the United States is smoking, leading to about 443,000 deaths annually. Recent statistics from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that almost 20 percent of all adults over the age of 18, or about 45 million Americans, smoke cigarettes.
Reasons for wanting to quit smoking include health concerns, wanting to save money and the desire to set a good example for children and grandchildren. But many people who desire to stop smoking avoid attempting cessation because of the fear of gaining weight. Weight gain is also one of the most common reasons people resume smoking after an early successful attempt. Weight gain, however, can be prevented.
If you are going to quit smoking, you need to look at some situations that may tempt you to gain weight. This information from the American Heart Association is based on the real-life experiences of many people.
Many smokers eat fast so that they can go smoke. When they quit smoking, they find they still eat fast and are finished their meal before everyone else. Then they are tempted to have a second helping, or instead of the after-dinner cigarette, have a high-calorie dessert. This results in consuming more calories than they did before.
Create ways to help you eat more slowly:
• Take two bites of food then put your fork down and chew. Swallow all food from each bite before you pick your fork back up.
• Cut your food into small portions.
• Set a goal to be the last person to finish the meal. Observe others around you. How fast are they eating?
• Eat only what is on your plate; don’t go for seconds. It may be helpful to have someone else portion your food for you.
Get up from the table as soon as you have finished eating and have a plan in place for what you are going to do next to get your mind off of a cigarette and/or food:
• Go for a walk.
• Watch the news on television.
• Read a book.
• Call a friend.
Drink a beverage away from the table. This could be coffee, tea, diet soda or water. This way you are changing your setting and starting a new habit. If you really want dessert you could have it later in the evening with a beverage.
Go for a piece of fruit, cookie, yogurt as a choice for something sweet instead of a rich dessert.
Try brushing your teeth or chewing a piece of sugar free gum right after eating. This could be a new habit to form to signal to yourself that you have finished eating.
Often people attempting to quit smoking get the urge to have something in their mouth. They are looking for a substitute for a cigarette. Unfortunately, this can lead to frequent snacking which adds extra calories and eventually extra pounds.
• Always carry a FEW pieces of sugarless gum or mints in your pocket or purse. Eat only one piece of gum or mint at a time. If it is a mint, let it melt in your mouth — don’t bite it. Same goes for hard candy.
• If you find that you must snack, go for foods that will keep your hands busy. An example would be an orange. It takes both hands to peel, requires extra time and therefore you may eat less.
• Look for things to do at home that keep your hands busy, but don’t involve food. Try a new craft, work crossword puzzles and look around to see what home repairs you could do or clean out that closet you’ve been meaning to attack.
Sitting in the evening in front of the television and snacking is a common occurrence — even more tempting once you quit smoking.
• Control the urge to eat when you truly aren’t hungry. This reduces your calorie intake.
• If you feel you have to have a snack have low-calorie items around. Raw carrots, green or red pepper strips, cherry tomatoes, broccoli and sliced cucumbers are great choices. You can eat them plain or with a low-calorie dip. If you are looking for something a little crunchy and salty, go for pretzels, popcorn or tortilla chips. Portion the item out and bring it to where you are going to snack. Never bring the whole box or bag of anything with you in front of the television.
Regular physical activity can help you to avoid weight gain when you quit smoking. Smoking cigarettes makes the body burn calories faster, so once you quit, weight gain may take place if you don’t participate in regular physical activity to boost your metabolism. Participating in physical activity may help you feel better and your clothes will fit better. You will probably find that you can breathe easier during physical activity once you quit smoking.
And remember when you quit smoking you will:
• Lower your risk for lung and other types of cancer.
• Reduce your risk for coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.
• Reduce respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
• Reduce your risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
• Reduce your risk for infertility if you are a woman in your reproductive years. Women who stop smoking during pregnancy also reduce their risk of having a low birth-weight baby.
When you quit smoking, you will also help protect your children, family and friends from exposure to secondhand smoke that can cause immediate harm to those who breathe it. According to The American Lung Association, quitting works its magic the minute an individual makes the choice. In just 12 hours after an individual quits, the carbon monoxide level in their blood drops to normal. Fast forward to a year after quitting, and the risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smokers.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.