Eating Well Can Help You Quit Smoking
Every November, the American Cancer Society encourages smokers to participate in the Great American Smokeout.
Held on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, it challenges people to stop using tobacco and helps people know about the many tools they can use to quit and stay quit.
EvergreenHealth clinical exercise physiologist David Engle recommends using the Great American Smokeout as an opportunity to make a plan to quit smoking.
“Most people who quit cold turkey don’t have a strategy for what they’ll do instead of smoking,” David says. “I recommend that people work on improving their diet and exercise for around six months as they work toward a quit date.”
Why quit smoking?
There are many reasons to stop smoking. Smoking cessation lowers the risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory ailments including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and fertility and pregnancy complications.
The benefits of quitting smoking begin immediately:
- Within 20 minutes, your heart rate drops to normal.
- Within two to three weeks, your lung function improves and your risk of having a heart attack drops.
- As time goes on, your disease risks continue to drop.
For more information on what you can gain if you quit, visit americanlungassociation.org.
David reminds people that they can lessen the impact on their wallet as well as their health if they stop smoking.
Cigarettes are expensive, and so are the medical costs you could incur down the road from smoking-related health issues.
Eating well helps you quit
Eating well and exercising before you quit smoking helps you avoid any potential weight gain, David says, which is a concern for many who consider quitting.
He recommends signing a “contract” with yourself or a healthcare provider with your target quit date, then making gradual changes to improve your diet and exercise.
David says that taking these steps first can help you manage not only your weight but also the headaches and even depression that may go along with breaking a nicotine addiction.
He adds that many people quit sooner than expected because eating right and exercising makes them feel so much better that they want to do even more for themselves.
EvergreenHealth nutrition expert Marcy Dorsey, RD, says that not all smokers gain weight when they quit and that those who do gain on average less than 10 pounds.
Marcy recommends focusing not on any weight you might gain but on the positive steps you are taking.
“You might gain a few pounds, but overall you’re reducing other health risks,” Marcy advises. “That’s more important than a temporary weight gain.”
To maintain a healthy weight while quitting smoking, Marcy recommends eating regular meals every four to five hours. Getting overly hungry will cause stress and could tempt you to smoke.
It is also important to learn to recognize cravings and identify whether they come from hunger or emotion.
Marcy says it is also important to stay hydrated, such as by drinking tea or sparkling water, but to avoid alcohol if it is a smoking trigger.
To combat a craving for cigarettes, Marcy suggests experimenting with different textures of food:
- Crunchy foods, such as apples, carrots, or popcorn, give your mouth something to do.
- Frozen blueberries or grapes can be more satisfying than regular ones.
- Roasted pumpkin seeds are a great choice because they are crunchy and chewy and can be made savory or sweet to your liking.
Most important, both David and Marcy say, you should choose fresh, whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, to help your body clean out the toxins from smoking.
Marcy also recommends getting omega-3 fatty acids from fish, flaxseed or chia seeds to decrease the inflammation smoking causes and improve arterial stiffness and vascular damage.
Choosing fruits and vegetables may help you resist cigarettes as well. Studies found that fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy products, made cigarettes taste bad, while red meat and alcohol made them taste better.