Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health, which makes quitting smoking an ideal New Year's resolution. It's also a popular one - thousands of smokers resolve to quit every year. In fact, some smokers like the resolution so much, they resolve to quit again the next year - and the next... And that's the problem: it's not the stopping that's the hardest part, it's the not starting again.
There are plenty of ways to go about quitting smoking - see our disease database article and health feature on smoking cessation for more information, and our community support database for groups to give you advice and support. However, any given way won't work equally well for all people. So it's necessary to find what is most effective for you. This may mean that it will take several tries before you succeed in quitting. There's no shame in that - nicotine addiction is an illness, and many illnesses can require trying various forms of treatment before one succeeds.
Your success will also depend on your motivation. If you're quitting just because it seems like the right thing to do and everyone wants you to, how long will that motivation hold out, especially if you still enjoy smoking? You might "know"
that smoking damages your health, but people do all sorts of things they "know"
are dangerous or unhealthy. So look carefully at what you're up against and how you can win.
Make a sheet with four columns.
- In the first column, write down all the things you enjoy about smoking. Rate how much you actually enjoy them. And rate how much of that is actually due to inhaling cigarette smoke rather than, say, getting a short break from work or spending time with friends. Be honest, and figure out which things you enjoy the most.
- Leave the second column blank for a moment.
- In the third column, write down all the trouble smoking causes you. Have you developed lung problems? Do you get colds more often? Do you get cravings when you're in places where you can't smoke - airplanes and restaurants, for instance? How much does it cost you every year? Be honest, and figure out which things bother you the most.
- In the fourth column, write down all the benefits you'll get from not smoking. This will include the absence of all the things that bother you about smoking, so you can write those down next to the items in the third column they correspond to. And you might find it makes you think of a few more things that bother you about smoking. You may also think of new things you can do with your money - or with your healthier body - or you may think about how much it will help your family or friends.
- Now go back to the second column, and for each first-column listing you enjoy about smoking, write down how you'll get it without smoking. Brainstorm. In a lot of cases, you'll find that smoking wasn't essential in the first place. In some cases, it might take a bit of thought - ask some other people who have quit what they do.
- When you've made your whole list, choose the three most important things in columns 3 and 4 and write them down on a notecard under "Why I'm quitting."
Then find the three most important things in column 1 and write down their corresponding items from column 2 on the notecard under "What I'll do instead of smoking." Keep the card with you - perhaps in your wallet or purse
Nobody says quitting is easy. Be prepared for what you'll go through and know how you can make it easier on yourself. Here are some things to expect and ways to deal with them:
- Irritability: It's normal to be irritable for the first couple of weeks. You may even feel mildly depressed or sad, and a bit anxious. Just remember the difference between feeling angry and saying something mean. Give yourself a few minutes before responding to what's bothering you. Go for a walk if you can. Fresh air and exercise are good for relieving tension.
- Cravings: Cravings will come. But they will also go away, usually after just a few minutes. Try to avoid places and activities that you associate with smoking. When you can't, create an action plan and come up with something to do in place of smoking. When you're hit with an unexpected craving, have a glass of water and find something to occupy yourself with - exercise, for example.
- Fatigue: Nicotine is a stimulant, so you may feel more tired than usual for the first while after quitting. Allow yourself extra sleep and take naps if necessary. Exercise - it helps deal with fatigue as well as stress.
- Insomnia: What if you can't sleep? Sometimes this happens. Reduce your caffeine intake and avoid caffeine in the evening. Take a hot, relaxing bath, and learn some deep breathing relaxation techniques. Yoga may also help to deal with stress and insomnia.
- Coughing and tightness in the chest: Your lungs will need some time to repair themselves and become accustomed to breathing nothing but clean air. You'll be clearing out mucus for the first few days. Water helps move things along. Cough drops can be good, as they give your mouth something to occupy itself with instead of cigarettes
- Other nicotine withdrawal symptoms: Nicotine withdrawal itself can lead to headaches, shaking, sweating, stomach irritation, and general body pains.
And whenever you're thinking about sneaking in a cigarette, or putting off your resolution to next year, just take out your notecard with your reasons and strategies, go for a walk - or do some push-ups, or stretch...
OK, the big Christmas extended feast is over, and you've put on a few pounds. Perhaps you've been a little "too heavy" for some time. So this is it - time for the diet. You're going to cut out all starches, or all sugars, or eat only green foods, and keep careful notes, and you're going to drop ten pounds in two weeks.
No, you're not. Healthy eating has to be sustainable. It has to be something you won't get bored with and cheat on. Fad diets simply don't work - you might lose a few pounds, but your metabolism compensates, so in the long run you may end up worse off than you started. And the more you make yourself feel deprived, the more you will crave unhealthy foods.
The way to feel healthy and happy is to eat a balanced, healthy diet - then your metabolism will function properly and you won't feel overly hungry. And, with the help of some physical activity (see the "Exercise more" section in this feature), you should be able to reduce your weight by 5% to 10% over six months or so - which is a realistic goal and a good pace for those who need to lose weight. If you weigh 160 pounds, 5% of your weight is 8 pounds - imagine eight one-pound bricks of butter. That's quite a bit to take off your body!
But that leaves us with the question, What is a balanced, healthy diet? Here are some more general guidelines for how to eat the right amount to achieve and maintain a healthy weight - and overall good health:
- Fruits and vegetables: Eat more! The odds are very good that you don't eat enough fruits and vegetables. And, no, that sugar-filled beverage with "10% real fruit" doesn't count. Have 100% fruit or vegetable juice. You need variety; try to have five different kinds of fruit and vegetables each day: an apple, a serving of peas the size of your palm, a cereal bowl of salad. Also, the more colour you see on your plate (green, reds, yellow, orange), the better the variety of nutrients you will be getting.
- Starchy carbohydrates: Believe it or not, you probably need to eat more of these. The catch is that you don't want to add fat to your diet at the same time. Baked potatoes are fine. Mashed potatoes are OK, but are usually made with butter and consumed with gravy, so watch out. Potato chips are not the best thing and should be avoided. Corn, oats, pasta, rice, unsweetened breakfast cereals - all are fine. Those nice, crunchy whole-grain products are the best kind. One-third of what you eat should be breads, cereals, and starches.
- Dairy products: Two to four servings a day of these will do. By "serving"
we mean a glass of milk, a small yogurt or a matchbox-sized piece of cheese.
- Meat and alternatives: The key words here are "less" and
"fat." You should probably eat a bit less of these than you do - two or three servings (each the size of a pack of cards) per day is optimal - and you should keep the amount of fat low. But beware! People often compensate for the lack of fat by adding salt or sugars. Get some variety to keep interesting - it's easy to get bored with chicken six times a week. Try to have fish once or twice a week.
- Fats and sugars: Of course, these are the things that taste so good... but we eat far more of them than we need to. We also eat more than we used to - nearly 20% more fat per person than in 1980, and twice as much added sugar per person as in 1980. Our soft drink consumption is seven times what it was 60 years ago. If our parents were happy with less fat and sugar, we can be too. And make sure you don't make up for less of one by having more of the other. Add spices and herbs if you want more flavour.
The problem with getting more exercise always seems to be that it takes so
much time. Who has the time to go off somewhere for an hour a day? Perhaps you
make a schedule with the best of intentions, and you stick to it for a week
or two, and then you have to make an exception... and another one... and soon
you're not exercising at all.
Well, guess what: you don't have to go off somewhere for an hour at a stretch.
Ten minutes here and ten minutes there of even just moderate effort can add
up to considerable health benefits - and make good habits that are easy to keep.
You'll know you're getting reasonable, sustainable exercise if:
- your heart is beating faster than usual, but it's not racing
- you're breathing faster than usual, but you can still carry on a conversation
- you're warmer than usual, but you aren't dripping with sweat
Here are some ways of adding exercise to your day:
- Walk part of the way to work - get off a couple of stops before your usual
stop, or park a bit further away. Make sure to walk at a brisk pace.
- Take the stairs, not the elevator.
- At the office, get up and walk over to talk to someone rather than phoning
- Park on the far side of the parking lot when going to the mall - or walk
or bike instead of driving.
- When you're cleaning around the house, slap in a CD and make a dance or
a sport out of it.
- When you're sitting at your desk, exercise your stomach and back muscles
by tensing, holding, and relaxing them.
- Whenever you walk anywhere for any reason, walk faster - you'll get better
exercise (and you'll save a little time).
Keep track of how much exercise you manage to squeeze in - you may be surprised
at how easy it is to get 60 minutes every day. Need more time in order to fit
in some more exercise? Try getting up 10 minutes earlier. Or watch less TV -
much of the time, people watch TV just to fill time. Why not fill some of that
time with exercise instead? You can improve your overall relaxation as well
as your health by skipping just one sitcom in favour of a brisk walk or run.
And why not take part in some sports as well? Skiing, biking, swimming, or
team sports such as hockey and soccer - you can burn off 80 calories in just
10 minutes, or work off the equivalent of a dozen pancakes or more in a day
of skiing! Sports also have additional benefits: team sports can be fun for
the social aspect as well as for the exercise, while individual sports can be
a great way to get away from everything and de-stress. Just think about sports
or other activities you haven't done in a few years that you used to enjoy doing
- why not get into one or two of them again? Or why not try something new that
you've always been curious about?
You would think people would take any chance they get to relax. But many people feel that they don't relax enough - "relax more" is a popular New Year's resolution. How many times have you found yourself wishing that you took more time to "smell the flowers" and less time on the go-go-go? And yet the problem with deciding to be less busy is that, well, we all have too many things to do. And then, when we do have time to relax, we tend to collapse in front of the TV. And somehow, even if we use up a whole evening watching TV, we still don't feel like we get enough relaxation.
This is at least in part because relaxation is not just "not doing anything." It's a state of bodily relief, of reduced tension, and of calmness. You will be able to relax better if you're healthier - which includes eating right and exercising. Far from being the opposite of relaxation, exercise is an important key to it. So, in fact, "vegging out" in front of the TV with pop and chips is not really the best way to relax at all - especially not if it's the only thing you do to relax. If you want to relax more, the first steps you should take are to eat right and exercise more - see the corresponding sections in this health feature.
There are several other things you can do to increase the benefit you get from relaxation. Here are some suggestions:
- Find an absorbing hobby - many people relax best when they're in their workshop, or out taking photos, or drawing, or sewing. You can focus and calm the mind, and you will also gain a sense of accomplishment.
- Help other people - for example, volunteer at a charity. You will see more of life - and more interesting parts of it - than you will by watching TV. You will feel satisfied with your use of time, and you will have gotten your mind off of your own concerns.
- Perform deep breathing exercises whenever you have the opportunity - on the bus, for instance, or even when waiting in lineups or walking. There are a variety of techniques. The most basic is simply to breathe in to a count of four and out to a count of six, and then increase the counts as you go on. You will get the most benefit, of course, from taking some time every day to sit in a quiet space, focusing on your breathing or on a word or image.
- Do yoga - even if you just learn a few basic positions and moves and do them for a few minutes every morning, your body will be better equipped to encounter the day more calmly.
The more you do things that actively release stress and tension, the less you will feel a need to "veg out" - and the less you may want to try to take shortcuts to relaxation with the aid of alcohol or tobacco.
Part of the problem for many people is that they think of relaxation as "filler," something of no actual importance - an absence of activity. But relaxation is very important. People work long, hard hours just so they can afford to relax later on - and then they don't get around to it. Schedule some time in to relax. Give it a priority on your list of things to do, and don't let other things bump it out of place. Remember: it's not "doing nothing." It's recharging your batteries!