According to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1 billion people on the planet still smoke. That’s almost 14% of the entire world population and there’s no doubt anymore that smoking is incredibly dangerous.
Tobacco causes almost six million deaths per year—or more specifically, over five million of those these casualties result from direct consumption of tobacco, while about 600,000 are non-smokers who have sadly been exposed to second-hand smoke.
Since you’re reading this article, I will assume that you are an ex-smoker, or you are planning to quit this addiction. While it won’t be easy, as with any lifestyle change it’s likely to bring even greater benefits than the obvious health ones.
Smoking is expensive, socially shunned (in some countries more than others) and just being at the ‘mercy’ of an addiction is likely to play havoc with your self esteem, as has been the case for close family and friends of mine.
One of the most common symptoms of quitting smoking is weight gain, and for some, increased food cravings and appetite and it’s likely that some people continue smoking out of fear of gaining weight. Many people find they reach for food when they used to smoke, so as their calorie intake goes up, so does their weight. Don’t let this be you, because there are a lot of ways to avoid this situation.
What do you need to get fit and avoid weight gain after quitting smoking? 4 things: have the right mindset, an exercise plan, eat well and rest.
Where to start? Mindset.
Any lifestyle change is likely to go through a number of phases, from the emotional ‘high’ of making a new commitment, and the burst of motivation that comes with it, to the low point where motivation starts to wane and old habits may try and sneak back in.
You’ll then continue to ride this wave of shifting motivation, because that’s natural and normal. Commitment and good habits are what’s going to get you through every time. They’re the keys to success as I’ve written elsewhere. Mindset is what determines whether you’ll stick to new, healthier habits.
Physically, your body will undergo a lot of changes when you quit smoking. Other than possible weight gain and increased cravings and appetites, you might have trouble concentrating, and feel restless, anxious and irritated. It’s essential to understand the physical impact of nicotine withdrawal as well as believe that the cravings will pass provided you don’t give in to them.
Exercise after quitting smoking
Studies show that exercising will help you curb your cravings for nicotine. Not only will it distract you from smoking, it makes nicotine withdrawal easier and decreases your appetite as well. Exercise is absolutely the most resourceful way to replace an old unhealthy habit with a new one, and there are any number of ways you can do this.
- Choose one exercise and make it your ‘thing’ – a new habit you can build up over time. This can be as simple as putting your running shoes on and going for a run. Swimming and biking are also good choices. Depending on where you live or your schedule a stationary one like this might be a good option because you can then resolve to jump on the bike for a quick pedal every time the urge to smoke hits.
- Begin a strength training program. Strength training has so many different benefits, including producing toned looking lean muscle that is flattering and great for your self esteem. Strength training is easy to do at home, with the help of a workout DVD like Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred, and a good set of adjustable dumbbells.
- Find a team sport to participate in and master, which has the added benefit of providing a social outlet as a further distraction from the urge to smoke. Alternatively, gym classes may be useful if you find it hard to self-motivate with a strength training program or other solo exercise, as well as providing the social atmosphere you may need.
- Add yoga into your exercise plan. The benefits of yoga are many, including stronger bones, added flexibility, and it aids in building muscles, which beautifully complements strength training. It also balances out metabolism, which can lead to weight loss according to Yoga Journal. Lastly, yoga de-stresses you, which decreases your urge to smoke. If you’re considering yoga at home, there are fantastic DVD series you can buy, or you can find classes for free on Youtube. All you need is a good, strong, portable exercise mat like this…
… and you’re good to go!
Eating well to get into shape
Ask any fitness expert, and he/she will tell you that exercise is only half of getting into shape, the other half being a healthy, nutritious, well-balanced diet. In fact I think the balance is more like 70:30 diet: exercise. And this is very important if you’ve only just quit smoking, as you need to detoxify your body and help it to heal by getting rid of the harmful substances that have built up in your system.
Superfoods (see my list of the best ones here) are great additions to your diet that will help heal your body and give you the extra boost of energy that you’ll need if you’re beginning an exercise program.
- Fish, lean meat, lentils, egg whites and other food that are rich in protein will leave you feeling fuller longer. Also, protein is very important in building muscles, which the experts say helps keep you in shape.
- Fresh fruits and raw vegetables are great in providing antioxidants, and you’ll need more of these if you were an ex-smoker.
- Leafy veggies like spinach are rich in essential vitamins and minerals that will help your organs functioning properly.
- Eat more orange colored foods, such as sweet potatoes and carrots, because they contain loads of beta-carotene which help maintain the overall health of your lung walls.
- Veggies like broccoli, kale and sprouts contain the chemical isothiocyanate, which can help protect against lung diseases. Eat lots of these to prevent your weakened lungs from getting sick.
- Munch on berries, grapefruit, oranges, cherries, kiwis and other fruits that are rich in Vitamin C (green veggies are also high in Vitamin C). Cigarettes decrease the Vitamin C in your body, so you’ll need to replenish it! You’ll end up with a stronger immune system as well. You can also of course take Vitamin C supplements if it’s a challenge to get this through food.
- Whole grains, beans and other unprocessed starchy foods will provide you with good carbs, and you’ll need that energy if you’re exercising.
- Drink water—LOTS of it! At least aim to drink two litres of water a day, as water helps flush out toxins and curb cravings for food.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the above list, (or the below one!). These tips are to help you realise the range of different options you have for crafting your own nutritional plan to help you to quit smoking without turning to food instead.
Some more tips to consider:
- Do your best to avoid processed foods, as they usually contain an unhealthy amount of salt and add calories to your diet without any important nutrients. Also, most processed foods use preservatives and other chemicals which are harmful to your body. Having said that, start where you are, and if a ‘processed’ snack is the alternative to a cigarette, do this while you’re weaning off nicotine and then work on reducing that reliance later after the worst of the withdrawal is over.
- Make it fun. Not only will a healthy eating plan provide you with the nutrition and energy you may be missing (nicotine is also a known appetite suppressant so there’s every chance you’ll need to increase your calorie intake as your energy needs increase) experimenting with creating new, tasty, healthy meals and snacks can be a great distraction from smoking.
- Eat smaller portions more frequently. Try dividing your meals into two. You’ll remain energised throughout the entire day and keep your metabolism ticking along while also giving your hands and minds a new habit to replace frequent cigarette breaks.
Rest and be kind to yourself
Quitting smoking is a pretty big deal with major impact on your health and your lifestyle. Particularly if you’re making an effort to be more active and exercise, sleep is super important. Recovery time is also crucial to getting in shape and staying fit. Not enough sleep will only lead to more stress, which apparently is the number one reason people smoke.
Don’t beat up on yourself when it’s hard or you slip up. Self-compassion is critical to the process, and when you are also deficient in that, you’re likely to get down on yourself and may turn back to either cigarettes or crappy food to self-comfort.
The time to get into tip top shape and take control over your life is NOW. Actually, you don’t even have to wait until you’ve smoked your last cigarette before you start exercising and eating well. If you’re in the process of quitting, exercising and eating well will actually help you to finally leading a nicotine-free lifestyle. Remember that keeping a positive mindset is very important to help you stay the course. Know that the journey to getting back into shape will not be an easy one, so expect a bumpy ride, but with the right strategies in place you’ll achieve your goal of becoming a permanent ex-smoker while also getting fit, healthy and in shape.
These products might help if you are struggling to quit smoking
I hope you found this information useful. Feel free to share your thoughts or more tips in the comments section, and don’t forget to share this article if you liked it!