Cigarette smoking is generally unhealthy, and smokers who stop are usually taking a big step forward in enhancing their health and decreasing disease risk in the long term. However, stopping smoking is not always a bed of roses. First of all, some people struggle with withdrawal symptoms. And many individuals find that stopping smoking can trigger an un welcome gain weight.
Today, I came across a study that assessed health in smokers, never-smokers and ex-smokers . The presence of metabolic syndrome was addressed, as was the levels of visceral fat (fat in and around the abdominal organs) and subcutaneous fat (fat under the skin). Overall, metabolic syndrome was found to be more common in ex-smokers compared to current smokers and never-smokers. They tended to have higher levels of visceral and subcutaneous fat too.
This study was epidemiological in nature, which means we cannot use it to conclude that stopping smoking leads to worsening health in terms of fat levels and risk of metabolic syndrome. However, fat accumulation after stopping smoking is a common experience, and it seems likely that the obvious benefits of stopping smoking may be somewhat offset by changes in fat levels, particularly with regard to visceral fat.
I am an ex-smoker, having started this habit at the age of 13. By the age of 14 I smoked regularly, usually 3 or 4 cigarettes a day. By the time I stopped for good, I was smoking about 30 cigarettes a day.
I did have a fair few attempts at stopping smoking prior to me nailing it (back in 1987). Here’s what I remember about these attempts:
- terrible withdrawal symptoms that meant I would spend much of the day fantasising about cigarettes.
- withdrawal symptoms that would lasted for many weeks before I caved in and started smoking again.
- a voracious appetite, to the extent that I felt what seemed like permanent hunger, no matter how much I ate.
Yesterday marked the 24th anniversary of me stopping smoking. I wrote about this four years ago here. While stopping smoking had some challenges for me at this time, what I recollect was that the withdrawal symptoms were relatively mild and short-lived, and I don’t remember any increase in appetite. Yet, I was withdrawing from a 30-a-day habit. Paradoxically, this was so much easier than quitting a 3- or 5-a-day habit in my teens. When I finally stopped, I did not use any form of nicotine replacement either. So why the difference?
I’ll never know for sure, but I think a lot of it had to do with the book I read which sparked my stopping. The book – The Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr – takes a largely psychological approach to kicking the habit. I only read the book in its entirety once, but I still remember aspects of it. Part of the reason for this is that the book is quite repetitive – and it needs to be to break down some of the mental barriers some of us to stopping.
The crux of the book, as I remember it, is that many of us attempt to stop smoking expecting it to be hell and expecting also to miss ‘positive’ aspects of smoking such as certain social aspects of smoking and how we might feel bereft of a cigarette when drinking alcohol or coffee, or after a meal. The book encourages the reader to take a positive attitude to stopping smoking, by concentrating on all the ‘good’ things about not smoking such as the freedom it brings, enhanced health, increased self-esteem or whatever. The book also makes the point that if you don’t feel you’re missing something by not smoking, there’s less tendency to ‘replace’ cigarettes with something else (like food).
I have no idea if this thinking made the difference when I finally stopped smoking for good, but I have a feeling it had a lot to do with it. And to this day, when talking to people about stopping smoking, I almost always suggest two things:
- getting one’s mind in the right place – particularly focusing on the positive aspects of stopping smoking
- reading Allen Carr’s book
24 years after stopping smoking I’m still advocating Carr’s book and the mental approach it encourages. I have seen many individuals use this book to get free of cigarettes. Not just free of smoking, but mentally free of the habit too.
1. Matsushita Y, et al. Associations of Smoking Cessation With Visceral Fat Area and Prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome in Men: The Hitachi Health Study. Obesity 2011;19(3):647–651