How to Quit Smoking Without Turning to Food

Guest Article by
SHIRI MACRI, Lead Therapist
Green Mountain at Fox Run

If you’ve ever tried quitting smoking, you know how difficult a process this can be. It’s not just the physiological addiction to nicotine you have to fight, but also the psychological addiction.  Because smoking is oral in nature, it’s common to turn to various oral replacements such as chewing gum or snacking as a way to make up for the loss of oral satisfaction smoking may provide.

While gum or snacks can be the lesser of evils when it comes to quitting a potentially lethal habit, even these substitutes can quickly become a new unhealthy habit.

Quit Mindfully

New and interesting perspectives in smoking cessation are taking rise, and they are rooted in mindfulness-based approaches, such as the one developed by Dr. Judson Brewer of The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The idea is to use present-moment, non-judgmental awareness WITH the addictive habit as opposed to avoidance and replacement strategies.  Instead of moving away from the process, these concepts suggest turning towards it.

Understand That Smoking Doesn't Relieve Stress

It’s important to understand this before you try to quit.   It’s long been known that smoking doesn’t actually relieve stress. Instead, when people smoke they are alleviating the withdrawal symptoms from nicotine, which feels like a relief from life stress.  In actuality, it’s a relief from withdrawal.

Another likely reason that smoking creates the feeling of stress relief is that, in today’s world, a smoker has to:

  • Stop everything they’re doing.
  • Go outside.
  • Breathe deep (ok, ok, I know it’s breathing smoke, but you get the point).

Imagine what would happen to stress if everyone stopped everything, went outside and took deep breaths (without the smoke) for 10 minutes a few times in their day.

There’s another name for that. It’s meditation

One of Three Things Will Happen

Smoking, like eating, carries with it a craving component.

Though substance addiction is quite different, cravings are a commonality and these can feel quite strong sometimes.  What we usually do is resist or replace.

The truth is that we’re afraid of our cravings because we’ve so often ‘failed’ at resisting them.  When the craving hits, we often go through this process of avoiding, resisting, replacing…desperately trying not to think about the ‘elephant’ in the room.

Well, how about if we just take a moment to simply look at it, knowing that after we look at it one of 3 things will happen.

  • We won’t engage in our habit.
  • We will engage in our habit.
  • We’ll engage in the habit but in a different way.

But in the meantime, we’ve gotten to know ourselves a little more and maybe by doing so, we’re less afraid of our habits.

Lean Into Your Cravings

What is this craving thing?  Where does it happen in our bodies?  What are the sensations of a craving? What do the sensations feel like?  How strong are they?  What happens when we watch them?  Do they change?  How long does it take for them to change?  How do they change – stronger, weaker, different?

The point here is not to resist or replace, but instead add to them.  That’s right, add.

Being additive is a major component of our program here at Green Mountain at Fox Run and our Women’s Center for Binge and Emotional Eating.  We specialize in helping women with this notion of being additive.   ‘

Instead of trying to take it away (whether the it is smoking or emotional eating), we’ll often suggest adding to it. 

In this case, we’re adding mindfulness.  A gentle, non-judgmental curiosity about our cravings.

Sometimes we can make some interesting discoveries.  We might get to know ourselves a little more.  And yet other times, this is a simple, effective way of looking at a part of ourselves and watching what happens.

Get Curious

Taking the time to understand ourselves can feel quite empowering, whether we’re working on smoking habits, habitual eating behaviors or any other habit.

The beauty is that if you’re using this method for smoking cessation, you can also use it to prevent and/or cope with eating as a replacement for smoking. 

So let me share with you a step-by-step method of doing this, for getting curious about your cravings.  This method is known as R.A.I.N and was developed by Michele McDonald over 20 years ago.

Let it R.A.I.N.

  • Recognize the craving. Consciously acknowledge it.  In other words, it’s like looking at the elephant and saying “oh! There you are!”
  • Allow the experience to be there just as it is. This is the first step of being curious.  Instead of turning away from it, we simply pause and allow any and all thoughts, feelings, and sensations to be there, so that we can move into the next step, which is…
  • Investigate all parts of the craving, WITH KINDNESS – all of the thoughts, feelings and sensations, as well as the level of intensity. Ask yourself: What’s happening right now?  How am I experiencing this in my body? Where is this happening in my body?  Can I describe the sensations?  What level of intensity are they?
  • Note the experience. This step really goes hand-in-hand with the ‘I’ where we make gentle, non-judgmental notes of what we investigated.  For example, we may note: tension, tightness, belly, nervous, hot, intense, light, etc.  With noting, we literally comment.

So the next time you crave a cigarette or a snack (without feeling hungry), try R.A.I.N. and just see what happens.  You never know what you’ll discover.

American Psychologist; Parrott, A.C.; 1999

Green Mountain at Fox Run, Vermont

ABOUT GREEN MOUNTAIN AT FOX RUN

Exclusively for women of all backgrounds, shapes and sizes, Green Mountain at Fox Run (GMFR) in Vermont is a healthy living retreat that teaches how to live healthfully and happily, free of feelings of restriction and deprivation often associated with dieting and the thin ideal.     As the nation’s oldest retreat exclusively for women who struggle with weight, emotional and binge eating, and feelings of food addiction, the team has spent over four decades developing and refining a practical, pioneering non-diet strategies that have helped thousands of women end the yo-yo cycle of weight loss and regain.   You’ll work with our caring and experienced team that includes nationally renowned experts in the fields of behavioral and emotional health, eating behavior and nutrition, fitness and movement. We are pioneers, innovators and thought leaders in our field, offering the only program of its kind in the country.

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