Staying smokefree after quitting
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Quitting smoking is no easy feat. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult habits to break.
The first month is typically the hardest, though some withdrawal symptoms and challenges may persist after this initial quitting period.
Try not to be disheartened if you’re still struggling to kick those cravings — breaking an addiction takes time.
The good news is that once you’ve made it past the one-month mark, the hardest work is behind you. You’re already living a life without cigarettes, so how can you ensure you stay smoke-free for good?
In this guide, we’ll cover tips to stay smokefree long-term.
If you’re just starting on your quitting journey, we recommend visiting our guide on preparing to quit smoking. If you’re within four weeks of quitting, take a look at our dedicated guide that explores the challenges of quitting smoking.
Abstaining from smoking long-term
Whether you quit cold-turkey or weaned yourself off cigarettes with the assistance of nicotine replacement therapies, you did it; you’re now living life, smokefree.
Take a moment to congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come. You’ve made it through the most challenging part of quitting, where both the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms are at their strongest.
However, at the one-month mark. you may still be grappling with lingering psychological side effects such as cravings and mood changes. This is completely normal.
Remember, cigarettes are addictive. In fact, research tells us that they are as addictive as cocaine and heroin.
Many people who smoke use cigarettes to cope with stress and unpleasant emotions. Almost all smokers have certain situational, pattern, and emotional triggers that prompt them to reach for a cigarette.
While these cravings and triggers will weaken with time, there are a number of things you can do to cope with them in the meantime. These practices can also speed up the process of breaking your association between smoking and certain day-to-day activities.
How to stay smokefree
It can be very challenging to stick at your quit plan when cravings or triggers present themselves. But there’s no need to throw in the towel.
There are a number of things you can do to reduce the intensity of cravings and prevent yourself from encountering your triggers. Eventually, these cravings and triggers will dissipate completely.
Below, we’ll take a look at how you can overcome these triggers and abstain from smoking long-term.
Tips to stay smokefree
To stay smokefree, the best thing you can do is create new, healthy patterns, routines and habits, so that you no longer feel the urge to smoke due to certain triggers and cravings.
Exercise after quitting smoking
Physical exercise is one of the most effective tools at your disposal when quitting smoking.
How does exercise help with quitting smoking?
Not only does exercise distract you from cravings and help you set up a new routine, but it’s also a much healthier way to relieve stress.
Where you once would have used cigarettes to cope with stress and other unpleasant emotions, you can begin to use an enjoyable form of exercise instead.
By replacing stress-induced smoking with exercise, you break that emotional trigger and association, and thereby reduce your cravings.
Let’s take a closer look at the ways in which exercise can help you stay smokefree.
It aids stress management
Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the body’s feel-good hormones. Endorphins help to alleviate feelings of stress or anxiety.
So, as mentioned, exercise may become a new, healthier method you use to relieve yourself of stress.
It’s a healthy distraction
Cravings are at their most intense at times when you used to smoke.
Scheduling in your workout for these moments can help to distract your mind and body from these triggers.
If you used to smoke at lunch time, head out for a walk instead. Or, if you smoked before work in the mornings, you might like to schedule a gym class with a friend.
It reduces cravings
Research has shown that moderate exercise can actually reduce the prevalence of cigarette withdrawal symptoms.
A study on mice showed that nicotine-treated mice who ran on a wheel for 2 or 24 hours a day had significantly reduced withdrawal symptoms compared to the sedentary group.
These findings support the suggestion that exercise can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms, and therefore help you abstain from smoking.
It helps us regulate our weight
Many people are concerned about weight gain after quitting smoking. Nicotine is known to cause weight loss, and many smokers fear gaining that weight back as nicotine leaves the body.
Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight. It also helps to regulate your hunger cues properly, which prevents overeating.
How to set up a new exercise routine
You don’t have to jump right into five gym sessions a week.
If you’re new to daily exercise, you might like to start off with a walk everyday. This movement will help you burn calories and tone your muscles, and is also an easy activity to do anytime you’re feeling stressed or craving a smoke.
Let’s look at some tips for setting up an exercise routine.
- Set aside a regular, consistent time for exercise that works for you. You might take a pilates class before work, or head out for a walk on your lunch break.
- Aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day. This 30-minute period doesn’t have to be in one block; 10 minute blocks three times a day will be just as effective.
- Find movement you enjoy. Whether that be swimming, dancing, pilates, walking, running, or basketball, find a form of exercise that works for you.
- Find moments throughout the day where you can move your body. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or walk to work every other day.
- Plan social exercise activities, like a friendly netball game or group hike.
- Change up your exercise routine regularly to avoid boredom.
How soon after quitting smoking can I exercise?
You can start exercising as soon as you stop smoking; there’s no need to wait.
You can also exercise in the lead-up to quitting, but you may not be able to exercise as effectively as if you had already quit, as the cigarette smoke will continue to interfere with your lung capacity and oxygen levels in your body.
Within just a few days of quitting smoking, the oxygen levels in your blood return to normal and your lungs begin to repair themselves. This means you’ll be able to breathe easier and exercise more intensely than before.
In other words, the longer you go without smoking, the better your lung health and the better your exercise capabilities.
The key with exercising after quitting is to start slow and build up gradually. As an ex-smoker, you’ll need to pay particular attention to your heart and lung health.
Don’t be disheartened if you have to take breaks throughout your exercise session or walk. Any exercise is better than none, so take it slow and keep at it.
Does smoking cessation cause weight gain?
Weight gain is very common after quitting smoking. Unfortunately, this can deter ex-smokers from remaining smokefree.
However, it’s important to understand that this weight gain actually signals a return to health. It suggests that nicotine is no longer interfering with important weight-regulating systems in the body.
Smoking causes weight loss, but this weight loss is not healthy weight loss. It occurs for a few different reasons.
- Smoking can speed up your metabolism by 7 to 15%. Nicotine causes the metabolic rate to increase, which means your body burns calories quicker. This is very dangerous, as this change in metabolism causes the heart to beat faster, which can put you at risk of heart disease.
- When you smoke, you may eat less because smoking interferes with our hunger hormones.
- Smoking also switches on our fight or flight receptors. This, in turn, reduces our feelings of hunger, and we consume less calories as a result.
When you quit smoking, your body returns to its natural baseline. Your metabolism, hunger receptors, and fight or flight receptors are no longer under the influence of nicotine, so they begin regulating your weight naturally again.
You may feel hungrier; a sign that your body’s hunger cues are working properly again. This increased hunger and slower metabolism can lead to weight gain.
While many people fear of weight gain after quitting, generally, the amount of weight gained after quitting is unremarkable.
The average amount of weight gained after quitting is 5kg over 5 years. In most cases, the weight gain occurs a few months after you first quit, and then stabilises.
Try not to be discouraged by any weight gain you’re experiencing after quitting. Remember, this is a sign that your body is returning to health.
If you are struggling with the changes to your body, get in touch with your GP to discuss how you’re feeling. They will be able to provide you with strategies to keep you feeling healthy and happy.
Can quitting smoking help you lose weight?
Yes, studies show that quitting smoking can lead to natural, healthy weight loss.
Another study found that people who quit smoking experienced a minor increase in abdominal fat in the first two months after quitting, but then saw a decrease in overall body fat in the following months.
It’s thought that because nicotine is no longer being absorbed by the body, the liver is able to create more glucose, which regulates the metabolism. So, the body is breaking down fats by itself instead of relying on toxins to do the work and harm your body along the way.
Essentially, your body is regulating your weight in a healthier way.
You’ll also be able to breathe easier as your lungs repair themselves, which will increase your exercise capacity. You may find yourself exercising more frequently or more intensely, which will also aid weight loss.
Diet after quitting smoking
Your diet can either help or hinder your ability to abstain from smoking long-term.
Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is very important in the months after you quit. There are even foods that should be avoided while quitting, as they are more likely to trigger cravings.
Healthy foods to eat while quitting smoking
Let’s take a look at the foods and drinks that can help you abstain from smoking during the quitting period and beyond.
Fruits and veggies
When you smoke, the chemicals in the cigarettes block the absorption of certain nutrients, including Calcium, Vitamin C, and Vitamin D.
Adding more fruits and veggies into your diet after you quit can help to top up your body’s stores, and flood your body with the nutrients it has been lacking.
One study found that smokers who consumed more fruit and vegetables were three times more likely to be smoke-free for at least 30 days at the 14-month follow up than those who consumed the lowest amount of fruits and veggies.
These findings remained true when adjustments were made for gender, race/ethnicity, education, age, household income, and health orientation.
The study also found that smokers with a high fruit and veggie intake smoked fewer cigarettes per day, waited longer to smoke the first cigarette of the day, and scored lower on the nicotine dependence test than those who had a low fruit and veggie intake.
Your taste buds and smell receptors began to heal as soon as you stubbed out your last cigarette. This means your food will begin to taste and smell better, too!
It’s very common to feel an urge to snack regularly after quitting.
While this can be attributed to the changes to your hunger hormones and metabolism, it may also be occuring because your mouth and hands are no longer occupied by a cigarette. Your hands and mouth may feel restless and yearn for the hand-to-mouth ritual of smoking.
If this occurs, try snacking on air-popped popcorn. It will keep your hands and mouth busy, and is a lightweight snacking option. Five cups of popcorn contain just 150 calories.
Craving something sweet? It’s common to experience an increase in sugar cravings after you quit.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to indulge those cravings, as this can help to keep you away from cigarettes. However, make sure you’re choosing healthy sweet treats to enjoy.
Skip the processed desserts and go for frozen grapes or blueberries instead. They’re sweet and lolly-like, so they’ll help to satisfy your sugar cravings, and they also have nutritional value.
Studies have suggested that ginseng tea can weaken the effects of dopamine, which is the chemical that is released when you smoke tobacco.
Drinking ginseng tea may help to reduce the appeal of smoking and make it appear less enjoyable. This would be most useful if you have relapsed.
Many smokers report that consuming dairy products, particularly drinking milk, makes cigarettes taste worse.
According to research, smokers experience a bitter aftertaste after consuming tobacco and dairy milk. Again, this one will be most useful if you’re still smoking.
Mints and sugar-free gum
Chewing on mints or gum can help to keep your mouth busy when cravings arise.
Remember to opt for sugar-free varieties to reduce your sugar consumption.
As we now know, one of the best things you can do to distract your mouth and body from cravings is keep your hands and mouth busy.
Sipping on a glass of water is a great way to occupy your hands and mouth.
Thirst is commonly confused with hunger, so ensuring you’re well-hydrated will prevent overeating.
Dehydration also makes you tired, meaning you’ll likely be less motivated to prepare and consume healthy meals. Maintaining adequate hydration will keep your energy levels up so that you can make healthier decisions at mealtime.
Your favourite food and drinks
As mentioned, your sense of taste and smell improve significantly after you quit smoking.
Every now and then, treat yourself to your favourite meal and enjoy all of the flavours and textures you were missing out on before.
It can be especially useful to indulge in these foods when you’re experiencing intense cigarette cravings. Tasting every element of your favourite food can help to remind you of the benefits of quitting.
Foods to avoid while quitting smoking
Certain foods can trigger a cigarette craving.
You may have come to associate that food with the act of smoking. Alternatively, the foods themselves may make you feel sluggish, tired, and unsatisfied, which can also be triggers for smoking.
While you’re still feeling vulnerable to cravings, avoid these foods and drinks where possible.
A majority of smokers smoke cigarettes when they drink alcohol.
Many people smoke their first cigarette when in a social situation that involves drinking. This can lead to regular ‘social smoking’ while drinking on nights out, and can very easily progress into an addiction.
For many people, alcohol and smoking are so closely intertwined that they automatically light a cigarette as soon as they have a drink in front of them.
Try to steer clear of alcohol during your first smokefree month, as this is when your risk of relapse is at its highest.
As you feel your cravings wane, you can experiment with one or two drinks and see how you feel.
Coffee and cigarettes go hand-in-hand.
Reports tell us that smokers find their ‘coffee cigarette’ the hardest to give up, as the act of drinking coffee becomes so closely associated with smoking.
Over time, as the association strengthens, drinking coffee or even the smell of coffee may trigger an urge to smoke.
If you’re struggling with this, try switching to tea or water to break the association. When you feel you have a hold on your cravings, you may need to slowly introduce coffee back into your life, perhaps starting with a decaf, and working from there.
Relying on low-calorie or diet foods won’t serve you well while quitting. Consuming only these foods can actually increase your chances of relapse.
A study in Psychopharmacology found that smokers who reduced their diet by 700 calories per day smoked 8% more cigarettes than those who didn’t.
So, be sure to maintain a healthy calorie intake by consuming well-balanced, nutritionally-dense and filling meals.
While they will give you a short burst of energy, sugary foods are notorious for causing a ‘crash’ once the effects have worn off.
Consuming too many sugar foods can also lead to health problems like high blood pressure and weight gain, so limit your intake where possible.
Overly processed foods
Processed foods tend to contain high amounts of sodium and saturated fats, which can be harmful to our health. They also lack the nutrients and vitamins to keep you feeling energised, replenished, and mentally strong, as you’ll need to be to stay smokefree.
Healthy habits after quitting smoking
In addition to exercising and eating well, there are a number of healthy habits you can practice during this quitting period and beyond. Each of these practices can play a part in helping to keep you smokefree long term.
Replace old habits
It’s very important to break the associations between the day-to-day activities you now see as correlating with smoking.
For example, if you associate cigarettes with your morning coffee, switch to water or juice instead. If you typically smoked mid-morning with co-workers, go for a walk around the block instead.
Practise relaxation activities
You’ll no longer be using cigarettes to help manage your stress, so you’ll need to find new, healthier ways to cope with and work through unpleasant emotions.
Try to incorporate a few relaxation practices into your day-to-day life. You might try mediation, journaling, or listening to music.
Perhaps your ideal form of relaxation is spending time with people, so you might join a support group or volunteer with your local community.
Write a to-do list of odd jobs
To help occupy your time and your mind, compile a list of odd jobs to do around the house.
Not only will this keep you busy, but DIY projects can also help you ring in this new chapter.
Try something new
The best way to break old associations and avoid triggers is to try new things.
Fill your days and weeks with activities that you haven’t associated with smoking. You could consider joining an art class, reading regularly, or learning how to sew your own clothes.
Quitting smoking is difficult, so reward yourself for working towards a healthier future.
Treat yourself to feel-good, healthy treats every now and then, such as a nice meal, a massage, or a spa-day.
Set up a savings account
Quitting smoking does wonders for the bank account.
If you’re a 20-pack-a-day smoker, you spend a total of $12,775 on cigarettes per year.
You might like to set up a savings account where you can deposit the money you would have spent on cigarettes.
It can be very rewarding and motivating to see just how much money you’re saving by staying smokefree. Then, you can consider putting these savings towards something that’s important to you. Perhaps a holiday, or even a house deposit!
What to do if you relapse to smoking
Smoking relapses are experienced by almost all smokers who are attempting to quit.
If you have a cigarette, don’t be too hard on yourself. This is not an indication that you cannot quit.
Rather than focusing on the slip-up, try to focus on how long you went without smoking before the slip-up. Think about the world of good you’ve done for your body already, and the benefits that will continue to come your way when you quit again.
If you have relapsed, plan another quit date as soon as possible. The quicker you give it another shot, the better your chances at quitting long-term.
It can help to reflect on what caused your relapse. Are there changes you need to make to help you quit successfully the next time around?
Note down any triggers that may have prompted you to smoke, and avoid them where possible. Implement some of the above healthy habits to keep you on track.
It’s also important to seek support from your own personal network of loved ones, or from a professional smoking cessation clinic. They will be able to motivate you and encourage you if you’re struggling.
You may feel disappointed, by trying to view this as a learning opportunity. You now have the chance to change things up and utilise a few more tools to keep those cravings and triggers at bay.
When do most smokers relapse after quitting?
Most slip-ups occur within the first few weeks of trying to quit, however, they can happen a little later down the line.
Relapse may occur if you unexpectedly encounter particular emotional, situational, or pattern triggers.
Stay smokefree for good
The road to quitting isn’t one easily travelled, but with the right support network, healthy habits, and strategies under your belt, you can stay smokefree for good.
You don’t have to journey on this road alone. In addition to your personal support network, you can chat to a specialist-trained GP bulk-billed via telehealth for extra support and guidance.
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