When I think back to when I first started smoking, it was somewhere around 2006. I wasn’t ever a smoker, simply because when I first tried as a teenager, I almost lit my Aaliyah-swoop bang clear on fire when I lit my first cig.

Um, I took that as a sign. “Put the damn cigarette down.”

However, as my teen years faded, so did the swoop bang… and I picked up my boyfriend’s nasty habit. It wasn’t even regular cigarettes. It was cloves, for crying out loud. Easily, the most expensive habit an early 20-something could develop. I’d eventually leave that boyfriend behind, but his nasty habit remained.

The cloves, at about $9 per pack, were a struggle. The smell, the taste…. the way I could inhale smoke and exhale stress… it was seriously my habit. I’d smoke 5 a day – breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner… and sometimes a last one for a snack before bed. It was how I dealt with life. Work stress? Grab a smoke. Home stress? Grab a smoke. Not because the answer to my stress was somehow laced within my cigarette… but because I felt like I couldn’t access the answer unless it was through a cloud of clove smoke.

Obviously, considering the dire straits I was in at that time regarding my weight, the smoking wasn’t doing anything for my weight… or was it? I was still as overweight as I’d always been, clove or no clove. It didn’t protect me from myself, yet I do wonder… would I have weighed even more if I didn’t smoke? I mean, if the “logic,” so to speak, said that I was using smoking the same way I used food… then if the smokes weren’t there, would I have binged?

Then, there’s the issue of this, which appeared on NPR earlier last week:

Scientists say they have finally figured out how smoking helps people keep off extra pounds.

It turns out that nicotine activates a pathway in the brain that suppresses appetite, according to a study in the journal Science. This discovery should lead to better diet drugs, the researchers say.

The finding comes after decades of research showing that smokers tend to be a bit thinner than nonsmokers, and that smokers who quit tend to put on weight.

Researchers made the discovery after stumbling onto a major clue recently, says Marina Picciotto, a professor of psychiatry at Yale and one of the study’s authors.

The clue turned up during experiments looking for chemicals to treat depression, Picciotto says. A scientist at Yale named Yann Mineur was giving mice a chemical that’s a lot like nicotine, she says.

“He was watching these mice and he said, ‘You know what, they don’t eat as much as the mice that didn’t get this medication,’ ” she says. “And so he decided to follow that up. It was a window into how nicotine might be decreasing appetite.”

The scientists knew that nicotine must be triggering a response in certain brain cells. So they started looking at cells in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain known to regulate appetite. And they focused on a type of nerve cell, called POMC cells, known to be involved in eating behavior.

Sure enough, nicotine made these POMC cells more active. But the researchers still needed to figure out how nicotine was communicating with these cells.

To find out, the team took a closer look at the different types of receptors on the surface of the cells, Picciotto says.

“And we actually thought that maybe the same nicotine receptors that make you want to smoke, that make you rewarded when you smoke, would be the ones that also control appetite,” she says. “But we were wrong.”

So the team looked at another type of receptor. These receptors don’t make you feel good — they’re involved in the so-called fight-or-flight response that occurs when animals or people encounter a threat.

It turned out these fight-or-flight receptors responded to nicotine in a way that reduced hunger. That would make sense from an evolutionary perspective, Picciotto says.

“The fight-or-flight response is one where you actually want to preserve your energy to do something very important,” she says. “So maybe you don’t want to be out there eating while you’re supposed to be running away from a tiger.”

Strangely enough, when I gave up smoking, it was the same time that I gave up processed foods.. and that was two years ago on this very day, June 13th. It was the day that I decided to stop using outside resources to relieve stress in my life, be it sugary and salty foods or cigarettes. When this article refers to “fight-or-flight” response and energy preservation, to me that’s talking about stress reduction – an overstressed person releases a lot of energy being anxious, and we all should “preserve our energy to do something very important.”

What’s interesting, to me, is that this information is going to be used to “create better diet drugs.” What I’d really like this information to be used for, is for us to realize that smoking – much like food – alleviates stress in the same way that adequate coping skills would, as well… and that the answer to this is, quite frankly, to develop those coping skills. It makes the smoking and the food seem that much more useless.

As I’ve said before, developing stronger coping mechanisms has made me a much more capable person. I don’t need to rely on an outside chemical or resource to stabilize my emotions or regain my ability to be a problem solver anymore. I allow myself the space and time to assess whatever is causing my emotional reaction, and I trust my instincts in regards to creating my solution. I no longer need a breakfast, lunch and dinner smoke.

The rest of the NPR article above mentions using “the patch” as an adequate means of helping one quit smoking, as well as nicotine gum. I know that there’s also prescription medication – my Mother used it when she quit a few years back – that works very well but I, true to form, went very cold turkey. What can I say? I’m young, cheap, with limited resources and didn’t want to be a clove addict for the rest of my life. Besides, the state of Florida was adding almost $2 worth of taxes to my habit, bringing each pack to an astonishing $11. No thanks. In the interest of cheapness, it had to go.

When I quit, I kept myself busy to the point where I wouldn’t need to smoke. I had at-home workouts. I had jogging to do. I had yoga. I had bellydancing. I was in hyperdrive and loving it. When problems arose, I was quick to solve them simply because I wanted to get back to the other fun stuff I had to do. For anyone embarking on that struggle, might I suggest assessing the situations that compel you to feel as though you need to smoke, and doing what you can to alleviate that stress… and experience your “reward” from being a problem solver, not a chemical reaction in the brain? Arm yourself with stress relievers – anything from nightly boxing classes to jogging to meditation (!) to stressballs – and give yourself time to think, and the space to be vulnerable so that you can acknowledge your stressors. No matter how strong we may think we are, we are not impervious to stress. Not now, not ever.

How do you deal with stress? Do you struggle with quitting smoking? Did you struggle? How’d you get beyond the habit?