My Struggle With Quitting Smoking And Weight Gain | A Black Girl's Guide To Weight Loss

My Struggle With Quitting Smoking And Weight Gain

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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?

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She now lives in New York with her family, and is working on her 4th, 5th and 6th certificates.

17 Comments

  1. Serenity

    June 13, 2011 at 9:57 AM

    If all I smoked was 5 squares a day, I would have never given it up. I was up to a pack and a half per day habit and smoked for 25 years. Every time during the 25 I tried to quit I would gain weight. The only way to lose it was to start back smoking. Seeing others gain weight keep me puffing. But when my father died of lung cancer after smoking for 60+ years, I put them down. No cravings, no weight gain, but lots of grieving.

  2. stephanie

    June 13, 2011 at 10:26 AM

    Struggle?! That is an understatement. I have smoked for 30 years and hate it. I have attempted to quit 4 times in the past year, the longest quit being 5 months. That craving is always there. For the past 2 weeks I have embarked on a healthy lifestyle, yay! Going to the gym 6 days a week, keeping calories in check, eating yummy healthy foods (fish, veggies, fruits, water, water, water) and weight training. I am changing my lifestyle, my mindset and my body. Smoking is undoing all the change, and I am frustrated with myself for not having the strength to say no to lighting up. Health and smoking just do not go hand in hand. I pray that as my body grows stronger my will power will also grow stronger and I will leave this nasty habit behind. Thank You for the article…. actually I was shocked that you once smoked, as you are so beautifully healthy. At least through you I know quitting can be done and one can come out on the other side stronger and healthier.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      June 13, 2011 at 11:30 AM

      Girl, it was a long hard road for me to get this far… I figured no better day to share another aspect of that than the 2 year anniversary of the day that I quit, lol. :)

  3. Amber

    June 13, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    I was still a smoker when I first started jogging again in December. As dangerous as it may have been, I was determined to continue smoking and build up lung strength to be a better jogger. However once smoking started tasting disgusting to me again and I quit “cold turkey” in the first week of March, I did start to eat more “bad” foods (processed, no nutritional value) idk why, probabaly for “comfort”. But I didn’t stop my regular running routine. At that point in March I had lost about 50 lbs…and here it is June and I’m just at 75 lbs lost. So clearly my weight loss slowed down drastically. Idk if it was the eating habits or a plateau. Im back to eating more health consciously, but no matter what I’m not starting smoking again to curve my eating. And now to alleviate stress I just jog it out. :)

  4. Eva

    June 13, 2011 at 11:39 AM

    I started smoking when I was a teenager, at that time cigarettes cost about 65 cents a pack. I quit in 1984 when the price was going up to $1. I started again in ’87 when I stopped drinking. Then in 1989 I put cigarettes down and I’ve never picked them up. When I feel stress, I meditate, or call someone. I don’t miss smoking at all. And now they’re mad expensive, no thanks.

  5. Niki

    June 13, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    Everyone I know that has successfully quit smoking, said it was the hardest thing they have ever done. I know people that have been trying to chuck the habit for years and still can’t do it. For you to tackle losing weight and quitting smoking at the same time is a true testament to what one can do once you make up your mind.

    Thanks so much for the inspiration!

  6. Ebony

    June 13, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    I really appreciate you posting this as I have been trying to do different things to help me to stop smoking. I have gotten into a habit of working out regularly and eating healthier and was actually scared to stop smoking out of fear of gaining the weight back that I have lost. I know that the battle is coming to an end because cigarettes are starting to taste nasty and the sensation is not there. I have been able to stop drinking coffee so I know that I have the will power to stop this too. Thanks again for the encouragement that you have given with this and so many other habits.

  7. Tracy

    June 13, 2011 at 6:28 PM

    This brings to mind someone that was on a reality show (was it The Real World?) that smoked because she didn’t want to gain weight. She hated the habit and didn’t “enjoy” smoking, but she didn’t want the weight gain that comes with kicking the habit. I’ve heard people make this claim before. My aunt quit smoking and blew up. However, she also eats all types of junk food. Maybe she’s replacing one habit with another.

  8. JRM

    June 15, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    Thanks for this article. I feel sometimes that I am stuck in a freudian phase of oral fixation. If I am away from home working then I leave the pack home. But trust my mouth works overdrive when I am away from the sticks. Breakfast – gum – lunch – something sweet – end of pen – something sweet – dinner – gum. The cycle goes on and the emotional toll is the worst.

    I must admit that when I was on vacay recently, with not a care in the world, I craved less and could go days without a ciggie. Now I have returned and anxious about almost everything my habit has gotten worse.

    I will try making myself busy (er) and I like the option of jogging so I will try that.

    Thanks again!

  9. cvs

    June 18, 2011 at 12:41 AM

    i don’t smoke, sorry I find it repulsive and both of my parents smoke ……aaaand I have asthma.
    So the cool crew that smoked weed…were just annoying…the elementary skool kids that tried to hit the cigg…were idiots to me,
    there’s no desire there.
    My parents find it EXTREMELY hard to stop. When I ask them why they started…”to loose weight…”…”because I heard it helps with stress…”
    I run to alleviate stress….or have a glass of wine which i know is equally bad (at least it’s red wine)
    all in all, I know (especially in this day and age) starting a bad habit is not good for someone who has weight concerns (because of genetic predisposition or otherwise) so spread the word early and to as many who you may think is considering (yes that goes for the 12 year old neighbor that babysits your kids) instilling that knowledge early is essential….they will understand the implications soon enough..
    chiao!

  10. Kay

    June 18, 2011 at 4:02 AM

    I was at my lowest weight when I quit and I KNEW I needed to be careful and watch I didn’t substitute the cigarettes with food but I still gained weight. I smoked for about 15 years on and off, not heavily, and it does make me wonder if the length of time somehow affects the ‘reward’ center of the brain permanently. Cigarettes are all chemical highs. One thing I found out when I was quitting was that cigarettes give you an instant energy fix which is why so many smokers light up after a meal. Good food energy takes about 20 minutes.
    It doesn’t help I’m an emotional eater :/

  11. Marshelle

    October 16, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    Has anyone tried reading The Easy Way to Quit Smoking by Allan Carr? That worked for me. I too started jogging and realized that smoking was holding me back from good running times and finishing a race with a decent performance. So I started reading it and it really helped me. I was a smoker for 15 years off and on. Doesn’t sound like much but that’s about half my life.
    The only thing is I still don’t feel as though I have really developed good coping mechanisms. I’d like to get into meditating though, any advice?

  12. Loretta

    November 19, 2011 at 1:05 AM

    Recovering smoker here. Been clean for over 20 years now. I enjoyed smoking, it wasn’t about looking cool or cute…it was about the feeling. However with my oldest son ( who was a baby at the time) saying he didn’t want me to smoke….they were pushing hard back then on the no smoke thing and almost going through a light on a rain slick street after leaving the emergency room with bronchitis……….trying to light a cigarette, it was time to quit. I crumpled the pack and threw them out the window and never looked back. However I did fight weight gain! my next ‘habit’ was at least healthy! weight lifting…
    The study proves out what has been said for years..thought they knew!!

  13. G

    April 1, 2012 at 3:21 PM

    im so glad i found this website. Due to stress in my life in the past, I’ve thought about smoking but, never did. After reading these stories i know that was the right decision! God bless yall!

  14. Sita

    August 3, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    My father died of heart disease when I was ten. He smoked most of his adult life. That was enough of a warning for me. I smoked two cigarettes when I was 16 – started craving one the next day and that scared the heck out of me. Stupid waste of money and health.

    I do have trouble coping with stress, though. That’s when I turn to the sugary, high fat, high salt foods. With the help of this blog I’m trying to overcome that, though…

  15. Lea

    November 4, 2012 at 3:13 AM

    Dopamine is cah-razy, yo. So many of our addictions deal with this reward neurotransmitter. I smoked cloves when I had a bit of money to burn – went down to gen. packs when I had less, and then started rolling my own. Quit about a year and a half ago, myself.

    Had one of those cravings the other day, dealing with a major stress scenario. Took a deep breath, remembered how fantastic it was that I could take a deep breath, ate a square of unsweetened chocolate, then dropped and gave myself twenty. And twenty more. Felt the burn in my chest, but there was no awful ash-y aftertaste. Everyone who is a smoker: you can conquer it. It’s a lifetime battle, but it’s one you can win. Just take it one step at a time, and do it on your terms.

  16. toya

    September 5, 2013 at 9:08 PM

    Crazy as it may sound I been a smoker 15 years and I always weight 115. So when I got pregnant with my 4th baby I was able to quit and I gained 25pds and I loved my new body. 9 months later I started back and lost it all so I quit again cold turkey 5 days ago cus I want to be fine again

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