Quitting smoking can be notoriously tough. And epidemiologist Gary Giovino, PhD, who has spent years studying patterns of quitting, should know—he used to be a smoker. He smoked for eight years before he quit in 1979. But he did manage to quit. In fact, he called it the best accomplishment of his life. So I called him to find out what worked for him and what other tricks he could share with my readers.
Dr. Giovino and his colleagues at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, came up with a list of techniques that can help anyone quit. These particular tips pertain to quitting smoking, but personally, I wonder if some might help people break other bad habits, such as overeating or overspending. There are five tips, and they all start with the letter “D,” so they’re easy to remember. You can do any of them, in any order, anytime. The point, said Dr. Giovino, is to keep all of these quitting tools in your mental toolbox—and use all that you can…
Distract yourself. Focus on anything but a cigarette. Watch a thriller, read a book, play a computer game or exercise. Many quitters have told Dr. Giovino that they’ve never had a cleaner house! By delaying having a cigarette, you will find that the craving often passes. Eating certain foods might even help. Dr. Giovino’s research-in-progress shows a relationship between high fruit-and-vegetable consumption and increased success at quitting smoking. These foods might reduce the appeal of cigarettes or help by regulating the bowels (since they’re fiber-rich), something smokers often depend on cigarettes for. If you’re missing the feeling of something in your mouth, said Dr. Giovino, chew on a baby carrot or suck on a piece of sugar-free hard candy.
Drink water. Since smoking and drinking are both mouth-oriented behaviors, drinking six to eight glasses of water each day may sometimes satisfy that oral need for you. With water, of course, there’s no risk of consuming too many calories.
Discuss. Talking with a friend who will support you (and not offer you a cigarette!) can provide you with an emotional connection when you’re feeling alone in your struggle. He or she may provide you with encouraging affirmation to keep going. If your friends are too busy to chat, or if you could use some extra help, try calling a smoking quit line. These telephone-based services are available in all 50 states, and they’re staffed by trained health-care professionals. They offer free and confidential coaching, and some can provide you with free starter kits of nicotine-replacement products. Try the National Cancer Institute’s national smoking quit line (877-448-7848).
Deep breathe. Dr. Giovino told me that deep breathing helps many people quit smoking. Whenever a cigarette craving hits (or even when you anticipate one), inhale gently, slowly and deeply for four seconds, hold it in for one second, and then exhale slowly through pursed lips for six to eight seconds. Deep breathing can relieve tension and physical pain, help you focus and resolve emotional strains, so you’ll be less likely to turn to a cigarette for relief. Repeat the breathing cycle two or three times if need be.
Don’t debate. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you quit for one week, you can have “just one” cigarette and not desperately want another. Hold yourself accountable—and if you need more support, tell the members of your virtual world that you’re quitting via Facebook, Twitter, text or e-mail.
Those are Dr. Giovino’s “Ds” of quitting smoking, and together they can be powerful allies for you. But there’s one more ally he mentioned, and this one starts with a “P”—patience. Statistics show that it’s unusual for smokers to successfully quit the first time that they try. “It’s like learning to ride a bike,” said Dr. Giovino, who certainly knows from experience—he tried five times. “You try, and if you fall, then try again until you succeed.”