Stopping smoking…

I, like many people in my generation, grew up with the fug of adults smoking. I don’t remember hating it at the time but I certainly don’t remember loving it either. I remember brown teeth and stale breath, the grainy dankness of the rooms the following day. Anyone who has gone into a pub in the first light of day will completely relate.

Yes I hear people say ‘well, my Uncle Cyril lived till he was a thousand and he smoked sixty a day…’. Yes, but it’s not as easy to cling to false hope when you hear the stories from the sadly more than equal amount of people who have a completely different experience of their loved ones.

When I am taking people through my nutrition programme it is the first thing that I ask about. Smoking simply doesn’t give you a fighting chance to be healthy or fight the ageing process. Fact. So, although I completely subscribe to the right of people to live their lives as they see fit I have to always recommend the stopping of smoking.

Health reasons are the top of most people’s list of why they quit. It should be. Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. Half of all smokers who keep smoking will end up dying from a smoking-related illness. Lung cancer is the most known but mouth, nose, throat, kidney, stomach etc have all been connected to smoking too, along with leukaemia, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These latter two making your breathing difficult and increasing over time until they are fatal. But the list certainly doesn’t end there. There is the very real likelihood of heart attack. Smokers are twice as likely to die of a heart attack than non-smokers and smoking weakens and narrows the blood vessels to the brain and limbs adding stroke to the increased potential risks.

Enough to convince you? No? Well, there’s the increased risk of macular degeneration and cataracts and do you really want to live with the gum disease and tooth loss or the bad breath and stinky hair and clothes, premature wrinkles, or the yellow teeth and fingernails?!?

Okay, you may dismiss the latter as vanity but primarily smoking will  kill you. It strikes me that the current way of things in the world is putting the body under attack from so many sides and as no one truly knows how the complexities of the foods and nutrients we eat react with the complexities of the body, why interrupt and damage that fragile system any more than necessary? Processed foods, sugar, additives and lab created chemicals replacing organic processes are elements already triggering dangerous reactions in our bodies and so it’s mad to add smoking to the mix, especially as smoking is a known killer.

Plus, did I mention  it ages you?!?  So if you want to look like yoda when you are a hundredth of his age…

Women have some extra risks linked to smoking. Women over 35 who smoke and use birth control pills have a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots in the legs. Women who smoke are more likely to miscarry or have a lower birth-weight baby. Low birth-weight babies are more likely to die or have learning and physical problems. It’s a serious business…

I can also understand that you might be thinking why stop now? Often there is an inertia to quitting that comes from a denial and a belief that the damage is done, perhaps, or that you’ve come this far…but no matter how old you are you will benefit from stopping smoking with a greater quality of health and life. Weight gain that is feared after quitting is of much less risk than smoking that’s for certain fact.

So the big question is: How to stop?

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive one right way to stop, but there are four stages of the process to consider :

  1. Making the decision to stop
  2. Choose a date to stop and a plan of action
  3. Coping with the withdrawal
  4. Remaining a non-smoker

Making the decision to stop has to come from you. Sounds obvious but a directive led by a friend who wants to stop and is getting you to ‘have a go’ too will lack commitment or focus from you. You yourself must be ready to stop and ready to make a serious commitment.

Selecting a date to stop is a time honoured way to begin, choosing a date not too far in the future so you don’t have time to talk yourself out of it and stand by the commitment. If you are using a prescription drug to assist you then this needs to be factored in so take advice from the health care professional you are consulting.

Another preferred action is to stop cold turkey and with no assistance from nicotine replacement products. Not necessarily recommended by experts as it is a tough road to take but for some it is the only way to tackle it psychologically as the idea of slowly reducing the cigarettes smoked to reduce withdrawal symptoms etc can be equally hard to stick to and much easier to dismiss along the way. But sadly the cold hard truth is there is no miracle way to achieve the breaking of the addiction. It’s like weight loss in that it requires a lifestyle and mental attitude change and a life long commitment to be successful. Just in the way a bolted on diet will NEVER work, attempting some half thought through, half hearted stopping smoking plan will NEVER work either.

Plan the event of stopping properly. If you’re going to use replacement to roducts, prescription drugs or join support groups, get all that arranged before hand. Ask for support from friends and family that are still smoking to not do so around you and to keep temptation from your sight! Chuck out all the cigarettes, ashtrays etc from all areas of your life – home and work.

So, the day of reckoning arrives and you are stopping. First of all, well done by the way! You should always praise yourself for every tiny step of the way. This initial period is the toughest and you should be proud of your achievements accordingly. On the day you stop smoking, literally stop. Completely. Not even a whiff of smoke and certainly not the odd puff! Avoid people who are smoking and situations where you would ordinarily have smoked. This may well mean changing your routine and avoiding things like coffee and alcohol that you associate with a cigarette. Exercise and drink lots of water to help your body cope with the withdrawal.

If you feel an urge to light up, wait. Tell yourself to wait ten or fifteen minutes for the urge to pass. Baby steps…

Nicotine replacement products will help you with the physical withdrawal but those symptoms pass soon enough. Other oral fixations are needed to replace the smoking one – that sounds ruder than I intended but I think you know what I mean! Try to avoid too many sweets or gum as these have the equally poisonous sugar in them but that’s a different soapbox elsewhere on this site! Chew on vegetables, seeds and fruit instead or get up and go for a walk, breathe deeply and fight the drug withdrawal with everything you’ve got.

The mental withdrawal is tougher for many as smoking is linked to so many aspects of daily life. You may find that even when using nicotine replacement products you still have the urge to smoke. This psychological impulse is hard to fight. Recognise it for what it is and attempt to disassociate yourself from it – realise it is a ‘rationalisation’. These thoughts are sneaky ways the old smoking you tries to fool you into doing something that will undo your hard work and make you smoke again. Thoughts like:

  • you have to die of something and how bad is smoking really?
  • I’ll just have the one to get me through this rough spot
  • I like it and it is my only vice!
  • The air pollution is probably worse actually…
  • I won’t stop today actually because it’s so and so’s party on Friday…so next week is better…
And so on…
Be ready to recognise them and block them from doing any damage with some kind of distraction or change of thought direction. Remind yourself why you are doing this in the first place and the huge, huge benefits.

Remaining a non-smoker is the challenge. Remembering why you stopped and focussing on the benefits you feel will help and when the urge comes just sit it out for a while first and use the techniques you used then you were stopping in the first place. Those sneaky rationalisations can strike at any time and can be many months after you’ve stopped. Be aware!

Many worry about weight gain but eating a varied, balanced diet and doing a modicum of exercise will take care of that…which goes for everyone in truth.

If you do slip and smoke a cigarette then rather than allow it to be an excuse to start smoking again see it as a one time mistake and look at why it happened and renew your commitment to stopping and remaining smoke free. Either way don’t be too hard on yourself as many people cannot quit first time, but it is imperative the reasons for relapsing are studied and used to create a stronger future attempt.

This is by no means a definitive or exhaustive look into the why’s, how’s and what’s of stopping smoking and there are loads of great sites, groups and books to help.
sSpport, kits, websites and apps:

Create a quit-plan, get support and information on Champix, NRT, patches, lozenges, nasal sprays, gum, Microtab, inhalator and Zyban.

NHS Quit Smoking app (for the iPhone or iPod) and NHS Quit Smoking Widget:

Receive daily support on your computer to help you successfully stop smoking. It offers motivational support, instant tips, benefits and facts with links to relevant features and videos, tracks the days you are smoke-free and the money you are saving and links to Stop Smoking Services.

Some people find success through hypnotherapy. To find a hypnotherapist to help you quit:


Leek and potato soup…

As you know I’m always attempting to channel (nearly wrote Chanel…which is appropriate too) Nigella and find myself increasingly pushed for freezer space as I sling more and more stuff in that might ‘come in handy’ for a later food event (that’s known as lunch or dinner to some people). Well, I had a proper NLM (Nigella Lawson Moment) and no, before any of you wisecrackers say it, it did not involved porcelain skin, buxom curves and my cavorting in the Trevi Fountain in a posh frock…but oh how I would trade up if I could!! It involved stock (and I think the lady herself would agree that is pretty high peaking on the scale of luscious moments) – vegetable stock to be precise.

Okay, okay…

I’m over egging this. My damnable conscience is prickling my skin with disbelief at the egging, bigging and pursed-lipped bragging that just occurred. I’ll level with you, it’s just the water from various blanched, quick cooked and short boiled vegetables. In my defence I can only say I dream of Nigella’s freezers (not a euphemism) and aspire. Also, in my pitiful defence I will say this, the water from those various blanched, mostly cruciferous vegetables, is surely better to use in a soup than just flinging plain water in?!? What about just using some form of pre-made stock I hear you say, half stifling a mocking laugh. Well, I have indeed considered this idea and am a multi-user of the Marigold bouillon brand (reduced salt or organic natch) but I also wanted to create a health laden soup that can sit snug in its bowl brimming with borderline smugness at its lack of any additives except those endowed by the mother of us all…nature! What nutrients actually survive the cooking process is debatable but the water is flavoured which gives a deeper taste and loads less sodium than the bouillon. Win, win…

Jeez I needed rousing violins underscoring all that didn’t I?!

Anyhoo…at the end of the day (as people insist on saying to which the only real answer is, ‘…it gets dark’) I made a leek and potato soup that is seasonal, locally grown, the simplest ever recipe and super healthy. Hoorah.

It must be these endless wintry months that is triggering this soup obsession! Or maybe the #leekgate situation in the root vegetable bake recipe that is as yet unresolved. AND unlike the tomato soup, previously posted, this is in season now and therefore we can gorge on it without any fear of karmic damage to our carbon wotsit. Hoorah.

So literally all I do is chop up the leeks and potatoes into smallish bits. Use as much as possible of both.

Keep the skins on the potatoes. Rinse the leeks to remove any lurking soil. Then I always sauté them for a few minutes in a smidgen of olive oil. If they colour up a tad (the heat is too high?) no matter it adds a certain something, and this version isn’t going to be winning any beauty pageants any time soon…! Then I sprinkle on a touch of white pepper (adjust this seasoning later) and the bouillon powder (I usually use Marigold brand and often the reduced salt).

Then I cover the whole lot in water – the vegetable water aforementioned – stir and bring it to the boil. Don’t worry if there are any bouillon lumps they’ll soon be beaten into submission. Once it boils reduce to a simmer, partly cover and leave for fifteen/twenty minutes or so till the potatoes are cooked.

I’ve no idea how long actually I just check it and when it’s done …it’s done. Unlike boiling potatoes for mash or some such it doesn’t really matter if the whole boiling lot fall to pieces! In fact I usually let the potatoes  crumble a bit then set about the whole thing with a potato masher.

The decision on the consistency of your soup is, of course, as ever, yours. Exercise this right of personal taste now. If you like a chunky, brothier soup then just mush the potatoes and leeks with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher to break them up until your happy. Otherwise get a trusty hand blender thingie and give it a few short blasts for a half puréed feel, or keep going until it’s a smooth blended loveliness.

Taste and adjust the seasoning…essentially the white pepper. You don’t need to add salt. Really. You don’t. I’m sure Nigella would add a swirl of cream too…but she’s a minx and I’m too vain…but I do sling a few chopped herbs on top for an added taste and nutrient kick

The winter months challenge our drive to eat locally grown produce but leeks are a fantastic gift to us. They are in season pretty much from the start of November right through till April. Chock full of healthy things like vitamins and minerals, folates and specially, like garlic and other alliums, antioxidants (notably allicin) which does lots of wondrous things like help lower cholesterol, help reduce blood pressure and, if that wasn’t enough, it acts as a general anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal…leeks rock! If you don’t like them then either learn to like them (don’t be so nesh!) or just chuck one under your pillow to have a vision of your future loved one. Hmmm…the wives tale says ‘husband’ but I can’t believe leeks are so sexist and wouldn’t also conjure up the vision of a future wife, partner, or whatever takes your fancy…after all it’s your vision…

The humble potato, the staple of millions of tables, has a fair bit to offer on the nutrition front so rethink your opinion and, more importantly, your cooking methods. First don’t believe everything you read about GI indexes and all that, because in truth, the results vary hugely depending on considerations like type, origin, the method of cooking, even the temperature they’re eaten at, all play a part in how it breaks down in your body. Complex carbs keep you fuller longer and release slower so you have sustained energy. Potatoes (with their skins!!) have vitamins B6 (crucial for cell regeneration) and C (healthy cells, growth and repair of tissue, boosts the immune system and much more), folate and minerals such as potassium (water balance, blood pressure management, nerve function), iron (transports oxygen, helps make red blood cells, fights fatigue of body and mind) and manganese (helps utilise key nutrients, protects nerves, helps build strong bones, protects cells). They are a good source of fibre and a handful of those handy phytochemicals we need (potatoes store nutrients to fight infections and promote new growth which are thought to have antioxidant properties for us too).

A note about the Reduced Salt Marigold Swiss Vegetable bouillon. I love it, don’t get me wrong but like many, many things these days it contains palm oil. I’m a little perplexed over the palm oil sitch. Palm oil demand is huge and growing ever bigger. It is used as a cheap, trans fat free alternative to partially hydrogenated oils (which are bad and wrong) in thousands of products from foods stuffs to cosmetics. The demand has meant mass deforestation – critically in countries (like Malaysia and Indonesia) where there are several species already on the verge of extinction. Although the Marigold brand makes of point of saying their source is sustainable I wonder what the plantation replaced? AND the jury is still well and firmly still out on the health claims. The makers of the stuff claim it has a cancer fighting form of vitamin E whereas others say the high processing it goes through destroys any nutrients and health benefits and just leaves a saturated fat that doesn’t even assist cholesterol or indeed anything! Hmmm….