What kind of diet should a former smoker follow?
Getting out of the habit
By Reenassri Sekaran
Been reaching for the cookie jar since your 2019 resolution to quit smoking? Here to debunk the mystery behind quitting that oh-so addictive nicotine and its mysterious relationship with food is Senior Nutritionist, Kenneth Low of National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM). We will also fill you in on the latest fad, vitamin vapes.
Pursuit of pleasure/The Dopamine Diet
“Nicotine works as a neurotransmitter that sticks to the brain providing the smoker with a pleasurable feeling, while suppressing hunger. It’s similar to dopamine which can be found in chocolate. Secondly, it could be due to the sensory part of the cavity,” explains Kenneth.
You know how cigarette smoke tends to stick to our clothes and hair? Kenneth explains that when a person smokes, the taste and smell will linger in their mouths thus disturbing the food palate.
“If a smoker tells me that a certain dish is delicious, I will be rather doubtful,” quips Kenneth humorously.
Packing on the pounds
It’s a common worry amongst smokers to see the weighing scale creak once they quit.
“Gaining weight is not a side effect of quitting smoking. What happens is that smokers replace the very action of smoking with food.”
“Smoking is a “hand-to-mouth” habit which is similar to the action of eating. And even though nicotine gets them hooked, for some it’s a habit. They would light up a cigarette after a meal. Therefore when they are trying to quit, they need a replacement. Sugary treats becomes substitute to get that same good feels that cigarettes once provided.”
He also revealed that once smokers quit, their sensory palate is revived, food get tastier, rather than their usual flavour – cigarette smoke infused delicacies.
Beating the munchies
So what kind of diet should a former smoker follow?
“If you do a proper diet consultation, the first step begins with a need analysis – we first understand the patient’s background and needs. Everyone has a different problem. For example, a smoker who quits and replaces it with chocolate is different case from a smoker who recently quit who instead of practicing replacement, resorts to food to kill the boredom. Our advice caters accordingly to each situation. It’s a step-by-step framework, need analysis followed by identifying the problem, patient intervention, and a follow-up session. The content at each stage will vary for each patient,” said Kenneth. — The Health
By CHRISTINE ZOE STA MARIA
Many people think it’s too difficult to quit smoking and it’s true for most people as cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug. However, one can overcome the yearning with the proper approach. The Health found the time to speak to Swinder Jit Jag Singh, Smoking Cessation Specialist, from the National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) regarding the approaches to take by smokers who want to quit as well as her thoughts on e-cigarettes and vapes.
The first step
“First, we would do what we can to make the clients feel comfortable. We converse about their smoking habits such as, how long have they been smoking and how many packets of cigarettes do they smoke in a day,” Swinder starts.
“Then, we conduct a COPPM test (breath analyser) where the client would have to blow into a particular device in order to find out their carbon monoxide level. This is to identify whether they are heavy or casual smokers. Smokers who want to quit also fill out a Fagerstrom Chart to disclose how addicted the smoker is to nicotine and find out how much help and what kind of medication they will need.”
Oops I did it again?
Quitting and relapsing is a part of life. It is like riding a bicycle where you fall and injure yourself but you get up and try again until one day, you are able to cycle without falling. How do we find the motivation?
“When you try to quit smoking, you will fail a few times before you successfully quit one day,” she advises.
Safe place for smokers
Smokers can be shy and insecure about quitting, therefore smoking cessation clinics (both private and government sectors) should be advertised more so that smokers will know where to get help from.
“Another way to implement awareness is through NCSM’s quit smoking hotline in which smokers can call and get advice about the approaches to quit smoking. This may be a preferred method as they can ask as many questions as they want openly whilst remaining anonymous. There should be a constant reminder to smokers so that they know that they are not alone and there are clinics here to guide and support them through their journey.”
Be more vocal about them
For us non-smokers, or for those who wants to quit, one of the challenges is to be friends and hang out with smokers.
“When people around us pulls out a cigarette to smoke, we don’t give out the message, whether verbal or non-verbal, that they should not. We should be brave instead of shying away. We need to find the courage to tell them that they should not smoke or give them some advice about why they should not smoke because when we say nothing, it seems as if we’re just accepting it,” explains Swinder.
“We should be more vocal. By lighting up a cigarette today, chances are, you may resort to more extreme measures such as substance abuse in the future.”
Eat your vegetables. Drink your water. Vape your vitamins?
There has been a surge of products dubbed ‘vitamin vapes’, where it is advertised as a healthier alternative to smoking and vape.
According to Swinder, vapes are just as bad as cigarettes, even more so with the inclusion of so-called ‘vitamins’.
“Encouraging smokers to keep smoking by saying these are vapes but with vitamins is just an excuse in order for these companies to continue selling their products through different methods. If you eat healthily, exercise regularly or just practise a healthy lifestyle in general, you wouldn’t need to resort to any form of vitamins.” — The Health
Kenneth Low is the Senior Nutritionist at NCSM, working to help smokers quit while also maintaining proper diet and nutrition.
QUITTING EXPERT: Swinder helms the smoking cessation clinic at NCSM and have helped many to curb the habit
Take your vitamins!
Yes, we’ve heard that from our mothers since we were kids. But vape your vitamins? Vape companies are coming up with “healthy vapes” stating that it provides the smoker with a great taste, natural aromas and mostly importantly they supplement the smoker with vitamins. We get Kenneth to debunk this.
“From what we understand in nutrition, we obtain our vitamins from whole food. By vaporising it – it’s definitely innovative, and with a really good marketing team, it definitely draws in a crowd. Plus it doesn’t really mention that they have nicotine.”
“From a nutrition point of view, consuming whole food will always be the best way to absorb vitamins. Even supplements, we have to consider whether our body requires that much minerals and vitamins. Also if it caters to our body’s needs. These ‘healthy vapes’ are more fun than they are healthy since the vitamin content is actually rather low according to a person’s daily requirement. However what we are trying to impose is that neither smoking nor vaping is healthy and should not be considered as an alternative.”
Can I vape my vitamins?
Claire was an avid smoker, yet her habit took a turn for the worst, and she has successfully quit
The journey a smoker takes in order to quit smoking is not without speed bumps and obstacles. Claire (not her real name), is an ex-smoker who was willing to share about what motivated her to quit smoking.
“At first, I only wanted to try it. It was supposed to be a one-time thing. Unfortunately, when I began working, it became a habit. I believe that this has to do with the fact that my co-workers were smokers as well. I got influenced by them but it was a choice that I made that, I am now happy to say, is a thing of the past.”
“I was never the type to start early in life. I only started smoking because of the peer pressure from my co-workers who were smoking at the time. I joined in, thinking it was not going to be something long-lasting, without realizing that I was about to make a huge change to my lifestyle.”
“I thought little of how others felt before lighting my cigarette. All I knew was that whenever I wanted to smoke, I would do it. I only thought about my own desires. In truth, I was afraid for my health but I chose to ignore those thoughts as I was already comfortable with the habit.”
What drove her to quit
“It was long process to finally quit smoking. There were many hardships that I had to undergo in order to fight off the urge to relapse and that made it a real struggle, both mentally and
emotionally. However, I kept my mind focused on my goal which is to better the quality of my lifestyle.”
“I urge you to not try it. You will probably think it won’t last. That you’re going to try it just one time and that will be it. Once you take that first puff, you have already been pulled into that world. A new door is opened to you and it is one that you would not want to enter.”
“What kept me focused on my journey to quitting was my fear of getting sick. I am so grateful that my family cared so much for me that they took as many measures as possible to keep me on the right track.” — The Health
At first, I only wanted to try it. It was supposed to be a one-time thing. Unfortunately, when I began working, it became a habit. I believe that this has to do with the fact that my co-workers were smokers as well. I got influenced by them but it was a choice that I made that, I am now happy to say, is a thing of the past.”