How to stop smoking and live - from someone who's been there

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I sit here as a fit and healthy personal trainer, writing in the hope that you will be inspired and motivated to live a fitter and healthier lifestyle.

I have the privilege of running a very busy personal training business, teaching others how to live fitter, leaner, healthier and stronger. I started in the industry 10 years ago and have been running my own business for eight years.

I am the fittest and strongest I have ever been, and I continue to set lofty fitness goals for myself. But where I am now is a long way from where I came from.

I am 41, and only discovered the fitness lifestyle at the age of 29. Until then, I was a chain-smoking, binge-drinking, junk-food-eating exercise avoider who was too lazy to walk to the shops to buy my next packet of ciggies. I absolutely loved smoking. I knew it was bad for me, I saw the ads and the ugly photos, but none of it inspired me to quit.

I was a terrible smoker too: I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without the comfort of knowing my cigarettes were with me at all times. But the one thing I didn’t like about smoking was how much of a slave I was to them, basing my decisions on whether or not I would have easy access to my ciggies. In the 1990s I flew with the only airline left in the world to permit smoking, because I couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to have a puff when the craving came (which was all the time).

So what happened? What was the impetus for my major life overhaul?

It was a serious health scare, an opportunity which motivated me BIG TIME to quit smoking and change my unhealthy habits. After realising that my wild ways would undoubtedly lead to future major health problems, I had to take a stand and change my behaviours. I didn’t wake up one day full of motivation to change; it’s just that my self-preservation kicked in and I understood fully that it was crunch time – quit or get really, really sick.

So how did I do it? Not by doing it “cold turkey.” I tried that once, and lasted all of four hours before losing the plot and lighting up.

What did work for me was using the nicotine replacement patches. I was absolutely committed to quitting, and I gave myself the best possible chance of being successful by using them exactly as directed, and for the recommended time, which back then was three months. The patches kept me sane while I was weaning off my heavy nicotine addiction, so that all I had to do was work on breaking the habit and the association of doing nearly everything in life with a cigarette in one hand (coffee and ciggie anyone?)

In the 14 years since I quit I haven’t had one puff, and know for certain that I won’t again. Clearly the patches worked for me. That said, quitting is different for everyone, so find an approach that will work for you. The cold turkey approach may be the best way for you, or gradually reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day.

Here’s what else I did that helped tremendously. You may find these tips can help you or a loved one to quit smoking for good too.

10 tips for quitting smoking

  • Set a date to quit — and stick to it. Make it sooner rather than later. It's never too late to quit smoking and there are many benefits to be gained no matter what age you are when you give up.
  • Get as much support as you can from family, friends and work colleagues. Let them know you are planning to quit, and ask smokers not to smoke around you or offer you cigarettes. Quitting with a friend can also be a great idea — you can encourage each other.
  • Throw out all cigarettes, ashtrays and lighters and anything else that might remind you of smoking. Wash your clothes and clean your car to remove the smell of smoke.
  • Nicotine replacement therapy, such as nicotine patches or chewing gum, could be a good idea for those of you who, like me, smoke(d) heavily or who feel they may need the extra help. Some products are available on the PBS. There are also oral prescription medicines, such as varenicline (brand name Champix) and bupropion (brand names Prexaton and Zyban) that can help you quit by reducing withdrawal symptoms and the urge to smoke. Talk to your doctor about what would be best for you.
  • Plan ahead for situations in which you are likely to be tempted to smoke, such as parties, drinking or having a coffee. Try to avoid these situations in the early stages of your quitting program, or try drinking your coffee with your smoking hand, or keeping something in your hand when you're talking on the phone.
  • Speaking of coffee, if you drink a lot of it you may also want to cut down on your intake as you will retain more caffeine when there is no nicotine in your system. Feeling jittery will not help your plan to quit. It may also be best to avoid alcohol for the first few weeks at least as many people find it hard to resist smoking when they drink.
  • Write down all the reasons that made you decide to quit smoking, and carry them with you in case you need reminding! 
  • Delay. Remember that the worst cravings last for only a few minutes and will become even less frequent the longer you have quit.
  • If you find you are losing motivation, remind yourself of the many medical and financial benefits of quitting!
  • Exercise more! This was a huge help for me. I put a bad habit down and picked up a healthy new one! I initially felt like my lungs couldn’t cope with the increased need for oxygen, but I was actually surprised at how quickly I started to feel fitter.

Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but the struggles you go through now are far easier than the struggles you will go through if your smoking makes you seriously ill later in life. As a chain-smoker in a previous life, now living free from the bondage of cigarettes, I can tell you that being “clean” and healthy is so, so worth the discomfort of letting it go.

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Mareike Bout is a qualified and registered personal trainer who specialises in holistic fitness and lifestyle coaching. She is a recognised leader in the industry, receiving the peer-voted South Australia Personal Trainer of the Year award in 2008. She is also a regular guest on Adelaide’s top-rating radio station FIVEaa. Mareike runs her personal training business, One Life Live Well, both online and from a private studio in Adelaide. Services include one-on-one training, outdoor group fitness, lifestyle coaching and weight-loss programs. Individually tailored programs encompass aspects of exercise, nutrition, relaxation, positive thinking, life balance, and goal setting. Her approach is to guide, support and educate her clients so that they posses the tools required to live a life of health, strength and vitality!