The great health resolution finale - Butting out


The great health resolution
When we first met Connie Floyd and Darlene Penner, each had bold goals: Connie to drop a total of 35 pounds and Darlene to quit a pack-a-day smoking habit. It’s been five months since their journey began–is it time to toast their victories or boost their spirits?

By Rhea Seymour
First published in Chatelaine’s July 2003 issue.
© Rogers Publishing Ltd.

I stopped smoking

Create a support group and get medical help

When Darlene Penner was driving home to Toronto from work in Mississauga, Ont., last fall, she got stuck in a traffic jam for two and a half hours. With all cars at a standstill, the journey would have agitated the calmest driver. It was doubly hard for Darlene, who usually lit up to cope with the stress of highway driving but had just given up smoking. While it was just this kind of stressful scenario that crippled Darlene’s first four attempts to quit, this time she was ready for it. With Chatelaine’s help, she had a plan in place to help her cope with stress and cravings as well as rally support. So, she dug into her new bag of tricks on the slow-moving ride home: she took deep breaths to relax, sucked on straws cut to the size of cigarettes and called her roommate, Susan Parys, who helped calm her down. “I’ve never approached quitting this way. Before I thought I could do it on my own. I didn’t realize I needed this kind of help,” says Darlene.

Creating a quitting plan paid off for Darlene. She cut back from half a pack of cigarettes a day to zero at the start of our challenge, and five months later, she’s officially a non-smoker. She’s breathing easier now because she’s cut her risk for lung cancer and heart disease. And she’s discovered the secret to quitting smoking successfully. Here’s what worked for her:

Darlene’s seven quitting strategies
Strategy #1

Rehearse quitting

Since Darlene’s first four attempts to quit smoking cold turkey failed, she took a more gradual approach this time around. After selecting her quit date with family physician Barbara Millar, she started practising quitting. She traded in her regular brand of cigarettes for a lighter brand with less tar and, over a two-week period, cut down from 10 to 15 cigarettes a day to four. When she felt like lighting up, she delayed smoking for 15 minutes to see if the craving would pass. “For the first few minutes, I felt anxious, then I’d lose track of time and the feeling would go away.”
Strategy #2

Prepare for cravings

By quitting day, Darlene was armed with several tools to help her cope with physical and mental cravings. She tried nicotine gum but didn’t like it. Darlene had more success with the nicotine patch, which she wore for two weeks after her quit date and then during the months afterwards on stressful days. It curbed her physical cravings while she tried to cope with her mental addiction.
When Darlene was longing for a smoke, she sucked on candies or straws. On the drive to work (she used to smoke half of her cigarettes in the car), Darlene rolled a pair of golf balls around in her hands whenever she was stopped. When her sense of taste returned weeks after quitting, she developed a new addiction: Granny Smith apples. She couldn’t get enough of the tart crunchy fruit and ate three a day, which helped keep her hands and mouth busy.
Strategy #3

Avoid triggers

During those first trying weeks as a non-smoker, Darlene avoided everything that could stir up a craving, such as movies featuring chain-smoking characters. She also changed her habits. Because she usually lit up while styling her hair in the morning, some days she went to work with it wet. And she stopped meeting friends for drinks in bars since seeing smokers ignited her yearnings.
Strategy #4

Get support

Darlene’s roommate, Susan Parys, an ex-smoker, agreed to be her butting-out buddy. When the going got tough and Darlene got cranky or anxious, Susan was there with unconditional support. “I’d tried to help my ex-husband quit, so I was poised to deal with her mood swings,” says Susan. The roomies took short walks together whenever Darlene needed a distraction. Just knowing Susan was rooting for her made all the difference to Darlene: “I didn’t want to let her down.”

Darlene attended one session of one-on-one smoking cessation counselling. “It was out of the way,” she says. “And I preferred talking about quitting with friends rather than with a stranger.”

Strategy #5

Don’t worry about weight gain

Since smoking boosts your metabolism, Darlene was prepared to gain a few pounds after quitting. With her revived sense of taste, she initially ate non-stop, giving in to every chocolate and junk food whim. Although she gained eight pounds, her appetite soon returned to normal and she lost most of the weight through healthier food choices, skiing and rock climbing. Exercise is an important part of a quitting plan because it reduces stress, says Dr. Millar.
Strategy #6

Find other ways to relax

When Darlene tried to quit before, she’d pick up a pack and start again at the first sign of difficulty. This time, she found stress-busting alternatives. Darlene took weekly relaxation and power yoga classes. “I’d walk in there after the worst workday and walk out floating like a butterfly,” she says. She also did meditation and yoga postures in her bedroom at home and used the deep-breathing exercises she learned in class to help her relax during job crises. Finally, Darlene changed her work philosophy and cut back her hours as a sales manager from 90 to about 50 a week. “I play more now. I’m working to live rather than living to work.”
Strategy #7

Never give up

Darlene slipped a handful of times during the five-month challenge. She took a drag of a friend’s cigarette the day after quitting. “I talked myself into it because I’d been so good,” she says. “Then I wanted to beat myself up.” Her worst day came a month in when she smoked six cigarettes after a hellish day at the office. “When you cave, you really feel as though you’ve let yourself down.” Determined not to let a lapse hijack her quitting efforts, Darlene got right back into her routine. She wants this fifth quitting attempt to be her last, but she knows she has to take it one day at a time. “I just don’t want to have to do it again.”

We helped them quit!

Last January, Chatelaine and the Heart and Stroke Foundation kicked off the Commit to Quit Smoking Contest. We challenged our readers to butt out for at least one month and 1,560 readers took us up on it. With Chatelaine’s encouragement, contest entrants stopped smoking by Jan. 31, visited their health-care professionals for advice and found a buddy for support. One lucky duo got more than a healthier lifestyle. Claudine David and her quit-smoking buddy, Allison Marchand, were randomly selected as the grand prize winners, each receiving a $1,000 shopping spree, courtesy of Chatelaine.

After 20 years of smoking a pack a day, Claudine decided it was time to quit for her health. “There’s so much information out there about the negative effects of smoking and I think it finally clicked in,” says the 35-year-old waitress and bartender from D’Escousse, N.S. With the support of her two sons and her buddy, Allison, Claudine traded in her unhealthy habit for two new hobbies. To keep her hands occupied during her first month as a non-smoker, she took up cross-stitch and produced a cross-stitched piece in one month. And she started walking regularly. “Before I quit, I’d come up the hill to my house and be out of breath,” recalls Claudine. “Now, I’m going for 6.5-kilometre walks and really enjoying it.”

Claudine is confident that this fourth attempt to quit will stick. “When I quit when I was pregnant, I did it for my sons. Now, I’m doing it for myself, too.” Winning the shopping spree has made quitting even sweeter. “It really gave me a boost,” says Claudine.

  • Intro
  • Connie’s results
  • Connie’s online diary
  • Expert treadmill tip
  Darlene’s results
  • We helped them quit!
  • The great health resolution–part 1
  • The incredible shrinking woman
  • Quitting time
  • Take the Are you ready to quit? Quiz
  • Eat right with our Meal plans
  • Try one of our Sweat Central workouts
  • Share strategies in our Butt out! forum
  • Get support in our Nutrition + diet forum