58,400 Cigarettes Later, Here's How I Finally Quit — Naturally

[This article originally appeared on The Alternative Daily here.]

A lot of people ask how I finally managed to quit smoking after nearly a decade of sucking back 20-plus cigarettes a day and dozens of failed attempts to quit. Now on my way to four years clean, I can honestly say that quitting cigarettes was the best thing I ever did for my physical, mental and spiritual health. Here’s how I quit cigarettes cold turkey and got rid of that pesky nicotine monster — for good.

Should you set a quit smoking date?

If you’re one of the 36.5 million Americans who smoke and you’re thinking about quitting, you’re not alone. The problem is, the internet is full of terrible advice about how to quit smoking, normally from people who have never had to do it. For example, the idea of a quit date is something that you’ll see advertised to smokers all the time. But does it work?

There’s some anecdotal evidence to suggest that setting a quit date is a positive first step. But in my experience, it worked exactly zero percent of the time. Each time I wanted to quit, setting a date only gave me more anxiety, not less. In fact, in the time leading up to that dreaded date, I smoked even more than normal. Having a quit date made me feel like something I loved was about to get taken away from me, so I overcompensated. To make matters worse, everyone kept telling me how hard it was to quit, sending me reaching for my favorite crutch.

Instead, here are a few tips to try if you’re interested in quitting smoking for the long haul, without all the drama. Remember, quitting smoking doesn’t have to be a harsh, traumatizing experience — it’s all about how you approach it.

1. First things first, understand why you smoke

You can’t fight the addiction if you don’t know what you’re up against, right? You need to understand the nature of the beast. It’s time to examine the intricacies of your emotional attachment to cigarettes and the myths that keep you smoking.

The “Easy Way To Quit Smoking” book by Allen Carr, for example, will help you casually explore your addiction to nicotine. Before he quit, Carr smoked 100 cigarettes a day and tried countless times to give it up. But once he hacked the business of quitting once and for all, he wrote a powerful book on the subject. If you’re like, “How can a book help me quit smoking?” you’re in for a treat, my friend. Check out the thousands of Amazon comments if you don’t believe me. There’s also a handful of celebrities who endorse the method, like Ellen Degeneres and Ashton Kutcher.

This book is the number one thing I recommend to those trying to quit smoking (and no, I’m not getting paid to say this). Here’s the best part: You can smoke all the way through each chapter in order to quell your nerves — he’ll even tell you when to light up.

2. Bust out your yoga mat

For me, yoga is life. It’s the number-one reason I’m still a nonsmoker to this day. Apart from powerful pranayama (breathing) exercises to help strengthen your lungs, yoga offers a world of benefits, from lowering blood pressure to relieving chronic pain to healing the body at a cellular level, not to mention it’s calming, clarifying effects on the mind.

As if that wasn’t enough, it’s a great quit-smoking aid, too. One study found that yoga participants had a higher rate of abstinence from cigarettes after a six-month assessment compared to a control group. And, during yoga, researchers found that ex-smokers had reduced anxiety and improvements in overall health and well-being. Another study found that mindfulness (a practice cultivated through meditation or yoga) helped to reduce the number of cigarettes smoked over a seven-day period.

If you’re a beginner, find a restorative, gentle or level one yoga class at your nearest studio. They may even offer free community classes once a week. When you show up, make sure to inform your teacher of any injuries. Roll out your mat near the back so you can watch other students and grab plenty of props (strap, blocks, blankets) to help you modify poses. Now, just breathe and flow your way to a healthier mind-body connection.

3. Try aromatherapy

For a few days after you quit smoking, you may have a restless feeling that something is missing. Fortunately, essential oils can change an entire space in a matter of minutes, helping to relieve you of the jitters while calming your mind. Try lavender essential oil, ylang-ylang, clary sage, orange, rose or sweet marjoram to relieve stress. Try bergamot, valerian, vetiver, cedarwood, Roman chamomile and valor to help you sleep.

That’s not all: One study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that daily nicotine users had reduced cravings after inhaling black pepper and angelica essential oils. Another study found that inhaling black pepper essential oil produces a response in the respiratory tract similar to smoking, helping to keep those cravings away. So go ahead, take a week’s worth of cigarette cash and spend it on an essential oil diffuser instead.

4. Drink green tea

In order to stop smoking, start sipping! When I first quit smoking, I felt fidgety with my hands. My solution was a warm cup of tea nearby, day and night. As an added bonus, one study found that green tea could modify the effect of cigarette smoke on lung cancer risk. Researchers found that smokers who did not drink green tea had a 12-fold increased risk of lung cancer compared with those who drank at least one cup of green tea per day. Drink up!

5. Book an acupuncture appointment

One study found that acupuncture treatments helped motivate smokers to reduce the number of cigarettes smoked or quit altogether. In some cases, the effect lasted for up to five years. The group undergoing acupuncture smoked an average of 14 fewer cigarettes per day and reported that the taste of cigarettes tasted worse after treatment. Nothing like a little ancient Chinese medicine to help you nip this bad habit in the bud!  

6. Move your body

Whether you enjoy walking, swimming, rock-climbing or barre classes, there’s never been a better time to move your body. First, you’ll enjoy a hearty dose of endorphins, the hormones that produce a euphoric effect and improve your mood. Additionally, one study confirmed that brain activity triggered by physical exercise could actually reduce nicotine cravings. So, the next time you feel like picking up a cigarette, pick up your jogging shoes instead, head outside and pound that pavement!

7. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies

One study found that higher fruit and vegetable intake was linked with fewer cigarettes smoked and lowered nicotine dependence. In fact, those who ate the highest number of fruits and veggies were three times as likely to be free from cigarettes at the 30-day follow-up when compared to the group that ate the least amount of produce. To repair your lungs after years of smoking, make sure to get plenty of pineapple into your diet. It’s rich in bromelain which can reduce inflammation and promote healing.

Other ways to quit smoking naturally

While I don’t have experience with all of these, there’s anecdotal evidence to suggest that some of these methods can help you quit, stay off cigarettes and detox the body.

  • Chew on carrots or celery, both low-calorie snacks that will keep your mouth busy. You can also try chewing on licorice rootcinnamon sticks or toothpicks.
  • Mix 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper with a glass of warm water several times a day to help your body get rid of years of accumulated gunk.
  • Drink St. John’s wort tea to help lift your mood if you’re feeling down, chamomile tea if you’re feeling anxious and valerian tea if you need some help getting to sleep.
  • Eat oats, which are said to have an antidepressant-like effect. There are no scientific studies to support this claim, but it keeps getting spread by ex-smokers nonetheless.
  • Try hypnotherapy or visit a counselor to explore your addiction more deeply.

If someone you love is addicted to cigarettes…

First, I sympathize with you. Whether you feel like you’re kissing an ashtray when you smooch your spouse or you’re worried about how smoke will affect an aging parent, watching someone you love smoke a cigarette is upsetting.

However, please realize that the only person who can decide to quit smoking… is the smoker! Threats, manipulations, bets, harassment, embarrassment, ultimatums and scare tactics are not going to help a smoker quit. In fact, those types of behaviors may make the problem worse. Along with that, please know that your smoker is already well-aware of the dangers of smoking. No reasonable person wants to inhale addictive, toxic fumes. We’re talking about an addiction that operates the same way as alcoholism, drug abuse and overeating. Free yourself of the burden of trying to help them; they’ll quit when they’re ready to quit.

I know it’s tough, but try to turn the focus back on yourself. What can you change in your own life to be healthier? How can you inspire positive choices in the people close to you? All you have to do is let your smoker know that you love them and want to help. Send them this article, then work on strengthening your own mind and body to set a healthy example.

Quitting smoking can change your life

There are endless reasons to quit smoking. It can improve your health, fatten your wallet, smoothe out wrinkles and even improve your sex life. It’s never too late to give it up, even if you’ve been smoking for several decades. After you quit, celebrate each small victory as it comes — I promise, you’ll get through it!

Be sure to let us know if these tips worked for you. What helped you quit smoking cigarettes? What advice could you offer others?

— Hilary Lebow