Quitting sugar and nicotine

Hi, my name is Michelle and I am a food addict and a nicotine addict. On October the 2nd, 2017, I gave up sugar and all processed foods and on the 14th of August 2019, I gave up nicotine after smoking 20 – 25 cigarettes a day for 31 years. This is my story.

sugar the new nicotine

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. They’re wrong, whoever coined this phrase…in my opinion nothing tastes as good as peace of mind and serenity feels.

About this time, two years ago I was desperately unhappy, overweight and anxious; I absolutely hated myself, the way I looked and my total lack of willpower. I was in a soul-destroying cycle of starving and bingeing. The result? Guilt, self-loathing, disgust, shame, frustration, despair… feelings endlessly perpetuated by the addiction cycle. I hated myself and what I saw in the mirror…there were days I wouldn’t leave the house.

My obsession with the scale was relentless, my self-worth measured according to a number on that evil machine. I would weigh myself every day, 3 times a day. Years of appetite suppressants, injections, 500 calorie/day diets, starving and bingeing had messed not only with my psyche but my metabolism too, which was in permanent slow mode. My lack of self-esteem and abundance of self-loathing had a butterfly effect. My relationships with my husband and 10 year old son were suffering. My husband gently told me to get help.

Enter Houghton House and Kenneth Wilson, my tour guide on this amazing journey called Recovery.

With Ken’s help during weekly therapy sessions and my absolute determination to be as honest and willing as possible, I came to understand, that because of certain traumatic events in my past, food was my band-aid. I came to understand that I had an eating disorder and I am powerless over food and the powerful fear it invoked in me.

I did what I had to. I started the 12 Steps programme. I literally smashed and destroyed my scales (most liberating thing ever!) and started eating clean, cutting out all sugar and processed food, following a daily eating plan, eating every 3 hours, which, nearly two years later, I still do. I am an all or nothing person, I absolutely have to abstain from sugar and processed food and baked goods even if sugar-free.

Sounds kind of easy right? It was the hardest thing I have ever done. Therapy was tough and difficult, admitting my character flaws were awful but I did it! Ken helped me to truly come to terms with my past and to forgive those who hurt me and to forgive myself. I’ve learnt that my illness doesn’t take holidays and to become complacent and smug can lead to relapse so I have to stay willing all the time, one day at a time. The serenity that comes, as a result, is so worth it.

So about 10 months into my recovery journey, during my regular Wednesday therapy session, Ken decided to bring up my smoking. “You know,” he says, “therapy ends at some point and we don’t like to send our clients away with an addiction that is more likely to kill them than the one they came in with.”

Give up smoking Photo by Jacob Capener on Unsplash

Just a side note here…Ken is very blunt. That is why he’s an incredible addiction specialist. Nonetheless, I was horrified! Give up smoking? Are you completely insane? I’m a recovery newbie still! I’ll get fat! There’s no way! I said as much and Ken backed off. Over the next year, he kind of hinted at cessation but didn’t push the envelope. The thing is, after smoking for 30 years, you have a belief that smoking defines you… I am a smoker, everything I do is geared around this habit, I don’t eat sugar or drink alcohol, I deserve it and I love it! As a person with an eating disorder, you convince yourself that nicotine is an appetite suppressant, speeds up your metabolism and is a fabulous alternative to a biscuit or a slice of cake.

Sometime during June this year, I started having these random thoughts about quitting. Through my recovery journey for my eating disorder, I have been really fortunate to help others with eating disorders or who have really bad relationships with food. I have become a passionate advocate for eating cleanly and healthily…no preservatives, no colourants, no sugar. I advise others how to do this. I suggest they only eat what grows, lives and dies. Then I knowingly inhale 4000 known toxins and carcinogenics 25 times a day. The hypocrisy suddenly whacked me on the back of the head. Add a now 12-year-old son to the mix who is capable of the most incredible emotional blackmail to get me to quit and I started considering that just maybe I could.

It took a few weeks to pluck up the courage to tell Ken. He’s a terrier with a bone, if I told him I was considering quitting, I knew I would have to. I told him on the 3rd of July. His face lit up like Times Square on New Year ’s Eve. I was terrified to quit. Ken told me to choose a date 6 weeks from then to quit. Why 6 weeks? “You wouldn’t climb Everest without training so how do you think you can quit a 31 year habit without training?” he said. My quit date was the 14th of August.

Ken systematically debunked every single objection and belief I had about quitting. I listened to all of it but I was terrified and really not sure I could do this. I feared the discomfort of withdrawal and gaining weight.

Then Ken hit the nail on the head and opened the door to the fact that yes I can do this. How? He told me the scientific fact about the effect nicotine has on blood sugar levels and how it raises it. So when we quit, blood sugar levels drop and lead to cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. He actually advises clients who want to quit, to cut out sugar and eat a low GI diet for the 6 weeks leading up to their quit date.  “But,” he said, “you have been on a low GI diet for nearly two years. Half your battle is won, there is no scientific reason why you should crave sugar and junk food.”

Well that was it, my Eureka moment, the penny dropped, the door opened and I ran through it. It was music to an eating disordered person’s ears! Another fabulous fact Ken imparted is that within 72 hours, nicotine is out of your system and within 120 hours the other chemicals and poisons like cyanide, carbon monoxide and arsenic are also out of your system. The nicotine cravings then become 99% psychological and 1% physiological.

I could do this! And I am! As I write this I am 26 days clean from nicotine. Is it difficult? Hell yeah! But that’s ok, every day is easier. So I’m taking it one day at a time. I also ask Ken for help when I feel the cravings spiking. And guess what? I haven’t gained weight and even if I gain a kilo or two, the benefits of quitting outweigh a nominal weight gain that I know I will lose.

The absolute best part of quitting though is endless hugs from my kiddo who is so proud of his mom and thinks she smells really nice!

If I can do it, you can too. We addicts are stronger than we’ll ever know!

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