Can you smoke and still be healthy
I want to live healthy, but still not quit smoking
Image: Wellcome Library | CC BY 4.0
It's been over five years since I picked up a cigarette for the first time. It was at a party and I was surrounded by people who, because of their smoking, seemed way cooler than me. Determined to settle in with my new social environment and my new city, I began to smoke first in company and then relatively soon also regularly on my own.
Over the years I've stopped doing it dozens of times without success. As with any other addiction, this one is a very personal battle. If you are addicted, no matter how many friends try to make you feel guilty, no matter how many well-meaning and instructive conversations you have with your parents, no matter how many partners can try to persuade you to do something that is easy for you to do are not ready yet - nothing helps. Yes, I am aware that cigarettes are not good. And even though I know exactly why they're so bad, I just fucking love smoking them.
And that brought me to the situation I am in today. After trying for so long to quit, only to go back and forth between short breaks and new beginnings plagued by guilt, I have found a "healthy" middle ground for myself: my personal "happy place", where I occasionally sometimes someone is allowed to smoke - so really occasionally.
It all started a few months ago when I quit smoking again because I felt borderline unfit for my 24 years. I knew everything was going to be different in 2015, and I didn't want to wait until I made good resolutions for the new year to change my lifestyle. So I signed up for a gym, changed my diet, and started exercising five times a week.
I've been with it since November, lost a few pounds and (most importantly) now feel more comfortable in my body. In part, that's because, after a month of following my new habits, I concluded that I was doing so well now that I might not need to overdo it with my cigarette abstinence. Maybe I could become that guy who always has a box flying around at work and smokes one here and there.
Surprisingly, that worked pretty well. I kept going to the gym, making sure to eat properly and get enough sleep while making time for a cigarette every now and then. Every day I balanced the good with the bad and achieved the impossible in the process: I tricked the system and lived healthy without actually living healthy. The opposites also rocked each other: If I had worked out particularly hard, a nice cigarette would automatically be waiting for me afterwards — and if I had smoked a lot on one day, then my lunch was just that much healthier.
With an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other shoulder, I felt like I had found the universal balance. Maybe you don't have to stop completely. Maybe you can live healthy and smoke regularly. I wanted to know exactly, though, so I started researching it.
"First of all, what you mean by a 'healthy lifestyle' is important," said Dr. Azure B. Thompson, assistant director of strategy and research at CASA Columbia Addiction Center in New York. Thompson is an expert on the social factors of substance abuse. Although a healthy lifestyle is defined by eating healthy, exercising, and managing stress sensibly, she told me that "some people do just a few of these activities and then still say of themselves, a ' lead a relatively healthy lifestyle. " "However, regular cigarette smoking does not protect you from damage to your health," she continued. This damage naturally also includes such beautiful things as long-term lung damage and an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, respiratory diseases and strokes.
If you live healthy and smoke at the same time, you allow dangerous substances access to your body. But it's not like I smoke a whole pack a day either. If I'm letting toxins in, then they don't rush through the main entrance. They tend to sneak in through the window that I have tilted. So, in theory, I should be able to just carry on as I have done so long as long as I don't fall back into my habit of one box a day, should I?
“I think that's a common idea,” Thompson said. “A lot of unhealthy things like junk food or alcohol are told that they're OK in moderation. However, there is no way of avoiding the harmful effects of cigarettes. "
According to Thompson, in order to have a really healthy lifestyle, I shouldn't just stop smoking, I shouldn't even go anywhere near a place where people smoke. "All tobacco smoke is harmful," she assured me. "The risks don't just apply to heavy or long-term smokers." Nevertheless, living in a completely smoke-free environment is an unrealistic ideal: If you are between 20 and 30 and enjoy going out, then you cannot avoid being regularly surrounded by people who smoke. In addition, when you live in a big city, breathing in secondhand smoke is as good as inevitable.
Thompson gave me the answer I was expecting — of course, an addiction researcher tells me not to become addicted! So I had to get another opinion, so I talked to Jonathan Henry, a certified personal trainer. During the day, Henry is employed in a kindergarten, so he knows how to come to terms with crying six-year-olds. At night, however, he no longer makes compromises: Then he makes sure that his customers no longer do anything stupid to their bodies and ultimately live healthy in the long term.
"It is not possible to live healthy and smoke at the same time," he said to me immediately after I asked him if I could go to the gym and smoke on the side. "To do that would be the exact opposite of one healthy lifestyle, "he added to clarify.
Image: Jane Kimmelman | Flickr | CC BY 2.0
I should note here that Jonathan trained me once. Back then I was still a heavy smoker and when I was supposed to do 100 jumping jacks I almost collapsed. Before the jumping jacks, I still felt and looked like a normal person. "Even if you appear fit thanks to a good metabolism, eat healthily and do sports," Henry told me, "smoking still damages vital organs and that is exactly what you will be able to see at some point."
He goes on to tell me that if I don't quit smoking soon, my "healthy" lifestyle, fitness routine, and diet will end up being neglected.
Still, I actually feel pretty good! I stop gasping for breath when I go up a few flights of stairs. That excruciating cough — heavy smokers know what I'm talking about — is gone. And I also don't smell so strongly of smoke that my mother grimaces in horror when I hug her. All is well.
And sometimes I just need a cigarette, for example when things are not going so well at work, when my relationship is a mess or when I worry about getting older again - all that stuff that people between the ages of 20 and 30 is on the daily schedule and that usually vanished into thin air after a cigarette break. Smoking is definitely not an activity that is healthy for the body, but it may well have certain psychological benefits. This should especially apply to people who only light a cigarette to reduce stress. To confirm this thesis, I got in touch with Margie Cohen, a psychotherapist from California. Your ex-wife was a long-time smoker, so she should know what I'm talking about.
"It's my job to understand and respect my patients' choices," Cohen said. "At the same time, I want to help them understand the emotions they process with smoking so they can explore new avenues with to deal with these feelings. " Failure to deal with such emotions, according to Cohen, can prevent a person from living a truly fulfilling life.
Cohen added that while nicotine is mistakenly referred to as a stress reliever (like any other addictive substance, too), it is actually more of a distraction from problems that are not immediately apparent.
"In my experience, smoking becomes less of a temptation to a person if you don't close yourself off from your feelings and previous traumatic experiences," said Cohen.
The psychotherapist is clearly on Henry and Thompson's side when it comes to the fact that smoking undoubtedly has negative effects on a person's physical and mental health. However, Cohen also admits that she would not force anyone to quit (a "self-determined decision that moves one forward on the path to fulfillment and satisfaction") if that person is not ready.
Quitting smoking just to "give in to social or internal pressures" is unlikely to be a successful decision, according to Cohen, and stress, blame, shame, and lack of confidence could collapse so just intensify it further. "
In summary, one can say - and the experts questioned also agree - that it is not possible to live a healthy life without quitting smoking at the same time. But actually I only adopted this new lifestyle to do something about the feelings of stress mentioned by Cohen and the lack of self-confidence. And for the first time in my young life I found a middle ground between cautious and unreasonable by forcing myself on the one hand to forego certain things, but on the other hand allowing myself a "sin". Exactly because of that I will continue to smoke for the time being and indulge myself in this unhealthy addiction - no matter how expensive it might cost me in the future.
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