Whatever your reasons for putting down the thin white tobacco ’n’ tar sticks during the NHS’s 28-day anti-smoking incentive Stoptober (opens in new tab), it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that making a success of it will be a monumental effort. Temptation on every corner. The breaking of a well-established routine. The end of your three-way relationship with nicotine and coffee. It’s not going to be easy – but it’ll be so very worth it.
To get you running head-first into the challenge, we found nine quitters who know precisely how hard things can get. We asked them to detail the one thing they found toughest and explain how they got through it. From weird dreams to sneaker collecting to black gunk, it’s all here. So here’s what to expect, and how to kick the habit for good.
Morning Exercise Becomes Grim (but Worth it)
Lexi Rose, 30, from London, knew it was time to quit smoking after being offered chewing gum by a guy she was about to kiss. She hoped giving them up would kick-start a new, healthy lifestyle – but soon realised exactly how hard exercise can be when you’re fresh off the ciggies. “A couple of days after going smoke-free I hired a bike with the intention of riding hard to break my old routine. Boy, was I grouchy in the mornings. I didn’t want to do anything less than get in that saddle. But I stuck it out and the exercise got a little easier each day. I began swimming too while on holiday and that really helped me keep my mind off the cravings. Pretty soon I was enjoying that post-exercise buzz so much that the last thing I wanted to do was fill my lungs with smoke. I’m not sure I would have managed it if I’d given up on the training.”
Your Friends Might Need Ditching (for a Couple of Days)
Michael Black, 31, from Devon, couldn’t resist joining his colleagues for their sacred smoking breaks. That is, until he packed his bags for a smoke-free holiday. “The main thing that had me relapsing was those damn mid-morning cigarette and coffee breaks with my work mates. It was really tough to get out of that routine and I fell down a lot. Luckily, I wasn’t far away from going on a sunny holiday that I had booked. I saw it as an opportunity to start a new routine so I made sure I flew out of the UK without a lighter. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It really helped and I came back home feeling totally refreshed and free from the grips of old habits.”
Boozin’ Leads to Losin’
“Cutting back on two of life’s evil pleasures was a massive undertaking, and I’m not going to pretend for a minute that I enjoyed it,” says Giles Hinchliffe, 27, from Surrey. “But for me, beer gardens and cigarettes were all too irresistible a combination. I had to man up and evade my local for a while. Once I’d been smoke-free for a month, I slowly returned to booze without the cigarettes. Now, I no longer associate a cold pint with a chest full of smoke.”
You’ll Have Some Pretty Messed-up Dreams
“If you really can’t quit using willpower alone, like me, you’ll be tempted to use some kind of medical aid,” says Joe Madden, 39, from Manchester, who was one of the first people in the UK to use the anti-smoking treatment Champix – only available on prescription – to knock the old coffin nails on the head. “But brace yourself, because things got a bit crazy for me. The main two side effects I got were immediate, terrible nausea after taking the pill each morning, which would last for about 15 minutes. It was so bad that I’d have to sit very still for that time, on my own, silent, so that I didn't throw up or have to interact with anyone. The other side effect was the most terrifyingly vivid dreams and nightmares I’ve ever had, every single night. They were absolutely insane, and felt way realer than any dream I’ve ever had – it was like I’d actually lived through them.” But were the crushing side effects worth it? “By the end of the course, you don’t want to smoke, at all. You don’t even have to keep a grip on yourself or avoid people smoking. You just don’t want one. It’s as if you never had the addiction in the first place. It’s a miracle.”
You’ll Really Kick Yourself if You Slip (and That’s No Use at All)
Josh Jennings, 28, from London, really beat himself up after one relapse. But here’s why it’s wise to give yourself a break if it happens: “It’s the little habits that creep back in that can make you reach for the smokes. The first time I went drinking post-quitting I fell off the wagon and had one cigarette. I was furious with myself, so much so that it got close to me developing a ‘To hell with this’ attitude. Instead, I found it far better to avoid getting angry with myself. Waking up the next day and pretending it never happened, or just putting it down as a bump in the road made it far easier to continue on my journey. If it happens too often, and you’ll know if that’s the case, that’s when you know something else will need to change.”
You’ll Forget About Your Reasons for Quitting (Until You Download this App)
“Stopping smoking made me really grumpy,” says James Glock, 30, from Southampton. “And with that grumpiness often came a complete loss of motivation to keep on going with the big quit. Then my friend told me about an app called Smoke Free (opens in new tab). Not only did it keep track of how many days I’d been off the smokes, but it told me how much cash I’d saved having not bought a pack every few days. I’ve been off the cigarettes for three years now, but it’s still cool to check it every now and again.” Download for iOS (opens in new tab). Download for Android (opens in new tab).
You Won’t Know What to Do with All that Free Time
“I started sneaker collecting to get through it,” says Ian Dickinson, 32, from Woking. “All the time I used to spend waiting for mates in the pub, or waiting for a bus, or just generally bored, I’d fill with smoking. So I needed to do something else to distract me from reaching for the cigarettes. I began following loads of sneaker collectors on Instagram, and discovered a bunch of cool blogs that I read every day and spent hours digging through eBay. Basically I have an addictive personality, so I quit one thing for something much less harmful. Plus, now my feet always look super fresh!”
You’ll Produce a Bodily Fluid You Never Knew Existed
“Midway through my very first run after quitting, I vomited up some nasty green and black gunk,” reveals Ash Balachandran, 34, from Surrey, who stopped smoking earlier this year. “Yeah, that was pretty concerning!… It was only a 20-minute jog and it made me feel quite ashamed about how unfit I was. That actually spurred me on to run more regularly and I used it as a way to beat savage cravings or whenever I got really grouchy. I was remedying those awful moments with exercise rather than nicotine and it really worked. I began to love running so much that I signed up for 10K races, half-marathons and then marathons. I’ve now got a couple of ultramarathons under my belt, like the Wild Elephant Trail which is 210km over six days in Sri Lanka.”
Prime Your Plate for More Food
Pete Coates, 33 and currently living in New Zealand, can currently boast the title of Nelson (NZ) Senior Men’s Half Marathon Champion and recently completed the Trail2Heaven race in the Pyrénées – a 48.1km run with 2,590m of elevation to tackle. “I began by using smoking as an exhaust pipe for stress, but I decided to replace that with running. When I finally quit for good, an unexpected reaction was eating a hell of a lot more food. However, the extra running I was doing meant I didn’t put on any extra weight and probably helped me progress from a light jogger to the ultramarathon runner I am today.”
Visit the Stoptober website (opens in new tab) for help to stop smoking
Craft beer drinker, Devonian, fisherman and former content director of Coach online, Chris contributed style coverage and features between 2016 and 2019.
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