Is short term smoking worse than obesity?
September 7, 2011 10:14 PM   Subscribe

Am I making excuses or is there a grain of logic behind smoking again to lose some weight? Details.

I smoked for 11 years and quit 15 months ago. Bully for me. It's been hard and made even harder by the fact that I've gained about 60lbs since then. I was already portly, so now I'm weighing in at almost 300lbs, roughly 100lbs overweight. Because of this weight gain, I feel like I'm not able to reap any of the benefits of being a non-smoker. In some ways I feel even worse (knees and ankles aching, even less physical stamina, etc).

I've been trying to change my eating habits for the past year, but addictions/self control are a real bitch for me. I've walked the line with alcohol, am in treatment for sex addiction, and in some ways feel like food is my last bastion.

So, yes, this brings us to the ridiculous sounding question that I find myself considering: should I start smoking again to kick start my weight loss? I was previously down to 219lbs when smoking and I tell myself that if I prepared by losing weight before I quit smoking again and got my diet in check I'd be more capable of starting off on the right foot so to speak. Plus, maybe this is naive, but I figure if I quit for a year I can at least do that again.

I know many of you will think this is ludicrous, but I basically feel like I am out of willpower right now and don't think my health has improved at all over the last year and a half. Maybe one day I can have a running addiction, but that day ain't today.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
addictions/self control are a real bitch for me

Sounds like you have your answer right there.

It will help for a while, but then the weight will creep back, because you haven't actually adressed the real problem, which is your self-control issues. So then you'll be both overweight AND a smoker, at which point you'll be terrified to quit smoking for fear of gaining even more weight.
posted by hermitosis at 10:17 PM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

This is an awful idea. Go see a dietician to get your food intake right. Go see a therapist to get your head right. Go see a personal trainer to help you on your way, but don't start smoking to lose weight.
posted by TheBones at 10:18 PM on September 7, 2011

Smoking is a pretty mild stimulant. Even increasing your caffeine consumption would probably have similar effects. That's also probably a bad idea.
posted by The Lamplighter at 10:21 PM on September 7, 2011

Plus there is no such thing as "short term smoking."
posted by TheBones at 10:23 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

It really doesnt help you lose weight as much as those wonderful 50s adds would have you believe. Stress made you gain weight, and quitting smoking is a lot of stress. Starting smoking again won't help you lose weight (it's not cocaine!!!). If you are looking for an "addiction" to focus your mind away from food try gum chewing, lollys (not sure on the calories there), ice chewing, or even better getting busy. Get too busy to snack.
posted by boobjob at 10:23 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Is short term smoking worse than obesity?"

From an epidemic perspective, some studies suggest that obesity is worse than smoking. But from an individual perspective, it's hard to say.

But before I'd buy another pack of cigarettes, I'd probably get a dog. A dog is a good way of staying motivated to walk a couple times of day, and pays you back with a cold nose under your hand at odd moments, and a wagging tail when you come home. When did cigarettes ever wag their tails when you came home?
posted by paulsc at 10:24 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Good work quitting smoking! You should absolutely not start again. Smoking is unequivocally worse for you than fat. Further, the bad health effects associated with fat (heart disease, diabetes) are worsened by smoking. So do not do it.

But then what to do? I'm going to suggest you try to reframe things a bit. Sustained, healthy weight loss has not worked for you in the past. So one option to explore is looking at the philosophy (and science) behind health at any size. Is there a way you can take a break from focusing on weight for 6 months or so, and instead focus on eating your veggies, cutting down on junk food, and exercising 5 days a week? The idea is to switch your goals here. You want to be healthy, right? So let's focus on the things you know you can do to be healthy. For most people, the cycle of weight loss and gain just leaves us feeling shitty about ourselves and doesn't achieve lasting weight loss anyway. So just as an experiment, how about working on this from a different angle?

Another factoid that may be of interest to you. Very moderate weight loss (5%) can have a big impact on your health. Check out these articles: 1, 2, 3. So another idea is to consider aiming for a moderate loss for now and then consider where to go looking forward after you've done that.

Good luck to you. It sounds like this is causing a lot of distress and confusion. I hope it gets easier.
posted by serazin at 10:33 PM on September 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

This is bad "diet" mentality, where short-term actions engender long term change. But doesn't happen that way. You won't "kick start" weight loss; you will lose weight (maybe) whilst smoking, and then put it back on when you stop. Things won't be different when you stop; all the reasons for eating and smoking will still be there, tempting you.

Long term actions engender long-term changes. Like going on a diet isn't the answer, but changing your diet is. Starting smoking is not the answer to losing weight, just because stopping smoking and gaining weight seem to be connected.

Smoking will not give you that extra willpower. I'm not sure what will but it ain't hiding in a pack of Marlboros. Also, what happens if you start smoking and the weight doesn't go down?

Make many, small, permanent changes you can keep to; that's the answer here I feel. Going in with a siege mentality of "it's just for x months; if I do this for x months, y will happen" is setting yourself up for failure.
posted by smoke at 10:36 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

One more word about exercise: I never exercised until a few years ago and really got obsessed about a year and a half ago, so like any convert I'm nuttily extolling its value to anyone who will listen, but I can tell you honestly - exercise has changed my life. I freaking LOVE going to the gym. When I don't go, I feel like crap. Not just physically, emotionally. I don't know how I lived before I worked out. It just feels so insanely good and basically essential to my mental health. And you know what it took for me to get so into working out? Finding a sport I just love! There is no reason to slog at the elliptical machine if that's not your thing. For me, most gyms leave me feeling vaguely ashamed and awkward, but at my AWESOME gym it feels great because I love what I do there. And let me also say I don't weight myself and weight loss is not a goal for me - and I am clinically obese. So do with that what you will.

Anyway, I'd suggest making a project of trying 5 new sports/activities in the next 2 months and see what actually grabs you. Take a yoga for all bodies class, take a kayaking class, rent a bike (if you don't already have one) for a nice sunny day, take a trial Brazilian Jiu Jitsu lesson, weight lifting could be awesome for a big person like you, just find a bunch of really different activities to try out because unless you find something you love, you're not going to do it. But if you do it, you will not regret it.
posted by serazin at 10:49 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

Please don't start smoking again to lose weight. What everyone else said on that score!

Much better to improve your diet. If you can afford to smoke you can afford better foods.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:58 PM on September 7, 2011

Even if the smoking does help you lose weight (and it might, although not necessarily as much as you've gained) the loss will be temporary, and when you quit smoking again the weight will come back, bringing back the problems you have with added weight along with the negative health effects of an additional year or so of smoking and the stress of quitting.

I do sympathize--after going off of adderall for baby-making purposes, I gained 15 pounds in about a minute. It sucks. But smoking is either a short-term bandaid or a long-term poor choice.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:12 PM on September 7, 2011

An old fashioned weight-loss pill is tapeworm eggs.

If losing weight via a tapeworm infestation seems like a bad way to do it, well, then you've got a double standard :-)

I'm no expert, but I'm of the view that trying to control eating is the hardest way to control weight, closely followed in difficulty by exercise (which gets far better results but is just as miserable and requires just as much iron willpower).
The realistic way IMHO is to find an activity that is fun, and ensure it becomes an integrated part of your lifestyle, such that it happens regularly without much effort or organizing. While it's probably not the choice for you, I know people who lose weight by going nightclubbing - they dance the night away with their friends, having a blast, instead of going to a gym. I try to keep my home close enough to my job that I can cycle-commute - which not only gets me to work faster (because rush hour doesn't affect me), and saves me wasting my life at the gym, but it saves me money too. As already mentioned, other people walk their dogs. There are actually a lot of things that aren't miserable to do once you're used to doing them. Only ever having sex in ways that require you to exert yourself might be one, or it might be bad given your situation, I don't know, but... think outside the box, try to find something you can enjoy.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:21 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I feel your pain. I quit smoking about two years ago and definitely have put on at least 10 pounds. The weight gain sucks, but come on, man, do you really want to go back to that monkey on your back? If it were the only way to lose weight, I'd say yeah, go ahead. But you know it's not. It's not even a reliable way to lose weight.

Just don't. Seriously. If you fall off that wagon, get Allen Carr's book and read it and quit again. There are a bazillion diet/exercise plans out there; pick one for starters. If it doesn't work, try another.
posted by zardoz at 12:29 AM on September 8, 2011

I've walked the line with alcohol, am in treatment for sex addiction, and in some ways feel like food is my last bastion.

You have a larger problem (no self discipline) and you aren't going to solve it by juggling bad habits. You need to take responsibility for what you do and what you don't do. These are not things happening to you or conditions you have. You are the actor. You eat. You drink. You fuck. You smoke (or you did, and you still want to). You sit immobile in front of a television or computer. You do not exercise.

Exercise. But go easy on the joints. Put yourself in a swimming pool at a gym every night and swim until you can't swim anymore. If you can, leave the car at home and walk or bicycle one or both ways to and from the pool, or part way (pool to train station? train station to home?). You will be exercising. You will be standing there in your swimming suit and evaluating yourself, not hiding from everyone, and then slipping into the soothing water to make it better. You will sink or swim. You will not be able to smoke, drink, eat, or fuck during that time and you will be too busy to do any of it before or after. Between the pool and home, maybe you will be listening to something on your headphones, maybe learning poems word by word so you can think them back to yourself word by word as your swim laps. You will be spending a lot of your free time and some of your money making yourself better. You will be strengthening your body and memory and willpower. You will live longer and you will die with poetry running through your mind.
posted by pracowity at 1:47 AM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

You might find this interesting. It might be a new way to think about willpower and self-control, basically that those emotional muscles can become fatigued through relentless use, but that you can also get better at it.

So basically the thinking is if you deny yourself things all the time, work hard, keep your head down, eventually you'll fall into a vat of cookie dough, and at the same time, small instances of self-control (remembering to wear a seat belt in a car) get you better positioned for the bigger instances. You need periods of rest and periods of success.

Note that 'rest' doesn't mean smoke a pack of cigarettes. It seems to support incremental, gentle, sustainable lifestyle improvements. I've also seen a cool study recently from the Center for Science in the Public Interest people, about how physical environment impacts weight loss -- bowl of candy on the desk, potato chips front and center when you open the pantry door, the presence or absence of cold fruit on the top shelf of the refrigerator -- how those small things influence weight loss or gain, thanks to our big old brains that are always looking for things to eat and gravitate toward the obvious. (I had to ask for a canister of honey-roasted cashews in the pantry to be hidden because I couldn't stop having a handful every time I opened the door.)

Anyway. I think maybe make a small change, like starting having a protein rich breakfast, and maybe in a couple of weeks add some other change. Maybe take a yoga class or download a yoga video to help with flexibility and just helping your body to feel better. Or a week of trying one new vegetable a night.

Smoking is just giving up on your health and yourself. I don't think you really want to do that. It sounds like you just want to feel better.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:19 AM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

If you start smoking to lose weight, you will just gain all this weight back the next time you quit. You have quit; that's over. Now you need to work on losing the weight everyone gains when they quit. It blows.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:25 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds more like you have an addiction problem than a weight problem. Smoking is simply trading one addiction for another, that is assuming of course once you start smoking you will magically loose the weight. I've known a lot of fat smokers.

I think that if you are not already in some sort of therapy or addiction support group you might want to look into it. Your problem is an addictive personality not over eating. As someone whose father spent his whole life shifting from addiction to addiction (work, smoking, drinking and gambling) who never tried to get any help and who finally died slowly and horribly of lung cancer I really would hate to think of someone else following his route.
posted by wwax at 4:06 AM on September 8, 2011

You've got an addictive personality? Get addicted to exercise. For less than the cost of a half-pack-a-day habit, you can get a gym membership. Start swimming. Start riding a bike. (I figure running won't do your joints any good until you get your weight down.)

But for god's sake don't start smoking again to "lose weight". What is this, the 1950s? I tried using the same justification the first time I quit smoking, and even this King of Self Delusion and Silly Rationalization told myself, "christ, man, that's stupid." Don't do it.
posted by notsnot at 4:07 AM on September 8, 2011

Yep. Robbing Peter to pay Paul sends you back round the endless loop. You need to channel your obsessiveness into something positive for yourself (and ideally also for others), in which weight loss is a wonderful side-effect but not actually the primary motivation. Exercise endorphin is a slow burning natural high and when I feel miserable, slobby, tired I usually realise I haven't exercised for a few days too many, and I use the memory of how I felt a couple of days before to get myself up off that couch and outside. I've trained myself to see weight loss as a happy byproduct of my pursuit of mental calm through exercise.
posted by Hugobaron at 6:06 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's an absolutely terrible idea. If you do it, expect to not lose weight, and to be addicted to cigarettes again. Have you forgotten how hard it was to quit?

I smoked for 13 years and finally quit in 2002. Like you, I struggled with weight gain and also increased anxiety and irritability. There were times I thought I might 'need' to smoke to stay sane.

Smoking is a very sneaky addiction. The addicted brain will tell itself just about anything, crazy logic or not, to get you to start in again, even after years. If it weren't weight loss, it would be trying the 'stress' angle. Or the 'I need to focus' angle. Or the 'this is the only way I can get a break' angle. The idea that cigarettes are what you need is nothing more than the addiction talking, and wanting to convince you through any means imaginable that what will solve all your problems is more smoking. Nah-ah.

The solution was exercise. I began by walking a half hour a day. It immediately calmed me down, improved my opinion of myself, improved my mood throughout the day, and took off the 'edge' that made me want to smoke. Once walking was easy I started doing a very gradual transition to running that involved walking 2 minutes and running one. I gradually eliminated the walking intervals and could soon run for half an hour. I did that 3-4 times a week and started entering 5K races. I found it was actually really fun and a great way to meet people. Fitness has been a much bigger part of my life ever since.

The thing with smoking is that, especially if you've done it a long time, you've used it as a shortcut for managing yourself. You've used it to regulate mood and attention and you've used it to avoid developing a good relationship with your body, which does take work. It does a pretty good job at some of these things - but at an utterly unreasonable cost.

Take this as an opportunity to recognize that there are self-care muscles you never developed, and start building them. If you aren't walking every day, start now, even if it's for just 10 minutes. And aim to increase. If you've never tried weight training, try it. Few things result in faster weight loss, as weight training noticeably increases your metabolism. Try some fun activities. Make them social - planning stuff with friends, or going to meetup-like or Craigslist-like events that are open to anyone, makes exercise much more like the play it is meant to be than the chore that it too often is. You've beat smoking, which is huge, but now you need to make the changes that will allow you to live comfortably in your body for the rest of your life - without poisoning it.
posted by Miko at 6:11 AM on September 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

I know that we here in AskMefi land are very into the "icandoitmyself" thing, but you sound like the absolute perfect person to try out Weight Watchers. (Instead of starting to smoke).

They really teach you how you should be eating properly for your size and activity level and goal, they coach and offer support, and the weekly weigh ins are surprisingly motivating. (And yes, there are always a few men there - not many, but still.)
posted by Kololo at 7:35 AM on September 8, 2011

Great points Miko, especially about how the cigarettes are still talking. I craved cigaretts for YEARS after I quit, so don't let them trick you into coming back!
posted by serazin at 7:36 AM on September 8, 2011

If you start smoking again, not only will you still be 100lbs overweight, but you'll also be a smoker. Guaranteed you will feel like even more of a failure. Don't do it!
posted by katypickle at 8:26 AM on September 8, 2011

should I start smoking again to kick start my weight loss?

No. Studies suggest that the health effects of obesity are, on balance, less serious than the health effects of smoking.
posted by valkyryn at 9:46 AM on September 8, 2011

No. You know that smoking is bad for you, really bad, and bad for the people around you. Exercise helps you regulate your weight and your emotional state. Join a walking group, an exercise class, a softball team, whatever. Just get moving; you'll feel better, breathe better, and end up looking better. Win! You already did the work of quitting, please don't put yourself through that again.
posted by theora55 at 4:33 PM on September 8, 2011

Anecdotally, everyone I've talked to who's had multiple periods of smoking says you get one easy quit. My one quit was hard as nails, so I am for damn sure not ever taking it back up again if that was the easy one. Also anecdotally, everyone I've known who's had multiple periods of smoking gains weight when they quit, but they don't lose it when they start again.

Starting smoking again to lose weight under your circumstances is like an old sorta-friend of mine who decided he needed to quit drinking, because alcohol was ruining his life. So he did! Except then he didn't have anything to take the edge off his crack habit, so he started using heroin instead.

The time has come to take up an exercise program and to start changing what you eat. Start by making a commitment to eat vegetables with two out of three of your meals -- doesn't matter what form they come in. (French fries don't count, though.) It sounds very hard, and it kind of is, but it's also kind of awesome; I've dropped 50 pounds and I have another hundred to go, and I am amazed at the things I can do now that I couldn't do a year ago.
posted by KathrynT at 6:01 PM on September 8, 2011

I asked a well-known cardiologist awhile back: is it worse to be fat or to smoke? 100%, no hesitation, unequivocally, smoking is worse. Don't do it.
posted by annie o at 7:01 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you are dealing with an awful lot of stress right now, what with being in treatment for sex addiction, the weight gain with all the aches and pains...I think maybe you are trying to rationalize taking up smoking again because that's what you used to do when you were stressed.

Taking a step backward, though, is just going to make you feel worse about yourself in the long run. Even if you did lose some weight, which I'm not so sure you would this time around, you'd then just have to quit smoking again, and the pounds would come back on. You don't want to get caught up in that vicious cycle.

You said you're in treatment for sex addiction, and maybe you already know this, but a lot of people with addictive tendencies have other overlapping issues. It's very common for ADD, anxiety disorders or OCD to be all wrapped up with their addictive tendencies.

For me, before I got help for my ADD, I had a lot of trouble controlling my hunger, I gave into emotional eating, I made bad choices and ate unhealthy food. I acted impulsively.

Like you, I felt I just lacked willpower. But it was more than that. I couldn't remember anything, I'd procrastinate even on things I wanted to do, I couldn't stay with a task I'd started until I finished it, and I would get overwhelmed by the littlest things. I was consistently distracted and unfocused, and that led to all these impulsive behaviors.

Finding the right medication for my ADD worked wonders for me. I'm focused now, and I can stick to something until I finish it. I'm still the same person; it wasn't a question of willpower but of getting my head straight. I've lost weight not by starving myself or smoking or anything unhealthy, but just being consistent, and it wasn't hard to be consistent any more.

I actually didn't even appreciate how much I HAD changed until my therapist tried switching me to another medication recently, and it was so bad I spent a week not wanting to get up out of bed or leave my house. I just felt like lying around eating junk food and hibernating. After a week, I figured I'd given it a chance and this was clearly not working, so we went back to the other medication, and it was like a light going on. I got up, started cleaning and shopping and having sex and working out and eating right again, and realized how important it was to have the help I needed.

Anyway, you might benefit as well from talking to your doctor or therapist (or both) about how "addictions/self control are a real bitch for me" and you are sabotaging your own weight loss with thoughts of starting to smoke again. They might be able to help you.
posted by misha at 4:18 PM on September 11, 2011

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