Please help me live past 50
January 17, 2006 8:11 PM   Subscribe

Want to get healthier. In which order should I fix my three vices for optimal success?

Cigarettes: 1/2 to 1 pack per day. Goal: quit entirely.
Alcohol: 3 to 6 drinks per day. Goal: not drink daily, but still be OK to go out with friends.
Food: Don't overeat, but don't get enough greens. Goal: eat relatively balanced meals daily.

I'm afraid if I try to fix it all at once, I'll fail miserably. What should I do first, and second, and third, and on what sort of schedule? In case it's relevant, I'll say that I don't use narcotics and am not taking any medication. I have occasional difficulty sleeping, and one worry is that these massive body chemistry changes -- though for the better -- might keep me awake nights.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IMO - quit smoking first. It's arguably the worst thing you're doing for your health. Then tackle the drinking. Then worry about diet. Of course, you'll need to keep your diet in close check while quitting smoking and curbing your drinking, as those will affect your eating habits a lot if you're not careful.

Good luck.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:25 PM on January 17, 2006

Surely 1,2,3.

That has to the order they are doing damage to you. And if you get one or two done you will have probably done the best for your boday.

I'd say 6 months for each.

The problem you might find is that smoking may be tied to your drinking. In my unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking going out and drinking broke me. I successfully gave up when I moved and didn't go out with the same group of people that I had before.
posted by sien at 8:25 PM on January 17, 2006

My completely unprofessional opinion is to quit alcohol first, then cigs, then food. It seems like eating is the only vice that's not necessarily destructive, so that get's an easy third place.

Cigarettes and alcohol could both endanger your health, but I feel like there's more potential for dangerous situations if you're drinking all the time. Cigarettes are bad, but they're killing you slowly whereas booze could put you in an immediately hazardous situation like sleeping with an ex or drunk skateboarding.
posted by nomad at 8:29 PM on January 17, 2006

If it were me, I'd do the drinking first, then the food, then the smokes. I don't know if you're overweight, but making changes to your eating/drinking habits will also help your weight, in addition to everything else. If you're truly trying to make wholesale life changes, like it sounds, then do it in stages.

Moderation in all things - if you're drinking 3-6 drinks per day, drop that by, say, two drinks a day for the first week, and a drink per day every week thereafter until you're at a level where you're drinking only a couple drinks, when you're with your friends. Your liver (and your wallet) will thank you.

As for food, make small changes, and that will increase your chances of long term success - for instance, when you go to a bar or restaurant to eat, instead of getting fries with your burger/sandwich, get a salad.

Try to cut back on fried foods first, and like the drinks, make one change a week or so - one week, do the salad not fries thing, one week, commit to eating a certain vegetable a certain number of times, things like that. Over time, these changes will add up to a better diet.

Never been a smoker, so I can't help with that one...but in addition to all this, you may also want to consider joining/going to a gym.
posted by pdb at 8:30 PM on January 17, 2006

From a risk to health standpoint I agree that the order should be smoking, drinking, eating. However, quiting smoking is wicked hard (or so I am told). Unfortunatly your most important change is the hardest to make. There may be some merit to starting with one that is easier to build up confidence and momentum. Personally, I would tackle drinking first while trying to limit cigaretes. Then try to go cold turkey on the cigatets while cutting yourself a break and eating pretty much what ever you want file fighting the nicotine withdrawl.

I don't have a whole lot of experince in this arena other than to say that in my experience, when trying to do many things, failing at the first can doom them all.

Good Luck.
posted by lucasks at 8:32 PM on January 17, 2006

i'd say stop the drinking first. if i'm drinking, i'm smoking, but not necessarily the other way around. get rid of the drinking first and maybe quitting smoking will come easier. plus, i think 3-6 drinks per day is alot.
posted by brandz at 8:33 PM on January 17, 2006

Smokes, moderate the drinking but don't worry about 2 a day for an extended period, and then diet AND exercise at the same time.

Smoking is a huge enabler.

"Oh why bother avoiding this donut, I'm making my lungs disgusting already, how bad can this be in comparison with that?"

Personal experience has taught me as well that quitting smoking while still hanging around bars (presumably where you're drinking with buddies) is a losing proposition. I personally couldn't last one evening in that atmosphere until I was smoke-free for over 6 months. So those two might take care of themselves.
posted by mikel at 8:36 PM on January 17, 2006

I'd go with food first. Since everyone seems to agree that this is the easiest goal to meet it will give you a nice confidence boost. Further, the better diet will make you feel better and give you more energy so you'll be that much more likely to meet your other two goals.

I'd go alcohol next, then smoking. Again tackle the easier problem first. Gain more confidence, feel even better. By the time you get to smoking the rest of your life will be so out of sync with the habit that you'll have a much easier time quitting.

It seems to me that trying to quit smoking while you are drinking heavily and eating horribly is just a suckers bet.

Finally, take as long as you need to. There is no timetable here. By setting a time table you are setting yourself for massive disappointment and possible relapse. As long as you feel that you are making progress, you are.

You've already taken the first step. Tomorrow take another step. Don't worry if it is a small one (maybe you'll order water instead of coke for lunch), as long as it is a step in the right direction you are, be definition, getting better.
posted by oddman at 8:59 PM on January 17, 2006

Smoking is probably going to be the most difficult. I found it required a lot of psychic energy, and had to be done in isolation while I allowed myself to indulge in other areas. Smoking is definitely the most damaging to long-term health. Surprisingly, I went to my first bar two months after quitting smoking and found the smoking totally repulsed me. So I was able to go out again fairly soon after.

THen, out on a limb here, start an exercise program. You'll be less likely and willing to eat crap and drink too much, because you'll notice you don't like the way it feels. Set a goal for a race or event or performance standard and work your way toward it. If you have any competitive spirit at all, even with yourself, you'll find yourself cutting out things that are hindering the achievement of the goal.
posted by Miko at 9:03 PM on January 17, 2006

Drinking is a trigger for smoking for a lot of people, so you may want to work on that first. Maybe get to the point where you're comfortable with a couple drinks a week or whatever and then cut drinking out completely. After a bit of that, take on smoking.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 9:15 PM on January 17, 2006

You're right - you will fail miserably if you try them all at once. And I agree with everything oddman said - there's no way in hell you're giving up cigarettes if you're still a boozer; and I think you know that too. As for sleeping, just pick up some benadryl or the generic equivalent at the drug store - they'll get you through any rough patches.
posted by forallmankind at 9:18 PM on January 17, 2006

IMO - quit smoking first. It's arguably the worst thing you're doing for your health. Then tackle the drinking. Then worry about diet.

Agreed over here.
posted by frogan at 9:43 PM on January 17, 2006

Smoking first. And you might have included your age.
posted by cribcage at 9:52 PM on January 17, 2006

I agree with everyone who said "quit smoking first." In my opinion (as a former smoker) this will definitely be the hardest one to do. That being said, when you quit smoking you will actually gain weight. Within the first few days of not smoking, food will actually taste better, and if you already overeat you may find it hard to limit your eating. Also, smoking increases your metabolism so even dieting will not stop weight gain. One of the biggest problems I had while trying to quit smoking was finding something to do with my idle hands. The best option for me was starting a regular exercise program. Whenever I felt the urge for a cigarette, I would take a quick jog around the block. Not being able to breathe (I was in pretty bad shape) made the need for a cigarette seem less important. I also chewed a lot of gum but be careful with this and make sure you brush your teeth more often! (Gum/hard candy in the same frequency as cigarettes can be a hazard to your teeth). I really hope you have someone to help and encourage you in quitting your vices... you have a difficult road ahead of you! Good luck!!
posted by super_not at 10:02 PM on January 17, 2006

I'm with brandz. As a former smoker who long ago did most of my smoking while out drinking, I can attest that quitting the former without at least seriously cutting down on the latter is a hundred times harder than just quitting smoking in itself (which is still hard). If you smoke when you drink (and what smoking drinkers don't), then you will want to smoke when you drink. The important thing here is not so much the order as avoiding the situations that will set off triggers. That might mean avoiding some friends and some familiar places for a while.
posted by bingo at 10:12 PM on January 17, 2006

I don't mean to be snarky, but is anyone suggesting quitting smoking first aware of the following:

a) nicotine is a highly addictive substance
b) large amounts of willpower are required to overcome addictions
c) alcohol impairs judgement and reduces willpower
d) the poster is having 3-6 alcoholic drinks a day!
posted by forallmankind at 10:15 PM on January 17, 2006

One thing to consider is that the cigarettes and alcohol are probably playing each other off a bit from an upper/downer standpoint. This is purely conjecture, but I imagine that if you quite (or cut back on) drinking, you might find it easier to then quite smoking because you won't have quite the same need to balance our the sedative drag that alcohol is giving you.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:16 PM on January 17, 2006

I've been working with the same set of goals and quit a pack a day ten year habit.
You'll be better off turning it all into one strong program for a better life. Quitting smoking is hard, but you can do it if you really want it. I would recommend not drinking for a few weeks while you get over the nicotine-you really need everything going for you while you quit. You can ease back in after a month or so and have a few drinks, but I've found alcohol makes me really drop my defenses, so be warned and go easy.
Smoke your last cig at night and just throw the pack out before you go to bed. When you wake up, you're now a non-smoker.
Drink lots of water, start eating the salad, do some excercise, just start putting the effort in.
Be strong about the cigarettes, and the rest is not too hard to put into place.
When it gets difficult, try and remember that this is all stuff to make you a stronger, better, healthier person...keep it positive...all the little steps WILL make you feel better...
Good luck!
posted by BillBishop at 10:17 PM on January 17, 2006

While smoking is certainly bad for you and carries a long-term cumulative risk of furthering loads of chronic diseases, depending on your other risk factors for heart disease, at 6 drinks per day, it's probably substantially more important for you to stop drinking.

I don't know how long you've had these habits or how old you are, but 6 drinks per day may put you on the fast track to liver failure. As I've noted previously, with your volume of drinking, you are doing a lot of potentially permanent damage to multiple organ systems, and are probably already at high risk of developing some evil consequences from drinking like acute hepatitis and pancreatitis. Not to mention the fact that 6 drinks a day is totally going to screw with your nutritional status and set you up for a whole host of serious vitamin deficiencies on top of your already so-so dietary proclivities. Oh, and this all ignores the psychosocial badness brought on by drinking, and I'm not even going to get started on drinking and driving or alcohol's ability essentially to fuckup any schoolwork or career you may be currently enjoying.

In short, from a risk/benefit standpoint with respect to your health, drinking should be the first thing you tone down. Then smoking, then diet (although some might argue that concurrent changes in your diet may make it easier to modify your other habits).
posted by drpynchon at 10:25 PM on January 17, 2006

I'd suggest what most others already have; eating, sleeping & exercise are the key to health. If these are under control, the rest will fall into place...mostly because those bad habits won't feel as good as they once did.

Unfortunately most people DO fail miserably, hence your fears are well founded. In my experience, success has always been followed by a pinch of education (read up & learn about what you're trying to accomplish) followed by a nice healthy dose of honesty via self-reflection (take a step back, look at the big picture of your life...).

What has always helped me to do this is an exercise I learned reading, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," by Stephen Covey. He asks you to imagine yourself, many years from now, lying in a casket; the funeral home is filled with family, friends & acquaintances. What would you want them to say about you? How would you like to be remembered? What accomplishments would you like them to take note of? The answers to these question usually give a pretty good perspective on the bigger you just need to work backwards.

If you think the habits you're trying to break today may keep you from achieving what it is that you REALLY want in life, then you will have the sufficient motivation needed to change them. If not, you're most likely doomed to failure. Only you will know for sure. Best of luck in your efforts!
posted by Jhaus at 10:40 PM on January 17, 2006

First of all, I have totally been there on all 3 and am still dealing with all of it but perhaps a couple of steps ahead of you.

I have taken the approach that I HAVE to introduce exercise into my life or there will be no form of stimulation to take the place of these vices.

I do find that working out leaves me feeling warm and satisfied and I don't care so much to ruin myself on bad substances.

That said, I think it's important to quit smoking first.

Reason: if you have smoked at all in the past week, you'll feel it when you try to work out (I mean cardiovascular exercise). However, if you have drunk anything in the past week, it won't necessarily stop you.

Don't try to work out directly after drinking even 1 beer (a gross experience) but at least you can work out the day after a bender. You just can't get yourself into any kind of exercise routine while you're still smoking.

Exercise will also stimulate your appetite and help you get to eating more/better.

Good luck.
posted by scarabic at 11:16 PM on January 17, 2006

1) Drinking
2) Smoking + Eating

And here's a nice, fairly logical reason why:

Pretty much every smoker lights up while they drink. You'll probably find that you are smoking less once you stop drinking. Drinking will also make you overweight, due to the calories, and due to the way the body breaks down the alcohol itself. So it stands to reason that if you quit drinking, you'll also end up smoking less and be on your way to dropping a few pounds as well.

Smoking will of course be much harder. And alot of people gain weight during the process. This is why you should kind of combine them, and when you quit, introduce healthy foods into your diet to snack on and eat instead of pig out on junk food. If you just pig out, you will most likely get discouraged about the weight gain and may not go through with it. Which means you'll like not bother with the eating healthy change either. So combine them.

The best motivation factor I can think of? When you cut back on drinking or smoking, take the money that you would have spent that day on drinks or cigs, and put it in a shoebox. After a week, pull it out and count. You'll be surprised how much you'll save. Keep at it. When you stop drinking, use it to by something nice. Or save it till when you stop smoking as well, and buy something nicer.
posted by Phynix at 1:46 AM on January 18, 2006

I would chime in on exercise and diet first, for pretty much the same reason scarabic suggested the opposite: you feel your smoking when you exercise. It is only that feeling that makes me really, really want to stop smoking. Plus, your exercise buddies become a great good-health resource: they want you to quit more than anyone.
posted by dame at 7:18 AM on January 18, 2006

Why not taper off all 3? I had great success quitting smoking by just moving the time I allowed myself to start forward as the weeks went by. So maybe at first you don't let yourself smoke first thing when you wake up, but wait half an hour. Then an hour. And so on. Once you get to the point where you are only smoking in the evening it gets a lot easier to quit.

Likewise with eating - you could start by introducing one healthy habit at a time, like eating a nutritious and healthy breakfast. Once that habit's established you can slowly move on to others.

Make it easy and pleasant - this is a lifestyle change you'll want to be able to do over the long haul. Good luck. It's a great project to begin.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:54 AM on January 18, 2006

1) Quit drinking entirely for awhile. Like most have mentioned above, drinking triggers smoking. I quit drinking for 1 month just to quit smoking. I could not handle going to a bar and having a drink without having a smoke. If you can't do this, you might want to read the Big Book.

2) After you had made in a little while without drinking, quit smoking cold turkey on a chosen day. Don't smoke on the day you want to quit. When you wake up, don't smoke at all. Pretend that your sick for 3-4 days. You will feel shitty, but just pretend that you are sick. And do what you would do while you are sick. Eat comfort food, nap, sleep, take hot showers, take off work, etc. etc. After a few days, start doing some light excercise, even if its just a brisk 15 minute walk. It will help your motivation. If you are ever tempted to smoke, take a empty jar and fill it with a dirty ashtray of smokes cigarettes. Put a little water in it. Seal it up. When you are tempted, open jar and take a big whiff. You won't want to smoke after that.

3) Slowly replace unhealthy eating with healthy eating. Start with a goal of eating 1 piece of fruit a day, and go from there.

Just go slow. Don't try to do it all at once.
posted by jasondigitized at 7:57 AM on January 18, 2006

I didn't see this anywhere, so I'll add it to your list. Drink more water. start that now. Your body will need water to help it deal with all the toxins that have accumulated and to feel even the tiniest bit better while your body readjusts. Do that first.
posted by bilabial at 8:28 AM on January 18, 2006

Holy shit, quit drinking first. No fucking question. Smoking a pack a day will kill you in, what, twenty, thirty years? Drinking 3-6 drinks a night will do you in way faster than that. Or you'll wish it did. Plus it's pretty much impossible to quit smoking when you're always a bit drunk.

Take a week off from drinking. Go for a walk. Lift some weights. Have a delicious salad with grilled chicken instead of fried whatevers and beer. Eat a bowl of oatmeal with a touch of brown sugar. Maybe try a short jog. Lift more weights. You haven't had a drink in three days. You've already lost a pound and a half. You're sleeping better. Your bowel movements aren't runny. You look forward to tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:31 AM on January 18, 2006

I live down the street from an AA meeting place. Without fail, the sidewalk is crowded every week as they all come out for a smoke. They all smoke.

They're substituting one addiction for another, obviously, and have found that smoking is less destructive to their lives than drinking.

Which suggests to me (a complete unprofessional with no experience in these things whatsoever) that you'll probably compensate one vice with either or both of the others. Perhaps you should let yourself do this for a short while rather than saddling yourself with an insurmountable task.

Give yourself permission to have an extra drink while quitting the smokes, and then allow yourself to eat whatever you want while quitting the booze. Finally, curb your diet and take off any of the extra pounds incurred.

Whatever you decide, good luck!
posted by aladfar at 10:19 AM on January 18, 2006

Can you talk to your doctor about this? I'd be concerned about alcohol withdrawal, which can be quite dangerous. I've seen someone (with consumption similar to yours, though perhaps over a longer term) go through it, and it isn't pretty. So IANAD, nor do I play one on TV, but I'd suggest tapering the alcohol gradually while paying close attention to eating well. Vitamin supplements, particularly B vitamins, might help. Once you've hit a better equilibrium with your eating and drinking, then tackle the smoking.
posted by expialidocious at 10:34 AM on January 18, 2006

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