Giving up nicotine can be especially hard Picture: File

You’re doing the best thing for your body by ditching those deadly smoke sticks, but why must it be so difficult? 

Beating any addiction is incredibly challenging, but giving up nicotine can be especially hard. That’s why, when it comes to nicotine withdrawals, it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve. One of these is to consider what you’re eating while you’re trying to give up. 

Registered dietician Amanda Weber says that the first thing to acknowledge is that when we give up any compulsive or addictive behaviour, we very often replace it with another. 

“The moment we find our hands unoccupied − like when we’ve stopped smoking − we need to replace it with something less destructive,” she says. But before we address what to eat to fill that gap, it’s worth looking at other ways we can deal with any accompanying anxiety, irritability, depression, and weight gain. 

She says that two of the best ways of doing this are to sleep enough and exercise enough. Why? Because both help to facilitate the release of endorphins. 

Amanda also says that nicotine withdrawal often causes a craving for chocolate, as it contains the neurotransmitter phenethylamine, which is important for the regulation of the body's release of endorphins. Endorphins are released following a stressor and result in a sense of relaxation. 

“People crave high sugar foods because when glucose interacts with the opioid receptor system in the brain, this has an addictive triggering effect,” she says. 

Happy hormones are triggered every time glucose is present, and it’s been well documented that smoking and food cravings activate some of the same brain areas.

So what can you eat to counteract this?

Amanda says that staying in control of snacking can be managed by mindfulness, and by keeping only healthy snacks easily available to you. These include:

  • Air-popped popcorn: This is a low calorie, high fibre (low GI) snack and it stimulates all the senses. 
  • Fruit and cheese platters: Think low fat mozzarella and pear, or cottage cheese & apple – these are both satisfying combinations of taste and texture.
  • Legumes are particularly beneficial, as they’re very low in calories but provide protein and low GI carbohydrates. This combination is valuable to ensure stable blood glucose levels. 
  • Small quantities of dark chocolate or even pretzel sticks/strawberries dipped in melted dark chocolate.
  • Steamed apple with cinnamon & light custard provides a sense of calm, as well as nutritional value.
  • Citrus juices: Try a naartjie and orange combination, which also provides the essential vitamin C needed (because Vitamin C is destroyed through smoking).
  • Skeletia tea: This well-known herbal remedy helps reduce anxiety.