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How do I handle cravings when quitting tobacco?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Most people who quit smoking fight the urge to light up at one time or another. That's especially true in the first few days and weeks after you quit. To keep cravings for tobacco at bay, try these strategies:
  • Stay busy. Keeping your brain occupied prevents you from thinking about smoking. If you have idle time in your day, fill it by reading a book, going to a movie, taking a walk or engaging in a hobby.
  • Keep your mouth busy. Try sucking on sugar-free hard candy or munching on carrot sticks.
  • Keep your hands occupied. Many people find that they miss having a cigarette in their hands. Keep a pencil handy for your fidgety hands. Using a hand grip exerciser may help relieve stress -- and tone your muscles to boot.
  • Change your routine. If lighting up became a habit in certain situations -- if you always had a cigarette, say, after dinner before you quit smoking -- change it up and take a walk after the evening meal.
  • Avoid triggers. A trigger is anything that sets off your desire to smoke. If you often had a cigarette with a cocktail, then consider giving up booze for now.
Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics

Food cravings after smoking cessation may happen for a number of reasons. Research suggest that smoking may increase serotonin levels and dopamine. We also know that carbohydrate foods help with serotonin production and that may be one cause of cravings in ex smokers. Maintain healthy snacks on hand (grapes, carrot sticks, popcorn) and do not delay or skip meals that will make it hard to control your cravings. It could also be beneficial cutting down caffeine and limiting or abandoning alcohol use; both substances are highly related to smoking. Also, don't forget you can visit a registered dietitian for more information on how to deal with cravings

Quitting tobacco is not easy. Pat yourself on the back for every minute, hour, and day that you do not smoke. If you do slip, go easy on yourself. Keep trying. Each time you try to quit increases your odds of quitting for good next time.
But what about the cravings that sometimes make you feel like you must have a cigarette and that threaten to derail your efforts to quit? The list below can help you divert your attention to something else until the craving passes. Each craving you beat is another step toward being free of nicotine addiction.
  • Meditate.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Play a game.
  • Breathe deeply. Inhale and exhale slowly for three minutes.
  • Knit or crochet.
  • Take a bath or shower.
  • Do some stretching exercises or go to the gym for a workout.
  • Brush your teeth.
  • Have lunch with or call a supportive friend.
  • Take a nap.
  • Read a book or watch a movie.
  • Chew gum or suck on hard candy.
  • Drink a glass of water, tea, or coffee.
  • Pick a reward you can have if you make it through this craving.
  • Think of the three most important reasons you quit smoking.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Quit tobacco and you are going to have cravings - it is just part of the process. Of course, the biggest craving will be for nicotine. You can handle that with nicotine replacement therapy (patches, gum, lozenges), prescription drugs such as Chantix (varenicline), and finding ways to distract yourself while the craving is happening. Fortunately, nicotine cravings usually pass within a few minutes. As you quit tobacco you may also find yourself craving sweets. Sweets also help you get over nicotine cravings, so go ahead. Go for sugar-free choices such as sugarless gum or mints, especially if you need to keep an eye on your blood sugar. If you absolutely have to have real sugar, try to keep it in moderation. The sugar cravings and the nicotine cravings should both be gone in a week or less.

You may do the following:

Remind yourself that cravings will pass. As a substitute for smoking, try chewing on carrots, pickles, sunflower seeds, apples, celery, or sugarless gum or hard candy. Keeping your mouth busy may stop the psychological need to smoke. Try this exercise: Take a deep breath through your nose and blow out slowly through your mouth. Repeat 10 times. Avoid situations and activities (like drinking alcohol) that you normally associate with smoking.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.