DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have finally stopped smoking cigarettes, and my healer recommended a liquid diet to help my digestive system relax and expel all the toxins that have accumulated. Along with this came a heavy recommendation to get a colon cleanse, but I am reluctant. I know to expect some weight gain, and this is a concern. I think it is one of the reasons I have been unsuccessful at quitting in the past. I was hoping you might have some suggestions. -- S.F., San Diego
DEAR S.F.: As an active smoker, you were inhaling the solid refuse of burning tobacco, which was coming in faster than the body could cast it off. The body is always attempting to clean itself, and our lungs normally secrete mucus to entrap dust and other inhaled particles. The healthy lung then shuttles the mucus out through a series of cilia, or hairs.
But the entire process breaks down with burning tobacco: The smoke coming in contact with the cilia and sensitive lung tissues causes inefficiencies in this vital self-cleaning system. The more and longer you smoke, the messier things get inside. Mucus, tinged with tobacco byproducts, collects in the lungs, resulting in the typical hacking "smoker's" cough." Quitting smoking is one of the best steps toward healing you can take.
Once you stop (hooray!), the cleaning system begins to chip away at the backlog. It takes a while for the body to cleanse itself, and water serves as a main conduit for elimination. It makes sense to have plenty of healthful fluids, such as water and fruit or vegetable juices, working through your system. Forget the colon cleanse; there's no evidence that this does squat for smokers.
As for foods, people usually have an urge to eat more after quitting smoking, so you should have some foods around of low caloric density. Eat normally at mealtime, but be alert about the quality of your snacking. Good between-meal foods include fresh fruits, cut vegetables, whole-grain pretzels, and even sugar-free gums and candy. Other suggestions include rice cakes, air-popped popcorn, whole-grain dry cereals, raisins, etc. These foods can help fill you up without contributing an excess of calories.
If you have the OK from your (medical) doc, it may help to begin going on walks, or doing some other sort of exercise, such as bike riding, dancing or any other activity you enjoy. Not only will this help control any potential weight gain, it will be an important first step in telling your lungs and muscles to get in step with your new existence.
Don't give up if you gain a few pounds. Those can be lost later. The key is to get over the proverbial "hump" of about four weeks, after which the worst of the withdrawal symptoms will be history. There are many programs and support groups around that can be of help. E-cigarettes are not a solution, but they can serve as a bridge to getting nicotine dependence out of your life. The National Institutes of Health has an excellent reference website on smoking cessation: tinyurl.com/ybwl8ec.
Finally, you definitely need to spend some time giving yourself a good pat on the back. Set up a system of rewards, and if there is a (hopefully nonsmoking) significant other in your life, have that person be in charge of giving you gifts for every month that you stick with it. I congratulate you and wish you luck and determination as you continue down this road.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.