For the past few years I’ve been engaged in competitions with myself.
The first competition, and the most important was the competition to stop smoking. I started smoking when I was 20 and as I approached 50 it seemed like a good time to stop. My employer offers smoking cessation help in the form of personal coaching and a month or two of nicotine patches. The coaching was useless for me, since I’m not easily motivated by other people. On the other hand, the nicotine patches helped with the cravings.
For the last few years as a smoker, I made it a point not to smoke at work. This means I was able to control my nicotine urges for around eight hours a day, but I would still smoke a pack a day when I got home. Little by little, I chipped away at my smoking habits. When I bought my house four years ago, I made it a point to not smoke inside the house, no matter the weather outside. This was fine for a couple of years, but it wasn’t really cutting down on my smoking. As I began to realize the age of 50 was right around the corner, I began looking into smoking cessation programs, and a few weeks after my fiftieth birthday, I joined the program offered at work.
When people start using smoking cessation products, such as the patch or nicotine gum, they are told to stop using tobacco and rely on the products to cover all of their nicotine urges. Whoever came up with that advice wasn’t a smoker because there are powerful habits around smoking that smoking cessation products can’t replace. In other words, I kept on smoking while using the patch. What the patch did was make it easier to not smoke. The patch helped control the urges from nicotine, which made it easier to eventually quit. As it helped control the urges, I was able to continue chipping away at the other habits associated with my smoking.
First, I gave up smoking any cigarettes for at least 30 minutes after I woke up. This was difficult because the urge to smoke after waking up was a really powerful one. Next, I stopped smoking any cigarettes on the way to the bus stop. Then I stopped smoking any cigarettes at all before work. This was important because it meant I was able to go without smoking from the time I went to bed until the time I went to got home from work. It was also difficult because work is sometimes stressful and cigarettes are a kind of coping mechanism. The patch helped immensely in controlling my nicotine urges, but a one or two month supply wasn’t going to cut it.
In the United States, all nicotine replacement* products, like the patch and nicotine gum, are available over-the-counter, which means they can be bought in stores. More importantly, they can be bought from Amazon. Amazon offers a few different brands of nicotine patches, and with some careful shopping I found patches for around $25 to $32 for a four week supply. Being able to buy nicotine pacthes from Amazon at a good price was a godsend. I don’t think I would have been successful at quitting smoking if the patches were too expensive. Being able to buy them from Amazon meant I could quit at my own pace. I came to think of quitting smoking as a process, rather than an accomplishment.
Slowly, but surely I was able to cut down on the number of cigarettes I smoked after work. Over the course of a year, while using the patch, I was able to go from a pack a day, to a pack every two or three days, to two packs a week. Eventually I got that down to a pack a week. By that time, I was only smoking two or three cigarettes a day and I was able to take the plunge and go without smoking for a day or two at a time. It required willpower, but the nicotine patches helped a lot. At this time, whenever I had a fierce nicotine urge, I would distract myself with a book, with Netflix, with a game. Anything to get my mind off smoking. The days of not smoking stacked up. I got to one week without smoking, then two weeks without smoking. How long does a person have to stop smoking in order to be considered a non-smoker? After I went without cigarettes for a month, I decided to stop using the patch. This was tricky because I made this smoking cessation program on my own, and had nobody to tell me when to stop using the patch. It turns out I gave it up a bit prematurely. Around late January of this year I started smoking again. Realizing I was starting a habit I’d almost vanquished, I started on the patch again and worked on quitting, again. This time I was more successful and the last time I had a cigarette was in April of 2019, six months ago. Two months later, in June, I stopped using the patch.
While I’m glad I stopped smoking, there is a downside. In October of 2018 my primary care doctor said I should try to lose weight. He didn’t suggest any particular method, but he mentioned it, so I thought about it and got an app on my phone to track my weight. Every morning, after feeding the cats, but before getting dressed, I weigh myself. This sets up the second competition with myself: the battle of obesity. Since I stopped smoking in April, I’ve gained about 30 pounds. When I saw my primary care doctor again a few weeks ago, he suggested trying Weight Watchers, which is a program my employer recently started offering. They offer two programs, one is digital only, while the other is a combination of digital and in-person meetings. I’m not the kind of guy who would get much out of meetings, so I’m trying the digital-only method to see how that works.
There is a third competition that closely relates to weight loss and that is tracking the steps I take every day. I’ve used pedometers off and on for years. Somewhere over the years I’ve heard that doctors recommend people walk at least 10,000 steps each day in order to be healthy, or something like that. The 10,000 step goal isn’t that difficult for me. I don’t have a car, so I tend to walk a lot anyway. I was using a pedometer app that I forget the name of, but I got annoyed when the developer would make new versions to serve up ads, but would lose my progress. There are a lot of terrible free apps that are only there to serve ads. I tried a bunch of different apps before finally finding one at GitHub. Pedometer is a free pedometer app for Android devices and it has no ads. It does a good job of tracking my steps every day, but I only have a few months worth of data on it, so that’s a bit of a downside.
Over the past few months I’ve been using the bus to get to and from work, even though I only live half a mile from where I work. Consequently, I haven’t been getting 10,000 steps on a regular basis. According to the pedometer app, my average was around 7500 steps a day. In early October, I also bought a smart watch, but that’s even more dismal because it routinely gets around 2000 fewer steps per day than the app on my phone. It sort of makes sense, because it can’t count steps if I’m carrying something in my hands. It needs to sense a particular rhythm to count steps and it can’t do that if my arms are holding onto something. Since getting the watch, I’ve been walking to work in the morning while it’s still cool, and taking the bus back home in the afternoon when I’m tired and it’s too warm to walk. Doing that, It’s much easier to get 10,000 steps a day.
I also noticed one of the things affecting the average number of steps is weekends. Normally, on the weekends, I would only get around 2000 steps a day because I’m much less active. To overcome this inactivity, for the past few weekends, every Saturday and Sunday I’ve walked to a coffeeshop about a mile away from my house. To the coffeeshop and back home is around 8500 steps, which makes it much easier to get in 10,000 steps on Saturdays and Sundays.
Overall, I’m not sure 10,000 steps a day is good enough to help me lose weight, so I may move my goal to be 15,000 steps a day, but I’m still thinking about it. It’s pretty easy to get 11,000 or 12,000 steps a day, but it’s hard to do more without a concerted effort.
I have a feeling that losing weight will be a long, hard slog just as quitting smoking was. My goal is to get down to around 165 pounds by October 1st of next year. That’s a loss of around 70 pounds. I don’t think it will be easy to accomplish, but thanks to technology it will be easy to track my progress. I made a spreadsheet to track my weight and steps, and figured out I need to lose around 1.4 pounds per week to meet that goal. We’ll see how well I do.
Another competition, which has nothing to do with smoking or weight loss, is NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo (a/k/a National Novel Writing Month) is an annual competition that takes place every November. During that month, each participant tries to write 50,000 words, which is about the length of a novel. I’ve done this off and on in past years and it’s very difficult. While some people go into it without any sort of plan or plot, in my experience, that makes it much harder to finish with 50,000 words. At any rate, this year I have a plot and have roughly outlined about 15 chapters, so I feel confident in finishing. Luckily, it’s easier to get concrete results in NaNoWriMo than it is in weight loss or smoking cessation.
*Nicotine replacement products have nicotine in them, but don’t have the cancer causing chemicals that come from using tobacco. Smoking cessation products are intended to help people stop smoking, but don’t always have nicotine as an ingredient. While all nicotine replacement products are smoking cessation products, not all smoking cessation products are nicotine replacement products. Some smoking cessation products require a doctor’s prescription.