I smoked from age 14 to 37. Not much, mind you – average 5-6 cigarettes a day. But of course I did, everybody did. Smoking was the cool, the elegant, the sophisticated thing to do. All the movie stars did it, as you can see in the old 40’s and 50’s movies on TV reruns. Somewhere I have an old photo of me, age 19 and long hair flowing, having my cigarette lit by my then boyfriend. We thought we were ready for Hollywood.
When I started smoking, my father said to me, it’s OK if you smoke, just know that it is not healthy, so keep it down. He’d had to quit because of a heart condition. I would smoke at the dinner table, and he loved the smell. We didn’t know, or think, about second hand smoke.
When I got to my mid thirties, and was already deep into healthy eating at a time when hardly anyone else was, general knowledge that smoking was not healthy had permeated the mainstream, regardless of what the tobacco companies were saying. I was getting tired of people saying to me “YOU smoke???” and me saying “Nobody’s perfect!” Which I thought was a great line. However, it was quickly losing its luster, and I thought the time had come to drop the habit.
How to do that? I am convinced that in order to change your habits, you have to change something else that underlies them, so the habits fall away. If you focus really strongly on the habit itself, that guarantees an inability to stop, because you keep thinking about it. So I thought – who are the people who can’t stand smoke? I had noticed that those who were vegan or vegetarian and ate lots of salads and raw food usually couldn’t. Those who followed a macrobiotic diet, with cooked food, whole grains, salt and salty condiments, on the other hand, really liked smoking. And I was among these latter ones.
So I changed my diet. I added raw foods and salad to every meal, the salad usually at the end, with a sour taste, and cut down on salt and fat dramatically. When you finish the meal with a salad, smoking afterwards doesn’t taste too good. People usually smoke with coffee and wine or other alcohol, after fatty foods, as smoking stimulates the liver and helps digestion. My taste for smoking began to fade, and then I simply quit one day. It wasn’t easy because I was writing The Book of Whole Meals at the time – all smoking writers know that you need a cigarette in order to write – so I devised a different system. Every time I wanted a cigarette for my writing, I lit a stick of incense (for the smoke), and ate a handful of almonds (for the oral gratification). Worked like a charm. I tried a cigarette a week after quitting and couldn’t stand it any more, and that was the end of that. I never again was even interested in lighting another cigarette. Soon I wondered how could I EVER could have liked such a stinky thing.
Drinking alcohol, on the other hand, was never my thing. I couldn’t stand the taste of it. Once, when I was twenty, I forced myself to get drunk on champagne just to see what everyone else was talking about, but I hated it and never did it again. However, with the help of my friends I found out that a change in diet can completely change one’s tolerance for alcohol. I wrote this story up in Food and Healing, but thought it would be appropriate to mention it here.
In Argentina, where I lived for 13 years, people used to eat meat for lunch and dinner, breaded fried veal cutlets, occasional chicken or fish, pasta with plenty of cheese, coffee, and as a matter of course put away several glasses of wine with a meal, without a problem and without getting drunk (it may have changed by now, maybe). I went home to visit friends and family many times. In 1978 I went again, with my children, and a friend who had visited New York and loved my work with food, got me onto TV and in articles in the papers. My high-school buddies were amazed. “What are you doing that you’re getting all this media exposure?” I said, OK, I’ll give you a demo. So I cooked up a meal for 12, with the brown rice, beans, fish, vegetables, salad, a fruit-based dessert. They asked if they could have some wine. I said sure. So the 12 of them went through their customary 8 bottles of wine, which they normally don’t even notice. But with my meal, light and naturally low fat, they all got roaring drunk. One guy cut the other guy’s hair in the bathroom, one couple crashed the car on the way home (nobody hurt), several of them overslept and the kids were late to school – in other words, my healthy meal caused a great deal of disruption in their lives. They kept teasing me about it for more than fifteen years afterwards!
What I learned from this was that a single meal can change a person’s reaction to alcohol. Many of my students have said that their tolerance to drinking went down quite noticeably once they went vegetarian or vegan. And then this is the big lesson: if a person wants to stop drinking, or at least cut down dramatically, simply changing one’s diet makes it a lot easier because the body will not WANT all that alcohol. The focus then is on Yes, I will eat this way, rather than No, I can’t drink any more. We all like the yes part much better, and can do it more easily too.
Here is an eating style to help your body abandon habits like too much alcohol and tobacco:
– Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables: fruit, maybe some hot oatmeal with almonds and raisins, for breakfast. Fruit for snacks. – Protein from beans and nuts, with some whole grains, for lunch and dinner – Small amounts of fish, maybe chicken occasionally – Finish each meal with a salad so you’re left with a sour taste. – Keep the fat intake down, just use a little olive oil, nothing fried – Keep the salt intake down too, don’t add salt at the table
Do this as long as needed to drop the habit. In case of relapse, try it again.