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    Smoking: Drop the Habit Without Picking Up Weight

    Proven strategies for quitting smoking -- including diet and exercise -- can keep you smoke-free and prevent weight gain.

    Women at Greater Risk

    Studies have shown that women are more likely to return to smoking as a way to avoid weight gain after quitting. The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I., is conducting a female-specific research study that focuses on innovative ways to quit smoking, including exercise.

    Launched in 2007, "Commit to Quit" is a 12-week, NIH-funded group program and smoking cessation research study led by researchers at the hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at Brown University. Designed by women for women, it provides information on how to prepare to stop smoking; ways to handle nicotine withdrawal; the skills needed to quit; and the tools to stay smoke-free. Each participant receives a free, three-month membership to one of three local YMCA branches. (Researchers hope to roll out the program to YMCA communities nationwide).

    The women are divided into two groups: an exercise group and a health and wellness group. Participants meet with staff on a weekly basis at the YMCA. Those in the exercise group are given a regimented exercise program to follow, and those in the health and wellness group are taught about lifestyle changes, healthy eating strategies and stress management. Both strategies have proven to be effective in helping with smoking cessation.

    Bess Marcus, PhD, director of the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, has been running smoking cessation programs for 20 years. She says most people have to go through several attempts to successfully kick nicotine and most will gain some weight as a result. She counsels program participants to "think of quitting smoking as a lifestyle change. Women often set themselves up negatively. A slip doesn't have to become a relapse and a relapse doesn't have to become a collapse. [Women need to] give themselves permission while working at the process to reframe it as a learning experience instead of being so hard on themselves."

    Administrative worker Liz Sandberg of Providence smoked a pack a day for three decades. A graduate of Commit to Quit, she celebrated her one-year smoke-free anniversary July 19.

    Her motivation for quitting was financial. "I was spending $3,000 a year on cigarettes. I thought, 'This is crazy.'" A nagging cough was a secondary concern, though she told herself, "It wasn't a smoker's cough."

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