Smoking cigarettes in adolescence has always been considered a pathway to coolness, or a way to fit in. For a time, smoking began to be considered passé, but amongst teens in recovery, it still holds the mythical status of cool and is often key to fitting in. So much so, kids who want to quit or who don’t really want to smoke may even start smoking E-cigarettes in an attempt to reach the same level of cool. (It is just vapor, right?). I digress. For girls who smoke, there may be another reason behind the nasty habit: presumed thinness, or a path to thinness. Some assume that smoking is also the answer to hunger pains and subconsciously satisfy (albeit temporarily) the desire for food.
In their working paper titled “The Demand for Cigarettes as Derived from the Demand for Weight Control,” Stephanie Von Kinke Kessler Scholder and John Cawley found that “among teenagers who smoke frequently, 46% of girls and 30% of boys are smoking in part to control their weight.” We see this behavior all the time within our recovery community, particular among those suffering from and beginning to recover from eating disorders. For some, the idea is that it’s far easier to go smoke than to eat lunch. We are highly aware of this predilection amongst our eating disorder population and we take great measures to stop these behaviors in their tracks. Some of which include supervised meals and several focus groups dedicated to eating disorder recovery.
But what about someone struggling with an eating disorder who is not in the safe, healing environment of a treatment facility? What if they are on their own, doing the dance of recovery solely through meetings and fellowship? Will they notice their use of cigarettes to stifle hunger pains? More than likely, they will not. I remember being new and bragging that I was surviving on a diet of coffee and cigarettes, ever chasing the goal of “perfection.” At the same time, I also had a raging eating disorder, consuming my thinking and vision. I was clueless. It took me years to learn to recognize that smoking was a key to assisting me in my process of acquiring thinness. In fact, one of the fears when I quit smoking was the presumed assurance of weight gain.
As always, one of the first steps to recovery is asking for help. This is not a feat that comes naturally to an addict or alcoholic. We are accustomed to “doing it all ourselves.” Still, going to meetings, getting a sponsor, finding a therapist, all of these things can help us begin the healing process. Beginning the process of digging deeply and getting to the root cause of whatever is causing you to harm yourself with addiction, starvation or binging, or binging and purging is crucial. We cannot recover alone, nor can we stop the insanity of our addictions without asking for help.