Nadia Sawalha on the battle to quit smoking: Cigarettes were my 'bad boy' boyfriend
LOOSE Women presenter, actor and cook Nadia Sawalha sayss one of the most meaningful and enduring relationships has been with cigarettes. She smoked for years, and knows just how tough it can be to kick the habit.
Sawalha (54) tried her first cigarette at age eight: "They sold them in newsagent's individually for children," she says. "We thought it was just the coolest thing on the planet – buying this fag and choking ourselves to death on them."
When she was 16 or 17, she started smoking properly. "It took me a long time to get used to it because it's so bloody disgusting, but then when I fell in love, it was a very deep and meaningful relationship for many years with a bad boy lover," she says, adding with a laugh: "I knew I had to break up with him, but I just couldn't face it because the sex was so great!"
When pregnant with her first daughter – Maddie, now almost 17 – she says giving up alcohol was tough because she was "quite a wild chick", but giving up smoking "was so hard because I was partying a lot".
She admits: "I couldn't just give up immediately when I was pregnant, and I've always had real guilt about that. I was having a sneaky half fag here and there – I wasn't still totally on my habit, but it shows you the power of the addiction.
"I gave up alcohol, I ate brilliantly, I actually lost weight when I was pregnant because I was eating so healthily - but those bloody fags, they still called me."
Sawalha tried just about everything to quit smoking – even going down some of the more outlandish routes. "I went to an all-day workshop, where you sit for four hours in these massive smoking chairs with about 10 other people and you smoke solidly for four hours while they hypnotise you," she says.
Unfortunately, this had no effect at all – she "had a fag" on the way home.
Even though she really wanted to quit she admits it was a real struggle. It was only when she saw a counsellor about 15 years ago and delved into the deeper thought processes underlying her reliance on cigarettes, that her mentality truly changed.
"He gave me the tools, the consciousness [needed to quit]," explains Sawalha – and she realised how she was relying on cigarettes as a coping mechanism, lighting up a fag instead of saying what she really wanted to say. "I gave it up by rethinking the whole thing," she says.
When Sawalha finally stopped smoking for good, she says her whole life changed. "A smoke and a drink go so beautifully together, so I cut down on my drinking," she says. "I started exercising more because I could breathe better. Within 10 days to two weeks, your skin looks completely different, your eyes look sparkling and clear again – the cosmetic benefits of giving up smoking are extraordinary."
And most importantly, she says: "I was without the fear of death."
Sawalha feels compelled to talk about her struggles with smoking, and knows it's important to recognise that quitting can be hard – but worth it.
"You have to recognise that it's an addiction, and it's an enormous job to stop," she says.
The fact her daughter Maddie is now the age Sawalha was when she properly started smoking has made her even more keen to support the Stoptober campaign, which challenges people to quit smoking this month.
:: This October, Stoptober is encouraging smokers to "split up" with smoking. For free support and tips on how to quit, visit nhs.uk/oneyou/for-your-body/quit-smoking/stoptober.