There are many things I'm looking forward to in 2013, both personally and professionally. Plans for new restaurants in the U.S., including Eataly Chicago, are underway, and I'm gearing up for the 2013 Ironman world championships in Hawaii – if I'm lucky enough to get a spot! But one big life change kick-started all of it 15 years ago, my decision to quit smoking. This choice is something many of you are probably also considering in the New Year and trust me, it's worth it.
You might be surprised to hear that those in the restaurant industry – people who rely on their palate for work every single day – have a higher population of smokers than many other occupation in the U.S. I used to be one of those smokers.
It may be the hours we keep, the high stress levels or being surrounded by triggers like food and wine all the time. Whatever it is, the high amount of smoking in the industry makes it hard to say no to a cigarette when there's always someone asking you to join them on a smoke break. As a former smoker, I've not only seen how many people in the hospitality business struggle with this addiction, but I've been in their shoes.
That's why I want to share my story and help people kick the habit for good. But, it's easier said than done, right?
My StoryI was a smoker for 18 years. At my worst, I smoked up to two-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day, buying a third pack on my way home from Babbo each night. Like many smokers, I tried to quit… and quit… and quit again. I tried over a dozen times, but I would always eventually cave to the cravings.
It wasn't until my first child was born that the reality of my bad habit hit hard. My wife laid down the law, so to speak, and helped me realize I had to get healthy if I wanted to be a good role model for my new family. At the same time, I realized my passion for food and wine was being compromised; my senses were becoming dull from smoking, and in the food and wine industry these senses are crucial.
I've had a lot of challenges in my life, but this was one of the biggest. I was finally able to give up cigarettes with the help of quit smoking products – and support from my friends and family. I need to give special recognition to my wife for giving me the final push! Support was crucial in my quitting, which is why I'm partnering with Blueprint to Quit – a comprehensive quit smoking program available only at Walmart – to help others get started on the right foot. The program can help with physical cravings associated with smoking and provides behavioral support online when you need it.
Quitting enabled me to focus on making lifestyle changes I associated with smoking, things like having a cup of coffee, wine tasting and late nights at the restaurant. It was difficult, but I'm happy to report that 15 years later I'm still smoke-free. I can truly say I'm healthier today at age 44 than when I was in my 20s.
To all the smokers reading this: you CAN quit. Things that helped me were identifying situations where I would smoke and replacing them with other activities or eliminating them all together and making my plan public to friends and family so they could keep me on track.
If there's one thing to take away from this, it's don't focus on the big picture. Instead, take it one cigarette at a time and be proud of yourself for even making the decision to try to quit.
Anything worthwhile is difficult, and overcoming an addiction like smoking may seem impossible, but I can tell you that some of the best years of my life have been smoke-free.
Cheers to a happy and healthy New Year.