Long live the resolution

Fags
Caroline Peach only smokes six to eight cigarettes a day, but she has been addicted for 30 years. She wants to give up because of the forthcoming smoking ban - and because her children desperately want her to quit.

Caroline, 46, a hairdresser and funeral organiser from Harrogate, has resolved to stop smoking with the help of Chris Walmsley, a specialist adviser for North Yorkshire Stop Smoking Service.

BEFORE

Caroline says: I smoke six to eight cigarettes a day. It's not a huge amount, but I've been doing it for a very long time - since I was 16 or 17. I gave up when I was pregnant and I've given up lots of times in the past, but then I think, "Well, I'll just have the one" - and I'm back smoking again. I've never gone cold turkey. I've tried the anti-smoking tablets Zyban twice - they worked really well, but as soon as I came off them, I wanted a cigarette. I've tried patches about four times, but I do them for about three or four weeks and I start thinking, "What a waste of money", and stop using them. I'm all right for three or four days, but then I have a few drinks and that's it. When you start smoking again, you hate yourself and feel really stupid.

I have three children who'd like me to give up. My youngest is sport-mad and really into football and fitness, and he hates the fact that I smoke. The smoking ban is also a big motivation - I don't want to be standing outside a bar having a cigarette; I think it looks horrible. I've never told many people that I'm giving up before. When I told a friend about doing this publicly, she said it was a good idea - if I fail, it's going to be national humiliation. I think that's what I need.

THE EXPERT'S ADVICE

Chris says: It's really important for Caroline to work out the reasons why she smokes - I think of it as a triangle: habit, dependence and emotion. She should attach a piece of paper to her cigarette packet with an elastic band, and every time she has a cigarette, write down why she is smoking it. Then she'll find that there are, maybe, only four or five crucial cigarettes a day.

She needs strategies for dealing with the different reasons for wanting cigarettes. To beat a habit, you need to do something different. If you used to go downstairs in the morning and put the kettle on and have a cigarette, for instance, change your routine. Have a shower first, or have a drink of fruit juice as a change. If you are a heavy smoker, you have to be really motivated. If you use nicotine-replacement therapy (such as a patch or chewing gum), you're twice as likely to succeed at giving up. But the emotional link with smoking can be difficult to break. People don't necessarily think about it so much, but it might be that you reach for a cigarette when you're upset, or things go wrong, or, conversely, because it's part of having a good time. It's good to get some support for when you would normally have a cigarette; find a friend you can ring for a chat, for instance.

It's important that Caroline rewards herself for doing well. She could book a holiday now that she wouldn't be able to afford if she smoked - I know one couple who gave up together and used the money they saved to go to Disneyland with their kids (and they weren't about to let them start smoking again, in case they couldn't go). Another man used the money to buy a car.

It's worth going to a support group and having carbon monoxide levels measured. As soon as you stop smoking, the levels in your blood will fall (meaning oxygen levels are higher). That way, you see the health benefits straight away.

My most important piece of advice is not ever to take even a single puff of a cigarette again. Don't think you can "just have one". There are people who say they can take or leave cigarettes and that they can stop any time they want. But if that's really true, why would you be risking cancer and all that damage to your heart and lungs? If you could just stop easily, you would.

ONE WEEK ON

Caroline says: I haven't had a cigarette for a week, and I don't think I've been completely unbearable, but it's not been easy. I've just gone completely cold turkey - and I'm OK. I've been so busy with everything lately that I haven't really had time to think much about the not smoking. Today has been quite bad, though, and I think if somebody had put a packet of cigarettes on the kitchen table, I would probably have smoked one when I got in from work. I found it useful talking to a counsellor. I've never done it this way before, but it's really encouraging to see a complete stranger once a week and have them say to you, "Well done" and explain what's happening to your body. I have noticed that my sense of smell is coming back - but it's a bit of a mixed blessing. Now it is back, I keep running about thinking everything is on fire. It's quite bizarre. I can smell people walking past the house having a cigarette, which is horrible. I have never liked smoking - I hate the smell.

In some ways, I think going cold turkey has actually been easy, but I don't know if that's because my mind has been busy with other things. There's also an advertisement that's really got to me about the formaldehyde in cigarettes. I'm not an undertaker, but I am trying to launch a business planning funerals - and I can't really tell people not to embalm bodies because of the environment if I'm still smoking! I'm glad I've given up, if only because I really should try to outlive the people whose funerals I'm helping to plan.

My kids are pleased that I've given up - my little boy gave me a big hug. I've also got people I work with who are thinking about giving up. A colleague asked if I'd like to go out for a cigarette and I told her I stopped, and they were all saying that they should give up at new year.

I'm going to the pub for the first time tonight, and it's always been there that all my willpower goes, when I've had a few drinks. But I'm going with people who don't smoke. I'll resent other people smoking, I'm sure.

I do feel positive about stopping, though, I really do. I really believe that.

· Find an NHS stop smoking adviser in your area at givingupsmoking.co.uk

Worry
Louise Bennett gets anxious about everything, so that the tiniest things take over her life. Would a week be enough for her to get her confidence back?

Louise Bennett, 27, is a community artist living in London. Gillian Butler, a consultant clinical psychologist for the NHS and the Oxford Cognitive Therapy Centre, worked with her to tackle her anxiety.

BEFORE

Louise says: On a day-to-day basis, I think I worry about the consequences of things an awful lot. If I decide to do something, or I go to meet someone, I will build up a series of "what ifs" - and, more often than not,I'll talk myself out of things, or worry about things that are not going to happen, or probably won't happen.

Initially, I might start worrying about quite a small thing, but this will build up and builds up until I'm worrying about lots of different areas of my life, whether it's my living situation, or money, or work.

I think I've always been a worrier, but I suppose that when I went to university, and then started work, I noticed it more. I feel that I am quite a negative person. I don't want to be stuck and not do things because of the worry. I think I was a bit more confident a few years ago, and I want to get that confidence back.

THE EXPERT'S ADVICE

Gillian says: Louise needs to identify what she wants to be different in her life, and then see how anxiety and worry are getting in the way - how they are stopping her from getting where she wants to be. If you want to change, you need a new attitude; instead of letting worry get in the way, you need to have a go and do the things that worry stops you doing. And if you can find a way of making that fun, it will be easier.

One good way to do this is to set yourself challenges or experiments. If, for instance, worry is stopping you from saying what you think, you should set yourself a challenge to make your point of view clear. Think of it as an experiment, and then make a prediction about whether what you worry will happen if you speak out will actually happen. This prediction then makes you curious as to whether you are right - and makes the challenge easier, because you're curious about the outcome. Instead of you always asking, "How can I protect myself? How can I keep myself safe?", which is all inward-looking, curiosity brings you out again into the world.

Also, people do worry about being worried. When you have been doing too much of it and you realise what it has done to you, you begin to "catastrophise" and make very negative predictions about the effects of worrying. The worry then becomes the problem, rather than the thing you were worrying about.

You can stop the worrying by facing your fears. Say you are afraid of dogs. There is no way you can get away from that without facing up to meeting dogs. You have to do it, so make a prediction about what is going to happen. If you think every dog is going to smell your fear and attack you, for instance, go and walk in the park and see if that happens. Take someone with you, if that makes it easier, but you have to go out and do it.

I believe that anybody can change - we are always changing, even if we have very rigidly fixed attitudes. It takes a lot of work to shift longstanding attitudes, but it can be done.

ONE WEEK ON

Louise says: My session with Gillian was really positive. It was a relief, in a way, to talk about my worrying, and I felt a lot better about things. It helped with some obvious things in my life and I went away with some practical challenges. One of them has been to tell four people that I was doing this article - and my biggest problem is worrying about what other people think. But it was OK, actually, when I told them; there was lots of positive feedback. Throughout the week, I've been saying, "It doesn't matter what people think" over and over again. And the consequences are not as bad as I have built up in my head.

Gillian also suggested that, when I am having conversations, I spend more time asking questions about the other person, instead of concentrating on myself. Things have been running more smoothly, and I have not felt I have had to try so hard.

One of the biggest things is the fact that I've actually gone through with this article. I am really proud of that. Also, I went to a party, and one of my challenges was to give my own point of view in social situations. I felt a lot more confident about answering questions, talking to people and having fluid conversations, and being more opinionated.

I guess that in the long term I won't be able to meet my goals quickly in every situation, but, in small ways, I have gone in directions that I might not have tried in the past. I do think that I'll keep going with my resolution. Just talking to someone has helped me learn a few important things about my personality.

· NHS Direct website: nhsdirect.nhs.uk

Food
Josh Beach lives on restaurant food and takeaways, but would dearly love to break the habit. He wants to start cooking healthy meals for himself - and to get some use out of his new kitchen

Josh, 31, is a store manager who lives in London. His resolution is to eat better: to stop living off restaurant food and takeaways and start using his shiny new kitchen. Chef Barny Haughton, from the Bordeaux Quay restaurant, deli and cookery school in Bristol, taught him some basics.

BEFORE

Josh says: I've got a lovely cooker and hob on a beautiful kitchen island, but I use the ugly green microwave behind it a lot. On a week night I will either put a pizza in the oven, order a takeaway, or go out for food. Perhaps once a week I will cook something on the hob, but I would like to do that sort of thing a lot more.

My flatmate used to laugh at me because I do everything by timers. I would like to be a bit more dexterous and a bit more confident. I do really like food, but I am a bit scared of it.

I have the best of intentions: I go to Waitrose and I always pick up the recipe cards about what is seasonal and what I should cook - and then I put them all in a cupboard and make spaghetti bolognaise from a jar.

My friend, Gabby, will not let me cook anything, because she thinks I will kill her. So it would be nice to surprise her - everybody, actually. It would also be good for my health. I don't eat terribly unhealthily, but it would be nice to have a proper, balanced diet.

THE EXPERT'S ADVICE

Barny says: If you don't cook and you want to cook, you do have to take a deep breath and just go for it. Josh has to be prepared to make mistakes and try things and, crucially, to spend time cooking. Finding the time is the biggest pressure for all of us.

For people who are really taking their first steps, I might make something like mayonnaise with them, as I did with Josh, where there is some food chemistry and you can see something changing. Cooking is all about confidence - and seeing things happen helps with that.

When it comes to shopping, don't think that you can't go to the supermarket at all - supermarkets are part of our lives. Go, but decide that maybe 20% of the food you buy will come from farmers' markets or local vegetable shops. I would also encourage everyone to use their local butcher.

When you are shopping, try to keep an open mind about what you are going to get. Go to a market and come back with bunch of stuff you do not have a plan for. Then you will have to be creative, and it will be exciting.

A lot of what we eat does not make us feel good. I think organising a food club can be a good idea - just people meeting and eating together from time to time, and talking about shopping and bringing different dishes that each person has made, and sharing them all.

If you have children, and you are not confident about food or cooking, it is likely that they will not be, either. But getting your children into the kitchen is great - and children are much more likely to eat something if they have helped to cook it. You have to be prepared for kids to make a terrible mess - there will be flour in the bedroom - but sitting down to a meal is a different experience when everybody has contributed something.

ONE WEEK ON

Josh says: When I went to see Barny, to begin with we made a soup with lots of vegetables. So I learned how to prepare veg, and saw a couple I didn't even recognise. We cut them all up and put some in the soup, and some in the oven to roast. We also made some mayonnaise and tartare sauce. I just thought they existed in jars - I didn't even know what the ingredients were.

So it was all a big adventure, but not difficult because I had Barny showing me what to do. I had thought that meat took months, years, to cook, but it only took minutes on the hob. We were only cooking for two hours, but we made soup, salmon and salad, lamb and roast vegetables and some bread.

It was amazing, incredible how much we got done. The first thing I did on the way home was go to buy a big chopping board, sharp knife, vegetable peeler, wooden spoon - all the things that Barny said a basic kitchen needs, and I did not have.

I've had a day off today, so I've cooked my lunch. I just had a steak sandwich with garlic mushrooms and rocket salad - from one of those supermarket recipe cards.

I would never have done that before, but I really enjoyed cooking it, particularly because it was something new, and not something that Barny showed me.

It only took about 15 minutes to make and it was really good. I think I will stick with it - I just need to make the time to do it.

Now I am going to try out my cooking on my friend Gabby - I have challenged her to eat something I've cooked. Will I be having a dinner party? Well, I'd have to get a dining table first ...

· Bordeaux Quay website: bordeaux-quay.co.uk

Booze
Geoff Clough has been drinking six pints a day for 15 years and is keen to cut down. But how can he pull it off when his social life revolves around the pub?

Geoff, 44, is a civil servant who lives in Newcastle. He worked with Leigh Clarke, a counsellor at the North East Council on Addictions (Neca), to try to cut down his alcohol intake.

BEFORE

Geoff says: Most nights I do have a pint - well, every night. I would say I had on average about six pints a night, out with my friends. I go to a social club, where I've been going for about five years. I have good friends there. The reason I want to stop drinking so much is that I've been thinking of trying to lose some weight. I keep on trying, but the motivation can be sadly lacking at times - we've all got the best intentions in the world, but it is hard. Life does focus round the pub.

I've been thinking about cutting down on my alcohol intake for years. I thought about packing in smoking for ages before I actually did it, but once I've made my decision, I can be really single-minded. I gave up smoking last January - I was averaging about 20 a day, and I just felt it was time to stop, so I did.

When I gave up smoking, I didn't stop drinking, but I did start drinking shandy. And I did lose weight when I first gave up cigarettes. I used to drink wine in the house and I stopped: no wine, no cigarettes. So I know that cutting down on my drinking will be good for my weight.

I'd be quite happy staying off alcohol from Sunday to Thursday and just having a drink on Fridays and Saturdays. I think having given up smoking does make me more confident that there is some willpower knocking around in me somewhere.

THE EXPERT'S ADVICE

Leigh says: The maximum recommended number of alcohol units is 14 a week for a woman, and 21 for a man. Binge drinking puts a lot of strain on the body - and you don't need to drink 10 pints to be bingeing. It's really more than two or three units for a woman, or three or four for a man. People quite often drink more than they realise - I would suggest that Geoff writes down everything he drinks for a week. I think he could get quite a shock. He should be careful about underestimating his units, particularly when it comes to measures. A glass of wine at home might add up to more than two units.

If you're cutting back on your alcohol, the key is planning ahead. If you're going to a pub in the evening, have a meal before you go out; many people find it harder to drink on a full stomach. Before you get to the pub, choose a non-alcoholic drink for the night, or for every other drink. And don't stand at the bar dithering - that's the split second when it goes wrong and you think, "Oh, just give me a glass of wine." It's all about preparation and focus.

If you are drinking a great deal (perhaps double what you should, 40 units a week) and want to reduce your intake, you should discuss it with your GP or an organisation such as Neca, because, in some cases, stopping abruptly can have serious health implications.

As you start to detox, you should feel much better - your memory will be sharper, your skin will be clear, you should be feeling better in the morning, and you'll be sleeping better. If you've been out and had a few drinks, your sleep is not proper sleep, because your body is trying to process all the alcohol and isn't taking a proper rest. It takes an hour for every unit to be processed.

ONE WEEK ON

Geoff says: Leigh suggested that I keep a drink diary and write down everything that I had to drink. When it all adds up, it's frightening. When I saw how much I was drinking, in what was a fairly average week, it was a lot, it really was. It added up to 86 units - which in the past week I've got down to 55. So I've dropped 31 units in a week, and now I'm going to get it down even further. Fifty-five is still way, way higher than the health recommendations, but if I get it down to 40, I'll be happy.

I've been taking my time over my drinks, and, before I go out, I set a limit on how much I'll drink. I've cut it down to four pints a night, instead of just however much I fancied.

I haven't told many of the people I drink with what I'm doing, although they know that something's up. Even so, I've found it easier to stick to than I thought. The difficult part was Friday - I stuck at eight pints, when I would normally have had a lot more. I could have stayed out, but I went home after eight pints.

As well as drinking less, I've also been eating better. I've been making sure I have my tea before I go out, whereas before, I would have it after five or six pints, which meant I wasn't always eating good food. Now I'm cooking proper food with vegetables, which I'm really pleased about.

I am going to keep cutting down. I'm feeling better for it, definitely - I'm just less groggy in the morning. To be honest, I'm not sure I'll ever be under 20 units, but if I can be teetotal on three nights a week, I'd be happy.

I've been drinking every night for the last 15 years, so it's a big thing for me. But sooner or later I had to do it, and this is the right time.

· Call Neca on 0800 328 6728. Drinkline, the national alcohol helpline, is on 0800 917 8282.

Fitness
Majella Greene used to be conscientious about keeping fit, but has let things slip in recent years. Could she be cajoled into resuming her old habits?

Majella, 39, is a motivational trainer from London. We paired her with Fitness First personal trainer Angie Dowds to help with her resolution to get fit.

BEFORE

Majella says: For my age, I'd probably say my fitness level is about average - but I've been a lot fitter in the past. My job involves helping people with motivation, so I'm very aware of the background and understand what I should be doing. It's quite frustrating that I don't put it into practice. But my job is also quite a drive for me to get fit - if I'm motivating people and I look unfit, I look unprofessional.

In the last week, getting ready to start my resolution, I've felt really motivated and even went and did a class at my gym. I couldn't move the next day! While I do use the gym, I need to do things that are out of my comfort zone. At the moment, I probably go to the gym about once a week, but I'd like to be going about three or four times.

I run five kilometres, but I'm not racing. I'd like to build my stamina and confidence, and then do the New York marathon for my 40th birthday. I've been talking about doing it for about the past five years - but this year, I would like to commit myself to the training and not collapse like Jade Goody.

My son is 15 and I've always wanted to make physical activity part of his lifestyle, rather than a chore - I don't want him to wait until his 30s, like I did. He's got membership to the gym that I go to, and it's an opportunity for us to do things together. I think it would be good for us to do something physical (and sometimes a bit competitive) together.

THE EXPERT'S ADVICE

Angie says: To give Majella a kick-start for the new year, we decided on a 10-week goal. I find 10 weeks a good time frame - it's enough to get results, but it's not so long that you start to drift because there's still a sense of urgency about it. Majella's body fat was 29%, which is average for a woman. An athlete's is about 15%, and if you go below that, you're in a danger zone. So we talked about Majella reducing her body fat to 20% over 10 weeks - about 1% a week. It's a tall order, but doable.

If you're not able to measure your body fat, watching your inches will tell you pretty much the same thing. Get someone to take measurements from your upper arm, chest, waist, hips and thighs; so long as they're coming down, you're in business.

I believe you can go from being completely unfit to being superfit in 10 weeks. January is a great time to start, because you'll be ready for spring and the better weather. You need to commit to training six days a week, but you only need to train for an hour. For the average person, you should be doing some cardio six days a week and some weights two or three times. So you could do 10 minutes' warming up, 20 minutes' cardio and 20 minutes' weights or 40 minutes' cardio, and then 10 minutes' warming down. That should be more than enough if you're doing the right thing.

When you're training, make sure you go out of your comfort zone for small periods of time - if you're not sweating a lot, you're not going to get results.

If you're older, a bit of physical activity is good every day - when you stop moving, you seize up. Just work within your abilities, and go a bit more slowly. And if you don't want to go to the gym, combine four or five exercises that use big muscle groups, such as squats and press-ups, with cardio work, such as running, cycling, swimming and horse riding.

ONE WEEK ON

Majella says: Angie has been making me work really hard - at about eight or nine on a scale of 10. Doing my old workout, I was probably working at a level of four, but I thought I was doing really well, even though I wasn't really working up a sweat quickly. Now, I'm sweating from the very start. In the past, even though I worked out, I never worked through the pain barrier. At one point with Angie I thought I was going to do a Bridget Jones and just collapse when I got off the bike.

Last time we did a 20-minute warm-up on the bike, then some dynamic stretching, where Angie taught me about breathing from the core; then I was back on the bike for 10 minutes, doing an uphill/downhill programme; then we did some work with a Swiss ball and some weights which I will be taking away with me when I go on holiday next week.

I learned how to feel what's happening in my body and use that as a guide to how I'm exercising, rather than always using machines. So when I'm walking I know where I should be in terms of sweating and breathing. My attitude is different now. Even though it is harder work than before, I wonder, what is the point of doing this if you're not going to give 100%? It's a waste of time and energy if you don't.

Angie also takes some of the responsibility, in a way, because she's saying, "Do this, do that, this is what you should be feeling." It means you do the proper movement rather than just doing lots of repetitions and not getting it quite right. And I know that even if it hurts, it will hurt a lot more if I don't do it, because I'll have to tell her I haven't. I'd hate to get to the end of 10 weeks and be in the same position as now. I feel 100% committed, but I'm human, and I'm sure I'll have days when I don't really feel like doing it. I'll just have to get through the pain barrier.

· Angie Dowd's website: angiedowds.com. Find a gym near you at fia.org.uk

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.