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How to transform your bad habits—without actually breaking them

(Photo: Instagram/brandymelvilleusa)

It’s January. The month to finally kick your unhealthy afternoon latte and late-night snacking habits, right?

Alexandra Jamieson, holistic nutrition counselor, Morgan Spurlock’s famous detox guide from the film Supersize Me, and the author of the new book Women, Food, and Desire: Embrace Your Cravings, Make Peace with Food, Reclaim Your Body, says you actually don’t have to. You just have to understand them.

Jamieson says taking a step back and asking yourself why you’re doing it in the first place—are you reaching for that Diet Coke because you like the taste, are you tired, or is it mindless?—that helps dissolve bad habits better than swearing off them (and failing).

Women, Food & Desire by Alexandra Jamieson book“Think about what you’re really craving when you reach for a habit,” says Jamieson, whose book is full of examples from her own life and her clients’.

It’s never just about the cupcake. There’s something that we want.

“This is one of those awareness practices that’s like meditation. If you give yourself five seconds to ask yourself ‘What is about a cup of hot tea with milk?’ Is it the milk? Am I cold? Is it the caffeine? Do I want to feel cozy?’”

It will give you much better insight into why you’re actually doing certain things (even benign ones like sipping tea), says Jamieson, and the awareness kicks off the transformation process.

It also banishes the feeling that you need to dissolve all of your crutches in one day (which, ahem, isn’t very realistic).

Alex tshirt laugh
(Photo: Alexandra Jamieson)

Of course, there are some very unhealthy habits (like smoking) that you might need to break ASAP. But then there a lot of common, unhealthy habits that you can start to re-think. Here’s how.

1. You love a late-night snack.

What it really means
Okay, first question: “Why are you up so late?” If you don’t know why, “The answer is go to bed. You’re up too late. You might have hit your second wind,” Jamieson says, which is why you’re reaching for a little (sometimes sugar-y) pick-me-up. You can also do some microbiome investigating, she says. If you’re craving something like sugar, it might be because your gut is out of whack.

2. You’re binge-watching Netflix when you get home from work.

What it really means:
It sounds harmless (hey, you’re really tired from work!). But you might be using it as a way to avoid some other thoughts you’re having—like maybe you really want to be taking an art class or spending time with friends like you used to, Jamieson explains.

You can ask yourself, “‘What do I want more of in life?’ Is it creativity? Is it a connection with someone? If it’s learning something new and feeling physically empowered—is there an archery class you can take? If it’s having time with your friends, can you go roller skating with them? Rather than watching TV and dreaming about it,” Jamieson says.

3. You really rely on your afternoon coffee or latte.

What it really means:
This one also has to do with shut-eye (or lack of it). “Most of us don’t get enough sleep, and by 3:00 or 4:00 p.m., we just want to take a nap, but you’ve created this caffeinated adult milkshake habit,” Jamieson says.

If you can’t get what the rest your body is actually asking for (AKA a mid-afternoon power nap), she says, try walking around the block. The air and sun is a legit pick-me-up. “We are just not built to sit at our desks all day,” she says.

4. You reach for snacks like granola bars, chips, or a bag of pretzels pretty much every day.

What it really means:
Crunchy foods are a way for us to destroy something with our teeth, Jamieson explains, “We’re releasing pent up anger and frustration.” She suggests trying healthier Brazil nuts and a few raisins instead. That way, you satisfy that desire for taste, and texture, and crunch. And if that’s still not helping with your anger, may we suggest a kickboxing class? —Molly Gallagher

Fore more information, visit and check out Women, Food, and Desire: Embrace Your Cravings, Make Peace with Food, Reclaim Your Body