Want to Lose Weight? Stop Trying So Hard.

Being a health coach, people ask me all the time about losing weight.  Everyone seems to want that elusive “magic bullet” pill or potion that will take the weight off with the least amount of effort.  The truth is, you CAN lose weight without trying, but it’s not as simple as popping a pill or drinking a shake.

When I share with patients that I used to be overweight, they always stare at me in disbelief.  Yes, I have a “before” and I’m living the “after”, but the secret to my personal success wasn’t a pill or diet.  It started with a change in thought process and ended with something called “therapeutic lifestyle change”… a little TLC, if you will.  Therapeutic Lifestyle Change is exactly what it sounds like; lifestyle or habit change that has a therapeutic or healing effect on your health.  Trust, me, I tried the potions and pills – Slim Fast, Diet Coke and fat burners were my staples – but, this was a game changer for me.  Since TLC can seem ambiguously overwhelming to a newbie, I thought I might share a few ways to easily incorporate the TLC’s that changed my life and my weight forever.

 

  1. Stop weighing yourself. Observing your own weight loss is like watching water boil, except worse.  At least with water, the change from still to bubbling is blatantly obvious.  Seeing your own reflection and adapting daily to small changes in your appearance makes it nearly impossible to notice weight loss.  Standing on your scale has a similar effect – it seems like a tortured lifetime before it actually reflects the hard work you’ve put in at the gym or on your plate.  I’ve got some news for you, though.  Are you ready?  Read this carefully and really let it sink in:  If all your healthy living efforts are chained to the expectation that your scale or mirror will reward you, you will always fight a losing battle.  So, THROW AWAY YOUR SCALE and stop letting your appearance be the only motivation you have for creating healthy habits!  When you focus on TLC in itself, weight loss happens as an afterthought.  It’s freakin’ awesome!  Your scale on the other hand will suck the motivation right out of you, because it’s not showing you the big picture – body composition.  And your mirror is a little liar, quite frankly, since its reflection is altered by your perception.

 

  1. Focus on quality of food instead of quantity. Food is the FUEL our body uses for every organ system to function the way it was designed to.  It is a mixture of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutritive substances).  When you sit down to eat a greasy bag of McD’s OR a “healthy cuisine” microwave meal, YOU may see food, but your body doesn’t see that.  Your body is busy separating out actual nutrients from the other substances often added to these meals to enhance flavor, texture, color and shelf-life.  In both fatty fast foods AND low calorie diet foods, there are A LOT of these mystery ingredients – maybe even more so than actual food.  THIS is the stuff that breaks down the complex machine we live in called a human body and makes it fat and sick.  So, START SEEING FOOD FOR WHAT IT REALLY IS.  Make choices based on how they affect your health, not your taste buds.  The sad truth is that your taste buds have been hijacked by food chemists and turned into little drug dealers, pushing you to take another hit of the food equivalent of crack.  Just Say NO!  Choose lean protein/veggie menu items at restaurants and don’t get sucked into deceptive marketing verbiage at the grocery store  – “low carb”, “zero sugar“, and “fat free” foods are some of the most toxic.  Always remember, the numbers in the Nutrition Facts don’t mean anything if the ingredients aren’t actual food.  So, shop the perimeter of the grocery store for fresh foods, avoid the boxed crap, use caution at restaurants and read the ingredient label when there is one.

 

  1. Engage in exercise-like activity. Well, I hate to tell you what you don’t want to hear, but exercise is kind of a necessity.  We weren’t designed to sit at a computer typing away at a blog (yeah, that’s me).  Our human body machines were designed to use physical activity in the same way it uses food.  Exercise improves nearly every physiological function we have – digestive, hormonal, cardiovascular, neurological, and musculoskeletal to name a few.  But we dread exercise, right?  Who wants to hit the gym before a long day of work, or AFTER a long day of work?  No one!  So how do we get past our excuses and start including exercise in our daily routine?  First, I want you to think back to your childhood.  What physical activities did you enjoy as a kid – swimming, riding your bike, running with friends, baseball, volleyball, or soccer?   Now think of what the adult version of that might look like.  Maybe in a group setting, like an adult sports league, a running club, cycling club, swim team, cross fit group, boot camp or anything else you can think of.  Now, you have group accountability combined with an activity that could actually be enjoyable.  Not bad, right?  Commit to training for an event like a meet, a triathlon or marathon and dangle that carrot as long as necessary to get you past the 6 weeks it takes for a new behavior to become a habit.  If none of this sounds do-able, try using a TABATA work out daily.  TABATA is a HIIT (high intensity interval training) method that uses 20 seconds of intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest for 4-8 minutes.  It can be modified for whatever YOUR intensity level is and you can use any movement that gets your heart rate up in the comfort of your own home.  No excuses!  We all have 8 minutes to spare for the sake of our good health, right?  Right!

So, this is it folks.  This is my personal secret to dropping pounds without giving any thought to dropping pounds.  Fad diets, potions and pills may create short term weight loss, but Therapeutic Lifestyle Change creates long term, sustainable weight loss.   If you still feel like you need a helping hand getting started, find a certified health coach or lifestyle educator in your area, or come see me at the clinic – I’d love to help!

To glorious health and a beautiful body,

Ashley Howell, CHC

ash before picture

“Before” – age 16, addicted to Diet Coke, Slim Fast and Taco Bell

Ashley Howell

“After” – age 36, addicted to sprouted pumpkin seeds and Beanitos (and pregnant with baby #3!)

Spring is in the Air: Are You on Allergy Alert?

I don’t know about you, but I’m SO OVER this cold and clammy weather – Bring On Spring! Sunny, cool days… budding trees and flowers. Just thinking about it makes me happy! There was a time, though, when the thought of spring made me cringe. Can you guess why? Two words: allergy season.
I would get sick with allergies every spring and fall like clockwork. It would start off simple enough… itchy eyes and sneezing. Then, faster than you can say the word “Benedryl”, my itchy-sneeziness would turn into a full-blown sinus infection and I would be out of commission for weeks. I’m so thankful that those days are far behind behind me now. Interestingly, I’ve seen through allergy testing that I’m still allergic to the same weeds and molds that would make me sick in the past. The difference today is the health of my immune system. Do I have your attention? What I’m about to say could literally change the life of a chronic seasonal allergy sufferer. Two words: elimination diet.

In my opinion, this is THE KEY to unlocking your health potential – including better immune function and controlling allergy symptoms without the use of heavy medication. The ED takes all heavily processed, refined and fake foods out of your diet, along with a handful of natural foods that are more likely to engage your immune system – namely gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, peanuts, beef, pork, shellfish, and corn. Taking these foods out of your diet takes a burden off of your immune system, freeing it to normalize and stop overreacting to stimuli like pollen and dust. Hello? Who wants a teenage girl for an immune system?? Not me!

Now, did my personal change happen overnight? No. When I first started this “therapeutic lifestyle change”, I still needed a little acute allergy help. In my determination to not go back to Flonase or Claritin, I decided to try a few natural remedies to go along with my new natural diet/lifestyle and a few of them became my “go to” when I needed to recommend something to a client or patient. One of my favorites is a combination of quercetin (a natural anti-histamine) and bromelain (a natural anti-inflammatory) taken on an empty stomach. It works like a charm, but only if you take it on an empty stomach, which can be hard to remember. Sinuplex, a homeopathic remedy, is a little easier to take since the tablets dissolve in your mouth, but not as effective at symptom relief. High doses of vitamin C work well too, as well as high doses of fish oil, due to their natural anti-inflammatory or anti-histamine properties.

So, if you’re a seasonal allergy sufferer like I was, there is hope for you yet! Eating mostly foods from the elimination diet is absolutely the secret to success in treating chronic allergies and eliminating the insufferable symptoms associated with them. How great will it be to actually look forward to spring this year instead of dreading it?

Sweets: The Good, The Bad and the Toxic

There are moments in life that can really pull you off track from improving your health; birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, you name it.  Why do we get derailed during these occasions?  Because most of the sweet treats Americans “celebrate” with are like gateway drugs that open the door to poor dietary habits and chronic disease.  The taste of sweet is a natural and healthy part of our taste sensation.  You may not realize this, but food chemists have found some pretty ingenious and toxic ways to trick your taste receptors into thinking they taste sugar (think sugar free or “low carb” chocolates and candies) – there are some naturally occurring plant compounds that can do the same.  There are healthier sugars that absorb slowly into your blood stream and not-so-healthy sugars that have a rapid absorption rate. The key to avoiding the bad stuff and keeping that chronic disease door shut forever is in knowing which is which and understanding what the side effects are.  Here are a few examples of the good, the bad and the toxic sweet substances in our food supply:

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Has Your Immune System Gone on Strike?

How’s your immune system holding up this year?  Is the stuffy head cold you got last month STILL hanging on even though you’ve drunk your weight in cold medicine and taken a couple rounds of antibiotics?  What are you doing wrong?  First of all, food (real food), really is the best medicine – eating natural whole foods provides the raw materials for every cell in your body to function properly.  If you’re eating processed foods throughout the day, you should expect your immune system to struggle with the added burden of killing a virus or taming bacteria!  If the damage is already done and sickness has set in, here are five guaranteed tips for getting you back to healthy.

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Are you willing to make the ultimate sacrifice… for junk food?

 

I once had a patient tell me that eating a bag of potato chips was worth having diabetes and injecting insulin every day.  My thought was, “Seriously?  Are potato chips really worth dying for”?

How can this mentality even exist?

It exists because processed foods in the standard American diet aren’t just unhealthy, they’re addictive.  They are designed by chemists to be addictive in the same way nicotine makes cigarettes addictive.  One reason that compounds like isolated sugar, salt, fat, gluten, MSG and aspartame are added to foods is to purposefully get people “hooked”.  Needless to say, saying “no” to that bag of potato chips takes a lot more than willpower when your physiology has been compromised (think of how hard it is for an alcoholic to stop drinking or a drug user to stop using).

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Are you stressed out?

 

The answer will always be “yes”, whether you like it or not. It’s the nature of the beast, living in this fast-paced society. We can’t avoid it, but learning how to manage it is critical to your health and well-being. Remember stress is something that happens inside you, not to you (for example; the car cutting you off in traffic isn’t “stress”, your physiological reaction is).

Stressors can include a variety of things that you may not know of, like:

  • stimulant use (any source of caffeine, ephedrine, or alcohol – such as coffee, tea, wine, diet pills, decongestants, and energy drinks) 
  • metabolic syndrome
  • toxin exposure
  • certain personality traits, like being “type A” or having poor time management skills

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Create a New Sense of “Normal” with 5 Simple Habit Changes

 

Spring is upon us folks, and if the thought of swimsuits and physical activity makes you groan in misery, you probably aren’t feeling well. You feel fine, you say? Most of us have underlying pain and fatigue that we acclimate to everyday until it becomes a new state of “normal” – in other words, you don’t think you feel bad because you always feel bad. So how do you re-set your “normal” and get that spring vitality back? Feeling good and being healthy is dependent on incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine. It takes some physical and mental effort, but is well worth doing if it means you can feel good and enjoy life again. Commit to applying the following five healthy habits into your life and I guarantee you will get the spring back in your step!

1. Clean up your kitchen by throwing away junk food that has no nutritional value (cookies, crackers, chips, sodas, candy, etc) and instead, stock up on fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, legumes and whole grains. Surrounding yourself with healthy foods removes the temptation to splurge on the junk that fuels chronic disease.

2. Drink ½ your body weight in ounces of filtered water (up to 150 oz). When you’re dehydrated, even mildly, your body stores water in your tissues as a defense mechanism. Increasing your water intake will improve your hydration and actually help you lose water weight.

3. Put down the coffee and pick up some herbal tea. Coffee is great for quick energy in a short term situation, but drinking coffee daily can wreak havoc on your adrenal glands and pH. Limiting your coffee intake to 1 cup per week can help restore your adrenal function and greatly improve your energy and stress levels as well as your bone density.

4. Get outside in the fresh air and sunshine to walk, run, or bike for 30-45 minutes three to five days a week. This reduces stress, increases vitamin D levels, improves your body composition and supports a healthy cardiovascular system. You can also use HIIT (high intensity interval training) or Tabata to make the most of your work out (if you need an interval timer, they’re available at most sporting goods stores or you can install an interval timer app on your smart phone – I like Interval Timer Pro).

5. Watch a nutrition-related documentary (Food Inc, Hungry for Change, and Forks over Knives are three of my favorites) or read a nutrition-related book, like “Fast Food Nation”, or “The Ultimate Mind Solution” every month to inspire and motivate you while making healthy changes.

New behaviors take about six weeks to become habitual, so be prepared to feel a little awkward at first – this is called the “active phase” of habit change. Write these habits on your calendar or set recurring alarms on your phone as a reminder, to help get you to the next phase of change called the “maintenance phase”. At this point, you’ll be set in your new routine and well on your way to a healthy new state of normal and a healthy new you!

Ashley Howell, CHC

America The Broken Hearts Club

 

Did you know that every U.S. calendar month is dedicated to at least one chronic disease? The purpose, naturally, is to bring awareness to the American public, which increases support and funding for clinical studies and drug research. Yet, in spite of new drugs and media attention, the incidence of chronic disease continues to rise.

This month’s focus is on heart disease. Most of you already know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in this country; it kills approximately 600,000 people every year which is about one in every four deaths. This is a staggering number, folks. It paints a very clear picture of a deep wound cut into our country from a disease that is largely preventable. According to the American Heart Association, only 20% of heart related deaths are linked to genetic predispositions or defects. That means 80% of heart related deaths are linked to coronary artery disease (CAD), which is lifestyle related and preventable.

How do you address this root cause of heart disease? Healthy, therapeutic lifestyle change is now nationally recognized as the first line of defense in treating the dyslipidemia associated with CAD. Unfortunately, most medical doctors aren’t well equipped or don’t know how to implement “therapeutic lifestyle change” in clinical practice. Why? It’s not taught in medical school and it isn’t part of their clinical training. Continued education and additional professional staff really is the “X Factor” for implementing these kinds of treatment plans. This is what enables a health care provider to actually heal the patient by fixing the problem as opposed to placating the symptom with a pill. Yes, changing your lifestyle takes time and necessitates stepping out of your comfort zone, but isn’t it worth it? Is moderate exercise worth having more time to spend with loved ones? Is choosing steamed veggies and lean protein over a hamburger and fries worth staying out of hospital beds and doctors offices… not to mention avoiding the cost incurred? Yes! Changing your life now is hands down, well worth bypassing the despair and heart ache (literally) caused by heart disease.

Are you ready to keep your heart from breaking? Committing to a clinically prescribed program like FirstLine Therapy, which we offer at our facility, is a great “kick start” for implementing the changes necessary to keep your heart and body strong for a lifetime of good health and vitality. Click the “FirstLine Therapy” tab at the top of this webpage to learn more.

Be well and stay healthy!

– Ashley Howell, CHC

Detoxification – Out With The Old and In With The New

 

Whew… the holidays are over. How did you fare?

Even the most devoted health nut can fall off the “wellness wagon” during the holiday season. The phrase “out with the old and in with the new” resonates with most of us at the start of the new year and detoxification is the physiological way your body does this. Over time, your body accumulates toxins from your environment – the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink all have chemical residues that can ultimately get stored in your tissues. The liver should be able to process these chemicals – but unfortunately, in this day and age, our livers can’t handle the “toxic overload” in our environment.

Toxins wreak havoc on your body – disrupting hormone balance, increasing fat stores and encouraging chronic illness. Detoxification kits that contain a whole foods menu plan and comprehensive nutrient blends are a great way to support your natural biochemical detoxification pathways which will improve your digestion, your immunity and your ability to lose fat.

I would steer clear of detox products that come in a single bottle or juices that contain large amounts of sugar as they can be counterproductive. If you want to support detoxification with diet alone – focus on leafy green vegetables like kale and swiss chard as well as watercress, celery, beets, garlic and onion. Spices like turmeric and ginger act like natural anti-inflammatories and support detoxification too. Most importantly – drastically limiting your daily intake of processed or refined foods and incorporating a variety of raw fruits and veggies into your diet will lessen your toxic load and support optimal health year round.

Be well and stay healthy!

– Ashley Howell, CHC

Healthy Holidays?

 

The holidays are upon us and as much as I love them, trying to maintain healthy habits can be difficult to say the least. Surrounded by a plethora of high glycemic fatty foods and grandma smiling sweetly as she hands you a piece of pie… it’s hard to say no. So how do you stay on track with all of the temptation and chaos? Here are my top five tips:

  1. Relax – Don’t let the holiday chaos turn into a trigger for stress. Stress can elevate your levels of cortisol, which actually slows your digestion and exacerbates insulin resistance in your cells. Practice diaphragmatic breathing or progressive relaxation to help minimize the effect of stress on your body.
  2. Prepare – Let grandma, or whoever is doing the cooking, know that you would enjoy some steamed veggies this year. Even better, ask if you can help out by bringing your own dish or two. Make a healthy colorful salad and steamed vegetables, then load your plate up!
  3. Move – Even rough housing with the kids for half an hour will get your heart rate up and help you burn some of those extra calories. If the weather permits, get outside and play a game of family football or basketball or take a walk around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights.
  4. Slow down – Practice mindful eating by chewing your food thoroughly and enjoying the taste and texture of your holiday meal. Not only will you have more time to enjoy the serotonin release that occurs naturally when we eat, but allowing your food to break down thoroughly in your mouth will ease the burden on your stomach and help lessen the bloating and fatigue we often feel after a big meal. If you’ve never thought about how you chew your food, try putting your fork down between bites to allow yourself time to completely chew and swallow.
  5. Indulge – By loading up on salad and veggies first, you’re less likely to overdo it with the casseroles, pies, and egg nog – so feel free to enjoy the spread without completely falling off the wagon.

Have a happy and healthy holiday!

– Ashley Howell, CHC