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!)

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

Read more

Why Do I Need Vitamin D?


Surely you have heard of vitamin D. You may even understand the role it plays in supporting your bone health. What many people don’t know is that vitamin D plays a critical part in the health of your immune system and is essential for long-term optimal health.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient essential for supporting the body’s natural defenses against viruses, bacteria, chronic disease, and autoimmune disorders. We know that vitamin D deficiency is linked to an increased risk for the common cold and flu, allergies and asthma as well as more serious chronic diseases like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. What can you take away from this? Everyone can benefit from higher levels of vitamin D – especially those of us living in industrialized countries where our lifestyle exacerbates vitamin D deficiency.

So, how do you get more vitamin D? The most effective way is with direct sun exposure. Our body actually converts ultraviolet rays into vitamin D3 through the skin. This could be one reason that colds and flu are more prevalent in the colder months when we’re all bundled up or trying to stay warm indoors. But, sun exposure isn’t necessarily the best option, considering you’d have to forego clothing and sunscreen to reap the most benefit. Not to mention that in inclement weather and during the colder months, exposure to sunlight is nearly impossible and may increase your risk of skin cancer anyway.

Making a few healthy changes to your diet is a great way to increase your vitamin D levels. Foods naturally high in vitamin D include salmon, mackerel, herring, cod liver oil, and eggs – adding these foods to your diet regularly will help naturally increase your vitamin D levels. Taking a vitamin D supplement in addition to eating a healthy nutrient-rich diet is, in my opinion, the safest and most effective way to increase your vitamin D level. When you’re buying a supplement, remember to choose one that is specifically labeled D3 (also called cholecalciferol), which is the most bio-available form of vitamin D and make sure to take it with food containing healthy fats, as this will help with its absorption. Your doctor should be able to check your blood serum levels through your normal lab work and recommend an appropriate dose based on your clinical needs. Don’t wait until you get sick – give your body what it needs now so that you can coast through cold and flu season this year.

Be well and stay healthy!

– Ashley Howell, CHC

*For more information, check out the following online resources:

Cleaning “House” with Fiber


Fiber is one of the most important nutrients in our daily diet – it’s our internal housekeeper! Unfortunately, those of us eating the SAD way (ie. the Standard American Diet) are getting far too little of these substances to maintain optimal health. According to the Institute of Medicine, we need at least 25-38 grams per day, a far cry from the measly 10-15 grams we’re actually getting on average.

There are two different kinds of fiber – soluble and insoluble. I like to think of them as little scrub brushes – you have your soft scrub brush made out of material that absorbs water and gets soft (soluble) and you have a more course scrubber with bristles that stay tough while they work (insoluble). Soluble fibers can absorb water and break down into small enough particles to pass through the intestinal membranes and enter our blood stream. One of the most important purposes it has in our bodies is to clean out the cardiovascular system by lowering cholesterol and reducing inflammation and plaque in the arteries. These fibers also help maintain balanced blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of glucose into our cells – possibly helping to prevent Type II Diabetes. And as if that isn’t enough, their ability to absorb water and expand in our stomachs can make us feel full more quickly, helping to curb our desire to over eat. To say the least, these guys are priceless commodities for our health and well being, agreed? Insoluble fibers do not absorb water or break down, so they can not pass through the intestinal membranes. Because of this, their ultimate purpose is to clean out our digestive tracts. Imagine what would happen if you never cleaned out your kitchen sink – the consequences can be likened to what happens inside our bodies with out a sufficient amount of insoluble fiber. Partially digested food gets left in our gut and starts to ferment causing a range of different problems; from gas to polyps to inflammatory bowel disease. So, in the same way we keep our kitchens operational – our digestive tracts need to be scrubbed every day with insoluble fiber to function optimally.

How do you increase your intake of both kinds of fiber every day? The answer is simple: eat food that your body was designed to eat. Adding whole (unrefined) grains and beans, raw fruits and vegetables, or nuts and seeds to every meal can easily get you to the minimum of 25 grams per day. Also, make an appointment with your doctor to get your lipid panels checked and to discuss any digestive problems you may be experiencing. If you have high cholesterol, diabetes, or intestinal problems, you may need to add a fiber supplement to your already healthy diet; flax seed and psyllium husk are good examples.

Talk to your doctor and always be an active participant in your health care! Be well and stay healthy.