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?

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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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

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

Acidophilus – A Team Player in the Health of Your GI Tract


You’d have to be waking up from a decade-long coma to not have heard the words acidophilus, probiotic or flora in the media – especially with Jamie Lee Curtis’ yogurt commercials making light of what happens “in the bathroom” and the hilarious Saturday Night Live parodies that followed.

Acidophilus (specifically lactobacillus acidophilus) is one of at least 300 different strains of bacteria living in your intestines. Actually, there is an entire ecosystem of microorganisms living in your intestinal tract, called your intestinal flora. Within the flora, you have health promoting “good guys” (probiotics or good bacteria like lactobacillus acidophilus) and health depleting “bad guys” (parasites, fungi, and pathogenic bacteria). Ultimately, you want the good guys proliferating in abundance so they can act like a special task force – performing various health promoting duties like directing fat distribution, producing vitamins B and K, supporting the immune system, and (most importantly) keeping the bad guys in check. If the balance gets disrupted and the bad guys start getting wily, it can create an array of different health concerns; from bloating and constipation (or diarrhea) to leaky gut syndrome and intestinal bowel disease. Disruptions most often occur because of two very common circumstances: antibiotic use and eating a standard American diet.

Antibiotics are life-saving drugs when taken appropriately. We are extremely blessed to live in an age where they exist since they are responsible for killing bacteria that cause infectious diseases like strep throat and meningitis. Unfortunately, antibiotics don’t know the difference between good and bad bacteria, so they end up destroying both. Even the regular consumption of meat, dairy and pre-packaged foods can cause a significant disruption in your flora due to the abundance of preservatives, sugars, hormones and antibiotics used in mass food production. These additives encourage the bad guys to proliferate quickly – outnumbering the good guys and making a mess of your digestive tract.

So… is taking “acidophilus” going to get your flora back in balance and solve all of your digestive woes? Not likely, considering it’s only one out of hundreds of bacterial strains that need help. Eating yogurt with “live cultures” may be somewhat helpful, but not necessarily therapeutic in the long-term. Making a few simple changes to your diet and adding an encapsulated probiotic supplement (which may include, but should never be limited to lactobacillus acidophilus) is your best bet for a long-term positive effect. That being said, there are many factors involved in finding an effective supplement (and in changing your diet, for that matter), so I suggest asking a knowledgeable health professional for help – otherwise, you may risk wasting your money and your efforts on something that doesn’t work.

Be well and stay healthy!

What do you Consider “Good Nutrition”?


Surprisingly, I like Wikipedia’s definition of nutrition: “the provision, to cells and organisms, of the materials necessary (in the form of food) to support life”. These provisions are really macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) and micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, fatty acids, etc) that come from our diet. Ultimately the foods in our diet are broken down into a simple unit of measured energy called a calorie.

You’ve probably heard calories referred to as “empty” in certain circumstances – I often use the term “nutrient-dense” as a counter term, but these words are actually describing the micro-nutrient load per calorie, not the calorie itself. Often times, nutrition is linked solely to caloric numbers, with little to no emphasis on the quality or micro-nutrient density associated with it. I can’t emphasize enough how unhealthy and even life-threatening a diet like this can be. Yes, our bodies need an appropriate number of calories every day to function, but true nourishment comes from the naturally occurring micro-nutrients that are in un-processed whole foods. This is what I consider good nutrition, or the “materials necessary to support life”, if you will.

If you’re ready to make some nutritious changes to your diet, I suggest eating some whole, un-processed food with every meal – preferably a raw vegetable or fruit or sprouted whole-grains. As Dr. Villanueva said in one of her latest radio interviews, it’s important to eat a rainbow of colors from your fruits and vegetables every day. Every meal should have some natural vibrant color in it because the pigments in our fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants and other micronutrients that are essential to having a healthy body. The old adage, “you are what you eat” is truer than you think – so eat healthy if you want to be healthy!

– Ashley Howell, CHC