This powerhouse of a woman barely needs an introduction, but in case you aren't one of her nearly quarter of a million Instagram followers or ardent fans, Steph Gaudreau runs a hugely popular food, fitness + mindset blog called Stupid Easy Paleo.
She shares recipes that are based in real food, she's a crazy talented athlete and weightlifter (and coach), and she's the master of mindset shifts that help people "unleash their inner badass so they can change the world".
She also happens to host an awesome podcast, Harder to Kill Radio, where she chats with leaders and innovators in the health + wellness world (and beyond).
(P.S. I was lucky enough to be on her show twice, so if you haven't peeped those episodes yet, definitely do so!)
I am lucky enough to call this stunner a friend, and we got to hang IRL when she flew up to Seattle to get some new images for her biz. We sat in the sun on my front porch and I asked her all about her story, her views on the modern fitness industry, what she's got planned for next year, and more.
Grab a cup of coffee and settle in, and enjoy!
YOUR FITNESS JOURNEY BEGAN WITH TRIATHALONS. CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW YOU GOT FROM ENDURANCE SPORTS TO WEIGHTLIFTING?
It actually all started on a dare in 2011. I was doing an intense season of triathlons (swimming, trail running, mountain biking). I was in Lake Tahoe and exhausted and I stood for a photo, and I remember seeing that photo and thinking, "wow I am so fat". I wasn't in a really good place. My relationship was about to fall apart, I wasn’t happy with my job, and lot of stuff was falling down the tubes.
A month after that, a mountain bike friend dared me to try CrossFit-- and I was like ok sure, I’ll try your "CrossFit" stuff. We did a garage workout with bodyweight and I actually really liked it. It was fast (vs hours of training like I was used to), so my curiosity was piqued. So I joined a gym and did that for a while, doing CF a few times a week and still riding my bike. A year later, I felt really burned out from the endurance stuff, and for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t hyper focused on losing weight.
For the first time I wasn’t stressed about being smaller and lighter, and it was so, so freeing. That emotional baggage started to go away— I can be strong just to be strong and it doesn’t matter how small my body is? It was awesome. I competed in CF for many years (even went to Regionals with Invictus), until I started to feel burned out again.
I started my business and was still doing competitive training, and the amount of emotional, mental, physical energy that required of me was too much, especially while trying to make this business survive its first year, and I realized I could not do both. Especially being 34-35 years old, I needed more recovery time, and it was just very stressful on the body for me.
So I stepped back into just strength— mostly squatting actually-- but it was a couple year process for me to transition from endurance to weightlifting.
SO SOMEWHERE ALONG THIS JOURNEY YOU FOUND THE PALEO DIET. HOW DID YOU FIND IT, AND WHO WOULD YOU RECOMMEND IT TO?
Back in my endurance race days I was training for Vision Quest, which is this 56 mile, off-road race with 12,000 feet of climbing — it's just brutal (it took me 9 hours!). So we’d train and go out and ride and ride and ride.
Some friends of mine said they "wanted to try this thing called 'paleo'” and it sounded crazy to me. Especially since in the endurance world, things like gluten and grains are all you eat— it’s super duper high carb most of the time. And eating tilapia for breakfast? I don’t know about that.
So I decided I’d start after the New Year (this was Nov) and I went big on Christmas and New Years and ate all the things and decided to give Paleo a shot in January. I cleaned out my pantry and fridge and jumped in.
There was a learning curve, but within the first 2 or 3 months I was like wow, I feel major changes in my body (beyond body fat) like digestion and blood sugar, and energy levels , cravings, mood, etc. It all started to resolve itself. And I was hooked.
I think it’s a great starting point for a lot of people to just become aware of their diet of high inflammatory foods and how crappy it can make you feel. Its great to just interrupt your usual habits and routines and have to stop and think about what you’re putting in your mouth. To give yourself a chance to step away from the super processed, highly palatable foods.
I mean these foods are everywhere and so available that making a choice to NOT eat that means that you have to go out of your way. So it can be a lifestyle change, but it I recommend people do it at least for 30 to 90 days just to feel better. I know everyone wants weight loss but honestly, I feel most people would trade feeling freaking awesome when they wake up, having steady energy through the day, getting rid of their (oftentimes embarrassing) digestive problems, feeling clear headed, etc. That’s what keeps people going, and that’s the selling point.
FOR WOMEN SPECIFICALLY, WHETHER THEY'RE PALEO OR NOT, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIG PITFALLS YOU SEE WOMEN STRUGGLING WITH IN THEIR DIET THESE DAYS?
One is simply not enough caloric intake. The restricting and the tiny portions and the eating like a bird is a big one.
Being wayyy too low on protein is another big one. I know plant based diets are popular, but you can still eat more plants by volume, and eat meat, and still have a plant based diet. And plants are super important to a healthy diet, but there's so much media vilifying protein and animal protein these days, and that stuff is SO biased. And it sends the wrong message to women. It’s used as a justification for not eating enough protein, period. That leads to all sorts of problems, but namely eating poor quality carbs and fats in order to feel full, problems with cravings, insatiable appetite, struggles building muscle mass, etc.
And then also people are still so afraid of carbs. We’ve gotten to realize that fats are not the devil— I mean sitting down to a tub of almond butter every night isn’t a great idea-- but we’ve stopped fearing fats. But carbs are still feared.
And I used to fear them too. I read about lower carb being good for body composition, and then I did what a lot of women do, and I took it to the extreme. We think if a little bit is good, then even less is better. So most women have been too low carb for too long.
High level athletes need to be dialed into the details, and I don’t want the average person to think they need to be crazy focused on this stuff, but if we could just check in— did I eat a decent amount of food today? Did I skip a meal? Did I eat enough to support my training?
We think we need to go hard into fitness and diet but our body actually appreciates things happening slower.
YOU ARE OUTSPOKEN IN YOUR DISAPPROVAL OF THE TRENDY NEW MESSAGES OF 'STRONG IS THE NEW SKINNY' OR 'STRONG IS THE NEW SEXY'. WHY DOES THIS RUB YOU THE WRONG WAY?
Let’s take "strong is the new sexy". I’m kind of sick of women of being reduced to how sexy they look. What does that say about your worth? And if you’re not sexy, then oh well, too bad. It’s a double standard for women: if you look too good you’re full of yourself, and if you don’t look good enough, then you’re lazy or unlovable.
With "strong is the new skinny", it still puts the emphasis on how big you are. We’re still talking about how big people’s body’s are! It doesn’t say anything about capacity— strength comes in so many shapes and sizes and so many forms, and it this talk still sizes everybody up.
And within that, strong can be so many things: it's your resilience, it’s your metal capacity, it’s your compassion, your ability to go through the crappy things in life and come out the other side. Sometimes it's going really hard and sometimes its slowing down, sometimes it's pushing through and sometimes it's letting go. It’s multi-dimensional.
I don’t hear any guys hashtagging "strong is the new sexy"— in my mind, if a guy’s not willing to go there with that same message, then that’s a problem.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST WAY YOU STILL SEE THE MAINSTREAM FITNESS + HEALTH INDUSTRY MISLEADING OR LETTING WOMEN DOWN?
I still see this idea of little pink dumbbells... and you can "participate", but don’t overdo it, and BE CAREFUL. When do people tell men to be careful?? The knee jerk reaction to a woman saying, "I’m gonna go get strong", is: don’t hurt yourself. That bugs me.
The whole “bulky” thing is still propagated by the Tracy Andersons out there and I’m over it. So many women say to me they want to be "toned": that means you want to build muscle and lose body fat to have definition.
I heard a startling study that I can’t quite remember but it was something like 45% of women over the age of 55 can’t lift 10 pounds, and that is shocking to me. Mainstream fitness still perpetuates this idea that you just have to move, with no real focus on actually building capacity.
After the age of 40 you start to lose muscle mass every year until you die, and muscle mass is such an important reserve for things like illness, surgery, or stressful events— you need the muscle to get well. We’re not doing a good enough job educating women and men that this stuff is really important to protect you as you get older.
So this "don’t get too bulky" or "don’t lift anything over 5 lbs" is crazy— if it’s too easy, it’s not going you any good. As much as I want to champion for people pursuing whatever fitness they love, I have a hard time turning a blind eye to when people flat out refuse to do any strength training at all. You don’t have to do it every day or replace your sport, but add it in a couple days a week to establish that baseline.
And this happened to me too but it’s funny, once I started CrossFit I got way faster and my endurance improved because I worked on that aspect of my fitness— working on those Type 2 fibers helped me get better in that sport.
Not to mention, when women start to play around with challenging weights, there’s something that changes in your mind and you think, “interesting. I wonder what else I can do”. And I think this can be threatening. It can be threatening in a patriarchal society when women speak up and take up space and get strong, which is certainly part of this “stay small and don’t hurt yourself” idea.
All these play together and just keep women down and tell them they just need to play nice.
Sure the fitness industry has made some progress, but when are we going to reach the people who can’t afford a $250/mo gym membership? When are we going to make things seem more approachable and less intimidating to the people who are scared to try it? We just need more voices who are willing to help women get the education and resources they need.
YOU MENTIONED THAT PHOTO EARLIER THAT MADE YOU THINK, "WOW, I AM SO FAT", AND HOW YOU WERE LIVING IN A NEGATIVE HEADSPACE. WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST TO SOMEONE IN A SIMILAR PLACE, AS A FIRST STEP TO START TO CHANGE THAT MINDSET?
First, I’d say that it’s important that you are ready, and curious, and open. A lot of people in that place are stuck, and just not willing to look beyond their bubble, so first, you need to be willing.
Then I’d look at the people in your life who are living the way you are curious about, and talk to them: What are you doing? What’s your routine? What gym do you go to? How have you found a good life/work balance? Asking people you know and trust is so much more powerful than Yelp or internet strangers.
Then get involved with something outside of yourself. The self help world is all about you -- focus on yourself, grow yourself-- and there’s a delicate tightrope between these two things: if I’m always letting people walk all over me and never take time for self care that’s not good, but if I’m only always inward focused, that’s not good either. And sometimes the more we look at ourselves, the more flaws we see: it’s like a magnifying mirror. You see more flaws the closer you look.
The self love movement is great on many levels, however, just like any tool it can be misused. Find a purpose to align yourself to that is bigger than yourself. When you see the joy you can bring to other people, that is a gift you can’t find anywhere else. It will boost your confidence and mood, and it can change how you feel inside and how you see yourself.
I think of coaching and hearing from clients who have had big wins or transformations, and it’s a feeling you can’t get anywhere else. Get outside your own head and realize there’s a much bigger world out there. When you’re struggling with yourself, this can really give you a sense of pride, and deliver a goodness to you that’s hard to replicate.
YOUR THEME FOR 2017 WAS DARE. HOW DID YOU EMBRACE THAT THEME AND WHAT'S YOUR 2018 THEME?
I hired help for my book proposal after many months of struggling and thinking I can do it by myself -- so daring to ask for help was a big deal. I got outside of my comfort zone a little bit with Jiu-Jitsu and tried something new.
I haven’t nailed down my 2018 theme yet, but it will probably be something like "ownership" — I want to stand in the places that I am powerful and give back. I was at a conference recently, and I shared that I have a fear of success, and the speaker said that a fear of success is a lack of responsibility of the things in your life that you have a gift for.
You have a responsibility to share your gifts with the world. That fear is really being afraid to step into your voice and power. Those people who show up are the people who are in the arena— here I am, this is me, let’s do this.
YOU END YOUR POCAST (HARDER TO KILL RADIO) WITH THIS QUESTION FOR YOUR GUESTS + I'M CURIOUS TO KNOW YOUR RESPONSE: WHAT'S YOUR ADVICE FOR BUILDING A HARDER TO KILL HUMAN?
I’d say trusting yourself and listening to your gut. That manifests in a lot of ways— maybe it’s your career, or your sport. We’re not static, we’re always changing, and being able to tune into whats important to you right now, in this moment, is so valuable. The more we hold onto this concept of who we once were and who we’re 'supposed' to be we, prevent ourselves from living in the moment.
And no one else knows either: no one else outside of me knows who I’m meant to be and what drives me in this point in time. There’s this funny thing that happens in the blogging world where if you change direction people say “oh but no, your’e the blah blah blah person!”— well hold on-- you get to change and evolve, but I have to stay exactly the same?
I’m a real person too, I grow and change and evolve. We have to give ourselves that space to change and to trust those things that’s bubbling up inside you. Yes we all have bills to pay and responsibilities, but if that feeling goes on too long and you ignore it, you begin to feel disempowered and start to look to outside sources to tell you who you are.
The world’s always going to tell you who to be, what to do, what to like, but you’re never going to make everybody happy. You’re going to be criticized anyway, so follow your gut and just do what you want to do. Or Erin Brown says, “you’ll have what I’m serving”. You’re either with me or you’re not, and it’s ok if your’e not.
One day, while we were strolling the local farmer's market here in Seattle, we stumbled across this man who offers poetry on any topic you present him with. I instantly recognized him from this video with Jessamyn Stanley + Cody App, so we stopped and offered the topic, "strength".
It's a little hard to hear but I hope you enjoy this amazing moment!