Podcast

Episode 43 – Steph Gaudreau, Nutrition and Fitness Expert

Steph Gaudreau’s mission is to help us think about our bodies and minds in loving, healthy ways. Yet so often we spiral in the messages we tell ourselves and chase some elusive goal that’s just not realistic. Today, on our last show of the year, Steph chats with Jessica about the peaks and valleys of dieting as well as what we can do to better care for ourselves.

Steph Gudreau

TRANSCRIPT

Jessica: Hey there, it’s Jessica Honegger, founder of the socially conscious fashion brand, Noonday Collection, and this is the Going Scared Podcast, where we cover all things social impact, entrepreneurship, and courage.

I hope you have enjoyed our Starter series. This week is the conclusion of the series we’ve been doing where we’ve been talking about what it means to take that idea you have and let it become a reality. To that end, we are ending with the perfect guest, Steph Gaudreau. I’m going to spell her last name for you, because I found her via Instagram, and if you are on Instagram, she is a really inspiring person to follow. Her last name—so it’s Steph_Gaudreau—G-A-U-D-R-E-A-U. I love this recent post I read of hers on Instagram. She says, “Perspective—it’s remembering that if you eat something ‘bad,’ and you’re ready to say ‘forget it all,’ that one meal is less than 1% of your meals for the year. Perspective is realizing that if you’re sick and take a week out at the gym, that amounts to about 2% of the year. Perspective is understanding that you won’t lose your gains from taking a rest day. Perspective is giving yourself grace and space when you need it, because you are not a damn emotionless machine who always has to push through. Perspective is knowing that your worth is never reflected by the numbers on the bathroom scale. Perspective: change your glasses and see things differently.”

So you’re like “Jess, Jess. It’s the holiday season. Let me eat my pie in peace.” But the truth is, this holiday season has always caused a lot of stress in my life, as someone who has tied a lot of my value to the scale, and who has taken oftentimes an all-or-nothing approach to health, and who has been like “square one, it’s the holidays.” I don’t want that for you. I want you to be able to start off your 2019 feeling really great, and so we’re going to spend todays conversation talking about her journey of starting health. What has her journey of health been and what has her journey of finding balance I health been.

Steph founded the Stupid Easy Paleo blog in 2011. It’s now been changed to The Steph Gaudreau Blog. She’s the author of three books, the most recent one, The Performance Paleo Cookbook. She’s the host of Harder to Kill Radio, a podcast that interviews the best experts in fitness, nutrition, sleep, and mindset. And I’m really looking forward to you listening in on this conversation today.

Jessica: But I wanted to start off because I find that people that are in the fitness and health space often are teaching what they themselves need to learn, and usually have a significant story of how they got there. And I wanted you to share what’s the story behind your story of how you kind of got into this space.

Steph: Yeah. It’s in a lot of ways I’m so passionate about what I do because I see women struggling with the same things that I was deeply in the struggle about in my own life. And I kind of look at it and think, if I can get out of this hell that I was in, then other women can do it too. And I have such deep, deep compassion for the place that women are in right now, just in the world right now all the things that we’re facing. We have so much autoimmunity, we have like so much stress, so much burden placed on us to I guess do all the things. So in that way, you know, I look at my community and I’m just like, "Can we just hug for a little bit because I get it. I’ve been where you’ve been. Also, I can’t solve your problems for you."

Jessica: So true, which I think, yeah. Like, how many times have I, like, put the fitness magazine in my grocery cart as I’m checking out, and I think despite buying…like, it says mindfulness. So just like buying the magazine it’s gonna solve my problem and it’s, like, no, you have actually have to do this. You can’t short-circuit this. There’s no shortcuts to health and awareness.

Steph: You have to keep showing up and it’s not just…I think the mistake that people make is thinking, "OK. I’m gonna go super hard. I’m gonna go hard at this for like a week or two and then boom. I’m done." And I look at it as the reverse. It’s a lifetime. It’s like your car. It’s like a lifetime of maintenance and what’s the level of maintenance that you can get to and commit to such that it’s not something that you have to fight with yourself over? It’s not a willpower battle every day but that you can still maintain that health and, like you said, feeling good in your body. So in a lot of ways, I come to this from like a very personal experience of so much dieting, so much dieting, always trying to be smaller.

Jessica: Can you walk us through that because I actually don’t know your story, and I think I just really wanna hear. Like, take your time, sit, like, sit back, drink your bottle of water, like, don’t rush through it because I—honestly, I have a story, and I don’t I know, I haven’t talked to too many people who… I mean, I think that’s because it’s not my primary conversation, but I really wanna hear it. So just tell it.

 

Feeling Like a Sore Thumb

Steph: Well, if we really wanna go back, growing up, I had divorced parents. I grew up without a father around and then my stepdad came into the picture when I was really young. And when I was growing up, I always just felt different than other kids. I was just like thicker, chunkier, whatever you wanna call it. And everybody’s like, "Oh, you’re just a chubby kid." And I was always in sports, but my stepdad was really verbally abusive to my sister and myself. And she was always like the dumb one and I was always the fat one, you know. As I’ve gone through this journey and like started to unpack a lot of this stuff for myself, I know for sure that those early experiences laid a lot of groundwork, internally laid a lot of the foundation for how I viewed myself as I grew up and went through adolescence and early adulthood. That really affected me. That was really damaging to me. I always thought there was something wrong with my body because, you know, I was the fat one. And I exercised, like I was in sports. I don’t wanna say exercise. I wasn’t out there like, "I’m gonna go to the gym," but I was in youth sports from a very early age about… well, I started doing dance at about probably seven or eight. And then soon after that joined soccer and played sports like my whole life. And as long as I was…

Jessica: So you were super athletic and healthy. I mean, when you look back on that little girl or you even see pictures, how do you reframe that? Like, were you fat? You know what I’m saying, like, I don’t know. Like, what is fat, I guess?

Steph: Yeah, exactly. I think just compared to some of the other girls and I was like, "Oh, yeah. All these other girls are way skinnier than me or they’re thinner than me." When I look at the women in my family, I look at my mom and my grandmother, we come from Eastern European, Polish Ukrainian, farming stock. You know, we’re just like hearty people. And I look at sort of that maternal line in my family too and I’m like, "Yeah. I’m not tiny." And genetics is…you know, I’m not gonna be…

Jessica: So, yeah. It’s like you’re looking at your family and clearly, you’re genetically disposed with being a more athletically built woman.

Steph: Yeah. And I actually tend to build muscle very easily. You know, when women I know are like, "I’m struggling so much to put on muscle mass. What are you doing?" And I’m like, "I’m lifting some weights like twice a week," you know. So it’s how I’ve always been, and when I look around at my classmates, for example, my sister, who happens to take after more of my dad’s side of the family, she’s much thinner and taller and was everything I always wanted to be and wasn’t, I just always had this feeling of like there’s something about me that’s not right. You know, I should be…And I remember at a very early age…and they say girls, you know, younger and younger and younger now believe that they need to go on diets and they need to lose weight and it breaks my heart, but I remember that too. You know, so I always had that kind of pervasive feeling and I also happened to start puberty way earlier than my classmates. I was the first one in my class, so it was like fifth grade. The first one to get braces. You know, I had my adult teeth by the time I was like third grade.

So, braces at 10. I got my period at about 10-and-a-half. First one in my class to start, you know, developing, puberty and adolescence. So that just made me feel even more, like, I stuck out like a sore thumb. And I was athletic, and I was active. And in a way that sort of early on became ingrained in me and sort of, like, “this is the way you sort of control your weight. This is the way you keep yourself from getting any bigger. You gotta stay active and you better exercise.” And I love, you know, I still I love being active, being involved in different sports. It brings me a lot of joy now but there was a period in my life where that was not the case. And I’ll probably talk about that. So, just early on I started out with this… I had real huge perfectionistic tendencies. Loved school, loved learning, definitely teacher’s pet kind of kid, but I was always trying to make things perfect because if I was perfect then I could be loved, and I wouldn’t be subjected to people’s criticism. If I just did it perfect, then no one can criticize me. And that’s been another thing I’ve had to work through and unpack as I’ve gotten older to see how that plays out even in my own entrepreneurship.

“I had real huge perfectionistic tendencies. Loved school, loved learning, definitely teacher’s pet kind of kid, but I was always trying to make things perfect because if I was perfect then I could be loved, and I wouldn’t be subjected to people’s criticism. If I just did it perfect, then no one can criticize me.” Steph Gaudreau

And learning that things are sometimes better, that they’re just done and they’re not perfect. But they’re just done and they’re good, and you just ship them out. And it doesn’t mean that you stop refining things but, yes. So there’s definitely a lot of that going on even from a really young age. And as I got a little bit older, I was in high school. I continued to play sports, do my thing. That was great but I always just felt like I needed to change my body. My body, it wasn’t right. It wasn’t good enough, and if I could just get smaller… I’m sort of like the unofficial captain of Team Thick Thighs over here. My thighs were like the thing I hated the most. Like, “why are they so big? Why do they rub together? Why can’t I fit in pants like everybody else wears?” You know, I just wanted to be smaller so that everything would just be good and all my problems would go away and…

Jessica: Which is what we tell ourselves, which is also not true. So then you start fixating. You’re creating this like idealized version of yourself. “If it was only like that then I could escape all of these feelings,” which is also not true.

 

Trusting Your Body before Trusting Society

Steph: Absolutely. So, you know, I don’t have an exact time in mind looking back when the eating behavior also started to kind of match. And by the way, I forgot to mention, this will come back later in the story, that when I was really young and I did get my period for the first time and I was going through that, I was getting super, super sick all the time. Super sick all the time, and my mom actually took me to a gynecologist at the age of probably about 11. I mean, most 11-year-olds aren’t going to a gynecologist. And I remember because my cousin has endometriosis. My mom was just like, "I wanna get you checked out because maybe something is wrong." And I had a pelvic exam that day, like, "Hello." Like, "What 11-year-old is ever prepared for that?" The outcome of that was like, "No. There’s nothing wrong with you." And so that was instrumental. That was like a key piece of it as well because I was like, "But I feel terrible." Like, I’m so sick. I can’t go to school. All I can do is lay in my bed and like writhe. You know, and just hope for it to pass and that was one of the…

Jessica: That’s such a debilitating sickness.

Steph: Yeah. And so early on I got another kind of message, in a way, looking at the world, which is like all these authority figures telling me that nothing is wrong with me even though I feel so terrible and so sick. It was like, "You’ll outgrow it." I remember when I was about 16, my period started. I was in school, at high school, and I called my mom, and I said, "Mom, you gotta come and get me." And we lived like 30 minutes away from the high school that I went to because I went to private school. As she drove up to get me. I’m just barfing in the trashcan outside of school, like that was how sick I would get. And so, I learned early on that listening to my body, what’s the point? I feel terrible but everybody who has authority is like, "You’re fine. There’s nothing wrong with you. It must be in your head."

Jessica: There was no message of, like, listen to your body, trust your body. Your body is trying to say something.

Steph: No. So, when I was actually 33, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, like, long story short. So I was like, "Oh, yeah. OK."

Jessica: God, you went all that time without a diagnosis?

Steph: I did but, when I was about 19, I got on birth control pills.

Jessica: OK. So that did help.

Steph: It masked my symptoms for, you know, 16 or 17 years. You know, so that was definitely a part of it as well, and all the stuff kind of culminated. And, you know, I started to do things like just eat less food, eat as little as I could, eat really low-fat. I mean, all the things that we kind of associate with dieting and being in that frame of mind.

And then when I was—my freshman year of college—well, my senior of high school I stopped working out. I stopped doing sports and I got a job at a grocery store because I wanted to make some money. So I stopped exercising, period, and I gained a lot of weight that year. And then I thought, OK, freshman year, I joined the gym down the street from my house, and I was like, "Enough is enough." And I started tootling around on machines and stuff, and I had no idea what I was doing. I was in that environment and I noticed, like, a lot of the trainers, they’d walk around and eat, you know, a big tub of rice and plain tuna fish on it. I was like, "All right. Well, that’s how we’re gonna do this because look at them."

Jessica: You were probably part of the baked potato with salsa phase.

Steph: Anything low-fat.

Jessica: The Snackwells, the devil’s food cake cookies.

Steph: I love the Snackwells. You know, that green package was my life because it was 100 calories, right?

Jessica: Oh, yeah

Steph: So the low-fat, just eating as little as possible. I did Weight Watchers. I did…

Jessica: Well, I did my first Weight Watchers meeting when I was eight, girl.

Steph: Oh, gosh.

Jessica: Oh, yeah, checked those boxes.

Steph: So I did that. I just ate as little as I could. I was just eating super low-fat, and I thought that these things were really healthy. Meanwhile, I just kept feeling kind of like junk all the time. And I tried Isagenix. I mean, I used to do The FIRM in my living room which was, like, I don’t remember The FIRM but it’s like the home workout, right? I used to do Denise Austin in my living room, which is great, like…

“I just ate as little as I could. I was just eating super low-fat, and I thought that these things were really healthy. Meanwhile, I just kept feeling kind of like junk all the time.” Steph Gaudreau

Jessica: Did you do Tae Bo? I was such a Tae Bo girl.

Steph: Absolutely. And in a way, I try not to dis these things, some of them, too hard because, like, if that’s how people started and got active and got out of the couch, that’s fantastic.

 

Starting Starts with New Perspective

Jessica: Oh, yeah. There’s nothing wrong with these things. It’s us. The problem is with our mindset and approach, which is what your brand is all about.

Steph: You’re never happy. It’s never enough. And so, I would weigh myself in it. In my brain, I was like, "I need to be 125 pounds." Where did that number come from? I don’t even know, and I ask this to woman all the time. They’re like, "Oh, if I just lost those last five pounds?" And I’m like, "OK. So that will put at…" I don’t know, some number. "Where did you get that number from? Was that what you weighed when you were 12?" Because I actually see that quite a bit. Women are like, "Well, what I weighed before I had kids." And I’m like, "When did you have your first baby?" "I was 22." I’m like, "You’re 45." Like, "Your body has changed weight." Or, "It’s the weight that I was…”

Jessica: We have this stupid number that makes our lives miserable when we choose to fixate on that number.

Steph: Like, if you can’t be happy 5 pounds away from this made-up weight that you think is gonna be your happy weight—if you can’t be happy now when you’re 5 or 10 pounds away, you’re never gonna happy. You’re just not. I’m very understanding that some people, they really do want and need to lose a significant amount of weight to feel healthy, to have energy, to get rid of all the health issues that they’re dealing with, and I respect that. But what I have a hard time with is…and this happens a lot in my community, and it happened to me, right? If I couldn’t be happy at X weight, and I was like, "Well, I just need to get to 125," then what’s preventing me from being happy right now? And the last 5 or 10 pounds is not gonna be a magic pill. It’s not like your life is gonna become unicorns and rainbows.

And P.S., when you get to that goal weight, now guess what? You gotta maintain it. If that’s what you’re so fixated on is getting to the goal weight, now you’ve gotta maintain the goal weight instead of just saying, "Can I come to a weight where my body feels good? I wake up every day, I have energy, I have a sex drive, I have good digestion, my moods are pretty stable." And all these things that we know are kind of these non-scale ways of measuring our health … our bloodwork’s good. Why can’t we just be OK with that? It’s always gotta be this weight number. And I’m like, "Now you gotta maintain that." Have fun with those mental gymnastics. It’s a really draining proposition. You know, so all of this…

Jessica: So you’re like hardcore biking, you’re trying to attain a body that like genetically is completely impossible for you, from how you’re describing this all.

Steph: Pretty much. Yeah. It’s just not gonna happen.

Jessica: And you’re teaching…

Steph: So the next chapter in my life. Things really started to come to a head for me in about 2009, 2010. I was starting to feel pretty restless in my job. I got married again. I recently talked about being divorced twice and all the stigma that goes with that. But, you know, had gotten married again. I really kind of got married for the wrong reasons and was just kind of feeling, like, that was not the right thing to do. And now really hardcore into mountain biking, and really using it…for me, endurance exercise and endurance sports became a great excuse for me to obsess. And then I started doing triathlons, which, in addition to biking, I was also swimming and I was running. And so, it became a great way for me to eat less because, I gotta maintain my weight and do more exercise.

So when people are like, "But to lose weight, you just eat less and move more." And I’m like, "Oh, Mm-mm." I had that dialed, right? I was hardly eating anything and when you’re doing that much endurance training especially you’re just trying to maintain, like, you’re just trying to manage because it’s really hard to get enough calories to prevent things like muscle wasting, especially for not doing any strength training, which is what you need you to do to balance that out. So I wasn’t doing that. I was really getting pretty small, but it still was…I looked at myself and I was like, "God I’m huge." Right. So now I’m like totally in this body dysmorphia frame of mind where I look at myself and I don’t see…

Jessica: What’s actually there.

 

Starting Something New by Trying Something New

Steph: Yeah, exactly. I don’t see what’s actually there. And so for me, this particular sport and getting to this point in like 2009, 2010, it was really…this is like everything was kind of coming to a head. And I couldn’t go even a couple of hours without thinking about food, losing weight, being too big. I mean, it was just like all-consuming for me, and I remember 2010, I guess 2010, and I still have this photo and I show it every once in a while because it was the end of the triathlon season, it’s probably the smallest I’ve been in, you know, like years. And my ex-husband took a photo of me at this waterfall in Lake Tahoe after we had done this race, and showed me the photo later. And I was just like disgusted with how I look. I just thought I looked enormous, and I look at that picture now and I laugh because I’m tiny, you know, compared to now when I feel good and my body…like, I’m just absolutely wasting away in this picture.

It’s crazy to me to think about how I just cannot have an accurate picture of myself in my own mind. In 2009, friends of mine who I knew through mountain biking were like, "We’re gonna to try this thing called Paleo." And I asked them what it was. I never really heard about it, and they of course described it and I was like, "Well, it sounds kind of crazy because you don’t eat gluten. What’s gluten?" You know, cycling in that sports world was so really entrenched in like carbo-loading and we’re gonna…you know, and I’m not afraid of carbs. It was just like carbs 24/7, very low-fat, that sort of thing. And I just thought, well, this is like the exact 180 of how I’m eating now, but I don’t know, what do I have to lose? Everything else I’ve tried hasn’t worked, so I may as well try this too.

And I decided I was gonna go through the holidays and have my holiday fun. And I was like, "I’m ready to eat all the things." January 2010 rolled around and I went through my cupboards and my fridge and cleaned things out. And got some cookbooks, which by the way, back then there were like two cookbooks. It was like Paleo Comfort Foods from Charles and Julie Mayfield and Make It Paleo from Bill and Hayley. And so, I got those two cookbooks and I was like, "Yeah. I’m gonna do this." It looks different but I like to cook so I might as well give it a shot. And within a few months I started to feel a lot better in my body and this was like a long… it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen within a couple of weeks. I didn’t lose weight but I started to feel more energetic.

“I got those two cookbooks and I was like, "Yeah. I’m gonna do this." It looks different but I like to cook so I might as well give it a shot. And within a few months I started to feel a lot better in my body and this was like a long… it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen within a couple of weeks. I didn’t lose weight but I started to feel more energetic.” Steph Gaudreau on starting a Paleo diet.

 

Perspective: Out of Obsession and into Balance

Jessica: Well, thank you. I really appreciated hearing kind of the full story behind the story. And I know a lot of your own personal message now is all about kind of coming up against this diet culture. And yet I think you could look at Paleo and say, "It’s a diet." I mean, so this is kind of what I’m wanting to ask a little bit and I think, you know, most people that are approaching fitness are kind of, "OK. I’m ready to kick it back into gear." It’s not about like necessarily starting something completely new as much as it is kind of like getting back on the saddle again. Talk to me a little about holding this tension of, you know, you’ve been like years and years. And, obviously, when our brains, you know, they’re neuroplastic and they create these pathways, these negative pathways, right?

And for those of us that have been dieting since we were little kids, like, making new neuropathways in our minds, you know, is a lot of effort, right? It causes a lot of effort, and so in order to kind of do that you have to kind of get off the pathway you’re on, and start like breaking this new trail where you’re walking more in balance and you’re not obsessing over perfectionism. And you’re no longer counting all the things and, you know, you’re no longer having this perfectionist thinking like, "Oh, I screwed up today. It was a horrible day," or, "Oh, my gosh, I ate some terrible rice, now I’ gonna be screwed forever," all of that. So how are you coaching people in kind of coming out of the obsession and into balance, and what is a diet versus Paleo? I just threw a million things at you.

Steph: Yea. No. I’ve got a plan in my mind of how I’m gonna answer this.

Jessica: OK.

Steph: So, yeah. I started eating pretty…you know, I had a list of yes or no foods when I started Paleo, and that helped me just wrap my brain around things and get started. But I will tell you I don’t believe in strict Paleo anymore, and I’ve rebranded. And I am very interested in a more bio-individual approach to nutrition for people. Now that being said, there’s still this like common thread of real, whole food, nutrient-dense foods but, asterisk, we’re all different. We need to figure things out. We’ve got different, perhaps, underlying health problems, metabolism issues, autoimmunity, fertility issues, preferences with the food we eat. I’ve had so many people say, "I hate kale but I made myself eat it." And I’m like, "Stop doing that. You don’ have to eat what you don’t like," I mean, at some level…and yes. If you’re like, "I never eat vegetables because I think they’re disgusting," then we need to sort of talk about maybe more palatable ways to prepare them but, you know…

“I will tell you I don’t believe in strict Paleo anymore, and I’ve rebranded. And I am very interested in a more bio-individual approach to nutrition for people…We’ve got different, perhaps, underlying health problems, metabolism issues, autoimmunity, fertility issues, preferences with the food we eat.” Steph Gaudreau on dynamic dieting.

Jessica: M&Ms and Coke Zero is not on the plan.

Steph: I don’t drink Coke Zero. So, yeah. I think a lot of these sort of "lifestyle type diets" whether it’s Paleo, Primal, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, blah, blah, blah, whatever you decide, are a lot of times an on-ramp to cut through the noise and just get started because you can find resources, and websites, and books, and the whole nine yards. But at some point, you’re gonna go, "Is this working for me?" If you wanna maintain some semblance of this longer-term. So strict approaches can work at the beginning but they can also set up this perfectionistic spiral of hell where you’re like, "Oh, I was gonna start my blank diet on Monday, and it’s not a diet because I’m not counting calories or whatever." But what I tend to see now, and I see this a lot, a lot, a lot, is that the pendulum is swung for a lot of women in the opposite direction where they were like, "I used to eat really low-fat or just starve myself," or whatever. And then I started eating this like clean foods approach or, you know, Paleo, or real food, or whatever they call it. But they are so focused on the rules that when they…

Jessica: It’s still a diet mentality. I mean, that’s the thing. I feel, like, because I can go there. I live in Austin. We’re super, super health conscious, you know, and so it is kind of that like, "Oh, I’m not a dieter but…" So that’s why I’m trying to kind of figure out like, you know, how do you approach kind of, like, there is a time to say, "You know what? It’s time to kind of straighten up a little and cut some things out, you know, cut out the noise and get focused." But, ultimately, I want that to be for the long-term for people, and not just like a one-month…you know, by March it’s like out the door.

 

What Is “Good” Food?

Steph: Right. So the more tightly you’re trying to stick to a list of foods, just know that that’s gonna create for a lot of people some tension and problems long-term. And I see this, like I said, with my community where they’re just like, "I’m afraid to stop logging my macros." And I’m like, "That’s a problem. That’s a huge red flag." You can’t go out to eat because you don’t know how many grams that potato is. I don’t know, like, have we made any progress or… we’ve just transposed our problems into another area? So with me, and part of my Core 4 is eat nourishing foods. Now you’ll notice that I don’t call it like, eat Paleo, or eat vegan, or whatever. And that can be hard for people because they’re like, "Well, but what should I eat?" And I’m like, "That’s something I could bestow upon you. We have to have a conversation. Here’s a framework. Sure. We’ll give you a list of, like, this is what a real, whole, nutrient-dense food is. Here’s this pile of foods over here but what if you don’t like this food or what if culturally, rice is a huge part of your heritage?"

Jessica: I mean, I thought that because I work in cultures where it is primarily rice. I will tell you this, and this makes me super sad, but I’ll be working in tiny little villages in Guatemala where the primary food is corn and black beans. And I’m meeting people that are really overweight and diabetic. And I do see… Or especially in Uganda, the food posho, it’s a starch. And there’s so much diabetes there. So in that sense, it’s like proof is in the pudding there where you see…when your primary diet is that, it certainly can lead to, you know.

Steph: But I also wonder what’s the prevalence of processed Westernized foods?

Jessica: Yes. As I’m talking to you I’m like picturing all the little tiendas that used to not be there that are, like, Coke and M&Ms, and…yeah.

Steph: Yes, yes. Right. So I think that there has to be a conversation about that. But how I break it down for people is this, food is not just…it is what you eat, yes. It’s also how you eat it, and it’s why you eat it, and it’s when you eat it. And so we don’t need to micromanage these things but, for example, I see a lot of women in my community who are like on this, you know, carb kick. So fat used to be the enemy and now it’s carbs because if you cut your carbs then you’ll be leaner and, you know, if we’ve got blood sugar issues then, yes, going relatively lower carbs and getting rid of the processed foods and the cakes, and candies, and soda, and alcohol, frankly, is a huge first step. But being afraid to eat an apple, like, why are we at this point now? So, you know, understanding what are our health goals, all that stuff matters. But if we can focus on this, like, real, whole, nutrient-dense food framework, stick to foods that are relatively unprocessed, think about slowing down when we eat. I mean, so many of us are eating while distracted. We’re doing 100,000 things. We don’t have time…

“Food…it is what you eat, yes. It’s also how you eat it, and it’s why you eat it, and it’s when you eat it.” Steph Gaudreau

Jessica: Girl. Yeah. Sorry I interrupted because I think I do everything fast. I’m just one of those people. I think a lot of entrepreneurs are, right, we’re just like, you know, I think fast, I walk fast, I drink fast, I eat fast, I talk fast. I just interrupted you. And one of my friends, like her whole goal for the entire year was just to eat slowly. I even thought old-school, like if I gave thanks before every single meal, and paused and just thanked God for what I was about to put into my mouth, and then ate the meal like, you know, twice as much time as normal, I just wonder if those two small changes would actually transform, like, everything.

“If I gave thanks before every single meal, and paused and just thanked God for what I was about to put into my mouth, and then ate the meal like, you know, twice as much time as normal, I just wonder if those two small changes would actually transform, like, everything.” Jessica Honegger on shifting food perspectives and eating habits.

Steph: Yes. So a lot of women in my community are focused on cutting the carbs, cutting the carbs, or micromanaging their macros, or whatever it is. And it is an awareness and if your portion distortion, which a lot of us do because we live in this sort of bipolar state of, like, we’re just gonna eat as little as we can, but P.S., when we go out to, like, chain restaurants, these portions are freaking huge. So if we quantify our food for a short period of time just to get used to what does it look like on the plate…I use a visual plate method with my clients, which is like, "Let’s divide this plate up into like slices of a pie. And how can we fill the plate such that we’re gonna end up with a relative balance of macronutrients and not have to perform mental gymnastics or break out a calculator?" I think that’s really important.

But what a lot of women and people, in general, are missing are these other things. They are eating while they’re super stressed out, and we know that when the body is in a sympathetic state, we’re not digesting our food as well. So I’ve got a lot of people that have digestive problems. They are like, "Steph, I eat my lunch in five minutes and then I’m bloated the rest of the day," or, you know, they’ve got IBD, IBS. They’ve got some kind of autoimmunity. They’ve got allergies, like, they’ve got all sorts of gut problems. They are not pooping or are pooping too much. I mean, we can go down a million rabbit holes with that. But suffice to say, I’m like, "Are you chewing your food? Are you slowing down?" And like you said, giving thanks, I think that is one…If that works for people as one easy way to sit down, be present, everybody talks about intuitive eating, well, it has to start with presence and awareness.

Jessica: I know.

Steph: You know, eating…

Jessica: But that’s like the hardest thing. And the thing is we wanna shortcut it by having our list of no-nos, but then we never get to this point of awareness.

Steph: Well, and there are other thing too, it takes time for your body for its satiety signals to kick in. Or if you’re only ever drinking liquid foods, this is the other thing, like people subsisting on juices and shakes and stuff because they’re more convenient. But the thing is like A, they’re pre-digested, they’re pre-chewed for you. You might be getting the nutrition faster, but you might be spiking your blood sugar a lot quicker. You may not actually be releasing enough salivary amylase to deal with the…If you’re eating like this fruit-packed smoothie then you need enough salivary amylase to digest that carbohydrate in your stomach. And if you’re hungry an hour later it’s because that food just kind of went through, you didn’t have to work at digesting it. And chewing, it sends a satiety signal to the brain. So when we eat too quickly or we’re just drinking all of our calories, we don’t have that sense of satisfaction, of satiety, of fullness. And that causes a lot of people to overeat, to constantly graze, sends our blood sugar spiking and crashing and these are sort of some of the more common problems.

So, you know, just sitting and taking a few deep breaths and thinking about where did this food come from, even if you didn’t prepare it, you know, however, it makes sense for you to just have that presence of mind is an easy first step, this is free. You can do this today. You can chew your food a little bit more. I actually brought this up with my husband because I was like…I’ve always been a slow eater. But I looked at him and I was like, "You just ate one-and-a-half times what I did in about five minutes. That’s just not like…" And he finds now he eats a little bit less because his body is catching up with him and saying, "You’re good." Like, "You don’t need to keep going and refilling your plate and refilling your plate."

Jessica: My husband is a really slow eater and I literally use him as my pacing control sometimes. I look at his plate and I look at mine, I’m like, "OK. Slow it down."

Steph: Sure. You know, and then when do we eat? I think that there is value in not eating every two hours. I mean, if you have hypoglycemia and you’re trying to repair that dysfunction and that dysglycemia, then snacking can help a little. But in general when people are like, "But I’m gonna rev my metabolism and eat every two hours." And I’m like, "No. Why are you doing this?"

Jessica: Well, fasting is all the rage right now.

Steph: Well, and fasting, it has merits for sure but what I see is women…because I work mostly with women, this is why I use women as an example…women who are like, "But I’m intermittent fasting." They’re also, in general, doing CrossFit or some kind of stressful training on top of that. They have busy stressful lives and they are not eating a full day’s worth of food in their fasting window. So they’re constantly undereating, and so is fasting a tool? Can it be used to help sensitize the body to insulin and get a better blood sugar response? A hundred percent. But we have to think about are these tools, are we applying them when appropriate? So it comes back to the why. If I’m a stressed-out woman who…yeah, maybe I don’t have a lot of time so I think fasting is gonna help me because I have to spend less time eating. I get that but if you’re chronically undereating because you can’t eat 2000 calories worth of food in a 6 or 8-hour window, now we have a problem.

And you’re working out and pushing your body super hard on top of that, which you need to account for that in your recovery, right? So how are you gonna recover from this intense exercise? So we tend to get these stressors…and they are doing like super low carb. You get all these stressors stacking on top of each other and you get women who are like, "But I’m working out six days a week and I’m eating clean but I don’t see any results," or, "I’m gaining weight." And I’m like, "Well, we need to start unpacking some of this stuff and realize that this tool of intermittent fasting—maybe instead of thinking about it like, ‘I’m gonna fast from 6 p.m. until noon the next day,’ it’s just at 6 p.m. after I eat dinner I’m just gonna, you know, cut off the eating window until I wake up in the morning." Twelve hours is more than enough for most people and it also doesn’t play into the restrictive, you know, disordered eating patterns that a lot of people have. And then they get to, you know, their feeding window and they can’t get a full day’s worth of food in that feeding window, and so now they’re chronically undernourished.

 

Balancing Quality and Quantity

And so we have to remember that calories and macronutrients are not the same as…like, fuel and nourishment are kind of two different things. I can eat 1000 calories worth of M&Ms; and that’s energy, right, and that’s giving me energy but the quality of that food is very low. The nutrient value of that food is very low, and so we get into this difference of, like, quantity versus quality. I don’t think that focusing on quality at the expense of quantity is smart. Like, I know some people who are like, "I eat Paleo and why am I gaining weight?" I’m like, "You just ate a whole jar of nut butter after dinner." We can’t be ridiculous about this, but at the same time, we do still have this like calories-in/calories-out crowd who’s like, "It doesn’t matter what you’re eating. You can eat Pop Tarts all day long. You just gotta meet your macros." And I’m like, "If we’re at the highest level of competitors and we wanna eke out that final few percentage points of our performance, maybe. But by the way, we also need to reduce inflammation and, you know, work on recovery for those folks too.

I just see this like it’s gotta be one way or the other, and I’m like, "Quality and quantity does matter." We don’t wanna overeat, we don’t wanna undereat, we gotta find that kind of right mix. We do need to pay attention to quality because when we eat more nutrient-dense foods with things like fiber, and minerals, and vitamins, and enough protein, our body is satiated. And we’re not gonna just be looking for grazing, grazing, grazing all day long. So it’s not one at the expense of the other, and I see this happening way too often, and yes, in the Paleo world. And all these other diets, like you mentioned, is that it’s sort of like this is the one right way. And then like the more extreme something is the harder it is to stick to for a long period of time. It might be a short-term intervention or a tool to help get things back in the right direction, but if we do have things like disordered eating patterns from our past, we need to be mindful of that. I know so many women who right now are stuck. They are literally terrified to not log their food in MyFitnessPal.

“I just see this like it’s gotta be one way or the other, and I’m like, "Quality and quantity does matter." We don’t wanna overeat, we don’t wanna undereat, we gotta find that kind of right mix.” Steph Gaudreau

Jessica: Yeah.

Steph: I don’t think having awareness is a bad thing, like I said earlier, but things have gone too far in one direction for a lot of people. And we need professional help in some of these cases to get over this anxiety. It’s crippling fear of like, "I need to take my food calculator with me everywhere I go." I’m just like, "Is this a way to live?"

Jessica: But I can’t enjoy a meal out one night because I’m not gonna be able to figure out, you know, what to enter.

Steph: This restaurant isn’t in MyFitnessPal. And so, you know, I think as annoying as it is like I am one of those people now who is a little bit more middle-of-the-road, like let’s talk about these issues. It’s not always just about what we’re eating. It could be about unpacking our past. It could be we need some kind of professional therapy. I mean, there are so many layers to this that sometimes it’s not about the food at all. And if people are continuing to struggle all the time, like I have no problem recommending that folks like, "Hey, work with a registered dietitian. Work with a nutritional therapy practitioner. Work with a functional medicine doctor." You know, and I understand sometimes these things aren’t covered by your insurance or whatever but are you gonna keep going around and around and around in this circle which…?

 

Intuitive Eating Is Trusting Your Body

Jessica: I remember when I went to a professional training for the first time. It was, like, 10 months after I had my first baby. And I was still having a lot of perfectionistic thinking. I had even seen…Heidi Klum and I had our first kids…our oldest kids are the same age. Hers is like six weeks older than mine, and I remember laying on the couch when I was about to have my first baby and watching TV. And she was walking the catwalk like six weeks postpartum and I was like, "Oh, look at that. The weight falls off." I walk into the gym 10 minutes later to meet this trainer and I’m like, "Heidi Klum’s weight fell just right off." And he was just like, "Jessica, I don’t think you’ve ever looked like Heidi Klum" Like, "That should be not your standard." But the most powerful thing is he saw a lot of that anxiety in me, that like, "Give me the formula. I can’t stand this extra weight." Like, "It’s gotta go." And he just looked at me in the eyes and he said, "Jessica, you…" and he knew my history and he knew I’d been dieting forever. I’d brought all the books, whatever.

And he looked at me and he said, "You know what to do. It’s time to trust yourself." And I walked out with tears in my eyes, and I think he didn’t know maybe the terms intuitive eating. I don’t think they were around then but that was when I think I was first exposed to this idea of like, oh, my gosh, diets teach you to not trust yourself, to not listen to hunger, to not lean-in to what your body is saying. And they are one-size-fits-all. And so we’ve got to tune in first and just become aware of like, what’s my body telling me? And it’s the hard work, like it’s the work that we don’t wanna do because it’s so vulnerable and tender and involves a lot of, you know, rewiring the stories that we’ve told ourselves. But if we’re not doing that then we’re gonna just keep going…we’re gonna be glued to freaking MyFitnessPal for the rest of our lives and not actually enjoying life.

Steph: Yeah. Fitness and nutrition and stuff, this is not…unless this is your job, it’s a means, right, it’s not the end. And I think, for what it’s worth, that social media, etc. has made like this…it’s sort of like that’s the goal. And I’m like, the goal is just to feel good enough in your body so that you can really do the things in your life that you value. And you’re absolutely right, and I brought up that story earlier about like being told by the doctor that there was nothing wrong with me because I learned to stop listening to my body and to stop listening to myself. And this is such a common thing that women have experienced, right? We’ve been told we couldn’t possibly know what’s right for us and like, you know, we need to be told by experts what the right thing is. And everybody knows the right solution for us, and letting go of that…You know, there’s a difference between even just the language that we use, like, "I can’t eat this food," versus, "I choose not to eat this food." And like allergies and whatever aside, right? If you’re a celiac then you really can’t eat gluten because it will make you sick.

“The goal is just to feel good enough in your body so that you can really do the things in your life that you value.” Steph Gaudreau

But, you know, if we’re talking about in the sense of dieting, like, "I can’t eat XYZ," like the word can’t is moving that locus of control away from you. It’s now not your decision anymore, and can I bring that decision back to me by using different words? Like, "I choose not to," or, "I don’t eat this thing," or, "It doesn’t make me feel good." And for a lot of women, starting with like this idea of intuitive eating when they’re logging and deep in that world is, like, how do we begin? And so one of the things I talk to my folks about a lot is, like, just tune in to how your body feels. Just how does it feel right now? Where do you feel like you’re carrying your tension? Are you holding your body in a particular posture? I know for me, all the time I catch myself sucking in my gut. We are told, right, from early like, "Suck it in." And like we’re not breathing properly. We’re stress breathing through our chest. We’re not breathing through our diaphragm. I mean, these are just really basic things. What’s going on in my body right now? If I feel stress, how do I feel stress manifest? When I’m sitting down, am I being mindful of my food right now in the moment, how it looks, smells, where did it come from, who prepared it?

Even just that level of awareness, and mindfulness, and cultivating that is a good first step for a lot of people because you’re right, we’ve been told, and I can’t even tell you how many times. And I’ve counted macros before, so if anybody thinks I’m just bashing it for the heck of it, I’m not because I’ve done it for cutting weight for weightlifting meets. And I just remember feeling so hungry and going, "Well, I ate all my food for the day. So too bad." And, you know, did I lose a couple of pounds and make weight for my weight class? I did but, you know, for me, I was like, "Why am I gonna maintain?" For me to maintain this and be like thinking about food all the time. When I used to think about food all the time, I’m so over that. So I’m just gonna go back to the way I eat, and just however my body ends up being is how it is. And I don’t think about the weight on the scale. So it’s so complicated, and you’re right, learning to have that trust and like listen to yourself and rewire, that’s stuff is scary.

 

New Perspectives Open New Experiences

Jessica: It’s scary. If you’ve never done it before. I mean, I definitely was in therapy for a couple of years and I went in because I was like, "I can’t obsess over this anymore," you know. OK. I wanna ask you something. It might be a little vulnerable but you’re in the gym now, you’re in front of a mirror, you’re seeing Steph now. How are you experiencing yourself now as you’re looking at the image of yourself in front of you?

Steph: Yes, that’s a good question. There’s only one mirror that I see relatively often. It’s when I go to jiu-jitsu, there’s a mirror in the women’s room, the changing room. So the weightlifting gym I go to doesn’t have mirrors, which I really like because I don’t have to think about it and obsessed about it. For me right now in my life, my priority is to feel…do I feel good? Do I have energy? Am I sleeping well? What is my cycle like? Is it normal? You know, am I relatively pain-free? Which by the way, I have managed to manage my endometriosis without any heavy medication or birth control or anything like that. And I know that’s not the case for every woman because we’re all different when it comes to endo, but for me, I’m able to manage it with lifestyle, nutrition, and some supplements, you know. And so for me, I’m sort of like, "Do I feel good? Do I feel capable in my body today?"

And my body does like… I notice sometimes, I’m like, "Oh, maybe I look less lean now than I used to when I was basically undereating. And I just kind of wrote about this yesterday. I got a lot of people who are like, "You look great right now." Like, "Well done." And I’m like, “That’s totally beside the point, and this post was not about fishing for compliments. It was about addressing this obsession about leanness and if we’re already at a ‘healthy body composition,’ I see so many women who are stressing out about wanting to be leaner. Wanting to be leaner is never enough." And I’m just like, "Yeah." I mean, for me now, which by the way, I don’t exactly know how much I weigh because I don’t weigh myself, but I am about 25 pounds heavier now than when I started…I sort of like started eating Paleo and I started lifting weights and that for a lot of women freaks them out. They’re like, "You gained weight?" And I’m like, "Yep."

Jessica: I’m off your website.

Steph: Again, it comes down to, like, this is the weight that my body wanted to come to, to feel good and strong, and I get to do the things in my body that I wanna do. And I do have a slightly different body now than when I was in my racing days. And I talked about that picture when I saw myself and I was like, "I look disgusting." And I looked back at that, I’m like, "You were so tiny." You know, I like having muscle. I like feeling strong. I like feeling capable. And as long as I feel like my body is working well every day then I’m not gonna micromanage the exterior. And for me, that’s provided so much freedom, and I look at myself now, and I think it’s hilarious because I like having strong muscular legs now. It was like the biggest pain point for me and it’s so hilarious when people are like, "I want your legs." And I’m like, "Girl, if you could only know what that whole story is." Because for years that was like the one thing I wanted to change the most, and it’s the one thing I probably get the most comments on.

“I like having muscle. I like feeling strong. I like feeling capable. And as long as I feel like my body is working well every day then I’m not gonna micromanage the exterior.” Steph Gaudreau

Jessica: I loved hearing Steph’s journey of how she came to where she came to today and didn’t come without a lot of struggle. And even now she’s continuing to create a mindset that is more about perspective and balance than it is about extremes and perfectionism.

This wraps up this series of the Going Scared Podcast. Find us again next year in 2019, when we are going to be talking about restarting. That’s right. Most of the time when we’re setting our intentions for the next year, it’s not like we’ve never committed to be healthy and to have the right mindsets and to finally get that idea off the ground. Often when we’re moving in a new direction, we’re simply restarting, not necessarily starting from scratch.

So we are going to be diving into that topic. My first guest is Gretchen Reuben, author of Better Than Before, one of my all-time-favorite books. So, get ready for that series, and thanks for joining me on this series of the Going Scared Podcast.

Our wonderful music today’s show is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz and I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.