The 4 Pillars Of Health And Energy (And How To Find The Best Diet And Exercise Plan) with Steph Gaudreau

Content By: Ari Whitten

The 4 Pillars Of Health And Energy (And How To Find The Best Diet And Exercise Plan) with Steph GaudreauIn this episode, I am joined by Steph Gaudreau, a holistic nutritionist and strength coach. She has made it her mission in life is to help people (especially women) build stronger bodies and minds and own their power. In this episode, Steph will reveal her 4 pillars of amazing health and energy, she’ll debunk some fitness myths, and show you how to find the best diet and exercise plan for you.

This conversation is filled with her down-to-earth discussions of her own struggles and practical suggestions on how to break barriers to achieving body weight goals, strength training goals and just transforming yourself to a better place in life.

In this podcast, Steph will cover:

  • How taking control of your health and fitness can empower you in other areas of your life
  • Why Steph transitioned from strictly Paleo to a bio-individual approach to health
  • Why women often feel resistance to resistance training (and why they shouldn’t) (Does weight training make women “bulky”?)
  • How to determine the best diet and exercise plan for you
  • The 4 pillars of health
  • Easy ways to manage energy levels during the day (and why it is crucial to your health and well being)
  • Does being healthy only rely on diet and exercise?
  • Why light exposure is essential for optimal health
  • What things are key to do to improve health outside of exercise and diet according to Steph
  • Her tips for women (and men) to overcome the fear of lifting weights and weight training

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The 4 Pillars Of Health And Energy (And How To Find The Best Diet And Exercise Plan) with Steph Gaudreau – Transcript

Ari Whitten: Everyone, welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I’m your host Ari Whitten and today I have with me health expert Steph Gaudreau. She’s a holistic nutrition practitioner and USA weightlifting strength coach and her mission in life is to help women build stronger bodies and minds and own their power. So welcome Steph. Such a pleasure to have you.

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah, thanks for having me on the show.

Ari Whitten: Yeah, so I would love for you to talk a bit about your background and how you got interested in health and nutrition. And you own a brand that has been extremely successful and popular called Stupid Easy Paleo, which is very centered around Paleo nutrition and cooking. And I know you’re kind of making a transition out of that to talking about things much more beyond just the sphere of Paleo nutrition. So can you talk a bit about just your background and how you got into health and nutrition?

Steph Gaudreau: Absolutely. I came into this field as a 12-year veteran high school science teacher. So I studied biology and human physiology in college. That was my undergraduate focus and then, like a lot of my peers, I kind of approached senior year and thought, “What am I going to do with this?” And a lot of folks that I knew were either going pre-med or they were going to be going to research, which didn’t quite thrill me, although I almost did work on a project involving endocrine disruptors and frogs. And this is, you know, almost 20 years ago. So that was a really interesting thing. I wish I had actually done that in some ways. But education was sort of floated my way as a third option. And so I ended up doing my teaching credential and got a job as a high school teacher. And I did that for about 10 years.

Steph Gaudreau: I eventually moved from the East coast to San Diego, which is where I still live now and continue to teach there. And at about year 10 started to feel like, “This isn’t where I was, where I’m supposed to be.” I felt really restless. I actually switched schools because I thought it was just I needed a change of scenery, I needed something new. Got to the new school and I was like, “Nope. I still feel the same way. Okay, what’s going on here?”

So right around the same time, this was 2010, friends of mine introduced me to Paleo. I mean I had done every diet under the sun. I mean I had always been trying to lose weight and at the time I was racing mountain bikes, so nutrition was something I was trying to learn about, albeit, what I knew was very immature and naive at the time. But they were like, “We’re going to do this thing called Paleo. It means you’re not going to eat gluten.” I was like, “What’s gluten? I don’t know any of these things.” And so I just decided to try it and it was interesting because I started to feel better in my body more than I ever had. I mean, I always had these kinds of like low key naggy things, headaches all the time. Really low energy.

Definitely symptoms of hypoglycemia, you know, stuff like that. Digestive problems and it was interesting to see how relatively quickly in the span of a few months I started to feel a lot of changes. And along the way my, of all the things I always did in terms of diet were always to try to mold my body by losing weight. And for the first time I was like, “Wow, I feel so much different and so much better.”

So at the same time I was still teaching. I really got into cooking and I’ve always loved to cook, but I just thought this was such a new way of approaching things for me. I really dove into it and I started to share recipes on my mountain biking blog. And I would do that on the weekends and vacation and stuff like that. And eventually a friend of mine said, “You should start a food blog.” So I said, “Sure, I don’t know anything about blogging.” I mean I’m a teacher and I just did it for fun.

So I did that for about a year and around the same… so these things are all happening at the same time and this interesting synergy. I finally had a moment where I was like, “You know what, there’s a lot of stuff going on in my life.” I was going through a divorce, like there was just a lot of upheaval, a lot of emotions, a lot of unhappiness, and I was like, “You know, I’m really the most unhappy about my job.” And at the time Stupid Easy Paleo was one month old.

It was a baby. And I thought, “Okay, well I need to do something different. I don’t know what I’m going to do that’s different. I’ve been doing this teaching my entire professional career so far. I know nothing different.” And so I continued to do what I loved on the side, which was write about food, share recipes, take really bad photos. And after about a year of that, things started to gain in popularity. People were going to the website that I didn’t know, you know, it was more than just my friends.

There were people finding the website, people asking me, “How do I start doing something like this? How do I implement this in my own life?” And for me, that seemed like a great opportunity to teach, but in a different way. And so eventually long story short, I left the classroom in 2013 and became a Certified Holistic Nutrition Practitioner.

I’m about a month away from becoming a Nutritional Therapy Consultant now. So I’ve kind of up leveled my game a little bit. But yeah, I ended up leaving my classroom teaching job and that was five years ago. And so that’s kind of how it all started. It was just a really interesting synergy of events that occurred in… I’ve, you know, I think a lot of what I do now is very related to what I used to do.

I mean, I understand the nutrition, I understand the science behind it. I feel really fortunate that I had that background and that I spent a lot of years learning how to get complex material into the hands of a diverse array of people and making this stuff digestible and practical for them. So it all worked out.

Why Steph decided to help women find their inner power

Ari Whitten: Very cool. So I have, there’s actually a few different things I want to go into now that I think would be good frameworks for this whole discussion. But one of the things that you wrote in sort of your mission statement is that your mission in life is to help women build stronger bodies and minds and own their inner power. So where did that piece of the puzzle, of kind of helping women specifically and owning their inner power, how did that figure into this whole story that you just told?

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah, I mean for me it’s really personal. It really does… if I could cast my mind back 10 years, this was the place I was in where I was in such a low point. I mean anybody would look at me physically on the outside, I was into racing mountain bikes, I was like “eating healthy.” You know, that included like really low fat, eating as little as I could, but I was still like, this is, you know, eating lots of processed food, lots of soy. But it was all like “healthy food.” And anyone would look at me on the outside and look at this container of mine and just go, “You look normal like what’s your problem?” But I was so deep in this body dysmorphia, you know, unhappy with myself, really focused on my physical appearance and at a loss as to what to do.

I mean, it was like constant diets, constant getting on the scale. It was never enough. I never felt happy. I would get down, you know, one pound and my day would be made. And then the next day I’d get on the scale, because I weighed myself every day, get on the scale and it would go up or stay the same and I’d be devastated. And that in a lot of ways kept me so hyper-focused on my appearance, on, I call it the meat suit, right? The physical container that I just, I found myself shrinking away from the things that I really wanted to do in life. I am really shocked. I mean, for me to have left my job, I was always a person who is scared of taking risks.

Financial stuff, super scary. Like why would you leave a secure job? Like all these narratives that I had in my mind. I really credit changing the way I ate as giving me the nourishment at a cellular level to really get things like hormones back on track and digestion and all these things that are so fundamental to nourishing a human being. That was one thing. And then the second thing was that I found strength training and like free weight training through CrossFit. And I don’t CrossFit anymore and I don’t think it’s for everybody, but at the time this is 2010.

I came from a sport and a way of doing things very much like, “Be the lightest you can be on this bike because it’s all about power to weight ratio. How hard, how fast you can climb the hill. Winners are made on the climbs, not on the descents.” Although I love to downhill and I did race that for a while, I turned my focus back to this sort of like cross country, endurance type of racing. And I wanted to be good at it, but I knew like I was just not small enough.

And when I switched over to strength training for the first time in like a decade plus, I was able to focus on what my body was really capable of. And I know that sounds counterintuitive to some people because they’re like, “Well, couldn’t you focus on how fast you could climb a hill? Like that’s what your body could do.” But for me that was so dependent on the size of my body and for once I was just like, “You know, I can just focus on the weight on the bar and, you know, how strong I can get and I don’t have to think about what my weight is doing.” And for me that, those two things, like changing the way I ate and really nourishing my body for the first time.

And this is in the same year. And for the first time focusing on my physical strength, which also has this curious effect for a lot of women of helping their confidence. You know, a lot of it’s metaphorical. It’s like, “Look at this bar, this bar looks heavy or this dumbbell looks really heavy. Can I…?” This happened today in the gym. I was helping a woman that I know to deadlift for the first time.

She’s like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” And I said, “I don’t know. Let’s see what happens.” And she did it. She deadlifted for the first time in her life and it looked good and she was like surprised herself. And I saw in her at that moment, there was a twinkle of like, “Oh, what else could I do? I surprised myself. I’m stronger than I thought I was.”

And I think for a lot of women that sort of physical strength and strength of mind are so connected and if you can tap into that, one feeds into the other, feeds into… it just becomes this self, good self-perpetuating thing. And so for me that journey became one of somebody who was like very internal and closed off and like always played by negative thinking and negative thoughts and like all of this really heavy stuff to one where gradually my worlds started to open up and I started to really think like, “What am I here to do and how am I going to do this?”

And previously all I was worried about was what people thought of me. And this is a very, very much an unlearning and unraveling and of peeling back of layers. Like this is a long process. But for me to know where I was and to know where I’ve come and to go, not that I want every woman to have the exact same path because we’re all different. We have different goals, aspirations, things that we want to do in our lives.

I don’t want women to feel like they have to copycat my pathway. But for me to go, “If I was here and I got out of it and now this is a much different place.” I knew that if I could share this with other women that it would be so helpful because the messaging we get, the things that we’re still told about the way we’re supposed to eat, how we’re supposed to move, how we’re supposed to look, what we’re supposed to speak like, you are… The way we’re supposed to have ambitions. I mean it’s just, it’s really tricky. And so for me that mission is very personal and it’s one that when I talk to women, they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t realize I could do this.” And some, you know, when I talk to women and they say things like, “It’s almost like you gave me the permission to do blah blah blah.”

That, you know, somebody who feels kind of self-assured and like they have agency over their body and their lives might go, “Well, you always had the permission.” But I think we all know what it’s like to really not believe in ourselves. And when I hear that phrase come up like, “You gave me permission to do something.” It really strikes me as this person felt really disempowered by their situation. And how we can gradually turn that around through coaching and sort of this multifaceted lifestyle approach. So that’s really why it’s become my mission. And that drives me every day. Even when it feels like work, you know, everyone says, “Working for yourself, so it must be so fun, it’s like vacation, you get to do everything you want to do.” And it’s like, “Well, it becomes routine and it’s hard sometimes, too.” But that really does drive me forward every day when I hear those stories.

The power of challenging yourself

Ari Whitten: Yeah, beautiful. I want to come back to women and weightlifting because there’s, I think more to dig in there. And I have some personal stories to share in that realm too, given that when I was younger in my twenties, I was a personal trainer for many years and most of my clientele were women. But, there’s one more thing I want to ask you about your personal life and your personal story that I think is a piece of this as well, which is jiu-jitsu. I know that you’re a jujitsu practitioner as well. And I think also having, you know, experience with martial arts for most of my life, that probably that figures into your kind of women’s empowerment focus as well. Am I right on that?

Steph Gaudreau: Jiu-jitsu is something that I came to as kind of a dare to myself. Last year I sort of got on a kick about talking about getting outside of your comfort zone. And I don’t think that we have to constantly be outside of our comfort zone. I think comfort is really important and I think a sense of safety is very important. But I found myself at this point of my sort of business, in this arc of my year, talking a lot about getting out of your comfort zone. And I thought, “All right, Steph, when’s the last time you actually did something that was really outside your comfort zone?”

And I was, you know, it was like crickets were playing in the background. I couldn’t think of something that I had really done that put me outside of my comfort zone. So various friends of mine online and in person are jiu-jitsu players.

And I just thought, I just kept getting more curious about it. And I, the only exposure that I had to jiu-jitsu was through watching UFC. Couldn’t tell you really what the movements were, what the goal is. I just knew that you wear a gi and it’s primarily a ground-based grappling sport, that’s all I knew. And so a friend of mine took me to a fundamentals class because I thought, “Well here we go. I better start walking my talk and try something that’s really intimidating and outside my comfort zone.” And so I did. I went and I was just absolutely baffled and felt like that for a few months. And now we’re sort of a year, a year and a half from when I started. And I have my blue belt now and stuff and it gets a little bit easier. But it’s still not easy.

And you know, it’s funny. So for me it’s not… I practice at a facility here in San Diego that does happen to have a fair amount of female fighters and grapplers. But I have many classes where I go and I am the only female. I go first thing in the morning and I think I counted, Wednesday it was me and 13 guys. And, so yeah, it’s for me it’s never really factored in as sort of like an empowerment thing. I do think that, you know, I looked at my sort of physical strength and I was like, “I’m really great at moving a barbell up and down off the floor, super good at that. I can do that all day long.” And I realized that, you know, we get up and down off the floor quite a bit at home. We don’t have a couch and I work on the floor, get up and down all day long.

But it was like, “I really don’t have a lot of ground proficiency.” So quadruped movements on the ground were like super difficult for me. I wasn’t really great at moving my body around in space. And I thought this is going to be an interesting aspect of just my own physical expression and development as an athlete. I don’t really compete anymore, but just somebody who is proficient at movement.

So for me that’s been an interesting thing to then see. Also, and not specifically to women, but people of my age, I’m about to turn 40, who struggle to get off the ground period, you know. And I just thought, I mean talk about being able to just have agency and movement over your own body and move your body through space. I think on a really basic level that does empower people to think like, “I can handle myself, I could get up off the ground if I needed to.”

And it sounds so basic and maybe your listeners are like, “Okay, we’re so far past that.” But if you kind of look out to the general population now we have even kids, teens who struggle to do that sort of thing.

So for me, yeah, I never thought of it, “Like, okay, I’m a woman that’s going into a more male-dominated sport.” I mean I lifted in Olympic weightlifting, that was definitely a male-dominated sport. It’s opening up and there are a lot of females now, but I’m one of the only female coaches at my gym, you know, and so for me it’s always, it’s never been like, “Do I need to show up and do this primarily male-dominated thing just so I can feel like I’m a badass.” It’s been more… And maybe women look at that and they feel inspired because I know when I looked at the people I knew doing jiu-jitsu I was like, “Oh, okay. Jaylin, she does jiu-jitsu. Okay, if she can do it then I can probably do it, too.” So I think indirectly that’s helped women. But I don’t, for me, I never really looked at it like that, this is going to help empower other people. It was more about me challenging myself.

Ari Whitten: Has it made you a more confident person to have some physical like experience of, you know, sort of fighting, grappling another person, another human being and being able to manipulate their body and get them into positions and do submissions with them. I mean, I can speak for my own personal experience that I wasn’t doing jiu-jitsu or grappling arts, I was doing striking arts, traditional karate growing up. And then Muay Thai when I was a little bit older. And certainly, you know, having the ability to know that in a striking match, in a fight that I could handle myself very, very well. It certainly translates into a lot of physical confidence, I think.

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah, that’s a really good question. The style of jiu-jitsu that I practice. So in high school I also did striking martial arts. I did taekwondo and so it was interesting to go from that world to a more ground-based world because you get very physical very quickly. Day one, someone’s in your personal space. Not only that you’re lying on top of each other. So…

Ari Whitten: I’m not going to lie. That’s actually the main reason I never got into the grappling part, because just the thought of another… Like me on my back with my legs spread with another guy on top of me was never very appealing.

How men and women have different instincts when feeling threatened

Steph Gaudreau: You know, it’s really interesting because for, I know for a lot of people and for a lot of women, I think there are a lot of women who want to try it. But the fear of being triggered is very real and it’s too much for them. So, you know, I think I’ve always tried to be pretty respectful when I’m, you know, I try not to say like, “Hey, you should do this.” Because I know, you know, you never know what somebody’s experiences have been, if they’ve ever been assaulted. I mean it just could be like, “There’s no way I’m ever going there.” For me, the gym that I go to is very much a competition focused gym. So a lot of what we do is all about taking advantage, getting points, sweeps, mounts, all the things that you would do to earn points in a match.

And obviously submissions. But you know, first and foremost in my mind is not like… If someone approaches me, my first sense, so I know a tiny bit of Krav Maga. My first aim, my first priority is to disengage and get away, you know. So I think you have to kind of consider who it is. Like one of the guys at our gym was relating a story just a couple of days ago about how they were at some event and somebody like stepped in his girlfriend and he just kind of put the guy in a guillotine and just, you know, guillotined the guy. And I was like, “That’s great because you’re a six-foot tall guy, but I’m not going to necessarily try to step up on somebody if that were to happen. My goal is to get away and be safe.” Right? That being said, I do feel more confident about, would I know how to choke somebody, would I know how to just get away in terms of basic self-defense? And what I know…

I mean, I don’t think this really happens very often in a street fight, but could I armbar somebody? Could I, you know, can I throw them? And we don’t do a lot of throwing in jiu-jitsu. We just do some basic stuff. But I think it has helped me feel like I do know a little bit more. And we have to learn a lot of explicit, you know, it’s drilling, it’s like explicitly doing things.

And then one day you just do it when you’re drilling or you’re rolling and you’re like, “Oh, I didn’t have to think about that.” But it becomes a little bit automatic and it’s kind of like what happens when you learn Olympic weightlifting. Where at the beginning you are thinking of every explicit little thing. What are my hands doing, what are my feet doing? Everything that goes into it and then one day you just execute this really awesome clean and you’re like, “Oh, I didn’t have to think about that.”

So yeah. I mean I think I do feel a little bit more confident. However I don’t walk around completely oblivious in my daily life. I still do things like walk with my keys in my hand, not wear headphones when I’m walking. I mean really basic things that most women have to do to feel like we have a basic level of safety. So yeah, I don’t know many people who are going to just step to somebody if they feel a confrontation is coming on. But it’s nice to have some things in your back pocket.

Steph’s general approach to health

Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. So I want to shift gears a little bit. Your brand that you’ve run for several years is called Stupid Easy Paleo. And like we said before it focuses on Paleo cooking and the Paleo diet and recipes and things of that nature. But you’re transitioning into, you’re shifting your focus and it’s moving away from just Paleo towards something more broadly focused on health.

And I know you have four pillars of health that you’d like to discuss. So can you talk a bit about your general approach to health and maybe also just kind of talk a bit about your story and why you’re transitioning away from just a focus on Paleo cooking.

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah, I think I’ll take the second question first, which is sort of the approach. And that’s thinking about, the analogy that I use, I love analogies. The analogy that I use is sort of like imagine, this isn’t too hard to imagine living here in southern California, you are about to merge onto the freeway and you’ve got lots of different onramps. And these onramps kind of leading to the freeway.

The freeway is this place that you’re going to kind of fast track what you’re, where you’re going. Then you’re going to eventually get off the freeway hopefully and go to your destination. Nobody wants to stay driving on the 5 forever, right? And this is sort of how I think about the ways people get involved in their own health journey.

There are different on-ramps to that process. Some people decide they want to do a five K and they get off the couch. And so for them, fitness is their first onramp into this healthier journey of theirs. For most people it’s nutrition in food. And it’s very tangible, which is helpful.

Everybody has to eat, so okay, we have that layer and in a lot of ways it’s tied to our culture, our family, our social situation. So food becomes, for a lot of people, this onramp. But there are other people that I know that have started to look at their lifestyle through things like meditation or they just decided they were going to get more sleep, so it really depends on the person. But we inevitably make it onto this kind of health journey freeway.

And then I think some people believe or they get the impression that we’re just going to, like we want to just stay on this freeway forever and be on this journey. And I’m like, “Well, eventually we want to get to a point where things are kind of settled enough where we can exit and just go live our lives and we’ve built the skills and the habits that help us to implement these things.”

They have been part of this, it’s like how we learned to brush our teeth, right? We’re just, we just do it. It’s just part of what we do. We don’t have to hopefully have a battle about it every day in our minds. I don’t know, maybe some people do or if you’re like three and you’re not into brushing your teeth, you have to do that.

Ari Whitten: I definitely battle with my 2-year-old son over brushing his teeth.

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah, but you know at some point you go, “I’m going to like develop the sustainable skills, the habits, the choices that are going to get me through most of the things that come my way. Realizing that I don’t live my life in a bubble of 30 days of perfect eating where I’m only at my house and I’m a hermit and I can control everything.”

And so when I was, this is back in 2015, I was thinking about developing a program for people to start implementing this healthier lifestyle. And I thought about what are the things that impacted me and how are they usually brought to the public. Okay. So for food it’s eating less and for exercise it’s moving more. Well, if you had looked at me in 2010 when I was in the throes of eating as little as I could and exercising my face off, I was already doing that.

I didn’t need to eat less and move more. And I think that easy way of saying that, that heuristic might work for some people. But for a lot of folks it just doesn’t click. So like I’m already eating a thousand calories and I’m already going to the gym for an hour a day and I’m not seeing results, but I don’t know what else to do. And so I thought, “Okay, I need a way to bring this to people that are going to implement the sustainability factor.” And I’m going to be honest, it’s not sexy. It’s not the newest, craziest fad thing. I mean these are just like solid habits and skills that are going to get people longer lasting results.

And so I thought, “All right, well I need to include aspects of food.” So it became eat nourishing foods, not eat the Paleo diet because everybody’s different. Strengthen your body which can be approached through a variety of different ways.

You don’t just have to lift barbells. Recharge your energy, because a lot of people think about sleep. And sure, that’s great, but what else are you doing for the other 16 hours a day we are awake in managing your energy and your workflow and that sort of stuff. And then get your mindset right because, like it or not, how we approach things, how we view the world, how we set our goals, how we deal with negative self-talk. All of these things influence the other factors in how successful we’re going to be.

And so I put together this program in 2015, which is my Harder to Kill Challenge and it’s still running to this very day. But that’s how the pillars came about. And I know a lot of people have their pillars and they explain them differently.

Why Steph shifted from being strict Paleo to a more bio-individual approach to optimal health

But the segue here is, you know, what about Paleo and what happened there and why are things shifting? And, you know, for me, I started, when I started eating, I was eating strict Paleo. And it helped me to have a list of “yes” things and “no” things. I’m an upholder, if anybody knows Gretchen Rubin’s four tendencies, I’m an upholder, I’m a rule follower. Give me a list, I’ll stick to it, no problem. And at first that was great.

And then I started to realize, “Well, I really like potatoes and my ancestors are eastern European, you know. I’ve like Ukrainian and Polish ancestry and I like potatoes and yeah, like I probably shouldn’t eat potato chips and french fries every day. But why is eating a baked potato bad? Especially if eventually, you know, my blood sugar regulated and I wasn’t sensitive to nightshades or whatever.

Like why am I avoiding this one food?” And I started to ask a lot of questions. So for me, over time it became Paleo-ish. And I started to run into a lot of people who were expressing the same thing. They were like, “This is a great start for me.” But eventually I had to make it fit my life. I had to make it fit my preferences. I had to make it fit what my family does.

We have a lot of people who are really desperately trying to, and rightly so, hold onto their traditions and honor that for themselves. So to, for example, look at somebody like me who does have that heritage and like grew up eating potatoes and say you can never eat this food. This is an unhealthy food. It just didn’t make sense to me. And so I really started to think about, is this serving people?

It is an onramp I will grant you that. Just like I think doing plant-based is an onramp, just like I think doing, you know, primalism onramps, just like I think so many other things are an on-ramp to finding what works for you. But I knew and I had that feeling in my gut, in my heart of hearts that I wanted to start talking more about a bio-individual approach.

And that would give me the, you know, that would match up with what I was already teaching, which was eat nourishing foods. Which is, by the way, not just what you eat, but how you eat it, why you eat it, when you eat it. It’s everything. So that’s initially why I had the inkling that I would need to shift this a little bit and I was frankly getting a lot of people who were arguing with me.

They were like, “You posted about rice, how could you do this? This is irresponsible.” And I just thought, “All right, we now need to take a breath. We all need to take a chill pill. Like I’m not the capital Paleo diet evangelist here.” Like, and so it became like, how do you explain something to people that’s a concept, you know? Where like, this is, it is Paleo, but we also want to customize it. We also want to take into account your personal likes and dislikes and all this other stuff. And so it just became me, I was trying to justify this word.

How science is often ignored when people follow specific diet dogmas

Ari Whitten: Yeah. And I think you’re, what you experienced is like a microcosm of what happened on a bigger level. Which is, you know, Paleo came out and this happens always with any new diet that comes out. It’s happening with keto now. It’s happening, you know, there’s the carnivore diet. And basically there’s a theory and a set of dogmas that are created. And this is the right way to eat and here are the good foods and here are the bad foods. And then people adhere to it and you know, you can get results. And this is true of literally any diet on the spectrum from keto and carnivore diets to vegan diets.

There are thousands of people who say, “This diet transformed me.” And you know, especially in the initial stages, you’ll find lots of people in the first few weeks or months of any particular diet, even polar opposite diets, swearing that this is, they found the, you know, they found the Messiah and this thing has transformed their life.

Unfortunately, what most of those people don’t realize is that eventually, a year later, two years later, five years later, the same diet that once was a miracle for them often becomes something that becomes harmful when done long enough. Especially with the more extreme and fad diets. But we have this set of dogmas that are created and people follow it. It catches on, thousands of people follow it.

And then inevitably there’s a conversation and dialogue that starts to take place between the dogmas and the theory and the body of actual scientific evidence. So in the context of Paleo, you know, they said, “Hey, you can’t have lentils because our ancestors didn’t have lentils and beans. And you can’t have dairy and you can’t have grains.” And then, you know, there’s some evidence that starts to emerge. It’s like, “Hey, we found in this ancient ancestral site from 150,000 years ago that this tribe was having grains and, you know, and here’s this body of scientific literature showing that lentils are profoundly healthy for you.” And you know, and so there’s a dialogue that takes place and people are like, “Well, I’m a Paleo follower and all my ancestors, didn’t eat lentils so I’m not going to eat lentils and it’s going to make me healthy.”

And then people are like, “Well, here’s some research showing that eating lentils actually helps prevent disease and extends longevity.” “So, well, I’m still not going to eat lentils.” Right? You know, so these kinds of conversations have taken place and I’ve watched this take place because I was also in the Paleo movement from the late nineties and early 2000s, you know, almost 20 years ago, literally 20 years ago. And I was a part of these debates. And at one time was arguing, was the dogmatic follower of Paleo arguing in favor of those dogmas.

But I think as those dialogues take place, eventually science sort of basically wins out. And a lot of the Paleo thought leaders have softened their stance on a lot of these sort of forbidden foods as the research just doesn’t support the dogmas in many cases. So, you know, I think you’ve probably experienced a lot of that transition as well. Am I right?

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah, absolutely. And for me it always comes down to how does this food make me feel? For me personally, I still eat pretty more or less pretty Paleo. But I’ll tell you what, it’s like I go out to eat sometimes and I’m like, “Look at that amazing fresh baked sourdough bread. Yeah, I’m going to have a bite. It’s not going to kill me.” And I’m also not celiac. Like I’m not going to be that level of careful. So yeah, absolutely.

The individual has to know. My husband, for several years his histamine intolerance was like off the chart bad until we actually figured out what it was. And it turned out, and I give this example to people all the time because they are like, “But it’s just like, this is the most healthy way you can eat.” And I’m like, “Yeah, except everything that people eat a lot of on Paleo, fermented foods, kombucha, bone broth, beef jerky, you know, all these things, like avocado, it all made his eczema go crazy.”

So for a while we had to do like a really low histamine approach and eventually he worked on his gut health and we got there and he’s okay now. But wow. I mean there was this time where, you know, everybody was like “meal prep.” And I’m like “meal prep.” Well except he can’t eat food that’s been leftover, period. Especially not meat.

So forget it, so forget meal prep. So I prep everything and freeze it for him. And there are ways to get around it. But I think the point is, is that even when the literature backs it up, and I totally get this because I was very much steeped in this world. Formal education, the whole nine yards in the sciences, like research is important. We still have to know how these things work in people and individuals have different tolerances at different points in their lives.

Like my husband, for example. Somebody like me who has an autoimmune issue, I have certain things that I’m working on, you know. And I’ve really now done nutritional therapy stuff that I’m learning is much more geared toward understanding the individual and what their specific foundational needs are. And that’s been really, really helpful for me to frame this way of moving forward and saying like, “Yeah, for the vast majority of people, the majority of the time, real whole nutrient dense, properly prepared foods are really important.”

And even if our ancestors were doing things like processing grains into flours, they sure as hell didn’t come out with Twinkies on the other end of it. So, you know, like let’s… Yes, processing is part of, has been part of our food history. But you know, are we eating industrialized foods? Are we eating foods that are really far removed from nature?

And are we doing things like, if we are eating grains or nuts or legumes, are like, are we soaking and sprouting them in traditional manners? Are we eating ferments? Like all of these other questions which you might end up with something for an individual that looks really similar to a Paleo approach. But I think also, and I wanted to mention this because it’s really important and I’m seeing this so much right now in my community. I’ve got an online community of almost 8,500 people and growing by the day.

And I have so many people who have eaten, you name it, you fill in the blank, Paleo, primal, vegan, vegetarian. Everything that we know of as being kind of these common dietary approaches. Even certain programs that they’ve gone through to try to figure out what foods work for them. Healing protocols even where they’re like, “Oh, I had to do this healing protocol and remove inflammatory foods from my diet because I have an autoimmune issue.”

So many people are dealing with orthorexic behavior. And the feeling of, “I can’t eat this food. It’s going to kill me, it’s going to hurt me, I shouldn’t eat this.” And we’re talking about real, we’re talking about like real whole foods some of the time. And it’s a really big problem. The pendulum has swung. I really think in the other direction on some of this stuff and that’s why I really hate the term “clean eating.” Because I’m like, “Oof. Now we’re getting into dislike, good/bad moral dilemma.” And that’s really difficult for people to navigate sometimes when they’re like,” I just need to eat something.” Go ahead…

How certain tools can end up becoming a problem

Ari Whitten: There’s a really interesting territory that gets into because there’s an interaction between the dietary approach and the individual psychology in the sense that some people actually need this sort of black and white list of good and bad foods to actually be successful in following a particular plan for a period of time and sustainably for a long period of time. And without that sort of very clear-cut, you know, black and white, no ambiguity approach of here’s the list of what you can and cannot eat.

Without those clear boundaries, people will often just kind of slide back into their old habits and not be successful in making any sort of change. But there’s also another subset of people that I think you’re talking about here, that they interact with those sorts of black and white rule sets in such a way that they create, you know, really intense neuroses and fears and phobias and feelings of guilt and shame if they have a little bit or if they just crave something.

And fears and anxieties arise and then now they’re just like filled with stress and all these negative emotions around their relationship with food. And so it’s a weird thing for many people to transition into learning how to eat nutritious foods while not ending up with a really screwed up relationship to the food that you’re eating.

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah. And it’s a lot of… and I primarily work with women, my community is 90 percent plus women. So many of them like me, came to eating, and you know they’re really trying to make a good effort here. But they came into it with decades of issues around food. And I’m always one that’s like, “If this stuff is getting to the point where you can’t live your daily life because you’re afraid, you have anxiety around this stuff, you panic if you can’t log your food.”

Which I again, I have these discussions daily with people. Like “I started counting macros as an awareness tool and now I can’t, I literally cannot do it because I can’t, I can’t not do it. Not, not do it. That’s two double negatives. You know, I have to log, I have to track because I feel like I will go off the rails, I will be out of control.” And so we’ve taken these sometimes really intense psychological things into this new way of eating that may be phrased or presented as like, “This is going to be a lot more nourishing, a lot healthier, like more whole foods is this whole thing.”

And we’ve just kind of like taken old issues and put them in a new box and eventually that stuff becomes problematic. And I’m the first one that’s like, “Please go get some help. Please talk to a professional.” I am not an eating disorder specialist. I am not an eating disorder counselor, I’m not a psychologist. And though I do work with issues of mindset and that is certainly part of all of our process, there has to come to a point where somebody realizes that’s worth its toll.

And as somebody who’s kind of been at the head of this community, I’m not shy about doling out recommendations that people please seek professional help and work one on one with somebody. Because I just see this, it’s like this ball of anxiety that people have around food decisions. And, I think yeah, it’s tough when you bring those years and decades of issues with food and all of the other things that go along with it. I mean there are people who have PTSD who have unresolved issues from their past traumas and sometimes it’s actually not about the food at all. It’s about something you really need to work with somebody who’s qualified on.

How a more bio-individualized approach to nutrition looks like

Ari Whitten: So you’ve moved from, you know, kind of a standard Paleo approach as a blanket recommendation for everyone to kind of a more bio individualized approach. How does this actually look? I mean, you mentioned that you start with kind of whole foods as your template, which is a great place to start. You know, undebatable. And then from there, what are the kinds of things you look at to individualize your approach for a particular person?

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah, that’s a really good question. If I’m doing this in a group setting, it’s different than if I’m working with somebody one on one. But if it’s a group setting, you know, I usually try to think of, and I try to get a sense from the folks that are, oftentimes discussions will come up in our Facebook group. I’ll use this just as an example where somebody is like, “Help. I have massive sugar cravings. What do I do?” You know? And I think sometimes people…

We, the community at large has made it seem like a craving means that there’s something desperately wrong with you. And it’s like you’ve got to fix it right now. And I’m like, “Sometimes we have cravings and that’s fine.” I mean, it could be a nutrient deficiency. If you’re a woman, it could be because you are in your luteal cycle, or the luteal phase of your cycle.

I mean like let’s not freak out about a craving here and there. That being said, I know what it feels like to have intense, very intense sugar cravings. Because when I was sort of in this hypoglycemic crazy phase, that’s all I wanted to eat. So, you know, usually I start by trying to get a sense of are these people, are they abstainers typically or are they people who can moderate their food? That’s important to know. I actually try to run them through four tendencies.

And not that that’s like a foolproof way of understanding how you approach things. But for some people, like knowing that I am an upholder. So if I gave somebody a list of recommendations, they could probably go and implement them. Versus a few people who might need more, they might need more accountability. So, “Hey, check in with the group tomorrow and let us know what you had for breakfast.”

And then I think, you know, it sounds so, again, so basic, but like chunking it down. So there’s chunking it down into really simple behaviors and actions. And taking an additive approach at first and more focusing on what you’re putting in. And yes, eventually we hope that we’re going to crowd out the not so great things and replace it with better choices. Absolutely. But if I were to work with you and say, “Ari, alright, we’re going to sit down right now, you and me, and I’m going to tell you this list of like 20 things that you can’t eat.”

And if your favorite foods are on there, you’re going to go, “Well, okay this has been fun. Nice to meet you. Goodbye.” And some people do want that level of just tell me what to do. But I find more often than not, people do want some choice. So understanding that autonomy, choice is really important. And focusing more on, “What are we going to… You know, Ari. Hey. So like what’s a food that maybe you’ve been curious about adding to your day? Like something that could bring you a…” You know, you can give them some suggestions if they really don’t know, but trying to get people to think of like, “What am I willing to do right now?”

Because when it comes down to it, a lot of people want to be told what to do or so they think. And then you tell them and they’re like, “”Oh no, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that.” So the choice in the matter. Focusing on adding something. And so in the case of blood sugar, one of my favorite things to have people do is to switch. So we’re making a swap here. We’re making a switch to a breakfast that’s more savory and less sweet. Focus on, let’s focus on one meal. Okay. We don’t need to master everything all at one time. Because we know that if we are able to influence a keystone habit, that that will, if we kind of hit on the right one for that person, that will influence other things in their day.

So, you know, for somebody who’s dealing with blood sugar issues, if we’re going to put sugar into there. And I mean like, you know, we’re eating croissants and sugary sweet cereals and baked goods and muffins and this sort of thing first thing in the morning, low on protein, not very much fiber in most cases. That person is just going to keep going on the hypoglycemic rollercoaster from hell. So, I find for a lot of… So I’m like, “Okay, so what’s one vegetable that you’re willing…? And people are like, “You eat vegetables for breakfast? That’s so weird.” I’m like, “Okay. So if eating something green for breakfast seems weird, like let’s try root vegetables. Which of these sounds good to you?”

You’re like, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to try a parsnip.” Great. “Can we do some kind of a hash with parsnip and maybe some eggs because that seems, like that doesn’t seem super scary to you? Fantastic.” And then as you get more used to it, maybe you’re like, hey, you send me a message. Like, “I just started eating, I don’t know, I just had kale with breakfast.” And that probably sounds pretty normal to me and you, but to a lot of people they’re just like mind blown at that fact. But I’ll tell you what, we just had a big thread like this in my group.

And I’m still getting messages from people who are like, “Savory breakfast has changed my whole day.” And so I think a lot of those elements that I just, I kind of included in that story for you, are very important when it comes to helping people be bio individuals. So for some people they’re going to have to prep it ahead of time. For some people they have a known sensitivity to certain foods so they’re not. So if I’m just like, “Everybody eat eggs for breakfast.” And you’re like, “Great, except I can’t eat eggs because they make my stomach hurt,” or whatever. What are we going to do to present some options to you? And I think, options, choice, autonomy, knowing your personality traits.

Are you a rip the band-aid off kind of person? I know when I started I was, but I also had no kids. I still don’t, but I didn’t have kids. It was just me and my husband and I was like super excited about trying this. I was like, “I’m going to try this thing.” I went in, I took a trash bag, I put all the food in it, donated it. You know, like I just did it. For a lot of other people they’re like, “That would make my head melt and I can’t do that much change at one time.” So it’s all about knowing how you tend to work best.

And that’s how I tend to approach those things from a nutritional therapy standpoint. If I’m working one on one with somebody, it’s more like we’re going in depth on things like your digestion, mineral balance and other stuff like that. So it can get pretty specific based on that person and what they appear to be needing at that time.

Ari Whitten: Nice. So we have a relatively limited amount of time coming up here. I don’t know if you have a hard cutoff right at…

Steph Gaudreau: I don’t.

Ari Whitten: Can we go like maybe 15 minutes overtime? You cool with that?

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah, that’s great.

How to recharge your energy

Ari Whitten: Okay, so I want to get into a couple other of your four pillars here. So energy. I want to make sure we cover that. One of your four pillars is to recharge your energy. This is the Energy Blueprint Podcast. So a lot of people are concerned with energy as am I. So I’m curious about what you mean by recharge your energy and what is your approach to that?

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah, so a lot of what I’ve learned about energy and energy management is influenced by Tony Schwartz and also my friend Tammy Scott. So like I said earlier, I think a lot of people are like, “Okay, so I just pay attention to what I do when I sleep and that, like I’ll be good to go.” And I say, “Okay, well that ideally might be one-third of your day.

What do you do in the other two-thirds of your day and how is it affecting you?” Because the common complaint for them, from the women I work with is, “I’m able, like I hold it together all day long. I take my lunch, I pack it with me, I eat my lunch, I resisted the treats in the break room that all the other employees bring to try to sabotage me. And I get home and it’s like I’m a different person because I have no willpower. I cannot deal. It’s like I just, I have the best intentions and the next thing I know I’m, you’ll find me on the couch eating Ben and Jerry’s and drinking a bottle of wine for dinner. What happened?” You know, this is a very common thing and I’m like, “Okay, so what was your day like?” And so people tell me and they’re like running, running, running, running, running.

Whether they work in the home or outside the home they are the household CEO. That’s what I call the like stay at home mom or stay at home dad. I’m like, “No, you are the household CEO. That is a real job. That’s a hard job. So give yourself some credit. You’re not just like childcare, you’re doing other things too.” And so many people throughout their day are just trying to push through and work in these like super long extended chunks of time.

They’re not taking a chance to like channel switch and do something that’s going to just give themselves a break. So a common thing that happens is, “Okay, I do get my half hour break or my hour, break, my lunch break at work. And then I sit and scroll social media and check emails on my break. Why am I so exhausted when I get home?” Can you take a 10-minute walk? Can you get up and walk around and stretch?

Can you go sit outside and stare at something green? You know, I mean, there are so many ways that you can switch away from those mental tasks if you have a really mentally demanding job. Or vice versa side, you know, if you’re on your feet all day, did you sit down? And I know there are a lot of people who say, “I can’t do this in my job. It’s just not, it’s not going to happen.”

Well then you need to double down when you’re outside of work for sure. How do we, you know, how are we managing kind of like our circadian rhythm? And I know a lot of people again are like, they’re just thinking about what’s happening with sleep. But light exposure, proper light/dark exposure, managing like HPA axis. Are we overdoing it with certain, you know, are we missing certain amino acids? I mean, are we eating like no protein throughout the first half of our day?

How are we going to be making the neurotransmitters that we need to put ourselves to sleep. Are, you know, are we getting exposure to light? So there were just so many things that I think we have a pretty big blind spot in this area, which is why your Podcast is so awesome to help people.

I mean, and I know that this, you get into some topics that are like, “We’re getting into the details, like we’re going into mitochondria and talking about supporting that stuff.” And that stuff is really awesome, too. And I sort of work within my, in the breath of my program with helping people better manage their energy through the working and daytime hours. And then introducing like low hanging fruit.

So a lot of my folks are really hyper-focused on nutrition and fitness. They’re like, “Hey, like I’m going to now dial in my nutrition and fitness.” Or they’re like, “I can’t seem to lose weight no matter what I try. I think I’m going to cut my carbs more.” And I’m like, “So tell me about your, what your day is like.” You know, and it’s just nonstop, they are nonstop stressed.

They don’t take any time out to recharge at all. Or they’re, you know, very light deficient during the day, very bright at night. So understanding how that stuff all plays into it and like, “Oh, are there simple things we can do? Can we get outside in the first half of the day without sunglasses and just walk around. Even if it’s not sunny out here right now. But, you know, are we eating protein-rich breakfast?

Are we being cool about our caffeine intake.” I’m not saying that people can’t have caffeine. But if you’re taking a pre-workout at 5:00 before you go and do your 6:00 PM high-intensity interval training workout, and then you’re like, “Why can’t I wind down?” You know, like, let’s have a discussion about that. “Can you move some of your exercise earlier in the day or can you break it up and just do 10 minutes, three times a day?

Do you need to go to an hour class starting at 8:00?” Because there are people who are, that they think that’s the only option for them. So that’s what I mean by recharge your energy. And for my folks, it is a big area where they’re like, “Yeah, I realize I need to say no to more things that really aren’t important to me.”

Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. I love that you’re attuned to this. That there are so many more factors outside of just exercise and diet because so many health experts are just not. They’re just nutrition myopic or nutrition and exercise myopic. And they don’t understand all of the skill sets and habits and factors outside of those things, many of which you just alluded to like circadian rhythm and stress and how that affects the brain and sort of these components. Like Tony Schwartz, who you’re a fan of, you know, talks about integrating little periods of kind of recharging throughout your day.

To take a break and give your brain a break and kind of like, just allow yourself to calm down and not be trying to go, go, go nonstop throughout the day. There are just dozens of different factors and habits and skillsets that need to be learned outside of just nutrition and exercise that are hugely important.

Just to give one example of this, you mentioned light, which I love, obviously. I’ve just written a book on red and near-infrared light therapy. And probably the next book I write is going to be another book related to, you know, kind of a more broad approach to all of the different wavelengths of light and how they affect human health. But, that in itself is a huge factor in it, you know, there’s some research looking at just sunlight exposure and actually quantifying the impact of people who get a lot of daily sun exposure versus very little.

They quantified this in a really nice way, which I think helps people understand how big of a factor this is. Getting very little light exposure was found to be as damaging to your health as smoking a pack of cigarettes per day. So I think when you quantify it in that way and you realize, “Whoa, like I’m not getting almost any sunlight exposure on a daily basis where I’m actually like in the sun with my body, with my skin exposed.” And then people realize, “Well, this is the equivalent of smoking, being like a hardcore smoker.” That’s pretty bad, you know? So light is definitely a hugely important part of health and there are factors beyond just diet and exercise for sure.

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah. And I mean we’ve been made to be really afraid of the sun, too, unfortunately. And I think that’s been, you know, I, again, I think we have this pendulum effect where it’s like things may have been well-intentioned. Like, I don’t think anybody should be out there like burning to a crisp, right? That obviously has an impact on the risk. At the same time, people become so afraid and we live in such an indoor culture now, you know. Unless you’re somebody who’s an outdoor laborer, which we’re losing that. I mean, most of us don’t do that for a living. And we’re so afraid now of the sun. I mean, my husband grew up in Scotland.

Scotland, to my knowledge, still has the highest rate of MS in the entire world. You think about why. Lack of sun exposure, lack of vitamin D. It’s, you’re just like, “Ahhhh.” It’s an important thing.

And again, a huge place where people can make small, simple changes. And that’s a huge blind spot for a lot of people where they’re just like not even thinking about that it matters. You know, we’re really pretty… I give this example all the time. My husband used to work for Apple. And he worked sometimes until 10:00 at night. The, of course, it’s a retail location in a mall. And everything in there is designed to keep you wide awake and very stimulated including the light, so bright in there.

I mean for somebody like me who’s a highly sensitive person, it’s like even more amplified and I probably would never have been able to work in there. But he noticed that his sleep quality, he was tracking his sleep. His sleep quality was far diminished in that period when he started working more into the late evening and he was not wearing any kind of blue-blocking glasses. So he would be getting fluorescent light until 10:00 at night and coming home and trying to wind down. You know, so, yes, screen apps are great, but like how, do we have bright lights on in the house all night? Can we change to something like salt lamps or dimmer switches or, you know, there are like little things that people can do that really… it’s like a one-time thing.

Ari Whitten: Yeah. It doesn’t have to be like a skill or habit that requires willpower. It’s just a matter of like designing your home environment in an intelligent way that allows your physiology to work optimally.

Steph Gaudreau: For sure. So little things here and there, little choices. Things that are like more of a hygiene kind of thing rather than just a daily habit that you have to do. Like we bought salt lamps and we have our amber glasses and we got Flux on all our screens. And it gets dark and the lights go down. It’s a very simple way of thinking about it. But for a lot of people that ends up having a big payoff.

Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. And as far as recharging your energy, you know, one of the things people often don’t realize, you know, to talk about a couple of facets of what you just mentioned. Artificial light at night, man-made light from indoor lighting, fluorescent lighting, computer screens, TV screens, cell phones, you know, all the indoor lighting that people have in their homes. Car headlights, if you’re driving, all of those things have a huge impact on our circadian rhythm, on our sleep latency, how fast we fall asleep, and our sleep efficiency, which is how deep and restful we’re sleeping during that time we are sleeping. So a lot of times people say, “Well, you know, yeah, I get lots of light at night, but I still sleep seven or eight hours.” And they don’t realize that yes, you can still be in bed or sleep that amount of time, but the quality of your sleep is greatly diminished because of all that artificial light exposure as well.

Ari Whitten: And you know, things like LED and fluorescent lighting actually have flicker in them as well. Often computer screens do as well, which actually creates another mechanism of fatigue in the brain. Kind of your, this is sub perceptible, people don’t actually notice the flicker. But their brain and their eyes are constantly like doing work to try to adjust to this flicker that’s constantly happening. So fluorescent lighting is just terrible in my opinion. But, and there’s a mountain of evidence now to support all of this, you know, hundreds if not thousands of studies on the health effects of artificial light exposure at night. And 99 percent of people just are completely unaware of all this scientific literature. But anyway I want to talk about one more of your four pillars before we finish. And we’ve talked briefly about this in your personal story, but I wanted to come back to this.

The 4 pillars of health – strength

One of your other four pillars is strength in your body.

And in my experience as a trainer 12 or 15 years ago, in my twenties, women especially have resistance to, resistance to resistance training, strength training or weight lifting. And they are cardio queens. You could call them and they stay in the cardio area. And they’re afraid to step foot on the weight floor. Or they maybe only stick to the inner and outer thigh machines.

Or they only stick to, you know, the kind of the little pink five pounds or eight-pound dumbbells and are afraid to progress to anything beyond that. They’re afraid to do anything really actually heavy and actually challenging to their muscles because they’re afraid that they’re going to become big and bulky. And, which I wish was the case, by the way, I wish I could build muscles that easily because then I would be way more muscular than I am right now.

But yeah, I think one of the interesting things that happen in my experience is, you know, there’s this kind of initial resistance and once I helped my female clients like overcome this fear of weight training and overcome the fear of getting big and bulky. And when you actually start to get them used to lifting heavy things and actually challenging their muscles and not afraid to lift a 100-pound barbell or you know, do rows with 40-pound dumbbells and things like that.

Ari Whitten: And you know, all the other women in the gym kind of look in amazement at these women. “Oh my gosh, you’re so strong.” And once they get into it and overcome that initial resistance, it translates into an enormous amount of confidence as they feel physically strong, they feel stronger and more confident in every area of their life. So I’m just curious if you have any tips as far as helping people, whether women or men, overcome that sort of fear of the weight room and into weight training.

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah. So I want to start off by saying that I think the fear a lot of times is because of, there are a few factors. So first, I mean, I’ve never heard a man be told when they’re like, “Hey, I’m going to start squatting. I want to learn how to lift weights.” Zero times has a man been told, “Be careful you might get hurt.”

So a lot of it has to do with socialization and what we’re told and the messaging that we have received. Two, a lot of women really do not feel, and I’ll say women and nongender conforming individuals and people who are differently abled. So it’s not just women. All of us who do not fit the sort of like “this is who goes into a weight room” may actually feel quite literally unsafe in those environments. We don’t want to be harassed.

We’ve experienced harassment or if we, you know. So there’s a whole other layer to this stuff of just being afraid to get bulky. But I hear that refrain often. And when I press a little bit more and I get… I ask why and like I get curious and try to have the woman explain to me like where they’re coming from.

Nine times out of 10 it’s actually that they are interested, but they just don’t know what to do, who to go to, who to trust, what they should be looking for. It’s just a lack of knowledge. And so the easiest refrain to get people to get off your case is, “I don’t want to look bulky.” And so I think that highlights a huge… we have a huge thing here, right? Like what is the gap? How are we going to get women to feel safe?

How are we going to get them introduced to this in a way that they’re even going to want to show up. And I think personal training for people is awesome, but not everybody can afford that. So for people who are looking for practical tips, can you find a small group class to go to, or can you get in on a small group coaching session with somebody? Can you approach a friend of yours who may be a female and can just show you around the weight room? Like you can almost shadow her on that day.

And you know today, that happened at the gym I was at jiu-jitsu and I was like, “Hey, I’m going to get some strength training equipment and I just thought I am going to go over and do some deadlifts.” There were six girls there this morning, which is a little bit unusual for a Friday morning.

And before I knew it I had four of them or three of them milling around watching me and one of them was like, “I’ve never done this before.” And I was like, “Well come here, I’ll show you. Like, do you want to learn how?” It’s just like, “Sure, yeah.” And I think having more trainers who look like you or having more female trainers. More trainers who are, you know, they don’t look like supermodels.

And I’m not taking anything away from somebody if they’re in ridiculously good shape, that’s great. But I think a lot of people, a lot of women are so, they’re like, “I can’t even with this person because they look so perfect and this is so far from where I’m at that I am, I feel even too intimidated to work with them.” So our, do we have people who are coaches and trainers who represent a variety of different body types. And I’m not saying that you like, okay, we have to like have the full spectrum at every facility.

But if somebody walks in and they weigh 300 pounds, they, if they don’t see anyone around them that looks like them, everybody looks perfect to them. Right? They’re all CrossFit game competitors. They might not feel very comfortable there. Because they’re like, there is some dissonance that happens with people’s minds where they’re just like, “That’s so far from where I’m at. It’s never like, I’m never going to be like that, so why am I even here?”

So I think there are a lot of those factors that go into it. I mean obviously finding a place where when you walk in everything new is going to feel uncomfortable. Totally. But is it, does it match your personality? Do people, are people asking you what your goals are? You know, I always tell people, women, if you feel uncomfortable and you’re like, “I’m going to get there and freeze and I don’t know what to say.” Bring a list of questions. I think I have an article on my site with questions to ask.

You know, when are your classes? Go there at different times of the day. That’s another one. If you’re thinking about joining a gym. If you go at noon on your lunch break and check it out and it’s deadville and then you’re like, “Well actually I can go at five when I get off work,” and it’s like super packed and you feel like, “Ahhh, what am I going to do?” Then maybe that’s not the gym for you.

You know, so I think there’s a lot of things that go into it. But finding somebody that can help you, who listens to your goals and what you want is going to help you get there is really, really important. And yeah, you can learn about lifting from Youtube. You could, but having that feedback from a coach at some level or a trainer at some level is probably going to help you excel a little bit faster.

And, you know, even in my programs I really try to think about, these are things that people don’t… we’re all like, “Oh, we know how to load a barbell.” You know how to load a barbell, you just do it, right? Well, you had to learn it explicitly at some point. So I always try to make a point with women, too, of helping them learn things like if I want to do dumbbell bench, how do I latch the dumbbells? Especially once it gets, you know, “heavy enough” and it becomes like a safety thing.

And I’m explicitly telling people how to load a bar. Because if you go and you just don’t think about it and you pull all the weights off one side and the bar flips and you’ve just caused a big scene, you know. Did you actually, did somebody teach you how to do that? And so I think there are little things like parts of the culture, too, that we can empower women to kind of know what to do or teach them explicitly so that they feel a little bit more comfortable. But I think ultimately it comes down to finding spaces where you do feel comfortable, you feel listened to. And it’s going to be something that helps you achieve your goals. Not trying to fit you into the goals of whatever the gym is.

Ari Whitten: Yeah. I think there’s one more component to it as far as certain people need to overcome a psychological resistance to lifting heavy objects. There’s like this sort of glass ceiling in their minds at the 15-pound dumbbells that a lot of people don’t feel like they can go past. And, you know, as an example, you know, my wife works out with me on leg days specifically. And we push the weighted sled together. And she pushes eight or nine plates, sometimes eight or nine 45 pound plates, which is about four or 450 pounds that she’s pushing off across the floor.

And every other woman, and she actually does about twice as much weight as most of the men in there. And there are men and women who look at this scene in amazement. And she can do it because I helped her, you know, just me as a trainer, I never put those, that sort of glass ceiling on her like she had in her mind like most women have in their minds and a lot of men do as well, as far as like how much weight she could lift and how strong she could become.

Like I just said, “Hey, you can do more than this because I have an eye for it as a trainer for many years. I can see when the muscles are actually being challenged at their limit and when they’re not.” And I just kept saying, “Keep going, keep going, you can do more than this.” And I didn’t treat her any differently than I would treat a man. And guess what? She’s twice as strong as most men.

And the other aspect of this is I think realizing that when you actually lift heavy things and push really hard with heavy weights, you don’t get a big bulky, disgusting body. You actually end up with a great looking body that’s how most people actually want to look. So if you lift like you are trying to become big and bulky, you will actually end up not big and bulky but with a really nice aesthetically pleasing fit body.

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah. That’s something that people don’t understand kind of. And I don’t think you need to be an expert in things like hypertrophy or you know, different reps and set ranges. But I’m like, “If it’s really heavy, you’re not going to be able to do 30 of those. You might be able to do three to five or five to eight, you know?” And so I think a lot of times, yeah, I have a couple of fitness programs and oftentimes I hear from women.

They’re like, “The workout only took me like 10 minutes.” And I’m like, “You need to make it heavier. When it’s heavy enough, you’re going to want to rest. And those last few reps should appear to be challenging.” If you’re breezing through and you’re like, “Yeah” like just whipping through it and you’re not having to think. And this is the other reason why I really love lifting things that are challenging and “heavy “and I’m using air quotes because everybody’s “heavy” is different and it changes over time.

But you have to be in your body. You have to be in there at that moment paying attention. You really do. And this is also why I love jiu-jitsu because you’re in that moment and you’re sparring with somebody, rolling with somebody. You’re not like thinking about what you’re going to eat later or like that rude look that someone gave to you or… You are training yourself to be present when things are hard.

And I think that that’s something that you cannot, I know that people who do more training for aesthetic reasons and they’re doing like, you know, higher reps and lighter weights and stuff like that. Yes, I know that there’s a way to concentrate and like build that muscle and stuff, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same as like you’ve got 200 pounds on your back and realizing that you’re going to step out of the rack.

You’ve got to, not only are you going to squat down, but you then have to get out of that. You’ve got to stand up. And I think that’s a really beautiful metaphor. And it’s, something that heavy training gives you. I mean, if you’re doing a few sets of three to five, five to eight, somewhere in that realm you’re not going to be able to do the reps that it would take to make you get absolutely massive. You know it, I just don’t think people understand that about the basics of training either. So I’m glad that you brought that up because if it were only that easy, you know, everybody would walk around and look like they were going to be Mr. or Miss Olympia.

Ari Whitten: I would after, Jeez, I started lifting weights when I was about 14 years old. So by now I would be bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah, it doesn’t happen that way. But there is, you know, people think they’re going to get massively bulky from that and it just doesn’t happen. So, and yeah, you can, I think that’s where a good coach, somebody who has a good eye. Even a friend can come in handy.

And yeah, it is stereotypical, but most women tend to underestimate what they can do and a lot of guys can overestimate what they can do. Or they’re, you know, I’ve seen the full spectrum where I coach. But yeah, a lot of women sometimes need to be encouraged. And you’re right, it is a bit of a ceiling that we put on ourselves. And when you can bust through that, you’re kind of like, “Oh, all right, what else can I do? “

Ari Whitten: Yeah. A lot of women really underestimate how strong they are and how strong they are capable of becoming. They limit themselves psychologically more than anything from even trying things that really, truly challenge their muscles.

But, yeah, I love what you said, what you’ve expressed in this because I think weightlifting, especially for women, is one of the big factors that really improves health and energy levels tremendously and just physical vitality and confidence in their bodies. Maybe more profoundly than any other factor.

Steph Gaudreau: We’re so fat-phobic and fat focused in our society. And there’s lots of compelling research that indicate that it’s really our muscle mass in our reserves that can help in times of sickness, injury, stress, whatever, and are very potent indicators of longevity.

And so, and I mean frankly, as somebody who’s staring down 40, I’m like, I’m really happy about my bone density right now, you know. I’m really happy about my strength levels. And it’s not too late, but I do hear in my peer group, I hear a lot of resignation. “It’s too late. I’m already 40 like, I don’t, I haven’t started yet.” Or, “This is it.” And I’m like, “Well, I’m not going down that way.” And this is, you know, like you were saying, you know, metabolically, especially for women that are approaching peri-menopause and menopause, if we’re just looking at it from a longevity, balance, coordination, stability.

I had a grandmother who was incredibly unstable. She also happened to have rheumatoid arthritis that definitely played into it. But she was constantly falling down, you know. And I mean we’re, now we’re talking about basic dignity here. We’re talking about as we’re older, do we have basic dignity? Can we get up and down off the toilet? Can we get up and down off the floor if we fell?

Can we move our bodies through space? Are we independent? And I think for a lot of women they are just like, “Well this is how it’s going to be.” And you know, there’s that famous result from the Framingham study which was like, you know, a majority of women past the age of 45 could not lift 10 pounds over their head or lift 10 pounds.

And I’m just like, “No, that’s not happening to me. I’m not going to go down that way.” So beyond aesthetics, I mean, again, women are sort of like, you know, “My fat mass is increasing as I’m getting older and like what’s happening to me?” And you know, there are a lot of things nutritionally that you can do. But also working on building that strength is so important and it’s so overlooked and undervalued because we just tend to get so focused on the fat that we just don’t see the other things.

Ari Whitten: Yeah. Beautifully said. So, Steph, I’ve really loved this conversation. I think this is, these are really important topics that we covered and I’m really excited to share this with my audience. They’re going to love it. You have a couple things.. well you’re transitioning your site from Stupid Easy Paleo. And by the time I’m getting this podcast released and people are listening to this, you will have had, your new site will be up, which is And that’s spelled s-t-e-p-h, and then your last name g-a-u-d-r-e-a-u.

Steph Gaudreau: Yes. That’s correct.

Ari Whitten: So And you have, is your Harder to Kill Challenge still going to be up on your new site?

Steph Gaudreau: Yes. So everything will be there. And if for some reason somebody just types in, they have an old link or they go to, it’s all going to redirect. So everything is going to be there.

Ari Whitten: Okay. So is that mainly where you want to drive people to the Harder to Kill Challenge? And do you want to, or is it something else? If you want to give a little spiel about what The Harder to Kill Challenge is all about.

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah. So the Challenge is a six-week experience where people focus on testing out new habits and skills in kind of a fun group support kind of environment. Because most people are obligers and want some kind of support and accountability. And, we have a no do overrule.

So it’s not one of those things like its pass/fail. It’s just can we learn and explore and grow in all of the different things that we do daily. There are simple actions to take every day because I think that that’s incredibly important. Gathering knowledge is great. We need to implement it and try these things out. And of course they all relate back to the core four, the four pillars.

Ari Whitten: Wonderful. So Thank you guys for listening. Thank you so much, Steph. It’s been an absolute pleasure having this conversation with you and I look forward to doing it again soon.

Steph Gaudreau: Yeah, thank you.

The 4 Pillars Of Health And Energy (And How To Find The Best Diet And Exercise Plan) with Steph Gaudreau – Show Notes

Why Steph decided to help women find their inner power (6:30)
The power of challenging yourself (14:16)
How men and women have different instincts when feeling threatened (21:05)
Steph’s general approach to health (24:14)
Why Steph shifted from being strict Paleo to a more bio-individual approach to optimal health (29:40)
How science is often ignored when people follow specific diet dogmas (32:48)
How certain beneficial tools can end up becoming a problem (40:25)
How a more bio-individualized approach to nutrition looks like (44:29)
The 4 Pillars Of Health – How to recharge your energy (51:48)
The 4 pillars of health – strength (1:04:22)


The 4 Pillars Of Health And Energy (And How To Find THe Best Diet And Exercise Plan
Listen in to Austin Einhorn as he shares more about movement and energy.

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