I am about to hit you with an EPIC podcast episode, featuring Steph Gaudreau, a nutrition and strength coach who has been instrumental in my own journey.
And I KNOW what she shares is going to be so helpful for you. Because we talk about the issue that literally is the biggest journey you’ll ever go on — your relationship with your body image.
I got to ask Steph the biggest, burning questions you might have about how to break up with the scale and take back ownership over what you look like.
Which on a deeper level is really about reclaiming your power.
“I see a lot of women who feel like they’re not worthy of getting support with their nutrition or training. I can’t pretend to understand every nuance of how the systems and identities we’ve grown up with shape and form those feelings…It’s hard to watch because I’m forever a champion of other women and seeing the greatness in them.”
“I’m someone who values continued growth and learning. If I couldn’t do that in an athletic capacity, I would have to find other ways to do it in my life. I’ve had moments, particularly with injuries, where I’ve had to sit back and grapple with that. It’s not easy, but it’s worth going through those mental exercises with yourself before it ever happens. Pondering these questions or talking it out with someone else can help you identify and connect with your inherent self-worth.”
“Looking for fewer tangible indicators of growth, skill, progress, and deepening wisdom in your athletic pursuit is important. It’s not just about chasing podiums or PRs. You have to look for the small, almost boring stuff to see that you’re making progress. It’s important to stay grounded in the process and remind yourself why it matters to your life other than just winning. There will be times when you don’t win, or it’s taking much longer to achieve your goals. You have to recategorize it in your brain and think about why you’re doing it.”
“It’s been a very slow process to separate my self-worth from the scale and physical appearance. It wasn’t an overnight fix, and I don’t want anyone to think that I’m magically fixed and I never think about these things.”
“Over time, if you decide to take on the journey of self-acceptance in terms of body and beauty standards, it may decrease in intensity or frequency but as long as we live in a culture, which is a diet culture, where there are beauty and body standards, a hierarchy of body sizes, discrimination, and systematic oppression, there will be pressures that we feel and real ways in which people’s lived experiences are influenced by these things.”
“As my friend Angie Alt says, we can’t self-care away all these things that we’re seeing and dealing with. We need community care. As individuals, we’re going to get tired and there are certain things we can’t single-handedly change, like systems of oppression, but one thing people can do is try to create distance between themselves and some of the easier-to-remove things in their lives.”
“Many of us grew up with certain messaging around women’s bodies in the media and magazines. It’s important to have grace and compassion for ourselves as we learn a different approach to relating to ourselves, seeing ourselves in the world, and seeing our inherent value, regardless of the number on the scale.”
“Someone recently asked me how I plan to keep feeling fulfilled when I’m in my 60s or 80s, and I said by being a lifelong learner and staying curious about how things work. The flip side of loving to learn is having to update my point of view and framework for understanding the world based on new information. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know, and that’s constantly fascinating to me.”
“Seeing the nuance in things and being empathetic is my superpower, but it can be hard to communicate because people may think I’m not strong in my opinions or don’t see things in black and white.”
“A good tip would be to identify one thing you can pay attention to that has nothing to do with numbers, like in the gym. If you’re working on getting stronger, it’s important not to fall into the trap of substituting your self-worth based on how you look for your self-worth based on how strong you are. Instead, try using the concept of auto-regulation. Take stock of how you feel and how the workout went. Write down your energy levels for the day and identify what works for you.”
“As we move along the continuum of nurturing our inherent self-worth, it’s important not to let strength become a substitute for feeling worthy, based on our appearance…Instead, focus on something qualitative that can’t be easily quantified.”
Welcome to the School of Self-Worth, a weekly podcast for ambitious women who know they are worthy of an astoundingly great life. Join your host, Nicole Tsong, an award-winning journalist turned best-selling author and work-life balance coach, as she brings you diverse and meaningful conversations with successful women from all walks of life. Each episode is thoughtfully designed to leave you feeling empowered with tangible tips and advice that will lead you to your next breakthrough. Join us as we redefine success, set and sustain boundaries, and reclaim self-worth.
If you are a high-achieving, successful woman who has had a love-hate relationship with your body for as long as you can remember, today’s conversation is for you. We are honored to welcome Steph Gaudreau to the podcast. As a sports nutritionist, lifting coach, author, and long-time podcaster, Steph creates solutions for athletic women over 40 to fuel themselves better, get stronger, increase their energy, and perform better in and out of the gym. She believes that strength is a catalyst for a more expansive life. If you’re ready to break up with the scale and be content with your body and weight, listen up because this episode is for you. Welcome, Steph! It’s so nice to have you here.
Hey! Thanks for having me.
I’m excited to share a little bit about my experience with Steph Gaudreau and how she came to be here on the School of Self Worth. I’ve been a long-time reader of Steph’s work and last year I decided to get to know her better. I started following her on Instagram, commenting on her posts, and eventually listening to her podcast. It worked out that I ended up sharing about 24 Ways with More on her podcast last year, which was so much fun. This year, I hired her as my nutrition coach as well. Her expertise is so relevant to women over 40 who are looking to fuel their strength,
because her framework is all about women being strong, feeding themselves well, and turning cultural norms around food and nutrition on their head. In the context of self-worth, we are worth fuelling ourselves well and eating well.
Steph, I’m curious about where worthiness comes into play as a nutrition and lifting coach. How do you see it come into play and how do you think about it in your own journey, given your long and expansive journey in nutrition?
That’s a great question. For me personally, it’s been interesting to see how my self-worth has been tied to athletic performance over the years. For a subset of those years, it was also tied to how I looked in the context of athletic performance and how I physically showed up in my sport. Some of the sports I did place a high value on things like smallness, being as small as possible. It’s been an interesting transition along the way.
It’s been important for me to distinguish between Steph as an athlete and my inherent self-worth. For example, even if I don’t win a competition, I still have inherent self-worth. My worth is not tied to how I perform. For many years, being an athlete was one of the things I derived self-worth from, so it’s been tricky to distinguish between Steph as a person and Steph as an athlete. I am more than just an athlete. Over the years, my feeling of self-worth has been tied to how I placed in a race or lifting competition. It’s taken wisdom, age, and participating in a sport where I haven’t competed for the last six years to be able to separate my athletic self from my competitive athlete self.
In terms of the work that I do, I see a lot of women who feel like they’re not worthy of getting support with their nutrition or training goals. I can’t pretend to understand every nuance of how the systems and identities we’ve grown up with shape and form those feelings. But consistently, I see women who come across my work and feel like they could benefit from it, but there are all these other things in their lives that have to come first. They feel like they’re not good enough as an athlete to invest in this kind of support or that they don’t deserve it. It’s hard to watch because I’m forever a champion of other women and seeing the greatness in them. I love that question and while I don’t have all the answers, those are the two biggest things that come up.
Let’s start with the athletic performance side and then talk about the appearance side because that’s a complex question for women in general. You mentioned how your self-worth was tied to athletic performance. I can relate to that because if I don’t feel strong, it can be tough. I wrote a fitness column for many years and care very much about my own strength. But during times when I’ve had injuries and all I could do was walk or stretch a little bit, it was challenging. How did you go from someone who competed at a high level in athletics and continued to lift and be strong, to separating your accomplishments from being Steph?
A lot of it has been learning through the school of hard knocks. If you’re an athletic person, eventually you’re going to get injured. Speaking for myself, I’ve been in athletics my entire life since the age of 7 and now I’m in my mid-40s. Being good at my sport or being able to prove other people wrong has been important to me. But when an injury comes along and takes you out for the first time, you have to grapple with who you are outside of athletics. If that part of my life were to go away forever, who would I be without it? How else could I live into my values if I weren’t able to do it in this exact way?
For example, I’m someone who values continued growth and learning, if I couldn’t do that in an athletic capacity, I would have to find other ways to do it in my life. I’ve had moments, particularly with injuries, where I’ve had to sit back and grapple with that. It’s not easy, but it’s worth going through those mental exercises with yourself before it ever happens. Pondering these questions or talking it out with someone else can help you identify and connect with your inherent self-worth. On piece of how you look, that’s really complicated. Body image and lived experience come into play hugely. As an endurance athlete before transitioning into the world of lifting weights, my self-worth was wrapped up in how thin I could be because the thinner I was, the better I could be in my sport. I placed such a high precedence on that as a determinant of my self-worth. I really just had to shut that down and walk away from it for a while.
I transitioned into lifting weights, and it was such a relief and breath of fresh air. I felt so much freedom and it was great to focus on getting strong and having muscles. It gave me a gap to realize that self-worth is inherent. I needed time away from the pursuit of looking a specific way or being a specific weight to be a better athlete. Strength training came into my life at a time where I got that gap and felt like I could exhale and focus on what I could do. It was a stepping stone to acknowledging that I have inherent self-worth, not just in what I can do and certainly not just in how I look.
I have so many questions. By the way, if you’re a lifter and care about your nutrition and performance, definitely go check out Steph’s podcast. But first, I wanted to go back to the performance piece. You mentioned how over time, through injury and the school of hard knocks, you figured out how to separate your self-worth from your athletic performance. At the same time, you still achieve things like getting your brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. How do you reconcile that? How do you find the balance between who you are and not just the things you do or your accomplishments? How do you pursue things while still maintaining that separation for yourself?
It’s really hard. Taking Brazilian jiu-jitsu as an example, I’ve been doing it for six years and just earned my brown belt, which is one step below black belt. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is considered one of the hardest martial arts systems to learn and it takes a long time to achieve a black belt. I made a deliberate decision early on not to put pressure on myself to compete and that was immensely helpful for me. I’m not saying that if you decide to compete in a sport you’ll automatically have a hard time with this, but for me, it was a way of buying myself some space.
It’s hard because in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, our particular academy and tradition have stripes on our belts. I’m someone who likes to have concrete feedback and knowledge of how I’m doing. In Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the number of stripes on my belt indicates that I’m progressing and hitting milestones. At the same time, I’ve had to force myself to mentally distance myself from the stripes or belt progression as the only indicator of progress. Leaning on other people who understand the pursuit can help provide perspective, especially those who have come out the other side. As I heard from a coach one time, ‘new level, new devil,’ meaning your problems just evolve and get a little different over time.
Looking for less tangible ways of progress has been helpful for me. For example, I could little kids now in BJJ, they’re 4-6 years old. So learning how to teach them has been one example of my progress and growth in the sport. Teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu to little kids has been one way for me to reflect on my own progress and growth in the sport. It’s important to look for the intangibles or things that are less discreet than a stripe or your place on the leaderboard. You’re not going to hit a PR every single day, so does that mean you’re not improving? I made a conscious decision to give myself a break from competing for the first time in my life because I didn’t want the pressure, which was really coming from myself.
Looking for fewer tangible indicators of growth, skill, progress, and deepening wisdom in your athletic pursuit is important. It’s not just about chasing podiums or PRs. You have to look for the small, almost boring stuff to see that you’re making progress. It’s important to stay grounded in the process and remind yourself why it matters to your life other than just winning. There will be times when you don’t win, or it’s taking much longer to achieve your goals. You have to recategorize it in your brain and think about why you’re doing it.
It’s such a growth curve. I used to think that I had trained the competitiveness out of myself through yoga, but then I joined a gym where they ranked us, and it unleashed this insane competitive streak. When I got injured, I had to rescale myself and find balance. Now, for you, being in a system that’s directly ranked with belts, it’s a challenge to not dive into that and want to gun 100% all the time. Life happens, things happen, injuries happen, and you have to find balance.
No matter what athletic pursuit you do, there are going to be periods of regression or times when you feel like nothing is happening. For example, in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, blue belt is notoriously a time when people quit because it’s a long haul. You get over the elation of being away from your white belt and being in your first real colored belt, but then you hit the ‘Blue Belt Blues.’ It’s a hard time and you have to lean back on other stuff to get through it.
It’s important to remember the reason why you’re doing this and to show up even if you don’t progress in terms of gameplay or skill level. Just showing up and doing a workout is an accomplishment. Like with other kinds of training, such as Olympic weightlifting, you have days where things don’t go as planned. In those cases, it’s okay to just get through the session and not have to win every workout. A lot of that perspective comes with experience and maybe the wisdom of aging. Having perspective in those cases can be really helpful.
Athletic pursuits can be a good analogy and metaphor for other areas of life, such as work or career. Whatever you do in one area is everywhere. For example, the gym is a place where you get to practice everything you’re teaching or coaching.
I want to come back to the topic of body image because it’s a continued practice for many women. One thing that resonated with me was when you talked about no longer having a negative relationship with the scale and even breaking up with it. Could you talk more about that? We’re taught by every corner of the internet, family, and culture that our worthiness is based on our physical appearance. How did you get to the place where you were able to say that the scale is unrelated to you as a person and human? I know that’s still a work in progress for myself.
For me personally, it’s been a very slow process to separate my self-worth from the scale and physical appearance. It wasn’t an overnight fix, and I don’t want anyone to think that I’m magically fixed and I never think about these things. Over time, if you decide to take on the journey of self-acceptance in terms of body and beauty standards, it may decrease in intensity or frequency but as long as we live in a culture, which is a diet culture, where there are beauty and body standards, a hierarchy of body sizes, discrimination, and systematic oppression, there will be pressures that we feel and real ways in which people’s lived experiences are influenced by these things.
I don’t want anyone to think that I’ve magically figured it all out and that these things don’t still come up for me. For example, I was talking to a friend yesterday and I’m 44, we’re similar in age. I sometimes see women on Instagram who are younger than me or in my peer group and I’m like, ‘Gosh, their skin looks amazing” or ‘Gosh, they hardly have any wrinkles.’ Then one of them, the other day, mentioned going and getting Botox and I realized that even I’m comparing myself. My face is getting a lot of wrinkles and of course, there are genetics, sun exposure, and other factors that play into it.
But I just thought, ‘Gosh, even I know that this stuff exists and I still feel down on myself.’ I haven’t chosen, at this point, to get those kinds of procedures. Which is totally fine, people can do those things that they want. But I’m unknowingly comparing myself to people that have had these things done. I fall prey to this stuff, too. It’s the same with body image. It’s hard because we’re dealing with all these layers. For me, I had to gain distance from a sporting pursuit that highly prized being as small as possible. That was important for me, and I think it goes along with some of the things that people can do. This is a systematic problem.
As my friend Angie Alt says, we can’t self-care away all these things that we’re seeing and dealing with. We need community care. As individuals, we’re going to get tired and there are certain things we can’t single-handedly change, like systems of oppression. But one thing people can do is try to create distance between themselves and some of the easier-to-remove things in their lives. For example, unfollowing accounts on social media that are no longer supportive to your journey. That’s easier than removing people from your real-life circle. Look for those lower-hanging fruit pieces that you can take steps towards.
For me, it meant moving away from a sport, and only recently have I even dabbled in running again. I used to do cycling and triathlons, which involved a lot of running. It’s taken me 13 years to get to the point where I want to dabble in running again, minus all the crazy body image stuff I was going through at the time. I do think the scale can be a neutral tool for some people, but I encourage people to rely on it less and look for other pieces of evidence of their health and strength. When I started lifting weights after under-eating and losing muscle mass, I gained muscle quite easily. At the time, I was teaching and they had all these cute cap sleeve blouses that were in style in the mid-2000s. But after switching to strength training, I couldn’t fit into any of those blouses anymore.
Sometimes people think it’s going to be smooth sailing when they start doing things that are more supportive of where they want to be. But then they try on pants after doing a lot of squats and realize they’re strong, but their pants are too small. It’s not a guarantee that body image issues will go away just because you start doing things that feel more supportive.
I encourage people who are struggling with body image to seek out the work of people like Chrissy King’s Body Liberation Project, Beauty Redefined, and Brianna Campos. Learn from a diversity of voices and lived experiences, because it’s not easy, and there may be gaps in your own experience. For example, as a coach and someone who lives in a straight-sized body, I don’t have the experience of people living in much larger bodies. Seeking out the work of these folks can help you start working through body image feelings that you’re struggling with.
I loved having you on because this is such an interesting conversation. It’s complex and we can’t cover it all in the time we have, but it’s important to address. As a woman, you might be really strong but then you get older and hit your 40s and gain some weight. That’s a change and you have to adjust.
For me, I’m constantly trying to come back to whether I feel good and healthy. Do my joints hurt or not? Can that be my standard rather than the scale? But the scale still sits there and tempts me sometimes. It’s a never-ending practice and a big reminder when we’re looking at our worth. We think we’re going to arrive at a destination and then everything will be okay, but it’s really a constant navigation and balance for ourselves.
We came up in the 90s. Many of us grew up with certain messaging around women’s bodies in the media and magazines. It’s important to have grace and compassion for ourselves as we learn a different approach to relating to ourselves, seeing ourselves in the world, and seeing our inherent value, regardless of the number on the scale. This process can be difficult and time-consuming, and it’s not as easy as flipping a light switch. It’s a moving target, but it’s important to keep working towards it.
As we age and go through perimenopause or post-menopause, our bodies change. We may feel pressure when we see these changes, such as when a jacket we used to wear in college no longer fits in our mid-40s. The research shows that body image issues and eating disorders are not limited to young women and teens. Incidences are even climbing among these generations. However, it doesn’t stop there. There is also a lot of research about women in their 60s, 70s, and beyond, struggling with body image.
Body image issues don’t magically go away after we’re done with biological milestones such as mating and having children. It’s something that can persist throughout our lives. This realization hit me hard when I was researching for a talk in 2015 and came across data about older women struggling with body image. It’s heart-breaking to think that after all the amazing things we do in our lives, the contributions we make, and the time spent with family and friends, we can still reach the end of our lives hating our bodies. That to me was just such a powerful realization.
I think about my grandmother who did Weight Watchers and was unhappy with her weight. People often ask me where the ‘eat the full banana’ idea comes from, and it’s from watching my grandmother eat half a banana on Weight Watchers. It makes me emotional to think about how much I loved her and how much I would give for one more day with her. It’s heartbreaking to think that women, and all people, can feel like their lives were not the best they could be because of their appearance. We have so much more to give, experience, and offer the world than just our looks. It’s just so sad.
Thank you for sharing that. So much of this battle is internal and has nothing to do with how other people actually see us. They probably have a completely different perspective on us anyway. It’s about the inner part of us that is hard on ourselves. We take all these lessons and apply them to ourselves, but when we see others struggling with their weight, we love them regardless of their appearance. The challenge is to reprogram ourselves, to love ourselves the way other people see us.
Many women worry about their weight even when their partners tell them they’re beautiful and it doesn’t matter. It’s a challenge to get back to a place of self-love and acceptance. There may not be a clear answer, but exploring and sharing our experiences can help make a shift and change.
On a slightly different topic, what would you say is your favorite thing about yourself?
My favorite thing about myself is my desire to constantly learn and be curious about the world. I consider being a lifelong learner a great attribute. Someone recently asked me how I plan to keep feeling fulfilled when I’m in my 60s or 80s, and I said by being a lifelong learner and staying curious about how things work. The flip side of loving to learn is having to update my point of view and framework for understanding the world based on new information. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know, and that’s constantly fascinating to me.
Another thing I value about myself is my desire to see people where they’re at and be empathetic to their situation. The fitness space can be toxic in the way it talks to people. While it’s true that no one can do certain things for you, like lifting a weight, it’s important to understand where people are coming from and why they may have experienced sticking points in the past. It’s about being curious about their own process and journey toward getting stronger. There’s so much in the fitness space that’s focused on never missing a Monday and not being lazy, but it’s important to approach it with empathy.
I try to be the person in the middle who understands that lifting weights may be intimidating for some people. I try to meet people where they’re at and help them find ways to take the next step, whether that’s hiring a trainer for a few sessions or going to the gym with a friend. Seeing the nuance in things and being empathetic is my superpower, but it can be hard to communicate because people may think I’m not strong in my opinions or don’t see things in black and white.
Over the years, I’ve learned to soften my approach as I’ve worked with more people. It’s not that they don’t want to be strong and feel better, but they may get stuck along the way. My role as a coach is to help them move to the next step. Pithy or inflammatory statements like ‘Don’t be lazy’ or ‘Never miss a Monday’ don’t address the complexities of the issue. It’s important to understand why people are arriving with the experiences or state that they are in and try to help them move forward. Seeing other sides of the story and the complexities of the issue is something I do well.
Well, I love that. I know that about you, too. Just from my experience working with you, I know that you’re able to support people in making changes to their nutrition. It can be hard to look at things differently and make shifts, like eating more carbs. But you’re able to guide people step by step through the process. What would be a tangible tip you could give to people who are working on their progress in any realm to start making a difference?
A good tip would be to identify one thing you can pay attention to that has nothing to do with numbers, like in the gym. If you’re working on getting stronger, it’s important not to fall into the trap of substituting your self-worth based on how you look for your self-worth based on how strong you are. Instead, try using the concept of auto-regulation. Take stock of how you feel and how the workout went. Write down your energy levels for the day and identify what works for you.
Find something to focus on that has nothing to do with how much you lifted or other easily quantifiable measures. Maybe it’s a technique you’re practicing, like how smooth your turnover felt in a particular lift. You can’t easily quantify that, but that’s part of the exercise. It’s helpful to write down the load you’re using in your lifts, but sometimes we can get fixated on those numbers and feel bad if we can’t lift as much as we did last week. So find something else to touch base with in your training that isn’t easily quantifiable.
Focus on a technique or skill and be aware of how you’re feeling in that area on that day. Try to detach a little from using numbers as they can be helpful but can also box us in. As we move along the continuum of nurturing our inherent self-worth, it’s important not to let strength become a substitute for feeling worthy, based on our appearance. If we only feel worthy if we hit our one-rep max, then we’ve just switched one measure for another. Instead, focus on something qualitative that can’t be easily quantified. It’s a useful exercise to find something small that was good today regardless of the numbers.
Ok Steph, It is time for our rapid fire questions. Ready for this?
Yeah, this is payback for every time I did this with other people.
What was the last thing that you watched on TV?
Love is blind 4. Yeah, I love trashy reality TV. What can I say? No spoilers.
What’s on your nightstand?
I don’t actually have a nightstand, but closest to me is a roll of paper medical tape that I use to mouth tape at night, that’s the closest thing to my pillow.
I’m also a mouth taper. I feel like everybody should know about this.
Mouth taping has been a game changer for me. Not just for sleep, but also for physical training. I have never been able to run with my mouth closed before. But after mouth taping for the last year and starting to run 10 weeks ago, I can now breathe through my nose while running. It’s absolutely because I’ve been practicing mouth taping at night and trying to keep my mouth closed and nose breathe as much as possible during the day. It has had a significant impact on my training.
That’s amazing. I notice when I’m still mouth breathing while doing something physical, whereas before I never paid attention. But that’s a tangent. What’s the last time you tried something new?
I recently started running again after not doing it for a long time. That was about 10 weeks ago. Something completely new that I started last year is rucking, which involves carrying weight. It’s been a cool addition to my training. I’ve also been trying to learn Portuguese, but it’s not going so well. But I’m trying!
And last one, what are your top three most used emojis on your phone?
My top three emojis are the muscle emoji, representing strength, some kind of heart emoji, representing love, and the melting or dissolving emoji that I use for everything that’s annoying or when I’m tired of something. So my top three represent strength, love, and a little bit of “what the heck?”
Where can people find out more about what you do?
You can find me on major podcast platforms and on YouTube. Another good place to connect with me is on Instagram, where my handle is @stephgaudreau.
Yes, we’ll be linking all of those in the notes. It’s a joy to have this conversation with you. I love what you share and teach. It’s been inspirational for me, and it’s an honor to have you here sharing your wisdom.
Well, thanks for asking me on the show and I love your questions. It was really great to talk with you.
Thank you so much for tuning into today’s episode. Without each of you, this podcast would not exist. If you loved what you heard today, please leave a 5-star rating and review of the show. You can also screenshot this episode and share it on social media, tagging me @NicoleTsong. Every positive review and share makes a big difference. We are grateful for all of your support. If you’re ready to work towards an aligned life and gain clarity and confidence, send me a DM on Instagram at NTsong and let me know what resonated most from this episode.