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Take Your Power Back

Steph Gaudreau is a nutrition therapy consultant, founder of Stupid Easy Paleo and host of Harder to Kill Radio. And today she’s sharing an excerpt from her new book — The Core 4: Embrace Your Body, Own Your Power — that’s a call for us all to take our power back.

Take Your Power Back by Step Gaudreau

If you’re unhappy with your body — and most women are — you probably still believe that if you can just make your body perfect, life will be all rainbows and unicorns. You’ll be free of the negative thoughts you’ve battled for years. Your feelings of unworthiness will disappear.

While the never-ending quest to shrink your body and make yourself small is tempting, it leads only to disappointment. It requires focusing on the physical without healing your inner self — the person who sometimes feels worthless, forgotten, and like she’s never “enough.” And the diet industry is there to kick you when you’re down, needling your biggest insecurities, exposing your vulnerabilities, and then swooping in with a “solution.” Take this pill. Do this 1,200-calorie diet plan. Suffer through exercises you hate.

Well, f*ck all that. Women are tired and fed up, and they want off that roller-coaster ride for good.

The path to health is multifaceted, but at its core is the need to nourish yourself both inside and out. This is how to achieve true wellness in mind, body, and spirit. It doesn’t mean that life is then perfect. Rather, it means you have the gumption to really live, to do and experience and create. To be big and bold in your own way. And to weather life’s challenges with grace and resilience. You’ve got to take a stand and do things differently if you want to thrive in this world. And I’m happy to tell you that thriving means expanding — mentally, physically, emotionally. It means getting outside your comfort zone. It means taking action even when you’re scared. It means questioning the status quo and doing the work to unlearn the habits that no longer serve you. It means having the confidence to wear whatever you want in public — shorts, a tank top, or a bathing suit — and realize you don’t have to make anyone else comfortable about your body. It means waking up every day refreshed and ready to tackle whatever comes your way. It means taking care of yourself from a place of respect and compassion. It means having a strong, capable, body; glowing skin, hair, and nails; a positive, uplifted mood; stable energy levels; awesome digestion; few food cravings; and a healthy sex drive (meow).

When it comes to nutrition, fitness, weight loss, and athletic performance, I have seen it all, heard it all, and tried it all. As a Nutritional Therapy Consultant and fitness coach, I have identified, tested, and fine-tuned the elements of my program, Core 4. I’ve touched millions with my work online — through recipes, podcasts, and fitness tips — and worked directly with thousands of health seekers.

But before I did all that, I was like a lot of women. Pretty much all my life I hated my body, especially my thighs. I hated the fact that I felt so much bigger than other girls. I thought the answer to finding happiness and self-acceptance must be to get smaller. So I became obsessed with controlling my food. I subsisted on Diet Coke, cucumber sandwiches, celery sticks, fat-free cheese, and those green 100-calorie snack packs. I spent more than a decade on an intense quest to lose weight. It’s all I thought about. I tried every terrible diet — everything from the cabbage soup diet to just eating as little as possible. My goal with food and exercise was to shrink myself. Every morning I’d pinch my inner thighs to see how fat I was.

I was miserable. I struggled to wake up in the morning, chugged caffeine to get me through the day, and couldn’t fall asleep at night. I was hypoglycemic, bloated all the time, and constantly in a bad mood, and I would snap at people for no reason. I guess you could call me a hangry b*tch because that’s how I felt: out of control but clueless about how to stop it. By the time I was in my early thirties, I thought fatigue, digestive problems, irrational moods, and bad skin were just what my life was going to be all about.

In early 2010, friends introduced me to a paleo way of eating. I figured I had nothing left to lose. I started focusing on real, whole foods, like animal protein, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats. And though I ate according to a strict list of foods (for the record, I wasn’t eating nearly enough carbs because I thought that would help me “lean out”), for the first time in years I didn’t count calories or obsess about my portions. Within a few months I started to notice some changes. My skin began to clear up. I slept more soundly and woke up refreshed, and I had more energy, but I was still miserable about how my body looked and about my weight, even though I was living in a thin body.

Desperate for change, I started training for off-road triathlons after several years of competitive mountain biking. I ramped up my workouts, I wasn’t eating enough, and everything seemed to spiral out of control like a car-crash video playing in slow motion. I stepped on a scale at the end of race season and saw that my weight was at a lifetime low. Yet I still thought I was too heavy. To make things worse, my second marriage was falling apart. The long hours of training gave me the perfect excuse to bike, swim, and run myself to numbness. After a weekend spent racing at Lake Tahoe, I posed for a photo at Eagle Falls. I distinctly remember looking at the photo right after it was taken and thinking I’d never looked bigger, sending me into a silent scream. This was my rock bottom.

What I didn’t realize then — and what I would slowly come to understand over the next few years — is that health and happiness aren’t found on the bathroom scale. Seeing what was missing and where I was stuck is easy looking back. But at the time, when I was sitting in the soup, boiling away, I couldn’t get my head above the surface long enough to figure out what those missing pieces were.

Just two short months later, after a friend dared me to do a CrossFit workout in my garage, I joined a gym and learned to lift weights. With my hands on a barbell, I felt at home. I was free to take up more space in a way that felt right for me, not according to society’s expectations. I took my power back, and it was intoxicating. For the first time ever, I started focusing on what my body could do instead of what it looked like. Lifting weights changed my mindset. Instead of drifting off in my head and obsessing over my body the way I typically would, I learned to direct my energy and stay present. My confidence blossomed, and I finally felt comfortable in my own skin. I thought about what I wanted to do with my life. I felt … free. There’s something exhilarating about approaching a heavy weight, lifting it, and thinking, “Hmm, I wonder what else I can do!” To me, squatting became the ultimate metaphor for life: When the weight of the world is on my shoulders, I know I can still rise up. I can overcome.

In the year that followed, I started personalizing my food to my needs and left the strict list behind. It took some tuning in to my body and trial and error, no doubt, but once I got it dialed in, my health issues all but vanished. That, in combination with building my physical strength and shedding the chains of my body obsession, opened up my energy to other things, like writing about my experiences of food and exercise with the entire world on a blog. Though I was still teaching high school full time, I developed a passion for sharing how I had overcome my challenges by eating nourishing food and strength training. As I figured out this powerful combination and healed my relationship with food and my body, I knew I had a duty, a mission, to share it with others.

In 2013, three years after embarking on what I now call my Core 4 journey, I left the classroom to devote myself fully to coaching women through the same process that had changed my life. I continued to research and experiment with how to build a resilient body, refining and expanding my framework to include more than food — what I call the gateway drug to wellness — and movement. But you know what? Even if those are great on-ramps to get started, they aren’t the complete picture. True resilience also takes rest, recovery, stress management, and, above all else, mindset. It requires mental, emotional, and spiritual strength in addition to physical strength. And frankly, resilience transcends the scope of this book; it also encompasses issues like social identities and access to resources.

I recently made the intentional shift away from producing just a “food blog,” because I realized that providing recipes alone was doing my community a disservice. In a complex world where women are under so much pressure, my aim is to support them in all aspects of their health — the hard, fierce, relentless parts and the soft, soulful, surrendering parts. In other words, my support may start with food, but it sure as hell doesn’t end there.

If my vision of a powerful resilience is going to become a reality, it’ll take moving from, as the saying goes, me to we, from shrinking our bodies to expanding ourselves and taking up all the space we need. –Step Gaudreau

Excerpted from The Core 4: Embrace Your Body, Own Your Power by Steph Gaudreau, copyright 2019. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.

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