Finishing a grueling triathlon in Lake Tahoe should have been a celebratory occasion for Steph Gaudreau, yet the nutritional therapy consultant and weightlifting/mindset coach remembers looking at her post-event photo and feeling utterly depressed.

“I thought I looked absolutely disgusting,” Gaudreau says about the photo taken nine years ago. “I was the thinnest I’d ever been, but in my eyes, I’d never looked bigger.”

Gaudreau had suffered from body dysmorphia and diet obsession for years. She remembers analyzing every calorie, scrutinizing each pound on the scale, and believing if she could only lose a little more weight, she would finally be happy.

“No matter what I did, it never seemed to be enough,” Gaudreau says. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but we’re all so much more than just a number on the scale.”

Two months later, a friend invited Gaudreau to accompany her to the gym where she learned to lift weights and quickly fell in love with strength training.

“I started focusing on what my body could do, not just what it looked like,” she says.

Today, Gaudreau, 40, is encouraging other women to take their power back and not allow their weight to measure their worth. Her latest book, “The Core 4: Embrace Your Body, Own Your Power” (HarperOne, 2019), online program and podcast “Harder to Kill Radio” offer a blueprint for those who want to embrace their bodies and change their lives.

Eat nourishing foods

Gaudreau used to eat as little as possible, adhering to a low-fat diet and obsessing about her weight.

Now she focuses on food quality rather than quantity, noting that restrictive diets are ineffective and unsustainable. Eating nourishing foods, Gaudreau says, means taking an additive rather than a restrictive approach.

“The idea is that by adding nutrient-dense foods, you’ll be able to phase out some of the less nutritious choices over time,” Gaudreau says.

This means eating more organic, local, in-season fruits and vegetables whenever possible, trading trans fats for healthy fats, and aiming to fill your plate with more grass-fed, free-range or organic meats and seafood.

“The Core 4 Program isn’t a diet, it’s a sustainable lifestyle composed of nutrient-dense, real, whole foods,” Gaudreau says. “There’s no calorie counting or macronutrient logging, but rather you’re eating foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber that leave you feeling nourished and energized.”

Strengthen your body

Although Gaudreau loves lifting weights, she knows weights aren’t for everyone. She says it’s far more important to pursue an exercise regimen you love in order to ensure you’ll stick with it.

“As a coach, I ask my fitness clients, ‘Is this giving you more than it’s taking away from you?’” Gaudreau says. “If you aren’t enjoying a class or workout anymore, it might be time to try something new.”

For those new to strength training, Gaudreau emphasizes the importance of working with an experienced coach who can assess your mobility and strength, take into consideration your health history and goals, and design a safe routine that challenges you but doesn’t push you to the point of injury.

“The goal isn’t to achieve some impossible standard of what you might think your body should look like,” she says. “It’s about strengthening your body because you care about and respect yourself, it’s about focusing on what your body is capable of accomplishing.”

Recharge your energy 

Being healthy means so much more than just adhering to a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. According to Gaudreau, getting a good night’s sleep, managing your stress and spending less time on social media are all steps you can take to boost your energy.

“Women are under immense pressure to do and be all,” she says. “As a result, they often feel exhausted and constantly drained.”

In order to reclaim your energy, Gaudreau says you need to make yourself a priority. In her book, she details how to take energy-boosting breaks throughout the day, including guided meditation or an old-fashioned chat on the phone with a friend, and tips for getting a better night’s sleep and ditching the multitasking mindset.

Learning how to recharge and manage your energy is an important part of self-care, she says. Identifying ways to de-stress, by doing what Gaudreau describes as taking a “stop, breathe and do” approach, also can counteract stress and help restore energy.

“Like the other steps in my core plan, I advise against attempting to change everything in their life all at once,” she says. “Maybe you’re doing great with diet and exercise but need to look more at your mindset or vice versa. Focus on one or two changes you’d like to see in your life and start with those.”

Empower your mind

Gaudreau used to be in a negative place with her mindset. Over the past nine years, she’s worked to replace that by confronting her inner voice and reframing her beliefs.

“Like a lot of women, I would often doubt my accomplishments or beat myself up if I didn’t make it to the gym,” she says. “It’s important to be aware of the mindset traps that might be holding you back and preventing you from reaching your goals.”

To change your mindset, Gaudreau suggests focusing on the positive accomplishments you’re making as opposed to fixating on the setbacks.

“Instead of obsessing about weight loss, look at your health gains,” she says. “Are you feeling better, sleeping through the night, do you have more energy?”

Gaudreau says she’s also reached a point in her life where she’s embraced body neutrality.

“I used to be critical of how I looked, but now I’m in a body-neutral zone. A good 80 percent of the time, I concentrate on how I feel and don’t give my weight a second thought,” she says. “Ten percent of the time, I think I look amazing while the other 10 percent, I may see small things about myself I want to change, but it’s taken me years to get to a place of body neutrality.”

Photo credit: Taylor Gage