Steph is a powerhouse and a hero of mine (fangirling much?) Every time I have the pleasure to talk to her, I am hooked by her attitude, her sass and her overall kindness. Because yes, strength and kindness are closer than you think.
The truth is, both Steph and I myself are teachers.
I mean, she actually WAS a high school science teacher — before she quit in 2013 to make Stupid Easy Paleo her full-time gig. She is now a holistic nutrition practitioner, best-selling author, and weightlifting and mindset coach. In 2011, she started the website Stupid Easy Paleo which has grown over the years from a food blog to a multi-faceted resource – including a 6-week challenge, podcast, and a couple of books – that help people become healthier, happier, and harder to kill.
What is strength then, and what is it actually made of?
With her blogging background in food, Steph recognises that nutrition is certainly a gateway to hook people into a healthier lifestyle because, in her own words “we all eat”.
It’s where she started her journey seven years ago, however, it’s not the only facet of being healthy and happy: “we can’t address the whole person unless — and until — we branch out away from food or nutrition. I’ve seen enormous, life-changing transformations happening to women in my Harder to Kill Challenge over the last couple of years.”
In order to take the concept one step forward, last year she launched her Women’s Strength Summit, which this year she expanded to really address those pillars of health from her programme.
The aim of her blog originally was to help her feel better about her body – which ultimately blossomed into a search for the tools that would work for her (in her example: eating real whole foods, strength training, etc). This meant a lot of trial and error: “I reflected on how getting stronger has had such a positive impact on my life, and I wanted to create an online event that could help other women do the same.”
Fast forward to 2016, the Women’s Strength Summit was born. Six days of empowering talks by world-class female experts, sharing their biggest strategies to help you get outside your comfort zone by building a strong body, mind, and spirit: “I’d been curious about summits for a while, and when I thought about my own experience, I kept thinking how nice it would’ve been to have a resource about women’s strength when I was starting on my own journey.”
Finding the key speakers for this year was easy. She just had to look at the women who truly inspired her: “These are women who have coached, impacted, and inspired me over the years. For better or worse, the Web and social media are packed with countless voices…some worth listening to and some definitely not.” These are women who want to support women who need the real strategies that are going to improve and change lives, not just help women “lose that last five pounds.” The speakers are all women who have deep subject matter knowledge as well as women who “lead their own communities with integrity and love.”
I’d like to think that over the past seven years I’ve worked on aspects of my own strength – in mind, body, and spirit – that help me endure and overcome setbacks. In another way, it means getting stronger in those dimensions so I can keep growing and reaching toward my full potential. What exactly that is, I’m not sure yet, but I’m open to it.
Photo Credit: Adam Bartlett, Fresh Burst Photography
Talking about the pillars of this year’s Summit, what is, in your opinion, the biggest misconception about nutrition?
Oh my gosh, that’s hard to answer because there are so many. Literally, I see so much crap online about nutrition that it makes my head spin. I’d say the biggest one I see lately is that you have to follow an ultra-restrictive diet – perfectly, with no slip-ups, by the way – to make any sort of health improvements. This misconception is perpetuating orthorexia, binge and restrict patterns, shame, and so many other things. It doesn’t have to be that way.
How does mindfulness fit in with the idea of developing strength?
It’s absolutely huge. Mindset is everything really. Nutrition and movement, in my view, are tools. You can take the same approach to eating and for one person, it’ll work and be health-promoting, while in someone else, it’s devastating mentally and physically. How we see the world, respond to setbacks or challenges, squash self-sabotage and choose to attend to our own thoughts is a game-changer. It’s important to develop a sense of purpose and self-worth outside all life’s accomplishments. Thinking too much and acting too little is an area that often trips my clients up. I’m not saying you have to be impulsive and take huge risks, but it’s really key to get tuned in to whether your own thinking and fear of inadequacy is stopping you. Sometimes taking small actions even when you’re scared is the biggest way to boost confidence and motivation. Try it!
How has your approach to movement changed over the years?
I used to race mountain bikes, a sport where light body weight is prized almost like a horse jockey. The tinier you are, the easier and faster it is to propel yourself up a hill. I spent years battling with my body, and I was constantly trying to lose weight to get smaller. It became an obsession, and I had a very dysmorphic view of my body. In 2010, I started strength training and it changed my life.
Suddenly, I could focus on getting stronger, not just getting smaller, and it was absolutely liberating. I’ve expanded my view of what it means to move my body over the years; it’s no longer just about exercise. I strength train a few times a week and just started doing jiu jitsu about a month ago. But I also have a standing desk, take frequent movement breaks throughout the day, and challenge myself to walk more instead of taking the car around our neighbourhood.
Where do empowerment and tribe fit in with the concept of thriving?
I think “gurus” want women to believe that their goal is to build motivation like it’s a house: just assemble all the right tools and get to work with a hammer. I take a different view. To me, finding empowerment is more like wiping the steam off a mirror. You’ve been standing there, whole, all along. You just didn’t see it. It’s about accessing inner strength that’s always been inside you and learning to trust yourself.
The modern, Western world puts a huge emphasis on the individual and less on family or community, and it’s not helping women to feel connected. Without tribe, a strong community who you can lean on for support, this process is so much harder. Finding your people is so beneficial because you have common values and different strengths. You lean on and learn from one another. There’s someone there, believing in your goodness and potential when maybe you don’t believe 100% in yourself. It’s priceless.
Why did you decide to focus on both teenagers as well as older women when it comes to some of the key topics for the Strength Summit?
It’s something every woman goes through and two areas online where I see fewer resources. This year, we’ve got dedicated sessions for helping teens and for women approaching (or already in) menopause. I’d love to expand these next year as well but it’s proven challenging to find female experts online who specialise in these areas. I’ll keep searching!
Is the Summit only for women?
I’ve been asked before if I think male experts can’t help women, and the answer is they absolutely can. Many of my coaches, past and present, have been men. But when I looked in the fitness and nutrition summit space, I didn’t see female speakers being featured as often as their male counterparts. So I made the summit by women, for women to give female experts a place at the table. The content is made for women, but here’s the thing: women need to co-exist with men, and it’s better if they’re supportive, empathetic, and loving. With that in mind I happily invite men to listen so they can get some insight for what their female clients, wives, daughters, or friends are going through. Last year lots of men listened and said how valuable it was.
Is there a particular quote that stuck with you from the Summit?
There are so many, really, but one that really resonated with me is from Girls Gone Strong co-founder Molly Galbraith. She said, “At some point you realise it’s not really about fitness at all. Fitness is a small piece of our purpose, our life, and what we’re meant to do in this world.”
That really encapsulates my own journey and the stories of many women I know. They’re striving for something bigger, to give back and help others, and that is when the world becomes a better place.
To watch all the interviews for free, don’t forget to sign up for the Women’s Strength Summit – starting on Monday 15th.