Online trainer and entrepreneur Sohee Lee Carpenter ’12 (@soheefit) has amassed over half a million followers on Instagram, posting content focused on reframing people’s relationships with food, fitness and body image. She is currently in her fourth year of a PhD in Sports Science. candidate at Auckland University of Technology, but just over a decade ago she was a human biology major and medical school hopeful, working on her homework in the Old Union until midnight.
She urges students to cherish their time at Stanford and redefine their idea of health.
Despite her academic dedication and fond memories of Stanford, she wishes she had made the most of her time on campus.
“I’ve experienced what it’s like to not have a life,” Carpenter told The Daily in an exclusive interview. Although Carpenter’s experiences with anorexia nervosa and bulimia ended in her teenage years, in college she turned to bodybuilding as another way to control her eating.
Carpenter spent his first year in solitary confinement. She turned down invitations to social events because she felt it was more important to stick to the “very strict diet plan” and “aggressive exercise program” given to her by her trainer. “I would basically stay in my room and eat egg whites,” she said, “I wouldn’t go to parties because I wouldn’t know how to navigate the drinks and the other food they had there. And I thought I was the one who was healthy.
She became a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) in her sophomore year, but at the time she hadn’t planned to use her certification much.
During her freshman year, she decided she no longer wanted to pursue medicine, but continued to explore what she calls “more traditional career paths,” such as finance.
However, during the last quarter of her senior year, she decided to start an online course without a “specific plan.”
“I was very naive as an entrepreneur,” Carpenter said. However, she believes that naivety helped her have fewer fears and hesitations than she does now as a seasoned business owner.
Right out of college, she took an internship at a strength and conditioning facility that specialized in baseball athletes. After this internship, she was hired to write for Bodybuilding.com, an online fitness store and forum. She said that this concert “connected her with colleagues in the [fitness] industry quite early.”
All the while, though, she built her online coaching career to the point where she was able to coach “basically full-time.”
Online training was a “very new” career at the time, but she knew she wanted to go beyond being “just a personal trainer.” To strengthen herself in this field, she went back to school and earned a master’s degree in psychology at Arizona State University (ASU) in 2018.
During her master’s degree, Carpenter found herself becoming interested in the “food behavior” aspect of health and fitness. Much of her current content focuses on eating patterns and people’s relationships with food.
She now “especially enjoys the content creation aspect of being an entrepreneur.” As of March 2023, she consistently posts short-form video content to her audience of 602,000 Instagram followers and 143,300 TikTok followers. These videos range from weightlifting form explanations to skits on improving your relationship with food.
“My messaging and my brand has definitely changed a lot,” Carpenter said. Even in her student days, her idea of health was defined by diets and physique. Now, she says her outlook on health is more well-rounded.
She asks her audience questions like, “Did you know that eating ice cream is sometimes the healthiest thing you can do?” She believes that junk food panic can often be more unhealthy than the food itself.
“Stressing out about the pizza is worse for you than just eating the pizza and moving on.” It’s quite exciting to realize that people’s views on health actually are,” she said.
Because college is a transitional period, Carpenter noted that it’s not unusual for students to fall into unhealthy eating habits. For many, this is the first time they have control over “how much or how little they eat.” While she encouraged students dealing with eating disorders to seek professional help, she believes “having a social support system is obviously going to be key,” she said.
Some Stanford students have turned to Carpenter’s content for guidance.
Ellie Schultz ’25 wrote that she appreciates the fact that Carpenter has “lots of research behind her claims, has a realistic, holistic approach to health, and doesn’t make people feel ashamed of their health journey.”
In an effort to heal her relationship with food and exercise, Alicia Ayer ’23 came across Carpenter’s content. She believes that “the pressure to be super ‘healthy’ all the time” at a place like Stanford can be “pretty toxic.”
“Sohee’s content has definitely helped me step away from that mentality and become more accepting of my choice not to engage in diet culture,” Iyer wrote. She encouraged other students to engage with her content.
Carpenter encourages students to make the most of their time in college.
“You’ll look back and wish you’d done more,” she said, “tried more things, made more friends, gone to more events.”
Her advice is limited to health and fitness: she encourages students to “take classes outside [their] mainstream and beyond [their] area of interest.”
“These are times that will never come back,” she said.