Online coach and entrepreneur Sohee Lee Carpenter ’12 (@soheefit) has amassed over half a million followers on Instagram publishing content focused on reframing people’s relationships with food, fitness and body image. She is currently a fourth-year Sports Studies Ph.D. candidate at the Auckland University of Technology, but barely over a decade ago, she was a Human Biology major and med-school hopeful working on her homework at Old Union until midnight.
She urges students to cherish their time at Stanford and to redefine their idea of health.
Despite her academic dedication and her fond memories of Stanford, she wishes she had taken further advantage of her time on campus.
“I went through what it was like to not have a life,” Carpenter told The Daily in an exclusive interview. Though Carpenter’s experience with anorexia nervosa and bulimia ended in her teens, in college, she turned to bodybuilding as another way to control food.
Carpenter spent her frosh year isolating herself. She turned down invites to social events because she felt it was more important to adhere to the “very strict meal plan” and “aggressive workout program” she had been given by her coach. “I’d 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 being healthy.”
She became a certified personal trainer (CPT) during her sophomore year, but at the time, had not planned to use her certification much.
During her junior year, she decided she no longer wanted to pursue medicine, but kept exploring what she called “more traditional career paths,” such as finance.
However, during the last quarter of her senior year, she decided to start online coaching with no “particular plan.”
“I was very naive as an entrepreneur,” Carpenter said. Nevertheless, she believes naïveté helped her have fewer fears and hesitations than she has now as a seasoned business owner.
Right out of college, she took an internship at a strength and conditioning facility that specializes in baseball athletes. After this internship, she was hired to write for Bodybuilding.com, an online fitness store and forum. She said this gig “connected her to colleagues in the [fitness] industry pretty early on.”
The whole time, however, she’d been building her online coaching career to a point where she was able to coach “basically full-time.”
Online coaching was a “very new” career path at the time, but she knew she wanted to venture further than being “just a personal trainer.” To step up in this field, she went back to school and got her Masters of Psychology at Arizona State University (ASU) in 2018.
It was during her Masters when Carpenter found herself getting interested in the “eating behaviors” aspect of health and fitness. Much of her current content centers around eating patterns and people’s relationships with food.
Now, she’s “especially enjoying the content creation aspect of being an entrepreneur.” As of March 2023, she’s posting consistent short-form video content to her audience of 602,000 Instagram and 143,300 TikTok followers. These videos range from explainers on weightlifting form to skits about improving one’s relationship with food.
“My messaging and my branding have definitely changed a lot,” Carpenter said. Back in her undergrad days, her idea of health was defined by dieting and physique. Now, she says her perspective on health is more well-rounded.
She asks her audience questions like, “Did you know eating ice cream is sometimes the healthiest thing you can do?” She believes that panicking over the unhealthiness of a food can often be more unhealthy than the food itself.
“Stressing out over the pizza is worse for you than just eating the pizza and moving on. It’s pretty eye-opening to realize people’s view of health actually is,” she said.
Since college is a transitional time, Carpenter noted that it isn’t atypical for students to fall into disordered eating habits. For many, it’s the first time they have control over “how much or how little they eat.” Although she encouraged students dealing with eating disorders to seek professional help, she believes that “having a social support system is obviously going to be key,” she said.
Some Stanford students have turned to Carpenter’s content for guidance.
Elli Schulz ’25 wrote that she appreciates the fact that Carpenter has “a lot of research behind her claims, has a realistic, holistic approach to health, and doesn’t make people feel shame about their health journey.”
In trying to heal her relationship with food and exercise, Alisha Iyer ’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 “quite toxic.”
“Sohee’s content has definitely helped me step away from this mentality and be more accepting of my choices not to engage with diet culture,” Iyer wrote. She encouraged other students to engage with her content.
Carpenter pushed students to take full advantage of their time in college.
“You’re going to look back and wish that you’d done more,” she said, “that you’d tried more things, that you’d made more friends, that you’d gone to more events.”
Her advice spans outside just health and fitness: she encourages students to “take classes outside [their] major and outside of [their] area of interest.”
“These are times you are never going to get back,” she said.