Molly Galbraith, Strong Women Lift Each Other Up

Molly Galbraith, Strong Women Lift Each Other Up

“You can’t control what’s going to happen, but you can control the inputs that you put in to make a certain outcome more likely.” Fitness coach and founder of Girls Gone Strong Molly Galbraith talks with Zibby about her journey of learning to love her body and the skills that helped her feel her most confident. Molly’s book, Strong Women Lift Each Other Up, offers the tools she used to help women stop comparing themselves to others so that overcome their personal struggles and support one another.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Molly. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight.”

Molly Galbraith: Thank you, Zibby. I really appreciate you having me.

Zibby: Your book, Strong Women Lift Each Other Up, tell me about this book. Tell me about why you decided to write it. Then I want to go into further, more about your whole journey with your body, which you wrote about so beautifully, and how you got to this place where now we’re on Zoom with your water bottle looking all like you just got out of the gym except with beautiful hair. Tell me everything.

Molly: Zibby, thank you. I wrote this book because I want to see a world where all women and girls get the support and opportunities they need to thrive and succeed, where women believe that they are enough just as they are regardless of what their body looks like, and where they are happy to see other women succeed because they know there’s enough success to go around. Ultimately, I want to see a world where there’s equitable representation of women in all the important places where decisions are made. That is not our reality. I wrote this book to help women overcome the personal struggles that often hold us back from supporting other women. I know it can seem like these different topics aren’t necessarily tied together. In the book, I show you how they are tied together. We have these personal struggles with comparison, jealousy, body image, feeling like other women are our competition. It holds us back from supporting other women in the ways that we need to in order to create this reality for ourselves. I wrote this book to give women the actionable tools they need to overcome their struggles so that they can lift other women up in their everyday lives and together, create a better world for women and girls.

Zibby: Amazing. That’s a lofty goal. I love that. That’s big to do in one book. I love it. Might as well shoot for the moon. I find it so interesting because I sort of specialized in eating disorders in college when I was a psychology major. My whole senior thesis was on social comparison theory and how much women compare themselves to each other, particularly in eating and working out settings, noticing how much you eat, how much she’s eating, how much she’s eating. Why do women do this? What is it about them? All of that. There was this, obviously, this huge section on socially comparing yourself in your book. It’s top of mind. Tell me a little more about your experience with that.

Molly: I grew up in a lot of scarcity. My family didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and so I grew up feeling like there wasn’t enough for me, whether it was, I didn’t have the cool clothes or — we had a pre-signed check for a certain amount of money to go in and get groceries. We did the grocery shopping. My mom was sitting in the car studying for school. It’s like, okay, when this runs out, we don’t have enough to go back and get more. I was bullied a little bit growing up. I was kind of the weird, smart kid, didn’t have a ton of friends. There was this overarching lack of enough-ness. I was constantly looking to other girls to see the ways that I didn’t measure up. That started for me at a very, very young age. It was clothes and money and food and things like that growing up. I didn’t even have the cool lunch box with the cool food in it that the other kids had and things like that. Then I tried out for the cheerleading squad multiple times, didn’t make it. I just kept getting this message of, you’re not good enough. Other girls are better than you. They have cuter clothes. The boys like them. They make the cheerleading squad. Then the summer before my freshman year of high school, my mom got a job. She finished school, got a job. We had a little bit more money. She hired an older cheerleader to come help me practice and make the cheerleading squad. I got my hair highlighted. I basically developed breasts overnight.

I show up at school the first day of freshman year, and it’s kind of like one of those high school movies where the girl takes her glasses off and shakes her hair out. Everyone’s like, who’s the new girl? In my mind, it was like, okay, blond hair, check. Big breasts, check. Cheerleader, check. You’ve made it. You’re in. All of a sudden, people started being really nice to me. The popular girls wanted to be my friends. Boys started to pay attention to me. Engrained in me at a very young age, at thirteen — I skipped a grade, so I started high school at thirteen — the way that you look is more important than who you are as a person. People are going to like you for how you look. It’s going to get you the validation and the connection and the love and the belonging that you want. That was a really dangerous lesson to learn at thirteen. It followed me for the next about fifteen years. I got on the diet and exercise rollercoaster, did different competitions and stuff, standing on stage in a bathing suit having my body compared to other women, significantly restricting calories and undereating, developed a host of health problems. We can get into all of that if you’d like. It really cemented this idea that the way that you look is more important than who you are as a person. You are going to get the love and belonging that you want by looking a particular way and checking these boxes versus who you are.

Zibby: What is your regular hair color? Out of curiosity.

Molly: The color of my eyebrows. It’s a very dirty dish water.

Zibby: Sorry, not that that was the main takeaway of what you just said, but I was curious about it. You did talk about your health challenges in the book. I was wondering, did you say you had Hashimoto’s?

Molly: Yes. I have Hashimoto’s and PCOS.

Zibby: And PCOS, that’s right. Do you feel like that contributed to the eating issues? Do you feel like you caused that with how you ate and treated your body? Which do you think came first? Obviously, we can’t know. What’s your theory on that?

Molly: My doctor actually said that basically, I have a genetic predisposition. The phrase that they use is genetics loads the trigger, environment pulls the gun, is essentially the way that they phrase that. I was predisposed to those, but the enormous amount of stress that I put myself under with the severe caloric restriction and the overexercise, that was the stress that essentially pulled the trigger. If I had been predisposed to maybe other autoimmune diseases, then that might have been what I ended up getting diagnosed with. My doctor’s pretty certain that the enormous amount of stress that I put my body under with the undereating and overexercising is what flipped that switch for me.

Zibby: Then you wrote about how you once you were diagnosed and “recovered” or came out of that phase of restriction, overexercising, and all of that, then you put on more weight. Then people started treating you differently again. Tell me about that part of the rollercoaster.

Molly: End of high school, beginning of college, got really sedentary, gained some weight. Then 2004 is when I decided to get really hardcore into fitness. For the next several years, I just got an enormous amount of, again, affirmation and love and compliments and attention for the way that my body looked. I was doing something called figure competitions. It’s kind of a mix between bikini and bodybuilding, so a little more muscular than bikini, less muscular than bodybuilding. I was getting, again, all these questions like, what are you doing? You look so amazing. For that competition, you have to diet really hard. It’s the dieting that I was talking about. At one point, I was eating nine hundred calories a day and doing two hours of cardio. I’m almost six feet tall, so that nine hundred calories was incredibly hard on my body. It was also psychologically really difficult. After I finished my competition, I couldn’t control my eating. I started overeating a whole lot. My body rebounded really badly. Within two to three weeks of the competition ending, I would’ve put on fifteen to twenty pounds. A lot of that’s water retention and inflammation and things like that, but some of it is fat as well. Either way, my body changed. It looked really different. People started making comments to me. Whoa, what happened to you? Are you still working out? I don’t understand.

Zibby: Who was saying this to you, by the way?

Molly: People that I worked with, people that I went to the gym with, people on the internet, oh, yeah. Then after I went on this rollercoaster a few more times, it was 2013 at this point. I was a fitness professional. I owned a gym. I had a YouTube channel, online business, and community. A woman in my community was telling other women not to come to my gym because they might look like me. I was getting negative comments on my YouTube channel saying, what’s wrong with you? Why does your body not look the way that it used to? Then I was hosting a seminar at my gym. A male colleague stood in my office and made fun of my body to my team. It was very bad. I hit a breaking point in 2013. The reason that my body had rebounded at that point was because I had lost my dad unexpectedly to pneumonia. I injured myself in the gym and started having chronic pain. I left a six-year relationship and left the home and business we had together. It was a tough year. Nutrition and exercise weren’t at the forefront of what I was doing. I could hardly exercise. I could hardly tie my shoes. That’s what happened to my body at that point in time. That’s when all these people started saying really negative stuff. I had more of a presence in the fitness industry as well. There was this very specific expectation of what my body was supposed to look like.

At that point, I was like, all right, I’m going to get my body back. I’m going to get under control. I’m going to diet back down, etc. I hired a nutrition coach. Zibby, I would take pictures of myself, progress pictures, and send them to him and do the nutrition plan or whatever. One week, I hadn’t made a lot of progress. I got my nutrition plan back. I was looking at it. He had taken away my avocado at dinner. I was like, oh, no, I’m not doing this. I’m not doing this anymore. This isn’t the life that I want to live for myself. Do I want to spend my life taking pictures of myself in a bathing suit so some dude two states over can tell me I can’t have avocado with my dinner? No, that is not the life that I want for myself. That was the turning point for me. I’m like, I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to like myself regardless of what my body looks like. I want to believe in my abilities as a coach and trainer. I’ve got almost two decades of experience. I want to feel good. I want to like me outside of what other people say or think. That kicked off the next eight years of coming into my own and deciding that I was going to be good with myself regardless of what other people thought and really healing my relationship with food, myself, and my body.

Zibby: That part, how did you do that?

Molly: That part, wait, we can’t just gloss over that part.

Zibby: Yes, go back to that. Go back to that thing where you now have a great relationship with your body and food and everything like that.

Molly: It was a long time coming. By 2013, I had been in therapy for five years. I started going to therapy in 2008. The joke is that I started going to therapy in 2008 because in my then relationship I struggled to be vulnerable with my partner. Now I’m vulnerable on the internet, so therapy works really well. You go from not even being able to be vulnerable with the most important people to you to, here I am, world and internet.

Zibby: Although, you could be open with the internet and the world and still not be able to be vulnerable in your most private relationships. Just saying.

Molly: Yes, that is very true.

Zibby: You do select. You select what you share to the world at large. It is a curated — anyway, keep going.

Molly: Totally. I had a lot of skills for how to change my mindset and use certain behavior-based tools borrowed from psychology of behavior change. At that point, I had been a coach for nine years. I had a lot of experience helping women break down where they are now to where they want to be and figuring out, what are these goals? What are the skills and actions that I have to take to be able to do those things? I was able to turn around and use those on myself. I talk about a lot of them in the book. One of the biggest ones for me when I was having negative thoughts about myself was this idea of noticing and naming. Noticing and naming is borrowed from the field of behavior change psychology. The idea is that we can’t change anything if we’re not aware of it. Noticing it helps raise our level of awareness about it. Then naming it, there’s evidence to suggest that naming how we’re feeling actually reduces the intensity of the emotion a little bit. For example, if I was looking in the mirror and I’m like, “Ugh, I’ve got cellulite on my legs. They’re so gross. I just feel so self-conscious. I hate the way my legs look. I need to drop my calories, exercise more, diet harder,” I was able to notice and name how I was feeling. Okay, I’m noticing that I’m having these feelings. I’m naming that I’m feeling self-conscious. Then I’m able to use different techniques that I discuss in the book to retrain my brain out of that. There’s a number of questions that we can ask ourselves to help ourselves reframe our thoughts.

For that particular one, I used one where you switch your thought process from really negative to slightly negative, and slightly negative to neutral, and neutral to slightly positive, and then slightly positive to really positive over time. For me, my inner dialogue went from “I hate my legs. I hate the cellulite on my legs. They’re so gross. They’re disgusting,” to “I’m uncomfortable with the cellulite on my legs.” I kind of lived in that place for weeks or months. Anytime I would see the cellulite on my legs and have that really negative reaction, I would bring myself down and say, I’m feeling self-conscious. I’m feeling it means that I’m not a good trainer, that I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not qualified or whatever. I would name those feelings. I would say, okay, I’m uncomfortable with the cellulite on the backs of my legs. Then over time, I was able to reframe that to, I have cellulite on the backs on my legs. It’s neutral. My mom has it. My grandmother has it. Ninety percent of women have it. It doesn’t mean that I’m not a good coach or trainer. It doesn’t mean that I’m not qualified. It doesn’t mean that I can’t help women reach their goals that they want to reach, but I have cellulite on the backs of my legs. That’s where I live now. I haven’t switched all the way over to positive or really positive, but I don’t have to because now it’s just neutral. It doesn’t impact the way that I live my life. I just can live in that space of neutrality. Other thoughts and feelings that I’ve had I’ve been able to move from really negative all the way over to really positive. For that one, I live at neutral, and it’s totally fine.

Zibby: I love that idea of putting your thought on spectrum with a — I’m gesturing with this pencil in my hand. Of course, it makes no sense to people listening, but that you can go 180 degrees back and forth. Where are you today? I ate three brownies. I’m a terrible person. No, I didn’t mean to eat three brownies. I’m moving it to a place where, okay, I just ate them. Whatever.

Molly: Exactly. “I’m a terrible person. I ate three brownies,” to “I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to stop at one or two brownies,” to “I ate three brownies. That’s where it is,” to “I ate three brownies. They were really delicious. I have the opportunity to make a different choice at my next meal.”

Zibby: There you go. Thank you. Now I feel better. No, I’m kidding. Now I can repeat your mantra. I feel comfortable with the cellulite on the back of my legs. I feel comfortable. Now you’ll have all these people chanting this. It’s empowering, actually, which is probably why you’ve started this whole Girls Gone Strong movement to help younger girls, which by the way is so amazing of you to do. It would be so easy to not have done that or just to focus on your growth from here or what you’re going to contribute or continue training others or whatever. Thinking about girls and making a difference then, why start there? How did that happen?

Molly: Actually, Girls Gone Strong, it started ten years ago when I probably would’ve considered myself more of a girl. The focus of Girls Gone Strong is actually women. Our mission statement at Girls Gone Strong is “We create evidence-based, interdisciplinary health, fitness, nutrition, and pregnancy education for women and the professionals who work with them because we believe when women feel strong, confident, and empowered in their lives and bodies, we can change the world.” The goal with that is that we believe that when women feel strong, confident, empowered in their lives and bodies, we can change the world. We know how influential women are in the lives of young girls. We know that their moms and their aunts and their teachers and their role models and their coaches just have such an incredible opportunity to really shape the next generation while also healing themselves at the same time. Mothers truly are the number-one influence on their daughter’s body image and on her eating habits and on her exercise habits.

We think it’s so critical if we can help women release the expectation of what their bodies are supposed to look like, focus on eating in a way that’s nourishing for them, and moving their bodies in a way that is joyful, that brings them joy instead of as punishment, if they can heal their relationship with their bodies, we can really break that generational trauma, that chain of negative body image and unhealthy eating and movement habits that so often get instilled in us at a young age. I have friends who can remember being four and five years old and having their moms say, “Do I look fat in this? Do I look pretty?” I have another friend who, she has one of those scales that you have to tap. Then you step on it and it weighs you or whatever. She saw her two-year-old walk in the bathroom and tap the scale and then step on it just because she saw her mom do that. At two years old, she doesn’t know what that means, but she’s going to know what that means at three, four, five, six, seven. It’s going to be something that she always remembers. We feel if we can help women have this strength, inner and outer, this confidence and this empowerment, that we can really change the world for women and girls.

Zibby: What does it look like to be, in your ideal world, a mother who has gotten strong? Is it the modeling of her behavior for her daughter that you think is the most important? Is there something you want these moms to say and do specifically that would help the younger generation?

Molly: I think the modeling is so important because they are always paying attention, so not talking about food as good or bad, not talking about being on or off a diet, not restricting any particular food in the house, saying, we earned our cake or eat your broccoli to make sure that you can earn your popsicle, or whatever the thing is, so not assigning any morality to food but just saying, these are the foods that we eat all the time. These are the food that we eat some of the time. Talking about, we eat these foods because they help us be healthy and strong and give us energy, not that, these are good foods and these are bad foods that you’re never supposed to eat. One of the women that I follow online, her handle is Kids Eat in Color. She’s a registered dietician. She talks about serving dessert with the meal instead of after the meal because then it just kind of makes it no big deal. It’s just some more food that you eat. It’s not this treasure at the end that kids really put on a pedestal and think that they want it all time, which I think is a really valuable tool. When kids come to you — this is a really, really difficult one. If your child comes to you and says, Mommy, am I fat? the first response that most moms want to say is, oh, my gosh, no sweetie, of course you’re not fat. What that teaches your child is that fat is bad and that right now they have “made the cut,” and so they’re good enough because they aren’t that thing. That has some anti-fat bias in it saying that fat is bad. If you were fat, that would be bad, but you’re not, so that’s okay. You’re good enough right now because you’re not that thing. That’s another really, really difficult one.

Zibby: What should you say?

Molly: In that instance, you would say, why are you asking me this question? They say, someone at school called me fat. You would say, what does that mean to you? They say, I think fat is bad. You say, why do you think fat is bad? Because if you’re fat, then that means you’re less healthy. You say, that doesn’t always mean that you’re less healthy. Body diversity is normal. People have different body shapes and sizes. That’s okay. What we’re going to focus on is eating foods that make us feel good and doing movement with our bodies that we like. The size and shape of our body when we’re doing those things is the size and shape that our body’s supposed to be.

Zibby: Okay. I had something similar happen. I have four kids. Maybe I shouldn’t go into the details. One of my kids said that her friend looked so much thinner than her. I was like, oh, my gosh, already? She said it again in front of the friend and her mom. “Oh, this friend, look at her, she’s so much taller and thinner than I am.” I was like, “You know what? That’s what your body’s like. Her mom happens to be taller and thinner than I am, but that’s okay. That’s just how we’re built. Look at that.” It hasn’t come up since. We’ll see what happens.

Molly: Just helping them understand that bodies come in different shapes and sizes. We’re not all supposed to look the same. There’s no one right way to have a body. For them at that age, eating foods that help them feel good and healthy and strong and moving their bodies in ways that they enjoy, what their body looks like when they do those things is what their body looks like. It’s not supposed to look like anyone else’s. It’s a really, actually, good lesson to say — you can pull up a bunch of pictures of trees or a bunch of pictures of animals or a bunch of pictures of flowers and say, look, these are all lilies, but do you see how some of them are taller than others and some of them are shorter and some of them have bigger blooms and some of them have smaller blooms? It’s the same thing with humans. We’re not all supposed to look the same. If we can show them how that actually occurs in real life and in nature and in all these other areas, then they can see that this is just the way that the world is and that there’s nothing wrong with looking this way or looking that way.

Zibby: I love that. That’s great. I’ve never heard that before. I feel like I’ve read a zillion articles and books and everything on this topic so that I don’t mess up my kids or whatever. That’s really good. I like that.

Molly: A year ago, I was making dinner. I opened two avocados. Zibby, I kid you not, one of them was this oblong shape and it had this tiny, little pit. The other one was round and most of it was the pit. I’m like, this, this is the thing. This is the diversity. There’s nothing wrong with these avocados, so there’s nothing wrong with you either. It was just such a beautiful representation in that moment of how different is not a bad thing. It just is. It’s a social construct that looking a particular way is considered good because we’ve all agreed to it.

Zibby: Unless they feel bad. Unless they’re feeling sluggish or they feel unhealthy or unless they feel bad for some actual reason.

Molly: Totally. If the way that they’re feeling is limiting them from doing the things that they want to do and from experiencing life the way that they want to experience it, then at that point — especially children, parents are responsible for making sure that their children are adopting the good habits that they want them to have and things like that. I think that’s really important. We try to focus so much more on the behavior than the outcome because we can’t always control the outcome, but we can control the inputs. I think that’s a really helpful way of looking at it. You can’t control what’s going to happen, but you can control the inputs that you put in to make a certain outcome more likely.

Zibby: Molly, I love that. Thank you. That’s great, really great.

Molly: You’re welcome.

Zibby: This has been awesome. I feel like I’ve learned so much. Your experience has been amazing and empowering. The fact that you turned it into a book, bravo to you for doing that. It’s really great. Where can people find you if they want to follow you and they want to get your book and all that good stuff?

Molly: Best place to get my book, Strong Women Lift Each Other Up is sold pretty much everywhere books are sold. If they want to find all the retailors including international, they can go to Then I am most active on Instagram, @themollygalbraith. If people are interested in health, fitness, nutrition, and pregnancy education, we do a lot of stuff with pre and postnatal women. @thegirlsgonestrong is the best place to find that. Then all of our resources are on

Zibby: Amazing. Excellent. I’m so glad I met you and that we had this talk. Thanks for coming on.

Molly: Me too, Zibby. With four kids and multiple podcasts, I know you’ve got a lot of stuff on your plate. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Zibby: You have made me feel better about what is actually on my plate, so there you go. Awesome. Thank you.

Molly: Thank you, Zibby. I appreciate it.

Zibby: Take care.

Molly: Bye.

Zibby: Bye.

Molly Galbraith, Strong Women Lift Each Other Up

Strong Women Lift Each Other Up by Molly Galbraith

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