January in Columbus is bleak; when the wind isn’t whipping snowflakes through the bitter air, it’s raining. The clouds are gray, people are bundled under mountainous layers of warmth. But there is one person who does her best to find the sunshine in every day, and her name is Caroline Franco. Caroline is a food, fitness and lifestyle blogger on Instagram who just happened to sit next to me on the first day of a communication lecture with 400 people. Before knowing that she had more than 8.5 thousand people following her workout videos, beautiful pictures of healthy food and positive advice, I came to know her as the girl who loved working out and was unafraid to answer the professor’s questions confidently from the back of the lecture hall. Her personality was contagious. Her fans already know this from her high energy stories, whether she’s sharing wisdom for the day or her new favorite food.
There we sat on a rainy January morning in Columbus, huddled around our coffee cups in the midst of a raucous Stauf’s Coffeeroasters. I nibbled on a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin that Caroline stopped herself from stealing a bite of. She was just finishing her Whole 30 food journey. I started our conversation by asking where her journey began.
Caroline said that it started in high school, a time when she felt like an outcast and needed something in her life. She wasn’t the sporty kid or the clique girl; she had just transferred from private school to public school while grappling with her parents’ divorce. This flurry of change led to her battle with anorexia nervosa and depression. At that point in her life, Caroline felt that she could only control the food that she was putting in her body.
“Anorexia is hard, especially at that young age. You can end it, but those habits don’t disappear just like that,” she said. It wasn’t until she tried group fitness classes at a local gym that she felt she truly found her niche. However, Caroline recalled struggling with the “health” facet of “health and fitness.”
“I was stupid on health. 100 calorie packs of everything, I was terrified of fat…and then a second dose of anorexia came mid-high school. After that, the light started,” she said. From there, her passion turned into her lifestyle. But how does one turn that passion into an Instagram blog? Caroline couldn’t help but laugh a little at that.
It turns out that the guy she was dating at the time, among other people, pushed her to create a blog. She created one, but quickly discovered that she “wasn’t huge on writing.” She went on to create an Instagram. After a few weeks, Caroline gave that up because she felt like she didn’t know what she was doing. She returned to it months later with newfound dedication, taking the experience day by day, and she found that the community that began commenting on her photos inspired her to continue.
“Just like health and fitness, once you show up and once you start doing it, it starts to roll and become so much easier and so much more enjoyable. You realize you can do it,” she said. By overcoming doubts about her creativity and cooking skills, Caroline believed that she could be successful on Instagram.
Becoming an influencer on any social media platform doesn’t happen overnight. Caroline recalls the community gathering rather slowly around her page and feeling doubtful that she was doing it right.
“I was worried what other people would think about me, and then I just slowly said ‘I don’t care, I don’t care’ and would post more and more,” she said. People began to gravitate towards her constant activity. By doing this, while admitting it’s “amazing yet creepy out when you say it out loud,” she learned so much about other people and vice versa. People wanted more than just tasty food pictures; they wanted the story behind that dish.
As much as being popular on social media seems like a dream, Caroline openly admits that it can be draining, and she has to watch how much time she spends on it, but the people who reach out to her make it all worth it.
“To think that I have friends in Orlando, I have friends in San Francisco that perhaps if I did go there, if I said, ‘Hey, want to get coffee?’ they totally would. I find that amazing because growing up, I didn’t have friends, really,” she said. Caroline backtracked for a moment here; she did have friends, but she felt like she was lacking some of those “life-long” friendships other women have, that she felt that her “soul was never really in the right place,” even in college.
Health is an important facet of Caroline’s day-to-day life, and her definition of health has changed over time. She was totally honest in saying that her desire to be healthy spurred from pure body image, citing that she worried she never had a boyfriend or friends because of her appearance. Now, she loves the way she feels because of her lifestyle. She craves vegetables and sugar, but says that she is “human” that way.
“I do it now because still, I believe we should totally love ourselves in any state, but also in a healthy state. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a little bit thinner or a little bit thicker. If you want to lose a few pounds, you can do it while you love yourself,” she said. She emphasized the lifestyle aspect of it; she doesn’t see it as a diet or a forced way of eating or trendy.
“If my Instagram disappeared today, nothing would change about my life.”
I quickly connected this to the emphasis our society has on diet culture not just now, but on an intergenerational level. Caroline and I both recalled moments in which our own mothers expressed displeasure with their bodies and spent countless hours counting calories. Together, we wondered how impactful implicit diet culture is on women and their children. Self-love is a learned behavior, and reflecting that in the way families eat and talk about themselves can change lives.
Everyone has their own ideas of what “health” as a concept is, but what does it look like coming from someone whose health is their livelihood?
“Health is a balance. When we say health, it is not food and exercise. It’s holistic,” she said. To her, a healthy person does the following: wakes up early, makes time for a morning routine (not perusing Twitter; more like moving your body or challenging yourself), is aware of how stressed you are, validates emotions and goes to bed early. Caroline picks sleep over everything and advocates putting yourself first.
“Another thing that is health is eating that damn sugar cookie, eating the donut with your friend at coffee and moving on with your day, acting like it didn’t happen,” she said. Caroline realizes that people often play mind games with themselves regarding how much they eat. She believes we deserve that treat, but it is when we get obsessive over our food or are treating ourselves too much that our behavior can be destructive. Caroline told me that one of the biggest trends right now is intuitive eating, in which people move away from counting calories and try to be more in tune with what their body needs, but realizes that this is hard, even for her.
It can be difficult to fathom where someone would even start a health journey when there are so many trends and so much emphasis on calorie counting, but Caroline knew the healthiest way to get started.
“Throw away the damn scale and take pictures, or just notice your clothing. Numbers are terrible,” she said. She encourages people to simply assess how they feel every day, and pictures help people really see the transformation their body is going through. Caroline doesn’t own a scale; she believes it would be a negative influence. Muscle weighs more than fat, and the food people eat on certain days may cause the body to retain more water, but not everyone can translate that through the number on the scale.
Caroline is someone that appears to embody the idea of “health goals,” but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have goals of her own. She doesn’t have an ultimate health goal because it would constantly change due to the constant stream of information the health industry has, but she does have personal goals that are incredibly relatable.
“My health goal is that I need to love myself more…You can always work on that,” she said, stressing the desire to become more confident in herself. But when it comes to goal-setting, she makes sure that her goals are digestible. “When you make a health goal, make them one at a time.”
Caroline is making 2018 her year of goals, setting a goal for each month. In January, she completed the Whole 30 challenge, bringing her diet back to the basics to re-center herself, and in February she plans to try to be more eco-friendly and to learn more about toxins to avoid. She made clear that health goals aren’t necessarily physical, a huge misconception in the industry.
“Everyone [in health] thinks it’s salad and workouts, and it’s not. Health is loving yourself,” she said, adding that “mental health is huge.” It’s a holistic experience, I learned, but it should be specific to you and not what is trendy.
While goal-setting can sound simple enough to get started, the journey to health has its twists and turns. Caroline knew her answer immediately to what the hardest part of her journey has been: comparison.
“Especially being on social media, it’s so hard. I want to be such a great influence, but I totally fall into the trap of it,” she said. It’s not always to other people; sometimes, she finds herself comparing herself to her past self. Caroline recognizes that as you get older your body changes, and you can’t always be the person you once where.
“The hardest part is self-love and accepting yourself at every state, at the puffier states, at the anorexia states. You deserve love at every state, and that’s that hardest part for sure.”
If you ever met Caroline (or watched her stories), you would immediately pick up on the positivity she radiates. I find myself to be a rather cynical person who could definitely improve on seeing the good on the bad days. I asked Caroline what the secret to positivity was; I am sorry to report that there is no secret, but there is a mindset. She confided in me that she isn’t positive 24/7.
“I have dealt with anxiety since I was 12, and I’m learning that positivity is like motivation; you see those quotes every day, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I know that,’ but the thing is you need that reminder whether you know it or not. We all know we have so much power, but we’ve got to be reminded of that,” she said. So how does she do it? Music, movement, color (in food and clothes), human connection, showing happiness and dreaming. Dreaming, she said, keeps you motivated, and you’re never “too old or too stupid” to have a dream.
Caroline’s Instagram is filled with delicious pictures of food that don’t even look real, but she does have some favorites. My favorite recipe of hers is the one for Coconut Caramel Cookie Dough bars—they’re super easy and guilt-free. She loves coconut butter with fruit or roasted sweet potatoes, dark chocolate, popcorn (to treat herself) and dates in coconut butter, almond butter with some crunch. She said that texture is a huge part of eating; aside from worrying about the contents, think about if you’re creating interest in your meal.
“Your food does not have to be carrot sticks,” she said. “Get on Pinterest, get on Instagram, you’ll be shocked how simple it can be.”
While we may look at someone like Caroline and view her as a role model, she has her fair share of role models too, pointing to her aunt and her mom as filling that role.
“What I love about them is that they’re human, and I’ve seen them go through hell too,” she said, adding that we not only need role models, but we need mentors, “someone who does what we want to do and can teach us.” We can never know it all; we can always learn from others.
So what comes next for Caroline in 2018? This year, she plans on getting group fitness certified, specifically in hip hop (which she says is way out of her comfort zone), and she looks forward to seeing her Instagram grow by working with other food companies.
“I’m saying ‘yes’ to 2018, and it’s overwhelming and can be stressful and I feel like I don’t have enough time, but man, will it pay off. I know it will,” she said. “I want to look back and say I tried and I failed rather than I didn’t try and I don’t know.”
Here at Harness, we love quotes, and Caroline’s favorite captured everything that she had told me: “He who believes he can and he who believes he can’t are both usually right.” Mindset.
Catch her awesome workouts and delicious eats at @carolinelfranco on Instagram.
Author: Sam Raudins
Author Bio: Sam is a journalism major at Ohio State who lives for football and good iced chai lattes. She is an intern at Harness, a reporter at The Lantern and Senior Editor at Her Campus Ohio State. In the past, Sam has created her own blog and developed a football column at Her Campus called “Femme Football.”
Link to social media or website: http://theinternalmonologue.weebly.com | Instagram @sgr3 | Twitter @sam_raudins