Chrissy Chard

Smart Fit Girls: The Link between Entrepreneurship and Health Education

Ever thought about combining your love for health and wellness with entrepreneurship? This is exactly what Chrissy Chard, Co-Founder of Smart Fit Girls and Assistant Professor in the Colorado School of Public Health at CSU, did and continues to do in her career.

We sat down with Chrissy to learn more about her dual, yet integrated career path in the industry of health and wellness – both teaching in the university and also working on her own non-profit empowerment organization for adolescent girls.

Let’s dive in!

Thanks for being with us, Chrissy! To start off, can you tell us a little about what you are doing now, particularly with Smart Fit Girls?

Yeah! Smart Fit Girls is a non-profit organization aimed at empowering adolescent girls to embrace their strength on the inside, as well as on the outside. We do this by providing education and programming on physical activity, specifically strength training, as well as activities specifically geared to improve self-esteem. We cover a wide variety of topics such as body image, Photoshop, bullying, the media, positive affirmations and self-love. We envision a world where all adolescent girls feel empowered to lead healthy, active lives.

I love that! It sounds like you really are fulfilling a much needed area of the field of health and wellness. How did you come to this point? We all know especially for entrepreneurs, the path isn’t clear and easy.

That’s exactly right. After graduating with my undergrad, I knew I wanted to go back to school, but wasn’t sure in what area. After working for a couple years, I decided to return to CSU for a master’s degree in Health and Exercise Science. I never imagined staying for a PhD, but life circumstances changed, and suddenly doing my PhD became the most logical next step. Though I did research in a variety of areas, some core themes to my research were behavior change and physical activity in youth.

During my PhD my best friend and I started a health coaching company called Smart Fit Chicks. As we worked with adult clients, helping them make healthy lifestyle changes, it became apparent that all women (ourselves included!) struggle with body image and self-esteem in one way or another. One day as we warmed up to workout, we asked ourselves, “why are we waiting until these women are adults to address these issues?”

So, we dug into the literature to find that there were very few programs aimed at adolescent girls, and even fewer that dealt with body image in any way. Fewer still were programs that focused on strength training. So, we created the solution for the problem, and out grew the Smart Fit Girls program.

What a story! Where do you see Smart Fit Girls going in the future from where you are now?

Of course we have logged YEARS of research, trial and error, learning and persistence to get to where we are. We continue to take a growth mindset approach as our organization grows. For example, we are currently working very hard to make some adaptations to the program to ensure that it is inclusive and can be tailored to be more culturally responsive.

Such an important aspect we can’t forget. Speaking of where you are heading, where do you foresee the field of health and wellness going?

Well, I think more and more groups are recognizing how detrimental the media is for adolescent girls’ self-esteem, so it has been incredible to see other organizations launching body positivity campaigns, as well as focusing on helping girls believe they are capable of doing and being whatever the desire. I still think we need to move away from the focus on appearance in general, to help girls (and all people) recognize that they are more than their bodies. I also hope to see the field become more intersectional, so that we begin to accept and CELEBRATE bodies of all shapes, sizes, colors and abilities. Only then will the field of health and wellness be accessible to EVERYONE, rather than the narrow way we’ve defined wellness up to this point (read: white, thin, athletic).

Definitely! We can make lots of lifestyle changes but we also need to address the culture. That makes a lot of sense, particularly because culture is often so unquestioned. For people interested in going into the health and wellness industry, what are some necessary skills they will need?

So many! Of course, relationship building is everything. Knowing how to communicate and build rapport, is critical in a business like this. Someone’s health is a very personal thing that they need to trust you with.

For the entrepreneurship side, there are obviously skills in business management, a big one in financial management (we use Quickbooks!), and program coordination (keeping track of multiple programs and projects). For our organization, we also focus a lot on fundraising and social media marketing.

And then finally, no matter what you do, you need PURPOSE. Much like the Japanese concept of ikigai, for me it’s being on a constant journey of finding my reason for being – where my gifts and passions align with my vocation. It’s a moving target for sure!

Great things to keep in mind and also skills students can be developing right now. Speaking of developing skills to get into the field, if you could give any piece of advice to students trying to enter into your area of work, what would you suggest?

Figure out what you’re good at, and then surround yourself with really talented people who have different strengths than the ones you have.

Yes – surrounding ourselves with mentors, coaches, and inspiration people to keep us moving. That’s really wonderful. Thanks so much for your time and wisdom, Chrissy!

Interested in connecting with Chrissy? Find her over on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrissy-chard-phd-085b085a/

About the Author

Chrissy Chard, PhD is currently an Assistant Professor with the Colorado School of Public Health, with a focus in Community and Behavioral Health. She is also the Co-Founder of a nonprofit organization, Smart Fit Girls, Inc. which aims to empower adolescent girls to embrace their strength on the inside, as well as on the outside. She received her PhD in Human Bioenergetics in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University. Her research focuses on physical activity and psychosocial health in adolescent girls and community based participatory research. She has much experience in health and wellness coaching, both in a clinical setting as well as with the general population. Chrissy resides in Fort Collins, CO with her husband, two year old daughter Lucille, and 8 month old son Jack. She enjoys leading an active lifestyle through lifting weights (or her children) and family walks to the park.