The Inquisitive Olive

TIO: Sophia Fountoukidis

TIO: Sophia Fountoukidis

The Inquisitive Olive: Sophia Fountoukidis

Today we broach a very serious topic in our Inquisitive Olive series. One of my dearest friends for 20+ years and Kosterina team member, Sophia Fountoukidis, has struggled with anxiety and a serious eating disorder for 25 years. In her interview here she tells the stories of how she went to extremes with both food and exercise that left her physically and mentally unhealthy. I remember thinking that Sophia had incredible self-control and willpower. When making plans to go out, I always made sure the restaurants I chose were “Sophia friendly” because I only ever saw her eat fish, salad and vegetables. Sauce, dressing, oil and butter was always requested on the side. I remember going to the gym together and after our spin class, she stayed for a full second class. Although I sensed something was wrong, I never said a word for fear of upsetting her or fear that she would look at the way I ate with disgust. When I talk with Sophia now about what I could have done differently to help her throughout the years, she made it clear that comments about her being too thin or encouraging her to eat more would only have led to more secrecy. From Sophia’s perspective, she had to get to a place on her own where she was ready to admit that she wasn’t well and she says the best thing I could have said to her would have been “I sense something is wrong. I am here for you.”

Sophia has gone through some deep work to heal over the past couple of years and tells me that she felt like before, she was seeing life in black and white. Now she is living in technicolor. I strongly commend and am grateful to Sophia for her openness and vulnerability and at Kosterina, we are honored to share her story with love in the event that she can help even just one person on their journey to healing.

Sophia is currently pursuing her masters in social work and is open to speaking with any community members about her experience. She can be reached at

Future Therapist, Perpetual Learner & Forever Greece Enthusiast




Sophia is a certified spin and yoga instructor, coffee aficionado and Greek-American living in New Jersey. After an 18-year career in financial services, she switched gears in 2020 to both pursue a masters in social work AND to work alongside Kosterina’s founder, Katina -- one of her oldest and dearest friends.

Bali, Indonesia. November 2019, 4:44 a.m.

My eyes flared open. I heard the faint hum of the air conditioning and the unfamiliar sounds of Balinese animals. I was at a 24-day intensive yoga teaching training course, and I had a full day ahead: a vinyasa sequence first thing in the morning, an arm balance workshop in the afternoon, finished off with another vinyasa sequence in the evening. But I was anxious. What if the yoga wasn’t challenging enough?

I searched YouTube for ‘High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)—no equipment needed’. Perfect. I got out my mat, and got moving. The HIIT was my ‘hit’. Just like an addict, I felt a calm, warm high by the end of my workout. Exhausted and sweaty, I showered and changed into yoga clothes. At the first yoga session of the day, my classmates appeared as though they had probably just rolled out of bed several minutes ago. I kept my eyes lowered as we started the morning meditation practice. I had my cardio fix—before the intense day of yoga training even began. No one was the wiser.


From obsessive exercise to purposeful movement

For over two decades, my compulsive behaviors around food and exercise wreaked havoc on my physical and mental health. My disorder manifested in damaging ways. As a teenager, I obsessively ran the same route each day. At times, I stopped eating after 3 p.m. Completing 1,000 crunches before bed was as integral to my evening ritual as brushing my teeth. Amid uncertainty, I found a sense of calm in rules, rigidity, and routine.  

I’m driven and ambitious. I excelled in the demanding field of management consulting, completing a master’s degree in Insurance and Risk Management while working full-time. I’m also a certified personal trainer and spin instructor (yes, I like to keep busy). From the outside, I appeared to be a health-conscious, disciplined individual who woke up early to train hard at the gym and gave her all at work. Inside, however, I was suffering.

Since embarking on my wellness journey, I’ve taken a different approach to working out. I’m more attuned to purposeful movement, and no longer push myself to exhaustion. I’ve tried every fad exercise from spin to barre classes, but yoga remained the one constant in my life. My yoga practice is about feeling comfortable in my body and building strength, not burning calories.

That brings me back to that life-altering trip to Bali. During the yoga training course, I reached my lowest point. My body was deteriorating and my teachers and fellow students expressed concern. The trip was a wake up call—I left knowing that something was very wrong.


Meditation and returning to my roots

Years of compulsive exercise and restrictive eating took an enormous toll on my physical and mental health, and developing healthy coping mechanisms became a critical aspect of my recovery. To get back to basics, I had to learn how to listen to my body. During my recovery, I had to rewire my brain to enjoy food. Rather than thinking of food as the enemy or just for fuel, I relearned that food is for enjoyment, for sharing, and being with family.  

Olive oil was the elixir that contributed to my healing. It is a taste of home—and I use it every single day to meet my daily nutritional needs. My go-to dish is fish, steamed asparagus, a mixed salad, and brown basmati rice—all with a generous drizzle of olive oil.

I come from a large Greek family, so using olive oil liberally and often brought me comfort. Greeks take pride in preparing and sharing a good meal—my family makes the best stuffed vegetables. 

My family is another critical part of my recovery. I have a strong connection to my Greek heritage—everything smells and tastes better in Greece, from spices like oregano to fresh peaches in the summer. Nothing is better than the fresh yogurt offered in the morning at even the simplest of cafes.

I never leave Greece without having a frappe at a café, which is simply Greek instant coffee whipped with water and added ice (adding milk and sugar to taste). In Greece, brewing coffee is an art form. When a Greek invites you for coffee, they’re welcoming you to relax and connect. I try to summon the same sense of connection and simple joy I feel while enjoying a frappe with each cup I brew at home.

I also love picking up Korres body wash and moisturizing products. When I need to unwind, I use all-natural products that don’t contain any artificial ingredients.


Favorite food? Hands down, sushi!

Favorite self-care treatment? Long walks in the sun.

Favorite yoga pose? It's a tie between flying pigeon and revolved bird of paradise.

Favorite place to travel? Greece is my happy place - can't beat the food, weather, and the beaches!

Favorite part of your day? Early morning meditation followed by my French press coffee routine.

After stints in Los Angeles and London, I moved across the pond to be closer to family. Hands down, my favorite place on the planet is Greece—I have vivid memories of swimming in the sea and enjoying the beautiful beaches, eating fresh fish along the harbor, and spending hours with friends and family.

After an 18-year career in financial services, I switched gears in 2020 to work at Kosterina. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to build a wellness platform alongside Katina, Kosterina’s founder—and one of my oldest and dearest friends.

Since the pandemic started, I’ve leaned into the slower pace while working from home. I begin each day with meditation and journaling. These practices help me remain present and connected. I suffered from an eating disorder and anxiety for 25 years, and starting each day with self-care is an essential part of my healing and recovery. The highlight of my morning is grinding and preparing a delicious cup of French press coffee (my go-to is Peet’s). I savor my coffee, along with an antioxidant-packed breakfast that helps improve clarity and focus.  


Nourishing myself inside and out

During quarantine, I’ve taken my cooking game to the next level. I have now eliminated qualifiers from my vocabulary that imply a sense of personal value when it comes to food (i.e. good, bad, clean, or cheat). Sure, some foods are healthier than others. What isn’t healthy is blacklisting foods. By depriving myself of the enjoyment of eating, I disconnected from hunger and satiety cues. And getting out of touch with these primal, basic signals led to getting out of touch with myself.

Today, when I’m feeling stressed, I’ll meditate or journal. I’ve got lots of goals for this year, and one of them is to teach people about eating mindfully. In treatment, I learned about the hunger and satiety scale—one being you’re about to eat your own arm, 10 being you’re going to explode. I’m now more connected to my own body, and I eat when I’m at about a three and stop at a six or seven.

When you look at a beautiful plate of sushi— my favorite food—it triggers different types of hunger. The vibrant green of the wasabi and the bright pink of the salmon connect to what’s called your eye hunger. A smell that’s reminiscent of your childhood may elicit a different kind of hunger. So learning to distinguish between my eye hunger, my body hunger, my mind hunger, and my soul hunger was all part of learning to eat intuitively.

I’m thrilled to discover what 2021 has in store. I’m currently earning my master’s degree in social work, and I want to pay it forward. My next pursuit is to help others in their struggles with all aspects of wellness, from a holistic approach to fitness to eating in a heart-healthy way.

There is a Greek saying that applies to my journey: “Kathe ebodio se kalo,”—“Every obstacle yields something good.”


If you or someone you care about needs help with an eating disorder, please refer to the NEDA website for resources, support and community forums.