The fitness trainer, whose bikini post on Facebook went viral in January, launched Girls Gone Strong in 2012

By Grace Gavilanes
Updated January 09, 2016 01:30 PM
Credit: Courtesy Molly Galbraith

Molly Galbraith is on a mission to empower women.

The fitness trainer, 31, whose bikini picture and accompanying Facebook caption went viral, has long been a proponent of body acceptance. But that doesn’t mean the journey to fully embracing herself was an easy one to make.

Since 2004, Galbraith has been “all different shapes and sizes,” she tells PEOPLE. The trainer attributes the fluctuation to her battle with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid disorder, and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which can both cause weight gain.

Like many women, Galbraith previously equated her level of self-worth and happiness to her goal weight.

“I always felt if I could just get there, if I could just have a flat stomach, if I could just lose x-number of pounds, then I could be happy. But I got there and it wasn’t enough. I wanted more, better, different. What I was lacking wasn’t my body, it was how I felt about myself,” Galbraith says, also revealing that the journey to self-acceptance became increasingly difficult following the sudden death of her father in 2012 and subsequent demise of a 6-year relationship.

But she built up her confidence and posted the candid picture of herself in a bikini while on vacation with her new love in Costa Rica.

“I have a strong body, but I don’t look like a normal fitness trainer,” she says of her decision to post the photo on her Facebook page. “I [told my boyfriend] ‘I never want to take a before and after picture again. This is just what my body looks like – no dieting, no preparation for a photo shoot. It’s my body.’ ”

While Galbraith calls 2016 the first year she hasn’t made a resolution focused on her physical appearance, it doesn’t mean the trainer is shying away from health goals altogether. She does, in fact, have a few in mind, but refuses to make them solely about her body.

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“I’m not interested in changing the way my body looks and that’s a really important message to send to women,” she says.

Galbraith started Girls Gone Strong a little over four years ago in order to help others. The online program provides women with remote coaching sessions, workout routines and nutrition guides, among other services, and its cost ranges from $7 (more specific – think injury prevention) to $200+ per month (a comprehensive 9-month program to strengthen both the mind and body).

The organization is comprised of nine advisors in the health and fitness realms (personal trainers, yoga instructors and physical therapists, to name a few) that work one-on-one with participants remotely.

“Loving your body does not mean you’re giving up. It’s not complacency. It’s compassion,” Galbraith says. “Getting that message to as many women as possible is the main goal.”