ENCINITAS — Hoping to tackle the growing problem of obesity and the age-old issue of low self-esteem among middle and high school students, the owner of a local fitness studio is launching a wellness program for teenagers, a group she said, speaking from experience, often falls through the cracks.
“They are either treated like babies or overlooked,” said Kristen Enyedi, founder of Encinitas Fitness, who will hold her first USA Teen Fit camp during the upcoming holiday break.
The two-week program, which begins Dec. 19, is for anyone between the ages of 12 and 16 who is either overweight or suffers from a bad body image or low self-esteem. The focus will be on nutrition, exercise, behavior modification and “having a lot of fun,” Enyedi said.
“There’s a lot of information online about wellness and nutrition and living right, but not a lot that links them together,” Enyedi said. “We all have obstacles in our lives, but we can’t let them get in the way of our path.
“Many teens don’t have the tools to figure that out,” she said. “They have so many opportunities to make positive changes but the problem is not knowing what kinds of tools to use.”
Those tools include making good choices, something Enyedi admits she didn’t always do while growing up. In fact, by the time she was 23, Enyedi had experienced enough tragedies for a lifetime, any one of which would have caused most people to give up.
Her parents divorced when she was 3. At 11, she started cutting classes, sneaking into pool halls and bullying her classmates. When one girl, who was bigger than Enyedi, had had enough, she threatened her with a switchblade.
Told by the principal she was no longer safe at school, Enyedi and her mother moved from South County to Clairemont.
Despite new surroundings, her troubles continued.
“I remember lots of arguing at home,” she said. “I felt like I didn’t have anyone to go to. I tried to find my niche, but as a teen, I didn’t know what that was.
“My friends were my safe place, but the easiest friends to make are the ones you don’t need,” she said.
Enyedi was dyslexic. At one point she developed an eating disorder. She was kidnapped and abused.
In high school, she tried cheerleading, but that only lasted a year. “I put on 30 pounds,” she said. “I didn’t feel confident in my own body. I started making bad choices.”
At about the same time, her mother, who had remarried, gave birth to her two half sisters, which helped Enyedi refocus her life, at least for a while.
“They are my shooting stars,” she said. “I didn’t have a lot of faith in anything, but they helped. I figured if bad things happen to one in three people my sisters would be OK. I felt like through my tragedies I helped them.”
Despite the positive influence of her new siblings, Enyedi still seemed to take one step forward and two steps back. She took college classes but never finished. She lost relatives to drugs and suicide.
“I was living carelessly,” she said. “The turning point came when I was 23. I was given another opportunity.”
That’s when her 18-year-old cousin Jennifer O’Brien passed away following a heart transplant. “Her mom talked about all the good things she did and all the things she wanted to do.
“I realized she was trying to do things I took for granted,” Enyedi said. “That brought value back to my life. She didn’t have a chance, but I did. I was letting my sisters down. I wanted to be my best but I wasn’t. My cousin gave me faith that hope existed. ”
Enyedi’s boyfriend at the time was a drug user. After her cousin’s death she realized he wasn’t going to quit, so she broke up with him.
“Then I went and bought the best pair of running shoes I could afford and just started running because that was something my cousin always wanted to do but couldn’t because of her heart,” Enyedi said.
“I remember running down this big hill and I said, ‘Jennifer, this is for you,’” she said. “I immediately felt a gust of wind — a warm, comforting gust of wind. From that point on I knew I wanted to break the cycle. I knew if I kept trying I could get to the other side and create the adult I wanted to be.”
Enyedi returned to college, graduated from Cal State San Marcos and earned her teaching credential from San Diego State. She began teaching at Juvenile Hall in Oceanside and eventually was hired to work in the Oceanside and Carlsbad school districts.
While she continues to be motivated by the memory of her cousin, Enyedi is also inspired by her 6-year-old daughter.
“I knew I wanted her to be confident, to be mentally and physically strong and to be able to stand her own ground,” Enyedi said. “But to teach her how to believe in herself, I have to be confident.”
Realizing confidence and high self-esteem come from good health, Enyedi started Encinitas Fitness five years ago. She began by holding workouts at the beach and eventually opened her studio in Moonlight Plaza.
In addition to being a confident businesswoman, she is an ambassador for Promax Nutrition Bars, a Girl Scout Daisy leader and the physical education teacher at Ocean Knoll Elementary School.
She developed USA Teen Fit, a program she hopes will someday be adopted nationally, to help teenagers locally and outside the community understand the importance of setting goals to become mentally and physically strong.
“We all deserve to feel we’re our ideal selves,” Enyedi said. “I want them to leave knowing how remarkable they are.”