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Truth Behind The Shot: What It's Really Like Being An Instagram Fitness Model

One successful fitness influencer tells us exactly how her business took off. What she shares might surprise you.

Katie Dunlop, the owner of Love Sweat Fitness, a fitness Instagram with a blog to match, never set out to become a brand influencer.

In fact, if you had pulled her aside when she was a recent college grad who had gained 45 pounds during her college career and you told her she would soon be making her living as a fitness influencer, she probably would have thought you were joking.

“I never imagined I’d be teaching fitness classes or in the fitness world, let alone running an entire fitness community online,” Dunlop tells HealthyWay.

Before she adopted her healthy lifestyle, weight loss and fitness were difficult subjects for her. She tried countless fad diets, specialty products, and cycles of unhealthy eating followed by days of restriction. Taking care of her body was an emotional struggle for her.

When eating nutritious meals and finding exercise she loved really clicked, she not only lost 45 pounds, she also gained a passion for helping other women move past their struggles with weight and into a lasting, healthy lifestyle.

How She Got Started

Today Dunlop has 244,000 followers on Instagram, a popular blog, and more than 205,000 YouTube subscribers. As hard as might be to believe, her online following started very organically.

Her personal success losing weight sparked an interest in fitness and healthy eating.

“It really came out of my own weight loss transformation. I lost 45 pounds and completely changed my lifestyle. I fell in love with health and fitness,” explains Dunlop.

She became a certified personal trainer and began teaching fitness privately in Los Angeles. Her friends and the students in her barre classes actually were the ones who came up with the whole idea of taking her fitness education online, asking her to post workouts they could use while they weren’t in class.

Beginning with her personal Instagram feed, in 2014 Dunlop started posting fitness content, including inspirational quotes and workouts she created. It wasn’t long until she felt she should switch to a new account, so her family and friends wouldn’t be inundated with non-stop workouts and healthy living quotes. That's when Love Sweat Fitness was born.

Dunlop believes that her message of no fad diets and a healthy lifestyle that is maintainable for the long term resonated with women who were tired of trying big changes or trendy diets that didn’t work. She also believes her timing was right—that starting her influencer career in the earlier years of Instagram’s popularity allowed her to reach a large audience in a shorter amount of time.

“It really stemmed from this passion that I had for wanting to share with people I did know. Because of that, and sharing my own personal transformation stories, it got picked up by larger pages who would then share it.”

This is when her audience really began to take off. Having popular fitness influencers sharing her content allowed her page to grow into something much larger than she had ever planned for it to be.

The Hustle

Of course, just because her life as an Instagram fitness influencer began organically, that doesn’t mean Dunlop hasn’t hustled. In early 2016, she turned Love Sweat Fitness into a full-time career. Making her business her sole source of income has meant giving it her all.

Between her time spent creating recipes, going on photo shoots, and filming workouts, Dunlop is a busy woman. If there is one thing she wants others to understand it is that being an influencer is no walk in the park and that her husband sacrifices his time off helping her photograph, edit, record workouts, and strategize for her business.

“We work basically 24/7, which I think is something people don’t think about. People see the fun, ‘Yay! I’m going here and it’s lovely!’ But it’s nonstop...nights and weekends and everything.”

Dunlop’s financial success and popularity may have stemmed in part from the fact that she is offering more to her followers than sponsored posts. Although she does work with brands frequently, she also regularly turns down brands that don’t align with her message.

“At the end of the day, I have to be real because that is who I am and I understand how deep it goes and how much of an emotional thing [weight loss] can be for women. I want to make sure I am always being true to that and expressing that in everything I do. It is really easy to get caught up in seeing what their physical body looks like and then believing that whatever they say or do is going to work for you, like some magic pill.”

In addition to the money she makes working with brands like Lorna Jane, BioClarity, and more, Dunlop has worked tirelessly to create weight loss and nutrition resources she feels proud to sell.

“I have my Hot Body Sweat Guide and Hot Body Meal Plan, I’m getting ready to launch a lifestyle and recipe book. Those are probably the main source of our income. As well as the apparel. I have tanks and water bottles.”

When it comes making money as a brand influencer, Dunlop has set pretty strict rules for Love Sweat Fitness. She does have ongoing brand partnerships that provide her with regular income, but says:

“I’m super picky and particular, especially when it comes to anything that is food or beverage related. Even with clothing, I’m very picky about the brands I work with because... I know there are a lot of companies out there that have a ton of money. It is tempting to want to work with them but at the end of the day, I have to put my beliefs first. So, the brand partnerships are a smaller part of what we do.”

A Day in the Life

“Throughout the week it can change constantly, whether it’s jumping to different events, going to film different shoots for collaborations with collaborations like PopSugar... In general, it’s a lot of time online.”

Although she knows many might believe her life is spent working out all day, that isn’t the case. Instead, Dunlop spends a lot of her time reading and responding to comments on YouTube and Instagram, which she believes is essential to nurturing her community of followers. She also spends a lot of her time brainstorming content and putting together blog posts.

When it comes to maintaining her own fitness, it really isn’t as time consuming as many outsiders might assume. For Dunlop, working out only takes up between 30 and 45 minutes of each day.

The Truth Behind the Shot

Dunlop spends a lot of time in front the camera. She is constantly shooting content for her blog and Instagram and shares that she and her husband work hard keep a large library of original photos available for use online.

Additionally, each brand partnership or collaboration means a new photo shoot. Sometimes these are photo shoots she and her husband have planned, other times they are photo shoots with magazines or online publications.

“I do a lot of workout creations for brands like Lorna Jane or Fabletics, and so part of that will be creating workouts and doing photos for their blogs or for their social channels of the different workouts, exercises, and movements.”

Getting the right shot is a lot of work. Dunlop isn’t afraid to admit that Instagram is a visual platform and that her feed is curated to look pleasing to the eye.

Just like anyone else, Dunlop is always putting her best foot forward on her Instagram feed. At the same time, since she prioritizes being authentic, she has found ways to strike a healthy balance so her followers can see more of her “real life.”

“I think the creation of platforms like Snapchat and now Instagram having the story, has provided a really great opportunity...for people to be able to see the daily, messy bun, here I am just working on the computer.”

Dunlop and her husband–photographer work hard to get beautiful shots for her Instagram feed, blog, and workouts. There are many times when entire weekend outings are centered around getting shots of her on the beach, hanging out with friends, or wearing new gear from a brand partnership.

At the same time, there is a big difference between styling a photo by posing with props and heavily editing a photo to cover up the truth. For Dunlop, putting her authentic self out there is a standard she simple isn’t willing to budge on just to get more likes or a chance to team up with a bigger brand.

“Of course, I want to put pretty pictures up, but that is more to help inspire people. But I don’t edit photos except for making sure you can see them and they’re well lit. I’ve never gone down that road because I think, at the end of the day, it always comes out, you don’t feel good, and it’s not authentic. People are going to see through that and it’s just not worth it.”

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