The untold truth of Kayla Itsines

Look up "fitspiration" in the dictionary and you're likely to find a photo of Kayla Itsines. The Aussie fitness superstar and Instagram queen went from training clients in the gym to owning her own business, swiftly turning it into a million-dollar brand with her as the face (and body). And this is all before she'd even hit 30.

Itsines (pronounced it-seen-ess), who hadn't a clue about Instagram before she started posting transformation pics of her clients, teaches women that being strong is better than being skinny, that feeling fit is more important than the numbers on the scale.

Outside of being arguably one of the healthiest role models for young women in the public sphere, Itsines has a normal life just like everybody else. In fact, normality is her brand. She even (whisper it) eats badly sometimes. This is the untold truth of one of the biggest #fitspo ladies of all time. 

She was a teenage businesswoman

At 18 years old, Itinses was a qualified personal trainer working in Adelaide, Australia. Leading exercise classes comprised of mostly older women, she found herself equally as bored and frustrated as her clients. 

As she explained to Bloomberg, one day Itsines broke rank, leading the group in a series of standardized exercises, which they loved. Her little sister's friends then asked her to train them to play for the school netball team. Her cousin suggested Itsines post before and after shots of her satisfied customers to Instagram, to build her profile. Within months, wannabe clients from all over the country had discovered her via those all-important hashtags. They all wanted her to train them. 

Fellow personal trainer, and her now-fiancé, Tobias Pearce helped Itsines devise a simple workout guide (which would become the Bikini Body Guide) to sell online based on those same basic routines, and the rest, as they say, is history. Even so, she remains modest, telling Business Insider, "I've been working for myself since I was 18. Maybe I did not see myself as an entrepreneur, but I knew what I wanted to do: Help women."

She's a secret millionaire

It took just a few years for Itsines to rack up millions of Instagram followers, with her BBG guides flying off the online shelves as fans sought to emulate her healthy, super-fit lifestyle. With thousands of women worldwide shelling out $19.99 on them per month, her fortune grew considerably. 

The personal trainer and entrepreneur then decided to take her show on the road, with a tour consisting of wildly popular live group classes all of which, naturally, sold out in moments. "When I started with the world tour, I thought: Wow, this is really getting serious," she told Business Insider

She and Pearce also parlayed the BBG into a slick app, called SWEAT, that as Bloomberg noted bested even big fish like Nike sales-wise upon initial launch. Itsines and Pearce also landed on the 2016 BRW Young Rich List, with an estimated combined wealth of $46 million (they keep the particulars of the business top secret).  In 2017, Forbes named Itsines the #1 influencer in the fitness category. All before she'd even turned 30.  

Her inspiration is you

Itsines is the definition of a self-made success: a young woman who parlayed her job as a personal trainer into a world-conquering fitness revolution. Although the Aussie is a hugely inspiring bit of #fitspo herself, as she explained to Hello! magazine, it's not all about her. The way Itsines sees it, her brand was made on the transformations of other women, and that's where the focus should stay. 

The secret to her success is her followers, "the fact that I'm showcasing the success of other women," she explained. "Rather than showcasing what I do, it's more like, 'look at this girl, look at what she's done'. I think that's what's made it really relatable for women and really inspiring as well." As noted by Bloomberg following one of her intense boot-camps, in New York (attended by thousands of women), once all was said and done, Itsines triumphantly told the crowd, "you don't need me. You can do this by yourself."

She still gets nervous

Running massive events worldwide, from Amsterdam to London and back (her first U.S. tour sold out in less than an hour), attended by thousands of eager followers at a time, would be intimidating to any normal woman. But surely Kayla Itsines, the super-fit, super-popular Aussie firebrand and queen of Instagram, who posts awe-inspiring photos of her abs all day long doesn't get nervous, right? In spite of gracing the covers of Glamour, Women's Health, and more, Itsines still feels like the same woman she's always been (more on that later). 

As a result, regardless of her overarching success, she still gets nervous about meeting her fans in person — because their journeys are so personal to her. "I'm the one who's always super nervous to meet all the girls. I follow their journey to health on Instagram and Facebook intensively. To me they are like family," she told Business Insider

She regrets calling her plan the Bikini Body Guide

When Itsines launched the BBG, the world was a very different place. The idea of having a bikini body wasn't widely considered inappropriate and the catchy phrase, understandably, caught the attention of millions of women — many of whom, it must be noted, wanted to look like Kayla herself.

In the intervening years, Itsines has distanced herself slightly from the phrasing (though the #BBG hashtag is still hugely popular). When she launched her fitness app, it was called simply SWEAT. When questioned by Bloomberg about whether she regrets calling her guides the BBG, Itsines was upfront. "My answer is yes."

She further elaborated in an interview with Business Insider, explaining she doesn't necessarily wish things were different, but rather she recognizes her naivete. "In the beginning I didn't know it would go so far beyond Adelaide. The phrase has different interpretations in different countries. Fortunately, I can now show that a bikini body is not a body type, it's about bikini body self-esteem," she explained.

Her focus is female

Itsines started her empire because her clients weren't getting the desired results from other workouts. However, back then as right now, the focus was on feeling better just as much as looking better. In keeping with a woman who worries the phrase "bikini body guide" might alienate certain women, Itsines is very clear that her focus is on getting fitter and stronger. She noted in an interview with The Independent in the U.K. that she loves how, "I can help so many other women feel confident too," alongside her own fitness journey.

What marks Itsines out from other trainers is that female focus. It's why the BBG community has grown exponentially, and why millions of women continue to go to her for help. "These women are all different ages, come from different backgrounds and are of varying fitness levels, however, they all share one common goal: to feel confident," Itsines advised. 

If anyone were in any doubt about her intentions with BBG, SWEAT, and anything else that might come along, she told Vogue emphatically, "I am part of a group of women that you can't find anywhere else in the world. I am part of a community where women support other women."

She dispels some of the worst fitness myths

Instagram is awash with so many fitness trainers and clean eaters, it's difficult to know who to trust. For most of our lives, women have been sold myths about how to lose all of those unwanted pounds fast, from Atkins to gluten-free. What's remarkable about Itsines is that she lays out simply what to do to get results and then posts the evidence online for all to see. She's not shy about letting everybody know how hard it is to get fit, or to eat healthy, nor does she pretend it isn't going to be a long road. 

More to the point, she practices what she preaches by frequently doing her own workouts. In conversation with Imperfect Matter, the Aussie trainer explained that keeping it simple is the best way to go. "Find a simple plan and stick to it. Consistency is the biggest piece of advice that can ever be given to anyone. If you train and eat 110% perfectly but only 10% of the time, you'll still only get 10% results. I would rather eat and train well, always, and get 100% results," she advised matter-of-factly.

She was scared into getting fit

As is probably evident from the fit and happy young woman smiling out of Instagram (also, those abs), Itsines has been an active person throughout her life. However, although as a kid she partook in basketball and ate well (thanks to her large Greek family and their delectable home-cooked meals), what set her on the path to hardcore fitness and good health was something much more serious.

Speaking to Cosmopolitan, Itsines admitted that it was an endometriosis diagnosis, and subsequent surgery, that scared her into getting her body in order. "When I was 15 or 16, my doctors told me I may not be able to have kids and there was nothing they could really do. So I went online where people were saying that there is something you can do: Make sure you're healthy, fit, and strong. I went to the gym and started working out. It felt so good," she said. Nowadays, Itsines passes that feeling on to her millions of followers worldwide in the hopes they can turn their lives around too.

She indulges just like everybody else

Itsines is open on Instagram, and in her lively newsletter, about the importance of indulging every once in a while. As Itsines explained to Hello!"it's not necessarily about restricting certain ingredients or cutting things out, it's more important to have a healthy balanced diet."

She speaks from experience, having previously suffered as a result of a strict bodybuilding diet, which led her to crave foods she wouldn't otherwise have wanted (salt and vinegar chips!). Although Itsines doesn't do cheat days, she still gives in to her cravings every once in a while, as anyone who follows her on Instagram can attest (hellooo pizza).  

The Aussie firebrand encourages clients to eat clean the majority of the time, so that when they do indulge, they won't beat themselves up. "Put it this way: I eat really healthy all the time. I'd always choose the healthy option, and if I want to have a piece of cake, I'll have it. I won't be like, I can only have one piece of cake for the whole week," she told Popsugar

Her family doubted her at first

Nobody gets to the level Itsines is at alone, and the entrepreneur is vocal about who's responsible for her ascension. First and foremost, the proud Greek credits her hard-working parents, both of whom are teachers, with instilling a proper work ethic in her. "We're just hard workers. We don't mind what we do, as long as we love what we do. … My grandpa always taught me, 'Do things out of love'. I don't think you can teach someone that at this age. You just have to be born with it," she told Girl Boss.

Instagram fans know that Itsines is hugely proud of her upbringing and spends plenty of time with those nearest and dearest to her. However, it wasn't always like that, as she admitted to The Independent, "[My] grandparents … didn't think I should be a personal trainer. They didn't believe it would be a good profession for me because they are very traditional. I almost didn't do it because I love and care so much about what my family thinks!" Thankfully, they came around, although they still don't quite understand just how popular their granddaughter is. 

She's still Kayla from the block

Itsines still lives in Adelaide, where she was born and raised. She has no plans to leave either, even as her empire continues to grow. Rather than seeing herself as a super-famous Instagram star, Itsines says that nothing has really changed for her. As she told Women's Health, when Itsines chooses to splurge, it's on new gym equipment. She even drives the same car as always, "a Hyundai, covered in dog fur." 

Likewise, given Instagram was the platform that made her, Itsines has no plans to pull back on social media either. "I share everything: when I'm not working out, when I'm eating dessert, when I have my period … I want to be able to share my experiences. … I have literally nothing to hide," she told Vogue, in direct opposition to most similar, curated-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life accounts out there. Even her childhood friends acknowledge she's the same old Kayla she's always been, wearing gym clothes except when she absolutely is not allowed (i.e. for fancy dinners). 

She'd love to train Ellen DeGeneres

After being catapulted into the stratosphere thanks to Instagram, BBG, her app, and, you know, just herself, Itsines is in a position where she's more in demand than she ever imagined possible. Just two of the celebs who swear by her plan are Katherine Heigl, who used it to get back in shape after giving birth, and Keltie Knight, who wanted her best body at 34.

When probed by Hello! Itsines wasn't giving anything away about previous celeb clients (what happens in the gym stays in the gym), but she did admit there are two famous types she'd love to train. Namely, everyone's favorite TV host and Kensington Palace's newest royal. "Ellen DeGeneres!" she gushed. "There's so many people, they're amazing. Any powerful women around the world… Meghan Markle!" Considering her popularity, they should probably both get in line.