Sophie Gray was poised for success, having garnered hundreds of thousands of online fans thanks to her fit physique and positive attitude. Then, a panic attack in July 2017 led the Instagram fitness phenom to completely re-think her brand. In the shift away from bikini shots and six-pack selfies, Gray lost over 40,000 followers, but the quirky influencer from St. Albert couldn’t be happier.
“I was always ashamed of what I did,” says Gray. “I thought that’s what I had to do to gain followers and make money, but that’s not who I am.”
Gray never planned on becoming a fitness star. As a teen, she wanted to model, but struggled to attain the measurements needed to work in international markets. To lose weight, she would starve herself and work out obsessively. Recognizing these habits were unhealthy, Gray changed her regime and began documenting the process on Instagram. Her account gained traction and sparked the online fitness and nutrition business, Way of Gray.
After publishing her first fitness e-book in 2013 (now available through her subscription-based website), Gray abandoned modelling, turning down a contract in Asia to focus on her growing social-media empire – to which she markets her workouts and meal plans.
The simplicity of Gray’s approach – eat more whole foods (but don’t beat yourself up over a cookie), exercise and, most importantly, love yourself – stood out in the world of fad diets and five-step fixes. There was just one problem: While persuading 400,000 followers to forget about thigh gaps and focus on living a healthy lifestyle, Gray continued to struggle with her own body-image issues.
Convinced she had to look a certain way to sell her workouts, Gray would stress over her pre-shoot calorie intake. “Up until I stopped doing bikini photos, I still didn’t have a really great relationship with my body,” she says. “I would change what I was eating two weeks out, and the day of, I wouldn’t eat.”
Last summer, she decided to transition away from the fitness realm. While subscribers can still access the same workouts and recipes, they now have an abundance of self-care resources at their disposal- from journaling routines to meditation techniques to gratitude lists.
“You still need to take care of your body,” says Gray, who is finally at a healthy weight, “but if you don’t work on your insecurities first, then you’re always going to be chasing something.”
She admits that, while she can still support herself, her online revenue has shrunk since she made the change.
“It’s scary,” she says of her depleting customer base. “I have a house; I have employees to pay for. But at the end of the day, I look at how much better I feel about what I’m putting out and that’s enough to me.”