Oxford Uni Student Grace Beverley: Why I Love/Hate The Gym
Welcome to Love/Hate Stories, the 657Journal’s series exploring our unique relationship with exercise, by those who’ve fallen for it after years of stubborn resistance.
Grace Beverley has mixed feelings when it comes to the gym.
The first year music student — also known as GraceFitUK to her skyrocketing following on Instagram — grew up in the uber-disciplined world of competitive gymnastics until a car accident at just 13 spun her into a different direction.
It freed her from eight years of rigorous training and allowed her to enjoy a previously suppressed social life, but when she tried to return to exercise as a self-conscious 16-year-old, Beverley realised she didn’t know where to start.
Superfood crazes, quick-fix pills, fad diets, she tried them all until she discovered the solution to long-term results. That started by reframing everything she thought she knew about toning up and slimming down.
Three years later she takes working out, eating clean, building a brand and cramming for exams in her stride. This is her love/hate story.
I absolutely love what I do so balancing work and exercise feels easy. I’m studying music because I love it. I wouldn’t have gone to uni if I wasn’t. I go to the gym because I love it. I don’t see the idea of staying in shape as sacrifice and giving up what you love. If I want to go out I’ll go out. If I’d like to go to the gym I’ll go to the gym. Because I love staying in shape and being strong I’ll go most days. But if I need to be in the library all day then that’s where I’ll be.
A car accident when I was 13 put a stop to competitive gymnastics. I was forced to give it up but I was so fed up of training 16 hours a week and monitoring everything, making sure I was perfect in every situation. Being so dedicated to a sport is quite antisocial. Of course I was annoyed at the time. There was a week when I could hardly move but after that I felt liberated.
I was so lost for so long when I first started going to the gym.
I rebounded after eight years of serious gymnastics. I got lazy. I had just moved to school in London and I was thinking I could see my friends on the weekend, go to parties, I was no longer tied to this sport so I stopped doing any. I thought I can eat whatever I want and wouldn’t need to exercise. Between 13–15 I had freedom and I was really happy. Then, as is normal for all teenage girls and boys, I started to compare myself with others.
All you need to do to lose weight is expend more energy than you eat. Full stop. That’s all you need to do. Honestly. I knew that but I felt I needed a quicker fix so completely bought into all the stuff online, all the teatoxes, ketone pills, all the fad diets. I’d skip dinner if there was a party coming up on the weekend. It was all so unhealthy and unnecessary. That was never going to work long term. I’d rebound and feel bad about myself. I did all those things for a bit but then in year 12 I started thinking more about things that would actually last.
I was so lost for so long when I first started going to the gym. That was until I found an online plan called the Bikini Body Guide by Kayla Itsines. I tried it for a summer and it was really good. It taught me the core principles of losing weight: basically exercise and eat well. The next year I started the guide with my friends. I’d seen these Instagram accounts of people tracking their progress. I wanted to do the same thing but thought everyone at school would massively take the piss out of me. Instead I made a secret account with an obscure name and even blocked about 300 people at school so they couldn’t find me.
I started my account on Instagram as a food and workout journal. I’d simply post my meals, my workouts, and reach out to similar people, commenting on their pages. Because I was quite consistent and posted every meal and the recipes it started growing. By the summer it was on about 3,000 followers and I thought I had hit the big time. I thought I was a proper celebrity. Then people at school started finding out about it.
If you want to lean down you need to eat up.
People stopped making fun of me and started asking for my advice. It really helped me having so many people online doing the same type of thing and eating well. I thought this motivates me and it’s clearly helping motivate others. I thought if I can help people stop being the girl I was and get healthier and to the goals they want to reach then I want to do that.
If you want to tone up you need to build muscle. People, especially girls, think by picking up big weights they’re going to get bulky. If you can get bulky that easily then congratulations because people spend their whole lives trying to build muscle. It’s so hard. With girls you don’t even have enough testosterone to do it that quickly.
If you want to lean down you need to eat up. Start by eating plenty of the right foods, including quality protein and carbs. I can’t just train and not eat much or my body won’t have any fuel for my muscles. That’s another huge misconception. Not eating enough is often counter productive. It’ll slow down your metabolism, slow down your body and you won’t achieve your goals.
I focus on eating nutritionally dense food. I always aim to eat my five a day at least but your diet needs to be balanced. I always have a big breakfast. If I’m on any kind of restriction of carbs, I save them for around my workout. Change the idea that your breakfast always has to be carbs, like toast or cereal. For me, you can’t go wrong with eggs and avocado.
You need to eat for your soul as well as your muscles. Last year I had a coach. Abby, one half of @gains4girls on Instagram, is the most amazing coach ever. She changed my life in the way I think about nutrition. After I had a massively indulgent weekend I messaged her asking if I should not have a high carb day the next day and she said, “No that food was for the soul, this is for your body”. That’s so important. I don’t count or monitor anything nutritionally. I just use common sense. So I won’t overly indulge but I will eat a normal meal like a lasagne without worrying about it.
When it comes to exercise, make sure you love it and you’ll keep coming back for more.
I love being strong. I like being capable and independent. I love the feeling of strength and if you’re strong you’ll be healthy too. It’s also practical. Recently a fridge got delivered to my flat and they just left it out in the hall but I was able to shift it across my kitchen. And I was ready to take on an adventure race at short notice after a friend pulled out. It was 10K and I’m not a runner. I didn’t even think I could run that far. But there I was pulling myself over walls and lifting up big hay bales. It made me realise that in the dystopian future when everyone’s turned to zombies, I should be alright.
I used to think I hated exercise but I was just being lazy. Once I even Googled “How can I workout without getting out of bed?”. That’s how lazy I was. Even when I started I wasn’t sure I was going to like going to the gym but I found out I really love lifting heavy weights. That makes me feel strong and happy and that’s what makes you fit and healthy. I hate box jumps and burpees but other friends really love that. That’s the secret. Find what you love, otherwise you’re going to go off it after two days. When you first start in the gym use the first week to find your footing, try different classes, work out what you enjoy. Make sure you love it and you’ll keep coming back for more.
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