Bethany Tomlinson feels more confident with a more muscular frame

Credit: Bethany Tomlinson/Instagram

Bethany Tomlinson didn’t feel comfortable with her naturally thin frame, and says gaining muscle definition and curves has helped her to feel better about her body than ever before.

“I just had no body confidence,” the U.K. university student, 22, tells PEOPLE of her former 7 stone (about 98 lbs.) self. “I picked on myself in the mirror and really tore myself apart.”

Tomlinson says comparing herself to other people on social media added to her insecurity.

“Social media can be really self destructive for young girls in terms of living up to idolized body types and specific looks,” she says.

But it also served as her inspiration when she decided she wanted to start building muscle.

“I found some fitness models on Instagram such as Katy Hearn and really fell in love with their more muscular curvy appearance,” says Tomlinson. “I saw their before pictures and they looked similar to me. I was inspired to see how much I could change myself with weight training.”

The business and marketing student began lifting light weights and working her way up to more heavy strength training.

“In terms of exercise, I just pushed and challenged myself more in terms of getting stronger and lifting heavier,” says Tomlinson. “I can now squat double my body weight — this has taken years of consistency and self motivation. My training now consists of lots of compound work like squats and deadlifts followed by isolation work for my glutes and specific areas of my body I would like to improve and grow.”

She also had to overhaul her diet. Even though Tomlinson was thin, she had never put an emphasis on healthy eating before.

“[I started] eating a lot more food to curb my fast metabolism,” she said. “I also ate a lot of bad unhealthy food beforehand in hopes it would help me gain weight. What I needed to do was up my intake, but with wholesome, balanced foods with adequate protein, carbohydrate and fat sources.”

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Two-and-a-half years after beginning her transformation, Tomlinson has put on 21 lbs. of muscle and says she feels “massively” more confident.

“But this is not just about my body and how I look — it’s how I feel mentally,” she says. “This journey has lead me to self-acceptance within my body and personally as an individual too. It’s totally changed my life in every aspect.”