After 13 years of ballet, terrible eating habits, body image issues and a debilitating ankle injury, Sassy Gregson-Williams decided to start her own business. The 16-year-old had finished school early to focus on a career in dance, but Gregson-Williams knew she needed to take care of her body if she wanted to continue training. “I started looking into nutrition, specifically sports nutrition,” says Gregson-Williams, who grew up in the United Kingdom. “I think that knowledge is power, but there was no knowledge at all as a young dancer about the food that I should be eating. So there was this moment of ‘I can’t believe what I’ve been missing.’”
That’s when Gregson-Williams started getting her hands dirty in the kitchen and fell in love with cooking. After writing a food column for her sister’s digital magazine, Hip & Healthy, and creating a social media following, Gregson-Williams launched her blog Naturally Sassy in 2014. But that wasn’t enough for Gregson-Williams, who was still spending hours training in the dance studio every day.
“With the kind of optimism that only a teenager could have, I walked into a publishing house the next month and got a cookbook deal for my recipes,” Gregson-Williams says, laughing. She also launched a limited line of exclusive energy bars at Whole Foods.
After a move to Chicago for her dance career led to broken ribs and torn ankle ligaments, Gregson-Williams took some time off to consider her future. “I thought, ‘I can’t live in injury anymore,’ and I have this other thing, recipes and the cookery, that I’m so passionate about that I think I could devote all my time to. So I stopped dancing then and Naturally Sassy greatly changed afterward,” she says.
Gregson-Williams had been working with a physiotherapist while rehabbing her injury, but she was very frustrated by the approach to staying fit through an injury. “It had nothing to do with dance at all,” she says. “I felt like I was working one muscle at a time instead of my whole body.”
So Gregson-Williams started her own strength-and-conditioning training, bringing in classical dance elements, using full-body moves that also focused on posture and full range of motion. She got certified as a personal trainer and started training other women and teaching classes in London using the training she had created for herself.
“I realized when I was moving about and traveling for work, I needed space and a platform where I could share these workouts that people could stream anywhere in the world,” says Gregson-Williams, who moved to Los Angeles last year and launched The Naturally Sassy Online Studio and Ballet Blast class earlier this year, followed by an app in July. “That’s the evolution of Naturally Sassy—from being a dancer, not eating, to leading workouts for women and men subscribed in more than 50 countries.”
It’s only been four years since she launched Naturally Sassy, and despite some of the mistakes she made, Gregson-Williams says she wouldn’t take any of them back. She’s incredibly proud of the platform and community she’s built. And while her passion for health led her to this point, it’s the men and women in cities across the world who take the classes in her online studio that keep her motivated to continue innovating and creating. “I love the online platform because of how many people you can reach. … I think that’s the biggest motivation at the end of the day to spreading it to as many people, making it as accessible into their lives as I wanted it to be for me,” she says.
So what’s next for this 20-year-old entrepreneur?
“We’ve got some exciting developments in the online studio, like different e-books and workout programs we’re launching,” Gregson-Williams says. “I really want to connect more with people and do in-person classes. So the next big thing I’m working on is a Naturally Sassy tour so we can go meet everybody that streams the studio classes. So that’s the next big project, and it will be a big project.”
Get to Know Sassy
What is your food philosophy?
Sassy Gregson-Williams: My food philosophy is just really about educating yourself and what your body needs. I always tell my clients to use a food app and track what they’re eating, just for five days. Often, because we’re creatures of habit, we eat very similar things day in and day out and then we wonder, “Why am I always really hungry in the morning?” It’s often because we have an imbalance. We may be eating too much fat, but we’re not eating enough carbohydrates to fuel our workout.
I think there’s a huge stigma around calories. But education is key, and that comes from seeing what you’re eating and not being scared to look at how many calories that you’re eating. Not because you need to count calories but because you should make sure it’s enough or know if it’s too much. It’s just about being aware.
I’m a dairy-free pescatarian. I don’t eat dairy, because I have eczema flare-ups from lactose, or refined sugar. I eat plant-based heavy. I’m huge on getting enough fiber into your diet, and protein.
What does a week of workouts look like for you?
SGW: I work out six days a week, and on my rest day, I normally go for a hike or really long walk. A rest day does not mean lying on the couch. At a minimum, do stretching or something to move your body.
I don’t do huge amounts of cardio or anything. I think the most important thing for my body is strength. And I always save 10 minutes a day in front of the television for stretching.
Where do you find inspiration?
SGW: Food. I find inspiration from all the really unhealthy meals I used to love. My business—I find it from all the people that engage, use and tell me what they want next.
What are you passionate about besides what you do?
SGW: Dance. Most passionate about animals. I’m crazy passionate about traveling. I’m planning to hike up Mount Kilimanjaro next year. That’s my next goal, but I’m very huge on hiking and traveling. I’ve been begging my boyfriend to one, get a dog, and two, climb Mount Kilimanjaro with me. We’ll see which comes first.
What podcasts are you currently listening to?
I’m listening to two podcasts. I love “How I Built This” by Guy Raz—that’s my favorite podcast. And there’s a new podcast I’m loving called “Highway to Well.” I’m slightly biased because I just recorded an episode with them, but they just launched, and I listened to it on the plane yesterday and I loved it. I thought it was a really fun way of presenting wellness. It’s by two awesome women, [Erica Huss and Zoe Sakoutis], who founded BluePrint, and it’s just a really non-naggy, fun approach to talking about health.
What type of music do you listen to when you work out?
SGW: Rap Jazz.
What is your power food?
SGW: I often work out in the morning, so I normally don’t eat before a workout. I eat after. But if I do, I’ll have something like a green smoothie with a little banana, or an apple and almond butter.
What’s your secret to getting a great night’s sleep?
SGW: No technology at least two hours before bed. I normally read or I’ll journal. I try to put the phone down, charge it in the other room. No technology a few hours before sleep means two hours more in my sleep cycle, which is pretty great. So for my workouts the next day, I have a lot more energy.
What is your No. 1 stressor and your top stress buster?
SGW: I’m really into CBD oil, like on my muscles particularly. I have a drop of it in my tea at night, and I have a cream I rub on my muscles. It’s the most relaxing thing. That’s a big stress buster. The other thing is going dancing. I love going salsa dancing when I’m really stressed.
What is your secret to getting stuff done?
SGW: All the magic happens the night before. I spend an hour the night before making my lunch for the next day when I’m making dinner. And then right after that, I will write my to-do list for the next day and I’ll write an order of importance. The other thing is just making sure that I work out before I go to work. If I have worked out and I’ve done that first thing in the morning, I’m always so much more clear. It always works. It’s always a really positive decision.
What is the best advice you’ve given or gotten?
SGW: It’s from my dad. I always ask him about every decision I’m ever going to make, and he always says play devil’s advocate with your mind. For every decision you make, think about all the things that could go wrong, and if your instinct is still, “I don’t care if those things can go wrong, I still want it to happen,” that’s when you really, really believe in it. So he always says, “List all the negatives, and if you still believe fully in it, go for it and make it happen.”
Photo credit: Courtesy of Sassy Gregson-Williams