Behind the scenes – shooting with easyGym

 

As some of you may know, in December I was asked to model for easyGym’s new ‘Set to Sweat’ programme, a 12 week guide aimed at beginner to intermediate women to improve their fitness, strength and physique. The shooting was done over 4 full days, filming each stage of each and every exercise.

I wrote this post to share with you some insights into the programme and what it was like to take part in such a big shoot.

But first, a HUGE shoutout to Felix the photographer and Sarah the assist (and fairy godmother/coffee bringer) for keeping the shoot interesting, relaxed and endlessly hilarious!

You’ll be seeing the full results of the shoot on the 8th March when the full guide comes out (also conveniently women’s day!). I’m so excited to see the final product – as you might know, I’m a huge advocate of getting women into the weights room, so it was so good to be able to partake in such an amazing shoot! Watch this space.

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Day 1 – already in need of a stretch

 

The gym:

Our shooting was done at easyGym in Wandsworth, one of their many locations around England. On the first day I arrived and was swiped in by the photographer, Felix up to their first floor (deceptively named, as it was about 7 flights up – thank goodness for lifts)! The gym was laid out almost totally open-plan, with cardio, floor, weights and free weights sections allowing plenty of space. It also meant there was little to no terror whilst entering the weights section because it was a continuous floor plan (no testosterone room, yay!). One entire wall was a huge window, which was really nice on the cardio machines that looked out onto the view (although it left a bit to be desired!). During our 4 days of shooting, there was only one piece of equipment that we couldn’t find (ab wheel) and there were plenty of each of the other machines, which meant no waiting!

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Cardio day

The exercises:

The exercises ranged from isometric holds on the floor, to bodyweight exercises to some quite intense weights-based exercises: after 10 minutes of bench pressing I started to wonder if I was even fit enough to take the photos, let alone actually do the programme! But the range of exercises meant that no one body part got too tired to continue, and over the four days every part of my body was fully worked out!

 

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Final day of shooting

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Day four, outfit two

The modelling:

Fitness modelling does not come naturally to me (or maybe for anyone?). I’m more than happy to workout and for people to take photos, but want a nice face along with that? Reeeeeeally tough! My workout face is probably NOT something you want blown up on a billboard. BUT, with a lot of practise (and some snazzy lighting from Felix), I finally got the hang of letting my face relax while my body did all the work. It’s the little things like licking your lips, scrunching your face and holding your breath that are difficult to get rid of, because you hardly notice you’re doing them.

I was able to choose my own clothes for the workout, but as a classic girl I brought along about four outfits every day to let Felix and Sarah decide which I should wear. Nothing that might clash with the easyGym orange, and nothing with big patterns, so that left basically my entire, mostly monochrome wardrobe.

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It’s always very serious on set

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Over and out

Thanks to easyGym for the use of their amazing gym!

 

How to use your food power

By Ben Eagle

Firstly, thanks to Flora for asking me to write this guest blog. I blog over at thinkingcountry.com and my posts generally focus on issues to do with food, farming, conservation, the environment and rural communities. I’m a big believer in supporting the people behind the food we eat, the people who produce it and work the land. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the power that we all have to support these people and how our own purchasing decisions can support producers who farm in a sustainable, beneficial and positive way when it comes to wildlife, local communities, animal welfare and soil health. This post is an invitation to join me in my quest to support these people.

The choices that each of us make every week when it comes to the food we buy can have a huge impact when it comes to the environment, rural communities and animal welfare. It’s just that, for most of us, when we rush up and down the supermarket aisles, we don’t think about this impact. However, if we each change our shopping habits, even just a little bit, we can bring about a revolution. Each of us is motivated by different things when it comes to the food that we buy. Price is a major factor for many, with most discounting organic produce immediately, primarily due to a perception of it being too expensive. Others are motivated by quality. For others still, it’s ethics. We tend to make our choices subconsciously, determined to get out of the supermarket as quickly as possible. Food shopping has become a chore, something we need to do, rather than something we enjoy doing.

What have I done?

Recently, I shifted my fruit and vegetable purchasing habits from the supermarket to the local greengrocer. Initially I was motivated by packaging – the amount of plastic with which supermarkets coat much of their fruit and veg is obscene. I mean, do bananas really need extra plastic packaging?! They have their own packaging in the form of skin! I have been amazed the extent to which I have managed to cut the amount of plastic I generate in such a short period. However, I have noticed further benefits. By shopping at the local small store I have access to the greengrocer’s knowledge, expertise and simple friendliness. I am becoming part of the community that shops in that place. I no longer feel stressed when I go shopping. I can ask for specific things to be ordered in if necessary. We can talk about food. Have you ever done that in the supermarket? On top of all of this, I am not spending lots more on veg than I was at the supermarket.

There is a strong likelihood that there will be an independent greengrocer near to where you live. Check them out. It’s well worth it. I promise. Meat and fish eaters among you could do the same at the local butchers or fishmongers, if you are lucky enough to have one.

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Local greengrocers can often be a lot cheaper than supermarkets, especially when buying locally sourced produce.

It feels really good to be using the small amount of food power I have. By shifting my shopping habits there are benefits for myself but also for the local community and the planet. My plastic consumption has reduced (paper bags do the job really well), money is being retained within the local economy and I have the power to ask exactly where all of the food I am consuming comes from. Obviously there are some things I still need to go to the supermarket before, but the way in which I shop has changed. I now automatically go for produce that at the very least has recyclable packaging and a siren goes off in my brain when I pick up something that might be going against this new ethic.

As a farming and conservation blogger I generally try to shed light on a wide range of food production methods. The people involved in farming (and conservation) work really hard and I think it’s important that we think of them when we eat and when we buy food. Clearly cheap food is cheap for a reason. This is partly down to subsidies and partly down to supermarkets using their economies of scale. We shouldn’t blame the farmers but the system in which they work. Not all farmers, however work the land on huge industrial scales, despite the line of the narrative we are given in the conventional media. There are thousands of small scale producers out there working the land in a way that is beneficial for people, wildlife and the soil. They just don’t get talked about very much. Take a look at the Landworkers Alliance website if you want to find out more.

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Organic produce may be expensive but for some produce it’s worth it. For others you on’t even have to buy organic – just go for local produce.

As I look for stories to write about on my blog or for other publications I see and experience a shift in attitudes. It might be slow, but it is happening. There is a movement towards wanting food that supports and sustains rural communities, that is kind to the land and low impact in terms of food miles. By changing our habits we can have a positive impact. We can actively choose to buy food that is grown in more sustainable ways (in general this means buying local and organic but we should remember that there are lots of non-organic farmers out there who do significant amounts of conservation work on their farms and manage soils well), giving farmers a better price and supporting those who have a positive impact on the environment.

So what can I do?

No matter how small it might feel, anything is better than nothing. There are lots of things you can do. An increasing number of food producers are selling direct to the public through box schemes or farm shops. Why not sign up for one? Innovative schemes such as Farmdrop and food clubs are making it easier for producers and consumers to connect with each other. Further, the debate about food waste has led to other great initiatives such as OLIO. Think about the amount of plastic you generate each week. Think about the ways in which your food was produced and the impact this will have on the environment. It would be great if you could check some of these out and decide how best you can use your food power. Good luck!

Ben Eagle blogs about food, farming, the environment and sustainability on his blog thinkingcountry.com and is a finalist in the 2017 UK Blog Awards. He has written for Farmland Magazine, The Countryman, Countrysquire Magazine, Rewilding Britain and the Sustainable Food Trust. You can follow him on twitter @benjy_eagle or join the thinkingcountry facebook page.

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Some fun facts for you to think about

 

Why I am Pescetarian

Aka a non meat eater (but I eat fish).

I have been pescetarian since I was four years old. Initially it was because I hated the taste and texture of meat but as I grew up, I also realised where meat came from and decided to label my non meat-eating habits as vegetarianism. The initial few years were a huge battle with my family – I was coerced, tricked and forced into eating meat that I didn’t want to eat, with mixed results. Some of it made me physically sick (lots of funny stories about this) and all of it made me upset and put me off meat for life. But most of all, the fight to be able to choose my own foods made me incredibly aware of what I was putting in my body.

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“Insert cute picture of cows here” – but srsly.

For many a meal is not complete without meat. I learned to cook for myself when I was around 12 because I didn’t want to be stuck with salad, vegetables and bread for every family meal. What I found was an incredible variety of cuisines out there – so many societies have amazing foods without any animal products at all, let alone without meat. A very happy side effect of giving up meat was an interest in different cuisines, experimenting with cooking and an inability to accept that vegetables are boring.

In this article I’ll try to outline the reasons I’ve stayed pescetarian for 17 years, and why you too might like to cut down on your meat consumption. I’ve never tried to turn anyone vegetarian, and I think that the idea that people have to have labels, such as ‘vegetarian’, ‘vegan’ or ‘pescetarian’ is the reason a lot of people don’t do anything to reduce their consumption. Every little helps, and here’s why:

Health:

I’m not saying good quality meat is bad for you in any way, but if you reduce your meat consumption to purely fresh, free range meats, you’ll be cutting out all sorts of crap from your diet. Processed meats have been linked to cancer (let’s be honest, what hasn’t) and are in the same WHO (world health organisation) class as asbestos, tobacco and alcohol. They’ve also been linked to heart disease. It’s often really difficult to find out what’s in processed meats. If you’re eating meat to up your protein intake, chicken nuggets and burgers likely aren’t the best way as they’re often filled with water, low quality off-cuts of various meats and bread/corn. For your health and extra protein you should try to buy the most expensive meat you can afford and then eat less of it (and enjoy it more). Go for meat on the bone if you must buy it – bacon, sausages, burgers, smoked meats, salami and hams are all no-goes for health reasons. In the same way that low-fat chocolate wouldn’t satisfy chocolate cravings, low quality meats encourage you to eat more of the dissatisfying stuff than the high-quality, tasty ‘real deal’. In addition, if you give up meat you’re more likely to eat more vegetables to fill the space, which can only be a good thing!

Ethical reasons:

This is a no-brainer but I know it’s often not enough for some people to go veggie. If you don’t think about it, it’s not happening, right? Sadly, I think a lot of people have the attitude that ‘everyone else is eating meat, so it’s probably ok’. What annoys me most is that people don’t think for themselves – when we’re younger, seeing an animal killed would upset us. Our desensitisation to what we’re actually eating is a key reason I think a lot of people eat meat. Watching programmes about the reality of it opens your eyes to some of the blatant cruelty that goes on. Pigs, especially, are incredibly intelligent (on par with dogs) – if you wouldn’t eat dog (and I don’t know many people who would), you probably shouldn’t be eating pigs. For this reason, I think it’s important for people to not eat meat they couldn’t kill themselves and to know exactly where the animal they’re putting into their body comes from. I believe there is no excuse for people not to eat free-range meat. If you have to eat meat, know where it comes for and go for something local and free-range. Nothing else will do.

As Sir Paul McCartney once said “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian”.

Environmental:

Raising animals for consumption requires massive amounts of land and water. This land could otherwise be kept as forests or used for crop growth: when compared to staples like potatoes, wheat and rice, beef requires 160x more land per calorie, and produces 11x more greenhouse gases. Agriculture produces around 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from the upkeep of beef cattle. Meat rich diets produce 7.2kg CO2 a day, compared to veggie and pesce diets emissions of 3.8kg and vegan diets’ 2.9kg per day. Of course, these are not set figures – if you decrease your meat (especially red meat) consumption then you will decrease your CO2 It’s a sliding scale that everyone should aim to be at the lower end of. In addition, grain fed cattle have a far greater environmental footprint than grass fed, so always go for grass fed if you MUST buy it. It’s the same thing about buying the best you can afford and eating less of it!

Moneys!:

Meat is expensive! You can reduce your yearly food bill by around 15% by cutting out meat, not to mention that in restaurants, the vegetarian foods are (almost) always cheaper. As a student this has been a godsend for me, and I always find that restaurants always put more effort into their vegetarian foods, using interesting spices and mixes of ingredients, whereas often in meat dishes they’re a lot plainer. Not an entirely biased opinion, as it’s been shared by a lot of my friends!

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An american feed-lot system. These are incredibly harmful to both the local and global environment.

As you can see, there are so many reasons why I cut out meat from my diet and have kept it out, and why you probably should cut down too. The main reasons people don’t are:

  1. A) Laziness – finding new recipes, brands, products etc DOES take time and thought, but it should be fun and interesting.
  2. B) ‘I need meat for protein’. As a sports-person, of course I know how important protein is for muscle maintenance and growth, but meat is not required by the body. Protein comes from countless other sources, both vegetarian and vegan. In addition, a lot of the meat people eat really isn’t high in protein at all, because of artificial fillers companies use to increase the weight of the meat (often water and salt).
  3. C) ‘A meal isn’t a meal without meat’ – I think this excuse is the worst, as it reflects the way we’ve been raised in today’s society. There are so many amazing cuisines around the world that have high protein, healthy diets without meat. Believing that a meal is only complete if it contains meat is a sign of people’s ignorance of the world and the amazing foods out there. Just look at Asia – some of the best food in the world contains no meat whatsoever. One of my favourite veggie recipes is this veggie lasagne.

 

I really hope this article has given you some inspiration and maybe the push you need to think about what you’re eating. If everyone reduced consumption of red meat to once a month or less and cut down on all other meats, the world would be a better place, filled with more conscious consumers. Have you made a change to your diet recently? Did it involve cutting out some meats, or animal products entirely? I’d be really interested to know what you think!

Further reading/watching:

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Being pescetarian really isn’t boring. In fact I think it opened me up to SO many more cuisines and ideas that I never would have thought of otherwise

Glute activation

This workout is great for preventing injuries when it comes to doing heavier work, such as running and weighted squats. You can also do it in a busy gym or outside – all it requires is a tread (or some outdoor space), some floor space and a kettle bell.

Why glute activation? Most people don’t activate their glutes in day-to-day life, potentially leading to lower back pain, hip pain and potentially other join pain. This is because we compensate for weak glutes by using other muscles, such as our lower back, hamstrings or (like me), quads. This can eat to pain, sub-optimal performance and eventually, injuries.

Most people contract their glutes harder when doing body or lightweight glute exercises than heavy-weight exercises, so the exercises below are great for building the main gluteus muscles, as well as the stabilising muscles around the hip and glutes. Basically, they may not be personal best weight wise, but they may well help you get there (and stop you getting injured along the way!).

Warmup:

10-15 minutes cardio warmup (running or incline walk)

Activation:

  1. Resistance band (RB) glue bridges x15
  2. RB clams x10
  3. Kettle bell (KB) swings x7
  4. KB goblet squat x14
  5. Single leg deadlift x7

Complete the circuit x3

 

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With thanks to Heart Kettlebells for providing me with the beautiful kettle bell!

Get yours here

Veggie lasagne

This warming, hearty meal can actually be incorporated really easily into a healthy diet. In traditional lasagne, the meat, white sauce, white pasta and cheese make it the more unhealthy choice. This version, using wholewheat pasta, veg and better cheeses is actually amazing – it tastes just as good (even my carnivorous friends agree) and is significantly better for you. Just make one at the weekend and it’ll do you for meals throughout the week.

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Alllllllll the veg ❤

Ingredients:

  • 1.5kg veg (I use pepper, courgette, onion, aubergine etc.) – anything you can roast!
  • Wholewheat lasagne sheets (you can buy these at most supermarkets)
  • 400g chopped tomatoes
  • 350g passata
  • 250g ricotta (see bottom for how to make vegan ricotta)
  • 120g mozzarella ball (or vegan mozzarella)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees
  2. Chop the vegetables into small chunks and toss with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast for 30-40 minutes until lightly charred.
  3. Once cooked, pour into a lasagne dish
  4. Pour over the chopped tomato
  5. Put down one layer of lasagne sheets
  6. Pour over the passata and do another layer of lasagne
  7. Dollop the ricotta over the top layer and spread over the top with the back of a spoon
  8. Tear the mozzarella into small chunks and place evenly over the top of the lasagne
  9. Return the lasagne to the over for 20-25 minutes, until brown on top.

nb/ if you want to use veg that isn’t best roasted you can – mushrooms work well but must be pan-fried. Fry them with garlic and oil and then add them as you would the other veg!

Vegan ricotta 

  • 40g sunflower seeds
  • 1 block firm tofu
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1tbsp lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 30g nutritional yeast

Method:

  1. Dry the tofu as much as possible and blend with the sunflower seeds until mostly smooth
  2. Mix in all the other ingredients, adding the nutritional yeast last.
  3. Use in place of the ricotta for any recipe. Makes about 2 cups.

 

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