Plant-Based Pause No 6: Want to Lose Weight?

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Let food be thy medicine.’ – Hippocrates

January/February is what I call ‘Weightwatchers Season’. It’s the time of year that people are most likely to start a weight-loss diet. All day long, whether it’s in my office or spin class, I hear a running commentary of what everyone has eaten that day and how many points they have left. And who can blame them? Every day, in all western countries, we hear more and more horrific statistics and personal stories about obesity. According to NHS data, there were 8,087 weight-loss stomach operations performed in English hospitals during 2010/11. In 2000/01 there were only 261. And that’s just the people who have gone to the extreme of having such surgery. There are many more people around the globe who struggle with their weight. We even have TV shows now where people compete to see who can shed the most.

One of the happy side-effects of living plant-based is that you lose weight. You don’t even have to try. Just take a look at my before and after photos (above) for proof.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Habit

Due to the fact that I used to move around so much, it’s only since I returned to the UK 5 years ago that I’ve been able to form any habits.

My biggest habit is probably what I eat. Since going plant-based and finding out what I’m allergic to, I’ve had to plan most of my meals in advance. Naturally, this has meant that I have got into a bit of a routine. Take for example my breakfast (which I am actually eating as I type this). Most mornings I have buckwheat flakes with agave syrup or local honey – yummy! Plant-based, gluten-free, quick and, most important to me, easy to make.

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I’m also trying really hard to make a habit out of keeping fit. I’m a lot better than I used to be, but I’ve still got some work to do.

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This post is part of the Weekly Photo Challenge: Habit. Click here to see more entries.

Living Plant-Based: Two Years On

This month marks the two year anniversary of me converting to a plant-based lifestyle. Who knew that watching one film would completely change my life?

I’d seen Planeat on the listings of our local independent cinema. It looked really interesting, but unfortunately I couldn’t go on the night it was being shown. When I found out I could rent the film online for just a few pounds, I decided to watch it at home instead.

I think I ended up watching Planeat three or four times over that weekend, and every time I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing. At long last, here were the answers to questions that I had been asking for years. I’d been a ‘normal’ vegetarian for over 15 years, avoiding any animal products that involved an animal dying. I knew it was right to avoid eating animals, but I just didn’t know why exactly. When people would ask me my reasons for being vegetarian, I would reply ‘I’ve always just known that I am’.

DSC_0445When I watched Planeat, all the pieces of the puzzle finally slotted into place. I realised where I had been going wrong. It wasn’t enough to just stop eating meat, to be a healthy and responsible human I had to avoid animal protein altogether.

Just like when I turned vegetarian, I took a step-by-step approach to becoming plant-based. My first step was to swap cows milk for soya milk. Admittedly, it took a few days to get used to the taste, but now the thought of drinking cows milk makes me feel sick. Then I stopped using all dairy products and eggs at home, before removing most of the processed food from my diet and looking at what other things I ate also contained animal products.

After five weeks of cutting out dairy and eggs, my parents came to visit and we went out for dinner. Although I was pretty much vegan at home, I decided to revert back to a vegetarian diet when I was out and about. I figured that a bit of dairy once in a while wouldn’t hurt. I ordered a pizza topped with mozarella, and as soon as I’d eaten it I started to feel ill, bloated and lethargic. It took me about 2 days to get over the feeling. I vowed that from that point on I would live as plant-based as I possibly could.

The most immediate change I noticed was the weight loss. I’d been slowly losing weight the previous year, but I’d been struggling to shift the last few pounds and get down to a healthy weight. On a plant-based diet I didn’t have to try, those stubborn pounds just disappeared. If anything, it’s a bit of an effort to try and eat enough food. Especially with all the exercise I do now. I’d always wanted to be physically fit, but on a vegetarian diet I struggled to get enough motivation to even move off the couch. Now, I have so much energy I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t even drink caffeine anymore (due to allergy reasons), yet I feel I’m running on adrenaline 24/7. And because I’m rarely ill nowadays, there’s nothing to keep me from working out.

My cooking skills have improved a lot, too. I found myself scouring vegan blogs and product websites for new recipes I could try, and I started buying kitchen utensils that I’d never heard of before (yes, there is really such a thing as a tofu press). What’s more, the food tastes great and most of it is easy to prepare. When I cook for family and friends, they are always pleasantly surprised and usually question ‘Is this really vegan?’.

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Educating others about living plant-based is also, surprisingly, a lot of fun and rewarding. I’d never push my beliefs onto anyone else, but whenever I’m eating food that involves interaction with another human, the subject always comes up. People apologise for the amount of questions they ask me, but I genuinely do not mind answering the same ones over and over. It’s been easier since I’ve had a copy of the Forks Over Knives DVD. Now I can just say ‘Here, borrow this then get back to me with any questions you still have’.

The biggest surprise to me, however, is the effect that living plant-based has had on other parts of my life. It has led me to question where I buy my shopping from, how much unnecessary waste I produce and just exactly what I really need in life. The answer to the last one, by the way, is not very much.

This year I pledged to produce less unnecessary waste. I choose groceries with less packaging, and I’ve stopped using take-out cups. Whenever I buy something, I question how much waste it will create and how necessary it really is. Wherever possible, I reuse packing materials. My mantra now is ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, and I keep these words in mind wherever I am and whatever I’m doing.

DSC_0356Day by day, I am becoming a more ethical shopper. I buy fresh produce that is as local as possible, and only from the country I am in at the time. This ethos is slowly spreading to other items that I buy. I’m currently in the process of switching to all plant-based soaps, shampoo and cleaners, and I’m planning to move to vegan cosmetics in the near future.

Since moving back to the UK five years ago, one of the things I have struggled with is the materialism here. Whilst I was travelling abroad, I owned very little because that was all I could carry. A visitor to Rhodes, where I was based at the time, commented that I had so little, but yet I was really happy. When you have to live with less, you soon learn that you don’t really need much anyway. By living plant-based, my life has automatically become much simpler again, and I feel calmer for it.

When I was a vegetarian I always said that I could never be vegan. The prospect of giving up dairy just seemed too difficult. People always ask me ‘Don’t you miss cheese/milk chocolate/cakes and pastries?’ (delete as appropriate) and the honest answer is No! Once I stopped eating those things, the cravings for them disappeared. And if I do fancy a treat, there are plenty of yummy vegan alternatives. I feel better now than I ever have done, and I wouldn’t go back to my old habits for the whole world.

Snacking – Plant-Based Style

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Looking over my recent posts, I’m aware that I haven’t blogged about living as a plant-based vegetarian much recently. I’ve got so used to living a plant-based lifestyle that it has just become normal to me. Most of my friends, family and work colleagues are aware of my lifestyle choice and, I have to say, have been incredibly supportive. Quite often, though, when meeting new people or bumping into someone I haven’t seen in a while, I have to explain what being plant-based means, why I’m doing it and what I can and can’t eat. Add in my gluten allergy, and I can totally understand why a lot of people find it confusing. Most people I talk to about it have a lot of questions and opinions that they need to voice. One of the most common comments is ‘your diet must be very restrictive’. So I thought I’d take a moment to give my answer.

The short answer is no, my diet isn’t really restricted at all. As a plant-based vegetarian I eat a much more varied diet than I did as an omnivore or normal vegetarian, and certainly more varied than a lot of omnivores in the western world. The biggest change for me is that, as a plant-based vegetarian, I have to be organised. But I don’t see that as any bad thing.

Eating at home is really easy. I cook most of my meals from scratch, and I’ve made cooking and preparing food part of my daily and weekly routine. It’s when I’m out and about that the challenge arises. I can’t just grab something to eat at a service station or fast food restaurant, I have to know where I’m going and what I’m going to eat.

To illustrate how I don’t let my ‘restrictive’ diet stop me living my life, I thought I’d use the YMCA Sleep Easy Challenge as an example. Although the YMCA organised hot drinks and snacks for us throughout the event, I knew that my allergies and plant-based diet would prevent me from eating most of it. Here’s what I packed instead:

Water bottle and flask containing decaf coffee with soya milk – these are standard for me on any day of the week. Not only has carrying my water bottle and flask ensured I always have a drink to hand, but it’s saved me money that I would usually spend on take-out coffee and soft drinks, and I’ve cut down massively on my plastic and paper waste. At the start of this year I made a commitment to use fewer take-out cups, and my flask is the best tool I have to accomplish this mission.

Fresh fruit – British of course! Apart from a few pears, apples have been our main fruit this winter. Cameo, Kanzi and Braeburn are really tasty at the moment, or Cox’s if you fancy something sweet.

Gluten-free bread – The first time I tried gluten-free bread (about 6 years before I found out I was allergic to gluten), I swore that I’d rather give up bread completely than eat it again. Thankfully, gluten-free products have progressed a lot since then. While I don’t think they’ll ever match ‘real bread’, there are some brands out there that are really tasty. My favourite is the DS range as it contains no dairy or egg either. Their brown ciabatta rolls not only taste great, they come in a handy four pack that make them really easy to throw in your bag on the way out the door. Gluten-free pretzels and also a good option.

Seed/nut/fruit bars – Although I try to avoid eating processed foods, I do make exceptions. Ideally, I’d like to snack on fresh, local, organic fruit and vegetables, but between Decemeber and April local produce in the UK is very limited. I quickly get fed up with apples, pears and carrots. Especially after a long winter like we’ve had this year. If I do resort to processed snacks, I try to make healthy choices that are still produced loacally. My current favourites are 9 Bar. Apologies to any vegans reading (they contain honey), but they are free from gluten, dairy, lactose, wheat, egg, yeast, preservatives and artificial colours. Plus, they taste amazing and they’re made in North Wales!

Dark chocolate – Everyone has their vice, and this is mine. I thought I’d miss milk chocolate when I gave up dairy, but dark chocolate is exactly the fix I need when I have a craving.

So, no, I don’t find my diet restrictive because there are so many great, healthy foods out there that I can still eat. And I really had to think hard to make this list, because living plant-based is just living to me now.

Check out my Christmas present!

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Right in the middle of an awful day at work yesterday, I was cheered up by an SMS from my neighbour to tell me that a parcel had arrived for me. I knew it could only be one thing – my new running shoes!

I’ve desperately needed a new pair for ages, so when my Mum asked me what I wanted for Christmas I knew what my answer was straight away.

I buy most of my shoes from Vegetarian Shoes in Brighton, because then I know they’ve been made ethically in the EU and they don’t contain any animal products. I try and get down to the shop as often as I can (Brighton is veggie heaven!), but unfortunately it is a trek from Cardiff. So instead I use their mail order service, which is fantastic. There’s loads of information on their website about all their products, including size guides and photographs. They don’t just sell shoes, either. They also have a great range of bags, jackets and accessories. They even sell biodegradable pens – not just environmentally friendly but they’re actually a really nice pen to write with as well. If you have any questions about any of the products, just drop them an email and they will get back to you.

As soon as I got home, I collected the parcel off my neighbour and tried my new shoes on. As I have to wear inserts due to problems with my feet, I usually have a bit of an issue getting used to new shoes, but these ones have been OK. And what better way to christen my new running shoes than with a step class. After taking them for a run today, they are well and truly worn in and my tatty old shoes are a thing of the past.

Take a Step Together

Although I discourage people from making New Years Resolutions, especially big lifestyle changes that are near-impossible to achieve, I appreciate that a lot of people do make them. By the start of December every year I hear friends and co-workers talking about their resolutions for the next year and I genuinely believe their determination to stick to them.

During my own personal lifestyle change, one of the things I constantly tell myself is ‘one step at a time’. The longest lasting change is gradual, and if I happen to slip up and take a couple of steps backwards I try not to beat myself up about it and instead work out how I can move forward again. Making those small steps can be incredibly difficult, though, and it is so easy to make an excuse as to why you have to wait until next week to start.

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At the moment I work in an office, a very sedentary environment where it is very easy to become lazy and put on weight. Determined to break this trend, last year my team and I made changes together. All five of us tried to live healthier lives (and I also encouraged them to live more environmentally friendly lives). We all had our own personal reasons for doing it, and we all went about it in different ways, but we encouraged each other daily and shared ideas and knowledge. I have no doubt that, without the support of the other four, not one of us would have succeeded as well as we have so far. Who needs a personal trainer or nutritionist when you have four coaches stopping you from buying that chocolate bar from the vending machine?

After a couple of months taking steps forward together, we noticed that one of our number was regressing. The colleague in question will remain anonymous, but he’d started to take a couple of steps back in his diet and he had started to make excuses not to go to the gym. The rest of us banded together to remind him of why we made our pact in the first place, and what he wanted to achieve. He’s still not entirely back on track. but we will continue to support him in his ambition to lead a healthier life and set a better example to his child.

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In a nutshell, the idea is to get together with some like-minded friends or work colleagues and encourage and support each other in your New Year Resolutions. It might give you the push you need to make the change forever. And don’t forget to check in with people occasionally to make sure they’re still on the right path.

Looking back at 2012

It’s so easy for people to get emotional and sentimental at this time of year, and I’m genuinely not usually one of them, but 2012 has honestly marked a big change in my life. I try not to put too much pressure on myself at this time of year, as I find that a lot of people expect themselves to completely change their habits and routines on January 1st. My approach to life is more like ‘one step at a time’, and I’ve learnt to not beat myself up if I don’t meet my own expectations. The important thing is that I keep trying, and I keep taking those steps forward. However, I do think it’s important to look back sometimes and evaluate what has gone well and what is best left to experience. So I’d like to share with you my ‘highlights’ of 2012. I used to work for a well-known English/German tour operator that was all about ‘highlights’. As a rep, I encouraged my guests to discover the highlight of their hoiliday, whether that be a great excursion they went on, the perfect sunset over the beach or the barman that served them in the hotel. The example I always used was when I was in the audience for the Ricki Lake Show in New York. I’d been travelling around North East America for a month after working in Brant Lake, NY for the summer, and my travelling partner, Kate, and I were spending a few days in New York City before heading down to Philadelphia and Washington DC before we flew home. We saw a flyer pinned to the noticeboard in our hostel looking for people to join the audience, and we thought it sounded like a laugh. We had the best day, and even ten years on I still love telling people that I was in an episode of Ricki Lake.

I’d like to share with you my highlights of 2012. Here’s what I got up to…

Learning to Lead Climb

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This photo was taken when I was a teenager. My brother, a keen climber himself, decided to teach me to climb. What a disaster! I was scared of heights, didn’t trust my brother and, to be honest, I just wasn’t that interested. Fast forward twenty(ish) years, and I decided to give it another go. I’d always been annoyed with myself for not giving climbing my full effort. So, at 29 years old, I decided to give it another go. Three years on, I’m happy to say the perseverance worked. This year I learnt to lead climb, something I’ve wanted to do since I first got back on the wall three years ago.

Completing Cwrs Mynediad

Since I first moved to Wales 14 years ago (oh my gosh, has it really been that long!), it has been my dream to learn Welsh. The oldest language in Europe and one of the oldest in the world, Welsh is difficult to learn, especially when you’re English with a monotone Lancashire accent that doesn’t allow you to roll your r’s. Two years ago last September, I took the plunge and enrolled on Cwrs Mynediad (entry level Welsh for adults). I completed the two-year course in May 2012, and I am so proud of myself. I still study Welsh at home, and obviously I use it everyday to some extent because I live in Wales. I hope to go back to college in the near future to enrol on Silfaen (foundation) and continue my studies. Learning Welsh has not only opened up my world here in Wales (when I first moved here I had to carry a map with me on the bus because I couldn’t even pronounce the names of local towns and villages), it had also introduced me to a whole new set of friends who are incredibly precious to me.

The birth of my niece

I never thought that I would be an aunty. The Church of England and the Church in Wales won’t allow me to be a godmother because I wasn’t baptised, and my brother was adamant that he was never going to have children. I’m happy to say that that has all changed. Although I’m not officially allowed to be a godmother, one of my best friends asked me to take on the responsibility for her two beautiful children. From the day that my godson was born, I made a commitment to him to love him, support him and guide him throughout his life, no matter what the church says about me. The same applied to his sister when she arrived five years later. My brother, the one who was never going to settle down, surprised me by getting married and having children. The third one, my second niece, was born in September 2012. She’s already trying her best to keep up with her older brother and sister, and they want to keep her with them wherever they go. All our family keep trying to decide who she looks like most, but I just tell her that she’s her own person. Just like with all the other children that I am ‘aunty’ to, I’m sure that we are going to have lots of great adventures together.

Having fun with my friends

It might seem quite boring to a lot of people that one of my highlights is spending time with my friends, but I’m always grateful for this time. For six years I worked seasons overseas. During that time I made many great friends, and had crazy and exciting adventures, but I always missed out on what was happening at home. When I moved back to the UK four years ago, one of my ambitions was to catch up with my friends and do the ‘normal’ things that I’d missed out on. Here’s some of the adventures we got up to this year…

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I had a great weekend with my friend Charlie (mother of my two beautiful godchildren) in Brighton – veggie heaven!

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We celebrated my friend Cath’s 30th birthday camping in Port Eynon, the Gower.

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My friends from my Welsh course, and my godson, came together to celebrate my brithday with a camping weekend in White Sands.

Finishing my book and sending it to agents

Since I was a child, it has been one of my dreams to be a published writer. At the start of this year, I set myself the challenge to complete a writing project and send it off to prospective agents. The novel I chose isn’t exactly revolutionary, but I finsihed it and I’ve sent it. No bites yets, but I will keep trying in 2013. Wish me luck.

My new places for 2012

My blog is all about the new places I visit. This year my biggest adventure was to Pisa. Although alot of the people around me struggle to understand why I travel alone, I had a great time.

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New Activities for 2012

The other thing that my blog is all about is new activities. The one that has caught my enthusiasm most this year is Step Class. In all honesty, I thought this was an aerobics class that had died with the 80s, but I’m happy to say it is still here and still very much current. If you want to feel a positive difference in your body overnight, check out your local step class and give it all you’ve got.

Becoming Plant-based

I started my plant-based journey in November 2011, and I am genuinely shocked at where I am now. Before I watched the Planeat movie, I was happy in my beliefs as a vegetarian. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to give up dairy. After watching the movie, my beliefs completely changed. Although I still couldn’t imagine myself being completely plant-based, I committed myself to making steps in that direction. Twelves months on, I have completely given up animal protein and the decisions I make in my everyday life are a lot more ethical. My choice to live a plant-based lifestyle is still something that I have to debate on almost a daily basis. Ironically, two decades ago I went through the same battle when I told everyone that I was vegetarian, and that is considered ‘normal’ nowadays. Ironically, the people who argue with me about my choice to live plant-based are usually the ones that comment on how good I look now. I’m happy to listen to both sides of the argument, but all I can say is that since I started living plant-based and I had an allergy test I feel better than I have ever done in my life, I’m fitter than I have ever been, my focus and concentration are a lot better, my mood swings have all but disappeared (I’ve suffered from depression in the past and shown signs of being on the autism spectrum although have never been diagnosed), and everyone has commented on how much healthier I seem.

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Making a difference

There was a daily prompt from WordPress a while back that asked us what difference we hoped to make with our blog. I answered that if I could help one person to make just one small step to living a plant-based, more ethical lifestlye, then my blog would be worth it. The proof of my efforts came from a source much closer than I was expecting. I was born in 1980, and I know that I was born with allergies. No matter what my parents did, not matter what my mother did during pregnancy, I was always destined to have a poor immune system. With the knowledge I have now, I know I should have been given an allergy test when I was a baby. Unfortunately, I grew up in the 80s when everyone listened to their western GP with no question. My mum was always adamant that my allergic reactions were ‘psychological’, or I was just pretending to get attention. When my parents saw me this summer, they both admitted that I looked healthier. On Christmas Day, they phoned me to wish me happy Christmas. My mum commented on the fact that I am the only person she knows that hasn’t caught the sickness bug that went round the UK this winter, and that maybe that is due to my healthy eating. She also told me that, due to my influence, she has switched from cows’ milk to soya milk and she feels much better for it. I never thought that one of my first followers would me my mum, but if she has faith in my beliefs then I know I can convince others.

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Improving my blog

One of my biggest changes this year, and probably the most important to everyone reading this, is that I switched my blog to WordPress. It meant that I had to change my on-line identity, but that led to me opening up more about myself which I am glad of. I have come into contact with so many inspirational people since I joined WordPress, and I want to thank every single one of you for opening up my mind and sharing your lives and experiences with me.

It’s been an awesome year, and I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings. I’ve already got some ideas up my sleeve that I can’t wait to share with you. I’m looking forward to hearing about all your adventures. Your blogs are what create my dreams. Happy New Year everyone! Sasie x

Daily Prompt: Be the Change

Sasieology is all about taking small steps and making small changes to enrich your life.

If my blog has inspired just one person to take a step towards a plant-based lifestyle…

…to try a new activity…

…or to visit one new place…

then it has all been worth it 🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge: Renewal

The word renewal conjures up many images. The rebirth of flowers in spring, snakes shedding their skin, the regeneration of a town centre, renewing your library books to avoid a fine (which I have a terrible habit of forgetting), the list goes on.

For this week’s photo challenge, I’ve decided to document my personal renewal. Four years ago, I consciously made a lot of big changes in my life. At 28 years old, after six years working abroad, I moved back to the UK.

I made a base in Cardiff, the place that has felt most like home to me out of all the places I’ve lived.

I learnt to speak Welsh.

After years of partying and abusing my body, I promised myself that I would look after myself in my thirties. This has led to me converting to a plant-based lifestyle, eating fresh, seasonal whole food …

…cooking my food from scratch…

…improving my fitness levels…

…and taking up lots of new sports.

To celebrate my 30th birthday I took a trip of a lifetime to the USA and visited the Grand Canyon, a long-held ambition of mine.

I’ve continued to travel and experience as many adventures as possible.

My renewal is still taking place. Maybe it will never end. I hope not, because I’m loving life and I’m happier than ever.

Core Strength

Apparently, there are two times in the year when people make an extra effort to get fit. One is in the New Year, when everyone vows to stick to their resolutions and turn over a new leaf, and the other is right now, in the run up to Christmas. With that in mind, I thought I’d spend some time over the next few weeks sharing with you some of my ‘new activities’ that I’ve tried in the past. I’ve already shared with you my experiences of indoor climbing, step class and joining the gym. In my bid to try at least one new activity every year, though, there are lots more to tell you about. I’m going to start with an exercise class that, for me, wasn’t a good experience and one that I’m certainly not in a rush to try again, Core Strength workout. Posting it first gets it out of the way, and as I have mentioned it a few times in previous posts I thought you might be a bit curious.

As I mentioned in my post Facing My Fears, I am a gold member of my local climbing centre, Boulders. Not only do I get unlimited climbing with my membership, I also get to go to the fitness classes they offer, including core strength. I’d seen the core strength class whilst I’d been climbing a few times, and although it looked tough I thought I’d give it a try. To be honest, I’m not really sure why it was classed as a core workout. We started with a warm-up that was basically jogging up and down a car park. The instructor then said we’d be moving onto cardio exercises. Surely cardio exercises would be more suited to a, well, a cardio workout. He then wrote the list of exercises on the white board, which may as well have been an alien language to me. I had no idea what a ‘V-Raise’ was, and when he mentioned the ‘bicycle crunches’ I looked around for the bikes. I raised my hand when we were asked if we needed an explanation, at which point the instructor let out a sigh and made a half-arsed attempt to demonstrate. Without any technique or safety guidance, I might add. I could understand if the instructor was one of those motivating, shouty marine types, but for all he did they could have just given us the white board and a stop watch and left us to it. The main body of the class involved 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off of four different floor exercises with a jumpy-up exercise in between (sorry, I really can’t remember what it was called). Basically, we did 30 minutes of circuits but without all the running round in circles. If you’re into proving how macho you are, then give core strength a go. If, like me, you just want to keep fit without (literally almost) breaking your back, then I wouldn’t bother. At least I can say I gave it a go.

Since I first posted this on my old blog, I’ve noticed that the instructor that took my class isn’t working there anymore. My experiences of the other classes at the climbing wall have been nothing but positive, so maybe he just wasn’t the right teacher for that enviroment.