I was fortunate to meet Jill when she turned up at one of my Pilates classes. It was hard not to notice how amazing her body looked, and marvel at how such a petite physique housed so much strength. We got chatting after class and I was excited to learn she had written ‘Super Slaw’, a healthy eating cookbook (https://lumahealth.co.uk/blog/2019/10/3/my-five-favourite-plant-based-cookbooks). Jill left class soon after finding out she was pregnant. After a difficult birth that ended in a C-section, I have followed Jill’s postnatal journey on social media. Her beautiful boy Maddy is now 18-months old. Since his birth, with dedication and consistency, she has shattered all the expectations (and myths) about post-natal recovery to come back stronger than ever.
In this Q&A we delve into what it’s like trying to stay fit and healthy as a sleep-deprived mum and how to find that elusive motivation to exercise. How a women who admits she can’t cook got a cookbook publishing deal with Penguin, and what’s the best way to eat healthily. Why strength training is so important to your fitness regime, what it’s like being a Kettlebell trainer, and how we should all be sceptical of advice we’re given in the fitness industry.
What was the inspiration behind Super Slaw?
I was training a lot of professionals at the time I wrote the book, which coincided with training for my Strong First qualification (a three-day intensive Kettlebell trainer course). I had to keep my strength up, but also keep my body weight down. It was actually quite tricky. My immune system was getting hammered because of the amount of training I was doing. So it was a combination of those two things. I was having clients saying to me that they couldn’t get enough veg into their diet, and I was having the same problem with getting as much nutrition in as I possibly could.
One day I came home from work and opened the fridge. All I had was a lemon, some parsley, celery, and broccoli, and not really anything else. I couldn’t face eating any more steamed broccoli! I wondered what would happen if I put all this in a food processor. So I did and added a bit of olive oil and some of the lemon, tasted it and had a bit of a wow moment! I couldn’t believe it tasted so good.
People assume when you’ve written a recipe book you know how to cook, when actually I don’t. But I’ve always been good at rustling something up quickly, and making something out of nothing. I’m very impatient in the kitchen. I often get food rage so need to eat quickly. I hate gimmicks for health. If you want people to be generally healthier, you don’t need to feed them really expensive powders and vitamins. Just give people the basics of how to eat more vegetables.
How did you go from there to publishing a book?
I started experimenting with different combinations and dressings. I thought I could make an e-book to give out to my clients, so I started writing all the recipes down. During that time I met a woman who worked in publishing. She was so motivational and told me I needed to aim a little bit higher than an e-book and try and get a publishing deal.
I had no idea how the process worked. I didn’t even know that literary agents existed. Actually had I known I probably would have been completely put off, as half the work is not actually writing the book, it’s all the stuff that comes after. I got the author’s year book and went through that page by page. I sat in a lot of coffee shops just going through it, seeing who took submissions. I applied to about 20 different agents and got 19 rejections. But I got one person who loved it and wanted to take me on.
When you get to the agent stage you are a lot more encouraged that it might go somewhere but still it’s not a done deal. They started the whole submission process to publishers, and again I got lots of rejections, but then I got the Penguin deal. I’ve learned a lot from it, I think it was a bit of luck, but also a lot of tenacity. I’ve now got an American publisher, Chronicle. They are going to re-release the book in the States under a different title, and I’ve been changing recipes for the American market. It’s due to be released Spring 2020.
Tell me about your love affair with Kettlebells
I discovered Kettlebells when I went to a gym called Primal Fitness in my mid-20s. I was teaching loads of fitness classes, and running a lot, so when I arrived at this gym I thought I would be fine, but actually the first class just killed me! I remember one of the owners telling me I was so weak that he felt sorry for me. I don’t think I ever recovered from that comment!
It took me a year or two to be brave enough to start using kettle bells properly because I didn’t feel confident with the technique and I saw a lot of people getting injured. I decided to do an Instructor course and found it’s a bit of a cult. You meet people who are in the Kettlebell cult and everyone on the course was in the cult, and I was thinking: I want to get involved in this! I did another two or three courses after that. The biggest one was Strong First. It really appealed to me as it’s a high-profile course in the Kettlebell world. It’s known for people failing. You really, really have to work just to be able to participate in it for three days.
What’s your current exercise regime?
It’s not massively different from pre-baby. Sessions last no more than 45 minutes to an hour, 3-4 times a week. I never have any longer than that. Maddy is now 18 months old and although he’s not a newborn he is a terrible sleeper. That’s probably the biggest influence in terms of how I train. It’s a different kind of tired as when you’re awake in the night; it’s more of a stressful tired. Your cortisol levels are affected, you’re in fight or flight mode a lot more. Because of that I can’t afford for any of my training to put extra stress on my body. I’m a lot more conscious of recovery now that I need the energy to look after Maddy.
How do you find the motivation, especially being so exhausted?
I don’t have motivation! I think motivation is that word that’s used in all of those shit memes and I don’t feel like I have motivation. For me when you’re motivated you want to go and do something, and 9 times out of 10 I don’t want to go to the gym. When I’m there I enjoy it, but I definitely wouldn’t say I have high levels of motivation. My motivation dips and peaks in accordance with how much sleep I get.
For me it’s discipline and that’s how I look at exercise. I always train at the same time every week. It’s like brushing your teeth. Knowing what the consequences are of me not doing it keeps me disciplined. I train to make my mental health better and to feel physically strong enough and capable enough to deal with the life that I lead.
What are the benefits of Kettlebells, particularly for women?
The opening discussion I have with most women is that they can’t lift weights and actually Kettlebells is a way to creep weight-training in. Quite significant weights too, without intimidating people. They’re small, whereas if you whacked weights on a barbell and put it in front of people they might runaway and get a bit afraid. For stay-at-home mums, or professionals who work late and can’t get to the gym, it’s kit you can have at home without taking up a huge amount of space. It’s allows people to work really, really hard without that added impact of something like running.
How did you get into fitness in the first place? Were you late coming into it?
Yes I was, I was always the person that skived P.E. Well I didn’t skive as I was too good to skive, but I didn’t want to be there. That’s because I wasn’t good at it and I felt unfit. I wanted to be fit but it was a vicious cycle as I didn’t have the confidence. At school people are just sporty or they’re not. You’re put into a category. It wasn’t until my late teens that I realised I wasn’t resilient to drinking and eating crap all the time. I was naturally always thin but I started really feeling unhealthy.
My mum had MS from when I was born. She had a wheelchair and a walking stick for as long as I can remember, but she’s progressively declined over the years. It was really hard seeing that happen. It just made me want to do everything I can to make my body resilient because there’s so much that could happen to my body that’s out of my control.
I think I was 22 at the time when I decided to do my first half-marathon. I started doing a little bit of exercise and I said to my partner at the time I want to do a half-marathon. I’d never ran a metre so he just started laughing. He was into rugby and offered to go running with me. He laughed as I ran about 10 metres and gave up. But I stuck at it and I did the half-marathon. I think it took me about three days to do that half-marathon! I remember thinking then, wow I stuck at that and can do anything now.
Who inspires you in health and fitness?
I’m not inspired by fitness people that most people know. It’s people who are disciplined, committed and have overcome adversity, whether that’s a Paralympian or a really, really strong weight-lifter.
I am inspired by athletes, especially mothers who are athletes. Although, athletes have every part of their lives monitored for them. They’ll have a physio, a nutritionist, a dietician, a trainer etc. Whereas it’s everyday women who manage to go to work, juggle motherhood, sometimes with not very much support, but still remain very disciplined which I find most inspiring.
There are also a lot of coaches who are really knowledgeable but who are unsung because they don’t go down the celebrity/media route. They go out of their way to learn, and that’s something that I think the fitness industry has completely lost now because of celebrities and social media.
What’s the worst advice you’ve heard whilst working in the fitness industry?
The worst advice usually follows some kind of fad based on extreme or restrictive practices. Advice that has no scientific background and perpetuates myths. That’s the type of stuff that I encourage people to question. But it’s unfortunate as people have a starting point of very limited knowledge. That’s why they seek advice from a supposed ‘fitness expert’ who looks good. But somebody who looks good doesn’t necessarily know what they’re talking about. If you want to know if something you’ve heard is reliable always look at the science, look at the specific research.
Probably one of my biggest bugbears is the ‘no pain no gain ethic’. Pain for a postpartum mum is a huge indicator that something isn’t right. But some people have this mentality that if they’re not puking and lying on the floor it’s not doing anything. I know why people enjoy it but it should be an infrequent part of training.
I would encourage people to think about labeling themselves too. People can attach moral judgments to how they eat i.e. I only buy organic food. A mum who is living on benefits can’t afford to feed her child organic food, but she can still give her children food that is very nutritionally dense, and they can still be a very healthy family.
What advice would you give somebody who is starting on a health and fitness journey?
Set yourself a goal which is achievable, and without sounding like a cheesy personal trainer, measurable as well. When I started out many years ago mine was to run a half-marathon. I didn’t care what time I got round, I just needed to get round. Make yourself aware of your lifestyle and how easy that’s going to fit with your goal. But also look at what you enjoy because you’re more likely to stick at it.
Avoid advice from celebrities and people are who are unqualified such as some Instagram trainers. I would always seek help from a professional even if it’s a one-off session. Find out how qualified that professional is and what is their experience of working with people. Qualifications aren’t everything but gaining experience is something that’s really important. Trainers on social media have often never worked with people.
What about diet?
Avoid restriction. I’ve done the whole restriction thing with clients and on myself and found the more you tell someone not to eat something, the more they go and binge. People can be restrictive for periods of time but you need long-term sustainable changes. This is why Weight Watchers doesn’t always work and they have so many repeat customers. It works when you’re on it but it doesn’t work now because you’re not on it.
I think associating food with morality and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ judgments is a bad way to sell something to people because it warps their brain into thinking that way. I see it every day in offices: ‘I’m having a ‘good day’, or ‘I’m not eating that because I’m being ‘good’’. But it’s just about personal responsibility. If your goal is to lose weight, then you will know that that cake or chocolate or whatever it is going to have a higher level of calories than a tuna wrap. Make a balanced judgment. If you want the cake, eat the cake, but then have something lower calorie later on in the day, but don’t make yourself a saint or a sinner just because of what you’ve eaten. It’s a bad mental cycle to get into because it can develop into a very unhealthy relationship with food.
What’s your most overused phrase when training clients?
Probably something like ‘squeeze your glutes’. It’s all about the glutes! Or it will be, my clients will laugh at me; something about ‘one more rep,’ as counting is not something I’m very good at. I always add one more just in case.
What’s your morning routine?
Lots of caffeine! The start of the day is dictated by Maddy. He wakes up between 4 and 5 so we usually end up getting up around 5. Then it’s down for breakfast. I’ll make a big bowl of porridge, and put some nuts and seeds and some frozen fruit, maybe chuck a banana in there, and nut butter. If I’ve got some protein powder in the cupboard I’ll chuck some in too. Then it’s out the door to drop him off at nursery. The one thing I always do in the morning is to have a cup of tea just to slow down. It’s a really important part of my day.
What do you do for self-care?
Obviously exercise is my go-to for self-care. It’s my meditation, my time-out. It’s where I look after my body and it gives me confidence and makes me feel strong. I also try where I can to get time alone every day even if it’s just 5 minutes. I’d love to say I go and get my nails done and all that kind of stuff, but nah!
What other passions and hobbies do you have? Do you have time for anything else?
We love a garden centre – it’s baby sensory for free! I love plants, my partner’s very into plants and he’s started making his own terrariums now. Our shared love, apart from our child and Kettlebells, is coffee. We love going to a nice coffee shop. They’re probably the only things I’ve got time for now.
Tell us about your partner – he works as a personal trainer?
We met over Kettlebells in the gym. He’s a brilliant personal trainer. His knowledge base is completely different to mine – he knows a lot more than I do. His area of specialty is rehab and mobility.
How do you support each other to exercise?
We used to train together which I miss now. It’s not the same when we take Maddy because one of us is holding him. We just know how important exercise is to each other. We see how the mood changes in the other person if they don’t train. I’ll say to him you need to eat or you need to go to the gym. He’s really good at allowing me that time. He’s brilliant on that side of things.
Are there any training principles that you particularly adhere to?
Be disciplined. Don’t rely on motivation because it will dip always. Get stronger. There’s not much training wise that won’t be improved by strength. Whether you want to run faster or run further. It’s something a lot of women neglect. It’s never too late to start. I saw a 70-year old body builder the other day. She had a six-pack – she was amazing!
How do you want a client to feel when they train with you?
Stronger: mentally and physically. I couldn’t bear the thought of a client dreading seeing me. That whole ‘driving your clients into the ground’ and making them puke. Believe me I’ve done that before, years and years ago, but you change and you learn. I would want them to be leaving the session feeling better than they did when they started.
What have been your biggest failures and successes in business, and what have you learned along the way?
When I first started out I definitely undervalued myself because I didn’t have confidence. I went into business with people who I didn’t value me either. That was really evident by the business arrangement. When you’re starting out you just can’t believe that people are going to pay you because you don’t have confidence and that does tend to take time to build up. One of my biggest achievements has been the book. I would say getting a publishing deal for somebody who can’t really cook is probably one of my biggest successes!
Where can we find you Jill, and buy the book?
My website is:
You buy the book on Amazon:
You can find me on social media: