There is no denying that health and fitness is trending. From sports-luxe fashion to DIY boot camps, it’s women who are leading the health revolution and taking their partners, families, friends – or ‘followers’ – with them. The recent explosion of wellbeing blogs, fitness-themed Instagram profiles and online community groups has created a thriving hub where people share inspiration on what to eat, how to exercise and what to wear while doing it. This year, three stars of the blogosphere, Millie Elder-Holmes, Makaia Carr and Libby Matthews, joined forces to take their wellness message out of cyberspace and into venues across the country to motivate and inspire their followers in person.
It’s easy to mistake the three women for sisters as they excitedly chat (and take selfies) while makeup artists buzz around them in preparation for their Good Health Choices cover shoot. The effervescent connection between the bloggers is compelling and contagious. “We’ve all known each other for a while,” says 35-year-old Makaia, creator of MotivateMe, an online members-only community that acts as a hub for women who want to lose weight and improve their wellbeing. “I was talking to Libby after she spoke at an event and mentioned the idea of teaming up. We knew there had to be a third person and a few weeks later we bumped into Millie at another event and knew she would be perfect. From there it’s been all go.”
On each other’s team
Libby is one half of successful health-food blog Julia & Libby, and Millie found salvation in her blog Clean Eatz NZ after overcoming drug addiction and the death of her father and boyfriend. The three women are a force to be reckoned with. They have a combined following of 50,000 on Instagram alone. Add their Facebook, Twitter and blog following and it’s clear they have New Zealand’s online health and wellbeing community well covered.
Their joint venture, aptly named Girl on a Journey, saw them touring the country to share the inspiring stories that encouraged them to become the successful businesswomen we see today. “Our followers are good, honest and genuine people. We wanted to give them the opportunity to talk to us face-to-face in the real world instead of through social media,” says Makaia. “We want our supporters to get to know us, ask questions, find out what motivated us to start our journey and why we do what we do.”
Where it began
Libby, 26, says her journey is one many young women can relate to. “I started partying at a young age. I was drinking a lot but once you hit a certain age, your metabolism changes. I wanted to get rid of my bad habits,” she recalls. Libby and her sister Julia are lovers of all things that nourish the mind, body and soul but the primary focus of their lifestyle blog is food. Vegan mud cake, raw raspberry cheesecake and peanut butter fudge – just a glance at their recipe-packed blog will leave you salivating.
Libby did the Girl on a Journey seminars without her sister. “It was too hard for Julia to dedicate the time,” she explains. “I think it’s good to be doing something on my own.” Libby, a qualified nutritionist and naturopath, believes food has a large role to play in empowering women to be their best. “There are a lot of women who suffer from hormone issues and, in some cases, anxiety and depression, which is related to lifestyle and diet a lot of the time,” she says. “It’s also so important to surroud yourself with the right people.”
Circle of friends
For Libby, one of the right people is Millie. Having lived her whole life in the public eye, Millie’s journey has been turbulent to say the least. The 26-year-old has endured a very public battle with drug addiction, the death of her father Paul Holmes in 2013, and the tragic loss in August 2014 of her long-term partner, Connor Morris. Yet, despite these hurdles, she has an incredibly positive outlook on life and credits surrounding herself with supportive women like Makaia and Libby with helping her through the grieving process. “I have a great group of girlfriends,” she says. “Connor used to push me to complete my projects because I self-doubt a lot but now I have my girl-friends to push me and I encourage them in return. Having honest and encouraging friends is so important.” After Connor’s death, Millie found exercising and posting on her Clean Eatz page was the best way to keep herself sane and occupied. “I like to think I’m a positive person but after Connor passed I had a lot of hate, anger and sadness. Exercise was an outlet that helped me get through the hard times,” she recalls.
Against the odds
Talking about Connor comes easily to Millie. After his death, distant friends and followers reached out, concerned she would fall back into old habits. “I got a few messages and comments from people who thought I would go back to drugs, which was frustrating,” she says. “I’m determined to show people that just because something bad happens, it doesn’t give you a licence to fail.”On an average day you’ll find Millie at her local farmers’ market or gourmet supermarket, hunting for new produce or recipe inspiration for Clean Eatz. She has even started a three-year course to become a naturopath. “I’m excited to learn and to give advice with a degree to back it up, because I feel really obliged to provide the right information. I’ve got the learning bug,” she grins. There is no doubt Millie is driven and determined to succeed but she says she doesn’t view her fellow Girl on a Journey bloggers as competition. “Makaia and Libby are the kind of women that build other people up,” she explains. “Some people see life as a constant rat race and are on a mission to be the best but realistically everyone can be happy and succeed.”
Learning to lean on others
This belief in supporting and empowering others didn’t always come naturally to Millie. During the years she was addicted to methamphetamines, she says her habit often made her judgemental and suspicious of others. “I was hanging out with the wrong people. Everyone had ulterior motives and ultimately it was all about getting drugs. Once I went clean, I reconnected with old friends from school and realised not all women are like that.” Things are different now and she says having a warm and accepting attitude towards others benefits her own mindset. “In the end, everyone is struggling in their own way. You never know what kind of personal issues people may be going through,” she explains. “I’ve learnt life is precious. There’s no point in bringing other people down when it’s easier to make someone’s day with a smile or a compliment.”
And that was the point of Girl on a Journey, says Makaia (nicknamed ‘Mama Bear’ by Millie thanks to her maternal attitude). All three women want to inspire and empower others to be the best they can be and to take care of themselves. “All three of us are happy with our individual work so we have the time and experience to collaborate on the side,” says Makaia. “Our businesses are similar and all under the same umbrella of health and wellness, but in their own way they are also unique. We have a strong connection to our followers and noticed many of them follow all three of us for different reasons.”
Taking it on the road
With book deals on the horizon, the Girl on a Journey tour and many other personal projects in motion, the future looks bright for Makaia, Libby and Millie. So do they ever get nervous at the prospect of meeting hundreds of their followers? Libby admits to experiencing some nerves. “I’ve talked at events in the past. When you know what you are talking about and believe in your message, it’s easier. And Millie and Makaia are so supportive it always makes me feel a lot calmer,” she says. “We’re lucky because we’re standing in front of these people talking about ourselves,” agrees Makaia. “We’re not learning a complicated formula or talking about an unfamiliar topic. Whatever we stand up and say, it will be our truth.”
Sister duo Julia and Libby Matthews may live on separate sides of the Tasman, but the distance hasn’t done anything to hamper their thriving food blog Julia & Libby. In 2012, while Libby was studying nutrition in Auckland and Julia was partway through a business degree in Sydney, the sisters found the best way to answer health and food questions from their friends and family was to start a blog. The site was an instant hit, which encouraged Julia to swap from a business major to nutrition and for Libby to extend her study to qualify in naturopathy. From sugar-free baking recipes to must-visit local eateries, Julia & Libby is a hub of all things that nourish the mind, body and soul. Libby, who is based in Auckland, finds inspiration from researching new products and recreating not-so-healthy food favourites into guilt-free snacks. Once a regular on the party scene, the 26-year-old says feeling the detrimental effects of late nights and heavy drinking encouraged her to live a clean lifestyle balanced with exerise. The Julia & Libby Facebook page and Instagram combined boasts an impressive 60,000 followers, which has contributed to the making of a Julia & Libby juice cleanse and book set to launch this year.
MotivateMe NZ is an online community of more than 1500 New Zealand women, created with the aim of encouraging healthy living. Makaia created the Facebook community after receiving a positive response from documenting her own weight-loss journey on her personal profile. In 2012 Makaia launched the members-only community containing various subgroups including mental health, running, paleo and, most recently, an international group for Kiwis abroad. A MotivateMe NZ membership includes access to all online communities, a clean-eating guide plus discounts on group fitness, health products and fitness gear. The mum of two left her full-time job in 2014 in order to dedicate more time to her MotivateMe NZ business. Today the community has blossomed and includes 15 regions across the country, each run by a long-term member who acts as regional manager. The community message is Believe, Belong, Become; a mantra Makaia says is the recipe for a happy and healthy life. Motivate Me NZ brings women together in a secure environment where they can share experiences.
Clean Eatz NZ is the result of Millie Elder Holmes’ new lifestyle. After bunking down to go clean in 2011, the then 23-year-old gained unwanted weight due to a more sedentary way of life. When Millie was offered the chance to join a health and fitness programme in 2013, she jumped at the opportunity to lose weight – posting her progress and new healthy food choices on her personal Instagram and Facebook page.
Once she reached her goal weight – and after persistent requests from her partner Connor – Millie launched a new Instagram profile, Facebook page and website Clean Eatz NZ to share recipes and lifestyle tips. Today, Clean Eatz NZ has an Instagram following of more than 22,000 and produces a flowing feed of healthy recipes as well as tried-and-tested beauty products and exercise ideas.
Millie’s inspiration for Clean Eatz NZ comes from her love for food and working out. If she’s not sweating it out with her personal trainer, she’s exercising with friends, trying out new recipes or planning content for an upcoming blog post. It’s been a year since Millie launched Clean Eatz NZ and the now 26-year-old has turned her health hobby into a career, even balancing her content research and recently launched jewellery line with full-time study at South Pacific School of Natural Medicine.
From the editors of Good Health Choices