I'm here today with Jen Oliver. Jen and I are going to be trying something new today. We’re going to be interviewing each other for this podcast. Her, for my "Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books” podcast, and I’ll be on her “FitMama” podcast. Let me introduce her quickly. Jen Oliver is the founder and CEO of FitMama, which is a movement empowering women to love their bodies and their lives while focusing on pre and postnatal core strengthening. She's the author of the book The Love FitMama Way: Transforming the Core of Motherhood. With a masters in exercise and health psychology from McMaster in Canada, this FitMama trains, coaches, and speaks all over Canada. She’s also trained in Reiki, the healing art, which is amazing, and excels in personal training, fitness instructure, nutrition coaching, and mindfulness. When I wrote these questions, I was wondering should I not tell her I'm eating dark chocolate covered caramels while I'm writing up her bio? [laughs] She lives with her daughters and husband in Ontario, Canada. I’ll turn it to Jen.
Jen Oliver: Thank you, Zibby. I'm so excited to be here with you, absolutely honored to be on your podcast, and so excited to have you on the “FitMama” podcast.
Zibby: Thank you for having me.
Jen: Thank you. Zibby is out of New York City. I love that you're named Zibby. I absolutely love the name of your podcast. This popular podcast Zibby has is called "Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.” I actually heard Zibby on a radio show on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. I just loved her topics. I loved what she was talking about. I loved her zest for life and her desire to help spread books and articles and all the really great topics that are out there to moms who simply don't have time to read books. That is brilliant. Zibby has been featured in so many magazines and written and authored books with others. Zibby, I'm so grateful for you and so glad that you're here with me. You live in Manhattan. You have four children, which we will touch on in today’s podcast. Thanks for being here.
Zibby: Thank you. Thanks again for reaching out after you heard me on the radio with Jill Kargman. That was the greatest thing.
Jen: It was so cool. That's what I love about our world today. It was as much as me looking you up, finding you online, going “I love this woman the more I find her stuff.” The more I looked, I was like, “I have to reach out. I have to her as a guest. I have to meet her.” I'm glad it worked out.
Zibby: Aw, that's so sweet. I loved your book. Thanks for sending me a copy, The Love FitMama Way is really awesome and gives such great hands-on advice. In the beginning of your book you tell readers that you wrote it to fill a need on both a small and large scale. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Jen: My own personal journey was in fitness and health, as you mentioned. I was a fitness trainer. I was a personal trainer. I was working with a lot of women who had babies and who were pregnant. Then I went through pregnancy and having my own babies. The fitness journey seemed very linear. It seemed very much, for me, like, “I'm fit. I work out during pregnancy. I stay fit, keep working out after, and keep going.” Unfortunately, that did not happen to me. I realized after I injured my back because of a weak and dysfunctional deep, inner core that if I did this as a trainer and fitness expert, who else out there was getting this information or didn't know what was really happening in the deep, inner core? The more I started talking about my back injury, the more I started talking about the core and other deep core injuries or disfunctions, things like what very commonly is associated with being a mom is “I peed my pants. I leak. I jump on the trampoline with my kids and I can't control it,” that is so common that it’s considered now a part of it, but it truly isn't a part of it.
I realized that there was a place for educating about pelvic health, educating about the deep, inner core, educating about things like diastasis recti or prolapse, which are disfunctions of the deep, inner core that seem really, really, really scary if you've never heard of them. All of a sudden, you're debilitated by them. There are ways to prevent these things. A little knowledge goes a long way. The number one thing I get is, “Where were you when I was having kids? I wish I knew about you then.” Unfortunately, I wish I knew about me then too. I had to get this book out there. I really, really am passionate about helping others not go through the hardships or at least get themselves out of it without feeling like their life is over.
Zibby: I am eleven years postpartum. [laughs] I'm kidding. I'm also almost four years postpartum. For people like me who are not recent moms, is there any hope for my core or other moms like me? Doesn't having diastasis, which is basically when your abs separate deep down which happened when I had twins, can't I just write the core off and be like, “Well, I have other strengths but it’s not going to be in my core?”
Jen: I love this, Zibby. The key thing to note is that once you're postpartum, you're always postpartum. You were postpartum eleven years old. You're still postpartum now. It is absolutely never too late. I have two clients. One of them I just finished working with after about a year of it. She's seventy-six years old. Her son is somewhere in his fifties. Absolutely, it’s never too late. I can bring you in here because I'm really curious, too, about your lifestyle habits. You have four children. You live a busy lifestyle. That includes you travelling around, going to different things, doing interviews, interviewing people, coordinating, editing, writing your blog, and all that. For someone like you, you really are an ideal client.
I help people who are busy, busy, busy and don't think they have time for their core or they’ve put it on the backburner going, “Is that really that important? Sure, I leak. Whatever. It’s no big deal. I have back pain. I had a diastasis and I just didn't know what to do at the time.” That's okay. My question for you is what is it that you're doing right now? Now, your youngest is about four, you said. What have you done the last four years? What did you do for your core then? Talk to me about that. Let's investigate.
Zibby: [laughs] Let's investigate my core. What did I do? This won't take long. I have not done very much. I go on the elliptical machine. I do some regular workouts. I used to do a little spinning. I do this class called Dance Body, which actually was pretty helpful for my ab muscles because of all the twisting and turning. In terms of really getting into it, I have not done all that much I have to say.
Jen: Have you ever, Zibby, have you ever heard of core rehabilitation?
Zibby: Yes. After I had my twins over a decade ago, I thought maybe there would be hope for me. At the time, I saw a trainer who specialized in fixing diastasis or trying to get my abs back together. I gave up on that after about six months and never went back.
Jen: Tell me about that. Why did you give up? I'm curious. It’s very popular to give up after a while. I'm curious. What was your tipping point there where you decided it wasn’t going to happen anymore?
Zibby: There’s only so much time I can dedicate to one part of my body. I'm not a trainer. I'm not an actress. I don't really care. Not that I don't really care what I look like. I like to look put together. As you said, I have four kids. I started with twins. Finding what you'd call “me time,” for me, as I'm sure for other listeners, is not so easy. I put dealing with my core in the bucket of “That would be nice if I had all the time in the world, but for now I'm just going to have some lower back pain and not have such strong abs.”
Jen: Great. That's really insightful. That can really help the listeners to have an understanding of yes, absolutely it does seem like it’s a lot of effort to put into one area. This is where the core rehabilitation movement has really taken off. What I teach is to get people who haven't had a baby, everyone ideally, to book in with a pelvic floor physiotherapist. Have you ever heard of one?
Jen: Have you gone to one?
Jen: The reason why I really recommend pelvic floor physiotherapy, pelvic floor is the bottom of your core. It’s actually part of the deep core. It houses your three holes, your urethra, vagina, and anus. Understanding how the pelvic floor works is one of the things that I educate about. I talk about it in the book, yes. I also have videos which really help. Anatomically, people can't figure out, how does the deep core work? What does it look like? I share some slides and some things in the video that help you understand the anatomy. The deep, inner core is the foundation of your whole body. There's not really a set protocol of exercises that you have to, have to do. It’s about understanding how the core actually works and that the first thing, and really the only important thing, to know is that it’s all connected to your breathing.
How you breathe and how you inhale, exhale, how you move when you're picking up items -- this is why it’s so important around the new mom area. For you, it is still important, four or five, even ten years later. It’s really important because new moms are lifting. They're lifting the baby in that bucket seat thing. They're lifting their other toddlers. They're lifting, lifting. When they lift, we have a tendency to bear down and push the pelvic floor downwards, which can lead to a lot of core disfunction. The core rehab that I recommend, and that I have people go and see a physio and get a plan for them, is because it helps relieve a lot of the downward pressure on the pelvic floor. If you're talking about quality of life, sex after baby, or whether it’s forty years later or seventy years later and you're going to a nursing home because of incontinence of whatever issues, somewhere along the line if we don't take time and do what I call “heal your seal,” it does come creeping back in a negative way.
It’s not about doing core sit-ups and doing all these kinds of crunches all day long. It’s actually the opposite of that. It’s really about slowing down a little, calming the nervous system through breathing, and rebuilding this foundation. If you can imagine your house, you have this beautiful house. Then you grow babies in your foundation, which is your belly. It’s like having a flood or some kind of catastrophe in the basement of your house. You need to fix it before you build a new addition on top. It’s never too late. For you, someone who is doing four kids of mom-ing and running all around and doing all the things that you do, when it comes to your fitness or when it comes to focusing on your core, you can realize and rest easy knowing that it’s as simple as possibly sitting on your mat or lying on a yoga mat and doing a few breathing exercises. Yes, you might engage different limbs. Your arms and legs may move. It’s not about aggression. It’s not about crunches and pushing. It’s really the opposite. It’s about lifting and feeling light and [indiscernible]. It’s a really good feeling.
When you work on the core in a really loving way, which is from the inside out, it feels like you're giving yourself a big hug. Then you're there to support yourself while you walk into your day, while you go through your day lifting your kids or bending or doing this, that. It gives you that extra boost of strength and grounding in the core of your body. Because you've breathed and taken some time, even if it’s five minutes, you feel different. You feel an energy that you take into your day that is sometimes much more effective than pushing yourself through some sprinting workout, and then you feel depleted or exhausted, and you don't want to do it again.
Zibby: I know all this mindfulness, sit, breathe, yoga, I know all that. I know it. I read about it all the time. I get how important it is. When it comes down to the first kid gets me out of bed in the morning and then I'm going, going, going -- not to say I'm so busy every second. Obviously, the kids go to school and everything. I could make the time for these things. I don't know. I love your passion about this. I buy it. You're totally right. I want to listen to you. I'm really going to try.
Jen: Awesome. One of my podcast’s episodes is called “Don’t try.”
Zibby: So I won't. I won't try.
Jen: The old Yoda quote, “Do or do not.” I even teach sometimes with my kids, if you're trying, you're not doing. It’s not about you have to do this or I'm trying to convince you this is the way. Like you said, the literature shows that there is a lot of positive benefit from things like mindfulness. Mindfulness sounds all hippie-dippie. At the end of the day, all it is is really awareness. It’s awareness and being more aware through your day. I know for me I notice a difference when I don't take any time through my day to stop and take stock. You may probably be doing this, Zibby, which is why you are a thriving woman and an amazing mom and doing all the things that you do. You probably have built these in a way that really feels good to you. This is where I love to change the conversation from things like fitness and exercise to movement and getting out in nature and absorbing, not only fresh air and the trees and all the real love that nature has to offer us because it really does change our state of being -- that's what I have found that I help FitMamas most with is this change of state.
We go through our day. We’re always in this reactive mode like you said. “The kids get me up. I go, go go.” I really encourage you to be a bit proactive, not you necessarily, but in general, being proactive and saying, “I'm going to say I get that the research is out there that taking five minutes a day to breathe and connect with my core and feel my pelvic floor and calm my nervous system, I know technically these are really good for me. I'm going to try it out and do it three times this week or whatever.” The key thing goes from having this in your mind as, “That sounds like something interesting to do. Maybe I’ll try it,” to actually putting it into your schedule in your iPhone so that it dings and it goes, “Take five minutes now.” Even if now is not a good time, you snooze it. You go, “I'm going to finish up this. I'm going to walk myself in --" oftentimes for moms, it’s the bathroom. I'm always doing my PSA for pelvic floor saying please don't sit on the toilet and look at your phone unless the lid of the toilet is closed. Your pelvic floor is holding up all your organs. There's a lot of pressure downwards all the time. Don't do that. Do take time.
For me, I've found, and a lot of my clients benefit from this, is finding space where nobody interrupts you. I took a closet. Instead of having storage stuff in there, I took it out. I glorified the closest by putting my kid’s art up there. I had a Himalayan salt rock lamp. I had a diffuser. I had my yoga mat and my meditation cushion. I made this little closet that I could tuck myself into and be away. It feels so good. It doesn't take a lot of time. It just takes a little bit of planning and say, “This happens every day at two o’clock when I want to go downstairs and grab an ice cream cone to get through the day until I pick up the kids,” or whatever those comfort things are. We want to change our [indiscernible]. That's really what we want.
That's one of the things exercise does well. It gets us exercising and moving, blood pumping. We look at things differently. There are many ways to achieve this. Sometimes we don't have the opportunity to go running or do whatever, go to a class. We can sit or stand or walk and just be more present. Sometimes insights come to us. It doesn't have to do with the body. It has to do with the way we look at our body. Maybe it was really important how much the number on the scale was. After you take more time and follow the Love FitMama way where you're starting with self-care instead of yelling at yourself to go do things, it ends up becoming something that you're inspired and motivated to continue.
Zibby: I don't lock myself in the closet. I lock myself in the fridge. [laughs] I'm kidding. I don't really. I feel like the time that you're talking about, the few minutes here and there without interruption, I am typically staring into the pantry or getting a snack. I know you do a lot of nutrition consulting as well, or you had done that in the past a lot. I know it’s all linked with the whole self-care and the whole FitMama way. In fact, I love how you said in the book, “There is no cheating, just choosing,” which I think applies to a lot of things. I love that quote. Did you coin that quote, or did you take it from somebody else? I'm definitely going to use it.
Jen: I did. I made that up. That's one of the things I heard the most often from people was, “I'm cheating on my diet. I shouldn't have this. I'm being good today. I can have this.” I started to realize this association. Words are very powerful. “I am” is very powerful. “I am cheating” is such a negative. We know what cheating is, whether cheating on a game or cheating on a spouse. That's very, very negative. When we’re having these conversations in our head that conjures up these very negative things, whether we’re aware of it or not, it keeps us feeling stuck. Yes, as you mentioned, I did do a lot of nutrition coaching in the past. It’s very much shifted in the way that I do it now. It sometimes frustrates people. I'm sure you can understand this.
A lot of people are very detail-oriented. They want things to be told to them. “Tell me what to eat. Tell me what to do. Tell me when to do it. Tell me how much. I’ll follow the plan.” I'm big on research as a science. The science shows that that's actually not long-term sustainable. When we use these words and these things against ourselves, we undermine ourselves. We lose trust in ourselves. We say, “I'm going to be this. I'm going to do this,” then we don't do it because we’re out, we’re having fun, or we’re enjoying it, we want to enjoy, then we all of a sudden associate eating with a negative towards ourself like cheating on your spouse. It’s such a mixed message to your subconscious. It really undermines.
I talk a lot about trusting your gut and your intuition. For you, when you're standing in the pantry and you're going, “Oh, my god. I need a break from work. I have this one more deadline. I have this thing to do before I pick up the kids,” in that state of mind, you're likely to very much go with your emotions in that moment. You might say, “I just need a pick-me-up. I'm going to grab this candy because it’s a sugar hit,” or “I want to bring myself down a notch so I'm going to have this calming tea,” we’re very emotionally based. If you give yourself no wiggle room and you're like, “Right now I have to have my apple and my almonds, but I don't want apple and almonds. I had that yesterday. I'm bored of it. I'm sick of it,” it mixes all up in our heads.
That's where we can really start to transform. What I call transforming the core of motherhood is really about transforming ourselves first and this conversation that we had. For you, while you're sitting at your desk and you're going, “I want to grab a snack. I'm going to have some lunch. I only have twenty minutes. I got to rush back to the desk,” having a minute and breathing and creating a little awareness around that moment to say, “I'm not a diet.” Diets don't work. That's another one of my quotes. Diets don't work, love does. “I'm not on a diet. I'm not going to cheat on myself. What's really going to give me the feelings I want? Am I using this food --" I always say that same thing. There's no cheating. There's just choosing. There's also choosing and not using.
So often we use food to change our state, to give us this pleasure. It’s not that food isn't pleasure-inducing. Are you choosing it because you want to, because you want to enjoy, because that's what you desire, or because you want to stuff the feelings down? You don't want to face what's happening? It’s really about investigating these things. Unfortunately, we want the quick fix. We want the person to tell us, “Just do this.” That's not me anymore. Once upon a time, I was that. “Eat at ten o’clock. Then eat at noon. Then do this.” In the long term as I had my business for longer and saw that truly this wasn’t serving clients, I needed to give them their power back.
Zibby: I'm with you. When I was younger, I liked that structure. I wanted someone to tell me what to do. I actually even used to work for Weight Watchers for a little while. I used to be a meeting leader and a private coach. When I was younger I was like, “Great. I’ll eat these seven almonds. That's my snack.” I don't know if it’s the fact that I'm in my forties now or whatever, but I'm like, “No.” I do not want any more people telling me what to do. Thank you very much.
Jen: Exactly. That's the big thing. That's a huge realization to come to. I have worked with people in their sixties, seventies. Honestly, my seventy-six-year-old client wanted a meal plan, wanted me to tell her what to eat. This was an older, Italian woman who cooked beautifully for her husband. She didn't want to eat these things. She had this guilt associated. She had these words that she was using that kept her in this spiral. It’s one of the things I bring up in my TEDx talk that I did, which is “How to Love Yourself to the Core.” I brought up a story in that which was my own mother who I looked to as this beautiful goddess that she was to me. When I’d compliment her or when I’d give her something or want to take a picture with her, it was very much a slap in the face I felt I got when she was like, “Uck, I'm fat. Uck, I can't eat that. Uck, that's not on my diet.” It literally made my stomach churn and made me wonder, “Am I wrong? Am I wrong for loving her? What do I see? What does she see?”
It sent me on a mission in my life to help people see things differently, most especially see themselves differently. What you've established at this point is that you don't see yourself as only worthy if your body looks like this. If you want to ten almonds and not seven, go to because that's what you're feeling. You don't want them to be told. It’s impressive that you've realized that. Often we don't realize that our own worst enemy, that person tripping in our ear, “You shouldn't. You couldn't. Don't do that. You’re bad. You're lazy. You're fat,” over and over in our heads -- that's the conversation that I have started to open up with the Love Fit Mama way. A new mom with a newborn baby who hasn’t slept, telling herself she's fat and has to go to the gym and looks fat and doesn't want her partner to touch her or anything, it sets up a whole cascade of stuff that will, honestly, whether it’s in the short term or long term, really erode your life.
Zibby: I remember actually bringing my twins -- I look back on myself, I'm like, “How did I do that?” -- I brought my twins to a Weight Watchers meeting when they were six months old. I stood in the back. Now, I can't even believe I wasted my time.
Speaking of how you felt about your mother talking badly about herself, do you have advice for moms who want to raise their own kids with a love and respect for their bodies and none of that same self-shame that the media and society or even the women from an older generation may have instilled in us?
Jen: Yes. I would love to hear your thoughts on this too. Do you have daughters, sons? How many of each?
Zibby: I have two daughters and two sons.
Jen: Two of each. I'd love to hear yours on this. Absolutely, that's at the forefront of my mind in the work that I do. I'm seeing kids. I’ve really watched their parents. They look up to their moms like nothing else. I so often see moms -- it’s the little comments. I really want to bring awareness to the little things. We say them in our heads and I want you to become aware of that, but what are the little things you're saying out loud around your kids using those words like “I shouldn't have that cake. I'm losing weight. I don't want to do that. When I fit into that next week?” It’s this future casting of “It will get better. This is not good enough now.”
That's another one of the things I always say. When you love the body you have, you have a body you love. It’s as quick as deciding you're going to love what you have. It’s going to be the thing that you choose to take care of. You don't want to take care of something you hate. You don't want to try and take care of anything, or even put your efforts towards something, when you have this disdain for it and you're looking in the mirror and you're knit-picking and saying, “My thighs, my cellulite, my belly roll, my stretch mark,” that does not bring you to a place in your energy where you go, “I want to take care of myself and get outside into nature and run and join a class or join a community.” That leaves you constricted, contracted, feeling horrible about yourself, and closing in on yourself. Realize the words you use to yourself out loud are very powerful. Not saying those things like, “I should, I won't, I have to do this,” not calling out your own body because at the end of the day when your kids look at you, they are looking at themselves when you make those comments about yourself, even if you don't make any comments ever about them.
Zibby: I totally agree with that. That's what all the articles have said. I've been so conscious since they were born to not do it and not ever be self-critical in front of the mirror or in a dressing room. I don't do that around them. I'm obviously not perfect. I try real hard not to let any of that in.
Jen: There is no perfect. That's a big piece. We’re conditioned. I know me. I talk about this in the book, this warrior mentality, this type-A woman who wants to be super mom and wants to look a certain way and have it all together. It’s a tall order for anyone. When we don't leave room for loving the imperfections and realizing that there is no perfect -- we can strive and strive and yell at our kids ‘til the cows come home, but there is no perfect. When we can let that go, the weight that lifts off your shoulders makes you feel weightless.
Zibby: Totally. I wrote an article last fall for -- The Today Show has a mom’s channel, Today Moms. I wrote an article called, “Hey, Moms. Let's Lose Weight Later.” What I was trying to do is take the pressure off, not to say let's all sit around and eat bonbons all day. Let's stop stressing ourselves out so much during such a short period of time in our lives. This is the most intense period where we need to give our full selves to our kids, especially right after childbirth. It’s such a huge shift. I wrote this piece because I wanted to say, “Take the pressure off.” There's time to do that. You'll have tons of time to lose weight later. For the moment, it’s okay.
Jen: I could not agree more. I love that you did that. It’s one of those things where that call to women to say, “Hey, let's change this apparent norm where we aren’t given any time to rest, recuperate, rehab, take care of ourselves, and we’re back out there tryin’ to look like JLo. Let's change this conversation.” That is huge. Just like you said, not to say we’re going to go eat bonbons, that's really important to say. We don't even need to say we’re not going to go eat bonbons because we’re not going to do that. The women of today, you, me, all the women we’re speaking to who are listening here today, these are go-getters. These are women who have achieved. They have gotten places. They have done the work. They have pushed themselves. These are the high-achieving women who need to realize that if you say, “I'm going to take the day off,” or if you say, “I'm going to loosen the reigns around my dieting,” you're not going to go sit on your couch, eat chips all day, and wait for lightening to strike before you move again. It’s not going to be.
When we can realize that if we can trust ourselves with saying, “I don't have to eat this specific breakfast on the menu. I don't have to go and join this CrossFit or this gym or that gym or do these things. I can just start to listen to my body and the wisdom that it has for me that I've ignored for so long because I went in the top direction of no pain no gain, I got to diet, I got to restrict, I got to push,” that's where that doesn't fit in this phase of life. You're not going to be that person crying in the corner wishing someone was paying attention to her. We got a full life. You've got things going on. Nurturing yourself with love absolutely will help you make the best decisions ever.
Zibby: This was amazing, Jen. Thank you so much. I love this. I've taken away such good advice from you, advice that I need to put at the top of my mind that I will take down to go make lunch with and go through the day. [laughs] I'm going to spend some time really carving out those few moments. I'm going to think of you sitting in your closet. I'm going try to carve something out similarly for myself. Thank you for sharing all of your research and your personal experience to help other moms and other women out there. It’s so wonderful that you're doing that. Thanks for sharing it with me.
Jen: Likewise, Zibby. I'm so grateful for this. Thank you for all you do. Thank you for your wisdom. We’ll have you back on the podcast. We’ll surely have more conversations. I'm going to share that article of yours. That is a good one. I will be finding that and sharing. Thanks so much for your time. You will have all the links in the show notes, how to find Zibby and connect with her. Talk to you soon.