Kiwi sisters Julia and Libby Matthews have made a name for themselves with a popular health blog and bestselling cookbook, and now the bubbly siblings have another set of plans in the pipeline.
When Julia and Libby first started their blog in 2012, the New Zealand health and wellness scene was just taking off. Green smoothies were a weird idea, kombucha was a word nobody had heard of, and clean eating was only for hardcore fitness junkies. Fast-forward five years, and the sisters can’t believe how much has changed.
“A green smoothie was the first recipe we put up on our blog,” says Julia, “and people laughed at us about it! Now it’s completely normal. Having these healthy foods go mainstream is a really positive thing.”
When the siblings started tinkering with healthy recipes and posting them on juliaandlibby.com, they had no idea that their hobby would transform into a personal health overhaul, a change of direction for Julia, and the top-selling cookbook, Julia and Libby’s Wholefood Kitchen.
As their social media profiles grew, negative comments inevitably came with the territory – although the pair say they’ve learned to brush it off.
“We get some criticism but we just ignore it now,” says Julia, 30. “Sometimes we post something and we know somebody is going to make a nasty comment – we say, ‘wait for it, wait for it…there it is!’ Some of the things that get written, we know people would never say to our faces. But when it comes to anything health related, of course there are going to be a lot of different views. It used to upset us, but now we just have a laugh.”
Five years on from the launch of their health blog and with a bestselling cookbook under their belts, Julia and Libby Matthews are taking success in their stride.
Despite now living in different countries, (Julia is based in Auckland and Libby lives with her partner, pro footballer Michael Boxall, in Johannesburg, South Africa), the foodie sisters are busy planning a second cookbook. The new book will include all the tasty wholefood recipes the pair have become known for, and they hope to see it hit the shelves before Christmas.
“The first cookbook was a hard process but we learned a lot,” says Libby, 28. “This time around it will hopefully be easier as we’ll know what to do and what not to do. Going through that process of trial and error and creating the recipes is the hard part. Last time there was one recipe we had to make eight times to get it right!”
But that’s not the only project on the horizon. The entrepreneurial duo are also launching a food product, and say all will be revealed once everything is finalised in the next few months. While they’re keeping tight-lipped for the time being, they say the product is something they developed in response to almost daily queries from online followers.
“It’s all really exciting,” says Julia. “We’ve been working on it for over a year, and it will be a separate brand to Julia and Libby. We’re starting with the food brand, but we’ve got other projects on the go too.”
But for Libby, learning the ropes as a new mum to daughter, Maxwell, has been this year’s biggest learning curve.
“A lot of people said to me, ‘you’re going to be so busy with a newborn’, but I’m finding it a bit easier than I expected,” she says.
“I’m very lucky that she’s such an easy baby; she usually sleeps through the night so I’m not feeling too sleep deprived. I think the best pregnancy advice is don’t listen to what everyone else says! Because everybody is so different – every baby is different, every pregnancy is different. But it’s amazing, I love being a mum.”
Libby says she wants to come back to New Zealand every few months, to spend time with family and also to keep working on business projects with her sister.
“It’s really hard being away, and I only have a few friends over there,” she says. “So it’s been so good coming back to New Zealand and being able to get that extra family support.”
Despite their busy schedules, the down-to-earth pair say finding the time to exercise is another non-negotiable for staying healthy and happy.
For Libby, workouts involve light weights and gentle walks.
“I tried to exercise throughout my pregnancy,” she says. “I went back to the gym six weeks after Maxwell was born, but it definitely isn’t intense training. I’ve lost a lot of my fitness, but that’s okay, its early days. And she’s so heavy, it’s like an arm workout anyway!”
A fan of intense sweat sessions, Julia does weights with a personal trainer three times a week, runs regularly, and tries to fit in a yoga or reformer Pilates class.
“If I don’t exercise I feel gross,” Julia says. “Libby always says she couldn’t live without exercise, whereas I never used to be into it. But now I understand what she means; you feel so good after sweating it out.”
Although they now make a living from promoting wellness, Julia and Libby know first-hand what it feels like to be in a health rut, and they readily admit they haven’t always practised what they preach.
Libby says giving up her former party girl life in Melbourne five years ago and moving back home to study nutrition in Auckland was her turning point towards better health.
“I’ve become a much happier person since changing my lifestyle,” says Libby. “It was little things like drinking more water and eating more greens that made such a big difference for me. Making alterations to my diet gave me so much mental clarity, and my blemishes and eczema cleared up. I introduced the changes gradually, and being surrounded by healthy people all studying nutrition also made the process easier.”
For Julia, who has almost finished her own nutrition qualification, getting healthy was about owning up to some bad habits, going back to basics and making changes that were sustainable.
“I love food, I eat a lot and have a massive appetite,” she laughs. “I was eating McDonald’s all the time, I mean all the time! When I cut the junk food out I was initially really strict with my diet for a few years, but now it’s about balance, you can’t be too hard on yourself.”
Clean eating and exercise might be the basis of their wellness philosophy, but the sisters, who say Dr Libby Weaver is their favourite health expert, don’t believe in rigid food rules.
“I hate the idea of following a ‘diet’,” says Libby. “You say to yourself, ‘I can’t have chocolate’, but that makes you want it and you go out and eat a whole block!”
The laidback siblings, who first became interested in cooking while helping their mum bake when they were little, happily admit when they need proper comfort food, a green smoothie just isn’t going to cut it.
“Healthy comfort food, is that a trick question?” laughs Julia. “If I’ve had a really terrible day, that’s it, I need some carbs or some sugar. And other days, you just need lollies! I think balance is about knowing what foods make me feel good, but if I want a treat, I have it!”