When Jules Hilliker was pregnant with her first baby, she tipped the scales at 340 pounds. She was shocked to read the words “morbidly obese” in big black letters at the top of her medical chart.
“I knew I was fat,” says Jules, “I just didn’t know how fat.”
Looking back, she admits she was in total denial. She had never experienced being a healthy weight. She was a chubby baby, a fat five-year-old and an obese teenager. Hilliker had just gotten used to being heavy.
The moment she held her newborn son in her arms, though, she decided it was time to change her lifestyle. Her goal was to be able to play with her kids and set them on the right path for lifelong health. She did not want to be a reason her son might be teased on the playground.
When she came home from the hospital, she went through the Yellow Pages and called around Ottawa, but no one offered mom-and-baby fitness sessions. Family-focused classes weren’t available at that time. Still, for the next year Jules spent a lot of time at the Ottawa Public Library reading everything she could on nutrition and fitness. At home, she watched longingly from the window each day as a woman jogged past. Eventually, she started taking her baby outside at that same time in hopes of meeting this woman.
“Finally she stopped at the end of my driveway one day and asked me why I was always watching her!” The jogger invited her to a local fitness class, but Jules was flabbergasted when she attended and was ignored by the trainers.
“Those bad instructors inspired me to become a trainer,” she explains. “I wanted to make people feel like the most important person in the gym.”
Over the next year, the new mom worked towards her personal training certification through the YMCA.When she finally taught her first fitness class, she was still 100 pounds overweight. Jules says her clients didn’t take her seriously because they believed she wasn’t following her own advice. Determined to prove everyone wrong, she decided to further her education by enrolling in the Can Pro Trainer program. In the meantime, she designed her own nutrition plan. Eliminating chocolate bars, peanut butter or bread didn’t appeal to her and removing food groups didn’t make any sense, so Jules contacted the Government of Canada and asked for a free copy of Canada’s Food Guide.
In the beginning, she removed a third of the food from her plate, good or bad. Once her pants started falling off, she was motivated to focus on what she was eating.
“I really started to enjoy fruits and vegetables,” she says. “I started to crave them. I tell my clients that it really does happen.”
People began to treat Jules with more kindness and respect as she became thinner, but she says her motivation to stay on a healthy path comes from what she can do for others. She has taught fitness classes through divorce, pregnancy, miscarriages and even a broken foot. When she doesn’t feel like going for a run, Jules thinks about her clients who need her to be her best self.
In 2006, she graduated from the Can Pro Trainer Program with a specialty in pre and post-natal fitness. She had always felt uncomfortable leaving her children in a gym daycare so she could work out and wanted to provide a program that supported new mothers and their fitness needs. Today, Jules is Ottawa’s fitness leader for new moms. She runs a number of programs including Boomerang Kids Strollercise, a free program offered throughout the city. These classes are accessible to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic background.
Jules also offers mom-and-baby fitness classes at several local community centres. Her program doesn’t require a lot of equipment because she wants women to be able to learn the routines and also do them at home. A mix of high and low impact exercises, her full-body workout includes jumping jacks, burpees and push-ups to funky music. There is no crunching, but a lot of planking. She says her program will strengthen your core and flatten your stomach. She also promises there are no grapevines.
“Just fresh, clean and minimalist exercise,” says the popular instructor.
Women are inspired and laughter can always be heard during her classes, but the end results are more than physical. Between the push-ups and the burpees, Jules motivates mothers and creates a happy, inclusive community. She believes Ottawa is full of successful and educated women, but when babies come along—and don’t always cooperate, their lives can get challenging. She says the important thing for mothers to remember is they are not failing. Getting back into fitness can be an emotional experience for many new moms, so Jules uses her own story to encourage them. “I have the scars both emotionally and physically from being obese,” she points out, “I understand where they’re coming from.” Her life experience is invaluable to her clients.
In 2012, Jules was awarded the Can Fit Pro Trainer of the Year award. She was given a standing ovation and during her acceptance speech she thanked the audience for letting the “fat girl” come to the party. Despite being selected out of 60,000 Can Fit Pro trainers for the prestigious award, Jules says she’s most proud of being able to provide barrier-free fitness for people.
“That is the greatest achievement of my whole life,” says Jules.
For a full list of her programs and a schedule of classes, see www.fitnesswithjules.com