Elk Grove’s most polarizing fitness force is now a professional author.
Maria Kang, who achieved international notoriety with her “What’s your excuse?” Facebook campaign, recently published her first book, “The No More Excuses Diet” (Random House, $26, 300 pages).
She remains on a mission to get Americans on a healthier track. The first step, and the inspiration for the book’s title, is owning up.
“You need to say, ‘I am the reason I am who I am right now, and I’m choosing a different path, and I can’t blame anything else,’” said Kang, 34. “You can’t blame fast food, you can’t blame your mom, and you can’t even blame that annoying poster with that mom and her three kids that says, ‘What’s your excuse?’ for making you feel bad and shameful about yourself.”
She’s referring to the Facebook photo she posted in 2012, in which she showed off her trim body in revealing workout gear while posing with her three sons, now ages 2, 4 and 6.
Created to promote her free workout classes, the photo went viral with more than 16 million views, and became a flashpoint for invective about health and body image. Some found her tough-love message inspiring. Others accused her of fat shaming and bullying (and photo-shopping). The image struck a particular nerve with mothers, who can struggle to find time to care of themselves while they care for their children.
Kang would spend the next year defending her position on CNN, “Today,” “Good Morning America” and in publications such as the New York Daily News and the Daily Mail in Great Britain. She stood her ground, insisting that women stop making excuses for their unhealthy lifestyles and start working toward their best selves.
The exposure helped her to secure a book deal, and “The No More Excuses Diet” hit shelves March 10. It encourages readers to get a handle on their fitness and nutrition by following three simple steps: Take three days to drop the excuse, spend three weeks picking up new habits, and commit for three months to see results.
Kang poses solo on the cover, wearing the same red-and-black sports bra from the photo that started it all.
“I’m a real person,” Kang said. “I don’t sugarcoat stuff. I’m not fake. In my book, it’s really my voice, and you can hear my voice in the words. That was the goal – to be completely authentic.”
Kang fans may find some of the writing familiar. While her “program rules” previously had been published on her website (www.mariakang.com), the book includes new workout-and-diet information, photos and other materials.
Kang, a Laguna Creek High School and UC Davis graduate who now runs two elder-care facilities as well as a nonprofit fitness organization and workout groups, finished the book over the past year, working at night while the kids were asleep. A longtime fitness instructor and recently recertified personal trainer, she opens the book with her own struggles around eating and fitness. She then tells her story of overcoming and gets to the crux of the matter – that her plan is hard but worth the work.
Betsy Moats, Detroit-based author of fitness blog The Everyday Warrior, recently posted a rave review of “The No More Excuses Diet,” calling Kang inspiring. Moats remembers the viral photo, and while she was not offended by it, she believes those who were will feel differently after reading Kang’s personal story.
“I think that was just a snapshot, and people made assumptions about her based on that picture,” she said. “Her picture leads everyone to believe that she’s always been that way. But now you see her as more human.”
While the chapters support a list of program rules – eat small meals, drink only water, work out three to five times a week – they allow for some wiggle room and a good deal of creativity. Not all bodies are the same, Kang said, but by working hard and sticking to the rules, everyone can attain their own version of healthy.
And contrary to what Internet opponents might think, the former cheerleader isn’t especially concerned about looks.
“You need to stop focusing on body image,” she said. “You need to focus on your actions. When you eat right, when you exercise, when you’re treating yourself well, you need to accept, love and respect that. But don’t force yourself to look a certain way.”
Inspiring women of all sizes to get moving goes beyond the book for Kang. She funnels much her energy into the No Excuse Mom workout community, which encompasses 300 fitness groups around the world. It started about five years ago with a free session in an Elk Grove park, where moms were encouraged to exercise boot-camp-style while their children played. The group grew into a sisterhood, Kang said, and the more they shared their stories of self-improvement, the more other moms wanted to follow their leads.
Now the model is used in 25 countries and has led to the advent of similar groups including No Excuse Dad, No Excuse Women, No Excuse Runners and the newly launched No Excuse Kid program. Kang’s 2015 Fit Mom Calendar, released this January, features a row of No Excuse Moms posing on the cover with muscles flexed.
It’s a change from the previous year’s cover, which featured a smiling, bikini-clad Kang posing solo against a beach background.
Hazel Blandon, who started attending No Excuse Mom workouts in Elk Grove two years ago, said Kang helped her regain a motivation for fitness that she lost after having kids. Now she leads a weekly session in Elk Grove and holds herself accountable for her fitness and diet. The moms in Kang’s groups share nutritional tips, ask each other health questions and arrange play dates for kids, she said.
Most importantly, they make sure to take time for themselves.
“Make yourself a priority,” Blandon said. “If you want to be the best mom and the best wife, you have to take care of yourself first. And there’s no excuse – everyone has the same 24 hours. If you want something, you just have to go get it.”