Maria Kang, age 33, is a diminutive 5’4” and active in her Elk Grove, California, parish of Good Shepherd Church. She runs two Comforts of Home residential care facilities in Sacramento and 15 miles to the south in Elk Grove.
She keeps three Web sites updated, including those of her nonprofits, noexcusemom.org and FitnessWithoutBorders.org. Her husband, David Casler, retired early from the U.S. Marines because of wounds suffered in Iraq. The couple is raising three sons: Christian, five; Nicholas, three; and Gabriel, two.
With a hectic schedule, Maria wasn’t the type to court controversy. Yet she detonated a blast on the worldwide Web when one of her postings went viral in September 2013 to the tune of 16 million views on Facebook and Yahoo! The picture of Maria with bare midriff and three toddler sons at her feet would not have stirred a maelstrom if not for its provocative headline: “What’s Your Excuse?”
Millions of women were offended by the suggestion that they could trim down to 125 pounds and a size-4 dress like Maria did after giving birth. They voiced their inability to recover their pre-pregnancy physiques no matter how many laps they swam or apples they ate.
In the ensuing weeks, Maria defended herself on nearly a dozen shows, including the “Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and “Geraldo Rivera” and fielded emails from as far away as Africa, India and of course, her mother’s home country of the Philippines.
“It’s never nice to be criticized for being honest,” she recalls. “’What’s Your Excuse?’ was a catchphrase I used for my motivational poster to show that if I can get fit with three young children, you can, too. If I can make time you can, too!”
Many among the 36.1 percent of American women age 25 and older that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated to be obese in 2010 didn’t interpret Maria’s poster the way she expected. She was called a “fat shamer” and was briefly barred from Facebook due to the populist ire.
The unanticipated attention gave her an international platform to launch her “No Excuse Mom” movement and encourage more mothers to resist the assumption of helplessness.
“I commented on how society is normalizing obesity. Obesity shouldn’t be regular,” Maria says. “A lot of fit mothers don’t get applause as role models. Many of them were obese at one time. Others can follow their example in trying to make better choices for the sake of their health.”
After a few weeks, the media blitz subsided as reporters, bloggers and other netizens moved on to the next kerfuffle. Maria still gets a little ruffled when she relates their remarks to the experience of her mother, Caroline Anducayen.
“The reason I’m passionate about fitness is my mother was obese. I watched her suffer from diabetes, strokes and a heart attack at age fifty. Imagine me crying on my wedding day because she was in the ICU. I don’t want other mothers to miss important dates because of their health.”
No Excuses Yesterday, Today and Next Year
Life also goes on for Maria and her 267,000 followers on Facebook. She has been running free fitness boot camps at middle schools and high schools through her Fitness Without Borders nonprofit. Maria oversees No Excuse Mom groups in 500 locations globally and has sold 2,000 No Excuse Mom calendars. The calendar sales support member activities.
The 2014 calendar contains images of mothers of different shapes, sizes and ages and tips for making a physical transformation. Maria explains, “Transformation means building strength, endurance and body confidence. A woman’s body can never become exactly what it was before the pregnancy, but she can be darn close.”
In some ways, Maria says a woman can be even better than she was. “She can acquire greater strength after a baby. When I had my first baby, I used him as a weight and ran with him in a stroller.”
Maria has a simple advice for women who have pounds to shed following a baby. “She should make short-term goals and start writing down what she’s consuming. If she has a cheeseburger habit, I wouldn’t advise her to stop eating them but to start eating half a cheeseburger. Change the portion size.”
Though Maria’s father, Francis Kang, is Chinese-American, she identifies most strongly with her mother’s Filipino heritage. “We, Filipinos, love to celebrate and come together. At gatherings, the food isn’t always healthy and this is creating a health issue within our community.”
She offers Positively Filipino her recipe for healthy chicken adobo as one remedy that can protect hearts while preserving a staple at Filipino parties.
Maria gives her Filipino culture credit for the emotional support to cope with her Web ordeal. Her Filipina identity was integral to her upbringing. At age 17, she was Miss Philippines Sacramento and went on to win Miss Petite Philippines at a pageant in Canada. After representing the Philippines at the Miss Petite Teen International Pageant in Texas, she made her latest visit to the Philippines for a pageant in Manila in 2003.
Because of her calendar’s success and the attention it received on CNN and “Inside Edition,” Maria has begun recruiting women to appear in the 2015 edition. Highlighting a theme in her next transformation calendar, she says, “I want people to take thirty minutes out of their day to be healthy.”
A longtime writer for Filipinas Magazine and now Positively Filipino, Anthony Maddela writes articles, copy and stories in Los Angeles, California. He and his wife, Susan, have two children, Charlotte, age 11, and Gregory, 9.
Clean Eating: Chicken Adobo by Maria Kang
My family loves my version of healthy chicken adobo. This is a Filipino favorite that is usually made with chicken thighs and legs, served over a generous portion of white rice because the soy sauce and vinegar makes the dish so salty! I actually don’t make a lot of Filipino Food (as there is a lot of pork, frying and sauces … 3 things I’m not a fan of) but my family loves this. When I was younger I loved to eat this dish, but after I saw the layer of hardened fat when it sat overnight in the fridge I vowed never to eat it again. My version of healthy chicken adobo has mostly breasts and a few drumsticks (for flavor) and I take all the fat/skin off of it.
4 chicken breasts (cut in thirds to get the flavor in)
4 drumsticks (skin taken off)
5 cloves of garlic
3/4 cup of soy sauce
1 cup of water (to dilute the sodium and add more sauce)
1/2-1cup of apple cider vinegar (you can use regular vinegar. This is all I had. My hubby likes it with a lot of vinegar so it’s up to you)
3 bay leaves
Pepper (just shake some in!)
Combine all ingredients and let it cook on medium-high for an hour. Cover and allow it to marinate. Stir every 20 minutes and uncover for the last 20 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken a bit more before serving over rice.
**I use brown rice also. In this picture I served with white rice.
Recipe originally posted in mariakang.com