By now we've all seen the photo that California mom of three Maria Kang posted to her Facebook account more than a year ago that suddenly went viral. The picture shows the 32-year-old model, toned and beautiful in a sports bra and booty shorts behind her three young sons with the caption, “What's Your Excuse?” (Check it out here.)
Not surprisingly, the photo got millions of views on Facebook and sparked a fiery debate about whether its message was more inspiring or insulting. I admire and applaud Kang's commitment to fitness, but as a working mother of three and someone who has been focused on getting my pre-baby body back, I do not find Kang’s message positive at all. Beyond failing to inspire or connect with many women, it might even make them feel low or trapped by a lifestyle that they don't know how to alter. No doubt many women would love to devote more time to fitness—they simply don't know how.
For me, it's all about baby steps and making smart lifestyle choices that are easy to maintain. I don't wake up at 4 a.m. to work out nor do I feel guilty about eating pizza and ice cream with my kids. But I also care a lot about my body and health. It doesn't have to be all one or the other.
There is a great divide between those with an extraordinary commitment to fitness, like Kang, and the increasing number of obese Americans (27.1 percent of the population in 2013, according to a recent Gallup report). It’s up to us to narrow that gap, and shaming people into losing weight is not the best strategy.
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Whether you want to lose weight, tone up, or become an endurance athlete, the crucial first step is to set realistic goals for your life and your schedule. In my experience, when I’ve aimed too high, I’ve ended up failing and consequently feeling hopeless. Case in point: After devoting two grueling weeks to a military style bootcamp one January, I spent the next two months recovering in physically therapy. But now I know better.
After delivering my daughter last April, fitness guru Jay Cardiello shared this simple advice: “do something.” And that's exactly what I did. I took the stairs instead of the elevator, biked instead of drove, did my own gardening, participated in my kids sports activities, and found just three exercise to do every morning. I may not have an hour to spare every day, but I can always find 15 to 20 minutes just for me.
I’ll admit that I did peruse websites for month-long wellness ashrams, and I even thought about getting certified to teach yoga. I'd still love to do those things some day, but they just don't fit into my life right now. And that does not mean that I can't look and feel great!
My personal mantra is “work hard on yourself, don't be hard on yourself.” [Tweet this quote!] I've never been someone who loves going to the gym or craves a great workout (six packs in my house refer to Heineken bottles, not chiseled abs). Yet I’m both shocked and delighted to say that I’m in the best shape of my life, just six months after the birth of my daughter.
Since returning to work and dealing with the stress of keeping my kids healthy, my career on track, and seeing my husband more often than a passing high-five in the hallway, I've gotten out of the fitness groove. But thanks to the incredible support and positive reinforcement from those around me, I have no doubt that I’ll get back on track and make my wellbeing a priority again.
I encourage you to find a message and/or person who truly inspires you, set realistic goals, and take baby steps to slowly modify your life. Before you know it, you’ll be celebrating your transformation into the best version of you. And nothing feels better than that! I’m absolutely elated to be featured in SHAPE’s November issue (Check out the Fit and Famous feature on page 184!).