This story about Maria Odugba is meant as a recurring feature to highlight members of the fitness and wellness community who have overcome obstacles, accomplished major feats, and have used their platform to inspire others. Check back later for the next part of the series.
Struggles from the Start
Maria Odugba has lost 120 pounds. Or something like that. She doesn’t check the scale anymore.
All she knows is that now, she feels healthy. Through a free-form combination of yoga, cardio, and strength training, Odugba has battled being overweight and having two metabolic disorders.
Maria Odugba was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) around 12 years old. Also recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism, weight loss has not been a walk in the park for Odugba. But the silver lining to her journey has been a new swell of love for yoga. (Plus her 85,000 supporting Instagram followers.)
“The more weight I lost, the I happier I became,” Odugba said. “Not because I was getting smaller, but because I was feeling better.”
Both her mind and her body started feeling better once she gravitated toward a healthier lifestyle. Before her shift, Odugba was a pre-diabetic. But through exercise, she said she was able to bring her blood sugar down.
Maria Odugba Builds a New Life
Another one of the perks of losing 120 pounds was the fact that she was able to become more flexible. “There are things you just can’t do being plus size,” she said. Bending was one of them.
Odugba tried her hand out at yoga for the first time about seven months before voyaging on her 120-pound weight loss journey. She attended a yoga class, hated it, and never went back.
After that seven-month gap, she stumbled upon a three-legged downward dog pose on Instagram. That image of someone’s leg lifted high in the air lifted Odugba to a realization about yoga.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t like yoga, I just didn’t like that type [in class],” she said.
After experimenting to find what worked for her, she eventually brought together two worlds: the peaceful world of yoga and the bustling world of hip-hop. The unlikely duo resulted in Odugba opening new doors and taking her workouts to a new level – one she could actually enjoy.
Her love for hip-hop led to her coin her Instagram name, ASAP Yogi. (Her favorite rapper, A$AP Rocky obviously inspired the name.)
Maria Odugba is More Than a Yogi
The internet is splattered with videos and pictures of Odugba twisted like a pretzel and stretched like an elastic band. This implies that yoga was the sole reason for her weight loss. Odugba argues that’s far from the truth.
Yoga was simply a stepping stone to the much broader world of fitness. That three-legged downward dog was only the beginning which led to strength training, proper nutrition, and increased flexibility.
“It really stuck with me three years ago, when I found a lot of things that worked for me,” she said.
Odugba “tried over 100 times to lose weight,” she said. The day she prioritized nutrition just as much as fitness was the day that changed everything.
Odugba dedicated an entire e-book to stressing the symbiotic relationship between nutrition and fitness. She created it as a one-stop-shop resource for those trying to learn the basics of meal prep, clean eating, and everything in between.
She also wrote another e-book called “Splits” for aspiring yogis to gain lower body flexibility – no matter their circumstances. Strewn across her website in neon green reads her fundamental belief: “Anybody who has a body can do yoga.”
Besides teaching others how to do a split, she hopes to teach others who struggle with their weight that, “it’s okay to grow where they’re planted”. She aims to inspire those who don’t have a reliable support system around them since she was left to put the pieces together herself.
Growing up, Odugba’s father owned a pizza restaurant she spent much of her time in. After returning from her friends’ gyms and staying on track with protein shakes and bars at a young age, she often succumbed due to not having anyone to tell her otherwise.
“The kids doing that [losing weight] now are me,” she said. “Nobody was there to help me when I was a kid.”
Her passion for helping others runs deep – deep enough that she’s attending graduate school to learn how to help others reach their goals. At the University of Central Florida, she is pursuing a Master’s degree in exercise science.
Going to graduate school for exercise science has been on her heart since high school, she said, where she was an athletic trainer for the school’s sports team.
“I liked working with athletes – but athletic training wasn’t for me,” she said. “I want to do personal training so I can still help people rehabilitate and lose weight.”
She said her end goal was to open a fitness facility for anybody – but she has a soft spot for working with women and children who also struggle with weight and metabolic disorders.
Maria Odugba Rolls With the Punches
Odugba is no stranger to being fat-shamed and the “mean stares” that come with it. She has witnessed it in-person and via social media, but simply blocks out the negativity – she mentally blocks out those stares in-person and physically blocks out the negativity on social media.
“No matter what you do, you’re always going to be criticized,” Odugba said. “People always say ‘you’re not good enough, because of the way you look.’”
The cruel misnomers she’s been called, and the intrusive stares she’s received, pale in comparison to the uplifting feedback she receives on a daily basis. Both sweating and relieved, people flock into her messages every day after their first strength training or yoga class to let her know they’ve mustered up the courage to take the first step toward their health – because of Odugba.
It’s clear that many people look up to Odugba for guidance – but who does she look up to?
Building a Support System
Maria Odugba was alone for years in a cycle of trial-and-error. Odugba is her own biggest motivator because she found what worked best on her own. However, she doesn’t give all of the glory to herself – she says her husband, Misan, and her followers motivate her as well.
Although she eagerly anticipates responding to each of her followers’ success stories “from the floor” of her house, she can’t help but play favorites. Around three years ago, she received a run-of-the-mill question about general nutrition and health advice from a woman on Instagram, answered, then went on with her day.
A couple of years later, the woman returned to Odugba’s Instagram messages – with news, not a question. The woman told Odugba that by following her advice, she was able to lose 40 pounds. But more importantly, have a baby.
According to Odugba, the woman told her “It [having a baby] may have taken a lot longer if it wasn’t for you.”
Tales like these let Odugba know she’s “doing the right thing.” Odugba’s passion lies in helping people become not only healthy – but happy. A common misconception that she comes across is that people thought she was unhappy because she was overweight – which Odugba says was not the case.
She’s always been happy, and now she’s happy doing what she genuinely enjoys – doing splits and eating clean.
Her mantra is simple: “Find whatever’s going to make you happy, and go do it,” she said. “If you don’t like where you’re at, go plant your roots somewhere else.”