After a lifetime of being overweight, Maria Odugba finally found her exercise calling.
Since discovering yoga and committing to a healthy diet, Odugba has lost 120 lbs. — and now hopes to inspire others. A grad student in exercise science at the University of Central Florida, she routinely posts photos and videos of herself doing advanced moves (splits included!) on Instagram, where she has more than 70,000 followers.
Odugba’s weight loss journey began in 2014, with an a-ha moment. “I think it hit me when I actually got on the scale and I was almost 400 lbs. and I was like, this is crazy, I need to do something about it,” she tells PEOPLE Now, “I’ve always been active. I’ve always tried to lose weight, nothing would stick. I was at the point when I realized, ‘Oh my god, I weigh this much.’ I had to do something about it.”
After trying poses she saw on the internet, Odugba discovered yoga came naturally to her. “I expected to be horrible, but it was decent. I thought, this is fun. My body can clearly can do more than I thought it could do, so I just went with it,” she says.
And she is just as mindful about what she puts in her body. “My biggest secret to dieting is to not necessarily diet,” says Odugba, who eats smaller portions every 2 to 3 hours and fills her Instagram with photos of healthy meals like grilled chicken, veggies and brown rice. “You don’t want to pull out any main food group because if you pull that out, the second you go back into it, you’re just going to devour it because you haven’t had it for so long.”
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As she works towards her master’s degree, Odugba says helping others “means everything.”
“I actually have PCOS which is a metabolic disorder, which caused me to gain so much weight and makes it harder for me to lose weight,” she says. “I realized through my master’s program that there are a lot of people like me out there, so being able to help them and show them that it’s possible, that’s kind of what keeps me going.”
To others struggling with their weight, she has this to say: “Take it a day at a time. I know it’s not easy and I know you fall off every day. I fall off all the time. There will be days where I don’t go to the gym, I don’t eat healthy, and then the next day I wake up and say, ‘What are you doing? Get back on track.’ I think that knowing you can fall a million times and still get up and do something about it, that’s the big key.”