Growing up, Brady Golden had always been a big kid—”chubby,” as he puts it. Weight gain happened steadily for most of his life: By the fourth grade, he weighed 180 pounds, and by high school, he was tipping the scale at 350. “I just ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and I barely moved at all. The most active thing I did was marching band,” he says.
Once he got to college, Golden began to feel the effects more acutely: “I found that I was too big for the desks, and that I was too out of shape to make it to my classes in the 10 minutes that I had,” he says. “I’d show up to class several minutes late, sweaty and out of breath. I found that I had no real interest in my major, so I dropped out.” Lacking direction, however, only worsened his problems—with no other distractions, he’d eat for comfort, for fun, or for no reason at all, in addition to partying and binge-drinking with his friends on the weekends.
As a result, by his 21st birthday Golden hit a peak of 501 pounds. “My heart sank,” he says, recalling when he saw the number on the scale for the first time. He was at the doctor for a routine appointment to check up on his blood pressure, which was dangerously high. Golden knew he had to make a change, but wanted to avoid more drastic, invasive procedures such as gastric-sleeve surgery. While there wasn’t necessarily a ‘final straw’ moment, he says, he recalls an episode during a flight to visit his parents that made the reality sink in.
“The airline told me I would need two seats, so they rescheduled me for another flight later in the day, and gave me a sign to put on the seat next to me that said something like ‘seat reserved for disability.’ That was pretty humiliating,” he says. “I was feeling very depressed—I thought all hope was gone, and that I’d just eat myself to death. My only hope was that I’d go in my sleep, and not from a heart attack or a stroke.”
Golden didn’t know where to begin. After doing a few basic searches online, he learned about the principle of energy balance—calories in, calories out. He also found a positive, likeminded community on the social platform Reddit devoted to celebrating weight loss success stories. Feeling inspired, he bought two scales: one for himself, one for his food. (“I know from experience that a binge eater will overestimate portions when just eyeballing them,” he says.) Then he looked for obvious places to cut calories, such as soda and juice. Using the app MyFitnessPal, he started tracking his portions, and substituting more salads and vegetables.
“I quickly realized that if I ate foods that were less calorie-dense, I could have much bigger portions, so I’d make salads with a literal pound of vegetables, eat whole bags of frozen vegetables—I still do this—and slowly fazed out the chips and other junk,” he says. Change didn’t exactly happen overnight, however—inevitably, there were setbacks. At first, he’d lose some weight, gain it back, and have to start over again. Cravings were the most difficult part to deal with: “There were countless nights when I would lay awake in bed fighting the urge to go into the kitchen and eat everything in sight,” he says. “When I would wake up the next day without giving in to the urge to binge, I would feel victorious.”
Eventually, a good friend of his, Gunner, pushed him to get into the gym, and they began to work out together five days a week. At first, Golden walked on the treadmill—he knew from experience that keeping it simple, not trying to do too much at once, would make the routine more likely to stick. That’s the advice he still gives people to this day when they ask him how to start their own weight loss transformations: Start slow, and don’t overwhelm yourself with big changes.
“The reason so many people gain weight back is because they did a ‘diet,’ which implies it is for a limited time. You need to change yourself for the better, for good,” he says. Golden thinks of self-discipline as a muscle: Every time you use it, the muscle grows stronger, and self-control gets easier.
He’s also become a firm believer in structure: Eating at roughly the same time every day, and getting plenty of sleep to recover from workouts and to allow your body to keep its hormones in check. Finally, don’t let small, inevitable setbacks get to your head, he says. “Hell, just this December I gained 15 pounds in one month. It’s just a bump in the road. Nobody succeeds without failures.”
Soon after he started hitting the gym more regularly with his buddy, his weight loss story evolved into a fitness story. In less than a year, his max bench press grew from 90 pounds to more than 200. He started taking kickboxing classes three days a week, too, and going for regular hikes. Combined with his diet, the effects were immediate and striking: After 20 months of consistent hard work, he’d lost a staggering 250 pounds—half his bodyweight.
“Physically, I feel better than ever. I’m more confident than ever as well, because I know I’m stronger, faster, and more capable than I’ve ever been,” he says. “It’s like the brain fog I had for years has finally cleared.” Better yet, he’s back in school at the University of Central Arkansas, where he’s pursuing a bachelors degree in nutrition, while working part-time as cook on the side.
He hasn’t let his busy schedule, however, get in the way of his goals. His latest target: Do his first unassisted pull-up. (He’s expecting it to happen once he reaches 230 pounds.) “I’ll probably cry tears of joy once I’m able to pull up my own body-weight unassisted,” he says. He also has his eye on completing a 5K run, but those goals are still further down the road. For the time being, he’s just taking things one day—and one workout—at a time.
“I just remind myself to put in the work,” he says. “I think of how good I will feel afterwards knowing I gave it everything I had and showing myself what I can do.”
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