Hello, my name is Bradley Grace, and the simplest way to describe my life over the last 4 years is to say that I was content.
I was a pretty average guy, doing average things, and honestly just living an average life. I wasn't terribly unhealthy or inactive, or at least so I thought at the time. I was financially stable, carefree in my spending because of my lack of bills or monetary responsibilities.
This was also the time I was moving into my on-campus dorm, excited to begin my journey to a bachelor's degree at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Go Retrievers!). I am pleased to say I got along well with my new roommates, a few of whom are still great friends of mine to this very day.
Most importantly to me, this was when I met my beautiful girlfriend Abigayle, who I am proudly still with after 4 years. She has been nothing less than my partner-in-crime ever since, and I will always be grateful for that. To sum it all up, I was ecstatic to begin a new chapter of my life that I had been looking forward to ever since I signed my admission papers.
I was content.
Unfortunately, I was unable to realize that mentality would blind me to certain things in my life that, retrospectively, I never should have put myself through. By the time my first semester had ended, my contentment had established solid principles about how I thought I wanted to live my life. I can now say that they held me back from achieving a lot of my true potential.
A convenience store that was capable of utilizing my meal plan and a dining hall within a short walking distance of my dorm ensured I was going to gain weight my freshman year, but I failed to foresee how much at the time. Entire family-sized bags of chips were devoured in the course of time it took me and my roommates to complete our routine gaming sessions.
Seemingly endless carryout boxes loaded with chicken tenders and French fries were consumed to curb late-night hunger pangs while studying for my weekly physics exams. Sadly enough, it wasn't very uncommon for me, within the course of one dinner meal block, to eat 2 cheeseburgers with a double portion of waffle fries and a side of pasta to top it off.
Now mind you, this excessive eating was carried out in the absence of very little physical activity. The extent of a workout for me for most of college was walking to class. Lacking a better way to put it, I was eating myself into an early grave, and I wasn't even aware of it at the time because I was happy with so many other things that were going on in my life.
I had no one but myself to blame for my poor eating habits, and I realize only now the negative physical effects that were happening with my body.
Poor eating habits were present for much of my life, but they really didn't start to take full effect until college, when the stress of academic and social performance hit me at full steam.
I got pretty severe headaches at least twice a week, but I figured they were from the struggle of trying to maintain a strong GPA. Midday naps were normal routine, as I was unable to handle my early morning and late night classes without feeling utterly exhausted.
Random body aches were expected, especially in my legs from all the weight they had to support day-in and day-out. My physical health had reached an all-time low by the start of my junior year, where I had reached a peak weight of 275 pounds, none of which was anything resembling muscle.
My roommate for most of college, Andrew, would encourage me to go to the gym with him a few times a week for most of freshman and sophomore year. I looked forward to going with him whenever he would ask, and I believe that we had pretty solid workout routines, but nothing even close to what was necessary to correct my awful diet.
Arriving at junior year, I can thankfully say I started to become more consciously aware of what I was putting into my body. Andrew, still my roommate at the time, began a personal lifestyle change around the start of that year. He made the decision to correct his food choices, intensify his workout routines, and establish health-conscious principles for sleeping, working, and many other important facets of life.
I was really proud of him for the strides he had made the summer following sophomore year in improving himself, and at the time I was just as eager and willing as him to get my life together and correct my bad habits. Andrew and I went grocery shopping together quite frequently, and he taught me a lot of things about food.
He instructed me on why certain foods are better for you than others, how misleading nutrition labels can be about the ingredients in food we commonly eat, and what foods are the best for both fat-loss and muscle growth. I was actively listening to all the information he had given to me at the time, but none of it truly clicked for me.
My old habits were still very present in my life, meaning I quickly returned to my incredibly poor eating habits and had started to again view the gym as a personal waste of time and energy. So, naturally, my enthusiasm to pursue the lifestyle that Andrew was persisting in began to die off.
By the time junior year had ended, I had regained any weight I had lost over the course of the year, and I was once again a pretty lazy and inactive person.
Senior year had arrived for me, and man was I excited. I was closer than ever to graduating with my B.A. in Psychology.
Abby and I were starting to get more serious as partners than ever before, and my savings account was starting to look pretty nice from holding down steady jobs for most of my college career. Everything I needed to really get my future started was falling into place, everything except my health, of course.
My drinking had reached an all time high (no thanks to turning 21 during my senior year), and my horrible eating habits intensified. My senior year was incredibly busy for me, and to make up for lost time that I spent working, studying, and hanging out with friends, I turned to fast food. I had the money for it, and I definitely didn't have the time to cook, so trips to fast food "joints" were heavily frequent for me.
While I don't appreciate the till it was taking on my physical well-being, I unfortunately have to thank fast food for the reason I decided to turn my life around...
One day, roughly 2 weeks before my graduation on a particular lazy Sunday, I opted out of doing anything resembling work for the day, and instead chose to order in all of my meals while being glued to my computer screen for a long marathon of video games and Netflix binge-watching. I had leftover McGriddles (that's meant to be plural) for breakfast, pizza and wings for lunch, and Chinese takeout for dinner.
To describe it as anything less would be a disservice, but that night was probably the worst night of my life... My stomach was incredibly upset, forcing me to spend much of the night on the toilet. I ended up sleeping for 13 hours that night from practically putting myself into a legitimate food coma. And most importantly, I felt absolutely horrible about myself and what I was doing to my body.
Despite being a horrible day in more ways than one, this ended up being the most important day of my life.
It was the day I decided I needed to make a change.
From this day forward, I had decided to make 3 very important changes to my life. The first, and easiest in my opinion, was to make water my best friend.
Even though Andrew attempted to make it very clear to me how much sugar we don't even realize we put into our bodies on a daily basis, that didn't stop me from drinking soda and juice for most of college.
That needed to stop.
Now, I honestly can't remember the last time I had something to drink that wasn't water (not entirely true, I went to Dave & Buster's and had a beer a few nights ago, but you get the point).
The second change was to start buying groceries and cooking most of my meals at home. With Abby's help, primarily because she's a fantastic cook and I'm mediocre at best, most of my meals are now being prepared from the comfort of my own home.
This change is important to me because I believe it helped me become more conscious of what I was putting into my body. You never truly realize what's in your food if you're constantly eating out and letting others prepare your meals for you. This change helped me to start to save a lot of money and it significantly improved my self-confidence, as I was able to start paying better attention to my eating habits while practicing some independence.
The third, and most important change I made on my journey to a healthier me was to never settle for less than going to the gym 6 days a week. By maintaining a consistent workout routine, which includes bouts of weight lifting and cardio, I slowly but surely started to see the fat drop off and muscle be put on.
I am far from my dream body, but I can now look at it as being one step closer to achieving a dream I've had since 8th grade.
While my story isn't particularly exciting or exceptionally uplifting, I do feel I have earned the ability to pass advice on to those who need it.
4 years ago, when my bad habits had really started to solidify, I never could have imagined I would be where I am now. If I had to pinpoint one thing that started this journey to a healthier me, it would be the simple concept of change.
It's not just a principle that's affected my life in unprecedented ways. It's a way of life I adhere to every single day at this point. I'm constantly looking for ways I can correct a negative aspect of my life, whether it be physically or mentally.
Many people in this world want certain things in their life to happen that they feel are always just out of their reach. They want that fancy car; that beautiful summer home; or maybe (like me) that Herculean physique. So many things that people believe are simply unattainable given their current circumstances.
However, therein lies the answer to the riddle of how one is to acquire such facets of personal achievement.
A simple answer to hear, but a difficult one to enact.
You have to make a change to your life in places where change is needed the most. Trust me, I know it's not easy. You're going to experience bad days where you just want to give up and revert back to your old habits. But let me wholeheartedly express to you that you can't let those days define you.
Days where you want to quit are the days where you need to work the hardest, bar none.
You would be surprised what you can accomplish when you focus on what needs to be done, and taking steps to actively believing in yourself. Had you told me 4 years ago that I would be where I am now, I would have laughed in your face and went back to my French fries...
Now, I couldn't imagine ever wanting to live any other way.
You have to take a step back sometimes, especially when things are getting rough. Appreciate the great things in your life, but never be content. There is always something you can do to improve your current standing. You just have to recognize it and plan out steps to change it for the better.
I hope with this advice you can achieve your goals you've always wanted to accomplish, because I know I've still got many more to come. Just always remember to believe in yourself, because only you can find out what you're truly capable of.
- Bradley Grace
P.S. Brad now weighs 190 lbs. That's an 85 pound difference!
I want to personally thank Brad for sharing his story, and for being a guest blogger.
I have had the pleasure of getting to know Brad for the past 4 years, and seeing how he has changed is truly inspiring to me, and I hope it is for everyone that reads this post.