In one sweltering Memphis summer, Brandon Thomas reversed the entire trajectory of his life. At age 16 he was following his father’s footsteps, weighing 300 pounds and pre-diabetic. He also suffered from severe asthma and was taking five different steroids just to keep breathing. Brandon says, “I looked at myself in the mirror and wanted to be the most positive version of myself. I knew I had to make changes.”
The teenager started to research the types of medications he was being given. “I was full of toxins and full of drugs, so I stopped all of it. My doctor said I would probably die. I just said, ‘We’ll see.’” He spent the rest of the summer outside riding his bike 10 miles a day and setting up basketball tournaments in his driveway with the other kids in the neighborhood. “I was wheezing the whole time, since I was trying to beat asthma, but my parents kept an eye on me.”
The weight started melting off and he was losing 10 to 15 pounds a week. Although he ate the same foods as before, he was serious about portion control. “My parents were supportive enough, but they couldn’t understand why I was pushing myself so hard,” he says. Brandon’s parents took him back to the doctor at the end of the summer, worried that he had a serious illness. “The doctor walked in the room and she didn’t know who I was,” he says. “I had lost 125 pounds.” Brandon completely turned his health around that summer. “Since the weight came off, I’ve never had another breathing problem to this day.”
Brandon continued to work on his health through the rest of high school and while he attended the University of Memphis. While there, he learned he was lactose intolerant. He cut out all fried foods and dairy, and was eating mostly organic by the time he left for graduate school in Georgia.
“I tried all different types of exercise from aerobics to Zumba to weight lifting in college. I still do Zumba to this day!” Despite his lifestyle changes, Brandon knew something was still wrong with his body. “For the longest time, I was having large amounts of pain. Most days I would wake up feeling like I was being stabbed with a hot poker. I didn’t know what was going on with my body.”
Brandon moved back to Memphis after graduate school in 2012 to take care of his parents, who are both disabled. He joined a CrossFit gym in Cordova and it immediately challenged him to cut bread out of his diet; the very next day he woke up without pain. Brandon eventually realized he was allergic to gluten, and as he removed it, the intense pain disappeared from his life for good.
“Life is about understanding that everyday you get another chance at making yourself better than you were the day before—improving your mind, body, and soul.”
“It was such a relief, but I had to start over.” Brandon had been baking since he was a kid—everything from fudge brownies to Oreos wrapped in chocolate chip cookie dough. With gluten no longer an option, he had to make new recipes from scratch. “I didn’t want to just take out the wheat; I also didn’t want to use sugar anymore.” He started working on a simple recipe for a brownie. After many trips to Whole Foods and a few months of experimenting, he came up with the Avocado Brownie™. Chef Thomas quickly grew from a hobbyist to a professional baker and created Guilt Free Pastries.
Brandon’s transformation from an overweight teenager destined to be a statistic into a healthy, thriving adult grew with the ideology he calls The Guilt Free Lifestyle™. “Life is about constant learning. It’s about understanding that everyday you get another chance at making yourself better than you were the day before—improving your mind, body, and soul.” Chef Thomas devotes himself to helping others find balance, focus, and health in their lives through nutrition consulting, public speaking, and life coaching services.
By Laurenne Hom
Photo by Philip Murphy