Kevin Riordan: Banding together on Facebook to shed pounds

Three years ago , Bradford topped out at 218 pounds after an operation. She has stayed at 145 for more than a year.
Three years ago , Bradford topped out at 218 pounds after an operation. She has stayed at 145 for more than a year.
Posted: August 16, 2011

Peggy Weber Bradford stays slim with the aid of a support group the size of cyberspace.

Her "Steps to Good Health" Facebook page is the heart of a growing online community of nearly 1,500 people.

Its members help each other lose weight via Bradford's 10,000-steps-a-day walking (or vacuuming, or lawn-mowing) system, which she's more than happy to share. Free.

"A lot of people are scared to go to a gym," says Bradford, whose mega-chunky "before" photo provides an astonishing contrast to the lanky, athletic woman who stands before me, 73 pounds lighter.

"The page is a place they can go," the 45-year-old Washington Township resident adds. "It's not about me, it's about all of us."

We're at Cooper River Park because Bradford, a secretary, is meeting a dozen online pals for a 5K walk.

Gloria Welcome and her 21-year-old son, Malcolm, have never met the woman who wants to help them change their lives.

"I found her on Facebook," says Gloria, a 39-year-old computer technician who lives in Mount Laurel. "She has people from everywhere [on the page], and they can be there in the middle of the night. You realize you're not the only one going through it."

Anyone who's ever tried to change a behavior - eating, smoking, you name it - can tell you that it's tough to break a bad habit, and tougher still to establish a good one. Relapse is frequent, and the pace of progress can seem feeble when compared with the force of temptation.

But as Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous, and even Zumba classes demonstrate, there's power in crowd-sourcing your self-improvement efforts. Amid all the concern about flash mobs, here's social networking as a power for good.

Bradford's program combines common sense about portion control and movement with the motivational tools of peer pressure, pedometers, and keyboards.

Her Facebook page is a lively town square where people offer each other recipes, pep talks, and suggestions of all sorts. It's a place to publicly share the frustrations and elations of a deeply personal struggle.

"I've been on my bike two days, am keeping a diary of what I'm eating . . . and trying to be good," read one recent post.

 "Awesome . . . It's the little things that make alllllll the difference sometime," a fellow member cheered. 

"I'm not selling anything, including computers or pedometers," says Bradford. "I'm not a nutritionist, and I'm not a fitness expert. I'm just an everyday person who understands the challenges of everyday people."

The married mother of a 5-year-old daughter hit 218 pounds three years ago, following a hysterectomy.

On her own, she put together a weight-loss regimen of counting calories and counting steps, including those she was taking as she kept a house, raised a daughter, and did her job.

"No diets, no pills," says Bradford, who has maintained her weight at 145 pounds for well over a year.

She set up the Facebook page in June 2010 to "get the word out." Media coverage has helped. And Bradford, who's far from shy, is a thoroughly bipartisan promoter: She has written about her program to both Michelle Obama and Gov. Christie.

"I know what he's going through," she says of the governor, who has acknowledged a lifelong struggle with his weight. "I've been there."

Jenny Davenport, a 49-year-old homemaker, joined the Facebook page about a year ago after reading about Bradford in a weekly newspaper. Since then, she's dropped nearly 20 pounds.

"For me, [online] is better, because I'm not the sort of person who's going to go to the gym," says Davenport, who lives in Winslow Township. "I like to be able to work out at home. I end up challenging myself."

Cathy Cooper, a 57-year-old teacher from Washington Township, likes the challenge, too.

"I don't want to let anybody down," she says. "And I'm a competitive person, so I don't want to lose."

Except a couple of pounds.

Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845,, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at

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