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Ditching junk food and taking a indoor cycling class led Jesse Alexander to drop 60 pounds

By taking a hard look at what he was eating (junk food) and what he was doing for exercise (not much), Jesse Alexander spotted the changes he needed to make — and stuck with them.
by Stephanie Thurrott /
Image: Jesse Alexander
When Jesse fell in love with indoor cycling he also took a hard look at his diet and spotted places he could make improvements.Robert Crespo
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Name: Jesse Alexander

Age: 42

Residence: New York City

Job: Formerly a massage therapist, now a fitness professional who teaches indoor cycling classes

Family status: Married with two children, a 6-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son

Height: 5’ 11”

Peak weight: 230 pounds

Current weight: 170 pounds

At 230 pounds, Jesse Alexander thought of himself as a big guy, not as someone with a weight problem. “I was just unaware. I didn’t really take a second to look in the mirror,” he says.

In 2006, two things changed his perception of himself. First, his dad called him “puffy” — not in a malicious or nasty way, Alexander points out, just as part of a conversation. Two weeks later the second punch hit — Alexander saw his doctor for a physical and learned that he was classified as obese. “That was honestly not what I was looking to hear. I would much rather hear that I was puffy,” he says.

I wasn’t the most mature of dudes back then. I was just unaware. I didn’t know any better, and I didn’t really care to.

A SKINNY START

Alexander was lean and lanky as a child, but as an adult his life revolved around excess — too much drinking, partying and late-night eating. “If eating one or two things would be good, eating five or six would be awesome,” he says. “It wasn’t the healthiest of lifestyles. I wasn’t the most mature of dudes back then. I was just unaware. I didn’t know any better, and I didn’t really care to.”

Image: Jesse Alexander
Jesse Alexander, before his 60 pound weight lossCourtesy Jesse Alexander

DROPPING THE FIRST 30 POUNDS

After his one-two-punch wakeup call, Alexander first looked at his diet. He stopped drinking soda and sweet tea, cut way back on his three-bagels-a-week habit, and limited his sugar intake. Those changes alone knocked 30 pounds from his frame. “I looked different fairly quickly. I was still a stocky guy, but from 230 to around 200 pounds was a big difference,” he says.

His weight plateaued at that level until 2011. “I was happy in comparison to where I had been. While I wanted to continue on my journey, I was complacent. I couldn’t figure out what to do next, but it wasn’t overly stressing me out. I wasn’t at the next level nutritionally. I was going to the gym, but there was no real rhyme or reason to my workouts,” he says.

JUST ONE CLASS CHANGES HIS LIFE

At that time Alexander was working as a massage therapist, and he massaged one of the founders of SoulCycle. “She thought it would be a great idea to introduce me to another instructor,” he says. Alexander and that instructor dated briefly, but taking his first indoor cycling class with her as his instructor changed his life.

“I had never felt anything like that. It took me to another place. The combination of the music, the instructor, the energy, the sweat, the endorphins — I didn’t know what any of that meant, but I knew how I felt. I felt good. I felt at home. I felt like I needed to do this every single day,” he says.

What did he love about the class? The energy of the group in the room. The way everyone moved together. The positive, warm, inviting atmosphere. “There was a vibe I really gravitated to,” he says.

HIS DIET GETS A SECOND OVERHAUL

When Jesse fell in love with indoor cycling he also took a hard look at his diet and spotted places he could make improvements. “Before then, I didn’t know what clean eating was. I didn’t know what superfoods were. I didn’t know the difference between good carbs and bad carbs or good fats and bad fats,” he says. He was eating what he thought at the time was a healthy diet — salads doused in dressing, foods labeled as “low-fat” or “low-sugar,” and two slices of pizza instead of four.

He shifted his intake of carbs to earlier in his day, before he worked out. He tried a vegan diet and while he didn’t stick with it, he learned that for him, dairy was problematic. “I used to drink a ton of milk and eat a ton of cheese. Once I cut that out, my body changed dramatically,” he says. “After I gave up milk and cheese I saw definition in my midsection within a month with minimal changes to my workout.”

He notes that his diet isn’t perfect. “The kids might want pizza or Shake Shack. I’m trying to live my best life with them, so we adjust as we see fit. If I eat a burger with my kids but don’t have the bun, that’s the best of both worlds.”

Most of the time, though, he cooks at home, where he can control the ingredients. “That makes a tremendous difference,” he says.

Those changes helped him drop 30 more pounds, weighing in now at 170. “That same doctor who told me I was obese now tells me I’m too lean,” he says. He acknowledges that on his busiest days he doesn’t always find time to eat, and since he’s so active the weight comes off.

PARLAYING HIS PASSION INTO A NEW CAREER

Alexander attended indoor cycling classes as often as he could, and after two years as an avid participant he decided he wanted to be an instructor.

“I loved it so much. When I left at the end of the day I felt better about either life or just my day. I wanted to make other people feel that good. What was so life-changing and eye-opening was that is wasn’t about the workout. That was secondary. It was about the way I felt. I wanted to deliver that to the world,” he says.

With so many classes under his belt, he thought he’d be a shoo-in as an instructor when he auditioned at another studio, Flywheel. “I thought they’d think, ‘Wow, I just never saw so much raw talent.’ But it didn’t quite go that way,” he says.

He didn’t get hired after his first audition, but a few months later, after his second audition, he landed an instructor spot at Flywheel. He worked his way up to master instructor there and now is a senior master instructor at CycleBar. He teaches 12 classes a week at his home studio and also leads classes in other cities and states, bringing his passion for indoor cycling to as many people as he can reach. “I make people feel good for a living,” he says.

JESSE’S TYPICAL DAILY MEALS

Breakfast: Eggs or a protein shake for breakfast; both if he’s planning an intense workout.

Lunch: A salad with some type of protein.

Dinner: Protein like lean turkey, chicken breast, or fish with a green vegetable like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, or spinach. “If I can help it, I don’t have carbs after 6 unless it’s sweet potatoes. I try to eat carbs earlier in the day,” he says.

Key for him is planning his portions. “That’s worked for me,” he says.

MORE WEIGHT-LOSS SUCCESS STORIES (AND TIPS TO BORROW)

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