When Alex Kladder was growing up, you were more likely to find a plate of fresh-baked cookies on his kitchen counter than a healthy meal. "My mom was always big on rewarding [my brother and me] with candy bars," Alex recalls. "We'd come home from school, and she'd play a little game with us to find out where she hid the treats. Of course, there'd also be a plate of cookies sitting out on the counter. I never really stopped myself from eating those things."
Amid an abundance of fun treats, Alex had a hard time watching his diet. In addition, he was never athletic, even though his older brother was. "I didn't really play many sports," Alex says. "I ran around with friends, but I could never really keep up, so I just usually sat out. I'd get home from school and sit down with an entire bag of chips or package of cookies and watch TV."
Alex's weight climbed as a child, in part because of his own habits, but perhaps also because of his own genetics. "My brother was a year older and could just shovel down food and never gain an ounce," he says. "We'd eat the same things, but for me, that meant gaining weight."
All of these factors led Alex to struggle with weight control throughout his childhood, but as he graduated high school and set out on his own, he began to realize it was time to change his lifestyle. With a lot of persistence and a no-excuses attitude, he went from overweight teen to trim, healthy adult.
This is Alex's story.
Did you ever try to lose weight as a teen?
When I was around 12 or 13, I started dieting. I followed Weight Watchers with my mom, but I never stuck with it, so it wasn't effective. I didn't really get the whole point of nutrition and exercise at the time; I just knew I didn't want to be overweight. Since I was inconsistent and lacked proper knowledge, I didn't really see any results.
You chalk up part of your weight gain to genetics. How did your struggle with weight affect your relationship with your brother?
At the time, we weren't very close. A lot of that was because he was big into sports and pretty much played them all. I didn't. We just had totally different hobbies and interests. He also made fat jokes whenever he could, and that was a big strain on our relationship. He thought that because he was my brother it was OK, but it still hurt.
What was your turning point?
When I was in high school, I realized that, at 18, going up one flight of stairs left me out of breath. I was embarrassed that I was left panting at the top. I realized that I was sick of being the one overweight friend in the group. Graduation was coming up, and I didn't want to walk across the stage feeling uncomfortable. I made it a goal to drop some weight before putting on my gown.
Weight: 295 lbs.
Body Fat: 40%
Weight: 190 lbs.
Body Fat: 10%
How did you start to learn about nutrition and exercise?
Even when I started losing weight, I didn't fully understand everything. I went about it all wrong. I took drastic measures that weren't maintainable. I didn't follow any healthy nutrition guidelines—I just ate as little as possible and did cardio for hours. It only took me about six months to go from 300 pounds to 200 pounds, but the crash dieting, 800-calories-a-day method that led to my initial "success" wasn't something I could keep up.
What did your diet look like during that time?
I would have a couple of Vitamin Waters and maybe a bowl of cereal for breakfast. I didn't get any protein and would eat whatever sounded good as long as it didn't contain a lot of calories. Mainly I'd eat grilled cheese or something not overly nutritious.
How did crash dieting affect you?
I looked sick. I was thin, and my eyes started to look sunken in. I still wasn't happy with my physique. I didn't enjoy the gym and stopped going, which only led to weight gain. I put 70 pounds back on in about six months.
It was at that point that things really changed. One day I was looking through photos of me being "regular sized" and comparing them to my current state, with my double chin and my stomach hanging over my jeans. Even though I lost a hundred pounds the first time, I did it all wrong and wasn't happy with how I looked. That lack of physical gratification was a blow to my motivation.
But after I put the weight back on, seeing myself without all the weight was devastating. I didn't know if I wanted to scream, cry, or go into some kind of depression. It hurt to look at that, and it hurt to look at myself in the mirror and know I couldn't keep it off.
I started to study nutrition and exercise, and realized that I needed to change. This time, I was insistent on doing things right.
How did your methods change the second time around?
I started going back to the gym and focused on building muscle. There, I met a guy who saw me with some GNC protein product and he told me there was way better stuff out there. He told me I should go to Bodybuilding.com. It helped a lot! I discovered lifters I admired, like Matt Kroc and Kris Gethin, and followed their programs. I tried a lot of new supplements, and I finally had some guidance—the reviews and articles about what to take and why were a lot more helpful than listening to one guy at GNC!
I started reading about meals and nutrition tips for losing weight and building muscle. BodySpace also helped a lot with accountability, and I've made friends there who have been motivational, but I love the education more than anything. That was a big part of getting to where I am now.
How did your diet change?
Since I didn't have a personal trainer or follow any fads, I did a lot of my own research when it came to nutrition. I found some articles about counting macros and started by making tiny tweaks to my diet.
When I started plateauing—which happened multiple times during my weight loss—I always altered my diet first. I'd make one little change at a time, whether that was reading about the healthiest carbs, healthiest fats, or healthiest proteins. I started to switch things out one meal at a time until I was cooking and eating healthier. I slowly got stricter and banished all sugary drinks, too.
I haven't even had a cheat meal in four years—no candy bars or restaurant food. I know that eventually it'll be OK to start incorporating cheat meals once in a while, but I had to build up the self-discipline until I knew I'd be able to handle it.
Four years without a cheat meal is a long time! How have you curbed cravings?
It was just a massive mental battle. I started to build up a no-excuses attitude. I just had to drill that into my head as much as I possibly could. If I felt like I was going to lose the battle, it was a big blow to my pride. I got so sick of being upset with myself, and that was a big motivator. I'd remember the times I let myself lose control and how mad I was after. I slipped up enough times to realize I was sick of that feeling.
Another big motivation was Kris Gethin, one of the first bodybuilders I started following. He just has that mentality. He's so tough. He doesn't make excuses, take days off, miss meals, or cheat. That's a huge motivation to me. Even now, I'll find myself thinking, "What would Kris Gethin do?"
What does your diet look like now?
Whole eggs: 4
Egg whites: 2
Oats: 1 cup
Coconut oil: 1 tbsp
Peanut butter: 1 tbsp
2% Greek yogurt: 1 cup
Honey: 2 tbsp
Walnuts: 1 oz.
Chicken breast: 6 oz.
Brown rice: 1 cup
Broccoli: 2 cups
Protein shake: 20-30 g
Protein shake: 50-60 g
Steak: 6-8 oz.
Brown rice: 1 cup
Broccoli: 1 cup
Lentils: 1/2 cup
Protein shake: 20-30 g
Mixed nuts: 2 oz.
What kept you motivated at the gym?
A lot of my continued motivation came from my accomplishments. I felt so good every time I completed a goal, whether it was to lose weight or build muscle. My motivation also stemmed from how good I felt after the gym, even when I was less than excited about the exercise I was about to do. One of my friends taught me a trick for making even exercises you hate to do enjoyable. It sounds funny, but every time you do that exercise, just tell yourself that you love it and keep repeating that! It's all about positive mindset.
When I first started, I used that trick often; I just kept telling myself over and over that I wanted to be there. Over time, working out got more and more enjoyable. Now, I can truly say that staying fit is a passion of mine.
What does your current workout plan look like?
Cable cross-over (medium pulley) to failure (same weight)
Cable cross-over (high pulley) to failure
(Drop weight by 10 pounds and immediately start over. Continue until nothing left.)
Ab circuit: 15 minutes total
Seated Barbell Curl (shown with dumbbells)5 sets of 10 reps
Decline Crunch (weighted)5 sets of 15 reps
Are you taking any supplements?
Who motivates or inspires you to stay on track?
I've made so many friends at the gym. All my groomsmen in my wedding were people I met at the gym. I can pretty much walk in and train with whomever is there at the time, but there are three guys I really trust to be my training partners. We all know each other and how we work, and we're all on the same level.
We know how to spot each other and when to push comfort boundaries and bump the weight a little bit. We've become really close, and we know what to say to each other to squeeze out that last rep. They know my goals and they don't let me slack. If they know I have more energy in me, they'll push me harder.