Name: Rachel Mac
Why I Got Started
As a kid, I excelled in school, but not in athletics; though I attempted to play sports, I felt hopeless. My coaches and gym teachers described me as "indoorsy" and "bookish." My academic success led me to college, where I gained 20 pounds during my freshman year. Over the next four years, I went through cycle after cycle of losing and gaining that same 20 pounds.
Without any knowledge of healthy eating habits I felt doomed to continue the destructive pattern forever. I graduated college at 148 pounds with my self-esteem and body image at an all-time low. I avoided all cameras at my graduation. I was fat, graduating nearly 30 pounds heavier than when I started. With law school on the horizon I was depressed, intimidated, and defeated.
At law school things got worse. Poor eating habits, long hours and lack of easy access to a gym brought my weight up to 155 pounds. While shopping one afternoon I burst into tears in the dressing room. The pant size I thought would fit, then the next size larger, and finally the size above that proved too small to button.
During a physical exam I followed the lines on each axis into the crimson-colored "overweight" section of my doctor's height-weight chart. The negative effects of living an unhealthy life weren't just visual.
All of the highly processed junk food was taking a toll on my energy levels. I could barely make it through a long day of stressful classes and studying with processed carbohydrates as my fuel.
The final straw was overhearing a co-worker make a nasty remark about my body. It finally dawned on me. My weight wasn't a phase. It was me. It was how other people saw me. I was overweight and it was time to make a lasting change.
How I Did It
At first, I focused on educating myself and implementing small changes, one at a time. I vividly remember the charge I got with each healthy choice I made; how satisfying it felt to snack on veggies instead of french fries, the empowerment of bringing my own breakfast-a combination of greek yogurt, protein powder and high-fiber cereal-to school instead of picking up a bagel and cream cheese, and the freedom of curing my afternoon hunger with high protein, slow digesting, 1% milk instead of a bag of chips.
Within two months, I had overhauled my diet one smart choice at a time and lost twenty pounds in the process. With renewed effort, I signed up for subscriptions to Shape, Self and Fitness magazines and read them on the elliptical machine in my apartment building's gym.
Looking at the fitness models who appeared on those magazines was inspiring. I hoped to be fit one day but certainly never dreamed of looking like one of them.
Four months later, I had lost a total of thirty-five pounds. I maintained my weight for three years by doing what I'd done to originally lose weight; eat less and run more. By this point, I was no longer a busy law student, I was a busy lawyer, working 60-plus hours per week. While I was still making healthy choices and staying slim, I had no definition. I was, as they say, skinny fat.
I had heard that weight loss was all about taking in fewer calories than I used, so I wondered why eating less food and spending more time in the gym wasn't yielding the improvements in my physique I was hoping for.
In late 2009, after struggling for months to get leaner, I was eating just 1300 calories a day and spending 90 minutes per day, six days per week on the elliptical. I was exhausted and often sick, and I didn't know why my body wasn't responding positively to my efforts. I was down about my body and my efforts, and I considered just giving up on being healthy all together.
My boyfriend noticed I was constantly run-down, and that the happiness I'd felt about my transformation was wearing away as I grew more frustrated with my efforts to tone-up. He was fit himself, and seemed to know exactly what to do to add muscle and stay lean. He suggested I start eating more food, especially protein, and spend just 45 minutes per day in the gym. But there was a catch: I could only lift weights. No cardio.
When I refused, he dared me: "Try it for one month. If you don't like the way you look when you're done, you can go back to doing what you're doing. How much damage can you possibly do in one month?" At 24% body fat with no signs that I'd be able to change the situation on my own, I accepted the challenge.
So I started lifting weights - heavy weights - and I increased my protein intake once again, bringing my caloric intake up to 1700 calories per day, in part, with the help of Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein. I started a four-day weight-training split, lifting back and biceps one day, chest and triceps the next, shoulders and abs the third, and spending the last day on my lower body. I feared these changes would make me bulky and muscular.
The process made me nervous, but my body changed so quickly - and so positively - I didn't have time to question whether I had made the right choice. I went from 24% body fat to 18% in just five weeks. I was hooked. I tightened up all over and was finally gaining the muscle tone I'd been desperate for.
I began to cook and pack all my meals, bringing three meals and two snacks to the office each day. I bought a food scale to get a better understanding of exactly what I was putting in my body, and I used www.sparkpeople.com to log my food and BodySpace to record my weight, body fat, and other stats. I had finally found a balance between working hard and being healthy. I was thrilled at the payoff.
By the fall of 2010, I was ready for a new challenge. I was working hard-lifting heavy weights in the gym and eating healthy, but I wanted to take it to the next step. I had never been an athlete, but I've always had the mind of one; whenever I set my sights on something I want, I am focused and dedicated to reaching my goal. I heard through a friend that there was a new category for petite figure competitors - the bikini division. I was intrigued.
But I wasn't sure competing was for me. I wasn't at all comfortable with the idea of standing on stage in front of thousands of people in a skimpy bikini. But like submitting my pictures to a magazine before, it was just the challenge I needed. It was time to push past another personal boundary.
There are dozens of bikini competitions across the country each year-most are held in high school auditoriums and in community centers across the country. But going small had never been my style, so I signed up for the Amateur Bikini Competition at the Arnold Sports Festival.
To prepare, I needed a coach. Ruben Sandoval (of Fit to be in your Kitchen) had previously helped me tweak my diet plan on SparkPeople.com. Ruben was a natural bodybuilder and formally trained chef and his plans had yielded me amazing results before, so I trusted his method.
My training schedule was rigid, but my work schedule was unrelenting. Eating clean was both more necessary and more inconvenient than ever. I was spending hours each week preparing and packing food, eating every three hours on the dot, and spending well over an hour each day in the gym.
I woke up the morning of the show with a zest. The process for getting ready for stage was a blast despite taking six hours from start to finish. I met the most wonderful women and learned that bikini competitors were real women, mothers, students, wives-with normal lives just like me, women who struggled through their diets and had their fair share of cheats along the way just as I had.
Around 9:30 p.m. on Thursday March 3, with my hair extensions firmly clipped to my scalp, my false lashes glued securely to my lids, and my sparkling purple bikini sitting just so on my hips, I lined up with Group D and took the stage.
My time on stage went by in a flash as I tried to remember every little detail about my poses, struggled to maintain a broad smile for minutes on end, and tried not to trip over my 5-and-a-half inch clear plastic heels. I didn't advance to the finals, but I looked like I belonged on stage, which was more than I could've asked for in my first competition.
In my moments of reflection after the competition, I realized that I'd been in the midst of a major transformation for a long time. I hadn't for a moment felt self conscious when I was waiting backstage with hundreds of beautiful women, most of whom had competed before, some of whom had been competing for years. To me, that was a victory bigger than a first-round call-out, a trophy, or a medal.
Training for the Arnold allowed me to discover my inner athlete. The self-confidence I gained through this journey has been powerful. My previous identity as a quiet, bookish, "indoorsy" kid gradually melted away each time a woman approached me in the gym locker room and asked me for tips.
My sister came to me for advice to help her shed a couple of pounds for a vacation and I was thrilled with her fantastic success. Co-workers stop in the hall to ask what's for lunch, surprised that something they know will be healthy smells so good. I'm thrilled when they email me for the recipe and I see them eating it the following day.
I find unmitigated joy in answering Facebook messages, chatting with friends online I've never met in person, and sharing healthy recipes with a community of wonderful people who are dedicated to living healthy lives.
- Optimum Nutrition Enteric-Coated Fish Oil: 8 softgels
- Optimum Nutrition AmiNO Energy: 1 scoop
- NOW Vitamin D-3: 5000 IU
- Optimum Nutrition Fitness Fiber: 1 tsp
- Gaspari SuperPump MAX: 1 scoop
- SciVation Xtend: 1 scoop
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey: 1 scoop
- Optimum Nutrition Unflavored Glutamine Powder: 5g
- 3 oz chicken breast with 1 oz Fage 0% Greek yogurt and 1 tbsp Frank's Red Hot Sauce
- 7 spears asparagus
- 5 oz chicken breast
- ½ cup black beans and onions
- 1 cup spinach with juice of ½ lemon, sprinkle of sea salt
Meal 5: Post-workout
Blended with ice and 2 oz water:
Day 1: Chest/Biceps/Abs/Cardio
Day 2: Back/Triceps/Calves/Cardio
Day 3: Glutes/Shoulders
Day 4: Cardio
Day 5: Abs/Calves/30 min HIIT cardio
Day 6: Heavy Legs
Day 7: Rest
Suggestions for Others
Learning to let go of the scale has been a major struggle for me. I felt like I was giving up on my weight loss when I went from 155 lbs down to 120 lbs, then gradually added muscle (and lost fat) to get to 130 lbs and 13% body fat. But as I find other metrics of success (e.g. the way I look in a bikini), I learn to let go of those objective measures that mean less.
Taking progress pictures is huge; when I take pictures and compare my progress each week, not only do I see all the little changes that the scale can't show me, it forces me to have a positive relationship with my body because I'm always moving forward and making progress; I focus on the positive ("my shoulders are building out!") instead of the negative ("My weight hasn't dropped," or "I am still over XXX-pounds").
Eating a higher-protein diet has been the absolute key to my success; dropping carbs was difficult, and forced me to reconceptualize meals. I tell people, if you can pick up your lunch, it has too many carbs. I eat most of my meals with a knife and fork.
That's a good rule of thumb for a higher-protein, lower-carb diet. If you turn both lunch and dinner into "supper"-type meals, and replace the sandwiches, soups, and chips with lean protein, green and starchy veggies, you'll be on your way in no time.
Juan Carlos Lopez, HardFitness.com
Don Bersano, www.modelmayhem.com/3523