Editors Note: Rachel Mac is a commercial litigator in Chicago, Illinois, who lives a healthy lifestyle despite 12+ hours per day in the office. She has come up with a low-maintenance healthy lifestyle that allows her to eat well and hit the gym regularly, with a schedule that’s anything but consistent. Quest is happy to welcome Rachel Mac to our blog, where she will be a regular contributor. Find Rachel on Facebook and on Twitter.
When we left off, I had lost 35 pounds and continued my transformation by reducing my body fat from 24% to 18%. By the fall of 2010, I was ready for a new challenge. I was working hard–lifting heavy weights in the gym and eating very 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.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Arnold, it’s the veritable Olympics of bodybuilding and related disciplines. The world’s most elite bodybuilders, fitness, figure and bikini athletes compete on one of the most visible stages in the sport. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself attends every year. The show draws more athletes than any other sporting event worldwide after the Olympics, and boasts a three-day expo where dozens of health and fitness companies promote their products.
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.
As part of my preparation, I started reading bodybuilding websites like SimplyShredded.com. As a total outsider to the sport, I was looking for tips wherever I could find them. One day, I came across an ad that led me to Quest Bars’ website. I couldn’t believe that a bar could have just over 200 calories, 20 grams of protein, and only 5 grams of non-fiber carbs. I emailed a bodybuilder friend and wrote “are these for real??” I didn’t wait for him to reply: I ordered two boxes. I had to try them for myself. Biting into a Vanilla Almond Crunch for the first time I was shocked; the sweet taste satisfied my cravings and great macros kept me full. They were an easy way to help me hit my goal of getting over two hundred grams of protein a day–no easy task!
Life, as we all know, is not without its ups and downs. In midst of training, with the Arnold a few weeks away, my grandfather became ill. My diet fell off track. I was reminded of how fragile life is, how fallible I am. My grandfather’s decline broke my heart every single day. Unable to focus on work or my diet, I felt utterly helpless. When my father called me to tell me my grandfather was gone I was crushed.
I traveled with my family to the funeral the weekend before the Arnold with a heavy heart–and a heavy cooler bag filled with chicken breasts and hard boiled eggs–and spent the weekend with my extended family. A bright spot in the weekend–aside from catching up with family I don’t see as often as I’d like–was the time I spent talking to my cousin, who expressed interest in losing weight and asked for a grocery list and recipes. Providing her guidance in a situation where I felt so incredibly powerless gave me comfort.
A few days after I returned home from the funeral, it was time to leave for Columbus and the Arnold. I had packed my custom-made bikini along with an assortment of bizarre items I’d heard I had to have with me at the show: non-stick cooking spray so I’d glow on stage, Vaseline for my teeth, Preparation H to rub on my hamstrings.
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, too–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 pm 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 five-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. Coworkers 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.
But getting up on stage wasn’t the only important thing that happened for me at the Arnold. The day after my competition, I met the Quest Bar team at the Expo. I told them how much I loved their bars, spent some time talking with them, and ended up here, telling my story to Quest’s wonderful fans. I’m looking forward to sharing the tips that I learned on my quest to becoming a fit, happy, and healthy attorney and bikini competitor. My life is still hectic and unpredictable, but I’ve managed to make living a healthy lifestyle work. I can’t wait to share it with you.