Guys, if you don’t know who Rachel Mac is you will very soon.
She is one of the fastest rising fitness models in the country and her story is quite inspiring.
You see, after years of unhealthy eating and a sedentary lifestyle, Rachel’s weight skyrocketed to around 160 pounds.
Being just 5’5’’ she knew she was definitely overweight…which made her feel depressed, hopeless, and embarrassed.
But despite being a law student at the time and having a super busy schedule, she began making small changes to her diet and lost 20 pounds in just two months time.
Feeling inspired by her success, she decided to hit the gym and started to workout seriously…then combined that with a healthy eating plan…and now the rest is history.
Today, Rachel is a sponsored athlete for Quest Nutrition and works as a professional fitness model.
In her own words, she “lost fat and gained everything else“.
But despite all of her recent success she remains grounded, very down to earth, and is definitely one of the coolest peeps I know.
I’ve been dying to interview Rachel for months, but she works 12 hours per day as a lawyer and her schedule is booked solid. So I’m glad she found some time to squeeze me in
Here is our conversation:
Jamin: Rachel, in just the short time we have been friends I’ve become a HUGE fan of yours. After hearing your remarkable transformation story, and learning about all of the obstacles you have overcome in life, you have inspired me (as well as thousands of others). You could have easily given up and settled for being “average” but you pressed on, despite working 12 hour days at a law firm to live your dream of becoming a fitness model and helping/inspiring others become healthy and fit. How the heck did you do it?
Rachel: Well thanks, Jamin! It’s not always easy, but I’ve tried to come up with a low-maintenance way to have a healthy lifestyle, eat right, and make it to the gym on a regular basis. Being relaxed and calm about my life outside of work makes my crazy work schedule much more manageable. So my main priorities are to balance being happy, healthy, and fit.
Jamin: Good stuff! So back when you were in law school your weight reached around 160 pounds right? How long did it take you to lose all of that weight and get the body that you have today? Did you do it all on your own or did you work with a trainer? Did you have a support group?
Rachel: I transformed the slow way. Maybe the slowest way. I lost a lot of weight first, then maintained for a long time, then started adding muscle and shaping my body. I started in September of 2007 by making little changes to my habits, which had grown really unhealthy. I started buying skim milk at school as a snack (instead of chips).
I loved the way I felt and read as much as I could about healthy eating, incorporating tip after tip until suddenly, I was a healthy eater! I tracked my food with www.sparkpeople.com and lost 20 lbs in two months. Then, I hit the gym for 4-5 cardio sessions per week and lost another 15 lbs over four months. That brought me from the mid- to upper-150s down into the low 120s, and I maintained that weight for about 3 years.
Last November, I decided to take the plunge and compete. So I started working with a coach and training harder. Since then, I’ve added more than ten pounds of muscle and really reshaped my body. This part has been the most exciting and rewarding part of the journey because I’ve learned so much about my body and how it responds to things.
Jamin: That’s pretty cool. So what made you want to become a fitness model? That’s not the typical career path for a law student.
Rachel: Fitness modeling sort of happened by accident. I booked a shoot with Don Bersano (one of the best in the business, natch!) a few weeks before my first competition so I could do a practice “peak week” (the week before a competition where you manipulate carb, salt and water intake to get as lean and ripped as possible).
The shoot went well, I created a profile on a modeling social-networking site, and a lot of opportunities have come my way. The great thing about modeling is that it requires a relatively small time commitment, so it works well with my busy schedule. But you’re right that it was not the path I thought I’d take after graduating from a top law school!
Jamin: That’s funny, I sort of got into it by accident as well! So how did your friends and family react to your transformation and what do they think of your new fitness career?
Rachel: It’s funny, people often react with surprise and shock when they learn what discipline this takes—some people even seem horrified!—but I have watched nearly everyone who’s had that reaction go through a gradual acceptance of the lifestyle, and then respect for it.
My coworkers used to make fun of me for bringing lunch to meetings instead of partaking in pizza, but now I see them copying my healthy dinner order when we work late nights, and one of the guys who works in the mail room came to my office with a notepad and asked me a bunch of questions about getting into even better shape. I love that stuff!
But the best part has been watching my family members transform along with me. My sister asked for some advice to get ready for a beach vacation, took it, and got amazing results. Last Christmas, I bought my parents some dumbbells, a kettlebell, a medicine ball and some resistance bands and my dad has been using them religiously.
One of my proudest moments in recent memory was when I took him to the exercise-equipment store to buy slightly heavier dumbbells and he took the plunge and got much heavier dumbbells. He has noticed that it’s getting easier, and he’s gotten better at bowling and golf now that he’s stronger.
They are totally, 100% supportive and are always asking for tips, and nothing could make me happier. I want them around as long as possible, and to help with that absolutely lights me up.
Jamin: That’s definitely the best feeling in the world…when you can help others! Especially the people you care about. That totally makes all of the hard work, sacrifice, and long hours worth it. Ok, so you’re working out, you’re eating better and you’re starting to look better. But I guess at some point during that journey you caught the fitness bug, right? When did you realize that health and fitness was your passion?
Rachel: As I was losing weight, I read whatever I could find on healthy eating and working out. With each little piece of information I picked up, I got stronger. It was easy to say no to junk and yes to veggies when I thought “the asparagus I’m eating is helping to cleanse my liver … the milk I’m drinking will keep me full for a long time,” etc. It’s like I’m living twice as rich a life when I’m living healthy because I’m very conscious and aware of each decision I make. Plus, feeling great all the time is just amazing.
Jamin: Nice. I like the way you think! Ok, now don’t be too modest here…but I’ve seen your internet fame shoot through the roof lately…and every time you post a status on Facebook it gets 50 comments in like 5 minutes! Obviously you are inspiring people from all over the world, but what sort of response has your story generated from all of the people out there who may have had similar experiences?
Rachel: My favorite part of all of this has been my ability to reach people. I consider myself very fortunate that I can connect with people all over the world and that people who follow my advice get great results. I hear from lots of busy people, women especially, who work long hours or have a hectic life as a stay-at-home mom with kids. It’s always interesting to try to find healthy solutions to other peoples’ challenges, and that’s what keeps me on my toes!
Jamin: Ok so you’re motivating and inspiring people from all over the world now… but what and/or who motivates Rachel? How do you keep the fire burning day in and day out…especially when your work schedule is so demanding?
Rachel: I’m not Rachel Mac every day. There are days that I’m exhausted and crabby and want nothing more than an enormous chocolate chip cookie (and shh … there are some days where I do actually have an enormous chocolate chip cookie). Having a huge, super supportive network helps keep me on track. And I know that all I have to do is log on to your Facebook profile for a little bit of inspiration (and comedy!) when I’m having a tough day!
Jamin: You get exhausted and crabby? You eat cookies?!? I never would have guessed you ever have weak moments but I guess we all do, right? Wait….you read my profile for inspiration? I guess I should clean up my act a bit then huh? lol. Anyways, yes you’re right a supportive network definitely helps…but even still…I can’t imagine working in a law office for 12 hours a day and still trying to stay fit. What is a typical day like for you? How do you balance it all?
Rachel: Being healthy fits in to a busy lifestyle well. You’re going to eat all day no matter what you do, so if you make healthy tweaks, you can life a healthy life no matter how busy you are. The longer you’re at it, the easier it gets; I can prepare a day of food as I cook my breakfast, and the entire process adds only about 30 minutes to my routine. At first, it wasn’t as easy.
There is no such thing as a typical day with a schedule as hectic as mine, but here’s an example. On Thursday morning, I woke up at 5:30 am, threw on gym clothes, tossed my food for the day (ground beef and veggies I’d cooked the night before for my meals, red bell peppers and almonds for snacks, and an apple for after my workout) in a cooler with an ice pack, and got to the gym at 6 to meet a friend for an hour of cardio and gossip.
At 7:15, I headed to the office gym to shower, and I was in my office by 8. I worked until 8 pm, then headed home to start the process over again the next morning. I don’t get much time to myself at home during the week because my hours are long, but I’ve set up speakers in my kitchen and I listen to music while I cook.
Jamin: That’s a pretty hectic day but it sounds like you have it down to a science. So what do you think are the 5 most important components of a balanced healthy lifestyle?
Rachel: Well you already named two of them in the question, so let’s start with those:
(1) Balance. This is the most important, and this is what I’m working on actively right now. You can only follow a diet that hits at the intersection of your goals and your reality. Life can be hard, and it can get in the way. I have an all-or-nothing personality, so I struggle to get to the middle at times.
(2) Lifestyle. This goes along with (1), but you can’t follow through with something you can’t (or won’t) stick with. This isn’t an excuse to slack, it’s a requirement that people make changes that are compatible with their situation. There is a reason very few people succeed with total lifestyle overhauls—it’s exhausting to change your entire routine, and old habits can pull you back.
When I started losing weight, I made small changes and made sure they stuck. It fit into my life (and fit my personality) so I stuck with it and it worked. More recently, I was eating a very high protein, low fat, low carb diet, and I was constantly miserable. It wasn’t working, so I changed some things, and I’m much happier.
And the others …
(3) Clean diet. The most important—and most elementary—healthy habit is a clean diet. I try to eat single-ingredient foods and avoid anything that has a macronutrient in the title (for example, “low-fat ____!” “reduced carb” or “high protein!”). The ingredients section of the nutrition label is just as important as the rest of it. Our bodies simply were not meant to digest most things that are made in a lab.
There’s a reason sugar alcohols “don’t count” as carbs; you can’t digest them. Is it really a win to dump a bunch of stuff into your body that shocks your intestines? Go with veggies.
(4) Lifting weights. I’ve said this a hundred times, but women, you are not going to get bulky by lifting weights. It takes so much time, hard work, and chicken breast to put on a ton of muscle it is not the kind of thing that happens overnight, or by accident.
Men and women, old and young, should hit the weight room at the gym. The intimidation factor decreases dramatically when you know what to expect. Find a workout program, print it out, and bring it with you. You can find mine by googling “Rachel Mac workout.”
(5) A healthy sense of experimentation. You have to have a bit of a sense of humor about all of this stuff or you’ll quickly go crazy. I look at my body like a big science project, I’m dying to try new things out. I bought a blood-glucose monitor and checked my blood sugar in 15-minute increments after every time I ate for a few days.
I also did a ton of research about insulin and blood-glucose regulation. It was fascinating! And I learned a lot. If you’re too rigid or dogmatic about your choices, you may miss out on something that could work well for you.
Jamin: Many people feel overwhelmed with the common stresses of family, work, and life in general. Back when you were feeling overwhelmed…and like your life was spiraling out of control what did you do to stop that process and take back control to achieve the level of balance & health you have today?
Rachel: Whenever my life gets so overwhelming I start to feel like I’m losing my grip on the reigns, that’s when I’m vulnerable to totally falling off the diet bandwagon (I’m mixing metaphors, I realize!) But those are the times it’s most important for me to keep my healthy habits; this grounds me and makes everything else feel more manageable.
I’ve gotten better with time, and I still have a long way to go, but I celebrate every time I experience progress. Last night, I was exhausted and in a certain place mentally, a place where, six months ago, I would have ended up eating junk food to cope. I didn’t, and I’m conscious of that fact today.
Jamin: That’s a good strategy to use I think and it usually all comes down to discipline and having a strong will and mindset. Ok, let me change the subject really quick…and let’s talk about the fitness show that you recently competed in. Congratulations on that by the way. Did you learn anything from the experience?
Rachel: Thanks! It was a great experience. I learned a lot about the way my body responds to certain foods (I wasn’t sure whether I had trouble digesting carbohydrates until I tried to carb load pre-show with grains and had felt sluggish and exhausted). But more importantly, I learned a lot about myself. I do not do well with a hyper-rigid diet, and my all-or-nothing personality needs some work before I consider competing again!
Jamin: Yeah the all or nothing mentality can definitely be a double edged sword…trust me II know! Ok…on a more serious note. Many women who don’t “WIN” a show tend to develop poor self-image complexes. Why do you think many women competitors seek inner validation from the judges scores? Also what sort of traps did you fall into after your show if any?
Rachel: I’ve found that a lot of first-time competitors go into the process thinking they’re going to win. I don’t think this is all that bad, actually—when you put in a ton of work and sacrifice, you expect to “do well.” But it’s not until you have a little more experience competing that you realize that doing well has nothing to do with winning; what matters is everything you do before you step on stage.
To that end, the show itself is sort of an afterthought. I made a friend at my first show who was a veteran competitor; I was briefly very disappointed that I didn’t place, but she showed me that I had already won.
Jamin: Did you lose confidence in yourself at all when your name wasn’t announced as the winner? Did you view yourself any differently? Did you go out and binge eat?
Rachel: For about an hour, I was really bummed. I went back to my hotel room and had some Hershey’s Kisses I struggled to get back on track after the show. I didn’t have a nutrition or workout plan for the following week, which really set me back.
But the up side of that was that I put on a lot of muscle (thanks to the major caloric surplus!) and did a lot of work toward reshaping my body in the weeks after the Arnold. After my last show, I didn’t binge, I got right back on track with my diet. That’s progress.
Jamin: Speaking of binge eating lol…what is your philosophy on nutrition?
Rachel: Haha … try to avoid bingeing! Like I said, I am a bit all-or-nothing, and I have a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits, many of which centered around emotional eating. The competition process brought out some of those bad habits, as any strict diet will, and I work hard to find balance with nutrition and my lifestyle.
Jamin: Speaking of your nutrition and lifestyle…what is your weekly diet plan like? Do you make a bunch of healthy recipes or is it just boiled chicken and asparagus every day for you?
Rachel: Right now, I’m following Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint. The basic premise is that we evolved over tens of thousands of years eating essentially the same types of foods, the same way—moderate protein, high fat, lots of nuts and seeds, no grains, limited dairy, lots of veggies, and fruit when it was available.
Grains are “evolutionarily novel” and not all that great for us—or so the theory goes. I’m giving it a shot in the spirit of experimentation, and because I find the principles really intuitive. Plus, what’s not to love about a plan that lets you eat steak?
Jamin: I love steak too! So what is one of your favorite healthy recipes?
Rachel: I love cooking bison top sirloin, it’s so simple and quick. It tastes rich but is super lean. I marinate it in red wine for about ½ hour, then cook it in a skillet with a bit of macadamia nut oil. Once the bison is done, I toss a few handfuls of fresh spinach in the pan and cook it till it’s wilted. I love to roast asparagus with balsamic vinegar and just a touch of vanilla to serve on the side.
Jamin: That sounds delicious! I never knew you knew your way around the kitchen! Speaking of kitchens…Chicago is one of my favorite cities because the food is absolutely amazing. What’s your favorite cheat meal spot in Chi Town?
Rachel: Iguazu is an amazing Latin American restaurant I discovered lately. Two words: plantain empanadas. As a not-quite-cheat meal, I love Babylon, a hole-in-the-wall BYOB Mediterranean spot in Bucktown. It’s my Cheers!
Jamin: You’ll definitely have to take me to both of those spots the next time I am in town! Ok…I’ve been dying to ask you this next question and I’m sure your fans out there are dying to know the answer as well. Let’s talk a bit about your workouts. How many days per week do you workout? Do you stay in the gym forever? How long do your workouts last?
Rachel: I work out five to six days a week, almost every week. I try to spend about an hour in the gym each day, though it’s often less. Before a shoot or a show, though, I do a bit more cardio and vary my workouts.
Jamin: Give us an example of one of your typical workouts.
Rachel: Heavy legs day is my favorite. I warm up for 10 minutes on the elliptical at an easy pace, then I do lots of hard, heavy sets, every exercise to failure.
I’ll do four sets of hack squats, with increasing weight each time, and the last set is a drop set to failure (with very high reps).
Same principles apply to leg extension, hamstring curl, V-squat machine. Then, I’ll do heavy weighted lunges (with a 90# barbell across my shoulders), three short sets of 5 reps or so per leg. Leg press to failure with a spotter (I’m up to 400 lbs), and finish it off with some body-weight hamstring curls. I like to hit my legs hard.
Jamin: Um…beastmode? Nice! It’s funny you say that you’re a fan of lifting heavy because many women out there are afraid to even touch weights because they don’t want to get ‘bulky’…but you like to lift heavy and your body seems to be just about perfect! What do you think are some of the common misconceptions and myths about women who lift weights?
Rachel: There are women at my gym who point me out to the trainers and say I’m too big. I think women with muscles look bigger than we actually are when we’re in short shorts and tank tops—I wear a size 2! I heard once that women who say they’ll bulk if they lift weights fall into one of two camps: either they’re heavy because they eat too much, then they lift weights and eat more (and get bigger), or they are just looking for an excuse.
That’s sort of blunt and to the point; I’d add a third category: those who have been listening to the other two groups. I tell people to try something out for two weeks; they feel better and realize they’re not going to blow up. I also tell women that if they put on muscle that quickly, scientists would want to study them. They get the hint!
Jamin: Yeah, the female hormones make it practically impossible for women to get bulky and put on a bunch of muscle unless they cheat and take dangerous drugs like steroids and growth hormone, etc. So don’t worry ladies, you won’t turn into He-Man from lifting heavy! Ok Rachel…just about every girl I know wants a fitter, flatter tummy, and every guy I know wants to have ripped six pack abs. I know you always try to downplay your abs…but I think your abs are pretty ripped! What’s your secret?
Rachel: You crack me up! My goal with my abs is to have a solid, flat stomach with no cuts. I like to see a little bit of ab/oblique definition, but the six-pack look isn’t for me (though I think it looks amazing on others!) I do a lot of planks, including some heavy weighted planks.
I used to do heavy weighted oblique work, but I noticed my obliques “squaring off” so I’ve backed off of that for now and will stick to planks. I do plank drop sets with three 25# weights stacked on my back; my personal trainer takes one plate off each minute. Those are intense! I train abs once or twice per week.
Jamin: Nice! That strategy seems to be working out nicely! Ok, here’s another question for you. If you could give all of the readers out there your 5 best tips for staying in great shape while juggling a busy schedule what would they be?
Rachel: (1) Don’t let it be an option. I treat working out like I treat brushing my teeth. I just have to brush my teeth before I leave the house in the morning. It has to get done. Ditto for my workouts.
(2) Make it feel good. Get cute workout clothes, new shoes every few months, subscribe to a magazine if you like to read during cardio. Set yourself up for success.
(3) Make your workouts efficient. I lift hard and heavy every time I lift to make sure I get the most out of each workout. I am focused, and I wear headphones. I find that if I work out without music, people approach me more often.
(4) Fuel appropriately, both before and after workouts. If you don’t have protein before you workout (or protein/carbs after), you’re not getting as much out of your precious gym time as you otherwise could.
(5) Rest days are not a bad thing. You make gains while you rest, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make it to the gym once or twice each week when you’d planned. Stress can really get in the way of progress (for a lot of reasons, some hormonal, some psychological, some behavioral), so just roll with the punches.
Jamin: I’m not sure if you are at liberty to discuss this but a little bird told me that one of the top fitness modeling agencies in the world contacted you about a possible contract. Can you talk about that a bit?
Rachel: It’s crazy, everything has been happening so fast and everyone has been really supportive. I was bored one day and submitted my name to a fitness modeling agency, and they responded and said they were interested. I’m talking to them more later this month, but being a model was already so far off my radar, being a represented model would be crazy! I hope it works out.
Jamin: I hope it works out as well! You’ll have to keep us posted on that! Ok…would you mind telling us a little bit about what you’re doing with Quest Nutrition?.
Rachel: So, in late 2010, I was reading up on www.simplyshredded.com and came across an ad for Quest protein bars. I’d never heard of them, but the ad included the nutritional profile of the bars. I texted a friend to ask if he’d heard of them, but before he could even respond, I’d bought $50 worth of bars.
I was amazed at the macros and pleasantly surprised with the taste (I wasn’t expecting anything). Fast forward to the Arnold Classic, and I stalked down their booth to tell them I was obsessed with their product. I offered to write a regular blog and it went really well, so I became a member of their team.
I think it’s funny when people say “well of course you support their bars, they sponsor you!” They sponsor me because I practically twisted their arm telling them how obsessed I am with their product!
Jamin: Nice! Arm twisting pays off sometimes lol! Ok back to the fitness stuff really quick. Do you have any special fitness or life advice for the women readers out there?
Rachel: It seems counter-intuitive, but we women have a lot to learn from bodybuilders. They know a lot about diet, adding muscle, getting lean, and even though they don’t look like us—and we don’t want to look like them!—they are a great community full of resources. Along the same lines, don’t be afraid of the weight room. I promise you won’t get monstrously huge!
Jamin: Solid advice there! So where can the readers out there connect with you on the internet?
Jamin: Now for the most serious question of the interview…when are we going to shoot together?
Rachel: Immediately! Photographers: how could you miss the opportunity to shoot these two nerds! Call Jamin!
Jamin: Cool! I’m definitely going to hold you to that! Well, Rachel this was awesome, I really enjoyed sitting down with you today!
Guys, I want all of you to reach out to Rachel and leave her some love below in a comment to congratulate her on her amazing transformation and recent success. She will really appreciate the support!