When Officer Julissa Camacho turns 35 later this month she won’t be indulging in any birthday cake. That’s because Camacho, who goes by Julie, is training for her first bodybuilding competition and there are no cheat days in her near future.
"Are you serious?" she recalled her fitness coach saying when she asked about eating a celebratory birthday treat. "I’m like ‘wow, thanks.’"
Camacho has been working out regularly for more than a decade, first getting hooked on fitness during her time at Hostos Community College and then working as a personal trainer before joining the NYPD. But it was only in January that she decided to start competing. Her first competition is in May.
"Once I got into the gym, it became something therapeutic for me where it was a positive outlet… I got kind of addicted to it," she said.
When it came to competitions, she said "I wanted to challenge myself and my self discipline even more."
Camacho was born and raised in the South Bronx and has spent her career in the borough. She joined the NYPD in 2012 at the 52nd Precinct, which includes Fordham and Kingsbridge, and transferred to the borough’s Strategic Response Group in September.
"I always had inspiration to want to have a career where I could help someone and hopefully make a positive impact on someone’s life," she said about becoming an officer. But staying healthy takes work and she said it can require creativity due to the pressures of the job and the dearth of healthy eating options in the Bronx.
"I’ll have my meals in the car. I even have a portable heater… just in case I get stranded or stuck, there is no way I’m missing this meal," she said. "Which is good as well when you’re patrolling. Sometimes you don’t have time to stop and eat, it’s busy."
To train for the competition, she said she’s been adjusting and readjusting her diet and workouts: She’s now training seven days a week, twice a day starting at 5 a.m. with a 45-minute cardio session and a 45-minute weight training session before work and then a second 45-minute cardio session in the afternoon or evening. She gets a slight break on the weekends — but only slight.
She said she eats six small meals every day, mostly centered around fish, spinach, celery and peanut butter (healthy fats help with energy when you cut out carbs, she said) for a total of about 1,200 calories. She drinks a gallon of water each day and spends six hours a week meal prepping, spread out over two days.
"It’s been a process. But you can’t give up, once you have your eye on a goal, you’ve got to keep at it," she said.
Her healthy habits have even caught on with her fellow officers.
"She wrote me a workout on a legal sized pad, five workouts… I have it upstairs. I do it," said Sgt. Harry Perez, 37.
Earlier this week, Camacho stood in her office and heated up her second meal of the day: a small tupperware container with turkey and sliced celery. She said she often holds her co-workers accountable, asking if they came prepared with meals.
"I’m so big on motivation. I get such a great satisfaction out of it. I feel like I know other people, if they just put their all into it, push themselves, they could also see great results," she said. "Sometimes I’m probably a nag, but they enjoy it. They like the motivation as well."
She said she has a "great support system" and that her colleagues have been returning the favor — save for the occasional teasing about how good things like pizza taste.
"Just like I’m holding my co-workers accountable, they’re constantly telling me ‘get up, go do it.’ And I’m like ‘I don’t feel like it today’ and they’re like ‘we’ve got a competition to win.’"
Camacho will continue to follow a somewhat strict diet after the competition (with the occasional cookie), but she’s really looking forward to some red meat: a burger or a big steak.
With her training, Camacho is strict in what she eats. Here a day worth of meals:
6 a.m.: A pre-workout breakfast of two egg whites, spinach and a tablespoon of peanut butter
9:30 a.m.: 3 oz of turkey and 1 cup of celery and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
12 p.m.: 3 oz of codfish, 1 cup of spinach and 1 tablespoon of olive oil
2:30 p.m.: 3 oz of turkey and asparagus
5 p.m.: 3.5 oz of tilapia and 1 cup of spinach
7:30: 3 oz of turkey and 1 cup of asparagus