Plus, how the Jane the Virgin star strikes the perfect balance of happy and healthy. Hint: It includes Muay Thai and Taco Bell.
"I'm the strongest I've ever been," says Gina, 33. "Doing Muay Thai taught me so much about my body. Now I view it as an engine that keeps me active and healthy."
This way of thinking has been a revelation for Gina, who was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease—an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the thyroid and causes symptoms such as fatigue and muscle pain—right after she filmed the pilot for Jane. Once she started practicing Muay Thai regularly, however, "I felt very stealthy and quick," Gina says. "It was an amazing transformation."
The extra energy she gets from pushing her body is powering up the rest of her life too. In addition to working on Jane, Gina is shooting a movie in Mexico and is the voice of Una in the animated film Ferdinand, which is out in December. Add to that the role of CEO and president of her own production company. "I'm living my dream," she says. "I want to say to women who are reading this story, try anything you want. You're strong and durable."
Here's how Gina taps into her grit and how you can too.
Find what drives you.
"My go-to workout has always been a form of fight training. My father was a boxing referee. He taught my sisters and me how to box at a very young age, which was fantastic for our confidence, athleticism, and discipline. This past year, I learned how to do Muay Thai. I went to Thailand with my boyfriend, Joe, for a month, and we trained with champions. To do Muay Thai, you have to build up your strength and stamina. It's mind over matter; you're pushing yourself. What I like best about it is the sense of inner strength it gives me. Knowing I can protect myself is a powerful feeling." (Gina's on our list of badass celebrities who will inspire you to take up martial arts.)
Make peace with life's hurdles.
"How much time I have to train depends on my work schedule. In Thailand, we were doing Muay Thai for at least two and a half hours a day, and I got really strong. But when I started working on Jane again, there was no time for training, even at night. So I exercised Saturday and Sunday. Or maybe just Saturday, and I gave myself Sunday to recoup. As a result, my body changed immediately. I couldn't fit into certain clothes, and I was a little curvier. Before, I would have beaten myself up. But my boyfriend gave me some great advice. He said, 'Don't be angry with your body—it changed because your routine shifted.' And that was like a gift. As an actress, there are so many pressures to look a certain way and fit into a sample size. But I've got to embrace the fact that when I'm shooting Jane, I can't work out as much. My body is going to look different, and that's okay. I'm not willing to wring the joy from my life to kill myself in the gym."
Trust in your own strength.
"Now I'm shooting a movie in Mexico, and I'm able to work out four to six times a week. My routine is much more extensive—weight training, Muay Thai, boxing, running, and yoga—because I have the time to do it. It's empowering to see the shift in my body. That feeling of strength is amazing. I can even do pull-ups now! That was Joe's idea—he trains me. I was like, Whoa! I've never done pull-ups. I went from not wanting to do one to doing 10 of them. I mean, I'm lifting up my entire body! It's one of those moments when you're like, Oh my gosh, I'm pretty capable. And I have taken that feeling and used it in many other parts of my life—for conversations I wouldn't have had before because they were uncomfortable or frightening, and doing stunts in movies that I once would have been afraid to try. Today when I think about the voice in my head that told me there was no way I could do a pull-up—well, wow, way to show myself up!"
Create a personal power menu.
"When I need an energy boost, I like to eat seaweed chicken wraps with avocado. They're magnificent! And guacamole boats, which is some guacamole wrapped in a piece of lettuce. And protein shakes. Food fuels me now, and that feels so good. It doesn't make me lethargic anymore. Now I'm eating when I'm hungry and to power my body, I'm not feeding my emotions. Which I did. And which I'll do again in the future, let's be real. But I'm trying to be conscious of not doing it right now." (Here are some genius pre-workout and post-workout vegetarian snacks.)
Ditch your do-not-eat-list.
"I'm all about moderation. I can't deprive myself. I love pizza so much. And I adore Mexican. I'm more savory than sweet. No, wait, I love sweet too! Who am I kidding? I'm an equal opportunity eater. I have very few do-not-eats on my list. I am so the person who says, 'Taco Bell? Sure, I'll go there!' I'll go anywhere."
"People think I'm inherently superconfident and positive and that I don't fear failure. I do, but I just jump in anyway. I suffer from anxieties and insecurities, but I talk about them. My friend Anton does these 10-second video portraits, and he did one of me. Watching it, I was like, Oh, Gina, your anxiety is so high. So I decided to be honest, and I wrote about my anxiety on Instagram. I thought, There's nothing to be afraid of; there's nothing to be ashamed of. You're not the only person who's going through this. I got such a positive response to my post! I had no idea that would happen. You put yourself out there and expose yourself, and you just pray people will be empathetic and won't knock you down."
For more Gina Rodriguez, including some seriously badass fighting pics, pick up the October issue of Shape on newsstands September 12th.