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Gina Rodriguez for SELF Magazine

When I spoke to Gina Rodriguez on a recent Wednesday night, I was still pumped from attending a press screening of her latest movie, Annihilation, earlier that day (a fact that Rodriguez met with delighted laughter, admitting that even she hadn’t seen it yet). I have very high standards for sci-fi and horror films—I expect to startle and gasp and cover my eyes—and this movie didn’t just clear my very high bar; it vaulted over it. But to be honest, even if it had failed to register on my scare-o-meter, I would have loved it for what it is at its heart: in Rodriguez’s words, “a human story and…bad bitches going into action.” In the film, which lands in theaters nationwide on Friday, February 23, Rodriguez plays Anya Thorensen, a paramedic who has volunteered to explore The Shimmer, a mystifying, dangerous, ever-expanding territory. Those who go into The Shimmer often don’t return.

The role fit Rodriguez like Anya’s well-worn fatigues. “The classic roles that are afforded to me—here, Gina, this is what you’re capable of doing—are usually roles I don’t even relate to,” she says, explaining that she identifies more with layered parts like the main character in Lady Bird than with parts inscribed by one-dimensional Latina stereotypes. Playing Anya? “It felt like butter.”

Rodriguez, 33, has Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition that wages war on the thyroid gland, which produces hormones that influence how your body uses energy. Hashimoto’s can lead to an underactive thyroid that doesn’t produce enough of these hormones, and symptoms can be devastating and wide-ranging, including fatigue, joint pain, memory issues, and weight gain, to name a few.

At first, Rodriguez says, Hashimoto’s felt like “the curse of a lifetime,” especially in an industry that places so much emphasis on size. The disease, though treatable, has no cure. For years after being diagnosed with hypothyroidism at 19 and Hashimoto’s at 26, and putting on weight that wouldn’t budge, Rodriguez preferred to deny what she was going through rather than focus her efforts on doing whatever she could to feel better. “To the core of my being, I know what it’s like to feel like there is no way I can win this, so where do I even begin,” she reflects.

She tried to rebel against what she knew her body needed by not taking her medicine on time, eating foods that she knew would make her feel terrible (looking at you, dairy), or deciding working out wasn’t worth it if it wouldn’t change her body. Eventually, she realized something had to give: “[Hashimoto’s] affects so many aspects of your life. I’ve had it for so many years…that rebellion of not taking care of myself can’t exist anymore.”

Over the years, she started taking her treatments seriously, changing her diet, and working out for health instead of weight loss. Though weight comes off naturally as a result of all her efforts combined, it’s also complicated by what roles she’s working on at a given time. To prepare for her intensely physical role in Annihilation, she weight trained and went vegan, so naturally, her body changed. When she spends 16-hour days on-set playing the titular character in the CW series Jane the Virgin—a role for which she’s determined not to lose weight—she’s at what she calls her “comfortable” weight, which she can maintain without an intense workout regimen and diet changes.

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