How the 27-year-old body-builder turned influencer has built a community around her health journey by holding nothing back. By Jillian Kramer
Alex Mazzurco is toying with the camera exposure on her iPhone X. She taps the screen, then steps back from her cement-colored kitchen countertop—where the phone is propped against a paper towel holder. She jumps back and forth to test the light, yelping, “it’s dark again,” when the exposure darkens so that you can’t quite make out Mazzurco’s contoured cheeks and her strikingly long eyelashes because her face has been cast in low-lit shadows.
This won’t do for an Instagram influencer who has not one but three videos to shoot today.
But as flustered as this technology is making her, it’s nothing compared to what Mazzurco has faced in the past six years—depression, anxiety, and a body breakdown that led the calorie-counter and bikini competitor to a 30-pound weight gain in just a few months.
You may not be surprised to hear Mazzurco, 27, has struggled with mental and physical health, because it is her vulnerability—her willingness to share everything, from her meals to her menstrual pain to her bowel movements (yes, she talks poop) with her 16,300-plus Instagram followers—that has earned her that avid following and the trust of women who turn to her for fitness and nutrition advice through her online company, Alex Mazzurco Fit.
For example, on Jan. 21, Mazzurco posts her weight—127.8 pounds—to Instagram stories, and begins to tell the tale of her morning poop journey. (To assess some intestinal issues, a nutritionist has requested a specimen of Mazzurco’s fecal matter, Mazzurco explained in a previous Story, and gave her a hat-like bowl to collect the sample in.) “I could have a damn reality show,” Mazzurco tells her followers on this particular morning. “I wake up and I’m like, ‘oh sh—t, I have to poop,’ but I have to take my temperature so I can track my fertility.”
She details how her rescued pitbull, Charlee, also has to go to the bathroom, but she must wait so that Mazzurco can collect her sample—a sample so large she describes it this way: “There’s so much poop that it, like—the poop is on my butt, because it made a poop wall.”
Talking to Modern CLE, Mazzurco says, “My mom said my mouth would get me in trouble.” But in this case, a mother may not always know best. It’s Mazzurco’s mouth, that incredible vulnerability and openness, that is breaking down barriers and stigmas across social media.
Mazzurco doesn’t have a personal training certification. She’s not a dietician, nor does she have any degree-based education in nutrition. And yet, she has built a fitness empire—with clients clamoring for her advice and her experience, and Instagram followers hanging on her every fitness Story—in large part because she is relentless in her commitment to transparency, to sharing what her own body and mind go through in her epic fitness and wellness journey.
There was a time before she had that following, before she’d found her own fitness footing, when people didn’t trust Mazzurco as a source because she hadn’t learned to trust herself.
In high school, Mazzurco says she took no fewer than 11 pills a day to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression and migraines and neurocardiogenic syncope, a condition that leads suffers to faint and, in her case, to seize. But as a new graphic design and marketing student at Miami University, Mazzurco decided to stop taking her medication. She also stopped exercising regularly. (She had been a cheerleader and ran cross country and track in high school.)
In high school, thanks to the medication and regular exercise, “I was used to, you know, burning more calories, and then you get to college, and then you start putting on weight because there’s like a mac and cheese buffet at … you know, everywhere,” Mazzurco says.
By sophomore year, Mazzurco realized there was a problem. “Well, I didn’t even realize,” she admits. “My roommate pretty much counted, [and] I showered 30 times the whole semester, which is like maybe once or twice a week. I never washed my hair, and I would wear the same clothes for days.” Mazzurco was very depressed, and so, she sought help.
Later, her high-blood pressure led college nurses to recommend Mazzurco see a specialist in Cincinnati—the nearest city to Miami University. That specialist, Mazzurco says, noticed her athletic ability when he stress-tested her on a treadmill, and recommended a lifestyle change: She needed to begin exercising again, and eat healthful foods, he told Mazzurco.
“And I was like, “Okay, bro,'” she laughs.
But Mazzurco took his advice anyway. Home in Cleveland on winter break from school, she ate one piece of whole wheat toast instead of two, eggs whites instead of eggs, and danced along to a 45-minute hip-hop DVD with her mom. “And that’s how it started,” she says now.
Each day, she took another fitness and nutrition step until she could feel a difference in her mind. “As I got more fit, I realized there is this correlation to the mental feeling,” she says.
Flash forward a year: Mazzurco is standing on stage at the Natural Ohio bikini competition. She’s been eating the “bro diet”—a meal plan that allows you to only eat certain foods that can maximize muscle building, such as chicken, ground turkey, brown rice, sweet potatoes, eggs, and milk—for months, and any fat that Mazzurco once had has been chiseled away to reveal hard, sculpted muscles and popping veins, all visible around a glittering string bikini.
Mazzurco stands in a row of seven other svelte, toned women, smiling as they wait to be called out—to be told where they have placed among the six other competitors in line.
“But I was on the end,” Mazzurco describes of standing on that stage as a brand-new bikini competitor, “and I didn’t that know the closer you are to the middle [the higher you’ve scored]. And I was on the end, so I ended up getting seventh [last place] and I was crushed.”
In that moment, she wanted to quit competing. But between working four jobs—an intern at American Greetings and CHAARG, a bartender at Around the Corner then later at Thirsty Parrot, as well as a caregiver for her cousin, Jack Tusick—Mazzurco still found time to go to the gym every day to work out. Preparing for the bikini competition had given her an outlet for her stress, something to work toward when the dozens of applications she sent seeking a full-time job fell through. (She would soon land a job at Kuno Creative and later on, the start-up NOOMA, where she could flex her graphic design muscles in addition to her quadriceps.)
So she didn’t quit. Mazzurco kept competing and, when she tired of the “bro diet,” she hired a fitness coach who taught her to count macros—the protein, fat, and carbs you consume—as a way to get in better shape. At CHAARG, she created an Instagram account and posted a “booty” camp workout, and watched as her Instagram followers grew into the thousands.
By the time she reached NOOMA, Mazzurco had competed in half a dozen shows, and was fielding dozens of questions a day about how she got into shape and what she ate.
“I was getting all of these questions [from Instagram], and I realized that I would rather be answering these questions than designing,” Mazzurco admits now. “I would think to myself, These girls need my help and that’s way more important than what color’s going on the box.”
In 2017, when NutraKey—a nutrients supplement company—approached Mazzurco with an opportunity to run its social media and work as an Instagram ambassador, Mazzurco seized a chance to break out on her own.
“I realized I was trying to grind for other people’s dreams when I was starting to have my own,” she says. A month later, Mazzurco launched Alex Mazzurco Fit, offering personalized fitness and nutrition programs—including Macro Mindset and Macro Challenge—as well as branding and design services. Her programs are meant for anyone—though they very often, admittedly, appeal to other fitness professionals. And today, running Alex Mazzurco Fit is Mazzurco’s full-time job.
But while Mazzurco’s business was taking off, her body was beginning to break down. And in March of 2017, “I didn’t poop for 13 days,” she casually admits now. “It was horrific.”
Not only is not having a bowel movement for nearly two weeks a clear sign from your body that something is wrong, but Mazzurco says, “I’m like a pro-pooper,” providing even more evidence to Mazzurco and her coach that something was amiss. She talked about her issues on Instagram because, “When I started having issues, I’m like, ‘Why don’t people talk about this stuff?'” she says. “Because if we talked about it, we all wouldn’t have these problems.”
Mazzurco was lean, leaner than she had ever been, but she was bloated. As she describes it, “my stomach looked like an alien, because I had rock-hard abs and a vascular stomach—but it was protruding like I was pregnant. It was horrific, and it was painful.” And yet, she kept competing—because it was competing that kept her most focused and de-stressed.
Then, the morning of a National Physique Community (NPC) North American show in late 2017, Mazzurco says she woke up 10 pounds heavier than she had been the night before. “I had to step on stage, in pain, and mortified,” she says. In all, Mazzurco had gained 30 pounds in a few months—all while she counted calories and worked out every day. She realized she needed to make a change.
Mazzurco visited gastrointestinal specialists, took at-home tests, and discovered she had a bacteria imbalance that had to be corrected. With the help of a naturopath, Mazzurco found she was deficient in nearly every mineral, because her body could no longer absorb them.
At that time, Mazzurco had been eating only 900 calories a day, she admits.
“Here I was—I used to work four jobs, [and] I used to run on five, six hours of sleep,” says Mazzurco. “Now, I’m running my own business, and I can’t even work eight hours a day. I was mortified. I was like, ‘People probably think I’m lazy.’ I had no energy. Finally, my dietician was like, ‘You need to not be working out.’ And I was like, ‘What do you mean?'”
The thought was unfathomable to Mazzurco, who spent her hours—in her business, online, and in her spare time—either working out or talking about it. The dietician recommended yoga, and “I was like, ‘I’m going to f—king lose it. I hate yoga. I have to sit with my feelings.”
She continues, “Yoga is very mind-body connected, and I felt so disconnected. I was like, ‘I hate my body. I hate the way it looks. I hate the way it feels. I hate that it’s not listening to me, because I have all of these tools and none of them are working. I hate that I have to show up on the internet and be an influencer, and I’m not proud of where I’m at. And I’m ashamed that this is my fault. No one did this. I pushed myself so far that my whole life is falling apart. And that’s hard to admit to yourself. It’s not the coach’s fault. It’s my fault.”
Mazzurco stopped working out for three months. She ate more—like, 2,500 calories a day more—to add the nutrients to her body she desperately needed, and by May of 2018, she was able to begin working out again and reduce her calorie intake in a slow, purposeful cut.
“I didn’t even start losing weight until August, September, October,” she says. “That was hard. “Do I keep cutting calories, even though it’s not working? Do I keep pushing? How hard do I push? Am I doing the right thing? Is my body not ready? Will it ever be ready?”
As she worked to repair her body, Mazzurco began to record her daily weigh-ins and talk even more about her health—and what it means to really listen to your body is telling you.
“I pretty much show my 16,000 people what I weigh every single day,” she says. “Most women would be mortified, and I’m like, ‘It’s just a number.’ I know women who step on a scale and it ruins their day. I’m trying to get rid of that stigma.” She pauses, then adds, laughing, “but my Instagram really started ramping up when I started talking about poop.”
Today, Mazzurco employees a certified personal trainer, who helps her develop fitness programs for Alex Mazzurco Fit, on her staff. Mazzurco is licensed through Diet Doc, an online dieting program. She carries business insurance. But Mazzurco’s openness, her transparency, continue to be why so many people follow her advice and follow her, period.
On a recent day, Mazzurco films an Instagram Story that shows how she makes celery juice. It’s the second recording of the day—she’s already chatted about why she begins each day by chugging Aloe Vera juice—and she’s pulled off her sweater to reveal a black sports bra and chiseled abs. “The more skin you show, the more likes you get on Instagram,” she laughs. “It’s sad but it’s true!”
You can also spot two sticky dots—gray circles the size of quarters—on her stomach. They’re frequency dots, she explains, that are programmed to harmonize your cells, and are meant to boost your energy and help you sleep better. She’s not sure if they’re working yet, but she was willing to try them—and of course, then, she will report back to her Instagram followers on whether they’re working.
“I have had a rough month,” she admits, adding that five days of not sleeping well and five days of not pooping left her exhausted. “Then I did a four-day bone broth fast, and I felt amazing,” she says. “Then I had two or three days that were amazing. Then, I started not sleeping, and my digestion was off again. But now my period is six days early, which is the reason why [I believe my digestion was off]—but why, then, is my period six days early?”
Though she’s talking to Modern CLE, this is exactly the kind of stream of conscious chat she might have on an Instagram Story. “I’m a guinea pig,” she laughs, as she points to the dots.
However, it’s not always easy or fun for Mazzurco to put it all out there. “I wish people would stop glorifying me as an influencer because they don’t realize how … I’ve opened my life, my home, my relationship, up to 16,300-plus people,” she shares. “Opinions, comments, a lot of love—a lot of love, and I’m so appreciative of the love. But a lot of things also come through, like, ‘you’re doing that wrong,’ or ‘you’re disgusting.’ People are going to tell me that I’m a bad [dog] parent, that I’m not doing the right thing. Everybody’s got an opinion, and you open yourself up to all of those opinions as soon as you start putting your life out there.”
Mazzurco wouldn’t trade it, though. “Showing my journey helps,” she says. It helps her, and so many others.
The Biggest Influence on Alex Mazzurco’s Life? A Young Man Named Jack
Before Alex Mazzurco launched Alex Mazzurco Fit, she had four different jobs, including as a caretaker for her cousin, Jack Tusick—a young man who, when he was born with a serious heart condition, underwent a surgery that left him “with a severe brain injury,” she says. “They fixed his heart but left him unable to walk, talk, feed himself, change himself.”
Because she lived with her aunt and uncle in Cleveland, Mazzurco had the opportunity to care for Jack. It wasn’t always easy.
“I remember the first time I watched him overnight: He was sick with the flu, and he was throwing up, and I was like, What do I do? Because he couldn’t sit up on his own,” she says.
What Jack could do, however, was swim with dolphins. At Island Dolphin Care in Florida, special needs children and adults and veterans can interact and even swim with therapy dolphins, giving them a freedom they can rarely feel in everyday life. And when Sandy and Ray Tusick, Jack’s parents, found out about the program, they knew they had to bring him.
“He swam with dolphins over 30 times in his life at Island Dolphin Care,” says Mazzurco. “Because, let’s say you take your family to Disney World. But if you have a special needs kid, your child can’t do anything because they’re wheelchair bound or maybe they’re severely autistic and they have sensory issues. A lot of children like that like being in the water.”
In 2016, Jack was diagnosed with endocarditis and given two to four months to live. He lived another year, Mazzurco says, and died just four days shy of his 22nd birthday.
Mazzurco was deeply impacted by Jack. “He was able …” she begins, then takes six seconds of silence before saying, “to show us unconditional love without ever being able to speak.”
She continues, “I look at Jack’s life and the people he impacted and I just—I can’t imagine impacting more people than he did. And that might seem crazy, considering my reach.”
In 2017, Mazzurco used her reach—her Instagram following—to donate to Jack Gives Back, a non-profit foundation Sandy and Ray Tusick created in Jack’s honor, to improve the lives of special needs children through scholarships, grants, and donations—paying the way for them to visit the facility, Island Dolphin Care, that meant so very much to their son. For the foundation’s first fundraiser, Mazzurco asked her followers to donate to Jack Gives Back. And the next year, in 2018, Mazzurco matched their pledges, dollar for dollar, up to $2,000.
Now you, too, will have a chance to help special needs children. If you attend Modern CLE’s February Behind the Story event, a portion of your ticket cost will go directly to the Jack Gives Back foundation. To learn more about the event and to purchase tickets, click here.