Erica Lugo is a bona-fide weight loss inspiration to her hundreds of thousands of followers all over the world. After reaching over 300 pounds, she made a decision to change her life once and for all and lost an incredible 160 pounds in 2 years. Now, she’s a trainer on USA Network’s reboot of The Biggest Loser.
I got the chance to talk to Erica about her own weight loss journey, how she got involved with The Biggest Loser, what she learned about herself during her time on the show and so much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say!
I want to start first with your own weight loss journey that you went on a few years ago. I know you ended up losing 160 pounds. What pushed you to make that change in your life?
Honestly, my son was about three and a half at the time. I remember that I begged my ex-husband for a baby so bad and when Connor asked me to play on the floor one night with him and I told him ‘no’, I don’t know. Something just kind of clicked in me and I thought, “Wow. He didn’t ask to be brought into this world. I brought him here and now I can’t even play with him.” I had zero energy. I worked a nine-to-five job in HR. I was exhausted. I didn’t want to get up off the couch and stop eating Cheez-Its. Something about that time was my lightbulb moment that I had to change.
Was it just through dieting and exercise or was there something else you did to lose all of that weight?
No, and everyone is so surprised when I say that I just started with the basics. All I knew was less calories in, more calories out. I grew up not knowing what fitness and nutrition was at all. So that’s kind of where it started. It was simply joining Planet Fitness and walking on a treadmill and then walking on a treadmill led to jogging and then jogging led to running. Then, I was saying, “Okay, let me run for 30 seconds.” Then it was, “Let me run for the whole song.” Then it was, “Let me run for the whole playlist.” Those were always my benchmarks.
With food, it was a little bit different. Again, I had no knowledge of what to do; I just knew I needed to eat less. At that time, my diet was still not great. It was still pasta, pizza, tacos and things like that. So all I did was cut down my portion sizes and then I was saying, “Okay, well there’s a whole large pizza. Let me have one slice and a salad.” And then it became, “Oh, let’s start cooking healthier. I can make pasta with lean ground turkey meat instead of red meat. Okay, let’s do that.” And then it just evolved. My journey was a whole-hearted learning experience.
That’s awesome. How long did it take you to lose the 160 pounds?
I lost 122 in my first 13 months.
Then the whole 2 years, including the last 13 months, is when I lost the 160. So it took me a little bit longer to lose the last 40-ish pounds.
That’s awesome. So I know you also faced a battle with thyroid cancer this past year and I’m curious how did that change your perspective on health in general and how you approach your personal health?
Oh my gosh, so much so. After learning so much about my body, losing weight and getting fit and then getting diagnosed with cancer, it’s almost like a huge slap in the face, right? You’re like, “I just did this. I just changed my life. I got healthy, I got fit. I did what I was supposed to do. And now I have stage 2 thyroid cancer as a 31 year old female.” It was just a slap in the face. And then after going through my surgery – and I went through my surgery January 17, 2019 – I went home with my now fiancé and I started crying when I saw myself in the mirror. He said, “What are you crying for?” And I said, “I look terrible. I look like someone tried to chop off my head.” I was puffy and bloated and had dark circles and no color on my body so I looked as white as a ghost. I just said I looked ugly. He said, “Erica, you look beautiful.” And I wish I would have believed that because what he saw was someone who fought and someone’s body who fought. I kind of changed my perspective as I was going through treatment like, “Why am I still worried about how I look right now when I am super, super thankful that my body just beat cancer?” I have a brand new appreciation for my body. I no longer dwell on [trivial things] for longer than 3 seconds because I go, “My body allows me to wake up every morning, My body beat cancer. My body birthed a baby.” To me, those are huge things that my body did for me that now I’m way more appreciative of than I ever was.
You’ve been pretty open about both your journeys that you’ve been through health-wise. Is it cathartic for you to talk about it or is being so open and vulnerable still something you’re struggling with?
I have good days and bad days with it. Social media is a great thing but it’s a double-edge sword, though. You have people that love you and support you and want to know and you want to share your story because there is other people out there struggling who need to hear that story. But then there’s also people who don’t have great hearts and don’t care what they say and will just throw lies at you all day. And that’s hard. That’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes. When I got diagnosed with cancer, some people would say, “Well you deserve it because you were so hard on your body when you were losing weight so you deserve to get cancer.” Who says that? But on the flip side, I get messages that say, “Because you were so open with your journey, I went to get checked out and found out that I have cancer and I would have never had the courage to do that if you didn’t share your story.” That’s what makes it so easy for me to be open because someone needs to hear it.
I want to shift and talk about The Biggest Loser. How did you end up as a trainer on the show? Was doing something in the TV/media world something you always wanted to do?
First of all, I love being on TV. Before I was on the show, I had done the Today Show and Rachel Ray and I actually worked with Women’s Health Magazine for their competition, America’s Next Fitness Star. So I have a little bit of experience when it comes to media and I love it. But this was like a daunting thing. They found me on Instagram. I guess a couple of the casting people had followed me on Instagram for some time. A couple of them sent me messages and were like, “You have to try out for this. It’s right up your alley.” I was hesitant because that’s a big project. It’s an iconic show. I thought I could not be on a show like that. Then I kind of just had to snap out of it and I said, “That negative mindset has never served you well before. Don’t let it knock this opportunity now.” So I went ahead and I filled out the application and within a day, casting producers called me back and set up some phone interviews. Then after that was Skype interviews and more Skype interviews. And then I got flown out to California to be put on camera like a test. Then that led to more interviews and then, after about two and a half months, one of the producers called me and said, “Do you want good news or bad news?” And I was like, “Give me the bad news.” She was like, “The bad news is you have to be on a plane tomorrow and you’re going to be filming the show for the next three months. The good news is you got it.” So now I’m here.
Wow, that’s crazy. What a crazy turnaround.
Yeah, it was crazy.
The show was off the air for a little bit so this new season is technically a reboot on a different network. I know there’s been a bunch of changes made to the show compared to the original. So I wondering if you could just talk a little bit about what’s different this time around.
Everyone asks me that but I never worked on the previous seasons so what I know is what I know. But I can say, being on this season, one of the biggest things that I appreciated was just the actual therapy group sessions every single week. It’s not just about moving well and eating well. It’s also about you feeding your mind and your soul and how you think and feel about yourself because for a lot of these people, they didn’t come on this show just because they love food. I mean, I love food; I got to over 300 pounds for a reason. But my love of food came from a lot of insecurities and self-esteem issues and not thinking I’m good enough and it’s going downhill because that’s how it feels in my head. A lot of these people, if not all of them, are the exact same way. But what good is all of these things we’re going to teach them if we don’t get to the root cause of the problem? So we really did a lot of group therapy every single week and that’s probably my favorite part of the season.
You can obviously relate to these contestants on your team in some way. How were you able to use your experience to help motivate them and show them what life after this competition could look like?
So many people ask that question and think, “Oh you must be the super sweet trainer because you’ve been there and you can empathize with them.” And that’s true. It’s going to be a joke how many times I cry with these people. Like it’s gonna be a lot. But on the flip side of that, I’m also very hard on them because I’ve lived every single excuse that they can come up with. I’ve done it. On the first episode, someone tells me they have a cramp and they just want to be done working out. I remember using that exact same excuse. So I tell this person on my team, “Are you hurt or are you injured?” because that’s your problem. You come up with excuses to get out of getting better. I think my [coaching style] is although a very loving way but also a very tough love way because so many of these people don’t have anyone in their lives to be honest with them like that. I have an unbiased opinion of them. Most people in their lives that would be honest have a biased opinion, so I needed to be that person for them.
Is there one thing you wanted to make sure that the members of your team learned about health and just being a healthy person before they left you?
The biggest thing is I don’t know if I have them for one week or if I have them for 10 weeks. So what I really needed to hone in with them is you have the power. Yeah, we know that. It’s so cliché to say that. However, you don’t have full control over how people treat you, how people react, what your boss is going to act like that day, how your job is going, what attitude your kids are going to be in. You don’t have control over life as much as you think you do. But you do have control about how you move, you have control about what you feed yourself, and you have control about how you think of yourself. So once you realize that you actually hold that power in a world where we don’t hold a lot of power, you’ve got to learn to use it. So I really, really tried to teach them that as much as I could. My team always joked and said, “Erica, you’re the queen of clichés,” but it’s the truth. I was constantly saying things like, “Who’s going to love you the most?” and they’d always be like, “I’m going to love me the most.” I had to hone in those things, even if it was a cheesy, cliché way because I wanted them to be able to remember that.
I know you obviously aren’t going through the competition in the same way that they are, but what is something that you learned about yourself going through this experience for the first time?
Oh girl, I could write a book [laughs]. That’s the one thing that shocked me after I walked out this season. I was like, “Holy crap, I didn’t realize I would learn so much about myself as I did.” I went into this thinking, “This is a job. I need to win. I need to help these people. I want to change their lives.” That was my sole purpose. But then, I actually remember calling my fiancé, I think maybe episode 4, and I had a serious conversation with him and I said, “I am not going to be the same woman coming back home than when I left. I am completely different.” Because the show taught me that I had a lot of work to do on myself when it comes to self-esteem and self-worth. There’s an episode, episode 3, where I breakdown about that topic and that was a really eye-opening experience that under-pressure I cracked when it comes to believing that I can do things and that I’m worthy of accepting good things like being a Biggest Loser trainer. This forced me to take the bandaid off, like rip it off. It was kind of like pouring salt in the wound that I thought had been healed and it really forced me to face a lot of my inner-demons that I thought I was powerful and firm on and I realized I was nowhere near as close to that as what I thought. So the show definitely forced me to demolish the walls I had up and rebuild. It was a brand new foundation that had to be built. I am definitely a different woman than when I left, that’s for sure.
That’s awesome. Last question — our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us, because we all have some kind of inner-nerd so what is something you are currently nerding out about?
I’m a total nerd when it comes to, and my fiancé always jokes like “should I be scared of you?”, because I always like those really crazy, murderous, criminal/crime type shows. So Dear John is one I’m watching. But I am a First 48, Unsolved Murder Mysteries. I will watch every murder documentary possible. I am a complete nerd with that stuff.
USA Network’s reboot of The Biggest Loser premieres tonight at 9/8c. Make sure you follow Erica on Instagram.