When Erica Lugo set out on her weight loss journey a few years ago, she had no idea that documenting her every move on Instagram would then lead her to become a trainer on The Biggest Loser reboot this season. Her coaching style is the epitome of practice what you preach for her contestants. “I'm the first trainer to definitely go through a transformation like [the contestants],” she tells HOLA! USA. “I weighed 322 pounds, and about five years ago, I lost 160 pounds. I lost 122 pounds in 13 months and then the last 40 pounds took six or seven months. [Growing up] we communicated and showed love through food. I even remember my grandma flying in from Texas, and she would always bring her tamales as her carry on.”
Similar to those we see every week on the USA Network giving it their all on the show to shed the lbs. toward a healthier lifestyle, Erica had a pull at your heartstrings reason to kick start her new way of living –her son Connor. “He was three and a half at the time. It seems cliché but it was a light bulb moment when I'd rather eat Cheez-Its and watch TV versus playing with my own son,” she explains. “That combined with the feeling of being not a great mother because I couldn't keep up with my son was definitely the perfect storm for me to want to start losing weight.”
In turn her major trim down could have also saved her life when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Keep reading to learn exactly how she successfully battled cancer, why she encourages her clients and everyone to love the body their currently in and to celebrate the small victories.
HOLA! USA: First, we want to know how you lost the weight? Erica Lugo: “I never knew anything about fitness or nutrition whatsoever growing up, so I just started with those basics of moving more and eating less, and then it's kind of a spiral from there. I mean it was five years in the making of me getting from that point to where I am now, and I still learn new tricks and tips all the time.”
You mention you didn’t know about nutrition or fitness growing up. What was your childhood like?
“My parents worked really hard, and we didn't always have gourmet meals on the table at dinner time. It was quick fixes or pizza or fast food with snacks in the cupboard because that's what was the easiest thing for my mom at the time. I grew up knowing zero boundaries or zero portion control of food, and I just carried that on through my life. When I got to college, it was more like the freshman 50 instead of the freshman 15. Then you get married and put on the happy pounds. Then I had my son and had postpartum depression. It seems like every stage of my life the weight just kept piling on.”
Are you teaching your son about a well-balanced diet and fitness?
“Big time. Connor is nine now, but he's grown up with a mother who exercises weekly, who cooks healthy, who talks about nutrition openly. He thinks of working out like brushing your teeth; he just thinks it's a daily necessity that adults do. He doesn't think it's something that you have to carve out time for. And the same with food, he thinks cooking with vegetables and eating fruit and eating colorful things is normal and a part of life. I'm so thankful because he's not going to have to start in his twenties like I did or fight to struggle to get his weight off like I did. It's just going to be a natural thing for him to be able to lead a healthy lifestyle.”
Has your family also changed how they approach food?
“One thing I've learned is people will change when they want to change, and it's not my job to force change on them. My family has looked at food and fitness a little bit different. They may take more time to think about their options versus just eat whatever. They used to get a little offended when I wouldn't eat the food that they cooked at holidays or special events and when I would bring my own. Now it's much different in that aspect where they are thinking, ‘Okay, Erica, what could we get for you? What do you want to bring? Is there something special I need to get for you?’”
Do you allow yourself to indulge in your favorite foods?
“I always have my surplus meal once a week. I hate using the word cheat because it makes me feel bad. Sometimes it's donuts or sometimes it's hamburgers and pizza. It changes all the time, but I definitely don't deprive myself once a week. I look forward to that Friday or Saturday meal, for sure.”
Many people may be discouraged to start to make a positive change in their life. How long did it take you to really get in a routine?
“It takes 20 days to build or to break a habit and to build a new one. It seems simple, but realistically I can say I've been doing this for five years, and it's still a habit that I have to work on every single day. Just because I lost the weight or just because I am a trainer on The Biggest Loser does not mean I wake up every day motivated to kick booty in the gym and to eat the healthiest I've ever eaten. We are human at the end of the day, but we have to rely on habits and building those habits take time. It's more about consistency versus being perfect all the time.”
What advice do you have for someone who is ready to start?
“Start with goals that are achievable. It's called the smart goals. Are they sensible, what's the timeline? Are they attainable, are they measurable? And be realistic with it. When I started on the treadmill, it was let me jog for 30 seconds. And then it became let me jog for the whole length of this song. Eventually, it became for the whole length of my playlist. It was those baby steps that I took to get me where I am.”
What workout did you love when you first started?
“I loved HIIT training. It wasn't boring and you never knew what to expect. My journey has changed a bit since I was diagnosed with cancer a little over a year and a half ago. It has been about a year since my last cancer treatment, so my body responds to workouts a lot differently than it did before. HIIT training really, really wears me out a lot quicker than it used to. I mainly lift weights and do LISS cardio, which is low impact steady state. I'll take a nice long walk for about 45 minutes, four or five times a week. I'll do weightlifting about five times a week, and it could be upper body, lower body core, you name it.”
How is your health now?
“They don't deem you cancer free for at least a year or five years, especially with thyroid cancer. It tends to be one of those they call the pesky cancer that it can come back. As of now, my last blood screen was in June right before I got The Biggest Loser, and I was seeing no disease found in my body. Right now, I feel good, and I’m taking care of it with my medications and finding out how to live life without a thyroid. I don't think if I hadn't lost the weight, and if I didn't understand how to make my body feel better or learn more about my body, I don't think I would've gotten through my cancer treatment as well as I had.”
That’s so good to hear. Something that really resonated is a message you have on your website. You said the first step is loving yourself in the current state you're in. Why is that important?
“The biggest piece of advice I tell people is showcase your start pictures, take the pictures of you now, even though you may not feel like it because the person you are now is going to be the exact same person to make the changes, to do the grind day in and day out, to be dedicated. And it's going to get you to where you want to be. If all you look at is the end goal, you're going to ignore all the little small victories. Show yourself gratitude because it's going to be the same person to get you through to the end.”
How proud of your contestants are you?
“They're all coming to my wedding, so it just goes to show you that I am family with them and am so proud of them. We also keep in touch, and they're all really doing well at home.”