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Erica Lugo: A Trainer on ‘Biggest Loser’ Who Connects with Others Through Her Personal Weight-Loss Journey

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

I was entirely unhealthy a few years ago and saw nothing amiss with it.

I’d commenced acquiring weight around middle school, and sustenance and fitness just weren’t things my family conversed about at home. My mother worked a great deal, and my siblings and I grew up consuming whatever snacks she’d stocked in the pantry. After meals, we’d always have dessert together. That’s just how my family, like so many others, displayed affection: through food.

By the time I arrived at college, there was nothing restraining me from consuming whatever I desired. I didn’t believe there was anything incorrect with consuming quick food and pizza every day. Food aside, I also had no notion that exercising and moving your physique is crucial (both physically and mentally). I’d never been to the gym and never genuinely felt the need to go. Why? Because no one seemed to believe there were any warning signs about my health, so neither did I.

To be honest, I don’t have one of those anecdotes where I can inform you that I gazed at myself in the mirror and detested myself. I was genuinely just ignorant to the fact that my lifestyle and eating habits needed to be enhanced. I knew I could shed some weight if I felt the motivation, but at 5 foot 11 inches tall, I simply felt like I was a sizable girl and was never going to fit the widely praised societal beauty standard of having a petite waist and small thighs.

As years accumulated, I persisted in living life the same way, not consuming nourishing foods or engaging in any exercise, and the figure on the scale increased as a result. I got married and delivered my son a few years later — my whole life I’d desired to be a mother so ardently and I immersed myself in motherhood with my complete heart. I continued to gain weight after childbirth but still didn’t genuinely believe there was an issue, since pregnancy takes a toll on your body.

My moment of realization arrived when my son was 3 years old and playing on our living room floor. I was seated on the couch when he looked up at me and entreated me to join him. I declined.

I vividly remember sitting on that couch with zero energy, consuming some sort of snack, and not desiring to rise because doing so felt like too much exertion. At that moment, something clicked. My unhealthy habits were the origin of my exhaustion, and that exhaustion was restricting what I could do with my son. I gazed at my son and recognized that I brought him into this world and he merits more than a mother who lacks the energy to play with him.

I had to carry out a modification, and I required to do it swiftly while I possessed the drive.

The Commencement of My Weight Reduction Voyage

Despite my complete lack of knowledge regarding diet, weight reduction, or physical fitness, the sole understanding that I possessed was the necessity of reducing my calorie consumption and enhancing my level of physical activity. (By the way, the weight reduction concept of “calories in versus calories out” is not as straightforward as it appears. Additionally, the practice of counting calories is not the ultimate solution to shedding pounds.)

The initial modifications were minimal. Regarding food, I still continued to prepare pasta and pizza, although I consciously consumed smaller servings and refrained from overeating once I reached satiety. Subsequently, I began consuming low-calorie frozen meals. Back then, I was unaware of the drawbacks associated with such meals; nevertheless, overall, it served as a decent point of embarkment for me. Gradually, I initiated the process of self-education concerning food, acquiring knowledge about fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and the art of constructing well-balanced meals that not only nourished but also provided solace.

With regards to physical fitness, I commenced by becoming a member of a local Planet Fitness establishment. I would visit in the morning before my son awakened and began by simply engaging in a walking regimen on the treadmill. After a few weeks, I felt comfortable enough to challenge myself, incorporating brief 30-second jogging intervals during my walks. I persistently built upon this objective, continually expanding the boundaries of my progress.

During the initial two months, I primarily focused on cardiovascular exercises. On average, I dedicated approximately five hours each week to the elliptical machine and treadmill. Subsequently, I enlisted the assistance of a personal trainer who introduced me to various high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routines. While I could sense the pounds melting away, I also aspired to develop lean muscle mass, for which HIIT training proved to be an effective approach. After embracing this workout strategy, I discovered the true meaning of “pleasant exhaustion” and became completely enthralled by that sensation.

The Significance of Internal Development

Within the inaugural month of my expedition, I managed to shed 45 pounds. By the conclusion of the first year, my weight had diminished by 122 pounds. Month after month, I observed the gradual dissipation of excess weight from my physique.

My garments ceased to accommodate me, however, of greater significance, my vitality levels skyrocketed.

The most significant transformation for me was internal. Throughout the initial stages of my journey, I commenced documenting my encounter on social media, and I observed that it was resonating with individuals. They noticed that I was conducting myself differently and was simply happier overall, and they desired to grasp how I accomplished it. That assisted me in realizing that I was prepared to devote myself to fitness beyond my personal journey. I attained certification as a professional trainer and established Erica FitLove, an internet-based training platform. At present, I have the ability to collaborate with individuals individually regardless of their location and assist them in achieving their individual objectives.

The program I established offers a wide range of exercise styles, which include strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Despite HIIT sounding and feeling daunting, I prioritize scalable exercises. They commence with one-minute intervals of cardio: either 15 seconds of intense exertion followed by 45 seconds of rest, or vice versa. This adaptability makes my workouts ideal for beginners who have never truly engaged in fitness before. Furthermore, the brief intervals serve as a tremendous source of motivation — they conclude so swiftly that it deters one from quitting. My program also provides a calendar with weekly reminders and a private, accountability-focused Facebook community where individuals can directly interact with me to sustain their motivation.

How I Managed to Overcome a Stagnation Point

My personal journey towards weight loss was not without obstacles. After shedding the initial 122 pounds, it required an additional two years for me to lose an extra 35-40 pounds. Some of this is entirely normal — when undergoing significant weight loss, encountering obstacles is inevitable — but I also learned the hard way that repeating the same methods consistently does not yield the desired results.

To attain my goal weight, I adopted an experimental approach, analyzing what measures would enable my body to reach its target. What ultimately proved effective for me was reassessing my dietary habits and diversifying my workout routine to challenge my body in novel ways. In 2018, I successfully achieved my goal of losing 150 pounds, and it finally felt like all the exertion I had invested over the past three years had paid off. However, I swiftly realized that weight loss encompassed far more than a numerical value on the scale.

My Struggles with Body Perception and Well-being

Despite the weight loss, for the first time in my life, I began grappling with issues related to body perception. When I was at my highest weight, body image was not a source of personal struggle. I refrained from harshly criticizing myself and did not experience feelings of insecurity. However, now, it has become a daily battle. As the weight started to diminish, I became my harshest judge. In the fitness industry (especially in the realm of social media), everyone seems to have an opinion, and they present their idealized version rather than revealing what truly occurs behind the scenes.

That’s truly demanding.

Even so, I didn’t truly comprehend the extent of my body image concerns until I fell ill.

Three years ago, I received a diagnosis of Epstein–Barr virus (EBV), also known as human herpesvirus 4. EBV is a highly prevalent virus that can lead to other infectious illnesses such as mononucleosis and spreads through bodily fluids. I experienced significant cognitive difficulties and mild fevers. Despite it being manageable now, it will be a lifelong condition for me.

The most challenging aspect to cope with was the overwhelming fatigue that accompanied the illness. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I had to significantly reduce the intensity of my HIIT workouts because my body simply could not handle it; I went from exercising with high intensity every single day to only two to three times a week. Adapting to the illness and altering my workout routine caused weight gain. Although it was not nearly as much as the weight I had previously lost, it greatly affected my self-esteem and brought my body image issues to the forefront.

As if that wasn’t enough, in November of 2018, I was diagnosed with stage 2 thyroid cancer. I underwent radiation and surgery and ultimately overcame the disease, but the toll it took on my body was immense. I distinctly remember coming home from treatment, looking at myself in the mirror, and thinking, “I appear dreadful.”

It’s something I profoundly regret. My body had fought through and conquered so much, yet all I could focus on was my physical appearance. It was heart-wrenching, but it compelled me to confront my enduring body image concerns directly. It’s an ongoing process that I am still learning to manage.

Looking Ahead, Personally and Professionally

One thing that has significantly diminished the negative thoughts about my body is engaging in introspective conversations. Part of this involved keeping track of how many times I uttered self-deprecating remarks within a given day. Discovering that number was a profound realization for me. There were instances when I criticized myself 50 times in a single day! These comments could stem from feeling self-conscious about my attire or how certain parts of my body did not appear “flawless,” whatever that means. Monitoring my negative thoughts made me recognize how swiftly I pinpointed my imperfections and how unjust that was to myself and the resilience my body had demonstrated.

Today, engaging in exercise and maintaining a nutritious diet is not solely about my appearance. It’s about motivating individuals to understand that neither illness nor weight define them and that they possess far more strength than they realize. That is the message I strive to convey on The Biggest Loser as I assist contestants embarking on their own fitness journeys, just as I did.

I want them to comprehend that truly loving and appreciating their bodies is a continuous process, and it requires diligent effort each day. Additionally, I want to demonstrate that weight loss and life transformation need not be overly complicated. My story is evidence that returning to fundamental principles yields results. I did not embark on any extreme or drastic lifestyle changes.

I simply proceeded by tackling each task individually, and the outcomes ensued.

Yes, there will be obstacles. I, for example, have always struggled with compulsive overeating. I still need to plan a weekly “indulgence meal” because if I indulge impulsively, I worry that I won’t be able to recover. But the important thing is being attuned to your personal challenges, being truthful about them, and choosing to make the healthiest decisions.

At the end of the day, your well-being shouldn’t feel like a task. It should be seen as an opportunity to enhance your life and inspire you to be the finest version of yourself. The journey is ongoing, but if you’re on the right path, you’re doing something correctly.

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