Erica Lugo got her wake-up call that it was time to lose weight, when her toddler looked up at her one day, from their living room floor and asked her to play.
“I vividly remember sitting on that couch with zero energy, eating some kind of snack, not wanting to get up because doing so felt like too much effort,” Lugo told Shape.
She told her 3-year-old no, but at that moment, something clicked.
I looked at my son and realized that I brought him into this world and he deserves so much more than a mom who doesn’t even have the energy to play with him.Erica Lugo to Shape
At the time Lugo weighed 322 pounds, and she knew she had to act quickly while she had the motivation.
Her journey started with small steps
Initially, she made small tweaks to her diet and started to educate herself on food. She started going to a local gym and eased her way into an exercise routine by walking on the treadmill.
In the first month of her weight loss journey, Lugo lost 45 pounds and by the end of the year, she dropped 122.
As the pounds were melting off, she felt a boost of her energy levels, but it was the internal transformation that came with the weight loss that surprised her the most.
So, she began documenting her journey on social media and quickly noticed how it resonated with others.
They noticed that I was carrying myself differently and was just happier overall. They wanted to know how I did it. That helped me realize that I was ready to commit to fitness outside of myself.Erica Lugo
Determined to help others achieve their weight loss goals, she became a certified personal trainer and started Erica Fit Love.
But another problem started surfacing
Lugo eventually hit a plateau, but instead of giving up on her weight loss efforts, she adapted by switching up her workouts and her diet.
In 2018, all of her hard work paid off when she reached her goal of losing 150 pounds, but as she celebrated her success she began to struggle with her body image.
“As the weight started to come off, I became my biggest critic,” said Lugo.
“When you work in the fitness industry (and are on social media), everyone has an opinion and everyone is showing their highlight reel versus what’s really happening behind the scenes. That’s really challenging.”
Little did she know, she’d be forced to confront her body image issues head on after being diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a common virus that caused her to experience brain fog, low-grade fevers and exhaustion.
Lugo had to learn to cope and live with the illness, and scale back her workouts, which caused her to gain weight. This was a big blow to her self-esteem and made her dormant body image problems creep up.
A car accident that changed her life…again
As if Lugo didn’t have enough to worry about, she was involved in a car accident later that year, as she drove to work one morning. All she remembers is all of a sudden, she started sweating profusely and turned colorless before she could pull into a parking lot.
Then, she said she stopped hearing and started seeing “in tunnel vision.” She remembers fading in and out of consciousness, feeling three big bumps, and someone pulling her from her totalled car.
When she got to the hospital, doctors were concerned that an underlying health issue may have led to the accident.
“Doctors were like ‘Why is a healthy 31-year-old athletic girl passing out while driving,’” Lugo remembered.
An MRI showed that she had a lump in the right side of her neck, and a biopsy later confirmed that she had stage 2 papillary thyroid cancer. Doctors told her she would have her thyroid and 33 lymph nodes surgically removed, followed by radiation treatment.
You think that everything is over. No one could prepare you to hear you have stage 2 anything.Erica Lugo
A single mom at the time, Lugo had just signed a lease for a new gym space so she could grow her training business, and the diagnosis shook her to her core.
So Erica fought again
She had the thyroid and lymph node removal surgery in January 2019 and was warned that most patients tend to gain weight after the procedure. But, Lugo was determined not to let it happen to her.
“You no longer have a major organ in your body that controls so much of your hormones and your mood and your metabolism,” she said. “It’s been a process of finding out what medication works for me, how my body reacts.”
She can no longer do the same amount of exercise as she used to before the cancer diagnosis, but she’s finding ways to keep the weight off. Instead of the high intensity interval training she’s gotten used to over the years, she now opts for walks on a treadmill at a high incline.
She admitted her new reality can be frustrating at times, but she’s learned to be more in tune with her body, which has helped her adapt.
“Fitness is a lifestyle,” Lugo said. “If you want to stay fit and lose weight for the long haul versus the short haul you really have to look at what workouts you’re doing and is it sustainable.”
She never thought she would have the job
Now, she uses the wisdom she’s gained through her weight loss journey and battle with cancer to inspire others in her job as one of USA’s Biggest Loser’s newest trainers.
She initially didn’t think she was good enough to be selected for the show, but she applied anyway.
Every day you have to work on that inner critic. Reminding yourself that you are worthy, you are amazing, you are strong, you are capable of hard things.Erica Lugo
Erica’s incredible story is proof of the power of resilience. With everything that life has thrown at her, she could easily have chosen to give up. Instead, she only became stronger.
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