Before the massive weight loss, the Internet fame and launching a successful fitness business, Erica Lugo had a simple goal: she just wanted to play with her son.
Two years ago, Lugo was double her current body weight. Her toddler asked her to join him on the floor to play, but the mere thought of moving was exhausting.
“So the next morning, I stepped on the scale … and it said 322 pounds. I almost wanna cry now thinking about that,” Lugo said. “It was such a huge moment for me to be like, ‘That is what I am,’ and it terrified me.”
That terror ignited her weight-loss journey.
Growing up, Lugo was the girl “with a pretty face and a funny personality,” as she puts it. The smallest she remembers being is a size 18 – she was a freshman in high school. “You know how your group of girlfriends, there’s that one chick who’s chunky but she’s funny? That’s why we keep her around? That was me,” she said. She’s always struggled with her weight, and her family played a large role. “We’re a Mexican family, so we eat and we talk and we eat some more. That’s what we do, and I’ve always just been a bigger girl.”
It was two years ago this February that Lugo weighed 322 pounds, and she lost 122 of it in the first 14 months. At 28, she now flaunts a hard-earned size 10 and stands proudly at 165 pounds.
“Now I’m like, ‘I can shop at normal stores and I’m a size 10 and 12,’” she said. “Every day, it blows my mind.”
She didn’t do anything special. She didn’t invest in weight-loss pills, buy anything fancy or schedule a surgery. She went to the gym.
“Planet Fitness was opening up next to me … and I said, ‘I’ll go for it,’” Lugo explained. “I was overwhelmed by even reading about diets … I just went with the basics, and just started exercising more, and eating less and did a My Fitness Pal calorie-tracker on my phone and went for it. That’s it. I mean bottom line, I’ve just learned as I’ve gone.”
But it was far from easy, as her jaw-dropping “before” picture might suggest. She lives a busy life as a mom, working full-time, but Lugo woke up at 4 a.m. simply because she told herself she would. While she’s loyal to her gym routine, she’s had her share of struggles along the way.
“To this day, I still struggle with binge eating. That’s been my biggest thing, I treat myself with food,” Lugo said. “That’s how I grew up. You know, if we got an A on a report card, it was, ‘Awesome, let’s go to your favorite ice cream place and get ice cream.’ If my boyfriend dumped me, it was, ‘Let’s go pound a pizza and a gallon of ice cream and just do it’ … I never got full.”
She utilized food to distract her mind from facing life’s problems, and Lugo admits to still feeling that way at times. Her last binge was about three and a half months ago, but she’s learned to manage it by being aware of her feelings, and even writes them out.
“I have to actually sit down and write, ‘Well, maybe I’m just tired, so maybe I need a nap. Maybe I need to call my best friend and vent,’” she said. “So it’s kind of funny and sad at the same time, but I keep them in a shoebox, so it’s kind of neat to go back two years and see how many binges I had in the beginning compared to how many I have now.”
She has other weaknesses too, and they usually come in the form of a ring-shaped snack.
“I just learned that I can’t deprive myself, and I love donuts so damn much that I was like, ‘I’m just gonna eat two donut-holes every Wednesday,’” she said.
She also has a cheat meal every Saturday at Chili’s and tops it off with a donut. And it’s become her thing – part of her brand, even. She has donut apparel, accessories, even headbands.
“It just teaches people you can lose weight and still enjoy that kind of stuff. You don’t have to eat clean all the time,” she said. “I love that I can still lose weight and have the body I want but enjoy life, too. And I don’t think I should put life on hold.”
Lugo quickly turned her fitness journey into a way to help others, though it all started by chance. She began posting photos of her progress to social media, and one day a popular fitness Instagram account shared one of them. Her popularity snowballed from there.
“It got to the point where people were emailing me or direct messaging me asking me for help, and I would hear these stories of these women, and I almost get emotional with it, as corny as it sounds, ‘cause I was there.”
She has since amassed more than 76,000 Instagram followers, has written three eBooks and features videos, workouts and recipes on her website, EricaFitLove.com. She became a certified wellness coach in order to train others to achieve their fitness goals.
“I just learned that I can’t
deprive myself, and I love donuts so damn much that I was like,
‘I’m just gonna eat two donut-holes every Wednesday.’”
“It’s such an amazing feeling to be able to help these people … I can’t stop smiling when I get emails. These women are feeling empowered every day.”
Throughout it all, her 5-year-old son Connor remained her biggest motivator. He holds her accountable – they do flex breaks in the mirror together – because all he knows is a healthy lifestyle; it’s completely instilled in him.
“I wish that my family was very intrigued with fitness and eating healthy when I was younger, because I think my whole life would have been different. I think if I slacked off, [Connor would] be my number-one critic – he’d know.”
Training and her other business obligations require a lot of her time, so much so that she’s often asked if she feels guilty about not spending as much time with her son as she’d like, or as much as others think she should.
“I don’t feel guilty at all. I’m going to be around longer for him. You know, at least on my own terms,” she said. “I’m gonna be here for him longer. I’m gonna be able to enjoy playing with my grandkids.”
Despite the outpouring of support and love Lugo receives, there are still detractors.
“I found out there’s a website out there that’s made to purposely talk negatively about famous YouTube bloggers or Instagrammers. And some of these things that were said about me were so hateful.”
Dozens and dozens of forum threads, she said, all bashing her advice, what she wears, her ethnicity, her videos… anything and everything. It became so hurtful that Lugo purposely neglects sharing anything about her family, and very rarely shares anything about her son.
“Jesus, it’s terrible, I think that’s been a big hurdle. I almost did shut down everything that I worked for because of that website.”
What stopped her? The followers: the emails, the posts, the comments. Women blowing up her phone saying she saved their lives.
“I don’t like to cry about that stuff, but that’s huge for me. I like to go to bed at night knowing I can help someone,” she said through sniffles. “Bottom line, that’s what I wanna do for the world. As cheesy as that sounds … I know I’m only one person … what could I do? But I will do something.”
And she has an idea of what that thing is. Lugo’s five-year plan involves opening a wellness center where she can teach women how to make weightlifting and exercise fun, learn about nutrition and receive support, all in a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere.
“I would love to have gone [somewhere] fun and funky, where people can laugh and it’s a laid back environment. … So I wanna offer that to people,” she said. “And then, like, have a donut shop in there.”
Losing 20 pounds by the end of the summer is Lugo’s next goal for herself – and then to compete in a physique competition.
“I wanna be able to get on that stage, stage-ready, and say I did it once. And then go eat a box of donuts when I’m done.”
Emmy Wells contributed to this story.