2020 brings a new vision of weight loss competition shows, as The Biggest Loser is returning as a reboot with an all-new message. Joining host Bob Harper are trainers Erica Lugo and Steve Cook, who both have incredible fitness journeys. Take Erica, who after achieving the incredible feat of losing 160 pounds in two years was then diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Thankfully, she had surgery to remove lymph nodes and was able to recover, and her story has continued to inspire thousands on social media.
This season of The Biggest Loser, which premieres tonight on USA Network, is aimed to focus more on the well-being of competitors, rather than just losing weight. We got the chance to speak with Erica about her outstanding transformation—both physically and mentally, and of course, dished about the show.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Floor8: You lost 160 pounds in the span of two years. I’m assuming your son Connor was a big inspiration for you in losing the weight, but was there one defining moment when you realized you wanted to turn your life around?
Erica: Yeah, big time. Connor was definitely my biggest driving force. When he was about three and a half and was just sitting on the floor, and he looked up at me and asked me to play with him, and I told him no just because I couldn’t get off the couch—I was eating Cheez-Its or Goldfish and I had zero interest in doing that—and I thought wow, I didn’t even want to get off the couch to play with him, and that was my ah-ha moment for sure.
Floor8: What was your biggest challenge in getting into shape, and what would you say was the greatest reward when you did?
Erica: I would say in general just the fact that you have to keep going—I mean I got to 322 pounds because I love food—and I think just adjusting to that mentality overall and not having the all or nothing mentality. I feel like so many of us are like, ‘okay, we got to be 100%, 100% of the time.’ And I had to learn that that was not doable, and that’s not realistic, so kind of framing my mindset around that, saying it is okay to have pizza once a week, or tacos once a week, and learning how to modify that extreme ideal. So that was hard and constantly a learning process, but I think the really the really cool thing to take away from it is learning that you have the power to change how you feel, like with life we don’t have much power with things, right? Like, what’s the weather going to be? What kind of attitude is my kid going to be? We don’t have control of those things, but we do have control over how we decide to move and feel our bodies, and how we can feel. I think that’s one of the coolest things in this journey, that I have this power and I might as well use it.
Floor8: I can only imagine getting that thyroid cancer diagnosis was a terrifying thing to face. Were you fearful that you would be gaining the weight back, especially after being told that your surgery could lead to that?
Erica: Yeah, I mean I was terrified. I saw it like a slap in the face because I was like, I did the right thing, I ate well, I’m healthy, and it was, and now you have Stage 2 thyroid cancer, and I’m like, give me a break. And when you hear “thyroid,” you start researching, you go on Google—which you should never do after something like that—and then you constantly read that thyroid issues lead to weight gain. I was terrified and I kind of look back and I kind of regret that that’s what I was terrified about, like my mind should’ve been “alright I’m going to fight this,” not “oh my gosh, I’m going to gain 20 pounds back.”
Floor8: What was your goal in creating your brand and Instagram page “Erica Fit Love”? It’s extremely inspirational.
Erica: I didn’t even have a goal when I first made it, to be honest. I used Instagram as a platform to just keep myself accountable, because I got introduced to it by one of my nieces who was like 11 at the time, and she was like, “I have 1,100 followers,” I’m like, “how do you have that many?” She said, “well, we kind of all connect on the same thing,” and I thought, “okay, I’m just going to go and open one,” and I just started posting fitness stuff, so honestly I had zero idea this was what my life was going to look like five or six years ago. As time went on and I started my brand, I just found that people connect with people who are living the life of a normal, everyday person, and they like that story of, you can be normal and have a family and be a mom, and you can still rock the hell out of whatever goal you might have. At the end of the day, I still shop at Target, I still wear Kmart pajamas, and I still have a messy hair day, like, dry shampoo is my life. I am no more special than anyone out there and I think that's what people really appreciate.
Floor8: What was your thought process before auditioning to become a trainer on The Biggest Loser?
Erica: When casting producers reached out to me, I was like, ah, I don’t know if i can do this. And I actually said no the first time—someone sent me a flyer on Instagram and I was like, no, I’m not going to do that. I think for me that’s such a huge show and I would never do something like that, like would I even have a chance? And then another casting producer reached out to me and said no, you have to try out for this, you were made for this.
Floor8: This version of The Biggest Loser is a reboot of the original, aimed to better care for the wellness of contestants rather than just the numbers. What else do you think is important for these contestants beyond losing weight?
Erica: Honestly the biggest thing is—I will preach this time and time again, even if you go on my page and look back three or five years ago—it’s always been about like, what are you doing to take care of your head and your heart? And the emotional and mental aspect, because if you don’t really truly change how you think and feel about yourself, it is going to go over into every aspect of your life. If you’re constantly thinking “I’m not worthy” and then believe it, it’s going to show up in relationships, your career, and definitely how you treat your body. So if you don’t start to fix that, it’s not going to be a true change. So for me, that was one of the pivotal things about this season, and I was really excited that they really wanted to add that aspect.
Floor8: For contestants who are eliminated on the show, how exactly are they helped and do you have any personal relationships with them afterwards?
Erica: For people who are eliminated, how exactly are they helped and do you have any personal relationships with them afterwards?I will say I’m getting married in April and they are all coming to my wedding, so if that says anything about how close I got with these people. I am so close with them that I even bought red Jimmy Choos to wear under my wedding dress. That’s how close I am with them.
The aftercare is, you know, they get set up with gym memberships, which is fine, but they also get set up with support groups and a therapist, and they also get set up with a nutritionist for a year after the show. So they get help as soon as they go home. It’s still that Biggest Loser mentality with the support groups. All of them have my cell phone number and they know they have my support for the rest of my life.
Floor8: What advice would you give people at home watching who want to lose weight but don’t know where to start?
Erica: Baby steps. That’s the biggest thing. I thank the heavens, the universe, every single day that I did not start losing weight in the time that we are now, because I feel like there’s so much information out there that we get super overwhelmed. People forget that the basics are the basics for a reason, and they’re all baby steps. So let’s say this week we’re going to drink 60 ounces of water every day, and then next week we’re going to continue drinking the water, but then also add a 20 minute walk twice a week. All those baby steps still get you to the end results. You don’t have to jump in 100% and go 100% everyday—like, you’re just going to burn out.