This story discusses eating disorders. If you or someone you know has an eating disorder please call the National Eating Disorder Association at (800) 931-2237 or visit the website for a live chat. If you feel like you’re in crisis text 741741 with NEDA to talk with someone at the crisis text line.
As a “The Biggest Loser” coach and popular fitness trainer, Erica Lugo sometimes reads negative comments on social media. But when she recently saw a message about how “big” she looked, she decided to respond.
In an Instagram post from earlier this week, Lugo said that a commenter wrote: “You look big and not portioned. For someone who eats healthy and works out a lot you are big. You might want to not be a health coach.”
Lugo said she wasn’t bothered by the unsolicited criticism but it gave her an opportunity to address “the elephant in the room.”
"Years ago when you saw me on TV, I was sick. I was mentally and emotionally miserable. Physically my body was going down the wrong path even though it was celebrated for being 'small,'" she shared on Instagram. "I did everything in my power to remain 'tiny.' I restricted food, I thought about binging and purging and to (be) completely honest I did, YEARS AGO. I would sit in the bathroom while filming and cry. Cry for hours bc the eating disorder thoughts kept telling me 'just purge, it’ll help keep you thin.'”
About seven years ago, Lugo weighed 322 pounds. After she felt too exhausted to get off the couch to play with her son, she started making small changes to become healthier. She began tracking her calories on an app and exercising four days a week. In two years, she lost 160 pounds and gained a love of exercise. She turned that passion into Erica Fit Love, a website to help others on their health journeys. Then in 2018, she was diagnosed with stage 2 papillary thyroid cancer and had her thyroid and 33 lymph nodes removed. Suddenly, she needed to figure out what exercise worked for 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 told TODAY in 2019. “It’s been a process finding out what medication works for me, how my body reacts."
Then she became a new coach on USA’s "The Biggest Loser." At the time she wondered if she was good enough.
“Every day you have to work on that inner critic,” she told TODAY. “Reminding yourself that you are worthy, you are amazing, you are strong, you are capable of hard things.”
While she enjoyed being on TV, that inner critic nagged her and she restricted herself, too much.
“I had felt pressure while filming. Not from anyone but myself. In fact everyone on set was beyond amazing and made me feel beautiful 24/7. I wanted to break the ‘trainer’ mold of having to fit into a certain size. Having to be thin with a 6 pack,” she wrote on Instagram. “I was happy to show young girls that you can be strong, thick, curvy and a badass. But the old mentality and eating disorder thoughts came rushing back. I struggled with restriction."
In the post, she admitted that she struggled with bingeing and purging for six months after she first lost 160 pounds. Then lockdown contributed to her again grappling with disordered thoughts about eating.
"I knew I needed (help) but did I REALLY? I came clean to my husband and told him about my past struggles and that I was fearful i was going to go down that path again," Lugo wrote. "That i was scared of living a life of always wanting and chasing 'being tiny.'"
She started treatment this year but that came with weight gain.
“2021 has been a year of getting professional help. I’ve gained about 10ish lbs since I was at my thinnest. I’m not a 'jacked' as I once was. I have a little more jiggle,” she said.
Lugo said she wanted to share because she’s learning to love herself more fully.
“I’ve come a long way to accepting that my body may not be celebrated anymore for how 'small' I can become but celebrating how strong I can be. Mentally, physically and emotionally,” she wrote.
And, she wanted to offer hope to others struggling with eating disorders so they know they're not alone.
“I feel you. I understand you. The world doesn’t understand internal struggles and it’s up to us to seek help to cope,” Lugo wrote. “There is a way out. There is help. You are stronger than your ED even when you feel you aren’t."