Interview: 'The Biggest Loser' Trainer Erica Lugo's Red Team Coming To Her Wedding

 The Biggest Loser Erica Lugo

 "The Biggest Loser" returned to television on USA Networks in a revamped version of the NBC competition series airing Tuesdays. Inspirational trainer Erica Lugo who went through her own transformation losing 160 pounds is coaching the Red Team. CineMovie talked to the self-made trainer about her own journey and what she brings to the show.

The Mexican-American trainer not only struggled with weight issues, but in her 20s she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of her son, Connor. She currently runs her own boutique fitness studio in Dayton, Ohio, and she's currently in the midst of planning her wedding in a few weeks.

CineMovie spoke with Lugo over the phone about joining the iconic show, and how her experience with her own weight loss impacted her methods with the contestants for the Red Team.


CM: I was reading about your life story. Wow. What a comeback if you want to call it that... Battling cancer and a postpartum depression. You went through a lot at a young age.

Erica: I feel like for being a 33 year old woman, I've kind of gone through the gambit for sure.

CM: Yeah. So what season is this for you for "The Biggest Loser?"

Erica: This is season one.

CM:And how is it so far?

Erica: Well we're done filming. We finished filming in December. So it's been a lot of reliving all the moments watching it on TV right now. But honestly it was probably one of the most life changing experiences I'll ever have. Being able to film a TV show like that, it's nothing... nothing will ever compare to that other than giving birth.

CM: So you had to train yourself obviously to get to where you're at. So how easy or how difficult is it to pass that on to other people, especially when you're being filmed?

Erica: Honestly the cameras never bothered me. The moment you put me in a gym I feel right at home, and I'll never forget when I got to walk the gym for the first time and I'm seeing all these camera crews and production people, there was over a hundred people on this set, I was kind of nervous, but as soon as they opened the gym doors and I got to walk in there, I felt right at home. So it never really bothered me having cameras there or knowing that the world was going to watch. Just as long as you put me in my environment, I'm happy. But you know, it's a bittersweet thing for me to pass on the torch, I guess you can say, because you know, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. And there were definitely some moments where you just want to shake people and be like, 'I see so much in you that I wish that you could see.' But the biggest thing for me was not just passing on how well you can eat or how well you can work out. I need to pass on the lessons I've learned about how you think and how you feel about yourself because honestly that's going to stop you from making progress more than your nutrition or your workouts will.

CM: Do you use your own experience to try to get through to the contestants?

Erica: Yeah, I mean, it's funny. People always think that I'm the super sweet one because I've been there. So they always think, 'Oh, Erica was 322 pounds. She can be empathetic and she understands them,' which is completely the truth. But on the flip side, I know every excuse in the book because I wrote every excuse in the book. I used every excuse in the book. So a lot of people when they watch the show and the feedback I get, they're like, 'wow, you're, you're so sweet and pathetic, but you're definitely harder on them than I thought you weren't.' Because I know the excuses. I know what they're trying to play on me before they even try to play it. So you know, living my life experiences has definitely been able to help to be able to read the contestants better.

CM: You're not supposed to play favorites, but has any contestant grown on you because maybe you see some similarities?

Erica: Well, I always joke. I love all my children is what I say. But the thing is, the casting team did an amazing job because so many people, everyone of these people have something that someone can connect to. And for me personally, everyone on my team had a mental or emotional problem or something that I connected to like Terry who went through a divorce and put on a lot of weight on after her divorce. Or Christie's a new mom and putting herself last or Jim is the person who constantly gives to his family, and never thinks of himself. Dom is the person who comes from a home where people didn't show him love and the only love he had was food. So every single one of them I could relate to them. So it's hard for me to pick a favorite because every episode was different. Like it was ebbs and flows with all of them. One week I connected really well with one of them and the other week it'd be someone else. So it's hard to kind of say who's my favorite cause I think of all of them as my children.

CM: And did you watch the show before you were on it? Were you familiar with it?

Erica: I was familiar with it. I've never watched the season through and through. If anything, I caught a couple episodes here and there. I knew the premise of it. I knew what it was about, but I was never that hardcore fan of it.

CM: It's hard watching these people struggle.

Erica: I like to see the feedback that people are giving and a lot of people are saying, you know, it's really great to see the contestants connect more than ever. Or, you know, some people go, 'man Erica.' It's almost a joke on how many times I'll cry for episodes. I constantly try to explain that we live in 'The Biggest Loser" bubble and we are stripped away from our normal lives and our family and our routine. And when you are stripped away from that stuff and you are facing hard truth about your health and your wellness and your emotional mental state, you can't help but to be super empathetic or super emotionally invested. I called my fiance and I said, 'I am not coming back home the same woman that I was when I left because it has changed me for the better.' And I will be forever thankful for that. But it is very, very hard. And you never know what to expect until you're actually there living it.

CM: I wouldn't be able to do that.

Erica: It's tough. I mean, you have to be mentally and emotionally ready physically. You know, that's one thing, but your mind is going to want to stop before your body does, you know? And when you're stripped away from everything, it's even harder.

CM: What do we not see on air?

Erica: Oh, that's hard because honestly, I think you see so much. If anything, you just don't see the more quality one on one time that we have with them. We don't film every day so every five or six days a week. So we have those days off where the cameras aren't there and the days that the cameras weren't there were some of my favorite bonding times with them because we had no timelines. We had nothing on the agenda other than to work out and get to know each other. In the evening for Halloween, one of my favorite moments was I went over to their house in the evening and we rented Hocus Pocus and I bought them all pumpkin and pumpkin carving kit and I brought over pumpkin spice coffee. And we all just had pumpkin spice coffee and carved pumpkins and watch Hocus Pocus as one big group. That's one of my favorite memories from campus, but just a lot of the off air things that you don't see. We really became so close to the point where all these people are coming to my wedding in five weeks. Like that's how close these people are to me. And I even bought red Jimmy Choo shoes for my wedding dress for team red. I'm team red for life. I love these people. We're all connected. So that's a lot of things that you don't see off camera.

CM: How's the experience watching it?

Erica: Watching it is emotional. I didn't think I would be emotional watching it because I lived it. At first it was hard for me to watch myself. I've been on TV and in magazines before, but this is my's focused a lot about me and my team. So it was kinda hard for me to watch at first. But now I love it because I get to see a lot of the things that, we weren't involved in. We weren't involved so much with the group therapy sessions with Bob or all the commentary that they have after their workouts, which cracked me up because I love to hear what they say about me and Steve in our workouts. But you know, we love it. I have a studio here in Dayton, Ohio and every week all my clients get together and watch it or, every Wednesday, the day after it airs, all the kids in my house get together and watch it as a family and cook dinner. So it's become a great tradition and something that has been really fun for everyone to watch.

CM: What does your son think about this whole thing?

Erica: Connor. I think he's really used to it. A lot of people ask that question like, what does he think of you being on TV and magazines? And for him for so long, this has just been life. I got divorced when he was around three and a half, four and I started my Instagram account around that time. So since he can remember, mommy's been kind of getting recognized and mommy's been in TV and on magazines. I just think this is normal for him. So it's funny he comes home because he stays on his dad's house on Tuesday nights when the show comes out. So he watches it with his dad Tuesday and then watches it with me and my step kids on Wednesday. We all watch it together. He gets in the car when I pick him up from school and goes, 'red team really need to win, mom. What were you doing?' That means so much him giving me feedback about it and I'm just like, 'you're not. Why are you talking to me like this? You're nine years old. You weren't there. You don't get.' But he loves it and he knows everyone and he got to fly out to see the season finale tape. So it was a really cool experience for him to be able to see everything that mommy's done all racked up.

CM: When you're working with these contestants, do you ever in your mind try to figure out who's gonna make it to the end?

Erica: I love all my children, but at the end of the day, everyone wants to win and you have to, you have to almost analyze your contestants because you want to see what their strengths are, right? What are their strengths and what are the weaknesses? So week to week it would change. Some weeks I was like, 'Oh, okay, Dom is struggling a little bit emotionally. So I really, really need to help him here versus Jim who is struggling with the food aspect so how can I get him to be better with food to keep him going. So every week it was like I had to play up on their strengths but the moment we got into the elimination room Jim was notorious on my team for always whispering in my ear , 'if this person goes next, they're going to get eliminated. Watch.' He would strategically always do that in their head because we had no idea. We didn't know who was going to get called what rhyme or reason they weren't getting called up for to weigh in. But everyone was playing that game in their head constantly. Everyone was playing the numbers game and the percentage game in our head because that's the end of the day it was a competition for us.

CM: Now, do the producers ever push you to push a certain contestant a little further?

Erica: No that's what I loved is they, the producers, really just let us do what we know what to do best. Last week, if you watched the episode, you know, Catarina went home and I'm saying I'm actually okay with her going home as much as it sucks to lose a teammate, but because I can send her off knowing that she's becoming a whole new, better version of herself and she's becoming a whole new woman. .This weight, this competition, yes, it's a competition to lose weight and you can get the end prize, but it's more about how they think and feel about themselves or changing their habits and their mindset or their emotional connection to food. And for me, I was really thankful that the production team just let me go with that.

CM: As a Mexican-American, do you still enjoy some Mexican food or do you have to stay on a strict strict diet?

Erica: Oh, that's tough. It's not even really Mexican food, but I have to make taco bowls like at least three times a week. Pico de gallo was on top of everything. Salsa is on every salad, like, I can't eat my favorite tamales and enchiladas that my grandmother makes all the time, or homemade tortillas or flautas or whatever. But I can modify where I can, but it's definitely a vice. I have my bridal shower this weekend and Mexican food is what we're having catered. So I'm looking forward to that.

CM: How do you see the issues of being overweight in the Mexican-American community?

Erica: It's hard. When I first started losing weight, my family had a hard time with it. My grandmother is the one where I say she's definitely the heart. She makes all this food from scratch and would feed us until she's blue in the face. My mother is kind of that way, but not as aggressive as my grandmother. You know, your abuelas are always worse. They just constantly wanna feed you. But it was really hard for them to accept that I'm changing the way I eat. My parents almost took offense to it, or my grandmother would take offense to it when I would say, 'Oh, I can only have half of this.' Or 'Oh, I brought my own food meal.' Me bringing my own food was like, 'what are you doing? And you're so offensive. Why do you think this is bad?' But over time, I think just me sticking to my guns and learning how to portion control because I come from a family where we just eat, drink, eat some more. That's just what we've always done. When I turned 21, it was Mexican food and they rented a margarita machine for me. That's how we show love. I grew up with my grandmother carrying homemade tamales on her carry on from the airport. That was her carry on, homemade tamales. It never gets easier. I just get stronger with dealing with the temptation. I will never not eat a tamale or Mexican rice or tostadas or flautus in my entire life, I just have to pick and choose. So if I'm craving it, I will go ahead and make a healthier version of it, or I'll save it for my surplus meal, which I have once a month or once a week. And that's when I enjoy whatever I want to enjoy and just move on. And that's it.

CM: Yeah, that's a tough one. Congratulations on your success and I hope we'll see you on another season of "The Biggest Loser."


Erica: Wonderful. Thank you. I appreciate that.
Erica: Wonderful. Thank you. I appreciate that.

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