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Erica Lugo was sitting on the couch in late 2014, eating yet another sugary snack, when her toddler, Connor, asked her to come play with him. Lugo, who at age 27 weighed 322 pounds, found it tiring just to move around—so she told her son she couldn’t. And that was the moment she realized something had to change. “My heart sank,” Lugo recalls. “The fact that I couldn’t fulfill a simple need like bonding with my son took a toll on me. I decided then and there to make this change for him.”
It wasn’t her first attempt at weight loss, but this time Lugo decided to start with simple lifestyle changes like moving more and eating smaller portion sizes. She began by walking on the treadmill at the gym. “I would challenge myself to do a brisk walk for the length of one song,” she says. “Then as I got better, I started doing interval training.”
The Ohio native was able to drop an incredible 122 pounds in 13 months and brought her total weight loss to 150 pounds in just two years. But her road to success came with some speed bumps. In the summer of 2015, Lugo started feeling sick. “I had extreme fatigue, low-grade fevers, and brain fog, and I would wake up feeling like I was playing Russian roulette with how I would get through the day,” she says. After multiple tests, Lugo was finally diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders, chronic Epstein-Barr virus and Addison’s disease, a disorder in which your adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones. Her hectic schedule caused her immune system to crash and her adrenal glands to malfunction.
The symptoms started affecting her fitness as well. Her workouts and diet were becoming less effective. “I would notice I couldn’t lift what I normally could. My endurance plummeted, and, for the most part, eating anything made me feel sick and bloated,” she says.
But Lugo didn’t let her diagnosis get in the way of her lifestyle. She switched to a mostly whole-food diet and made it a point to reevaluate how much her body could handle, cutting her usual hour-long-plus routines in half.
She currently works out five days a week for about 45 minutes a day, with a mix of about 20 minutes of cardio on four of those days and the rest of her time doing lifts that focus on the legs, shoulders, back, and arms. She makes sure she takes breaks and rests between exercises. “I like to sweat—it makes me feel like I am really working, so I mostly do supersets and body-weight-based cardio for 30 to 45 seconds in between lifts,” Lugo says. Her shoulders are what she looks forward to training the most. “Something about a strong shoulder on a female is so powerful to me,” she says. “My favorite exercise is the old-school shoulder press. Loading up that bar and just going for it is the best feeling.”
Like many women on a journey to improve their health, Lugo started posting her progress on her social media accounts and got feedback from others who were impressed by her results. She began uploading videos of her workouts and started to get more notice in her local community. Lugo took it as a sign that fitness might be a new career path, and she decided to pursue a personal-training certificate. She got it, and last year, she opened her own fitness studio in Centerville, OH. Her favorite aspect of her job? “Being able to root someone on in person and get a front- row seat to their transformation. I love seeing their change, not just their physical but overall, becoming happier, more confident, trying things they’ve never done, exploring their boundaries and walking taller.”
Lugo’s advice to her clients and others starting out on their fitness odyssey is to keep it simple. “Stop overthinking the process and start with the basics—move more, eat less, organically let your journey happen, and naturally learn as you go.”