As trainer on The Biggest Loser, Erica Lugo was encouraging contestants to lose weight through rigorous exercise and dieting. During that time though, she was battling her own body image issues, she shared in a recent Instagram post.
Prior to joining the reboot of The Biggest Loser in 2020, Lugo lost a significant amount of weight and likened her new role on the series to reliving her own weightloss journey. (Her Instagram bio states that she is currently down 150 pounds.) However, when the 34-year-old was recently told by a follower in her comments section that she was “too big,” she took the time to share the side of her story that the public has not yet been privy to.
“Years ago when you saw me on TV, I was sick,” she shared. “I was mentally and emotionally miserable. Physically my body was going down the wrong path even though it was celebrated for being ‘small.’ I did everything in my power to remain ‘tiny.’”
For Lugo, that meant restricting food, as well as returning to thoughts of binging and purging — dangerous behavior she engaged in “years” earlier.
“I would sit in the bathroom while filming and cry,” the trainer continued. “Cry for hours bc the eating disorder thoughts kept telling me ‘just purge, it’ll help keep you thin.’”
In the comments, she added that she chose to open up about her eating disorder because “sickness thrives in secrets.”
“Being open and honest about ED has been a total part of the healing process,” Lugo explained. “Every year that goes by without a purge ordeal I celebrate that strength and win. Thoughts never go away, we just get better at dealing with them. It’s a scary place I never wish on anyone.”
Marissa Meshulam, registered dietitian, nutritionist and founder of MPM Nutrition, tells Yahoo Life that Lugo’s story is “sadly not all that uncommon.”
“It speaks to the fact that despite what diet culture tells us, you cannot see health,” Meshulam shares. “She was on TV being idolized for her figure, meanwhile struggling in silence to keep it up. This goes to show that our societal standards are not typically achievable for most of us. If it takes unhealthy behaviors (like restriction and purging) to keep up an appearance, that appearance is not healthy in the first place.”
Adds Dr. Nicole Avena, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and author of Why Diets Fail, “This shows us that no one is immune to developing an eating disorder, and hopefully her recovery journey will encourage others who are struggling to seek out help. It also underscores the fact that just because someone ‘looks’ healthy, doesn't mean that they are.”
While Lugo’s battle with an eating disorder began long before she joined The Biggest Loser last year, other contestants have spoken out about how they felt that the show itself encouraged behaviors that could potentially trigger an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. Season 3 finalist Kai Hibbard said she developed an eating disorder during her time on the show, during which she lost 118 pounds in just 12 weeks.
"I'd put on a sports bra, a tank top, a T-shirt and a sweatshirt and then my spandex shorts, pants, sweatpants, a baseball cap and just zip it all up," Hibbard recalled to ABC News in 2010. "I'd go to the gym, which had no air conditioner, and work out for two hours or as long as I could stand it without drinking water."
Host Ajay Rochester also expressed that she developed an eating disorder during her time on the Australian version of the show, writing on her blog in 2015 that by the time she left the show, she had an eating disorder she had to “battle every single day.”
Meshulum explains that one issue with shows like The Biggest Loser, which show dramatic body transformations in a short period of time, is that they only focus on one measurement of health: how much someone weighs.
“This reinforces the societal idea that losing weight equates to health, when the truth is changing your behaviors (eating more vegetables, moving your body, managing stress, etc.) dictates health, regardless of what the scale says,” she explains. “Our lives are not black and white and finding a way to balance healthy behaviors with the foods you enjoy is key to sustainability and long term success.”
Adds Avena, “I think that weighing people and judging progress or success by a number on the scale is inaccurate and unrealistic. I'd rather see them assess blood work, blood pressure, depression, etc. and other factors linked to health and longevity. Just because someone is living in a bigger body doesn't always mean that they are less healthy than someone living in a smaller body.”
As for Lugo, she recently shared that her own journey to get her body in a healthy place took “years,” and was full of many challenges along the way.
“6+ years! (This stuff TAKES TIME),” she wrote in a recent Instagram post, which included a side by side image of her “before” and “after” body. “My body has gone through many ups and downs. Many shapes. Many sizes. Many set backs and spring forwards. So many weeks where I was ‘stuck.’ But I persisted. I kept going. Not glamorous. Not pretty. Not always fun. But worth it. If you’re reading this and feel stuck, this is your sign. Keep going.”
More From Yahoo Life:
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.