Erica Lugo, a former trainer on The Biggest Loser, embarked on a remarkable journey in 2022, facing both mental health challenges and an unexpected battle with perimenopause.
As Erica prepared for her second bodybuilding competition in September 2022, she sensed that something was amiss.
During posing practice, an overwhelming sense of unease washed over her. "I was shaking and felt physically ill," she recalled to People.
Her husband, Danny McGeady, recognizing her distress, encouraged her to seek medical attention.
Upon consulting with her doctor, Erica received an anxiety diagnosis and was prescribed Zoloft. However, the medication triggered alarming side effects.Within days, she experienced suicidal ideation, a deeply troubling emotional state. Fearing for her well-being, Erica's husband, friends, and family rallied to support her.
Despite transitioning to an alternative medication, Lugo continued to grapple with severe emotional swings. She knew there was more to her suffering than anxiety and depression, as she had never encountered mental health issues before. Her symptoms escalated, affecting her ability to sleep, eat, and function normally.
“My mood had changed so drastically,” she told the outlet. “Things were heavy, everything was dark, the sun was shining, but it wasn't. I wasn't sleeping. I was having three periods a month and spotting in between. I was sweating the bed seven days before my period. I was gaining weight.”
Erica’s lowest point came around her December 2022 birthday when she no longer felt safe by herself. She sought comfort in the presence of loved ones, fearing the consequences of solitude. In a heart-wrenching moment, she confessed to her husband that she felt so erratic that she could contemplate self-harm.
She said: “One night with Danny I was like, ‘I feel really erratic right now, like I could go jump off a bridge. I don't want to, but I feel like I could.’ ”
Desperate for solutions, her doctor suggested additional medications to counteract the side effects of her current treatment.
Eventually, a therapist helped her recognize that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), exacerbated by Zoloft, was a significant factor in her distress. However, she remained convinced that hormonal imbalances played a crucial role in her mental health crisis.
Her suspicions led her to take a Dutch test, a home-based hormone assessment, due to her role as the owner of a functional health coaching company, T4E. The results revealed a stark reality: her progesterone levels were non-existent, and her testosterone levels were negligible.
At just 36 years old, Erica confronted the likelihood of perimenopause, despite this phase typically occurring between the ages of 40 and 58.
Seeking validation of her diagnosis, Erica consulted her obstetrician-gynecologist, detailing her symptoms, which included mood swings, night sweats, weight gain, and erratic menstrual cycles. To her dismay, her doctor dismissed the possibility of perimenopause, citing her age as the primary reason.
Frustrated by the lack of validation, Erica persisted in her pursuit of answers. She secured a Dutch test through a nurse practitioner associated with her health coaching company. The results affirmed her suspicions—she was indeed in perimenopause.
With her diagnosis confirmed, Erica began hormone replacement therapy, a treatment she continues to this day. Gradually, she started to experience improvement in her mental health and overall well-being.
By April 2023, her condition had significantly improved. She found a healthcare provider who genuinely listened to her concerns and worked collaboratively to address her needs. Complementing her hormone therapy, Erica incorporates natural supplementation suggested by her health coach and closely monitors her female sex hormones.
Nevertheless, one issue remained unresolved: weight gain. Erica, who had undergone a remarkable transformation, shedding 160 pounds before her role as a trainer on The Biggest Loser, found that her hormonal changes required a shift in her approach to fitness.
She realized that her previous high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routines and rigorous muscle-building workouts were no longer effective. To accommodate her changing hormonal profile, she incorporated more low-impact, steady-state cardio exercises, such as walking and swimming. These activities facilitate fat burning without inducing cortisol spikes. She continues to engage in weightlifting sessions 3 to 4 times a week to maintain muscle tone.
Reflecting on her journey, Erica acknowledges her body's evolving needs and is content with her current weight, which has increased by 15 to 20 pounds since her time on The Biggest Loser. “I don't want to be stuck in that box anymore because that's not me anymore,” she said. “I know now that the older we get, the more we have to pay attention to our bodies and work with them, versus against them.”