Biggest Loser alum Olivia Ward has been an inspiration to many after not only walking away with the top prize from the weight loss show over two years ago, but more importantly, has now kept in amazing shape since then and transformed her life completely.
But in an honest and encouraging chat with OKMagazine.com, the 37-year-old SoulCycle fitness trainer and co-founder of MyFitspiration.com tells us how having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) played a role in her weight gain, infertility struggle and the hope she now has in becoming a mom one way or the other.
Her sister Hannah Curlee, and runner up on the show, adds that the path to losing weight is not a one size fits all method and what works for one person may not work for another depending on your genetic makeup or medical issues.
PCOS is one of the most common hormonal conditions and it can make it difficult for sufferers to lose the weight, but once they do, it can drastically improve the symptoms.
"PCOS affects up to 20% of women," she said. "70% of which don't even know they have it. Online communities like pcosdiva.com can often be like a lifeline and brings women with PCOS from all around the world together to support, encourage and provide inspiration to help one another in our healing journeys."
Amy also offers meal plans and one-on-one support to show women ways to reduce symptoms, increase energy and fertility chances. She feels strongly that suffers of PCOS should follow a gluten-free diet and reduce or even eliminate their dairy consumption.
Former CNN health news anchor Kat Carney founded Soulcysters.com in 1999 after losing 90lbs and getting a phenomenal response from visitors to her website theweighwewere.com who wanted to know more about how she got a handle on her PCOS.
"The site is dedicated just to them and goes just beyond weight but includes the myriad of issues that comes with the condition," Kat told OKMagazine.com.
"I lost 90lbs in 14 months by just cutting out sugar and all refined carbohydrates and dairy that contain bovine growth hormones. PCOS can make women feel like their bodies have betrayed them but there is hope."
OK!: How has being diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome affected your life and what role did it play in your weight gain?
Olivia Ward: The thing about PCOS is yes it very, very much affects weight loss and weight gain. And that was the first thing that the doctor said. When I was formally diagnosed after I had all the blood work, and the ultra sound and they knew for sure I had it, the first thing out of the doctor’s mouth was that this is going to be really, really hard, nearly impossible for you to lose weight.
Does it make it more difficult? Absolutely, because my body and your body and [sister] Hannah’s body… our metabolism doesn’t function like a normal, average woman that doesn’t have these issues. So there are steps that we have to take that are a little different. We have to stick to low glycemic index carbohydrates, we have to really make sure we pump our diet full of lean protein and veggies, that's where we have to get the bulk out of our nutrition.
OK!: But there is hope and you can lose the weight despite the condition?
OW: I will say though, the good thing about PCOS is even though it throws everything out of wack, and you do continue to gain weight in a pretty regimented way, with the upswing of the weight. It is the same way with the down swing. Once our bodies figured out what was going on, it was pretty regimented in the way it started coming off in pretty equal increments, which I always think is very, very encouraging.
So as long as you’re really sticking to the low glycemic index, almost like a diabetic diet, and really upping your exercise obviously. Yes we do have to work a little bit harder, but it’s definitely not impossible.
OK!: How has it affected you Hannah?
Hannah Curlee: It made me really depressed because I thought well here is another card stacked on this mountain why I can’t lose the weight. And a lot of other things come with PCOS, a lot of other symptoms that are awful. More belly fat, more hips and thigh fat, but when I learned that I had control that was it.
Also the worst thing is, is that they told us we were probably going to be infertile, and we weren’t going to be able to have children because of our weight and that was the scariest part of the whole thing.
When we went on the show, and Jillian Michaels found out that we had it she was like, oh no, this is awful. And I was like, Jillian is already dooming us, we’re going home in a week, this is horrible. But Olivia and I took a step back and just said, ok, so this sucks, and we’re going to have to work harder than everyone else, but we have the time to do it, we have a real chance to show people that we can beat this, and we just made a commitment to each other. We just said, we have to do this for our future, for our future kids, for everything and we just went for it.
And it was slow at first, we didn’t lose the huge numbers. When it first started it was enough to keep us there. And then our bodies literally woke up, it just woke up and started working. And so the key is, even if you have a week where you lose half a pound, or if you lose nothing, or if you gain 2lbs, that’s just your specific body, trying to regulate itself, and you have to know that there is going to be an 8lb month down the road. You just cannot stop. The problem with us is that we always stopped because we got so frustrated. Once we really kept going it worked.
The positivity part too and the mind part of this whole thing, I never realized you lose weight in your mind first, especially women, because our stress hormones go up and down. And that works with the PCOS. So every time I was at a Weight Watcher meeting, I would punch a hole in the wall, which I’ve done before unfortunately, because I had lost a quarter of a pound and had a total meltdown in front of all these other women. I was never giving myself the proper chance. So you just cannot stop and you have to keep going. Once we really kept going, our bodies finally caught up and let me tell you we went all the way. It was fantastic.
OW: And the great thing about PCOS is that once you do start losing the weight, and your body really starts to see the change, so many of your symptoms begin to diminish. Like I’m going to be honest, I started to get random hairs on my face, and I was like where is all this coming from, excess belly fat, irregular menstrual cycle and those things have all gone away since I lost the weight and maintained it and that to me is what is so great because it wasn't fun dealing with all those weird symptoms.
I think there really is a ray of hope for women and that the key to overcoming PCOS really does start with health, wellness and weight loss and if you can just grab onto that and literally push yourself to go the extra mile, those symptoms will subside and a lot of it will go away forever.
Hannah and I are just really real in who we are and we believe in this so strongly because that’s the problem with weight loss in this country, there is no hope for people and Hannah and I really want to communicate that to everyone we come into contact with. We didn’t do anything special, we are not special people, we are just average every day women. We were just able to get our hands on the right knowledge, the right tools. But it is out there for every single person. And if you really want this you can have it. It’s just there for the taking.
OW: Jillian used to tell us this all the time, and this was the biggest comfort to me ever, and this is going to sound so funny but, Hannah and I would always be so frustrated, there are other girls who would get up on the scale and lose like 11lb and Hannah and I would work way harder than everyone else and I would lose like 3lbs and Hannah would lose like 4lbs. And granted, that sounds amazing in real life, but on The Biggest Loser, you’re like, 3lbs is going to send me home.
But Jillian was always like, take a look at the weight loss over the month, because every woman fluctuates because we’re women, and with PCOS especially our system is so unstable, but she was like, if you look at the weight loss of the women over the month, you will all be within two pounds of one another. So look at the overview of the month, two month or even three month span. It’s so much more encouraging that way.
OK!: Olivia, you’ve spoken about your infertility struggle, are you and your husband still trying to start a family?
Olivia: I definitely still want a family very much. I tried to really, for the first year, year and a half, really give my body a break, because I’d been through such a massive change and for me I just wanted to make sure 100% that I could keep this off and really understand my body and give my body a chance to catch up with what I did to it. So I’m just now really starting to explore the timing of when I’m going to have kids and it’s something my husband and I are actively working on. We’re also looking into adoption actively as well. So hopefully, within the next year or two, we will hopefully have a biological baby and an adopted baby.
I just really wanted to make sure that I didn’t go through this massive transformation, so fast, before I was really able to understand it and able to learn how to maintain it, and then get pregnant and then gain the weight back and then try to get the pregnancy weight off with a baby. Even though I know my clock is ticking extremely loud, I’m not a spring chicken any more, but I do feel like now, I’m in such a healthier state mentally and physically, to be the best mom that I can be.
Are you inspired by Olivia and Hannah's story? Share your thoughts below or tweet us @OKMagazine! And you can follow me @daclifestyle