How Olivia Ward Conquered PCOS and Got Pregnant
May 22, 2015
OLIVIA WARD never met a challenge she couldn't conquer. After shedding 129 pounds, she won NBC's The Biggest Loser in 2011 and became a SoulCycle instructor. Then she overcame a 13-year struggle with PCOS to achieve one of her greatest goals: getting pregnant. Now expecting her first child (a boy!) this summer, OLIVIA opens up about her journey…
I was diagnosed with PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, 14 years ago, when I was 25. And at the time, nobody was talking about about it. My doctor said, "You have cysts on your ovaries" and I left thinking I had cancer. I was terrified. I didn't understand what it was so I immediately started doing research on my own.
Everyone's symptoms differ — that's why PCOS is a syndrome and not a disease. For me, it was very much weight-driven and linked to how overweight I was. I was not insulin resistant yet but I was on the cusp of being type 2 diabetic. That definitely plays into the metabolic system which impacts the female system and affects fertility. So for me, my eggs would get 3/4 the way through my cycle and then drop so there was no chance for me to get pregnant. My doctor told me that the only way I could conceive was to get to a healthier weight.
Over the years I struggled with lots of ways to lose weight and then most people know I went on The Biggest Loser Season 11 and my PCOS was so much a part of my story. I knew that if I wanted to reverse or reduce any part of my diagnosis, I would have to lose weight and that was a huge factor in my decision to get serious about it.
Through The Biggest Loser I lost 129 pounds — and the insulin resistance went away and my blood pressure and blood sugar went back to normal. But it took about a year for my cycle to stabilize. It was a major shock for my body to be that heavy but also a major shock to lose all that weight. The good thing is, when I left the show, I was very regimented with my SoulCycle and what I was eating and the routine allowed my body to settle into a more relaxed and balance state. I was riding four to five times a week, and making my new healthy lifestyle a priority so I was not only able to maintain what I lost but also to allow my body regulate itself. It took about a year but eventually my cycle shifted from 60 days to about 28 to 31.
All these things I had worked so hard for started to come into place and after I had been teaching at SoulCycle for two years, I actually got pregnant by accident. That was the first time I got pregnant, which was such a surprise to me. I always thought I would need Clomid or another medication but I got pregnant on my own. I ended up having a miscarriage at 10 weeks. Obviously I was devastated but I was so encouraged by the fact that my body was able to get pregnant on its own.
After that I decided to take time to regroup — and really plan and try to conceive in a more strategic way. I got the Glow app, which is amazing and I highly it recommend to anyone who wants to get pregnant. We started trying in August and I got pregnant the old fashioned way last November, just by taking my temperature and counting days.
Now I am six and a half months along! I am due in August and I feel really good! I am still teaching my same schedule and I have had some awesome instructors in training riding the bike for me in some classes.
It's a boy — and we are really excited! He is healthy and right on target to be average weight and tall! I am 5-foot-10 and my husband is 6-foot-2 so I am hoping to push out a tall, slim baby! We have a name picked out but we are keeping it under wraps until he's born.
I have an amazing doctor and so far I have had no complications — I just took my glucose test, which my doctor said was a major hurdle. He said, "This is the one thing that could be an issue," but it came back normal and that was such a relief.
Throughout my pregnancy I have been able to walk, swim, ride and continue to eat the way that works best for my body, which is keeping simple carbohydrates to a minimum. Lots of protein and vegetables and fruit 90 percent of the time and then of course leaving some leeway for treats.
I was fortunate enough not to have had much morning sickness in the beginning. I did notice sometimes that if my stomach got too empty, I might feel a little nauseous. So I am sticking to my typical 1800 to 1900 calories per day. There were a few days in my second trimester where I was so hungry and I would have more, but I never go below.
I definitely let myself eat more if I'm hungry but I limit it to healthy choices that fill me up and make me feel good — like a tablespoon of all-natural peanut butter and an apple or some grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes and carrots. I listen to my body, which now happens to be rented out by someone else.
It's funny, but my early cravings were super-healthy. I could not get enough kale and asparagus and green veggies. Those foods are high in iron, which tends to get deficient in pregnancy so I think that could be why. I had never been a big red meat eater but since I've been pregnant I have wanted a hamburger or a steak once a week. When I am not pregnant I crave frozen yogurt with Reese's peanut butter cups on top, but not now! Now that I'm in the third trimester, I feel like my appetite has returned to normal.
My changing body was hard for me to accept at first. I still have to constantly talk myself down. It's hard not to get anxious when so much of what I have done has been to try to keep the scale down and my weight in check, and now I see it go up consistently each week. I have gained 24 pounds so far and I am hoping to stay within a 30 to 40 pound weight-gain range.
Bob Harper — whom I met on The Biggest Loser and has become a great friend — gave me some great advice. He said, "Just remember at the end of the day, when you are ready to lose the weight after pregnancy, you know what to do on the other side. Have peace in that." And I remember thinking, "Yes! I know I will be back and I know how to eat and I will be accountable." So anytime I feel that anxiety creeping in, I always go back to that wisdom. I am growing a human now and I know what my job is afterward. That's given me immense peace.
What has been the most helpful is all the pregnant women at SoulCycle — they have kept me so motivated. I have always had a lot of women who are expecting riding in my classes, and that has been so inspiring. I'm so fortunate to work at a company where you are reminded every day to stay healthy, where we encourage people to make healthy choices.
I wanted to be pregnant for so long and throughout my PCOS struggle, SoulCycle kept me encouraged and motivated. Watching all those women share their major fertility struggles and ride through the entire nine months — showing that it is safe. Obviously you have to listen to your body and to your doctor, but being at SoulCycle has kept me in an inspiring place, where I feel like I don't have to walk on egg shells even though I am expecting.
I am always amazed by the mind-body connection that happens in that room — it's tangible in many stages in your life. It's like you get to be reborn every time you're in the room. You can shut out the world and press the restart button. There is constantly a new opportunity to have a fresh start every day.
I have many girls in class who come up to me to ask about PCOS and I have so many women in my classes who are trying to get pregnant. I am so happy to shed light on PCOS in reference to SoulCycle, because I feel like cardio is an important way to regulate PCOS, but it's not always discussed.
I am so grateful not only to work in a place I love, but that my job is on a bike and that gets to be a part of my recovery. My riders are already talking about how much fun it will be when I get back from maternity leave!
Finally, I can't say enough about how important Bob Harper has been on my journey. He has become one of my best friends and if it was not for my experience with The Biggest Loser and specifically what he has invested in me, I would not have had this chance to get pregnant. Hands down, The Biggest Loser gave me my second chance and SoulCycle saved my life.
Check out Olivia's site myfitspiration.com and catch classes with her at Soul East 63rd Street, Soul East 83rd Street, Soul NoHo and Soul Rye Brook! Questions or comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org!