"Biggest Winner" winner Olivia Ward before and after dramatic weight loss
(CBS) Opera singer Olivia Ward has something new to yodel about. The slimmed-down 35-year-old was named winner of season 11 of "The Biggest Loser," edging out her sister to claim victory after shedding 129 pounds in eight months.
Ward , who stands 5 feet, 9 inches, tipped the scales at 261 pounds when the competition started. On Tuesday night, she weighed in at 132 pounds. Upon winning, she thrust her hands overhead as confetti swirled.
"For such a long time, I didn't even let myself imagine winning," Ward told People magazine. "I will say the last few weeks I was really pushing towards the finish line and I thought about that confetti!"
Ward's weight trouble was the result of a poor diet and no exercise, according to "The Biggest Loser" website. She was overweight in junior high school but didn't really pack on the pounds until reaching college, when she decided to focus on music. She "completely gave up" when she was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome - a weight-related hormonal disorder that can make it hard to become pregnant.
"I was just in a funk," she told OK! magazine. "I thought, 'I'm never going to have kids because no one is going to want to marry me.' It was just a vat of self-pity."
But that diagnosis proved to be the biggest motivation for Ward to go on the show. Now she's $250,000 richer, and her dramatic weight loss means she's also richer in terms of health. Weight loss typically brings lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels and less stress on joints.
But losing weight is one thing. Will Ward be able to keep it off?
Fat chance, experts say.
"The vast majority of people who lose lots of weight regain it," Dr. Rebecca Puhl, director of research at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, told CBS News. In part, she says, that's because the show creates an artificial environment - "no job, personal trainers, people feeding you" - that disappears once the competition ends.
And then there's the matter of metabolism. As people lose weight, their metabolic rate drops, which makes weight gain likely once a more normal diet is resumed, according to the website of the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Ward's best bet for staying slim may be to stick with the same approach that helped her lose weight in the first place - good social support, along with diet and exercise. According to the Stanford University Medicine website, a study by the National Weight Control Registry found that nearly all of 784 of the study participants who had maintained a significant weight loss for a full year used diet and exercise.
But for Ward, it may be too soon to think about what lies ahead.
"A lot of people told me to visualize that confetti," she told People. "Man, I have to tell you, it was not even anywhere as good in my mind as it was tonight. It was just fantastic."