Balance is the magic word for Canadian-born actress Andrea Lewis, who you may recognize from her roles in Degrassi: The Next Generation or Cadet Kelly. Lewis, a true millennial icon, has added to her star power as a producer and writer behind the camera, and she's found her voice as an advocate for many issues, including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Lewis is an open book to her followers about her passions and experience with PCOS, which she's discussed at length with her followers to provide transparency but empower those on similar journies. She joins a new wave of influencers who have chosen to harness social media to bring awareness to taboo topics like mental and reproductive health to break the stigma surrounding them. Ahead, we talk to Lewis about navigating her diagnosis, how it's impacted her career, and her advice for people living with PCOS.
When did you discover you had PCOS?
I first discovered I had it in 2011 when I couldn't tell what was going on with my body. "Blah" was the perfect word to describe how I felt. Looking back on my mental state at the time, I had body dysmorphia because I thought I was overweight. I can now look at pictures from that time, and I know I wasn't. Around the age of 21, I hadn't gotten my period for about one year. I didn't think anything of it because we didn't openly discuss period health like it is now.
This was concerning because I was in an intimate relationship at that time. I went to my doctor, and he gave me birth control, ensuring that it would regulate my period. Of course, it didn't. A few months later, I returned to the doctor, who suggested I see a specialist. After a few ultrasounds, cysts were found on my ovaries. I had the majority of the textbook symptoms for PCOS.
When I researched PCOS with my boyfriend, the information I found was overwhelming to digest. I read that it would be difficult to get pregnant—if at all. I got a lot of mixed messaging from professionals, and it was a lot of information to process.
What has your journey been like living with PCOS?
It's been a rollercoaster ride and a journey in every way. It feels like a really niche communities for the women who have it. It also feels like an ever-evolving subject for medical staff who are still discovering all the symptoms and nuances of it.
I spent a lot of time working out hard and getting upset when I saw no results. I've also gone through seasons of feeling very depressed and exhausted. These things became part of my existence, and it was hard to explain because this disorder isn't externally visible. I never felt like I was making progress, and I would get so frustrated with myself, so I felt the need to quickly tell new friends or relationship partners so they wouldn't think I'm weird.
In the past four years, I've begun to feel like I finally have a handle on my PCOS. I've spent extensive time researching, understanding, and developing the patience to manage my condition.
How has living with PCOS impacted your life and career?
Actresses are typically petite in size, and that continues to be an ongoing dilemma in Hollywood. Having a disorder like PCOS was frustrating because it felt like I could not lose weight compared to other people. I have friends who can try detoxes or do intense workout sessions for a role, and I can run for a month and be inflamed. Getting in shape for a role looks different for you than your peers, which changes how you approach the entertainment process.
I have to treat myself like an artist instead of a machine. Balance is the only thing that works with my body, which means doing healthy walks, eating a balanced meal, and doing meditation. I had to reprogram myself around what preparation looks like for me. Having PCOS is interesting because it forces you to pay attention to your body and acknowledge stress. I've been forced to relearn my body, especially when it comes to reproductive health, but it's been very insightful.
What are some surprising things you've learned from having PCOS?
For me, it's been surprising that it's easier to manage my weight with a slow workout instead of a high-intensity one. I also try to avoid things that spike my blood sugar, so I try to stick to decaf even though I love drinking coffee. I've also learned that periods can be a good indicator of health. That's a stark contrast from growing up, where many of us were taught that periods were only an indicator of pregnancy.
How does living with PCOS differ for Black women?
When I first started my journey with PCOS I rarely saw women of color talking about it. Depending on your culture, food can also be a real nuisance. Growing up, the idea of me falling asleep after a meal was typical—or the "itis"—instead of someone considering that my blood sugar was spiking. The differences show up in the understanding that different cultures impact our body standards. If my body fluctuates, I can love it either way, and the concept of a body is different for Black people in different communities. Still, I think there's room for an open discussion for women in our community.
What personal advice would you give to someone who is also experiencing PCOS?
Try not to overthink the future. It was daunting to hear as a young woman that I would either have struggles conceiving or not be able to at all. I would also encourage someone to view it as a way to get to know their dietary and reproductive health profoundly, and it will teach different ways to manage your body naturally.
What are some misconceptions you've had to debunk when people find out you have PCOS?
That it's an obesity disorder, and you have to be obese to get it. You can be any size and have PCOS. It's a big math equation outside of just going to work out or eat better.
Your social media features a lot of PCOS education. How has this changed your relationship with your followers?
I wasn't necessarily seeking to educate anyone when I started sharing my PCOS journey. I wanted to share another part of me online. Doing this has created a more personal relationship with my followers. I have people who consistently reach out to me, telling me their individual stories. I think it's nice to connect with people outside of my professional career to talk about this condition. It helps us develop community and camaraderie.
What coping methods have you integrated into your routine over the years?
Food and stress were big hills to climb, so I became very familiar with my triggers. I try to listen to my body and counter stress with anti-inflammatory foods. If I go out with friends for a drink, I try to stay balanced with food or supplements that can help me feel better. I like to approach my day strategically and find those moments of rest or self-care. Seeking that balance helps me feel like myself and the ultimate champion of my day.