Downsizing: Group supports aids weight-loss efforts

January 2011 Posted in Your Health

By Kathy Cook Hunter

TOPS Programs
Thursdays, 6:30 p.m.
St. Paul Catholic Church
1410 Pine St., Silverton
503-873-3504.
Fridays, 9 a.m.
First Baptist Church
229 Westfield St., Silverton
503-873-8246

Is it “my time” to deal with my excess weight?

While many of us are asking ourselves that question at the start of the new year, we also may not know how to go about losing the weight.

One answer may be joining a TOPS or Take Off Pounds Sensibly program. Groups meet Thursday evenings and Friday mornings in Silverton.

Patty Andrews jokingly confesses she would weigh 500 pounds if weren’t for TOPS.

“I have this eating problem that when I start I just won’t stop,” Andrews said. “The weekly scales (weigh in at TOPS) is a threat, and now that I’ve lost some weight again, I feel so much better.”

Donna Bates, a volunteer who leads the Thursday evening TOPS, decided to give TOPS a try after
learning about it from friends.

“I knew I had to lose weight, and I needed something I could afford,” Bates said. “It was a good group, very supportive.”

That was 10 years ago and Bates lost weight, although she’s not finished. “I’d be much heavier if I weren’t going,” she said.

The TOPS attitude is “you’re OK how you are and we’re here to help you. They don’t put you down, and you’re never made to feel bad about a gain, but they do celebrate when you lose,” Bates said.

TOPS is a nonprofit weight-loss support organization in the United States and Canada. The cost is a yearly membership fee of $26 plus a small monthly fee for chapter expenses and there are no special foods to purchase. The first meeting is free. Each week, a private weigh-in is conducted  where two team members record individual progress.

At the meeting, members share if they lost or gained weight.  A gain brings a group “We’re glad you’re here,” while a loss or “I stayed the same” brings clapping, hurrahs and even whooping. Group camaraderie and caring is not squelched at TOPS.

Singing songs, games and a short business meeting precedes a program provided by a guest speaker or a member.

Eight-year member Anne Brekas leads the Friday group. She became involved when a friend suggested she ought to join.

“I was overweight at the time and didn’t realize it. I went home and looked in the mirror, and I was shocked,” Brekas said.

About then her doctor said she needed to lose weight, and shortly after, when she glimpsed herself in a candid photo, Brekas saw herself as others did.

“I was in denial about my weight before,” she admitted. “[After joining TOPS] I joined a gym and started on the treadmill for five minutes.” Now, she’s on the treadmill for an hour.

“The weight started coming off,” she said.

Today at her goal in the 135-pound range, Brekas credits a determined attitude for her success.

“I think it was because I took it on so seriously, like it was a job,” she said, “a job that had to be done. I feel so much better and my blood pressure is way down.”

She credits TOPS with teaching her better ways to eat and with “the fun group of ladies making TOPS a good way to end the week.”

Marion Varney is another successful loser, shedding 45 pounds since last February. “My doctor had hinted sweetly ‘sometimes it’s just a matter of portion control.’ “ Varney recalls. “I went to TOPS because I knew I was out of control and starving wasn’t the answer. I had quit smoking eight years ago and started packing on the pounds. We ate bread and meat at every meal.”

Varney practiced the TOPS-provided exchange program of eating balanced meals of smaller portions. She wrote down what she ate, known as “food journaling,” and she attended weekly TOPS meetings.

“To have people say, ‘Wow, you look great,’ at only 10 pounds [lost] and ‘How are you doing it?’ That’s my opening to tell them about TOPS and what it is, a support group,” Varney said.

Varney’s learned portion size; to drink more water and know thirst from hunger; eat a balanced, nutritional diet; eat, don’t starve, to lose; use moderation but have treats once in a while; and how to set long- and short-term goals.

A University of Colorado study of 43,000 TOPS members of at least one to two years published in the journal Obesity  “indicates that TOPS Club, Inc…is associated with clinically significant weight loss.”

Participants lost between 5.9 percent and 7.1 percent of their initial weight. “People who remained in the program lost 6 percent of initial weight in the first year and maintained that weight loss for up to three years,” it reports.

If it is “your time” for weight loss, motivation has to come from within, Brekas said.

“You have to want it and be determined. Clothes fitting, your health and a life change… You have to get to the point where you say, ‘I don’t like looking like this,” Brekas said.

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