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Mind over Matter-Two T.O.P.S. Chapters Now Meeting in Ava

By Michelle Strubeck Losing weight and trying to maintain your health presents a number of challenges for everyone. Life happens and before you know it, you find yourself a few pounds heavier. Society tells us we should look a certain way in order to fit the definition of being beautiful and attractive, but beauty comes in many forms, and not necessarily the images that are projected upon us.  The fitness and diet industry is a multi-billion dollar industry with people spending money on everything from gym memberships, gym clothing and accessories, supplements (vitamins and protein shakes, etc.), personal trainers, meal plans and nutritional advice.

     Reasons for being overweight vary. Genetics is a factor, there are health conditions and medications, stress, poor sleep, slowing metabolism as we age, insulin resistance, and our environment plays a role as well. The world around us influences our ability to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.

     When people make the decision to lose weight there are many weight loss programs to choose from such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, and Noom just to name a few. There is also a program by the name of T.O.P.S. which stands for Taking Off Pounds Sensibly. The program was established in 1948 by Esther Manz. After the birth of her fifth child, the idea of meeting with other dieters for mutual support was born, no pun intended. Esther discussed the idea with her physician, who encouraged her to lose the “baby weight.”  Since T.O.P.S. was established many chapters have formed across the U.S. and Canada.

     T.O.P.S. encourages their members to make small, steady lifestyle changes that provide lasting weight loss and better health. Members attend weekly meetings with private weigh-ins. There are informational chapter programs that feature current information on nutrition, exercise and healthy lifestyles. T.O.P.S. also provides positive reinforcement and motivation to stay with a food and exercise program. They also promote mental awareness; what, when, why you are eating, how much and mood control.

     There are two T.O.P.S. chapters in Ava.  One chapter meets at the Senior Citizens Building, while the other meets at Trinity Lutheran Church. I recently met with the chapter that meets every Tuesday morning at Trinity Lutheran Church to learn more about the program. Leader Cathy Andrews said there are twenty two members, with ten to fifteen attending meetings each week.  Five new members joined last month. Each meeting begins with a pledge which reads as follows: I am an intelligent person. I will control my emotions and not let my emotions control me. Every time I am tempted to use food to satisfy my frustrated desires, build up my injured ego or dull my senses, I will remember, I will take off pounds sensibly.

     Reasons why members joined the program vary. Some members stated they want to be around for their grandchildren and great grandchildren. The general consensus of the group is that they enjoy the emotional support, face to face interaction, and everyone shares common goals and issues. It is an environment where everyone can be themselves. No one is judging each other. Members also said it is motivating when individuals accomplish their goals. Everyone said the group is good for their will power. They often pair in teams and call each other with words of encouragement or send each other cards. They also play games using money and prizes as motivation. Aside from the personal interaction, T.O.P.S. members have access to their magazine, regional gatherings, conventions, retreats and online resources.

     It takes thirty days to form a habit and instead of being gung ho at the beginning of a weight loss program, the ladies feel like taking everything one day at a time is a factor in losing and maintaining weight. Setting small goals is much more realistic and attainable versus saying I need to lose a certain amount of weight. That can be daunting, making it more difficult to reach your goals.

     When it comes to losing weight what works for one person may not work for another. The members often share their tips and tricks with each other. Leader Cathy Andrews stated that she stopped snacking in the car. Kathleen Deatherage, Assistant Weight Recorder has been a member for a year and a half. She said boredom is a factor for a lot of people. They satisfy themselves with the hand to mouth action of eating or smoking. Instead of reaching for something you know you shouldn’t have, find a hobby to keep yourself from eating. Go for a walk, read a book, do anything to get your mind off food.

     As far as eating out is concerned, member Boni McKee stated it has become easier because more restaurants now offer healthy options to choose from and calorie counts are listed on most menus. Some fast food restaurants have a “lighter” menu for those looking for healthier options and when you are dining out you can request to have some items grilled or steamed. When it comes to portion control, it was mentioned to ask for a to go container at the beginning of your meal and put half of your meal in the container to avoid over eating.

     The members said that when it comes to cooking healthy, they focus on three meals a day and they try to minimize their snacks. When they find themselves reaching for a snack, they swap it for a healthy choice. It was mentioned that everyone loves chocolate and with the holidays coming up Cathy said she doesn’t want to negate the holidays by not enjoying them because of the sweets that are around. Her goal is to maintain her weight through the holiday season because the average person gains ten pounds between Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

      Exercise is a dreaded thought for a lot of people, but it is also a key factor in losing and maintaining weight. You have to make time for exercise in order to be successful.  Practicing self care was mentioned. Make time for yourself. Tell yourself you are worth it, have self respect, and stop and think. Don’t look at losing weight as being on a diet, but as a lifestyle change.

     Some members join, drop out for awhile and come back. Members are always encouraged to come back if they leave. It is a very welcoming environment where the members have each others backs. Weight Recorder Audrey Turner has been a member for twenty years. She met her goal and has maintained her weight all this time. She is just one example of how successful an individual can be when part of a supportive, encouraging program.