By Laura Meehan
For The Hollywood Star
When you ask people about weight loss, most will probably mention Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers—yet there is another weight-loss club that has been around longer than either of those: Take Off Pounds Sensibly, or TOPS. Last year, its 180,000 members lost 951,901.64 pounds collectively. At the same time, TOPS is the most inexpensive weight-loss program around, with annual dues of $24 and monthly dues of $5—and scholarships are available to those in need.
TOPS has several chapters in Portland, including one that meets weekly at the Madeleine School. Led by Jackie Hallen, the group is a boisterous, friendly bunch; and it is obvious that they care deeply for one another and enjoy the weight-loss process. They regularly call, e-mail and write one another, offering support, in addition to attending meetings.
Angela Davey, who plans the group’s activities and incentives says, “We’re in it for the long haul—it’s not like we lose ten pounds, and ‘Adios!’” Davey says a number of TOPS members have gone to the “weigh and pay” groups and will never go back now that they have found TOPS. She is one of the KOPS in leeway, people who already have lost weight and now are keeping the pounds off sensibly. The KOPS stay in the group to show others that long-term weight loss is possible and to be encouraged to maintain their healthy lifestyles and habits.
Before the meeting, members privately weigh in; and then, during roll call, the “encouragement jar” makes its way around the room. The jar is filled with slips of paper that say things like, “I know that I am surrounded and filled with infinite wisdom.” The outside of the jar says, “We salute your determination,” “We’ve all been there,” and “You’re not in this alone.”
The atmosphere is free of shame or embarrassment; at roll call, when people announce how they fared for the week, everyone claps heartily when someone has lost weight, and they still clap heartily for those who say they have “turtled,” meaning they have neither lost nor gained. When members sigh, “I gained,” everyone laughs, saying, “We’re glad you came.” Some group members add, “We’ve been there!” Later, when it is announced that Edna White, secretary, has lost weight for nine weeks in a row, someone calls, “See, you can do it!” and everyone cheers.
After a period of incentives, such as drawing a name from a can to see who will get the cash inside, and awarding Best Winner for the Week, along with runners-up and a round of announcements about upcoming events, a member leads the weekly program. The week prior, Davey taught on negative self-talk, directing members to www.beckdietsolution.com. This week, Christine Wagner, longtime TOPS member, tells the group her story.
Wagner was directed to TOPS by her physician. A sufferer of psoriatic arthritis (a combination of psoriasis and arthritis), she was 100 pounds overweight and had to use a cane. Afraid of ending up a young person in a wheelchair, she visited TOPS in 1998 and then joined.
“My first year I lost nine pounds. In the second, I lost eleven and a half,” Wagner says.
She was disappointed and overwhelmed. “You look at that 100 pounds, and think, I can’t do it,” she says.
After listening to an inspirational speaker at a TOPS meeting, she changed her outlook to a “small-picture” one, focused on the here and now. She looked at her weight loss in five-pound, manageable increments; and celebrated each small victory. The speaker’s explanation that everything you put in your mouth is a number, a calorie, helped her change her habits. During her third year in TOPS, Wagner lost 55.5 pounds. She lost weight for 65 consecutive weigh-ins.
Wagner showed the group a pair of pajamas she wore before her loss, saying, “I was a 28. I keep these to remind me not to go there again.”
She got down to a size 10. She also showed off a sash, crown and plaque she received for being the runner up to her state’s Queen—TOPS’s biggest losers are afforded royalty status. She says, happily, “My energy level is up 900 percent. I’m like the energizer bunny.”
As the meeting draws to a close, Wagner says, “TOPS has been a Godsend. It pulled me out of depression.” Hallen says, “Motivation is good, and that’s what we do here.”
TOPS #OR 0899 meets every Wednesday morning in the Madeleine School on Northeast 24th Avenue at Siskyou Street. Weigh-ins run from 8:30 to 8:50 a.m., and the meetings start at 9 a.m. For more information, call (503) 287-7178. For more information about TOPS or to find other chapters in Northeast Portland, visit www.tops.org.