A little less food, a little more exercise, pounds come off. Right? It's science. But even for people who commit to that simple formula, sometimes it just doesn't work. Or doesn't last. For many, the missing ingredient is encouragement. That's the TOPS recipe for success.
TOPS – Take Off Pounds Sensibly, not-for-profit support group – has been teaching basic food sense, presenting simple anywhere-anytime-exercises, and celebrating successes every step of the way since 1948. Members who lose even a quarter of a pound one week enjoy cheers, and possibly prizes. And the entire group exclaims together "We're glad you're here!" for members who didn't lose any weight that week. Julia Davis is the area advocate for 15 chapters, including Springfield, and a group leader in Decatur.
The all-volunteer program is about support, celebration and consistently using the tools of success, Davis says. TOPS leaders provide literature about healthful food choices, shopping lists, names of helpful food-tracking apps, food diary charts, cards/exchanges for people who want them, and endless encouragement, all for $49 per year.
"Weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint," says Davis. "We teach how to balance carbs, fats and proteins; and the importance of exercise, water and writing down everything. Measure, measure, measure, and log exactly what you eat. Even one day. Even one meal. Members think, 'Maybe I can do that today. Then, maybe I can do that again tomorrow. And then again the next day.'"
Meetings offer discussions about how to maintain enthusiasm and not become bored or lazy, and members share their successes and struggles alongside people with similar stories. "We are all there to lose weight," says Davis. "We care about each other and want to see each other succeed."
Greta Schnapp leads the Springfield chapter Thursday evenings. Illinois' 2021 State Queen Runner-Up Jean Lebel attends the weekly meetings. The title isn't awarded for most pounds lost in a year, but most pounds lost overall regardless how long it took.
Lebel is five-foot-two-inches tall, 80 years old, and has lost 72.75 pounds. She joined TOPS in January 2008, when the scale said 225 pounds. Since reaching her goal weight, Lebel says, "My first joy was when I could stand up, reach over, and tie my shoes without falling over. ... My back isn't hurting as much, I am feeling and looking better. I like looking in the mirror now, and I love the friendship and rapport. ... Being able to talk with somebody about what you ate or didn't eat, how you exercised or didn't exercise, you don't feel alone."
Now Lebel attends meetings as a KOPS member – Keep Off Pounds Sensibly. She has a specific maintenance goal, is enthusiastic, determined, even competitive about keeping off the pounds, and continues to enjoy the group support. "I still get cards in the mail every so often."
"We're like one big happy family," says Schnapp, who has been a member for more than 30 years. She has lost and kept off more than 75 pounds for many years, and is one of the people who sends those encouraging cards. She also plans for the certificates, incentives, programs and prizes. "Some do quit, then come back for the weekly support and facing that scale."
Nancy Groesch has attended the Springfield chapter since 2010. "[Meetings] keep me grounded. It's accountability."
Meetings begin with an optional, private weigh-in, and include roll call, announcements, a short program, and a pledge. It's all about focusing on improvement, not perfection, and "making small, steady lifestyle changes that provide lasting weight loss and better health," according to the international TOPS Philosophy statement. If it's a recipe for success, it's a slow, steady simmer that supports its members one week at a time.
Visit www.tops.org for more information and to find a meeting for one free visit.
DiAnne Crown of Springfield is a longtime loyal freelance writer for Illinois Times and ReGeneration.