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Staying on top of that resolution

Members of area chapters of Take Off Pounds Sensibly meet each week to provide support in weight-loss battle

For many people, the new year brings with it the resolution of losing weight, eating better and exercising more. But, like many other goals we set for ourselves, the quest for getting in shape is many times thrown by the wayside.

Members of local chapters of Take Off Pounds Sensibly, however, insist such resolutions are not only possible, but a lot easier than some may think. With weekly meetings and constant support, they say the group is all about committing to making a permanent change and not just hoping for a short-term fix.

'Resolutions are only stated wishes,' said TOPS member Paul Vogt. 'Getting in shape is only one aspect of weight loss . . . which is a part of one's new lifestyle in the long run of life, not just losing pounds to get into a size smaller garment.

'TOPS is good to start whenever you commit yourself to achieve, maintain and rid yourself of old bad habits.'

Vogt joined the Tigard TOPS chapter more than eight years ago, losing 54 pounds his first year and later 5 more pounds. His progress was the most out of all the Oregon men in TOPS during the 2003, earning him the title of State King for that year.

No more yo-yo diets

Tigard TOPS member Anne Smith said joining the support group for her meant the end of yo-yo dieting forever.

'I have been a successful dieter in the past but was never able to keep the weight off. For 40 years I was the best example of a yo-yo dieter, losing 20 pounds and putting on 20 or more,' Smith said. 'I questioned myself on what was I doing wrong. I analyzed my success in dieting but failure in maintenance.'

The self-proclaimed 'sweetaholic' joined TOPS in April 2005, and by September had lost 40 pounds. Since then she has maintained her goal weight, achieving the rank of KOPS (Keep Off Pounds Sensibly) by never going more than 7 pounds below her goal weight or 3 pounds above it. She said being a part of the 14-member group has helped keep her accountable and in control of the food she eats.

'In TOPS . . . I found support, persons who struggled with the same food weakness and compulsive overeating. I found an obligation to weigh in each week and to be accountable to myself, my fellow members and my weight goal,' she said.

During the weekly meetings, Smith and the rest of the people in TOPS weigh in and participate in talks on topics ranging from nutrition to exercise to diabetic issues; Smith said they have also hosted guest speakers such as massage therapists. A big part of TOPS, said Tigard chapter member Pat Hammon, is the support offered by the other members of the group.

'If you find your niche, it works really well,' she said. 'TOPS incorporates all things the other groups (such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig) have, but we really emphasize support.'

Hammon knows about the other programs, losing 15 pounds on Jenny Craig but then eventually gaining it back when she quit smoking. She said she was able to keep the weight off by following the TOPS program and shedding some of the other emotional baggage that had been keeping her down.

'It's not just to lose the weight,' she said, 'it's to keep it off.'

Members say another bonus to the non-profit program is the price. Unlike some of the more commercial groups out there, TOPS requires only a $20 membership fee and monthly dues of around $5 and does not endorse or require the purchase of special foods or diet menus. Smith said this makes the program an attractive option for anyone looking to lose any amount of weight.

A lifelong plan

Smith said she usually begins her day with oatmeal for breakfast, followed throughout the day by a banana, a daily salad, 4 to 5 ounces of low-fat protein, eight glasses of water, about a cup of 1 percent milk and four to five exchanges of non-processed carbohydrates such as potato or popcorn, as well as other nutritious foods. She stays away from bread and processed snacks, and she only eats non-diet foods as less than 20 percent of her total consumption. Some of the tips she has learned in TOPS include forgiving herself for 'falling off the wagon' and employing positive self talk to help stay on track.

'I recognized that health alcohol, I realized that I need to plan my daily and weekly eating in order to prevent a recurrence of overeating,' she said. 'I needed to journal in my head and on paper what worked and what did not work.

'In all of my successful diets, I have never starved myself, always planning a diet that had around 1,200 calories each day. I have come to realize that a diet is not short term to reach a weight, it is a lifelong and permanent plan.'

Smith said she finds it especially difficult to follow her set of rules during the holidays, when special meals and desserts are much more abundant.

'I think it is because my 80-20 rule (where she eats healthy 80 percent of the time and the other 20 enjoys sweets in moderation) is difficult to follow. It seems like there are opportunities almost every day to eat too much during the holidays, especially this Christmas . . . with extra friend and family parties, family coming in from out of town. It has been a difficult two weeks. I will need to be extra good when the holidays are over to make sure that I maintain my weight.'

One of the things Vogt demonstrates with his progress is the reward of hard work. He said he makes an effort to walk around Washington Square Mall each day, most months averaging a total of 50 miles of area covered. On top of this, he watches what he eats and is careful to attend and participate in the TOPS meetings each week.

'You can change,' Vogt said. 'I think they need to do a relearning thought with their consciousness and I think the accountability each week is what makes a difference.'