The TOPS mission is to help and support our members as they take off and keep off pounds sensibly. Because TOPS Club, Inc. is so large and successful, potential members are often surprised to learn that the founder was not a scientist, doctor, or corporation. The organization began in 1948 at the kitchen table of housewife Esther Manz (1907-1996) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Pregnant with her fifth child, she perceived a new concept “while participating in group sessions designed to prepare women for childbirth, [where] she witnessed the power of mutual support in helping the women stay within their doctors’ guidelines for pregnancy (1).” Could the ‘power of mutual support’ help people lose weight?On January 21, 1948, Mrs. Manz discussed the possibilities with three friends at her home. They agreed to meet weekly, weigh on her bathroom scales and record their weight, discuss strategies for the coming week, and most importantly, encourage each other. As their success became evident, so many friends asked to join that Mrs. Manz moved her meetings to the city’s recreation center. The tremendous response to the Milwaukee Journal’s article in 1949 sent Mrs. Manz, with bathroom scales in hand, all over the city to establish new clubs.
With Life magazine’s article on April 9, 1951, TOPS expanded to every state by year’s end with 6,000 members. From those humble beginnings, TOPS expanded to a membership of approximately 125,000 in the United States and Canada. In 2015 members lost 300-plus tons. The 11,175 members in North Carolina’s 142 chapters lost 5.9 tons.
Kay Cline of TOPS #0627 in Marion, North Carolina, lost 130 pounds last year. Kay had never heard of TOPS until invited by a friend in her YMCA water aerobics class to attend a meeting. As prescribed by her doctor, Kay had started pool rehabilitation to relieve knee pain. Even though the classes, along with shots and orthoscopic surgery, did little to relieve her pain, she joined the YMCA to keep exercising after her prescription expired.
When Kay, 5 feet 5 inches tall, joined TOPS in 2011 she weighed just under 400 pounds and walked with canes or a walker. During her first four years, Kay progressed very little toward her goal weight of 175 pounds. Then, during her yearly physical, her blood sugar reading diagnosed her as diabetic. Her first thought was, “I have to do something, or I’m going to die.” Deciding to “go out with a bang,” Kay ordered and ate an entire pizza on her way home.
TOPS encourages members to record their calories and exercise, so Kay chose ‘My Fitness Pal,’ which helped her establish a healthy food plan of 1,200 calories daily and an exercise routine of water aerobics three times weekly. Since beginning, Kay has logged calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and exercise for 460 consecutive days. My Fitness Pal’s feedback helps her adjust her food plan or exercise routine.Kay skipped breakfast until a nurse explained that she was damaging her body by exercising without fuel. She now eats a protein bar for breakfast every day, or cereal if out of bars. She usually eats lunch out, but has refined menu ordering into an art form. At Bojangles, roasted chicken bites with the biscuit exchanged for another order of green beans equals 400 calories. On Subway days, she orders the grilled chicken sandwich loaded with vegetables. Most restaurants accommodate her requests.
She follows the TOPS’ recommendation of drinking eight glasses of water daily and as advised by a doctor, never passes a water fountain without taking a drink. For variety, she drinks moderate amounts of diet soda. Dinner favorites include an omelet or a vegetable and protein stir-fry. Her favorite combination includes turnips, onions, red peppers, and squash with imitation crab for protein. Except for her Subway sandwich, Kay eats little bread. She snacks only at bedtime, a habit left over from 25 years of working third shift.
Spontaneous eating in a restaurant is “pure torture” for Kay, especially buffets. She absolutely refuses to even enter the door. She stopped attending covered dish dinners because eating “just a few little bites” of five casseroles and three desserts to avoid “hurting the cooks’ feelings” – also known as sabotage – is hardly conducive to focused eating. She still craves sugar, so keeps all temptations out of her home. “That first bite,” she declares, “is never the last bite.” Rather than buying a carton of ice cream, which she would eat in one sitting, she enjoys an occasional cone. A frozen fudge bar with 40 calories fits into her food plan perfectly, but the other 19, whether eaten in one sitting or a few days, would be an additional 760 empty calories. Sugar-free fruit cups and pudding also fit into her food plan. Fruit smoothies, especially blueberry, or shaved ice mixed with no-sugar Kool Aid, quench summer cravings.
Kay soon discovered that focused eating and exercise were crucial to her program. One without the other was useless. When she joined TOPS, Kay tried other exercises to see if she might like another form better. She didn’t! Walking, even with music, bored her; machines strained her back and shoulders; and since snakes terrify her, hiking was out! Back to the pool she went! Kay arrives early to warm up by walking back and forth across the pool. Then, wearing a belt, she moves to the deep end to stretch her arms and back by pretending that she can reach the bottom of the pool four feet beneath her. To see Kay at work, and thoroughly enjoying herself, watch Jay Siltzer’s feature on “Health Alert” here.
Kay readily admits that she was often frustrated, but the rewards ultimately outweighed the difficulties. Her blood sugar remains steady at 5.8, the walker and canes are history, and best of all, she placed first in North Carolina’s Women’s Division 1. Mrs. Manz’s recognition of members’ success continues with State Recognition Days and International Recognition Days. In April, Kay received recognition in Raleigh and at Orlando, Florida in July. As she walked across the stages to receive her certificates, a moderator read her statement.
“I’m the typical person who has had a weight problem all my life. I’ve lost and gained many times. Even with joining TOPS, it took me a while to get my act together. But I made up my mind to do something about it. With the encouragement of my TOPS’ friends and the diabetes management and aquatic programs at the YMCA, I was finally able to lose enough to get my knee replacement surgeries and will be continuing onto my KOPS goal.” (After attaining goal weight, members work to ‘Keep off Pounds Sensibly.’)
Kay says she was nervous on stage in front of crowds, yet excited and gratified to be lauded for her accomplishments. Also, she was touched to see so many members of her TOPS’ family cheering her on. Another reason to celebrate in 2016 was reaching the proper Body Mass Index for knee replacements. She recovered from the first surgery in December 2015 faster than textbook recommendations and returned to the pool within two months. With the second surgery in March 2016, an open wound kept her out of the pool until October. Since both parts of her program are crucial to her success, she regained some weight. After cleared by her doctor, Kay quickly discovered that she could do jumping jacks with her new knees.
Kay credits two sources for her success. First is Fred, her husband, who has never criticized her weight and has encouraged her from her first TOPS meeting onward. Second, her local TOPS family, the members of her Marion club who cheered each loss on her way to 130 pounds, and encouraged her when she gained after surgery. With their encouragement and her renewed focus, Kay is well on her way to Keeping off Pounds Sensibly.
Continued next month with information about the TOPS’s ® program and clubs in Western North Carolina.