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Joining the TOPS organization - Take off Pounds Sensibly

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hello Sparkers,
I have not been here in soooo long.
Today, I wanted to write a blog about the TOPS organization.

In December of this past year, my new family doctor, to whom I had lamented about re-gaining 15+ lbs of my 52 lb weight loss, suggested that I join TOPS or Weight Watchers. She also mentioned that TOPS was a cheaper option than most other weight loss programs.

I'm a very cheap person. I had been a WW member, but I hated paying WW money every week in 2009, while being stuck two pounds above my target weight and feeling great and not really wanting to lose those last two pounds.

Immediately after my doctor`s appointment, I looked into TOPS. I found plenty of local chapters to join, but most met in the evening. I`m already out 2 and often 3 evenings a week doing choral singing, and since I don`t work during the day, I wanted a daytime meeting. There was only one meeting during the day - Friday mornings. I usually used Friday mornings for my long runs, but thought, oh well, this might be worth it, if I can get back to losing weight. Luckily the meeting was only a 7 km drive away, and was even located next to our regular cross--country skiing park. I thought I could go for a ski sometimes after a meeting (I only did that twice, but that`s better than none!).

To join TOPS, at least here in Canada, you pay $30 a year membership fee. Then you pay $5 a month in dues. But that money is actually used for the chapter itself, to pay the rent of the location and then to send you their newsletter, to provide prizes, charms and incentives that go directly back to the members. It is truly a non-profit organization. It is amazing that in this day and age there is an organization that has not been corrupted by the drive for profit. They are not interested in getting your money, only interested in helping the members achieve their weight loss goals.

For your membership money, they send you a monthly TOPS newsletter (like a magazine) with useful articles. And you have acess to a website and can buy TOPS merchandise. Like a very amazing book called "The Choice is Mine" which I didn`t immediately read, but have started reading every morning. I have found so many useful bits of information in there....more later.

Members voluntarily bring in wrapped "gifts" (usually just purchases from the dollar store hastily wrapped up). Gifts are given away each week as follows: 1) the best loser gets to pick one
2) members are encouraged to bring in their menu for the week and it goes in a draw - the winner gets a gift.
3) I think there are other ways to win a gift, but right now I can`t remember.

There is also an incentive prize of a $15 dollar gift card for any person who can be the best loser for two weeks in a row. This is tough to win as you can imagine because most people can`t sustain two weeks of weight loss that are better than everyone else, but I won this prize for the first time this past Friday and won a $15 gift card.

They also run contests for varying lengths of time (4-8 weeks usually) and the prizes are 1st place: $15 card, 2nd place $10 card, 3rd place $5 and 4th place - charm or pendant. We are doing one now, and I`m in 2nd place mainly due to my weight loss.

In addition the members wear a scarf to the meetings. On the scarf people attach various pins, pendants or charms which they`ve earned as a member. One common way to earn a charm is to have a no-gain month. You have to weigh-in and attend the meeting on the first of the month, and if the first of the next month you have not gained weight, you earn a charm. I`ve only done this once, but when I did I was so thrilled that I was very motivated to do it again! I didn`t realize that if you missed the first meeting of the month, you`d lose your chance to win this charm, not just for the month just past, but also for the month coming up! Rats - I missed the first meeting in March and now have to wait until the first of May to earn that charm again!

You also earn a charm for bringing in a doctors note stating a goal weight. I visited my family doctor this week and she unfortunately would not budge on giving me a goal weight under a BMI of 25. Even though I fought to have a slightly higher one - I told her that when I got my weight under 165 my body fat percentage was at an optimal level and my waist circumference indicated that I was very healthy. NOPE! She said a higher BMI is only acceptable for big muscular body-builder types. Drat, so despite my efforts to sway her, my goal weight is now something I`ve never achieved before in a clothed weigh-in- 73 kgs or 160lbs! If I make it, I`ll be thrilled as never before too.

Members also earn a charm when they are half-way to goal - for me that will be when I hit 169 in a weigh-in. You can also earn a "Miss Consistency" charm (funny old-fashioned names, eh?) if you go for 6 weeks of straigh losing - you are allowed only one week with no loss (what they call a "turtle"), or missed meeting So I am GOING FOR that charm. I have lost 3 out of the last 4 weeks, being away for one weigh-in. I have been doing very well and gathering momentum, so for the past two weeks, I have been weighing in wearing very heavy clothing - I am hoping to ensure a weight loss for the next couple of weeks too so I can get that Miss Consistency charm! Two days ago, I was 172.25, wearing jeans, a belt which had a heavy metal medallion, and a sweater over my t-shirt.

Once a members reaches goal weight they become a KOPS which stands for Keep off Pounds Sensibly. I am sure that if I had lost my weight with this organization, I would have kept the weight off better, because the KOPS are a big part of the club.

My chapter has about 25 members, but about 15 or so attend meetings regularly, about 5 of whom are KOPS. Most members are seniors. One woman has been a KOPS for 39 years and still attends almost every meeting! There is only one young woman in our group - a newly pregnant 30 year old. There are only a couple of woman around my age of close to 50. And the rest are all older - a few in their 60s, 70s and even 80s! A lot of the TOPS (instead of KOPS), are quite a lot overweight and from what I`ve heard have not been making great progress, but kind of go up and down a lot. There may be a lack of motivation in some of the members, but I`m trying not to pay attention to those ones! This is not a "hip" organization, but I don`t mind....I think it is going to work for me.

The TOPS program which is strongly recommended is the old exchange system. People are encouraged to eat 1500 calories a day (or a 500 calorie a day deficit for most people, including myself) by sticking to a certain number of exchanges of each food group. I changed my exchanges slightly, changes explained below, and this is what I am using daily:

6 starches (of 80 calories per);

4 fruits (of 60 cals each - it was supposed to be 5 fruits, but I felt 4 would be enough, so I switched a fruit out for 2 extra fats;

5 meats (or substitutes - the meat exchanges are allowed to vary wildly in the number of calories from 35 cals per ounce up to over 100 for high-fat meats, but we are encouraged to choose lower-fat options)

4 fats (45 calories each - I`m supposed to choose 2, but I`ve switched out a fruit for more fat)

2 milk (of about 100 calories each - we are to choose skim, 1 or 2% milk)

4 veg (approx 35 cals)

PLUS up to 3 cups of raw veggies to curb hunger which are considered "free"

3 free exchanges (like one piece of hard candy, or a serving of sugar-free jello)

At first when I joined in December, I wasn`t quite ready to work at it. I even gained 4lbs one week around Christmas. I blamed it on wearing three layers of ski clothing, but the next week, I had only lost 2 of those pounds, so I guess I was kidding myself! I also told myself that I didn`t need to go as low as 1500 to lose weight and so I was allowing myself to eat 1800 cals a day, and was cheating quite a bit, so I wasn`t losing. Then I started to read the TOPS book - "The choice is mine". There was so much good info in there, such as why I, like most other people, eat when I am happy. I had never read an explanation for that anywhere before - the book explained that it is because I am using food to try to sustain, and maintain my feelings of happiness for a longer time period. And the book gave ideas on what to say to myself when the going gets rough ("I know this works, so I am going to keep doing it").

I have created a 100 day challenge (I am on day 16) - to hit my exchanges right on. I haven`t done this all that well - I have probably only succeeded 10 of the 15 days. But even though I am off by a bit, the effort to hit the targets is working. I have now lost 6.5 lbs in the past two weeks, and 10 lbs since the beginning of January. I know it will be tough to get to KOPS, but my goal is to get there before the end of the summer!

Good luck on your journeys to better health!

I know this works, so I am going to keep doing it!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • KATE530
    Congratulations on finding such a perfect fit for you!!! I lost over 50 pounds in my first 18 months at TOPS but was defeated by the food functions.

    Buyer beware! Each chapter is different. TOPS rules say they may have two food occasions a year BUT we were never allowed to advertise it in any literature we passed out soliciting new members. Our meetings were at 7-8 PM. I tried privately to I persuade our 300 pound leader that such things were self-destructive to stop these because 7-8 PM. is much too late to eat and several of us felt as if TOPS had become the infamous "Food Pusher". Food that we neither wanted or needed.
    For several years I would go an hour before each meeting to help weigh people. After weigh-in I would leave before the food came out. It was awkward too to try to sample everything as we had 30-40 members. It wasn't safe for me to be there and try to keep everybody happy tasting their food and lose weight too. At one point our leader tried food tastings which turned out to be whole cups of food and not the spoonful I thought it would be. I've been thinking about trying to find another chapter that meets during the day. But be very wary of the food functions. They are diet killers. That may be why our food functions eventually had only half the membership attending.
    Hopefully if I will find a chapter that meets in the AM hours that won't be prone to "Food Pushing". I like the accountability of weighing in each week. Hopefully I can find one with no Food Functions.

    1458 days ago
  • PEACHS37
    Is this group still up...
    1656 days ago
    I am also in TOPS here in Michigan. I am the leader of our chapter. I love how I am able to go and encourage everyone and them help me keep going. I also use this sight to help with my food charts and workouts. I do better with this then writing everything down.
    1855 days ago
    Thank you for the information. I have been thinking about doing tops instead of weight watchers. I have a hard time doing things on my own. I had lost around 20 pounds and i have now gained it all back.
    2090 days ago
  • SILVER31
    Very interesting and informative blog. I am sure this will inspire many people to keep working at there goal. God bless.
    2139 days ago
  • REBECCA24333
    Thanks for this blog. I have a TOPS close to me. I think I will check it out!
    2150 days ago
  • MOM4407BECKY
    Loved reading your blog. TOPS is a great program to keep you on track with weight loss. Facing the scale every week keeps me on track. Good luck on your weight loss journey.
    2162 days ago
  • AKELA48
    Loved reading your blog. I think you have found what will work for you. I know it has for me. I remember reading once that if you focus on results you will not see a change But if you focus on change you will see results. I am also a TOPS member in Canada and I have a question for you or anyone from your chapter.

    After hitting a plateau i decided to try something. In the TOPS book, there is a 28 day menu plan. It is actually made of of foods one would normally have in their house. So I thought i would try it. Day 1 and so far so good LOL. Curious though if anyone else has tried it.

    Love reading others successes.. helps keep me motivated!
    take care
    2165 days ago
  • ERIN1022
    Hey!! I'm glad to see you've found something that has you motivated and excited. Good luck getting to your goal!
    2188 days ago
    Everything that works is wonderful. :)
    2190 days ago
    Hey, good for you. I'm thinking of leaving Sparkpeople altogether. Just not helping and I have other things pulling me away.

    Good luck to you!
    2191 days ago
    Glad you have found a program that works for you. I am down about 15 year to date and am feeling very motivated.
    2191 days ago
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