January typically is a busy month for fitness facilities as people sign up for help in achieving New Year’s weight loss resolutions.
Others opt for the camaraderie of a TOPS club.
Taking Off Pounds Sensibly, essentially a weight-loss support group, focuses on combining weight loss, diet and exercise for a more beneficial lifestyle.
“It’s about getting healthy,” Harlem TOPS group leader Ann Hewett said. “It’s not just about losing weight. It’s about getting yourself healthy again and fighting this obesity thing.”
Several of the group’s 30 members lost enough weight to stave off diabetes or come off blood pressure or cholesterol medications, Hewett said.
Jean Payton, of Thomson, lost 50 pounds in her two years in the TOPS group. She now takes only one medication for her Type 2 diabetes.
“It is basically diet-controlled,” said Payton. “I said ‘I am not going to stick myself with a needle.’ ”
Hewett said the weekly meetings begin with the TOPS pledge and usually include special programs about diet, exercise or health. Winners of games and contests are usually rewarded with healthy prizes.
Members discuss diet plans, smarter food choices and the importance of exercise. Tracking food and exercise can be a good incentive.
“We’re getting back to basics,” Hewett said at the group’s first meeting of 2012. “Water, walking and watching what you eat.”
There are three area TOPS groups that meet weekly: The Harlem group meets at 8 a.m. Thursdays at Harlem Baptist Church; a group in Grovetown meets at 5:30 p.m. Thursdays at Grovetown United Methodist Church; and a third group meets at Pine View Baptist Church on Pleasant Home Road in Martinez at 4:45 p.m. Tuesdays.
Most members of the Harlem group say they’ve tried diets, meal plans and other weight-loss alternatives but prefer the encouragement they get at TOPS.
“We support each other,” said Harlem resident Brenda Sheppard, who joined less than two years ago. “The Weight Watchers meetings that I went to, there was so many people there, you never got to know anybody.”
Sheppard said TOPS members share tips and support each other through gains and losses.
Jackie Adams, of Harlem, has been attending TOPS since 2004. She has lost 38 pounds and hit her goal weight. She has graduated to Keep Off Pounds Sensibly.
“You can do your own thing,” Adams said of the TOPS plan. “I eat just about anything I want, except I just eat small portions.”
For others, including Elaine Higdon, keeping track of what she eats helps. She’s hypoglycemic and has avoided diabetes, which runs in her family.
Higdon started attending the weekly meetings about five years ago. Only a few pounds from her goal weight, Higdon said she continues to attend meetings for the encouragement and to learn from others.
“When you don’t come, you don’t see what everybody else is doing and that helps you,” Higdon said.
The annual TOPS dues are $28, plus $4 per month.
For more information about TOPS or to find a local group, visit www.tops.org.