Weight-Loss Group Tops Lifestyle Changes

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Since childhood, Shirley Conklin has struggled with her weight.

At 9, her mother put her on a diet, replacing sweets with protein.

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TOPS member Shirley Conklin has learned to control food portions and seek the support of friends as she loses weight.

Conklin remembers the sumptuous meatloaf her mother made out of hamburger, pork and veal.

Once in a while, the little girl could choose one candy from a store called Fanny Farmers in her native Buffalo, N.Y.

As Conklin grew up, she turned to food instead of alcohol or drugs for comfort, and she gained weight.

Then, in the 1970s, she knew her body needed to change and that's when she joined TOPS -- Taking Off Pounds Sensibly. After coming in and out of the program, Conklin is on her way to losing 90 pounds.

"People don't realize they are foodaholics and once they realize that, it's a lot easier," said Conklin, co-leader of the Pine TOPS chapter.

TOPS is an international, nonprofit group dedicated to helping men and women lose weight. A housewife named Esther Manz started TOPS in 1948, and nearly 60 years later, the organization boasts 200,000 members. In 2005, TOPS members lost a combined 485 tons.

The concept is simple. TOPS members support each other through the triumphs and challenges of adopting a healthier lifestyle. Portion control combined with exercise, weekly weigh-ins and motivation creates the cornerstone of this weight-loss program.

Conklin said weights are recorded and sent to the national organization. There, the staff tabulates the data and at the end of the year, the biggest "loser" garners special commendation.

"TOPS helps me not to backslide," Conklin said. "It keeps me on my toes."

Nearly 60 percent of Arizona residents are overweight, reported the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC defines obesity as having a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30. BMI is determined by using a person's weight and height to calculate body fat.

Each year, 300,000 Americans die from conditions attributed to poor diet and inactivity; related health care costs surpass $117 billion annually.

Heart disease, diabetes and cancer are just a few ailments caused by obesity.

Compared to the pills, powders, starvation, diets and surgeries associated with weight loss, TOPS is a bargain, emotionally and financially.

The group follows a philosophy of moderation rather than restriction. To join, ask your doctor to write a prescription if you don't already have one. The prescription should note your target weight, including other suggestions or concerns.

TOPS charges an annual fee of $24.

"There's never a quick fix," Conklin said. "There's no pressure. It's all up to you. We're here to give you support. You can take as long as you want."

TOPS also teaches its members how to live with food. With other weight-loss programs, especially those that provide pre-packaged meals, the dieter relies too heavily on the convenience of prepared food.

Once they attain their target weight and move to real food, the weight comes back because they person hasn't learned to cook and eat sensibly.

"The important part of this program is that you have to buy and cook your own food," Conklin said.

Members learn to manage cravings, accept setbacks and love their bodies.

Pine TOPS meets from 7:45 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesdays at the LDS church. The Payson TOPS chapter gathers for an 7:20 a.m. weigh-in followed by an 8:30 a.m. meeting Thursdays at Crossroads Foursquare Gospel Church, 114 E. Cedar Lane.

For more information contact Conklin in Pine at (928) 476-3024 and Lee Norman in Payson at (928) 474-8777.

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