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TOPS’ ‘losers’ take pride in family-style support of members

By Staff | May 3, 2018

Cape Coral is home to some of the state’s biggest losers.

That’s not only a good thing, it’s bragging rights for a local TOPS chapter that supported the efforts of not only Florida’s 2017 weight-loss queen but the weight-loss king runner-up as well.

“We are one great big family. We cry when we’re sad, we laugh when we’re happy. They have confidence in you that you’ll be able to hit the goals you set and can be successful. We’re a losing group,” said Theresa Bickford, area captain and member of TOPS Chapter 854, with a laugh.

Weight is something a person can struggle with their whole life. No matter what they try or what program they join, it can be quite a challenge to get yourself where you want to be.

TOPS – Take Off Pounds Sensibly – is the group they turn to for weight loss goals and so much more. Through the TOPS program, 20,853 pounds were lost in Florida, the fourth greatest collective loss in the United States.

TOPS Chapter 854 Cape Coral is special, however, said Bickford, a member since 2016.

“This is the most welcoming bunch of people I have ever met. They are so encouraging, I thrive here,” said Bickford.

TOPS weight loss is an international, nonprofit, noncommercial weight-loss support group organization founded in 1948 by Ester Manz and two friends in her kitchen in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Now, TOPS has chapters all over the United States and Canada, including 215 in Florida, for anyone who is looking to shed some pounds.

Bickford started her journey with TOPS after her mother had passed away. She said her eating habits became exacerbated and it all came to a head on a family vacation when she saw a picture of herself. A year and a half after joining TOPS, she had hit her weight loss goal and owes it all to the program.

“I honestly believe it’s the TOPS philosophy of support. We can all lose weight if we follow programs, but it’s keeping it off that can be the hardest part. It’s the accountability to the scale, it’s the accountability to your fellow TOPS members, and this group is just incredible.”

Chapter 854 was started in July of 2013 with eight members. The troop has now grown to 42.

What makes TOPS different than most weight-loss programs is that once you hit your goal, you continue on your quest, now as a KOPS (Keeping Off Pounds Sensibly) member.

Chapter 854 has graduated 19 members to its KOPS program. At the most recent State Recognition Day, eight members of 854 were celebrated for hitting their weight loss goal and starting down the road to keeping the pounds off.

They also had two members give key-note speeches.

“Our presence was definitely felt,” Bickford said.

Bickford says TOPS is truly the best option for those who are having a hard time getting on track and keeping the weight off.

“You can lose the weight by following any diet program. The question is, when the rubber hits the road, what happens after you lose the weight? You need support in order to maintain the weight loss, and that’s something TOPS will give you in spades, that others don’t.”

TOPS meetings start with a private weigh-in, followed by a roll-call where members can share challenges, successes or goals, but only if they feel comfortable doing so.

Weekly and monthly awards are part of the incentive program to keep members motivated to hit their goals. Local, regional, and international recognition is another great aspect of their rewards system.

Membership is $32 for the year, yes, the whole year.

That membership includes: My Day One, a ready-set-go guide to healthy living, a one-year subscription to TOPS News magazine, healthy recipes, 28-day meal plan, weight tracker, wellness videos, self-care program and more on their members-only website.

Your first visit to any chapter is free, so you can decide whether TOPS is the place for you.

Another successful member of the 854 chapter in Cape Coral is Joe Dever.

Dever has lost 70 pounds since he started his TOPS voyage and is recognized as 2017 State King runner-up, having lost the second most amount of weight in the state of Florida in 2017.

Dever said it was a health-conscious decision to become a TOPS member.

“I weighed about 270 pounds and my blood sugar was sky high. I didn’t like the way I looked, didn’t like the way I felt. I started on my own and went up and down a bit, but didn’t see the results I wanted to.”

A church bulletin at St. Katherine Drexel, where the weekly meeting are held, caught the attention of Devers and his wife, who decided they’d give it a shot.

Dever joined three years ago, and says he absolutely loves this place.

“Everybody is friendly, warm, accepting and nonjudgmental. Everybody wants to help everyone. If I hadn’t joined TOPS, there’s no doubt in my mind I would still be unhappy with my weight and my life. My goal is to have my weight start with a 1, it was very close to beginning with a 3.”

Down an amazing 70 pounds, Dever feels this is more of a support group more than a weight-loss group.

“We call each other on the phone, send text messages and emails to help keep everyone accountable and assist those who feel they need a boost,” he said.

Dever was one of the key-note speakers at this past State Recognition Day, giving a 45 minute address to other TOPS members about enthusiasm and motivation which was well received, along side co-leader and 2016 runner up king Dave Schatzke.

“This works,” added Dever.

“I’ve lost and gained more weight than my car weighs over time. If you want to do something that’s effective, long-term and ongoing, this is the place for you. Once you hit your goal, that doesn’t mean it’s over. Being a KOPS graduate means you have the same accountability and support for all members of the group.”

Dever tells about a time where he felt he may have been plateauing, and leaned on the TOPS group to help him remain on track.

“When I got close to my goal, I found myself starting to ‘turtle’ and I only had a few months left to reach my mark to graduate to KOPS. Judy Galewski, our weight recorder, was on track to graduate and she told me she was walking across the stage in April, and by god I better be there with her and I hit my goal with room to spare,” Dever said.

TOPS is always advising and encouraging their members in weekly meetings and walks.

Challenges are presented to the group each week for prizes and bragging rights. TOPS doesn’t push their own food or a particular diet, it’s all about healthy lifestyle choices.

If any member has a bad week and gains weight, the whole group says in unison, “We’re here for you.”

Dever says they’re a hugging group.

“Verbally, physically or even virtually, we are all about support and stability.”

Even on vacation or trips out of your community, you can find a TOPS chapter near you and stay up to date on weekly goals and achievements.

Married couples can sign up at a discounted rate, one spouse will pay $32 while the other has a $16 fee.

Weekly meeting are held at 9:30 a.m. at St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral.

For for information on the TOPS program, visit tops.org.