What's the best way to drop a hundred pounds? Miracle pill? Cabbage soup? Insanity workout? According to Tacoma's Janet Hellman, 78, it's hard work, staying dedicated and receiving support from others struggling with weight.
Hellman is a member of Take Off Pounds Sensibly, or TOPS, a non-profit weight loss program founded in 1948. The focus is on portion control, tracking meals, getting physically active and supporting each other when the cupcakes kick in. Hellman was honored as TOPS' queen of Washington State, managing to drop 101 pounds, more than anyone else in TOPS' Washington State chapter last year.
“It's not easy to give up cookies, ice cream and candy. Everybody stumbles, but I never stop. I just start over again,” Hellman says.
Struggling with weight, Hellman is not alone. About 27 percent of adults in Washington State are obese according to Trust for America's Health, a health policy organization. That's an increase of 18 percent since 2000. The group's 2014 annual report, “State of Obesity,” found that Washington State is the 38th highest state in a national obesity ranking.
“I think society as a whole needs to look at what eating healthy really is, not thinking it's going to be found pre-packaged in an envelope. It's going to be found eating real food and making a real effort to stay more active,” says TOPS president Barbara Cady, who initially joined the organization to lose enough weight for a healthy pregnancy.
“We're here because we truly believe in each other's ability to succeed in what is one of the most difficult challenges you could ever face,” Cady says. “When you come into a meeting, there's no judgment.”
Hellman initially joined TOPS in 1969, losing 100 lbs. She was confident that she could keep the weight off on her own. But as a mother of seven, cooking for a large family made staying in shape a challenge. As her weight climbed up and down, simple household chores became challenging, yet it wasn't until a doctor's visit that Hellman realized she needed to take her health seriously again.
“I've been on every program that's out there; I have every diet book that's out there,” she said. As a diabetic, she relied on medication to keep her going, but the doctor told her that she wouldn't live to see her grandchildren grow up, and that she would be dead before her mother. After one heart attack, two strokes and with 10 percent heart usage, Hellman kicked into action once more.
Along with her daughter, Hellman joined TOPS again at 300 pounds, this time determined to keep the weight off. Being able to work with a group that can help navigate the weight loss journey, accomplishments are a team effort. What TOPS members lose in pounds, they get to display on their jackets as charms, awarded during the weekly weigh-ins. When the weight stalls, however, there will be support from the group. “They say: ‘Don't worry, next week you'll do better,’” says Hellman.
Upon losing the weight, Hellman's heart health went up to 45 percent; her eyesight increased, and she no longer needs diabetes medication. She now keeps a food journal, where she writes down what she eats. After moving up a level and becoming a KOPS (Keep Off Pounds Sensibly), Hellman is motivated to go for TOPS' Century Club Winner for keeping her weight off for a year. Among the 160 Washington State chapters, members have managed to lose a combined total of more than 20 tons of weight in 2015.
Being able to do karaoke with her daughters, dancing and going on hikes with her grandchildren offers a new quality of life that Hellman wants to continue. She is now more active than ever and being told, “Grandma, you're just going to have to slow down a little bit, we can't keep up with you” is a huge motivator to keep going. “I feel like a spring chicken. I can do anything,” she said.
At a $32 annual membership and $5 for the weekly meetings, TOPS invites everyone to join. “Please come and check our TOPS group out. You have to take the first step and come and try it. We are there for you,” says Hellman. She is now eager to motivate others and is available as a guest speaker (Janet Hellman: (253) 370-2725). You can learn about TOPS at www.tops.org.