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Durango weight-loss group inspires long-lasting lifestyle changes

TOPS members meet once a week to share, encourage, motivate and support each other
Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) members in Durango lost nearly 76 pounds in 2022. From left: Cheryl Clay, Leslie Walsh, Thelma Schuh – who has lost 53 pounds since joining – and Judy Baumgardner. (Garret Jaros/Durango Herald)

Eating sweet and fat-laden foods is one of the ways the human brain developed in order to encourage survival of the species. Eating when food was available to balance out the times when food was not available is also a survival mechanism. But in this modern world where calorie- and sugar-laden foods are abundant – that brain chemistry can lead to overeating, disease and disability.

And that’s where a supportive group like TOPS can make all the difference for folks wanting to get a handle on pushing back from the table and roping in that nearly irresistible pull toward sugar.

The Durango chapter of TOPS, which stands for “Take Off Pounds Sensibly,” meets Wednesday mornings at Durango-La Plata County Senior Center. The meetings begin with an optional weigh-in followed by a “lively” discussion in which members share encouragement, strategies, success stories and difficulties faced in the battle against the bulge.

The latest meeting, which featured a guest speaker talking about motivation, began with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a recitation of the TOPS pledge.

“I am an intelligent person. I will control my emotions, not let my emotions control me. Every time I am tempted to use food to satisfy my frustrated desires, build up my injured ego or dull my senses, I will remember – I will take off pounds sensibly.”

Ellen Fisher, who leads the group, greets the women in attendance individually with “We’re glad you are here,” to which someone replies, “Me too, it beats staying at home.” Then guest speaker Nicole Clark, who is a registered dietitian and nutritionist, kicks things off by asking everyone to share why it is important to them to be at the meeting – “because that’s an important motivator.”

“I need to get out,” said Judy Baumgardner of Bayfield. “I don’t want to go anywhere, especially in the winter. But I just need to keep trying to lose weight.”

Baumgardner joined TOPS originally just to lose weight, but said it’s now about a healthier lifestyle, which includes eating healthier and exercising more. Sugar is her biggest nemesis. A sentiment echoed by all in attendance.

“Losing weight isn’t easy,” she said later. “I guess because I can’t stick to a diet plan. And I don’t want to think of it as a diet anymore. I want to just think of it as being healthier.”

TOPS members track their weight loss, and collectively reported losing nearly 76 pounds in 2022.

Leslie Walsh of Durango said coming to the meetings helps her focus and establish a routine. About six years ago, she was exercising a lot but the weight was not coming off. She was just adding muscle.

“And I just needed more to be able to lose weight, reach goals and be healthier,” she said. “And this is a really nice way to do that. People are very supportive and if you have suddenly gained a lot of weight, the people here really encourage you.”

Accountability, long-term health, and group support to help keep the weight off, rounded out what motivated the group.

Clark then shared extrinsic and intrinsic rewards that can motivate. Dropping down in pants size is an example of extrinsic, while digging deeper into the “why” we are motivated to change unhealthy habits is an example of intrinsic, which tends to lead to longer-lasting positive results.

Clark challenged the group to reflect on what is most important to them, and setting reachable, specific, measurable goals.

“There’s nothing worse than setting yourself up for failure by setting goals that are too difficult,” she said.

TOPS is open to all.

For more information, contact Ellen Fisher at 749-2799.


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