Friday January 4, 2013

With the New Year, we think about ways to improve our lives by taking a class, starting a new hobby, maybe looking for a new job. Health-related resolutions are great, but often the hardest to keep: exercise more, quit smoking, and eat healthier.

We hear how the support of friends helps a lot in keeping your New Year’s resolutions. That’s certainly true with the TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) group at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, where members say the group support makes all the difference. Members have lost from five to eighty pounds each over several months, depending on their goals. It’s a powerful and growing success story that’s important to share as members of our community strive to lose weight and take on healthier lifestyles.

TOPS began over 60 years ago with the principle that peer support is the most powerful tool for weight loss. Our program began last spring in response to community members asking the hospital for an affordable approach to weight loss. Steve Gordon, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital CEO, suggested TOPS, which he had seen work successfully elsewhere. Our "TOPS with a Twist" has the added feature of being led by a registered dietitian certified in diabetes education and a diet technician. That way, we ensure that participants with heart disease and diabetes not only have their specific health plans supported and questions on diet answered, but do so as part of a sound weight loss program.

We start each 45-minute weekly session with members sharing how they’re doing with their wellness goals, and maybe other aspects of their life and well-being. Laughter and spirited discussion soon follow, as people are quick to pick up on shared experience of common barriers and struggles, triumphs, and tales of varying success. We then go on to present a topic that group members have requested such as carbohydrates and glycemic index of foods, sodium, artificial sweeteners, emotional freedom, and motivation techniques.

Participants report looking forward to coming back each week for the great sense of camaraderie, fun, and informational value of the sessions. Just as important are the good humor, good feeling, and inspiration that come from others standing with you in your personal goals for health and fitness, and the progress that members mark together week to week.

There are no quick fixes, fad diets, pills, or high monthly fees in our TOPS program, just a supportive, educational environment where participants feel encouraged and not judged.

Our goals for 2013 include raising awareness about the link between obesity and the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Weight loss as prevention for Type 2 diabetes is one important resource we would like to offer the community in the coming year.

For more information, contact Peg Canal-Wittler MS, RD, CDE nutritionist, registered dietitian, and Certified Diabetes Educator with Brattleboro Memorial Hospital at 802-257-8265, or go to www.tops.org.