9 May 2018TOPS - Support for dieters, but not a diet

What is TOPS?

TOPS - Take Off Pounds Sensibly - is not a diet program; it's a support system for dieters. The non-profit organization's mission statement is:
"...to help and support our members as they take off and keep off pounds sensibly."

Like Weight Watchers, TOPS is organized as a membership program for people who want to lose weight. The similarity ends there. TOPS does not promote a particular diet regimen. It does not use celebrity endorsements or advertising. It's not a for-profit company and it isn't listed on the stock exchange. It doesn't sell food products. The TOPS program is focused solely on supporting members through their own weight loss and weight maintenance journey.

How does it work?

The modest yearly dues of $32 gives members access to local meetings and a wide range of support materials. Members can choose their own weight loss plan, but TOPS does have some recommendations for people who want more guidance on sensible healthy diets:

  • The Food Exchange System, which is essentially the system used by the American Diabetes Association.
  • The USDA MyPlate
  • Canada's Food Guide

Weekly meetings include private weigh-ins and presentations about exercise, nutrition and health to reinforce positive behaviors and choices. As one long-term TOPS member puts it:

One of benefits of TOPS I find is that members present the programs. TOPS provides some information, but many members have a great deal of knowledge that they share. I believe this practice provides more "buy In" and motivation. Members aren't just having something done to them. They are involved in making weight loss decisions for themselves.

In this particular member's point of view, programs like Weight Watchers are more "top down," in which members follow the rules dictated by Weight Watchers. TOPS is more self-directed. There are no diet rules. You could theoretically follow a Paleo diet or count calories using a diet tracker like MyNetDiary, and go to TOPS meetings for the social support to stay motivated and share ideas and success stories.

Pros

  • People can take advantage of the support aspect of the TOPS program while following whichever weight loss regimen they prefer.
  • If you need some guidance on diet and fitness, TOPS has plenty of resources for members, including a comprehensive book Real Life that anyone (including non-members) can purchase.
  • Many highly qualified healthcare professionals contribute their expertise to the TOPS program.
  • Meetings are local, and workplace chapters can be organized to make meetings even more convenient.
  • If you are not a 'meetings' sort of person, TOPS has an online option, which includes a meal plan, weight tracker tool, videos, worksheets, weekly chat room meetings and access to the resource library.
  • After you've reached your goal weight, members can transition to KOPS -- Keep Off Pounds Sensibly, to help you maintain your weight loss.

Cons

People who need more structure and guidance about food choices, meal plans and calories might not benefit from the looser structure of TOPS. And if you are not a 'meetings' type of person, or have a very hectic schedule, regular attendance at the meetings might be a barrier to participation.

Cost

The yearly membership is $32, plus a monthly fee of roughly $5 for costs associated with meetings. You can also purchase the TOPS book Real Life (see above), which has more detailed information on health, fitness and diet.

Social Support

TOPS is all about social support. The meetings and online resources are all designed to provide support to members who are trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss.

Summary

Does it work?

TOPS works for people who value the support system. But you have to participate. As the member commented above, it's not about having a diet imposed on you. You need to be self-directed, and enjoy interacting with other people.

Who would benefit most from this program?

People who take advantage of the social support system, but need less guidance on diet.

Is it viable long term?

Yes, as a support system. And as noted, TOPS has a built-in program for weight maintenance - KOPS.

Do I like this program?

I do like the concept of this program, although I realize it's not for everyone. Weight loss is not a quick fix for obesity; it's just the beginning of the lifelong weight management process. Dieters can't spend their lives following a rigid diet. At some point, they need to learn to eat normally in the real world. TOPS can help members achieve that goal.

Resources

The TOPS website has a wealth of information about how the program works, as well as resources on diet, fitness and wellness. You can sign up online and find local chapters, or get help setting up your own local meeting.

In addition, TOPS sponsors obesity research, including genomic research on risks and treatment of obesity.

Donna P Feldman MS RDN is author of Feed Your Vegetarian Teen and Food Wisdom for Women: nutrition for aging with energy, vitality and health. Donna writes about food and nutrition at Radio Nutrition and is co-host of the Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

Tags:

Weight Loss/Family & Friends Weight Loss/Diets

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