Members of the Ashcroft chapter of TOPS with Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart (centre, standing) during their recent 50th anniversary celebration. Photo: Barbara Roden

Take Off Pounds Sensibly celebrates 50 years in Ashcroft

Organization helps people lose weight and live healthier lives

Many different diets and “lose weight” fads have come and gone over the last 50 years, but the Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) program has endured, and on June 19 celebrated its 50th year in Ashcroft.

Two dozen TOPS members — some from the Clinton TOPS group — gathered at the Ashcroft HUB to mark the occasion, where they were welcomed by Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart and Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden. The Ashcroft TOPS group is the oldest chapter in the area, and there was a large display of historical material, including photographs of former and current members and the original charter. Attendees shared stories and reminiscences, enjoyed lunch, and heard several speakers talk about the Ashcroft group’s long history.

Louise McKague was one of the founder members of that TOPS program in 1969, and notes that “sensibly” is the key word in the organization’s name. She adds that belonging to the group does not cost an arm and a leg.

“We’re reasonably priced [$46 per year], and there’s no ‘fake food’ that you have to buy like with other programs. People use their own food.”

TOPS began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1948, when a group of ladies got together and decided they needed, between them, to lose a few pounds in a sensible way. The TOPS program soon grew internationally, and today offers a “hands on, pounds off” solution to weight loss that doesn’t depend on celebrity endorsements, quick fixes, or an unrealistic image of the “perfect” body.

“We go to meetings [every Wednesday from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Ashcroft HUB], and everyone has to get weighed,” explains McKague, adding that the meetings also provide support for members.

“If someone is struggling, everyone there has been in the same boat, and can give advice. It’s more like a support group. If someone says they ate a bucket of ice cream, rather than just a bowl, then we help them figure out why, what emotional problems might be involved.

“And we don’t tell people what they can or cannot eat. That’s up to individuals, to find out what works for them.”

McKague says that the group’s numbers have fluctuated over the years, with about 15 members now. “We’ve had more, and we’ve had a lot less. Some groups struggle to keep enough members. There was a time [in the 1970s] when we had two groups in Ashcroft, because the first group got to have too many members, and one in Cache Creek.”

At that time the Ashcroft group met in the evening in what was then the doctors’ office on Railway Avenue at 6th Street. “Then we were lucky enough to get a room at the old Bethlehem Apartments [on Government Street],” says McKague. “There was a rec room in the basement that no one used.

“We had that room for a lot of years, then met at the library, at the Anglican church, at the Roman Catholic church, then back to the Anglican church. Now we’re at the HUB.”

McKague is the group’s weight recorder (“I’ll always have a job!” she laughs), and says that most members attend meetings weekly. When people reach their goal weight they can register for KOPS (Keep Off Pounds Sensibly) status.

“You get a 10-pound leeway once you reach your goal,” explains McKague. KOPS members still attend regular meetings and get weighed, and can go three pounds over or seven pounds below their goal weight. If a person goes beyond those parameters they have two weeks to get back within the 10-pound range or they lose their KOPS status.

“We have some members at their goal weight but who haven’t registered for KOPS, because they don’t want that pressure.”

McKague says that the group receives material from the TOPS head office, and that the yearly membership fee includes a subscription to the TOPS magazine.

Members can also order educational resources and books from the TOPS online store.

Although the Ashcroft group is comprised only of women, McKague says that men are welcome to take part as well. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a man in the Ashcroft group, although there were a couple in the Cache Creek group back in the day.”

The group is intended for anyone over the age of 18. “It helps a lot of people to be able to get together once a week and talk to others. The group is pretty much all seniors, and we get together with friends each week, so there’s a real social aspect to it.”

She notes that the membership fee is kept reasonable compared with other weight loss programs because people don’t need to purchase special food.

“We’re not classified as a diet. It’s about lifestyle and eating sensibly. A lot can happen if you don’t eat sensibly, and everyone should try to, whether you belong to TOPS or not.

“You can’t keep doing that sort of eating [with fad diets] for the rest of your life.”

Anyone interested in joining the Ashcroft TOPS group or finding out more about it can contact McKague at (250) 453-2540.

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