By JESSICA RHODES
For The Recorder
Hagaman resident Elaine Gasner may look like an ordinary woman, but she is actually a queen -- the Queen of TOPS New York for losing the most total weight of members statewide in 2012.
"It was all just through food and exercise," said Gasner, who lost the weight over a period of 29 years. "The main thing was the support, too, because anytime you lose weight they cheered you on."
"Recognition features very highly in our efforts to help our people continue in what we believe is a lifestyle change," explained Barbara Cady, TOPS president.
TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) is a nonprofit organization started in 1948 by a Milwaukee housewife.
Since then it has donated more than $8 million to obesity-related research and helped millions of people that struggle with the problem of obesity with support groups that encourage them to gradually change to a healthier lifestyle.
Weekly meetings help keep members accountable and allow them to share ideas about small, healthy changes they have made, according to Cady.
TOPS' average membership is 160,000 people, with 5,000 from New York state in almost 300 chapters.
Last year, the state members lost a total of 27,500 pounds.
"I think one of the things that really is most important is we focus on small changes through time and maintaining a healthy lifestyle," said Cady. "Most of the research indicates that if you're going to be successful with weight loss and maintenance you have to find something you're willing to do the rest of your life. And the Queen of New York is a perfect example of that because she has been a member 30 years, and gradually through time she kept developing small changes that enabled her to be successful in completing her weight loss journey."
Cady understands the struggle of weight loss the members face, because she went through it herself.
She joined TOPS when she was newly married.
"I wanted to have children. I was so overweight that I had had a series of miscarriages and my doctor had told me that if I wanted to have children I needed to lose down to a healthier weight. TOPS provided the vehicle that actually worked for me. I went on to lose a significant amount of weight and have three children."
Cady remained a member for several years and was then approached to get more involved to help others as she had been helped.
Progressively she became more involved, and has now been a part of TOPS for more than 40 years.
Gasner was also spurred to lose weight by her children. She joined a Tops chapter in 1983 with friends from work, as a social group and to try to lose weight.
But then her doctor gave her some bad news:
"I was 38 and my daughter was born, and I was so overweight at that time that my doctor said I wouldn't see her graduate. I decided right then I had to get serious."
After losing 100 pounds over a period of six years, Gasner's health problems decreased significantly; knee problems the doctor had said would put her in a wheelchair healed with therapy, she reduced her risk for diabetes and her cholesterol went down. She just reached her final goal by losing her last 23 pounds in 2012.
"The first hundred pounds that I lost, it went off ... not too hard. But then the last 23 pounds was the hardest," Gasner said.
She's gone to a few different chapters over the years and has made friends from all over the country. One fellow TOPS member lives in Utah; they met at the TOPS yearly international conference after Gasner lost her first 100 pounds.
According to Gasner, one of the most important lessons she's learned through her weight-loss journey is how to deal with life's challenges without turning to the comfort of food.
"I have all these friends that are here for me," Gasner said. "Every time I got depressed I would always eat, it was like comfort, but now it's the opposite. So that's one thing that I've learned through TOPS, you don't have to rely on food to get you through the tough times."
Instead, Gasner relies on the support group of her family, and friends from TOPS.
"I have a daughter and a son. And they're a really good support group. I feel very lucky and fortunate," she said.