By Crystal Thompson
Approximately 250 dieters from around Montana will be in Havre to recognize the state's top weight losses at TOPS State Recognition Days Thursday through Saturday.
TOPS, which stands for Take Off Pounds Sensibly, is an international non-profit weight loss support group. Members meet weekly in their local chapters for a private weigh-in and a program that includes positive reinforcement and education to aid members in attaining and maintaining their weight goals.
Havre alone has five chapters with nearly 100 members, according to state coordinator Jere Briere.
Briere lives in Havre and has been a member of TOPS since 1997. Briere said the weekly meetings offer information about different food programs and maintaining a healthy diet, as well as provide support and encouragement to members.
State Recognition Days is a time of fellowship, support and awards for TOPS members across Montana. Members are recognized for their weight losses during the preceding year and also for total weight loss from the time their membership began.
Making a special appearance at the convention will be Susan Schnell of Crookston, Minn. Schnell is the TOPS Club 1999 International Queen and has lost a total of 208 pounds so far. She is originally from Glendive.
"I want to convey that it is possible to lose weight sensibly, without taking pills or having stomach bypass surgery, even when you are more than 200 pounds overweight," Schnell said.
"I was overweight for more than 25 years and I was only 38 years old. Many times I didn't go places because I didn't want to be pointed at or giggled at," Schnell said. "... I didn't want to wait until I got diabetes or had a stroke to change my lifestyle. I'd tried all kinds of weight loss programs before, but never tried TOPS."
When Schnell joined, she was escorted to the local clinic to weigh in on a floor scale designed for wheelchair-bound people. It was the only scale available that went above 350 pounds.
"I weighed 363 pounds," she said. Through continuing support from her local TOPS chapter, Schnell reached her goal weight of 155 pounds.
Briere said the TOPS Club has had a great impact on its Hi-Line members, and offers a healthy and practical way to lose weight.
"(TOPS Club) has transformed several lives locally," Briere said.
For more information about TOPS or the upcoming state convention, contact Briere at 265-5659 or visit www.tops.org.