Liz McGinness, Shannon Krysl and Susan Arensman are losing weight, trying new recipes, exercising regularly and learning to not let food control their lives.
They are among Wichita school district employees who have become members of 30-some chapters of TOPS that meet before school, after school or over lunch as part of the Wichita school district's wellness program.
TOPS — Take Off Pounds Sensibly — is a nonprofit weight-loss support organization. The program began in the Wichita schools this year and will be one of 25 wellness activities offered to employees in 2010. Employees must participate in four of the activities or pay part of their health insurance premium.
Krysl, director of employee benefits and risk management for the district, had been looking for a weight loss program that was "affordable, flexible and convenient." TOPS worked with the district to get the groups going and provides guidance for group leaders.
"Their curriculum is very flexible," she says.
Most of the weekly meetings are a combination of sharing tips, talking about challenges and discussing weight loss books. Members also must weigh in weekly.
Krysl says she participates because "I need to be walking the talk."
She has lost about 25 pounds since the beginning of the year and hopes to lose 20 more, by cutting back.
"I just decided this time I am not going on a diet," she says. "It's just going to be a slow process.... As long as I'm not gaining, I'm happy."
Arensman, a school district spokeswoman, has lost about 20 pounds by eating less and getting on the treadmill more.
"You get the cheers, and you get the encouragement, and it helps," she says of fellow members of her group, which is led by McGinness.
The weekly weigh-ins have helped Arensman stay with the program, as have discussions about the challenges of Halloween candy and Thanksgiving dinner.
"We know this is one day where you're going to throw caution to the wind," she says; the goal is to limit it to one day.
Arensman says this is her first experience with an organized weight loss group and one she embraced because of its lunch hour meeting. "I just never have had time," she says. "I have two young kids, so trying to do that outside of the workday just didn't work."
McGinness, assistant director of special education, says she has lost a dress size since starting.
"I am back in pants that I haven't been able to wear for about four years," she says.
She works out 30 minutes a day and avoids snacks, sweets and seconds.
But on weekends, she cuts herself some slack. "I don't go overboard with it, but it gives me a little bit of play so I'm not feeling like I'm constantly saying 'no' to everything I enjoy."
She also has learned to use her slow cooker, prepping the meal the night before so that she's not frantic and hungry when she gets home from work. (Find two of her favorite recipes on this page.)
TOPS also has an exchange plan that it recommends for those starting out. McGinness, Arensman and Krysl like that TOPS gives them the freedom to follow their own plan.
"It's not that you have to follow this rule, it's just whatever works for you," McGinness says.