BLUEFIELD — The five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are full merry celebrations of faith, family and friends. And, where those three gather, there’s usually festive food as well.
All of the revelry can make it impossible for calorie counters among us to stick to diets from the time the turkey lands on the Thanksgiving table until it’s time to make a new year’s round of resolutions.
But, there are organizations, such as TOPS – which stands for Taking Off Pounds Sensibly – and people like Donna Jamison, who have discovered some secrets to keeping waistlines trim, even as we trim trees, deck the halls and find ourselves surrounded by holiday treats of all kinds.
“I had to get this in order first,” Jamison said, pointing to her temple to indicate she had to get her way of thinking in order before she finally lost her lifelong goal of 122 pounds. “Then, I lost the weight over 18 months.”
Although the Tazewell County, Va., woman consistently saw the pounds drop week in and week out once she started to lose weight with the right diet plan and support from TOPS solidly in place, her road to her “right size” was anything but easy. It was riddled with lots of setbacks, heartbreak and yo-yo dieting in which Jamison acknowledges she repeatedly lost and regained the same 10-20 pounds.
“I have been a member of TOPS for over 20 years, and I had myself convinced that I was going to look like that for the rest of my life,” she said recently, displaying a photo of herself, holding the hand of her first daughter during a family outing, when Jamison wore a size 28 skirt.
Weight has been an issue in her life for as long as she can recall.
“I’ve always been a big person,” Jamison said. “When I graduated from high school, I weighed close to 200 pounds. My weight became a bigger problem after getting married in 1984.”
Jamison and her husband then set out to grow their family, and they suffered six miscarriages over the next five years, only to be informed by her doctor that he believed her weight was impeding her ability to carry a baby to full term.
“My doctor told me I needed to lose weight if I wanted to carry a baby to full term,” she recalled this week.
Immediately, she set out to lose weight as quickly as possible, determined to do everything possible to carry a baby to full term and bring a baby into the world well.
“In 1989, I welcomed into the world my first child,” Jamison said. “At the age of 40, it really was not easy.”
In 1992, Jamison joined TOPS, weighing in at 287 pounds and wearing a size 28. By that time, she had baby weight from her first pregnancy she needed to lose, on top of the weight she had already carried and tried unsuccessfully to lose on her own.
With the support of TOPS, which focuses on healthful ways to lose weight without surgery, Jamison regularly found herself on the path toward losing weight, but in 1993, she got another surprise. She learned she was pregnant again, and with her history of miscarriages, her doctor was concerned she might not be able to carry her second daughter to full term.
Jamison was also concerned.
“I said, ‘Good Lord in Heaven, I’m a late bloomer,’ but we worked through it, and I welcomed my second child at 43 years old,” she said.
This time, Jamison managed to make it through the pregnancy without putting on nearly as much extra weight as she did during her first pregnancy, and the weight she did gain, she lost efficiently and safely.
Over the next 20 years, Donna said she found plenty of moral and social support from TOPS, where each meeting includes a weigh-in segment and a support meeting — often featuring an inspirational speaker —among like-minded people facing similar challenges. Her meetings were, and continue to be, at the First United Methodist Church on College Avenue in Bluefield, Va., where guests are always welcome. However, Jamison realized she faced a problem controlling her eating.
In April 2014, she attended the TOPS Special Recognition Day for the state of Virginia, a time in which TOPS recognizes the people in each state who have posted the largest losses in the last year, and Jamison was impressed with what she saw. She was also inspired.
Three of the people honored that day were losing weight, and winning, with the same diet. Although TOPS doesn’t endorse any specific diet, and Jamison acknowledges that each person must find what works for him or her, she said the high-fiber and low-carb recommendations of the Full-Plate Diet have been perfect for her.
“Some people can’t eat high-fiber, and I had to work my way into it,” she said. “But it really worked for me.”
From April until the end of 2014 Jamison managed to lose weight every single week, losing more than 50 pounds, and in 2015, she accomplished her goal of dropping the full 122 pounds she set as her goal when she joined TOPS in the 1990s.
In 2015, by keeping off the pounds she lost in TOPS, Jamison graduated from TOPS to become a member of KOPS, Keeping Off Pounds Sensibly, and she was named Queen of Tops, earning a crown, sash and a bouquet of roses for her hard work and weight loss.
As we enter the season of friends, family, faith, festivity and food, she offered some tips to avoid packing on the pounds with the presents.
“I have to eat before I go to a party or a gathering. That way, I’m not tempted to eat what is there,” Jamison said. “That would be my advice to others too, because we know what’s going to be there, and we know that’s not what we’re supposed to eat.”
She also carries nutrition guides with her so that she can always refer to them if she is tempted by something while on the go and needs to know how dangerous they are to derailing her diet.
Her KOPS certificate, reminding her that she has achieved her goal and only has a 10-pound leeway to maintain that achievement, along with pictures of herself before and after her weight loss are also always with Jamison, in case she needs visual reminders of where she was before she got her mind and diet in order and how far she has come on her weight-loss journey.
“I carry these with me as my reminders that I did accomplish what I set out to do,” she said.
In addition to the pictures and food reminders, Jamison also always carries her Silver Sneakers card in her wallet and considers how much of a workout she’ll have to do if she makes additions outside her high-fiber, low-carb diet, in order to work off the extra calories she takes in.
“In order to lose weight, you have to take in fewer calories than you work off, so if I eat more, I have to work off more,” Jamison said.
She also recommended anyone trying to lose weight invest in a small notebook that can easily be carried anywhere as a food journal.
“I write everything down that I eat. That way, I can record everything. I can calculate how many calories and how much fiber I’ve eaten and know exactly how much I have to work off in order to continue losing,” she said.
At home, Jamison makes it a point to walk as much in and around her home as possible, but she also enjoys a membership at the local community center, where water aerobics offers a terrific workout that is also easy on her joints.
“I like it when I’m in the water, because the water is warm, but I don’t like it when I’m out of the water,” she said.
And, for those moments when she is out of the pool and starving from a good workout, Jamison is prepared with a fiber bar that fits within her diet and prevents her from grabbing an unhealthy snack.
“I keep one in my bag and two in the glove compartment of my car at all times,” she said.
— Contact Tammie Toler at firstname.lastname@example.org