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Slim success

Louise Clanzy is a sensible woman who now “TOPS” about 200 pounds on the bathroom scale — and is proud of it.

For some, 200 pounds is an unacceptable weight, but for the 66-year-old Andalusia resident, the number symbolizes an 18-month journey to remold not only her body but also the way she feels about herself.

On Jan. 22, 2008, Clanzy weighed 398 pounds — “which wasn’t even the heaviest I’ve ever been,” she admitted. That day a friend convinced her to go to a meeting of the “Taking Off Pounds Sensibly” (TOPS) group at the Andalusia Adult Activity Center. That same day, she made up her mind to change her life forever.

“That was the day I went to my first meeting,” she said. “I didn’t drive. If I needed anything, I’d send someone to the store. I walked with a cane. I couldn’t fit in a car. I just sat at the house.

“I hated it,” she said. “I knew, just knew I had to do something.”

When asked how she reached her highest weight, she said simply, “Eating.”

“I kept kids at the house,” she said. “If they asked for a snack — cookies, peanut butter and jelly — well I had to have some, too. I knew (the weight) was coming on, and before I knew it, I was having trouble getting up and into a car.”

Over the years, Clanzy said she tried every diet “under the sun” only to watch her weight “see saw” up and down until the day she made her way to her first TOPS meeting.

The group, which meets every Tuesday afternoon at 5 p.m., is a chapter of the TOPS Club Inc., a nonprofit, noncommercial weight-loss support organization whose objective is to encourage healthy lifestyles through weight-management support groups.

And support is exactly what Clanzy said she needed most.

“The thing about losing weight is you have to make up your mind,” she said. “You have to be focused. If you aren’t committed and focused, hang it up. It’s not going to work. If you’ve got someone behind you, like the people at TOPS, you can do it.”

It was that level of support that got Clanzy in a car and to her first TOPS meeting. After paying the then-$24 annual membership fee, she was on the road to massive weight loss. The fee has since increased to $26 annually, plus a $4 monthly chapter fee.

“I like (TOPS) because it’s cheap — I’m a poor woman, you know — and every one there is behind you,” she said. “That first time I came, their scale couldn’t weigh me. It only went up to 350 pounds. I had to go out to the hospital so they could put me on that big scale. I told everyone I would just be so proud to be able to weigh at the center. I prayed for it that night. I never imagined I would be about to lose this much weight.”

So just how much weight has Clanzy lost?

“190 pounds and counting,” she said proudly. “My doctor says I should weigh 185 pounds. I’m going to do it too. I think I’ll be there by November.”

Clanzy lost so much weight it earned her a first place honor at the annual state TOPS competition in weight loss for her division in Birmingham and a second place honor at the international competition held recently in Orlando, Fla.

“I lost the first place by 3 pounds,” she said. “Huh, 3 measly pounds. Can you believe it?”

And while some may let disappointment send them to the “snack cabinet,” Clanzy said that’s the pivotal point in any diet where focus and motivation should take over.

“If you go home and eat, what does that do? It makes you gain all that weight back,” she said. “You’ve got to say focused. Stay on your diet, and get motivated. You do all that and a little bit of exercise and the weight will come off.”

Clanzy followed a diet similar to one sponsored by a national weight loss chain.

Breakfast consists of two slices of cinnamon toast (on 40-calorie bread) and a “smidgen of butter” and diet sugar “sprinkled on top” and a cup of coffee.

Her lunch or dinner consists of baked fish or boiled or baked chicken and vegetables.

Starches, like potatoes, don’t usually grace her dinner plate, she said. Desserts and fruits are allowed in moderation, but they aren’t frequent selections.

“Those starches slow down your weight loss,” she said. “I want mine to come off, so I leave off the potatoes. Now, fruits — you have to be careful. On my diet, you have fruit three times a week. My favorite is cantaloupe. I love a cantaloupe. I’ll eat the whole thing, but that will count as two of my three times.

“Desserts mean sugar and that’s not good for me,” she said.

The key to diet success is simple, she said.

“You’ve got to learn how to work in your diet,” she said. “Know how this food works for your body. Look at labels and look for help when you need it. That what TOPS is for me. Now I’ve laid down my cane and can walk about a mile and a half each morning, and I feel good about myself.”

For more information about the TOPS program, visit its Web site at www.tops.org. Local meetings of the TOPS chapter are held each Tuesday at 5 p.m.

“When I come in now for meetings, they say, ‘Here comes ‘Skinny,’” Clanzy said. “At first I was embarrassed. Now I just duck my head and smile.”