For Debbie Danner, losing weight had been a llfelong struggle.
"I've been on a diet all my life," the 68-year-old said. "I had done pills, I had done everything."
Some programs had worked — for a while — but it still came down to seeking something consistent with results that would last. That's when she got back into TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly).
At its core, the nonprofit's program is about putting in the work without any gimmicks. Its "Real People. Real Weight Loss.” philosophy relies on weekly chapter meetings, healthy eating, regular exercise and wellness information to lose and keep weight off.
Danner had tried TOPS before, in the 1970s, losing 100 pounds, but she found that she couldn't rely on other members in her meeting for the support she needed to maintain the weight.
What brought her back to the program in 2018 was a desire to improve her fitness for her senior years.
"I wanted to get out, to prove to myself that I could still do it. Put my mind in gear. I'm getting up there in age and I've got to watch my health."
She started attending the TOPS meetings at Kern City Senior Adult Community, one of three chapters in Bakersfield.
"It was up to me what I wanted to do (to lose). I wanted to do my diet."
The self-described "carb junkie," who said she used to be able to eat a whole loaf of white bread, started swapping in smarter choices for her three meals a day. Breakfast could be wheat toast with plant butter, egg whites and coffee.
Abstaining from eating meat for moral reasons, she focused on fruits and vegetables and added fish into her diet. A fan of visiting Pismo Beach, she takes advantage of the fresh seafood options on trips.
"There is a lot of fish and crab and this sort of stuff. I've never liked fish before but now I love it."
She also exercised regularly, including walking marathons, and said she loved "every minute of it."
This time, the program stuck. From a starting weight of 142.2 pounds, she lost 31.4 to reach her ideal weight of 115 pounds.
"I've never been a size 1 in my life," Danner said. "I can pick off the rack. It's mind over the stomach, you have to have them both connect."
Her weight loss was impressive enough to earn her the title of 2019 second-place winner for TOPS Division 5, meaning she came in second for losing more weight than any other woman in her weight division (in the U.S. and Canada). The 2019 winners were announced in 2020 due to a delay from the pandemic.
Of course, an important element of weight loss is sustaining it, which Danner said she has managed through relying on chapter members.
"We help each other. Whenever I have a problem, I call somebody."
Danner said fellow member Linda Andrews has been her inspiration.
She says, 'You've got this, Debbie. You're going to get this.' I respect all the members but she's one hell of a gal. I love her dearly."
The pandemic and people spending more time inside and less active over the last year has sparked health concerns in many. More than 26 percent of Californians self-identified as obese in a 2019 survey conducted by the CDC.
There are 288 TOPS chapters in the state, with three in Bakersfield, and in 2020, members lost a total of 24,259 pounds.
This program made all the difference to Danner, who said it has really changed her life.
"It made me the person I should be: more positive, more focused, more everything. And the girls in my club have been a great help to me."
For more on TOPS and to find local meetings, visit tops.org.