By Melanie Patterson

The North Jefferson News

There are several small groups in the north Jefferson County area that operate under the radar but help with a nation-wide problem.

At least three TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) clubs serve dozens of residents who want to drop a few pounds or learn to live a healthier lifestyle.

Diane Vaughn, leader of Gardendale’s TOPS AL #284, said that changing one’s lifestyle is the most important goal of TOPS.

“We try not to use the word ‘diet,’” said Vaughn. “We teach people how to eat sensibly, but not with a specific diet.”

TOPS encourages people to have their doctors recommend an amount of weight to lose. With that goal in mind, TOPS members meet once a week and “learn how to eat better,” said Vaughn.

“Everybody’s so different,” she said. “We try to teach everyone to pay attention to their own body and what works for their body.”

TOPS AL #284 has about 20 members. Weekly meetings include a program about carbs, fats, exercise or other topics.

There is also a weigh-in every week, where prizes like fruit baskets are given to weekly winners as incentives.

Vaughn joined TOPS in 1997 with a goal of losing 20 pounds. She reached her goal in only one year, where she reached the next level: KOPS (Keep Off Pounds Sensibly).

A KOPS member for more than 10 years, Vaughn has led the TOPS AL #284 group for almost three years.

“I know it’s the best secret in the world,” said Angela Dill, member of TOPS AL #284 for about a year. Dill attends the weekly meetings with her grandmother and her mother-in-law.

“It’s kind of a family thing,” she said, adding that the typical weight loss for a TOPS member is 2-3.5 pounds a week.

TOPS is “strictly for support and motivation,” said Jan Francis, TOPS area captain for north Alabama. “We do not give you a diet to follow. We are a support group. We really stress that to people.”

TOPS is a non-profit organization that was formed in 1948 by Esther Manz, according to the TOPS Web site. Manz was concerned about a growing problem with obesity in the U.S.

“Over the years, as more weight management problems such as bulimia and anorexia became widely recognized in medicine, TOPS expanded their scope to include all people with weight problems,” the Web site states.

The organization has more than 170,000 members in almost 10,000 chapters in the U.S. and other countries.

Dues are $26 a year plus monthly chapter fees. The monthly fee for TOPS AL #284 are $5 a month.

For more information about TOPS, call Vaughn at 369-0537 or visit

Three TOPS groups in the area are:

• TOPS AL #284 meets at the Gardendale Civic Center in the Camellia Room on Thursdays at 8:30 a.m. (weigh-in is at 7:45 a.m.)

• TOPS AL #150 meets at Gardendale First Baptist Church, room 2208, at 6:30 p.m. on Mondays (weigh-in is at 6 p.m.)

• TOPS AL #492 meets at Beechwood Baptist Church in Mt. Olive at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays (weigh-in is at 5:45 p.m.)

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