Weight loss is hard and for some with underlying medical conditions, it can seem nearly impossible.

Kimberly Leistner of Connellsville knows firsthand how real those struggles are. She’s had chronic back pain that limited her ability to exercise and she takes medications for a muscle disease that have side effects that interrupt even the most committed dieter.

And that wasn’t the only obstacle for Leistner. She took care of her elderly parents full-time, which didn’t exactly leave a lot of time left over for taking care of herself. In addition, Leistner said most weight loss programs, while they worked, were too costly for her to be able to keep up with them. It was a challenge to be sure.

However, despite all those challenges Leistner found something that worked. She lost an incredible 107.5 pounds in one year with TOPS® (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), a non-profit, non-commercial weight loss, education and support organization that meets in the community. and was crowned Pennsylvania Queen for her success.

To receive the accolade, Leistner had to lose more weight than any other female TOPS member in the entire state. In addition, Leistner said a number of others from her chapter also won awards.

“I was shocked to win the entire state,” she said.

The nationwide competition was won by a woman in Portland, OR who lost an incredible 230 pounds.

Leistner isn’t alone. A lot of people out there need help losing weight, but just don’t know where to turn.

“The sheer notion of losing weight can be intimidating, especially when you consider that more than 1 in 3 U.S. adults are obese and Pennsylvania has an obesity rate of 31.6%, but with the proper support, achieving a healthy lifestyle is possible,” said Kelly Michalski of TOPS.

According to the Center for Disease Control, obesity affects more than a third of all Americans – or 78.6 million people – and it’s associated with 112,000 deaths per year in this country. It can cause an array of medical conditions, including heard disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

According to Leistner, the support she receives from her TOPS family has made all the difference.

“There’s constant support from my fellow members. We have contests and competitions and give awards, but they are there too if having problems – and not just with weight loss but with life,” said Leistner.

TOPS chapters hold regular meetings where members support one another. Leistner’s group meets Monday nights at Albright Church in South Connellsville. Weigh-ins are from 5 to 6 p.m. and the meeting begins at 7.

“Getting together and being accountable at [TOPS] meetings is what works,” said Leistner. “It’s a lifetime commitment, even if you just get weighed.”

In addition to the support, Leistner also uses portion control and regular exercise to keep up with her weight loss and healthy living goals. She struggles with most exercise options, but she tries to walk regularly.

Leistner’s sister Beth actually introduced her to the group after several other weight loss plan’s failed for her. She said it’s hard to explain, but it just works.

“I think it’s the family environment. Everyone is just there for one another. It’s not just the weight. They are there for you.”

According to Leistner, members range from teen to 98 years old. At meetings, she said they have various speakers come in and elect officers. Over the years, Leistner has pretty much held every office there is except for leader.

In addition to individuals, Leistner said her chapter also has three couples who have their own little competition going.

It’s easy and doesn’t cost anything for someone to come sit-in on a meeting. If you decide to join it costs jut $32 to join and $2 per month. The only other cost is once members make their goals and keep a menu, and it’s 10 cents per pound if a member gains that week.

Founded in 1948, TOPS is the only nonprofit, noncommercial weight-loss organization of its kind, and chances are there’s a group that meets in your neighborhood. TOPS promotes successful weight management using a “Real People. Real Weight Loss.®” philosophy that combines support from others at weekly chapter meetings, healthy eating, regular exercise and wellness information.

TOPS has more than 100,000 members in the U.S. and Canada, who have lost over 2,000 tons of excess weight.

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