It just makes sense for spouses to join TOPS together. At least, that’s what David and Chris Billing have found.
The husband-wife pair is one of at least five married couples at TOPS MO 0502 Wright City – and it’s an example David has seen firsthand, as well. One of the other husband-wife teams at his chapter is none other than his parents. David’s mother is a 17-year KOPS.
“At first, I didn’t want to horn in on (my parents’) club, but they always talked about the group, and how much they enjoyed the people, and at some point, I knew I needed to lose about 30 pounds,” David said.
And David admits he wasn’t quick to overhaul his eating habits or start up an exercise regimen on his own. So, he joined TOPS for the support. Next, he asked his wife to come on board.
David has now been a member for about four years; and chapter leader for nearly two. Chris Billing started her journey in May 2021. COVID-19 played a role in signing her up.
“COVID kind of ended up being one of those things – you thought you had everything under control,” Chris Billing said.
But she didn’t. In Chris’s younger years, she was used to keeping her weight in check, but circumstances changed when the pandemic hit. Not to mention, it’s harder once you get a little older, said Chris, who’s now in her early 60s. It was just another reason why TOPS was a perfect fit at just the right time.
“If a married couple does it together – meaning both people are in the same club with the same goal, they encourage each other,” David said. “And then there’s some accountability at home, too.”
Added Chris with a laugh, “Plus, if a husband and wife are in the same club, you’re not working against each other – you can ask questions like, is that your second cupcake, David?”
Word of mouth
The Billings’ neighbor started the program, too, around the same time. That’s another thing that makes this chapter so special: The group grows the old-fashioned way, largely based on word of mouth.
“Wright City is a small town, but people come in from all over the place,” David said. “One member has probably an hour drive. A family member will want to support another family member. We’ll drive in. We care about each other.”
At the beginning of each meeting, members talk about who might need some encouragement this week, and at the end, they name someone for whom they are grateful. And that’s not all. New members are made to feel very welcome.
The chapter announces the person, and posts a few of the new member’s details – such as his or her birthday and address – and lots of fellow members will follow up by sending a welcome card in the mail. Someone sits with the new face on his or her first day, as well, to help answer questions.
Leaders also try not to use too much insider TOPS jargon, and they aim to make the meeting experience more like an upbeat gathering, said Diana Kennedy, the chapter’s weight recorder.
“It’s almost like a social event, initially,” Kennedy said.
Added Chris, “If the meeting starts at 9, a lot of people get there at 8, just to catch up.”
People talk amongst each other, and chat about the best ways to keep spreading the news about TOPS.
“David and I talk often about being in the group,” Chris said. “And people are receptive to knowing it’s not a diet, but a support group. We just talk about what we’re doing. When people hear ‘diet,’ they’re like, ‘Oh, another diet.’ People say, ‘I’ve tried that and that and that already.’ But accountability is the biggest thing. And friends and family see how much you’re losing, and that sparks interest.”
Rebounding from COVID
The Billings’ advice for others already in the program? Be supportive to one another, and challenge each member to talk to someone about TOPS each week.
It’s proven effective in Wright City. The chapter boasted as many as 90-some members, for some time. That number dropped into the 60s during COVID, but it’s slowly rebounding. At last check, they were in the mid-70s, membership-wise.
The chapter has 30 KOPS, as well. They make it a point to recognize these hard-working members. In fact, on the day of this interview, David said, 10 KOPS had just presented at the program, sharing with the group how they’ve maintained their weights.
Some of their ideas included: Changing your plate size, brushing your teeth after supper – because you don’t want to eat, and have to brush them again before bed – counting your calories, carbs, and of course, reading food labels, along with implementing exercise and drinking lots of water.
Members genuinely seem to love attending meetings and sharing/hearing the best tricks of the trade.
“It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle,” David said. “When people come, they often come for the social aspect … people need that social time. Members learn it’s not just a group where you come and you go. There are friendships made.”
Added Kennedy, “My family has tried to get me to move to St. Louis. I was like, ‘I have TOPS family. I can’t move!’”
Chris echoed that same sentiment: “My husband and I have moved closer to our sons and grandkids, but we drive 25 miles one way because of the people,” she said.
Finally, David acknowledged everyone who built this chapter into what it is today.
“We stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us,” David said. “This was a big club when I joined. The fact that we survived COVID is remarkable. We’ll continue to focus on each other, and we’ll keep growing.”
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