John Edwards receives an award. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

In March, Pastor John Edwards and his wife Lori attended the TOPS Club Inc. SRD (State Recognition Days) in Murfreesboro where John was awarded the Division 1 men’s first place Weight Loss Award for 2018.

In 2018, John had a net weight loss of 44 pounds, the most loss of any Division 1 male TOPS member in Tennessee. TOPS club is divided into weight divisions for fairness in awards. Division 1 is for members with the highest weight. In the three years since the Unicoi County Chapter of TOPS was formed, John has lost a total of 81.6 pounds

When asked about his weight loss journey, John said, “I have struggled with weight my entire adult life. I weighed 175 pounds at graduation in 1987. By 2001 I had crossed 300 pounds and have not been under that since. I suffered a knee injury in high school and have suffered with osteoarthritis for over 20 years and for most of 2017 and 2018 I was forced to use a cane to walk, and I couldn’t participate in any activities with my family.

“My wife suffers with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. We have three grandsons and were missing out on all the fun that grandchildren bring,” Edwards continued. “We started our TOPS chapter through the church that I pastor because, in addition to our own health issues, we noticed a culture of unhealthy habits in our church, family, and community. Slowly, with the support and encouragement of our TOPS family, we began to learn how to make better, more healthy choices and began to see results.

“In 2018, my wife began the Keto lifestyle, and I joined her several months later,” Edwards continued. “The weight began to come off and we began to be more physically active. I stopped using my cane regularly in October 2018 and have not used it at all since December. I can walk when we shop now instead of riding the handicap carts, and I am able to wear clothes that had been gathering dust in my closet for years. An added, and surprising benefit of this program is that I find myself eating healthy foods that I would not have even considered 12 months ago (I am a very picky eater). I still have a long way to go, but with God’s help and the support of my TOPS family, the journey continues. By continuing my journey, I should be under 300 pounds before the end of 2019, and at my goal weight in early 2021, and I can look forward to a longer and more active life ahead.”

In 2016 Edwards, along with his wife, Lori, sister, Angela Shelton, church member Melody Hensley, and friend, Tracy Ollis, attended a meeting of TOPS Inc. in Johnson City. TOPS is an international weight loss club which emphasizes confidentiality and mutual support and accountability. The name, TOPS stands for “Taking Off Pounds Sensibly.” After attending two meetings of this club, the group decided to start a TOPS chapter in Unicoi County. The group chose TOPS Inc. over other successful weight loss programs for several reasons.

First, the cost. TOPS membership is very affordable, according to the group.

“We felt that the program should not be expensive,” Edwards said.  “A person who is struggling with weight and health issues should not be excluded because of lack of funds. Our club should be easily accessible.”

Membership in TOPS only costs $32 a year to the international club and $5 a month to the local chapter.

Second, TOPS does not promote or encourage any specific nutritional plan, and they do not sell food. TOPS is, at its core, a support group. They encourage members to research, learn, consult with their physician, and find the program that works for them. Every member is required to submit a written weight goal from a physician. The “S” in TOPS stands for sensibly, so the TOPS goal is not only weight loss but improved health.

Third, confidentiality. For most people the number on the scale is a very private and often humiliating thing. The primary rule with TOPS is to maintain confidentiality always.

“We want everyone to feel comfortable,” Edwards said. “We want them to know that they will never be judged. We will celebrate their successes with them and we will encourage them when they have struggled. A gain is not a failure; it is an opportunity to reevaluate and recommit to the goal of better health.”

Unicoi County TOPS started out of a desire to not only improve personal health and wellness, but also to be a support to others who struggle with weight issues. One club member said, “A person who has never struggled with their weight can not possibly understand how we feel. Just being in the room with friends who understand my struggle gives me the strength to keep going.”

Unicoi County TOPS TN 0625 meets every Tuesday at Erwin Church of God, 772 Rock Creek Road in Erwin. Confidential weigh-in is from 6-6:30 p.m. and the meeting is from 6:30-7:30 p.m. For more information, you can call the church at 743-9453, visit the TOPS website at www.tops.org, or visit the TOPS open house on Tuesday, May 7, from 6-7:30 p.m. at Erwin Church of God. The first meeting is free.