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Rating Alternative Diets for Seniors


The TOPS Diet for Seniors

TOPS, which stands for "Take Off Pounds Sensibly," is a no-frills, low-cost diet plan. Actually, it's not a diet at all but rather a loosely knit support system for people trying to lose weight.

Quick Take

  • Offers a loosely knit support system of TOPS chapters
  • Meetings vary from chapter to chapter throughout the country
  • Provides no official diet plan
  • Lets dieters develop the approach that works best for them

This Diet Is Best For

People who prefer to go solo while still having a support group to fall back on

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Dieters who know from experience that they need more clear-cut menus and day-to-day guidance on what they should eat and how they should change their eating behaviors

The Premise

Founded in Milwaukee more than 55 years ago, the nonprofit organization has none of the traditional diet plan offerings: There's no official diet, no prepackaged foods, no supplements, and no counseling.

But for $24 a year plus local chapter dues, members can attend weekly support meetings at one of about 10,000 local TOPS chapters, where they will weigh themselves, discuss problems, and even exchange recipes. Chapter leaders are volunteers from the TOPS membership. In addition to weekly support meetings, the national organization offers incentives for weight loss.

Once you become a member, you'll receive TOPS News, a monthly magazine that offers contests, weight-loss incentive plans, self-help articles, and recipes. TOPS members who reach their goal weight, which is supposed to be set with the help of a health care professional when you join, are eligible for maintenance membership in KOPS (Keep Off Pounds Sensibly).

Though TOPS membership is generally comprised of older adults, kids and teens are welcome, too. TOPS now has online help, too, at www.tops.org. The cost of joining TOPS online is $25.50 a year, and you will also receive TOPS News.

The Rationale

For people who feel more comfortable figuring out their own path to weight loss, TOPS offers a loose system of support but little more. Exactly what kind of support you'll get from your local chapter is impossible to predict, since chapters vary quite a bit from one to another. In fact, the organization prides itself on the individuality of its chapters.

TOPS weekly meetings always begin with a confidential weigh-in, which is followed by a program that sometimes includes presentations by health professionals who volunteer their time to speak. Through group support and some weight-loss competitions, TOPS provides incentives for weight loss. There are national contests as well as local chapter contests. Participants compete only within their own age category and weight class.

Eating on the TOPS Diet

Because there is no official diet plan or even preset calorie intakes, there are no typical meals. TOPS recommends that its members go to a health care professional for personalized diet and physical activity plans.

In addition, the organization does offer an optional diet planning book called The Choice Is Yours, which contains simple guidelines for planning diets of 1,200, 1,500, and 1,800 calories a day, based on the USDA Food Guide Pyramid and the diabetic exchange list, and it offers a sample 28-day menu and exercise guide.

What the Experts Say

Because there is no single TOPS program or diet plan, experts say it's hard to make any kind of judgment as to its safety or effectiveness. However, there's nothing to indicate that the program is unsafe, and for some people, it could be helpful. Just keep in mind that there is no counseling offered and group leaders are untrained volunteers who are also TOPS members.

With no set TOPS diet and everyone pretty much on their own in planning their diets, it's hard to say how much you might lose or how quickly you can expect to lose it. Neither the TOPS organization nor the individual chapters make any claims about an expected rate of weight loss. The organization leaves this up to the discretion of each dieter and his or her physician.

While this freedom may work well for some people, it carries some risks as well. It could lead some ill-informed dieters to unwittingly cut back too far on calories or to follow an unbalanced diet. However, if you stick with the sample plan provided in TOPS's The Choice Is Yours booklet, you should meet most of your nutrient needs while lowering blood cholesterol and controlling blood sugar.

It's still a good idea, however, to take a calcium and vitamin D supplement, since it's tough to include enough calcium-rich dairy foods in a 1,200- or 1,500-calorie diet. Though physical activity is recommended and some local chapters incorporate group walks into their weekly meetings, exercise could be emphasized more.

Calorie quota: There is no calorie quota provided, though the optional booklet TOPS offers gives guidance for 1,200-, 1,500-, and 1,800-calorie-a-day diets, using standard food exchange lists.

Yes: Attendance at meetings

No: None, since no uniform guidance is provided

Other similar diets: Overeaters Anonymous

On the next and final page of this article, read about Volumetrics for Seniors and learn how it works.

To learn more about senior health, see:


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