TOPS: 75 Years Helping People Take Off Pounds Sensibly

By Jane Schmitt

At weekly meetings of members of TOPS — Take Off Pounds Sensibly — in West Seneca. Members receive educational materials and engage in fun activities centered on nutrition, realistic goal-setting and behavior modification.

For many people, the process of shedding excess pounds is a lifelong journey filled with highs and lows, triumphs and challenges, milestones and missteps.

You don’t have to go it alone, according to Sandy Frieday and Linda D’Amaro of TOPS Club Inc., now in its 75th year of helping people of all ages to “Take Off Pounds Sensibly.”

They are members and local leaders of TOPS, a Milwaukee-based wellness education organization with a massive network of weight-loss support groups.

“We’re all human,” said Frieday, Western New York area coordinator. “There are times when we mess up or don’t do what we know is best for our bodies. But the fact that we can get back on track and that [fellow members] are right there supporting us and showing us it can be done makes a big difference.”

At weekly meetings, members receive educational materials and engage in fun activities centered on nutrition, realistic goal-setting and behavior modification.

“This combined with weekly weigh-ins and encouragement from others helps people develop the knowledge, patience and self-esteem they need to make permanent, healthy lifestyle changes,” said D’Amaro, the TOPS advocate in Erie and Niagara counties and leader of the West Seneca chapter.

“We welcome everybody,” she added. “You have to come and see what we do.”

True to its roots

TOPS was established in 1948 by Esther Manz, a Milwaukee woman who believed that getting together with other dieters for mutual encouragement was a key to weight management and healthy living. By 1952, the nonprofit group had grown to 2,500 members across the Midwest and three years later it expanded into Canada. Here in New York state, there are more than 160 chapters including 84 in Western New York.

TOPS has stayed true to its roots, according to the website ( “[It’s] all about support, accountability, lasting friendships and connections and plentiful resources. Today the group offers recipes, TOPS Talks featuring the latest from the health and inspirational community, meal planning ideas, workouts, chapter resources and more.”

Affordability and accountability make it different from other weight-loss programs, members said. The initial in-person visit is free and a basic package costs $49 for one year. The chapter run by D’Amaro, for example, meets Monday evenings at the West Seneca Senior Center and has weekly dues of $1.

Success stories

“I have lost about 70 pounds and it’s been great,” said Al of the town of Tonawanda who joined TOPS in September. “We weigh in once a week and it keeps me accountable. For me, that accountability is the best. It has helped me a lot.”

Another benefit is the connection he has with fellow members.

“The camaraderie is fantastic,” Al said. “We all tell stories about what we did the previous week to help with weight loss. There is so much support.”

Another TOPS success story comes from Polly of Orchard Park. She joined the group 24 years ago to lose weight after the birth of her son and later rejoined to help improve her overall health and wellness.

“I like it because there are no gimmicks and nothing to purchase. Everybody does their own thing but we come together as a group,” Polly said. “The first meeting is free; you can just observe what they do and then decide if you want to join. It’s a small amount to join and then just a dollar a week for dues.”

She is part of TOPS No. 0939, led by D’Amaro.

“Linda is very enthusiastic and gets everybody sharing their struggles and what works for them,” Polly said. “You need to have good habits and stick to them. It’s the accountability with a weekly weigh-in, but I think what’s really different is the support from other members. You form friendships very quickly and that support is a big piece of what’s missing in (other programs). It’s wonderful, and I rejoined because I decided to be a lifer and to keep going every week to make my health a priority. You stay on top of it.”

TOPS offers an online program, as well.

“I have been in my chapter since 2002 and some of my best friends are other TOPS members,” Frieday said.  “It’s that support and caring; it’s relationships and recognition. That is what makes this special.”

More Info?

For more information about TOPS, visit or email the WNY area coordinator, Sandy Frieday, at