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Earning TOPS marks

Caroline Nicholson of Fishers Hill uses a scale
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Caroline Nicholson of Fishers Hill uses a small scale to measure food portions. Nicholson claims many make the mistake of how much is a typical serving size. Rich Cooley/Daily

Lose weight together

TOPS meetings at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Strasburg are held with weigh-ins beginning at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesdays.

There are other local chapters in Woodstock and Winchester. For more information about TOPS, contact area captain Barbara Simmons at 667-8131 or at topsac5046@verizon.net. The national toll-free number is 800-932-8677, and the website is www.tops.org.

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Caroline Nicholson slices an apple
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Caroline Nicholson slices an apple, part of her own healthier meal plan for losing weight. Rich Cooley/Daily

Tops Queen Caroline Nicholson
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Caroline Nicholson, of Fishers Hill, uses her treadmill three times a day to help maintain weight she lost through the local chapter of Take Off Pounds Sensibly, an international weight-loss support group. Nicholson lost 64 pounds in less than two years and now leads the Tuesday night meeting at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Caroline Nicholson uses a fitness ball
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Nicholson sits on a fitness ball to burn calories while she works at her computer. Rich Cooley/Daily

Local woman loses 64 pounds, inspires others in support group

By Jessica Wiant -- jwiant@nvdaily.com

FISHERS HILL -- Caroline Nicholson can rattle off weight-loss mantras left and right, but the proof of her success is in the before-and-after photos, the number on the scale -- and, of course, the tiara and sash.

Last month, Nicholson was awarded the title of Virginia TOPS queen, as the member of Taking Off Pounds Sensibly who'd lost the most weight toward her goal for 2010.

Since starting on her weight-loss journey two summers ago, Nicholson has lost 64 pounds and gone from a size 16 or 18 in jeans to size 6 or 8.

She makes it sound easy.

There's no big secret, she said, she simply cut out junk food -- like the cans of Coke she still misses from time to time -- ate less and exercised more, and continues to do so.
"I feel a hundred percent better," she said. "I feel better now than when I was in my 30s."
Weight gain hasn't been a lifelong problem for Nicholson, but instead just something that crept up on her over the years as life happened, she said.

People have no problem getting overweight, she said, but it's getting healthy again that's difficult.

Nicholson said she heard about TOPS, a national organization that has several local meeting places at area churches, through her mother and sister who had attended in the past. She wasn't in great health; she had back pain, was on blood pressure medicine and had even suffered a slight heart attack. Nicholson also wanted to look better by her daughter's wedding, which was last May.

"I really wanted to be healthy," she said. "I have to be healthy. I want grandchildren."
TOPS doesn't provide a specific meal plan or exercise program, she explained. It's more of a support group, and a place to keep you honest, since you weigh in at meetings each week and pay up if you have gained anything.

Nicholson said the main things she did were cut sugar and watch portion sizes. At first, she measured everything she ate and kept a food journal. But that doesn't mean she's suffered. She has learned to eat more of healthier or lower-calorie foods like fruit and vegetables and avoid processed foods.

After four to six months she had a good idea of how much and which foods to eat.
"I have never went hungry since I started," she said. "It's all about choices."

A typical day for Nicholson now might include cereal for breakfast, an apple or yogurt for a midmorning snack, a turkey sandwich for lunch and grilled meat and steamed vegetables for dinner. She specifically avoids pasta, potato salads and anything cream based, she said.

For exercise, Nicholson loves to dance around the house using hand and ankle weights or walk on the treadmill. She tries to exercise every day, she said.

Overall, her weight loss averaged a pound a week, and she's now got "KOPS" status in TOPS, so she's simply trying to maintain her weight -- "Keep Off Pounds Sensibly." Her boyfriend also has lost weight, and she's now the leader of the TOPS group that meets at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Strasburg on Tuesdays. She no longer requires medicine to control her blood pressure.

One piece of advice Nicholson offers to people trying to lose weight is that there are healthy options for dining out, but you have to plan what you will eat ahead of time. She goes online, for example, and checks menus and nutritional information before going to a restaurant.

She also tells people to avoid processed foods, and to carefully inspect labels to find out what's really in things before buying them.

Another key, she said, is to not give up when you make mistakes, but instead just get back on track. Nicholson said she still will eat a hot dog or a hamburger, but just one.
People need to remember that they are worth it when healthy food is a little more expensive than junk food, she added.

Earlier this year, Nicholson started back to school at Lord Fairfax Community College, something she said she wouldn't have had the energy to do before losing weight. She's got perfect grades and plans to finish by the end of the year.

In July, she'll attend the international TOPS meeting in Milwaukee.

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