Facing a patient who weighed 356 pounds, Ray Anderson's doctor gave it to him straight.
''I was way overweight, and I had a sugar problem that was getting worse and worse and worse,'' Anderson said. ''The doctor said, 'You really have a problem' - he told me I need to lose some weight, told me maybe I should go on insulin, because I wasn't controlling my weight.''
The suggestion of a gastric bypass surgery was also made, but Anderson didn't want to go down that route. He wanted to beat his problem himself, he said. He worked at losing weight on his own for about three months and managed to shed 20 pounds.
Ray Anderson of Jamestown, who lost 126 pounds in one year as part of local TOPS?Chapter 721, is seen accepting his award as the organization’s top male member of the year at its International Recognition Days in Halifax, Nova Scotia, earlier this year. Anderson has spoken at many TOPS?rallies around the state discussing motivation toward losing weight and keeping it off.
But that was just a drop in the bucket. And what was to keep him from putting the pounds back on?
''My numbers weren't any better,'' he said, speaking of his blood sugar levels. ''As heavy as I was, (20 pounds) wasn't doing me that much good.''
If Anderson was going to beat his weight problem once and for all, he was going to need some help. And he found it under his own roof.
TOPS Local Chapter List
Chapter 721 - Jamestown
Kidder Memorial United Methodist Church
Weigh-ins/Meetings: Thursdays 8:30 a.m./10 a.m.
Chapter 142 - Jamestown
Christ First United Methodist Church
Weigh-ins/Meetings: Wednesdays 6 p.m./6:50 p.m.
Chapter 858 - Lakewood
Busti-Lakewood Rec Center
Weigh-ins/Meetings: Tuesdays 5 p.m./5:30 p.m.
Chapter 1119 - Falconer
Falconer United Methodist Church
Weigh-ins/Meetings: Tuesdays 5:15 p.m./6 p.m.
Chapter 864 - Kennedy
United Methodist Church
Weigh-ins/Meetings: Thursdays 5:30 p.m./6:30 p.m.
Chapter 610 - Sinclairville
Sinclairville Free Library
Weigh-ins/Meetings: Wednesdays 9 a.m./9:45 a.m.
Chapter 357 - Sherman
St. Isaac's Joques Church
Weigh-ins/Meetings: Tuesdays 5:15 p.m./6 p.m.
Chapter 848 - South Dayton
Free Methodist Church
Weigh-ins/Meetings: Thursdays 10:15 a.m./10:45 a.m.
Chapter 1094 - Brocton
St. Dominic Church
Weigh-ins/Meetings: Mondays 5:15 p.m./6 p.m.
Chapter 896 - Westfield
First United Methodist Church
Weigh-ins/Meetings: Wednesdays 6 p.m./6:30 p.m.
For more info about TOPS: www.tops.org
Anderson's wife, Diane, had already found success losing weight as a member of TOPS Chapter 721 in Jamestown and was an assistant leader with the club at the time. He decided to join her at a meeting of the group in the fall of 2008 and discovered a support system that encouraged him to lose weight at a pace that would get him healthy and keep him there.
Just over a year later, Anderson had lost 126 pounds as a member of the chapter and had been named New York state's TOPS ''King.'' He has traveled the state during the past several months making motivational speeches at TOPS rallies to help show others that they too can experience the success he has through involvement in the organization.
''If I see somebody who I can help motivate, I'm happy to do that,'' Anderson said. ''You just feel so much better.''
TAKE OFF POUNDS SENSIBLY
TOPS - which stands for Take Off Pounds Sensibly - is a non-profit weight-loss support group that was established in 1948. According to the organization's website, TOPS promotes successful, affordable weight management with a philosophy that combines healthy eating, regular exercise, wellness information, awards and recognition, and support from others at weekly chapter meetings.
Mrs. Anderson, now the leader of Chapter 721, explains that when a member joins TOPS, he or she sets a target weight for ideal overall health with a doctor. That becomes the member's goal weight, and when he or she reaches that goal a graduation ceremony to KOPS - Keep Off Pounds Sensibly - is held. The member's challenge then becomes to remain at that ideal weight, with a leeway of seven pounds under or three pounds over.
The dedication to ensuring members not only reach their weight goals but maintain them is one thing that sets TOPS apart from other programs, Mrs. Anderson said.
''Most weight-loss organizations, when you've lost weight and reach your goal, you're kind of left on your own,'' she said. ''This is a program where they have incentives and rewards for longevity - we have a lady in our group, a retired nurse, who has been in KOPS for 21 years.''
A typical TOPS meeting, Mrs. Anderson said, begins with a weigh-in time. The program then consists of visuals, incentives, motivation, games and other methods of supporting members through losing weight and keeping it off, she said.
''It's cute little ideas to try to keep people on the straight and narrow,'' Mrs. Anderson said. ''We have volunteers who do programs, and sometimes we bring in special speakers regarding nutrition, exercise and fitness. It's just very well-rounded.''
Anderson said that the support members of the group offer to each other is a key factor in helping each other reach their goals and get healthy. Camaraderie that is built between TOPS members is strong, he said, no matter what.
''If you lose weight, they give you a hand,'' he said. ''And if you gain weight, they say, 'Well, we're glad you're here anyway.' It's a good group with a lot of nice people.''
WORKING TOWARD A GOAL
Founder and president of All Metal Specialties Inc. in Jamestown, Anderson is celebrating 25 years of his business doing stainless steel architectural jobs throughout the region. Among many other places, All Metal's work can be seen in Buffalo at the Adam's Mark Hotel and Buffalo Niagara International Airport and in New York City in Times Square and the Trump Towers.
''This is another testament to the dedication and commitment Ray has shown in his life,'' his wife said.
A former member of the Marine Corps, Anderson said he knows a lot about motivation. However, he said, sitting in his office on Livingston Avenue conducting business day in and day out led to a rather sedentary lifestyle.
When he made the decision to make a change in his life, he knew he was going to need to get active. Anderson said he now regularly exercises at the Jamestown Community College fitness center about four times each week along with friend and fellow TOPS member Dave Erickson.
''We do about five miles, plus we work out on the machines down there - it really keeps it off,'' he said. ''Probably the biggest thing that I saw as far as changing of numbers was when I started doing the exercises. I was taking six pills in the morning and six pills at night (to control blood sugar levels), and now I don't take anything. I'm not saying everybody can do that, but the weight factor is a big one when you have sugar problems.''
Each member of TOPS is working toward a similar goal, Anderson said, and each can potentially reach it in a different manner. In addition to his exercise regimen, Anderson said that cutting carbs out of his diet was also a big step toward his dramatic weight loss.
''Other people find success from just cutting back on what they eat - portion control is a big thing, and desserts aren't really good,'' he said. ''Different people do it different ways.''
'A WHOLE DIFFERENT PERSON'
Now at his goal weight of 210 pounds, Anderson has become a motivation for TOPS members everywhere.
After being named TOPS' New York state ''King'' earlier this year, he attended the organization's International Recognition Days in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he was crowned the top male member of the year in Division 1 - men who weighed between 300 and 400 pounds when they began the program.
''He's been an inspiration to me, living in the same house with him,'' Mrs. Anderson said. ''It's been a phenomenal feat.''
Doing the TOPS circuit, Anderson has shared his story of inspiration with thousands of others seeking motivation to reach their own goals. His story was featured in TOPS News, the magazine sent to all organization members, in August. And he has personally spoken at several TOPS rallies, telling his success story to the masses.
Anderson said that while he does not consider himself a natural public speaker, he enjoys motivating people however he can, including through the use of props taken from his own wardrobe.
''I have one of my old belts - I was about a size 56, now I'm a size 36 - and I called a lady up and put my belt around her and me,'' he said. ''They say, 'Wow, you lost a whole person.'''
In addition to speaking to TOPS groups locally, Anderson has spoken at rallies in locations around the state including Rochester and Saratoga Springs. He said that helping people find the willpower to lose weight and keep it off makes him feel good, but he remains steadfast in his belief that people should be treated the same no matter how much they weigh.
''A lot of people look at people who are heavy and aren't kind to them, but I think it doesn't make any difference if you're heavy of if you're light - you're a person who should be accepted for who you are,'' he said.
Anderson's family, friends and doctor are definitely much happier to see him as the slimmer, healthier person he is today, though.
''(My doctor) looked at the bloodwork and said, 'You're just like a new man, like a whole different person,''' Anderson said. ''It's really worked out great, and that was the motivation that really did it. You need to be healthy.''