There was a time when it was scary for Diane Naylor to walk to the mailbox at the end of her driveway.
The Oakhurst woman was 225 pounds heavier then. Living alone, she worried she’d fall and break a bone and no one would be there to help her.
Just going to the end of the driveway to get the mail was a challenge.
Just a few years later, she’s lost the equivalent weight of a large adult man, and now regularly hikes, swims and bikes around her mountain home. She was recently crowned the 2015 California Queen of TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) Club Inc., which means she lost more pounds, from her starting weight as a member of the nonprofit, than any other TOPS woman in the state. Naylor lost 177 pounds after joining two years ago, in addition to around 50 pounds before joining.
The education and support group markets itself as the only nonprofit, noncommercial weight-loss organization of its kind. There are at least 15 TOPS chapters in the central San Joaquin Valley and foothills.
I was embarrassed around my family. I didn’t need to be, but I was.
The turning point for Naylor came while watching a favorite television show, “Castle.” A medical examiner on the show pointed to a row of refrigerated corpses to impart some wisdom to a detective in need of advice.
“She said, ‘All those people had dreams, and their time ran out. Don’t let your time run out before you reach your dream,’ ” Naylor recalls. “It was like a light bulb went on.”
Naylor started walking farther than the end of her driveway, gradually increasing the circle she made around her Oakhurst home. Then she met a TOPS member, who invited her to the club’s weekly meetings. TOPS’ educational talks and fellowship – along with the $32 yearly membership, much lower than commercial weight-loss programs Naylor tried in the past – made a huge difference.
It doesn’t matter how big you are or how much you have to lose. They accept you 100 percent. They support you 100 percent.
“When you are that overweight, you pretty much become a hermit. I didn’t go to family functions because I was embarrassed around my family. I didn’t need to be, but I was.”
She called herself a food “addict” who used any reason to eat.
“A drug addict or chain smoker or alcoholic can stop those destructive things completely, but you can’t stop eating completely.”
She lost more than 100 pounds several times throughout her life, starting as a young woman, but always gained it back. She says this time is different because she’s also made exercise a priority, and changed her mindset from dieting, which is “usually something you stop doing,” to healthful eating.
I don’t want to go through that scenario again. I’m too old to yo-yo.
“My biggest problem is I’m a grazer. I like to eat a little bit all day long, and portion control was a problem, and what I was eating was a problem.”
In place of sweets and starchy carbohydrates, her snack of choice is now steamed vegetables, which she eats like “popcorn.” She says, “It’s not really how much you eat, but what you eat.”
The word ‘diet’ has the feeling behind it of ending at some point, and healthy eating does not.
She says her Christian faith, “always having the Lord to rely on,” and retirement are also huge factors in her success. Naylor now has more time to exercise than in years past, when she was a grocery store checker, foster parent and caretaker for her parents.
At her heaviest, she was 380 pounds. Today, she’s 155. Her new healthy and energetic self has already crossed a number of things off her bucket list, such as ziplining, riding a motorcycle and learning to woodwork. Many more dreams await, including travel and becoming more active in her church.
Naylor likes to say she’s “63 going on 45,” but really, she feels much younger. She sticks with 45, she admits happily, because she doesn’t think anyone would believe her if she said she feels 35.
She has a message for others struggling with their weight:
“Don’t try and do it alone. Go to TOPS and have a support group, people who really care. These people are going through the same things. They really care about you.
“And the second thing is: If I can do it starting at age 59, starting this late in life and with this much weight loss, they can do it too. Never give up on your dream.”