When most people get ready for their 30th high school reunion, they would like to be back at the body weight they were when they graduated from high school. That's not the case for one member of the Waynesville High School Class of 1984, who now lives in Crocker.
"When I graduated from high school, I was 250 pounds," explained Beverly Wilkerson. "I'm now at 180."
Wilkerson said she's always been overweight. Her highest recorded weight was 433 pounds. That means she's lost about 250 pounds from that point in her life.
"When I was born, I weighed 9 pounds, 6.5 ounces. I was 103 pounds by the third grade, and 250 pounds by high school. My weight just kept going up and up."
Then, in April of 2011, Wilkerson said she was determined that it was time for a change.
"I've thought about what made me start wanting to lose weight several times," she said. "My father died in 2009, and that made me start questioning my own mortality. Then, right before I started losing weight, I started having chest pains. At any time, I could have started having heart problems and started having serious issues. I didn't want to die."
Wilkerson's official weight loss kick-off date was April 4, 2011, in conjunction with a weight loss program at the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, where Wilkerson works as an administrative assistant.
She said the program was only six weeks long, and she wanted to keep losing weight long after the program concluded. And beyond that, she wanted some sort of accountability mechanism.
Enter the Take off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) Club, a nonprofit organization that offers weight loss support and education, and has multiple chapters in Pulaski County and the surrounding area.
"Joining the TOPS chapter in Crocker a few weeks after I started losing weight gave me that weekly accountability," she said. "It's easy to lie to yourself about your weight, but when you have to go in for a meeting and weight yourself, it's hard to lie."
Since joining TOPS, Wilkerson said she has won multiple awards and honors. In fact, she was the 2012 TOPS Missouri Queen, and runner-up for the International Queen honor.
"There was one lady that lost more than me," Wilkerson explained.
Now, as a TOPS success story, Wilkerson said she volunteers as an area captain for the organization.
"I cover 20 chapters throughout 10 counties," she said. "I encourage and motivate people. I always say, 'If I can do it, anyone can.' Plus, no one can tell me that I don't understand what they're going through."
Wilkerson said that, on top of the support from TOPS, the key to her losing weight can mostly be attributed to her changing her eating habits.
Page 2 of 3 - "Initially, it was just a change in diet," she said. " I used to be really bad about going to fast food restaurants on my way home from work and getting a so-called 'snack' before going home and eating supper. Then, when I decided to lose weight, I actually went cold turkey on fast food and started a 1,800 per day calorie intake. Then, after I lost that first 100 pounds in about six months, I treated myself with a gym membership."
Her calorie intake is now about 1,500 calories per day. She said she can't go to the gym at the moment because she has had to go through surgeries to remove excess skin due to all of the weight she has lost.
Wilkerson said that, even though fast food and pizzas used to be her vices, she no longer craves the fatty, unhealthy foods.
"I don't really miss it," she said. "I've found so many more things that satisfy me. I'd rather have a big bag of broccoli than ice cream. I can eat the entire bag of broccoli, and it is only 120 calories, while 120 calories of ice cream would only be about half of a cup."
She said she doesn't any foods that are necessarily off-limits. "It's all about moderation and paying attention to what you eat," she said.
Wilkerson said it was expected that she'd have to go clothes shopping throughout her weight loss journey. In fact, she has gone from size 4X to size medium or large in some items.
It was the other areas that were shrinking that surprised her.
"I can't wear the shoes I used to wear," she said. "You don't even think about that. I went from size 8.5 to size 7.5. I went from size 11 in rings to size 7. You think about tops and pants sizes going down, but you don't think about the other things."
On top of being surprised about the clothing items, Wilkerson said there is another thing that even still surprises her.
"I don't even recognize myself," she said. "I talk about myself as the old me and the new me. When I look in the mirror, it takes me a minute to believe it's me I'm seeing."
So, what advice does Wilkerson have for people who would want to follow in her now shrunken footsteps?
"The biggest thing I see is people just don't have the belief they can do it," she said. "Thinking about losing 250 pounds could scare anyone. So, it's important to break it down into increments. Losing 20 pounds is a lot easier than losing 250."
She said that always having will power and the belief that losing weight is possible is key.
Page 3 of 3 - "People should realize that, if they are losing 2 pounds every month, they are still losing weight," she explained. "It doesn't have to be fantastic numbers."
She said having the accountability and support factors that come with TOPS are also beneficial.
To learn more about TOPS, check out their website at HYPERLINK "http://www.tops.org/" n _blankwww.tops.org.