Madison woman named 2021 Queen of CT by weight loss program, Take Off Pounds Sensably

MADISON — Sitting in the lobby outside her gym, Margaret Grillo, 75, 5-foot-5, looks trim and sporty in her workout clothes.

There’s no outward sign that Grillo used to stuff an entire bag of Cheetos in bed with chocolates every night, or finish an entire “box of macaroni” with butter around midnight.

In April, Grillo was crowned queen of 2021 by Connecticut TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensably), for losing more weight than any other female member for the year — 46.25 pounds — and hitting her weight goal.

She went from 195lbs to 153. TOPS king Raymond Williams of Norwich lost 116.2lbs.

Grillo is not alone with her weight struggle. According to TOPS officials, 1 in 3 American adults are obese, and Connecticut has an obesity rate of almost a third – 29.2%.

It’s been a long journey for Grillo, a TOPS member since 2002, which makes his achievement perhaps all the sweeter. And at the time, she was also a smoker.

“It took me 20 years to get to this state here,” Grillo said with a smile. “And it’s been a journey and it might not be huge, but 45 pounds is pretty good.”

She observed, “My king was probably 23 and he lost everything in a year.”

The TOPS king and queen are chosen not only based on the number of pounds lost, but also whether they have reached their weight loss goal, which is recorded during the meetings.

“I almost didn’t take it – I felt guilty,” Grillo said of her title, as she “only” lost 46 pounds, while King lost over 100. Often, those inducted into TOPS “royalty” dropped more than 100,150 pounds, she noted.

“And then I said, ‘No, I think I have to be an example for people,'” Grillo said.

“I actually said, ‘I deserve it, I should do it. Because I’m the symbol of people who may not have lost tons of weight – 45 is a good number though,” Grillo said. “The fact that it has brought about significant changes in my life and that I can now be a role model for my chapter.”

Grillo served as an officer for TOPS for two decades, most recently as a chapter leader.

“There have been a lot of people in TOPS who have been overweight the whole time they’ve been in TOPS. We say if we weren’t in TOPS, we’d probably be 20, 30 pounds — or more — heavier,” she said.

“I’m proud to have succeeded and I feel better physically,” she said with a smile.

Linda Maynard, the TOPS State Coordinator for Connecticut, agreed and said that no matter how many pounds a member loses, it’s an accomplishment. Even small losses can have a big effect on health, she explained.

“I have bad knees – so every 5 pounds I lose, it takes a tremendous amount of pressure on my knees,” Maynard said. “So even a tiny amount of weight will help you health-wise, whether it’s with your joints or whatever, maybe you’re borderline diabetic.”

“For the band, it doesn’t matter if you lose 200 pounds or 20 pounds,” Maynard added. “Everyone has their reason for losing the amount of weight they need to lose,” she said.

“Maybe they want to fit a particular dress for someone’s wedding. And you just want to lose those 10 pounds. To be honest, the less weight you have to lose, the harder it is” , Maynard said.

“If someone has to lose 100 pounds and they go into their first week and they lose 6 or 7 pounds – yahoo! But if you only have to lose 20, you come back and lose 2 pounds – yahoo!—because it’s hard,” Maynard added.

With TOPS, to become a member there is a nominal annual fee of $49 and weekly dues ranging from $1 per week to $5 per month. Members must have their goal weight checked by their primary care physician and it must be in writing.

The trip

Grillo noted that over 20 years ago, “I actually started at 192” when she was 5-foot-7. “I lost 2 inches” due to aging, she said.

At first, Grillo actually got closer to her goal at 165 pounds, but health issues got in the way of her weight management efforts. She discovered she had colon cancer; then six weeks after his cancer surgery, developed heart disease.

Before the health issues, she wasn’t perfect either: “I was doing well, but I was smoking my brains out.”

The cancer had had an indirect impact on his weight.

“I had quit smoking the day of the operation,” she said. “It was a wake-up call. It was more like a ‘Hey!’

Then, she says, “I was ready to go back to work and I had a heart attack.”

These health issues derailed his weight loss goals, particularly quitting smoking: “Because I quit smoking, I kind of let all hell break loose,” he said. she admitted. “I was 165 then I was 190.”

But it’s been in the past five years that she’s really gotten back on track, but without feeling like she’s giving up too many things she loved.

“Over the years I’ve come to realize that weight is a lifelong thing — it’s how you live,” she said. And it was important, she added, “to adopt something that was going to make me live comfortably – I’m not giving anything up.”

But she admitted: “It’s a struggle to eat the right kinds of foods.”

She’s had a 20-year learning curve in food: “I understand what I should eat and what I shouldn’t eat,” she said.

Now she can enjoy her favorite late-night snack. “At the end of the day, I can have a few Hershey kisses, cheese and five pretzels.”

Before cutting back on snacks, “I would sit down with a bag of Cheetos or something and then it was gone,” she recalls. “It was nothing to put this to bed with chocolate, because I have to have the Cheetos with chocolate.”

There were also other temptations.

“I love spaghetti – I could eat a pound of spaghetti,” Grillo said. When she went out with her husband in the 1990s, “we would go out for a drink, he would come home and I would come home to eat at 12 o’clock at night; I would make a pot of spaghetti and eat it.

Grillo hates diets and does not follow diets. “I know if I keep 1,800 to 2,000 calories with my lifestyle, I’ll be fine.”

She stressed that she’s “honest” about her calorie counting and isn’t shy about sharing her story.

“When I’m good, I log in every day. …I count calories,” she said of her method.

While Grillo said she “was still active. I cycled through England,” she pointed out, “I never thought of myself as really active – coming to the gym.

Now she goes five times a week to Joint Effort in Guilford and her attitude towards exercise has changed over the past few months.

“These guys here would laugh. … For the first two years, I was like, ‘I don’t lift weights anymore and I came and did what they told me,’ she said.

“And now I tell them to increase my weight because I feel good and I like doing it,” she said.

It was very difficult the first six months of COVID when the gym was closed. However, she was determined to reduce her calories.

“I was slowly reducing my portions,” she said, but admitted, “The last three years… the progression has been very slow.”

Now that she’s on goal, “I also feel a lot more comfortable and enjoying it,” she said. Grillo discovered a diet that works for him: “It’s not a diet, it’s just a way of life. That’s what I talk about with my chapter.

She also discovered that a weight loss program alone was not enough for her health.

She also has type 2 diabetes and does not take insulin. However, she is on medication and her doctor has reduced the dose due to her healthier eating habits.

“I walk further. When I go to the casino, I walk everywhere,” she said. “I’m not quite ready to run a marathon but I feel a lot more comfortable with my walk.”

Facing the scale at the weekly TOPS meeting, Grillo said, isn’t scary: “I’m responsible for watching my weight.”

TOPS has helped her to be more able to control her food intake.

“I’ve probably never been a real good dieter,” she said. “I keep saying I’m not on a diet: I eat to stay healthy and full.”

Maynard agreed that a lot of TOPS don’t like dieting per se. She noted that TOPS is primarily a support group, although the organization suggests three diets to try.

“Anyone who’s struggled with their weight — ‘diet’ is like a bad word. … It’s a lifestyle change,” Maynard said. “You’ll find that the majority of TOPS people are stress eaters and that’s why we need support.”

Members who have gained weight are encouraged to come to meetings and not feel shame, Maynard said.

“We make you feel welcome because we’re all in this together,” she said.

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