WESTERLY — Patricia “Patty” Fuentes is a queen, complete with a crown and numerous awards to prove it. The Westerly resident may not be royalty, but in the world of weight loss, her title is a sign of accomplishment.
Since joining the Westerly chapter of the international weight-loss program TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), Fuentes has lost 116 pounds in just under two years. Her success story led to her crowning as TOPS Queen of Rhode Island for 2013.
Fuentes, a shift supervisor at Rite Aid on Granite Street and the mother of three sons, said her inspiration for joining TOPS and changing her lifestyle was a doctor’s visit about two years ago. After her annual weigh-in, her doctor told her she was “obese,” based on her height-to-weight ratio.
Fuentes was shocked.
“I had convinced myself that I was fine, that I was happy with my size,” she said. “That word, ‘obese,’ is enough to scare you to realize the truth.”
Fuentes started attending Thursday night meetings of the Westerly TOPS group, held at the senior center, at the encouragement of her family. Her mother was already a member of TOPS, and her son, 21 at the time, joined with Fuentes to motivate her.
“He didn’t really need to lose any weight, but he knew it would get me there and get me going,” Fuentes said.
Fuentes had previously lost weight through TOPS, but put it back on after the death of her father. This time around, Fuentes was determined to make her weight loss stick.
Timid at first, she said she spent most of the meetings just listening, but eventually “loosened up,” forming bonds with the other members.
For Fuentes, the major motivator to follow a new plan of healthy eating and exercise was the weekly weigh-in at the beginning of each meeting. Fuentes said she lost weight for every single weigh-in, reaching the 100-pound mark in less than one year.
The contests TOPS organized, rewarding members who lost the most weight in a certain amount of time, kept her going. “I’m a very competitive person,” she said, adding that the money she received from winning the contests paid for her membership and then some.
Fuentes said that the information she learned about healthy eating and exercise was “amazing.” She liked that there was no rigid system of counting calories or “points,” like Weight Watchers. Instead, the program focused on portions and healthy choices, combined with a routine exercise program.
Fuentes remembered one meeting in which the group leader poured into a large bowl the amount of sugar in a Value Meal at McDonald’s, one of her old favorites. “You’re just amazed when you find out what’s in things,” she said. “There’s so much sugar in everything.”
Along with fast food, Fuentes said diet soda and frozen pizza were staples in her diet before joining TOPS.
Now, she has completely cut out all soda, and she became a vegetarian in the last six months. She also exercises daily, walking 5 to 7 miles and doing an hour of aerobics and core training. Fuentes said she saves money by not having a gym membership, preferring workout videos like those of Richard Simmons.
“When you’re still really heavy, you can do [the tape] at your own level,” she said. “Then you gradually increase the speed as you lose weight.”
When Fuentes first started walking, she said she could only make it about a block and a half before the arthritis in her knees made her stop. Since losing the weight, her arthritis has significantly lessened, and she successfully walked Block Island with her son recently, a distance she estimated to be about 15 miles. To celebrate this milestone, Fuentes treated herself to the Block Island specialty bangle from Alex and Ani.
Fuentes has also had to buy an entirely new wardrobe since losing 11 sizes, and said she enjoys shopping now. As a reminder of her previous size, Fuentes said she has kept one pair of her old pants. “It reminds me that I don’t want to ever go back there again,” she said.
Fuentes said she hopes to keep the weight off by continuing to eat healthily and exercising, while still allowing for the occasional “bad food.” Fuentes said once a week, usually after her TOPS meeting on Thursday, she treats herself to some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or a calzone.
“I can’t be good every single day,” she said. “I’ve got to keep my sanity.”
This reigning queen is also classified as a “KOPs,” a TOPS term that stands for Keep Off Pounds Sensibly, for all members in maintenance. Though she has reached her goal weight, Fuentes said she plans to continue attending weekly meetings to maintain her current weight.
For those looking to start their own weight loss journey, Fuentes said the first step is to accept that you are overweight, and to not be afraid to join some sort of weight loss support group. “That supportive group feeling is really great,” she said.