Michelle Petitpas has been through a lot in her life, things that could impact anyone’s way of life.
Her infectious positivity isn’t just noticeable, it practically radiates from her.
But she wasn’t always this way.
“I suffered a sexual assault as a nurse back in 2001 and went through a long period of time of not being happy,” Petitpas said inside the Glad Tidings Worship Center in Curry’s Corner. “I was depressed, and I was living with fibromyalgia (chronic pain).”
Petitpas had stepped away from the nursing profession for a while and decided to give it another shot after moving to Nova Scotia with her family.
“When we moved here I gained a lot of weight, I gained 50 pounds in a year,” she said.
She saw the poster for TOPS in her church, where the meetings are held, and decided to try it.
“We didn’t really know anybody at the time, didn’t have any connections, so I joined TOPS because I truly knew I needed support,” she said. “The mission of TOPS is to help its members take off pounds and keep off pounds sensibly. I knew that I didn’t need to pay the big money to go to another organization.”
She joined, knowing she’d get support, but says she “played the game,” going up and down with her weight, not fully investing in the program right away.
“I would show up or not show up; I wasn’t really putting the work in,” she said. “I was getting the support from the people here, but wasn’t putting in the effort myself. I thought TOPS would do it for me but that’s never the case.”
It took her a long time to go all in with the program.
“We’re here to help you, to walk beside you and lift you up,” she said.
In 2017, Petitpas reached her KOPS status (keeping off the pounds sensibly), which means she reached her goal.
“I know I’m never going to be where the BMI chart says I’m supposed to be. My goal is not to be supermodel thin; it’s to be well and to be healthy,” she said. “For me to reach that, I had to lose about 95 pounds. I could probably lose more, but I might not be well and healthy. It’s more about being strong.”
In 2015, Petitpas said a lightbulb went off in her head.
“I thought, I’m done with feeling like I’m dying every day,” she said. “I’ve lived with depression for many years, and I decided I wanted to be diagnosed with happiness.”
Within the first week, she noticed she was already losing weight. Almost too much.
“The people at TOPS were concerned for me, and I’m glad they were because it let me know that I had support,” she said. “My journey hasn’t been a straight line down, it’s been up and down and up and down. It’s a stride, it’s a wave, you have to put the effort in every day.”
“The big thing is changing your (mindset). I firmly believe that 50 per cent of what we do here is in your mind,” she said. “Twenty-five per cent is the food, fluid, and supplements I take and the other 25 per cent is physical activity.”
She’s still living with her chronic disease, but she’s embracing it and incorporating it into her lifestyle.
And Petitpas isn’t alone, she’s seeing many of her fellow TOPS members making major strides and hitting their own milestones.
Steadfast support network
“It’s exciting to see,” she said. “Some of my best friends in the world are the people in our TOPS chapter.”
Petitpas moved to the area in 2008 from Ontario, but grew up in New Brunswick and considers herself a “Maritime girl.”
She recently shared her story with TOPS International, filming a PSA for the organization. She said it was a hectic but thrilling experience.
“The PSA isn’t about me. I might be the person in it, but it’s about my chapter,” she said.
Approximately 30 people attend the Windsor chapter of TOPS.
“TOPS may have started because four women were sitting around a table griping and complaining about gaining weight, but that’s not what it’s about now,” she said. “It’s about supporting our members towards health.”
Trudy Shaw, co-leader of the Windsor chapter, has been a member for more than 25 years and said she’s noticed the chapter change with the times in amazing ways.
“At first I didn’t know anything about TOPS, I heard about it in the office I was working in,” Shaw said. “It seemed like it was the best-kept secret.”
Shaw decided to give it a try after having a child. She wanted to lose a bit of weight and still have some of her favourite snacks, like chocolate.
“I’ve been here ever since,” she said.
Shaw said that when the Windsor chapter originally started, it was a small group of people out of their home, focused solely on weight loss. It has since expanded into a larger, more open group, with weight loss remaining a key component as the organization and support networks continually evolve.
TOPS has also branched into providing more education and programming, including workshops on nutrition, acupuncture, exercise and more.
“It’s often just about making you feel better, healthier,” she said.
“I would never give it up.”
Learn more by viewing the Michelle Petitpas PSA here.