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NNY dieters discover strength in numbers to avoid holiday weight gain

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Before this Thanksgiving, Gouverneur resident Jessica M. Ames had never run more than a mile in her life.

But there she was on Thanksgiving Day, running through the outskirts of Watertown, dodging icy patches and braving below-freezing temperatures, during the annual Watertown Family YMCA 5K Turkey Day Run.

Miss Ames, 25, ran all the way and finished with a time of 35:37, coming in 477nd out of 633 participants.

Now, when Miss Ames faces the seasonal holiday caloric blizzard of cookies, cakes and all other things sweet and tasty, she has a different approach than she did a few years ago. She has found strength in numbers by joining a weight-loss support group.

That strategy is also working for a group of civilian workers at Fort Drum who call themselves the Tape Worms. The group’s members also have made adjustments to their lifestyles as they work toward their weight-loss goals.

Cathy Moore, a dietitian and an agent at Cornell Cooperative Extension, Watertown, calls the period between Halloween and shortly after the new year “the holiday zone”: a place where “time, space, light, food and even friends and family seem to converge to force fat to gather.”

Mrs. Moore said people typically gain a pound or two this time of year. But the problem, she said, is that the gain is cumulative.

“Most of us don’t lose it,” she said. “It’s important to prevent the gain rather than trying to lose it after the new year.”

But with determination and support, the kind demonstrated by Miss Ames and the Tape Worms, we can come out of “the holiday zone” lighter on our feet.

Miss Ames can’t wait to sign up for another run.

“It made me feel like I could become a runner,” she said of her experience. “I’m thinking of starting to run outside a few days a week so I will be even better prepared for my next 5K.”

This would have been unthinkable for Miss Ames in January 2012, when she weighed 325 pounds.

A month earlier, in December 2011, Miss Ames’s mother, Christine Bristol, asked her when she was going to join her at the Take Off Pounds Sensibly chapter that meets Mondays at the Fowler Town Hall.

Miss Ames had been thinking about joining TOPS for months, but that January she finally did. The organization has 315 chapters and 5,764 members across the state and charges members a $28 annual fee.

She now weighs 178 pounds.

“I never thought it would lead to this,” Miss Ames said.

The 2007 Canton High School graduate said the weight came off slowly at first.

“Then I started to exercise and just kind of got into that,” she said.

She rediscovered the elliptical machine in the basement that her father, Michael Ames, got her for Christmas about five years ago.

In August, she began walking on her treadmill, which had been in her basement “forever.”

She now exercises six days a week, including walks outside when the weather is nice.

But her weight loss is about more than exercising.

“It’s the support you get from everybody at the TOPS meetings,” Miss Ames said. “Everybody is either in that situation or has been in that situation, if they’ve reached their goal” for weight loss.

At the weekly TOPS weigh-ins, group members share more than the scale.

“It’s accountability,” Miss Ames said. “Say, if you go somewhere for the weekend to a party or something, you think before you over-indulge. You think, ‘I have to weigh in on Monday.’ You don’t want to ruin all your hard work.”

Her diet, Miss Ames said, largely involves cutting down on portions.

“You don’t need as much as you think to be full,” she said.

She also cut down on carbohydrates like pasta. “You cut out certain things like that and potatoes,” she said.

Technology also has assisted her through a smartphone app called MyFitnessPal. It allows users to set a daily calorie goal and record daily food intake and calculate calories expended by exercise to make sure they stay on track.

Friends whom Miss Ames has not seen in years often don’t recognize her slimmed-down self.

“I get that a lot,” she said. “People don’t recognize me or they may think they know me, so they’ll ask.”

But there’s one thing she enjoys more than surprising people with her weight loss.

“I love to go clothes shopping now,” Miss Ames, said, giggling. “I can go to any store now and find something, where before it was very limited.”

Her advice for others considering a weight-loss plan? “There’s no secret,” she said. “A lot of it is in your mind. You have to have the mindset of you want to change. It’s hard, but it helps if you have that support system to back you up.”

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