Losing 67 pounds for Phil Hayes goes beyond a goal reached just over a year ago. He has kept true to a promise he made to his wife shortly before she died.
Hayes, who reached 178 pounds after changing habits over 15 months, was the 2015 Washington TOPS King, a title given by the nonprofit Take Off Pounds Sensibly. The award recognizes his achievement losing more weight than any other male member in the state.
His journey began September 2014, when he and his wife, Judy, joined a Spokane chapter of the weight-loss support group, a decision they'd made jointly after a summer trip. Phil Hayes had tipped the scale at 294 pounds, his highest weight ever, when he wore 3X shirts and 46-inch waist for pants.
"It was getting harder to find clothes," Hayes said. "I started to have health issues. First, I became diabetic. I had cholesterol and blood issues. I decided it was time to do something about it. I wasn't getting any younger."
Now 70, he had tried TOPS more than a decade ago, when he lost a few pounds but dropped out after a year thinking he could do it on his own. He returned even more determined.
However, Judy never got the chance to go with him to the weekly TOPS meetings at the Turning Point Open Bible Church, because of her own health issues. While he was with her in the hospital, his wife urged him to remain in TOPS to lose weight shortly before she died on Oct. 9, 2014.
"She told me, 'Well, stick with it this time and don't give up,' "Hayes said. "I told her, 'I will.' I made a commitment. We had talked about losing weight for some time."
Much has changed for Hayes since making that promise. He found support from other TOPS members, walked regularly, and got healthy eating tips. He slowly dropped 6 to 8 pounds a week until reaching just under 180 pounds, a goal set by a physician as best for Hayes' 5-foot, 7-inch frame.
"Once I started losing weight, I felt better," he said. "I could climb the stairs without stopping part way up to catch my breath. I joined the YMCA and started going there three times a week at least. At my last annual checkup, they'd taken me off all my medication including for diabetes; it's under control."
Hayes walked in 2016 Bloomsday, another goal he set for himself. In June, he remarried. He and wife Clara now live in the Nine Mile Falls area.
Hayes, treasurer for his TOPS group, regularly attends the weekly meetings since meeting his goal weight officially in December 2015. He received the Washington King award this past summer, and attended an international TOPS meeting in Florida in July for weight division recognition.
Shopping for clothes isn't a challenge anymore, now that he's wearing medium- to large-size shirts and 36-inch waist for pants.
TOPS has fought obesity since its founding in 1948. Last year, about 125,000 TOPS members lost more than 300 tons of excess weight. It's annual fee is $32.
In Washington state, the organization has 4,385 TOPS members and 244 chapters.
At Turning Point Open Bible Church, group members begin arriving about 8:30 a.m. each Thursday. Members weigh in at a scale tucked in a corner behind a screen. At the meeting's 9:30 a.m. start, a weight-loss roll call begins, and members are encouraged for whatever news is given.
Hayes isn't the only guy in the group, although a majority of chapter members are women. David Johnson, 66, joined with his wife, Jan.
"It seems to be like a happy family," Johnson said. "So far I'm losing weight. It's hard losing weight by yourself, and everyone's supportive with ideas about what not to eat. Right now, I'm staying away from bread and cheese."
Hayes, who retired in 2008 after a career as a head custodian for Spokane Public Schools, found similar group support in his chapter. "The second time around, I believe there was more support at this chapter," he said.
"There was a lot of different weight tips. I eat more vegetables now and salads. I started using olive oil instead of shortening and vegetable oil; that makes a big difference."
He also followed a program called MyPlate that sections off a protein, a starch, fruit and vegetables into fourths with portion control. Maintaining near his goal weight for a year and four months, Hayes routinely eats more fish and chicken, less red meat, and chooses fruit instead of desserts.
"I made the decision if I were to lose weight it was up to me. It benefited me because of health issues. It was a goal for me to live up to, and I did it."