A member of a local weight loss support group is being celebrated for her remarkable achievement of dropping 118 pounds in a little over one year.

Sandy McKinney, 67, Wright City, might be hard to recognize for someone who last saw her in August 2017. Her body has undergone a dramatic change that she said is thanks to a drastic change in diet, treatment of a medical condition that kept her immoble, and the support of her local Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) weight loss group.

McKinney is a retired 30-year employee of Southwestern Bell telephone. She grew up as the second of 13 children in the St. Peters area, and lives with her husband Walter in Wright City, with family close by. She said the struggle against weight has been with her for a long time.

“I’d been up and down with weight, probably since high school. But for the last 25 years I’d had to use a cane or a walker,” McKinney explained. “I just kept going downhill. I couldn’t stand. … There was something wrong with my legs. They hurt so bad.”

The pain was persistent, even during times when McKninney lost weight. Yet she said doctors continued to attribute her symptoms to being overweight. Seeking help to get rid of that extra weight, she joined the Wright City TOPS group in 2013.

TOPS is a network of weight loss support groups with hundreds of local chapters. The Wright City group is one of the largest in the country with 89 members, McKinney said. The members meet weekly, do weigh-ins, learn about healthy lifestyle changes, and provide positive support and motivation for each other.

McKinney was recognized this year as the Missouri Queen of TOPS for her weight loss success. She lost more weight than any other female TOPS member in the state over the course of that year. She is the second Missouri TOPS queen from the Wright City chapter.

The precipitous change in her weight compared to years before started with a dramatic moment in her life. Several years ago, McKinney’s 12-year-old granddaughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At 15, her granddaughter was diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders. McKinney was distraught.

“Grandma got upset and started eating,” she commented. But for the sake of her granddaughter, McKinney decided to live by a healthier example and finally get rid of her extra weight for good.

On the advice of a dietary book and with the OK from her doctor, McKinney cut all flour and sugar products from her diet, “cold turkey.” From there she lost several pounds every week for about 14 months.

But the problem remained that she still had pain in her legs. McKinney still couldn’t walk without assistance. Knowing at last that weight was not the issue, she insisted her doctor find a specialist that could diagnose her properly, and they did.

A physical therapist identified McKinney as having lipedema, a condition that can cause swelling and pain. With the simple prescription of pressurized leggings and regular massages, McKinney’s pain that had been with her for 25 years faded away. She’s able to move on her own again and do regular exercise.

Now able to live a more active and healthy life, McKinney reached her weight loss goal and achieved the status of Keep Off Pounds Sensibly in November 2018. She joined 41 other Wright City TOPS members with that status, who all still attend the TOPS meetings to remain accountable.

“I can do things with my grandkids. I can walk in the stores now. … I’m doing a lot more,” McKinney commented. “I still look around for my cane, because I was so used to relying on it.”

Her success in making a change in her life has inspired close family members to follow her example. Five brothers and sisters took on the same diet change, three of whom have already met their own weight loss goals. Her husband, Walter McKinney, also was inspired to lose weight and join TOPS.

Walter said he is glad he and his wife can do more things together, but also that she can do more things on her own. She used to be dependent on him for many things when she was struggling with mobility. Now they can appreciate little things together, like going on a walk, or taking a trip.

Walter has lost 30 pounds of his own weight because of Sandy’s example.

“She has inspired me. And I feel better,” he said. “The only problem is, you have to buy new clothes!”

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