Saturday, January 3, 2009

The most reviled and beloved advice of the year.

This year, Dear Prudence letter-writers had questions about everything from diaper fetishes to food-spitters to self-mutilation. But the answers that got readers most riled up were those in which you felt I unfairly maligned three already outcast groups: supercilious boyfriends, smokers, and pit bulls.
My answer to In Love With a Supercomputer, who said she was dating a genius who had to win every argument, outraged many of you. I said he was a twit and a bully and suggested he read Emotional Intelligence. Many wrote I was the sexist bully because my estrogen-addled mind couldn't accept the fact that there are certain people—they're called "men"—who simply are always right. "This article is the senseless dribble people in your profession spout out about the differences between men and women. Never have any of you made the recommendation for a woman to find a partner who is more illogical, needlessly emotional, or with lower IQ," wrote one dissenter. According to another: "There's something you should have learned as a little girl: rationality and intellect drive the world we live in and contrary to popular belief your emotions are not good for the world. You strike me as an arrogant feminist who thinks you are better then men because you have a vagina." Oh, gentlemen, you sure know how to charm a gal!
Other readers offered armchair diagnoses for the boyfriend—from Asperger's syndrome to Narcissistic Personality Disorder to having the personality type INTJ. Whether any of these conclusions is correct, I was too harsh in the way I described this young man. But I won't back down from my belief that this boyfriend needs a new set of social tools because no matter his IQ, no one is always right.
Probably no letter got more angry mail than my reply to Nest-Featherer, who complained that her upstairs neighbors were tossing their cigarette butts into their shared yard, which she wanted to keep clean for her new puppy. I took the opportunity to trash smokers for their penchant for littering and their general defensive hostility about their habit. Smokers smoldered in response. Hundreds of you rebutted my remarks and said such gross stereotyping belongs in the ash heap. "The way you replied sounded like you believe all smokers are slobby pigs who also can't handle their emotions. You owe many decent, non-littering, considerate, and perfectly mentally normal folks a great big apology," fumed one. "The neighbors are rude people who happen to smoke—they are not rude people because they smoke," another argued.
The smokers were right—I unfairly tarred all of you. However, look at the sidewalks of any city, and you will notice that they are covered with cigarette butts. So, please, considerate smokers of America, intervene when you see your boorish brethren toss their trash in the street.
Everyone got mad at me for my answer to Uneasy. She was writing because her 20-year-old sister—a single mother with a toddler—just moved in with a roommate who had a nervous pit bull. I said both baby and dog must be intensely supervised when together and otherwise separated to avert a tragedy. Pit-bull lovers said my answer maligned their loyal, loving breed. Pit-bull haters said I exonerated these malevolent dogs and sent me articles from around the country on pit-bull maulings. Single mothers and others were outraged by what they felt was a gratuitous slap when I said that since the mother of the toddler had her while still a teenager, that indicated she lacked an ability to understand the consequences of her actions. "The fact that she is 20 and a new mother and single is why she's not able to clearly see the danger. But you lost me the minute you basically called her a slut," one reader bristled. "Two years ago, the woman had sex. God forbid! If you ever have pre-marital sex, you could end up with an unexpected pregnancy. So what?" asked another.
No, I did not call her a "slut," and, yes, I agree she is too young to be a mother. The "So what?" is that it's a tragedy that so many young women with no education, prospects, or partner are raising children alone.
I need to completely atone for my answer to Church Newbies about the young couple who were converting to Catholicism and found the elderly couple who were their church sponsors to be creepily huggy and free with their hands. I said the youngsters should tell off the oldsters, and, if that didn't work, instead of telling the priest, they should find a new parish. Wrong! As one reader, the Rev. Joshua Williams, wrote to me: "First, if this older couple might one day serve in some sort of an official capacity, their actions might leave the church open to lawsuits. Second, if I were in the priest's position, I would want to know so I could keep an eye out for the older couple and try to help them understand the detrimental effect their behavior is having on the church's attempts to reach out to new members."
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I blew another theological question, according to many readers, in my answer to Oy Vey, a non-Jew employed at a small Jewish-owned firm whose bosses let other Jews leave early on Fridays in the winter for Sabbath but expect everyone else to work. Since she had complained to no avail, I agreed with her that the owners were behaving poorly. However, I advised she'd be best off to let it go. Many of you suggested she should take legal action. Instead, I agree with reader Dan Phillips, who suggested Oy Vey take the perfect Biblical passage, Deuteronomy 5:14, to her bosses and show them that this injunction means that on the Sabbath, all should enjoy a day of rest.
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The dilemma of Terrible Twos, the father who got no pleasure out of interacting with his 2-year-old daughter, provoked a variety of reactions. I praised him for being able to acknowledge this unpleasant truth, suggested he might find his daughter more interesting when she became more independent, and urged that he look for ways to connect with her until then. One young woman in her 20s wrote that from girlhood her father was distant and uninterested, and when she became a teenager she made a difficult choice: "For the sake of both our sanity, I finally decided that the best way to have a relationship with my father was to have none. I hope Terrible Twos takes some of your suggestions. Otherwise, he's going to lose out on knowing his daughter and hurt her in ways he never consciously would intend."
One father acknowledged: "I could have written that letter myself three years ago. The important thing is that fathers who feel this way know that they are not alone. It's not an easy thing to admit to feeling. But now that our daughter is five, it's a different story. Your advice is right, time and growth change everything. I've gone from 'What did I do?' to 'I can't wait to get home to see her.' "
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Buy Emily Yoffe's book What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner.
And one mother wrote in response: "I would love if my daughter would initiate play with either me or my husband. I would love if she turned to one of us and called us by name. You see, my daughter is autistic. That father should count his blessings that she has an interest in him and wants him to be a part of her world."
Thanks to this mother for the reminder that counting your blessings is good advice for us all. And one of my blessings is that I have such forthright, provocative, and insightful readers.

U.S. could be facing debt 'time bomb' this year

WASHINGTON - With President-elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats considering a massive spending package aimed at pulling the nation out of recession, the national debt is projected to jump by as much as $2 trillion this year, an unprecedented increase that could test the world's appetite for financing U.S. government spending.
For now, investors are frantically stuffing money into the relative safety of the U.S. Treasury, which has come to serve as the world's mattress in troubled times. Interest rates on Treasury bills have plummeted to historic lows, with some short-term investors literally giving the government money for free.
But about 40 percent of the debt held by private investors will mature in a year or less, according to Treasury officials. When those loans come due, the Treasury will have to borrow more money to repay them, even as it launches perhaps the most aggressive expansion of U.S. debt in modern history.
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With the government planning to roll over its short-term loans into more stable, long-term securities, experts say investors are likely to demand a greater return on their money, saddling taxpayers with huge new interest payments for years to come. Some analysts also worry that foreign investors, the largest U.S. creditors, may prove unable to absorb the skyrocketing debt, undermining confidence in the United States as the bedrock of the global financial system.
While the current market for Treasurys is booming, it's unclear whether demand for debt can be sustained, said Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP, which analyzes Treasury financing trends.
"There's a time bomb in there somewhere," Crandall said, "but we don't know exactly where on the calendar it's planted."
The government's hunger for cash began growing exponentially as the nation slipped into recession in the wake of a housing foreclosure crisis a year ago. Washington has since approved $168 billion in spending to stimulate economic activity, $700 billion to prevent the collapse of the U.S. financial system, and multibillion-dollar bailouts for a variety of financial institutions, including insurance giant American International Group and mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Despite those actions, the economic outlook has continued to darken. Now, Obama and congressional Democrats are debating as much as $850 billion in new federal spending and tax cuts to create or preserve jobs and slow the grim, upward march of unemployment, which stood in November at 6.7 percent.
Congress is not planning to raise taxes or cut spending to cover the cost of those programs, because economists say doing so would further slow economic activity. That means the government has to borrow the money.
Some of the borrowing was done during the fiscal year that ended in September, when the Treasury added nearly $720 billion to the national debt. But the big borrowing binge will come during the current fiscal year, when the cost of the bailouts plus another stimulus package combined with slowing tax revenues will force the government to increase the debt by as much as $2 trillion to finance its obligations, according to a Treasury survey of bond dealers and other market analysts.
As of yesterday, the debt stood at nearly $10.7 trillion, of which about $4.3 trillion is owed to other government institutions, such as the Social Security trust fund. Debt held by private investors totals nearly $6.4 trillion, or a little over 40 percent of gross domestic product.
According to the most recent figures, foreign investors held about $3 trillion in U.S. debt at the end of October. China, which in October replaced Japan as the United States' largest creditor, has increased its holdings by 42 percent over the past year; Britain and the Caribbean banking countries more than doubled their holdings.
Economists from across the political spectrum have endorsed the idea of going deeper into debt to combat what many call the most dangerous economic conditions since the Great Depression. The United States is in relatively good financial shape compared with other industrial nations, such as Japan, where the public debt equaled 182 percent of GDP in 2007, or Germany, where the debt was 65 percent of GDP, according to a forthcoming report by Scott Lilly, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Even a $2 trillion increase would push the U.S. debt to about 53 percent of the overall economy, "only a few percentage points above where it was in the early 1990s," Lilly writes, noting that plummeting interest rates show that "much of the world seems not only willing but anxious to invest in U.S. Treasurys, which are seen as the safest security that an investor can own in a risky world economy."
Still, some analysts are concerned that the deepening global recession will force some of the largest U.S. creditors to divert cash to domestic needs, such as investing in their own banks and economies. Even if demand for U.S. debt keeps pace with supply, investors are likely to demand higher interest rates, these analysts said, driving up debt-service payments, which last year stood at $250 billion.
"When you accumulate this amount of debt that we're moving into, it's not a given that our foreign friends are going to continue on the path they've been on," said G. William Hoagland, a longtime Republican budget analyst who now serves as vice president for public policy at the health insurer Cigna. "There's going to come a time when we can't even pay the interest on the money we've borrowed. That's default."
Others say those fears are overblown. The market for U.S. Treasurys is by far the largest and most liquid bond market in the world, and big institutional investors have few other places to safely invest large sums of reserve cash.
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Despite their growing domestic needs, "China and the oil countries are going to continue running large surpluses," said C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "They certainly will be using money elsewhere, but I don't think that means they won't give it to us."
As for the specter of default, Steven Hess, lead U.S. analyst for Moody's Investors Service, said even a $2 trillion increase in borrowing would not greatly diminish the U.S. financial condition. "It's not alarmingly high by our AAA standards," he said. "So we don't think there's pressure on the rating yet."
But that could change, Hess said. Nearly a year ago, Moody's raised an alarm about the skyrocketing costs of Social Security and Medicare as the baby-boom generation retires, saying the resulting budget deficits could endanger the U.S. bond rating. Even as the nation sinks deeper into debt to finance its own economic recovery, several analysts said it will be critical for Obama to begin to address the looming costs of the entitlement programs and signal that he has no intention of letting the debt spiral out of control.
Failure to do so, Bergsten said, would "create dangers . . . in market psychology and continued confidence in the dollar."

Bush: Hamas attacks on Israel an 'act of terror'

WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush on Friday branded the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel an "act of terror" and outlined his own condition for a cease-fire in Gaza, saying no peace deal would be acceptable without monitoring to halt the flow of smuggled weapons to terrorist groups.
Bush chose his weekly taped radio address to speak for the first time about one of the bloodiest Mideast clashes in decades. It began a week ago. Israeli warplanes have rained bombs on Gaza, targeting the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has traumatized southern Israel with intensifying rocket attacks.
"The United States is leading diplomatic efforts to achieve a meaningful cease-fire that is fully respected," Bush said. "Another one-way cease-fire that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable. And promises from Hamas will not suffice — there must be monitoring mechanisms in place to help ensure that smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups in Gaza comes to an end."
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The White House released Bush's radio address a day early. It airs on Saturday morning.
Letting the crisis shiftDespite Bush's account of a U.S. leadership role, with time running out on his presidency, the administration seemed increasingly ready Friday to let the crisis in Gaza shift to President-elect Barack Obama. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefed Bush on developments in Gaza, and she continued furious telephone diplomacy to arrange a truce. Yet, she said she had no plans to make an emergency visit to the region.
More than 400 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed in the latest offensive. The U.N. estimated Friday that a quarter of the Palestinians killed were civilians. In their waning days in power, Bush and Rice have been working the phones with world allies.
Bush offered no criticism of Israel, depicting the country's air assaults as a response to the attacks on its people. The White House will not comment on whether it views the Israeli response as proportionate or not to the scope of rockets attacks on Israel.
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Israelis let some Palestinians flee
"This recent outburst of violence was instigated by Hamas — a Palestinian terrorist group supported by Iran and Syria that calls for Israel's destruction," Bush said.
The president said Hamas ultimately ended the latest cease-fire on Dec. 19 and "soon unleashed a barrage of rockets and mortars that deliberately targeted innocent Israelis — an act of terror that is opposed by the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people, President (Mahmoud) Abbas."
Gaza isolated since Hamas victoryHamas-run Gaza has been largely isolated from the rest of the world since the Islamic militants won parliamentary elections in 2006. Then Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, expelling forces loyal to the moderate Abbas.

Clintons’ road ahead leads back to Middle EastJan. 2: With her experience as first lady in dealing with the Mideast, Hillary Clinton prepares to lead the new administration's foreign policy team. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.
Nightly NewsBush expressed deep concern about the humanitarian suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza. U.N. officials say Gaza's 1.5 million residents face an alarming situation under constant Israeli bombardment, with hospitals overcrowded and both fuel and food supplies growing scarce.
"By spending its resources on rocket launchers instead of roads and schools, Hamas has demonstrated that it has no intention of serving the Palestinian people," Bush said. "America has helped by providing tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid, and this week we contributed an additional $85 million through the United Nations. We have consistently called on all in the region to ensure that assistance reaches those in need."
The White House has cautiously said Israel must be mindful of the toll its military strikes will have on civilians. Here, too, Bush blamed Hamas for hiding within the civilian population. "Regrettably, Palestinian civilians have been killed in recent days," he said.
Cease-fire calls growInternational calls for a cease-fire have been growing. Bush promised to stay engaged with U.S. partners in the Middle East and Europe and keep Obama updated. Obama is receiving the same intelligence reports on Gaza that Bush is.
Rice has spoken to both Obama and his choice for secretary of state, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, about the situation at least once in the last week. Obama and Clinton have remained mum out of deference to Bush, who still has 18 days in office.
There have been growing calls for Rice to intervene with Israel in person amid rising international concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza. Her decision to stay away will likely disappoint those calling for a more robust U.S. role, particularly as French President Nicolas Sarkozy intends visit the region next week.
In recent days, U.S. officials had said that a Rice trip to the Middle East, as a first stop on a long-planned visit to China next week, was under consideration. But those officials said Friday that Rice would stay in Washington. They spoke on condition of anonymity because an announcement is not expected before the weekend.

Will Smith is 2008's top money-making star

NEW YORK (AP) -- No name on the marquee was more pleasing to theater owners in 2008 than Will Smith, according to a survey of movie exhibitors.
Smith, star of "Hancock" and "Seven Pounds," was voted the star who generated the most box office revenue for theaters in an annual survey by Quigley Publishing Co.
Smith is only the second black actor to be chosen in the Quigley poll, which since 1932 has asked movie exhibitors to vote on the 10 stars who brought in the most business. Sidney Poitier topped the poll in 1968.
Smith's superhero summer blockbuster, "Hancock," grossed $228 million. "Seven Pounds," currently in theaters, has pulled in a somewhat lackluster $39 million in two weeks.
Following Smith, in order, were Robert Downey Jr. ("Iron Man," "Tropic Thunder"), Christian Bale ("The Dark Knight"), Shia LaBeouf ("Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") and LaBeouf's "Indiana Jones" co-star Harrison Ford.
The top 10 were rounded out by Adam Sandler, Reese Witherspoon, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie and Daniel Craig.
Last year's winner, Johnny Depp, who didn't have a film released this year, didn't make this year's poll, nor did seven-time winner Tom Cruise.

Dr. Dre son’s death ruled a heroin overdose

LOS ANGELES - The 20-year-old son of veteran rapper Dr. Dre died in August from an overdose of heroin and morphine, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said on Friday.
Andre Young Jr. was found dead by his mother at his Los Angeles home after spending a night out with friends.
After toxicology and other tests, the coroner ruled his death as accidental and says the case is closed, spokesman Larry Dietz said on Friday.
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Dietz said the tests showed Young died of morphine and heroin intoxication.
Dr. Dre, 43, whose real name is Andre Young, rose to stardom in the 1980s as a member of the “gangsta” rap group N.W.A. He embarked on a successful solo career, winning the first of four Grammys in 1994 for a tune from his chart-topping debut “The Chronic.”
He founded the rap labels Death Row Records and Aftermath Entertainment, and made stars out of such proteges as Snoop Dogg and Eminem.
At the time of his son’s death, Dr. Dre issued a statement asking for respect and privacy.

Weight Loss University

What can top schools teach you about dropping pounds? A lot! Here, the science and methods behind four cutting-edge academic weight loss programs.
By Milton Stokes, R.D., Prevention
More on this in Health & Fitness
Proven Weight Loss Secrets
No-Fail Weight Loss
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On the very campuses where students order in late-night pizza, specialized weight loss centers on the front lines of diet, exercise, and behavioral research help thousands of people drop pounds safely and effectively every year. Here, we review the philosophy behind four of the leading university-based weight loss programs, feature participants who have successfully lost weight and kept it off, and highlight key tips that you can use to reach your weight loss goal.
Duke University: Diet & Fitness Center, Durham, N.C.
Weight loss philosophy: Abandon the strict diet mindset
Chronic dieters tend to have a "been there, done that" mentality. So the first task for participants who enter the Duke Diet & Fitness Center program is to leave that thinking behind. For the next four weeks, dieters live near campus and meet with specialists to gain new understanding about how to lose weight and keep it off for good. The key—and where Duke's program differs from so many popular diets: small, sustainable changes. To help participants incorporate these new lessons into their daily routines, registered dietitians give demos on healthful cooking techniques, lead grocery store tours, and walk participants through restaurant outings. Individuals also attend "mindful eating" classes, where behavior experts shed light on concepts such as hunger and satiety. Exercise specialists tailor gym-based, outdoor, or at-home activities to fit each person's lifestyle.
In a 2005 study, 80 percent of Duke's Diet & Fitness Center graduates reported improved quality of life, including better stamina, self-confidence, and mobility. The center's research finds that participants lose, on average, up to 5 percent of their body weight during their first month; a year later, they've lost on average 10 percent of their original body weight.
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Lessons learned:
Move more. In addition to traditional workouts, sneak in activity: Stand up while chatting on the phone; talk to co-workers face-to-face instead of e-mailing; stretch during TV commercials.
Monitor your meals. Before you sit down, make a conscious decision about how much you're going to have instead of eating until you're full. (The brain takes 20 minutes to register a full stomach.)
Fill up on fiber. Swap your old standbys with their whole grain equivalents—the fiber slows digestion, which keeps you fuller longer. Breads, pasta, and waffles all come in multigrain or whole wheat versions.
Real-life results:
Susan Ray, 48
Virginia Beach, Va.
Pounds lost: 85
Height: 5 feet 4 1/2 inches
Weight now: 140 pounds
"I was in a bad marriage and depressed, so I turned to food for support. I tried to diet with extreme measures, like severely cutting calories, but even if I lost some weight, I couldn't keep it off. Then I landed in the hospital with what I thought was a heart attack, and I was terrified—and upset that my weight could have been the cause. It was just an anxiety attack, but it was a wake-up call. I started making changes; one was signing up at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center.
"There I found the root cause behind my habits. I was burying my emotions in food. Once I realized that, I regained control and started taking baby steps toward weight loss. The nutritionists offered creative ways to include more produce in my diet. Grating vegetables into everything is one of my favorite tricks. Food can be enjoyable and healthful if you use it to nourish your body instead of to bury your emotions. I will never yo-yo diet again."
University of Alabama: EatRight Program, Birmingham, Ala.
Weight-loss philosophy: Liberate yourself from food
In the EatRight Optifast program, participants with 50 pounds or more to lose put regular food on hold for 12 weeks and drink Optifast shakes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. The physicians who developed EatRight chose to incorporate shakes into their plan because they believe that such an extreme change frees chronic dieters from unhealthy patterns, so they can consider how they've been eating—and why. Participants are required to get medical clearance before starting and have blood checked every other week. (Supervision is imperative because meal-replacement diets can cause rapid weight loss and put stress on the body.) After this 12-week kick start, many participants are ready to renew their relationships with food. For 6 weeks, they transition back to food, and then move on to the EatRight Lifestyle program, a 12-week eating plan that favors filling, low-calorie, high-volume choices such as fruits, vegetables, and nonfat yogurt.
In the journal Obesity (2006), UAB reported data on graduates who were followed for a little over two years. What they found: More than 75 percent of the participants maintained their weight loss, which was an average of 4 to 5 percent of their starting body weight.
Lessons learned:
Break out of your patterns. While we can't recommend subsisting on shakes without a doctor's supervision, there are other ways to liberate yourself from poor eating habits. Try replacing the meal you're most likely to overeat with a healthful, preportioned frozen dinner.
Think sneakers, not snacks. If you always take an afternoon cookie break, try going for a walk instead. You may learn that what you really crave is a break from your workday.
Fill up on soup. Minestrone, chicken noodle, and split pea soups are EatRight foods—a lot of volume for just a few calories. Sip a cup before your meal so you feel fuller on fewer calories.
Real-life results:
Karen Matthews, 54
Montgomery, Ala.
Pounds lost: 100
Height: 5 feet 8 inches
Weight now: 172 pounds
"I didn't have a problem with my weight until I hit 40. In a short period of time, I lost both parents and my brother. Angry and sad, I turned to food to cope, and my weight escalated. I tried a few diets, but nothing worked. Eventually I tore the meniscus in my right knee and needed surgery. The pain in my joints, plus the realization that the person in the mirror was not the real me, prompted me to join the EatRight Optifast program.
"The shakes forced me to think about why I ate when I wasn't hungry. Truth is, I was drowning my sorrows in what I called "happiness pie"—I'd overdose on sweets when I felt sad. I began to understand why I used food to mask the pain, and I learned strategies to manage my feelings. I used to vacuum when I was upset, but I find it's even better to take a walk. I lost 100 pounds and shaved 100 points off my cholesterol in 9 months. A clean house is nice, but being thin is better!"
University of Colorado: Colorado Weigh, Denver
Weight-loss strategies: Calorie control, physical activity, and positive self-talk
Experts at Colorado Weigh use bioelectrical impedance, a high-tech way to measure the number of calories their participants need every day. Each woman gets an individual eating plan based in part on that number. At weekly group meetings with dietitians, participants learn skills to keep portions in check. The leaders also encourage participants to wear pedometers and track how many steps they walk daily (in addition to other exercise). This motivates dieters to incorporate more activity, even if it's small changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Leaders also teach participants to replace self-defeating thoughts ("I totally blew it by having that ice cream") with positive ones ("I ate five different veggies today!").
A recent study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that after the first 16 weeks, participants lost about 6 percent of their body weight. In the next 12 weeks, weight loss jumped to about 11 percent.
Lessons learned:
Patrol your portions. Learn how to eyeball the right serving sizes. For example, half a baseball is equivalent to a serving of pasta, a checkbook is 3 ounces of fish, and a CD is an ideal waffle.
Find out your true calorie needs. One diet does not fit all. Visit for an estimate of how many calories you should be eating each day, tailored to your weight, height, and activity level.
Buddy up! Partner with a friend or co-worker who's also trying to lose weight to exchange motivation—and treat yourself with the same kindness and empathy you offer that person. Face-to-face contact isn't a requirement. Visit to connect with others online.
Be a pedometer pro. This small gadget sits on your waistband and clocks how many steps you take. Aim for 10,000 daily.
Real-life results:
Lupe Reyther, 34
Pounds lost: 42
Height: 5 feet 4 inches
Weight now: 140 pounds
"I used to eat lots of fast food and think little of it even though I was overweight. Reality hit when my 7-year-old daughter wanted me to take her on a hike. It killed me to say no, but I could hardly climb a staircase, let alone a mountain. I was too young to be so unhealthy—something had to change.
"When Colorado Weigh started a program at my office, I teamed up with several colleagues, and we all tackled weight loss together. I quickly began losing 1 to 2 pounds each week. I started preportioning snack foods because I tend to overeat them; I could put away a whole bag of Goldfish crackers in a sitting.
"I wore a pedometer and scheduled breaks in my day to walk. When it was impossible to go outside, I'd use exercise bands while I helped my daughter with her homework. When it got tough, I remembered that being healthy enough to see her grow up is worth every bit of effort!"
University of Vermont: Vtrim, Burlington, Vt.
Weight-loss philosophy: No weight loss goals necessary
A diet program that requires you to give up the drive to lose weight seems contradictory. But according to the researchers who created Vtrim, it's better to make health your goal; then—one at a time—adjust the habits that stand in your way. Their holistic approach focuses on wellness. For example, "I'm going to exercise four days a week" replaces the desire to be a size 6. Pounds come off as a side effect. All Vtrim participants write in a food journal to keep track of every morsel of food they eat, from morning coffee to supermarket samples to bites off their children's plates. At the end of each week, the participants meet with nutrition specialists to look for patterns in their diets and identify simple ways to cut calories.
According to studies published in the journals Obesity and Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Vtrim participants can expect to lose about 20 pounds after 6 months. A year later, they'll have kept off two-thirds of the weight they lost.
Lessons learned:
Identify your weak spot. Does a spoonful of ice cream always turn into a pint? Allow yourself one serving—go out for a small cone, or buy a portion-controlled treat at the grocery store. The next time you're faced with a pint, it should be easier to moderate how much you're eating.
Set nonweight goals. Aim to exercise every other day, take the stairs, or eat 5 cups of produce daily.
Review your diet each week. Keeping track of your diet can help you lose twice as much weight, found a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Jot down everything you eat for a week, look for simple ways to shave calories (like switching from full-fat to low-fat yogurt), and incorporate those changes the next week. For calorie cutting ideas, visit
Real-life results:
Nancy Rabinowitz, 56
Burlington, Vt.
Pounds lost: 42
Height: 5 feet 8 1/2 inches
Weight now: 145 pounds
"I was at a healthy weight for most of my life. Then, when I turned 46, I got married. I was so happy—but that contentment turned into complacency as I started eating more, exercising less, and generally not taking care of myself. Fifty-four pounds later, running errands was a challenge. My asthma got worse, and I had no energy. Then reality hit: a pair of size 16 jeans that no longer fit.
"Everything changed when I started Vtrim. A goal of mine was to give up added sugar for 4 months, which meant no sweets—my trigger foods. Eventually, I incorporated them into my diet again and had far less of an urge to overeat.
"Journaling helped keep me honest. If I wanted a steak, fine; I just had to write it down and not overdo other foods. It also allowed me to view my diet as a whole and see that I didn't blow it if I ate a piece of pie! My favorite part is that the journals serve as a record of how far I've come."

Winter Wonderlands: 10 Towns that Make Ice Nice

Step away from the snow shovel. Put down the ice scraper. Winter can actually be fun, people, not a season-long suffer-fest of cold and complaining. So we've compiled a list of some of North America's best cities and towns where "snow" isn't a four-letter word.
Quebec City, QuebecPerhaps no city in North America loves winter more than Quebec City. And it should: temps here can plummet to minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit in January. All the better for making sure the Ice Hotel, a modern-day igloo open until March 29, doesn't melt. The world's largest winter carnival or Le Carnaval heats up Quebec City from Jan. 30 to Feb. 15. Think frozen canoe races, snow-sculpture contests, dogsled racing, night parades and tipples of caribou (brandy, vodka, sherry and port) to keep the grown-ups warm. Most people would need a whole lot of caribou to try out Quebec City's new winter pastime of "crashed ice" in which four-person teams fly down an icy chute. On skates. On Jan. 24, women will compete for the first time in the event.
MSN Travel Guide for Quebec City
Aspen, Colo.True, the glittery image of Aspen doesn't exactly fit with an economy in the muck. But one of the best ways to vent 401(k) angst is to hit the ski slopes, and Aspen has four different mountains from which to choose: Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk. Plus, when the X Games steamroll through here Jan. 22-25 -- displaying acrobatic feats on skis, snowboards and snowmobiles -- the town will make even the fussiest of Florida snowbirds love winter. Off-mountain, Aspenites celebrate the snow-season with the January Wintersk├Âl festival of art, soup-contests and dog fashion-shows; the Aspen Music Festival, meanwhile, regularly showcases top performers. Finally, the recession makes it more likely to get a deal (or at least a room) at such legendary ski lodges as The Little Nell and The St. Regis Aspen.