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Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008; 1:00 PM

Confused about nutrition? Wondering how to fit in more physical activity? Welcome to the Lean Plate Club. Ask Sally Squires, nationally syndicated Lean Plate Club columnist for the Washington Post, about eating smart and moving more every Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. Sally draws upon her master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University to preside over the lively Lean Plate Club web chat. Whether you're trying to reach a healthier weight or simply maintain it, you'll find plenty of tips and strategies.

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Share your own food finds, creative workouts and secrets for healthy, great tasting meals. We'll cheer your successes and help with your setbacks. (None of this, of course, is a substitute for medical advice.) E-mail Sally, author of the newly published Secrets of the Lean Plate Club (St. Martin's Press) at leanplateclub@washpost.com.

Or just sign up for the free Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter. The Lean Plate Club column appears Tuesdays in the Washington Post Health section and is nationally syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. Find other Lean Plate Club members at www.frappr.com/leanplateclub.

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Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.

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Sally Squires: Happy New Year! We've got a lot going on today, so I'll try to be brief here.

First: How'd you do on the Holiday Challenge? We'd love to hear and if you're ready for a new goal, join me on Discovery Health's National Body Challenge, which begins this week and runs through the end of March.

Also, 2008 is a slated to be a year of change, so why not make it a year of personal change too? If you had one or two things you could work on this year (better eating, losing or gaining weight, becoming physically fit, going vegetarian, eating together as a family, training for an athletic event, you get the idea!) what would you like to do? Please let me know here or via e-mail at leanplateclub@washpost.com. I'm looking for some people and families to follow throughout the year as they make goals and work to achieve them. More details to follow.

Now on to the chast!

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Chatham, Ill.: For some people I'm sure the meal replacement plans are workable to get the weight off -- what about long-term maintenance? Are they going to learn the skills that they can translate to a long-term maintenance strategy?

Sally Squires: For those who have not yet read today's LPC column, it addresses Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, Slim-Fast (and had we had room we might have also included Diet to Go, the Cookie Diet, LA Weight Loss and more.)

Experts used to frown on these plans, but are finding virtue in their ability to re-educate about portion control. But then there's the thorny question about how processed they can be. Have any of you tried these programs and if so, what did you think?

Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: In my quest to get in shape this new year, I am looking for a calorie counting program for my PDA that will help me keep track of what I am eating. Do you or your chatters have any suggestions? Thanks!

Sally Squires: I thought that Diet Power might offer this very thing, but just talked with them, and sadly, they do not. You may be able to access Fitday, Nutridiary, Weight Watchers, NutriSystem, Jenny Craig, Slim-Fast, Mypyramidtracker.gov and some of the other Web based programs from your PDA. But I realize that's not exactly the same as having the program ON your PDA.

Healthetech used to have a program for the Palm, but they have long gone out of business. Anybody else out there have a program that they use on their Blackberry, Palm or other personal device?

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San Francisco California: Holiday Challenge Wrap-Up.

I was very pleased that I didn't add pounds to the scale this holiday season and I was able to get to the gym pretty much every day.

I also managed to have a healthier holiday dinner, with less starch and more greens. Dinner was cornish game hens, swiss chard, wild rice and mashed carrots/acorn squash with maple syrup and cinnamon. We also went for a walk after dinner and didn't have dessert. It was a success in my book!

Sally Squires: Sounds like it was a success. I also held the line during the holidays, although I must admit that I held my breath a little getting on the scale right after New Year's as you'll see in this LPC Discussion Group posting. (Yes, this is a new way for us all to stay in touch with each other during the week.)

How did the rest of you do? And now that the Holiday Challenge is over, join me on the Discovery Health National Body Challenge. More details to come...

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Silver Spring, Md.: I was successful with the Holiday Challenge for the third straight year -- I actually use the PDF chart year round to stay in range.

Sally Squires: Congratulations! Way to go Silver Spring. I am a big fan of that chart which shows that simple and low-tech can be very effective, don't you think?

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washingtonpost.com: National Body Challenge

Sally Squires: As promised, here's more on the National Body Challenge.

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Clearwater, Fla.: I am 80 years old and I am on Nutrasystem, It is slow losing but so convenient for me living alone. I have lost 16 pounds in 4 months and feel good. My cholesterol has come down and I am down one size. I recommend it.

Sally Squires: That's wonderful Clearwater! A colleague at the Post has lost 85 pound since last January and has really been pleased with it too. Hope you'll keep us apprised of your continued progress. Congratulations.

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Vienna, Va.: I would really appreciate some suggestions for some lowfat alternatives to oatmeal or mashed potatoes. I have been put on a soft-food regimen while I heal after dental surgery.

Sally Squires: Sorry to hear about your surgery, Vienna. That doesn't sound fun. Smoothies would be one option that you might consider. Make them with non-fat or low-fat plain yogurt, your favorite fruit and lots of ice. (And that reminds me, here's another food find of mine this week: Oikos Organic Yogurt. I couldn't find my favorite Total nonfat yogurt, so I tried this other variety. It's half the price--at least for now--of Total and I think is equal in flavor.)

Other options for your tender mouth are: soups, bean dips (hummus), pureed squash and other veggies or fruit. I've also been roasting cauliflower then blending for a mashed potato alternative. It's quite tasty.

Other thoughts out there?

Hope you recover very soon.

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washingtonpost.com: Oikos Organic

Sally Squires: As promised

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washingtonpost.com: How'd You Do on the Holiday Challenge?

Sally Squires: Here's the link to the posting on the Holiday Challenge last week.

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Washington DC: Hi, Sally:
A comment from a NutriSystem dropout who grew weary of packaged meals after losing 20 pounds: You still have to go to the grocery store for fruit, veggies and dairy products, so it's not as convenient as the ads make it out to be.

Sally Squires: That's good feedback. How'd you do on the program in terms of losing weight?

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Manassas, Va.: What do you think of plans like Diet to Go and the E-Diet meal plans? They are supposed to be made fresh and not processed.

Sally Squires: All these programs can work if you stick with them. But then all diets work for someone. No diet works for everyone. The trick is finding what works best for you and that can also change with time and circumstances. So if this approach helps you get on track, then go for it, as long as your palate agrees and your bank account doesn't give out.

Have you tried either one? We'd love to hear about them.

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Washington, D.C.: I don't want to set myself up for failure this year. So rather than making this the year I lose weight, I've decided to make this the year to learn to cook and to learn to use portion control. Portion control is my biggest challenge ever, probably because I'm not happy when I'm hungry. I need to learn to wait 20 minutes after dinner (my weakest time of day) and see if I am still hungry and need to eat more, or I just need a glass of water and my mind needs to catch up with my stomach. Sometimes I'm craving more food, but not really hungry. Also, I need to learn to not want to feel full, which is really quite a satisfying feeling.

Sally Squires: Portion control is something that many of us need to re-educate ourselves about in this supersized world. So you've got lots of company.

Eating slowly is another great habit to cultivate. I caught Dean Ornish, Anthony Robbins and Sanjay Gupta on Larry King last night as they talked about diets. Ornish brought up an interesting point: many people go to bed feeling full after raiding the 'fridge. But sleep is a time when your body needs to rest, not digest! It's a good way of looking at that tendency to snack before bedtime.

Finally, I'm looking for people to follow during this upcoming year as they try to make long term changes. So if you'd like to learn more, please e-mail me with your name, address, phone number and best times to call to leanplateclub@washpost.com. And please put "change" in the subject line.

We're also updating our file of Successful Losers, so if you have lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for a year or more, I'd love to hear about that too! Use the same e-mail address above. Thanks!

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Milford, N.J.: Maybe some soft polenta or cheese grits made with lowfat milk and cheese would be nice alternatives to oatmeal and mashed potatoes. How about whipped sweet potatoes?

Sally Squires: Whipped sweet potatoes would be a great option. So would those other choices. Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: From Halloween to New Year I fall off the sugar bandwagon and am just constantly eating sweets, desserts, white breads, etc. I have to be honest, I've been a bit cranky lately, and I am just wondering if too much sugar can cause moodiness? Does this affect insulin levels somehow? I'm just glad the holiday festivities are finally over and I have time to gain control before Easter.

Sally Squires: Some people feel that they can be addicted to certain foods, especially those containing processed sugar or flour. (We'll post a link to a column about this in a minute.) Others wonder if the problem is repetitive eating rather than a particular food.

In the meantime, you might try reaching for healthy sweet treats when your sweet tooth surfaces, especially whole fruit.Another option: healthy teas. I tried some great ones during the holidays that are sugar-free, but very flavorful. You might also consider keeping a journal to track your emotion when these cravings arise. You may find that you are tired, hungry, stressed or really need activity rather than something sweet.

Hope this helps and that you'll let us know how it goes.

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washingtonpost.com: Addicted to Food? Maybe It's All in Your Head (Post, Sept. 4, 2007)

Sally Squires: As promised...

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washingtonpost.com: foodaddicts.org

Sally Squires: As promised...

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St. Louis: I've done Jenny Craig twice and both times started having AFIB attacks (irregular heart rate). Do they put some kind of additives in their foods that can cause this?

Sally Squires: Hmm. That doesn't sound good. I read a number of ingredient panel lists for products but did not see anything that might cause that. Did you also check with your doctor? Hope that you don't experience that problem again under any circumstances!

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Sally. I wanted to share the strategy I used over the holidays to avoid gaining weight. I called it the "better than nothing" plan. In short, as long as I was doing SOMETHING to reduce calories or get some exercise, I didn't stress about exactly what it was. For example, if I didn't have time to go to the gym, I walked for 15 minutes at lunch or walked up and down the stairs in my office building a few times. Better than nothing. At a buffet, I sampled anything that looked good, but didn't let myself go back for seconds (or thirds, or fourths). Better than nothing. I always made sure to have a glass of water before reaching for another glass of wine at a party, to slow myself down and make myself feel full. Better than nothing. It doesn't sound like much, but I maintained my weight (down to the 1/10 of a pound) from mid-November through Jan. 2, and I feel better and more motivated to lose weight now, since I don't feel like I'm already in the hole.

Sally Squires: I love it! Better Than Nothing! Very clever and you remind us how small changes really can add up to big rewards.Thanks! And congratulations.

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Arlington, Va.: I've been on the Jenny Craig diet since 2005. I went from a size 10 to a size 4, and have since remained roughly at the same size/weight (give or take a couple of pounds). I no longer do the diet full-time, rather do it about half to two-thirds of the time. What attracted me to Jenny Craig was the convenience and the fact that they delivered the food to my door. I can't stand the weekly calls, as I don't really need that support anymore, but I bear with them in order to get my food (actually, we do them bi-weekly now, since I'm on the "maintenance plan"). Overall, I thought it was a wonderful experience, and it taught me to eat small meals throughout the day, to eat far more vegetables, to cut my portions, to add dairy, etc. I feel it's been a positive experience, and definitely would not take the time to shop for my own food and make the tiny portions otherwise.

Sally Squires: Sounds like it worked really well for you. Great going, Arlington and thanks for the feedback.

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Diet Plans, Indiana: I lost 25 pounds on Weight Watchers and have maintained the loss for over a 2 years. I think true weight control comes about when the individual takes the "structure" provided by ANY weight loss system, book, or program and individualizes it to their lifestyle. Lasting weight loss comes from accepting responsibility and taking control over what you eat and how much you exercise. Diets are not something to follow for 8 days,or 8 months, or until you lose 50 pounds. In my opinion, weight control is everyday food choices made throughout your life.

Sally Squires: That's the Lean Plate Club philosophy too: make changes that you can live with for a lifetime rather than dieting. Congratulations to you too!

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Tujunga, Calif.: I am vehemently against meat from cloned animals...especially if the food is not labeled as such! If that happens, I'll just have to stop eating meat altogether!

Sally Squires: For those who have not yet read today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, I included a link to a news item about the news that the Food and Drug Administration is likely ready to announce their decision on whether to allow meat, milk and other products from clones animals. So we could soon be asking, organic, free-range or cloned?

I asked for feedback. Get ready, because a lot of people have weighed in with opinions on this one...

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Columbia, Md.: Comment on cloned animals. I highly approve. Cloning of animals will provide a standard, known product. Nature experiments in genetics all the time where survival of the fittest is the selection process. With cloning there is less trial and error but the selection of the fittest may not be well executed. Thus a concern is that at some point the cloned organism may become subject to disease that will have widespread effect on product production, not on the consumers themselves.

Sally Squires: That's one for cloning, one again. More to come...

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North Dakota: I won't buy meat or milk from cloned animals; I don't think that there has been adequate long-term research in this area. I do not understand the need for this technology, other than it is humans, again, attempting to control nature for greater profit.

Sally Squires: Thanks for weighing in on this topic North Dakota. It really struck a chord with a lot of people...

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Spokane, Wash.: Hey if it looks the same and tastes the same, what's wrong with it? Everyone will always be resistant to change. This conversation will be something of the past soon. My children will know no different when they eat cloned meat. I am assuming the majority of the objection is coming from the 50-plus crowd but that is just speculation.

Sally Squires: That's interesting, Spokane, I thought that it might be younger people who would object to cloned products...Just shows that we each come with our own preconceived notions...a good reminder for us all to keep open minds, me included, don't you think?

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St. Petersburg, Fla.: I will absolutely not buy cloned meats. For me it is an ethical question. Not a place I will go.

Sally Squires: Thanks for chiming in, St. Pete. I sure enjoyed spending part of the holidays in your fair city. We had great weather, but then it's also 70 degrees here in DC so can't really complain!

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Alexandria, Va.: I am opposed to letting cloned meat and milk into the our food system. I also don't like that labeling such food won't be mandatory, so now I'll have to count on producers who agree with me to label their products as being clone free. Unless milk tastes like chalk, who really notices the quality of milk? It's a rather innocuous substance, so why do we need "champion" diary cows cloned? And since we have plenty of milk in the supply in the first place, why do we need cows that give more milk? The whole system has me steamed.

Sally Squires: And you're not alone in that reaction, Alexandria. Lots of people write to me about feeling confused and fed up. Thanks for chiming in.

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Omaha, NE: Hey Sally, I am trying to eat seasonal fruits and veggies because, in theory, they are richer in nutrients and more cost effective than the hot house alternatives. What are some good choices for the winter months?

Sally Squires: Winter squash is one wonderful choice. Not only is it in season, but it's inexpensive and has a long shelf life. In today's Lean Plate Club e-mail--(t's a free service for those who don't yet subscribe--we'll post a sign-up in a minute), you'll find links to some scrumptous sounding recipes for winter squash from Vegetarian Times.

Other good winter options include root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, radishes, parsnips, beets, turnips) plus broccoli, cabbage, arugula, mustard greens, kolrabi as well as garlic, onions, leeks, fennel and more...

You might look also look for Community Supported Agriculture--those are farms that will be near your community. We'll post a link in a minute.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Sally,

Happy New Year! How does one calculate one's body fat percentage? I can easily calculate my BMI using an online tool, but am not sure what tools are available for fat percentage. I feel that this would be a better indicator or my overall health than just BMI. Or am I completely wrong on this?

Also, my new favorite thing to eat is grapefruit. I don't know what took me so long, but I love that they are not too sweet and satisfy my fruit craving.

Sally Squires: Grapefruit is one of my all time favorites too, probably because my father loves it and still eats it regularly at age 81.

As for calculating your percentage of body fat, you can now get a bathroom scale that will do the numbers for you. ceck ur product gallery for some products,but most department and bed and bath stores will have several options.

Or you can try one of the many calculators available on the Web. Just google "calculate body fat percentage" and an array will pop up. They are likely less accurate than the devices that you can buy for home or that your doctor may use to calculate your percent body fat. But it should give you a range.

Hope that helps.

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washingtonpost.com: localharvest.org

Sally Squires: As promised

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Norman, Okla.: We are killing ourselves!!! They better mark the cloned products separately in the stores Because I want the choice not to eat those products. I will not put those kinds of things in my body or those of my family. I hope the FDA steps up and puts a stop to using cloned products for consumption.

Sally Squires: Thanks for weighing in Norman on this topic.

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Greenbelt, Md.: They can sell cloned animals in supermarkets BUT they need to let the consumers know what we are buying. I, personally, won't buy it. How long did the last cloned animal live?

Sally Squires: I don't think that cloned products are yet available, but I understand your point that you want the products correctly labelled. Thanks!

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Confused with hubby: Hi Sally, I'm confused with the way my husband is exercising. He says that as long as he walks every night, (he walks the dog) he can pretty much eat what he wants. The thing is, he eats everything. I'm talking about lots of cheese, lots of mayonnaise, lots of dressing on his salad, he loves sodas and he loves pork too. My husband is a big (fat) guy. I think he's fooling himself, please comment.

Sally Squires: Those nightly constitutionals are wonderful. (I'll bet that the dog enjoys them too!) And it's much better to be fat and fit than just fat (or just thin) and sedentary.

So keep encouraging your husband to keep walking. You might even join him too. But unless he's burning the calories of a marathon runner, he can't eat as much food as he may want. (In fact, most marathoners don't do that either.)

Calories in = calories out is the only way to maintain body weight.

To lose weight means eating fewer calories than you take in. And most people--including,it seems, your husband, tend to overestimate what exercise burns. Figure about 100 to 150 calories per mile walked--far less than most people imagine.

Hope that helps.

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Washington, D.C.: I've seen the ads on tv and in magazines for 3-A-Day dairy consumption to promote weight loss from the national dairy council. I recently heard that it's just hype, but supposedly there is some scientific research behind it to show that low fat milk and yogurt helps in weight loss. I'm a little confused. Could you clarify this issue please?

Sally Squires: There are a handful of studies suggesting that calcium may help a little with weight loss. But some of those studies have been critized and others need to be replicated. So the jury is still out. In the meantime, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines advise most adults to consume about three cups of non fat or low fat milk daily--something most of us don't do. So if you're not getting those servings or their equivalents, you might replace other foods with these dairy products or calcium fortified foods.

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Falls Church, Va.: Sally, I'm hoping maybe you or one of the other chatters can help me. I recently grabbed several heavily discounted cans of pumpkin pie filling at the store. While they seem very high in sugar, they were cheap and I figured I don't eat enough pumpkin. However, now I'm not sure what I can make beyond pumpkin pie, which is not on my diet plan! Any suggestions? Has anybody tried combining it with cottage cheese or yogurt? Thanks!

Sally Squires: I think you mean high in sodium, not sugar, Falls Church, since as you'll see in a minute canned pumpkin does not contain am lot of sugar (unless it's been added.) Pumpkin soup is delicious, so are pumpkin bread and muffins. Some LPCers use pumpkin in place of fat in some recipes to help reduce calories. And I like to make a crustless pumpkin pie in small dishes. Eat like a custard or pudding. It's delicious. Hope that helps.

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Washington, D.C.: Some obesity clinics offer physician assisted and other support systems for weight loss using high-protein drinks, etc. What are some thoughts on these programs? They are costly, but do they get better results?

Sally Squires: They get about the same results as the structured programs. And some health plans now cover them. So if this approach works for you, it may be worth checking into.

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washingtonpost.com: USDA National Nutrient Database

Sally Squires: Here's where you can search for pumpkin or any other food, courtesy of the US Deparment of Agriculture. Your tax dollars at work!

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Houston: Hi!

Yes I was able to keep my weight steady in fact I lost a few pounds over the holidays by sticking to my vegan (plant-based) diet and be reducing the percentage of processed foods in favor of real food. For example, instead of bread I will have a helping of a wheat berry salad: cooked wheat berries -- easy in the pressure cooker! -- with broccoli, carrots, garbanzo beans and a cider vinegar dressing. Instead of (any) fruit juice, I would opt for the fruit, etc. Takes discipline and a bit of planning. But ask my wife, at 55 I am in better shape than the day we got married more than 26 years ago.

Sally Squires: Sounds like a wonderful plan. And you are 55 years young! What a great way to start 2008 and a great way to end this Web chat.

Winners to come in a minute.

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Sally Squires: Thanks to everyone for a great chat--our first of 2008. Winners today are:

Houston, San Francisco, Silver Spring, Diet Plans and DC (who is trying to make changes). E-mail me with your name, U.S. Postal address and please put winner in the subject line for faster handling.

I'd also love to hear from you about:

1. Changes to make this year

2. Successful Losers

3. Discovery Health National Body Challenge--Hope you'll join me on it!

Finally, join me daily on the new Lean Plate Club Discussion Group at www.leanplateclub.com/group.

Cheers!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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