Lean Plate Club

Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, July 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.

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. www.leanplateclub.com/group.

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Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.


Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club. Today's e-mail newsletter should be in your electronic in-boxes already. In the latest issue find recipes for Shrimp with Lime Ginger Corn Salad as well as a Fresh Summer Fruit Parfait, Black-eyed Pea Hummus and Chilled Soba Noodles with Tofu and Sugar Snap Peas. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is.

Plus, there are also links to David Joachim's Six Swanky Meals that cook as fast as frozen meals in the microwave.

There are also links to the latest Salmonella updates, plus you can find free Lean Plate Club widgets and of course, plenty about physical activity too. Don't miss today's Reaction Ball Challenge from Natural Health magazine.

If you'd like to subscribe to this free, weekly e-mail newsletter, just log onto www.leanplateclub.com. There, you're just one click away from signing up. It's really easy.

Keep those e-mails coming with ideas for what you'd like to read in upcoming Lean Plate Club columns or just a question that you might have about nutrition or physical activity. I love getting your e-mails. Read all of them and respond to as many personally as time permits. E-mail me anytime at leanplateclub@washpost.com. You can also call me at 1-800-627-1150, ext. 45018.

Now on to the chat!


Bean counting Washingtonian: Sally - I think the study about success for dieters who write what they ate down is great.

Maybe I'm unique, but I have often been "pounded" by off the books snacking. Who would believe that those spoonfuls of Ben & Jerry's were responsible for the bad news on the scale? They were just a taste!

If you write stuff down then at some point you have to acknowledge and account for that kind of eating. You may still do it, but at least you know you're doing it.

It's also helpful because you can, if you want, try to plan ahead. Going out to dinner? If you know what you already ate today you're better able to order an appropriate en tree.

Sally Squires: Hear, hear! I couldn't have put it better myself. And in fact, I've got back to weighing, measuring and recording myself after realizing that I was not paying close enough attention.

Food is so plentiful that it's very easy for nearly everyone to eat much more than they think. Let's face it: we've never had more food (at least in developed countries) and never had less physicial activity. The combination is not a good one for us.

I'm heartened, however, by more people walking, riding bikes, etc. due to the gas prices. Maybe that's the silver lining. What do you think?


Capitol Hill: Whenever I get off track, I hop on Weight Watchers and count my points again. Writing down what I eat keeps me in check. When I do the elliptical or strength train, I try to give myself a conservative estimate for how many points I earn. I judge this using a heart-rate monitor to see just how hard I worked. For those times when my average HR is in the upper 160's, I make sure to reward myself with a few more points for pushing it.

Sally Squires: That's a great way to look at things, Capitol Hill. For the past several months, I've also gone back to religiously wearing a pedometer after a while of not doing so. It also can make a big difference in tracking daily activity--as well as long walks. I've been using the Omron (no connection with the company) and really like it, despite it's larger size. Yesterday, I logged 4.66 miles from a lot of walking. What a difference that is from just being chained to a desk!

Anybody else getting motivated by your pedometers, heart rate monitors or other exercise gadgets?

Thanks for weighing in Capitol Hill.


Washington, DC: I would like to be counted among those who have lost weight (50 pounds, one-third of my highest body weight) and kept it off (for 3 years and counting) by tracking what and how much I eat. I find it enormously satisfying to KNOW what everything costs, in terms of calories, and what everything provides, in terms of nutrients and benefits. I use a system (SparkPeople.com) that provides a great deal of feedback information--and I use it every day.

Weight loss and healthy nutrition are in large part a mind game--and I've discovered it's game I can win.

Sally Squires: Congratulations! What an accomplishment. In today's Wall Street Jourmal Melinda Beck writes about leptin, one of the hormones that controls appetite. It's a good read, but what really struck me was the quote at the end from a researcher who said what a great feat it is to lose weight and keep it off. So hope you consider that yet another pat on the back. Thanks for your inspiring example.


Milwaukee: How do you feel about 1-2 eggs in the morning to help with weight loss? If people are eating healthfully and watching their trans/sat fat and refined carb intake, they may find this a helpful strategy due to the filling effects of eggs.

Sally Squires: Eggs are a wonderful food despite falling out of favor for a while. And they certainly are a good source of protein and still are a pretty good bargain consider the food prices. A large egg has only about 70 calories.

Trouble is that those egg yolks have a slug of cholesterol and some saturated fat. Current recommendation from the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute is to limit dietary cholesterol to 300 mg. or less per day. One egg yolk has about 270 mg. So two egg yolks provide nearly double the recommended amount. Eating that amount every day, should definitely be avoided by those who have heart disease or elevated cholesterol.

But...here's the good thing: you can pretty much eat all the egg whites that you want since they are virtually all protein. Hard-boiled egg whites, egg white omelets, scrambled egg whites or egg substitutes are great alternatives. You can also eat one whole egg and then add a couple of egg whites for volume. (My dog gets the extra egg yolks.)

Hope that answers your question. Thanks for chiming in today.


20003: Hey Sally! After an indulgent July 4th weekend, I need to get back on track with my eating and exercising. I think the food journal is a great first step for me. I love the idea that I can keep track using my my blackberry. Have you or any of the readers had any experience with accessing the sites from your blackberry? Are some easier/friendlier than others to use? Thanks for your help!

Sally Squires: I have not yet tried these sites from my Blackberry, but I used to have a Palm that I used to get to a now defunct Web based calorie system. It was great.

How about it gang: anybody out there use these devices on your handhelds or Blackberries? If so, which ones do you like best?


Keeping track: Personally, I do a lot of cooking and have always found recording exactly what I eat very time-consuming (entering individual ingredients, measuring amounts, etc). However, I find it helps a lot just to write down what I eat-- no calorie counting, no measuring portions. If my weight starts creeping up, I'll go back to measuring, but I think this is a good (and quick) maintenance tool. At the very least it keeps me eating healthy foods!

Sally Squires: Here's a great example of figuring out what works best for you. And for those who get number weary, this sounds like a great alternative. Thanks for the idea.


Durham, NC: I use a golf "stroke counter" like an umpire uses to tally fat grams.

Sally Squires: Another clever strategy! But here's my question for you: Do you still track total calories? How do you make sure that you don't go over your daily intake with other foods? Thanks!


Great Barrington, MA: I use sparkpeople to track what I eat. They will also track your exercise program. Don't have an exercise program? No problem. They will custom make one for you complete with video demonstrations to make sure you are doing them right. This website is a fabulous resource.

Sally Squires: It is indeed and it's also free. What I like about all the Web based programs is that you can access them from anywhere. That makes keeping track--and just paying attention--a lot easier, don't you think?


Jerusalem, Israel: Posting early because of time zone differences. Just read last week's smoothie discussion. Another thing that allows me to get a cool summer treat is homemade popsicles. So far, I've tried melon (a little bland) and coconut milk-pineapple-mango (probably higher in calories, but it takes a good long while to eat.)

I found recipes by looking on line for Mexican paletas.

Sally Squires: You are our farthest flung LPCer today, Jerusalem. And your posting reminds me of eating out at Jaleo this weekend. On the menu: four different kinds of gazpacho made from nontraditional ingredients including watermelon. They came in 1-2 ounce portions and absolutely tickled the palate.

Your frozen concoctions sound like they do the same thing, especially that one with the mango and coconut. Yum. Got a recipe you'd like to share? If so, we'd love to have it.



Tampa Bay Area, FL: Thanks for the timely article. As a previous member of OA, I found keeping a food diary helpful. Now I find blogging, not just about food (and NOT oversharing) to be very helpful in my dieting/improved lifestyle efforts.

It seems to validate what I'm doing, even if only to me! I was wondering if anyone else has experienced this?

Sally Squires: We have a number of Lean Plate Club members who blog about their eating, exercise and weight loss effort. (In fact, I'll try to post a link to a recent column about a few them in a minute.) I also once moderated a session at a bloggers' conference here in DC on weight loss blogging. It was fun and interesting. What's your blog's name?


Fairfax, Va.: Are you aware of any concerns of eating too much soy? Is there a such a thing? Any sensitivities? A friend was wondering...

Sally Squires: Eating too much of anything is a concern. So soy all the time means that getting a diet that is less varied. And variety really does seem to be the spice of life and health.

The concern about too much soy are over-doing the plant based estrogens that it contains. Also soy is very rich in omega-6 fatty acids. These are healthy fats. But they compete to be metabolized with also healthy omega-3 fatty acids. As we evolved we ate a diet that was closer to 1:1 in omega-6/omega-3. Now, we mostly eat an omega-6 diet. And there are some scientists who think this is not a good idea. But the scientific evidence is still emerging.

Bottom line: everything in moderation.


washingtonpost.com: Need Encouragement to Shed Some Pounds? Blogs May Help (Post, May 13)

Sally Squires: As promised, here's the recent column on three weight loss bloggers who also happen to be Lean Plate Club members.


Austin, TX: I'm a registered dietitian and have found for me personally, tracking what I eat helps me to try to resist eating some things. (Yes, even thought I know better, I still over-indulge). I was using Fitday last summer and losing weight. I stopped when I went on vacation in October, didn't resume, and have gotten way off track. I record both what I eat and the activity and find that it provides me some motivation to increase activity and decrease what I'm eating. I sometimes make my evening dinner plans based on how I've done with the rest of the day. There is also a system of not recording what you eat, but tracking how full you are when finished eating and how hungry you are when you eat again, along with the time of day when you eat. Anything that increases your awareness of what you are eating and how much seems to help. I started Fitday again yesterday, so I expect good results to start this week! Thanks for your column - I really enjoy reading it! I pick up tips and recipes.

Sally Squires: Thank you for your posting. Fitday is another great site, that is also free. In fact, in a minute, I'll post links to a variety of sites where you can track your calories and activity. I like the idea of being able to track both calories and fullness--that's a very clever feature.

Thanks very much!


washingtonpost.com: MyPyramid Tracker

Sally Squires: Here's one of the free on-line tools to help you track food, activity and weight. And this one is from USDA so it's your tax dollars at work.


washingtonpost.com: Fitday

Sally Squires: Here's Fitday, as noted by the dietitian from Austion...


washingtonpost.com: Calorie King

Sally Squires: I've just signed up for Calorie King (a paid service. And I have no connection with the company.) This on-line database is extensive but easy to use. It's also been part of several large clinical trials. What I've used so far, I really like, although I still miss my personal favorite Balancelog, now sadly out of business.


washingtonpost.com: SparkPeople

Sally Squires: Here's a link Spark People, a favorite of a number of Lean Plate Club members. It's also free to use, although registration is required.


washingtonpost.com: Nutridiary

Sally Squires: What's really cool about this site is that you don't have to register to start using it.


the big breakfast diet: Have you written anything on this yet? I'll try the journaling thing, but unless the act of writing actually kills hunger pangs, it's not going to help me. If the theory behind the big breakfast idea actually works, and I can eliminate or at least reduce my terrible hunger in the evenings, I'm willing to eat that 600 calorie breakfast. What do you think about that study?

Sally Squires: Breakfast is a very important meal. We know that from several studies including research from the National Weight Control Registry, an on-going group of several thousand "successful losers" who have shed at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year. Nearly all report eating breakfast.

Breakfast is key because you have fasted through the night. Your body legitimately needs food. If you skip this meal, hunger often comes roaring back with a voraciousness that can be overwhelming. So think of it as the meal that sets the tone for the day.

And yes, you could eat 600 calories. If you're on a 1,200 calorie diet, that's still only half the day's intake. But 600 calories may be more than many people can eat at one meal and not feel uncomfortable. So you might try 400 calories, then 500 calories and see how that goes. The important thing to keep in mind is the total calorie intake (and how much you exercise) for the day.

You need a deficit to lose weight, a balance to stay at the same weight and an increase to gain weight. (Of course, few of us find ourselves in that position!)


Exception in Alexandria: Hello, Maybe I am exception to the rule, but writing down what I eat just doesn't work for me. One reason could be I am inconsistent, another could be I would like to keep track of fiber and protein and cals and etc, but then I can't seem to find the info with ease, any suggestions on keeping consistent (my longest was 2 weeks). Thanks.

Sally Squires: Perfection is not needed in this endeavor. So you could start by just keeping track of what you eat without measuring anything. Once that seems to feel natural, start measuring what you eat. Then the next step could be to figure out the calories. But unless you really want to get immersed in the numbers, there's no huge need to count fiber grams, protein, etc.

If you really want to know this information, the Web sites mentioned above will do the numbers for you. Hope that helps.


regarding soy: My best friend is deathly allergic to soy, so we have to be extra careful. It's the same level for her as those severe peanut allergies that have had many schools banning peanut butter. So it can be an issue, and if someone asks you about soy in anything you're preparing please don't be offended. It's not a well-known allergy, but it does exist - and causes numerous logistical headaches, since soy is being increasingly pushed in food.

Sally Squires: Sorry about your friend's allergies, but you raise a good point about those food allergies. We'll post a link in a minute to the Food Allergy and Anaphylactic Network. It's a wonderful resource.


Waldorf, Maryland: I use a software program called Dietpower to track calories, exercise and weight loss or gain. It is not an on-line program. It is saved onto my computer. There is a support forum on the dietpower website (www.dietpower.com) to stay encouraged and challenged by other dieters. This has really helped me to keep track of my goals and progress.

Sally Squires: Dietpower is another great program. So is Dietmate. The point is to find one of these programs that works for you. That's really what's key. And it may take trying several before finding the right fit. Thanks!


Alexandria: Re: athletes as inspiration. I'd like to look to them for inspiration, but I think most of them are juicing themselves, whether it's legal amino acids, some other legal substance, or illegal. I was excited about Dara Torres until I read that she is taking amino acids "only available in Europe right now" and they are her "little secret." So, it wasn't all natural ability and her strict training regimen. I was disappointed in that. So, no, I don't look to Olympic athletes as inspiration.

washingtonpost.com: To be fair, the amino acids aren't on any list of banned substances.

U.S. Swimming Trials: Torres Credits Amino Acid for Comeback (July 6, olympics.blogs.nytimes.com)

Sally Squires: Despite her amino acids, what she's done is pretty amazing. But I also understand your point. What we could not stop watching this weekend were the Wimbledon finals, particularly the men's final between Nadal and Federer. What tennis! Wow.

I know I'll never play tennis like that, but it was amazing to see what shots they both managed to get and what great shape both players are in.

Other thoughts about elite athletes, particularly with the Olympics just around the corner?


Free food diary: Rather than paying for a website or using a free site with many ads, I just use a simple spreadsheet. When I found that maintaining an Excel spreadsheet at home and at work was too much trouble, I turned to Google docs which has an MS-Excel like spreadsheet application. That way I am able to access the spreadsheet anywhere I have an internet connection. I maintain a simple spreadsheet with columns for Day/Date, Breakfast, Mid-Morning Snack, Lunch, Afternoon Snack(s), Dinner, and Other.

I am happy to say that in 5 weeks of my new diet (and exercise plan) I have been able to lose 6 lbs. My goal is another 15 lbs. by Thanksgiving. Maintaining my food diary has been beneficial to know when I cheat, so that I can get myself back on track!

Great job on the article Sally, it's great advice for anyone looking to lose some weight!

Sally Squires: Thanks! And congratulations on already losing those 6 pounds. Very impressive and another great example of customizing these ideas for your own needs.


washingtonpost.com: The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network

Sally Squires: As promised!


Bethesda, Maryland: where do I find a sample of the food and exercise forms used in the study by Kaiser?

Sally Squires: Sadly, we had planned to have these available on-line for a download. But due to technical difficulties, this didn't occur. My apologies. Basically the forms are set up by day, with one column for amounts, the next column lists food and beverages, then calories. Then there's a column for fruit/vegetables. Another for low-fat dairy. and a final column for fat, sodium and others. Total is at the bottom.

Hope that helps. Again, our apologies for the glitch.


O'Fallon, Mo,: I am also blogging in a very public way, my efforts at losing:


Sally Squires: Thanks! Other bloggers out there who are Lean Plate Club members? Send me your blog URLs to leanplateclub@washpost.com and I'll start listing them in upcoming newsletters.


Burke, VA: Hi Sally and chatters.

I lost 62 pounds using Weight Watchers and have kept it off for 7 years, but have found the key for me is exercise, even though I don't particularly enjoy it unless I have a workout buddy. I didn't exercise much at all while losing weight, but took up running/jogging in 2004, going from couch to marathon in 6 months. I'm 45 now, with two marathons, 16 half marathons and a sprint triathlon under my belt, and do find that keeping the weight off is a different kind of struggle today because the body changes as we age. One more thing that I've added to my arsenal is trying to eat "clean," following the saying that if you're about to eat something with ingredients your grandmother wouldn't recognize, think twice about eating it.

Sally Squires: That idea of eating clean is a very clever one. And exercise is another key element that the National Weight Control Registry members often report keeps them on track. In fact,it's one of the reasons that the 2005 Dietary Guidelines advised getting 60 to 90 minutes daily of activity for weight loss and weight maintenance.

I don't know if anyone else experiences this, but when I get enough physical activity, my appetite is under much better control than with little activity. Anybody else find that happens to them too?


Ajijic, Mexico: When I lived in the U.S. I bought almost all organic fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, condiments, eggs, coffee; and probably 50% of meat and poultry.

Here (in Mexico) it is much harder to find, or to know what's organic, but I do try to eat from foods grown locally as much as possible. I volunteer one day a week at an Eco-center and organic farm that teaches organic, sustainable agriculture practices to Mexican Farmers, and that's where I buy all my lettuce, greens, and other veggies when available, such as green beans, red beets, tomatoes, and herbs. They are hoping to expand their chicken flock enough to produce eggs to sell, and I will be one of their first customers when that dream becomes reality.

BTW, I attribute my good health to eating healthy food over a long period of time.

Sally Squires: For those who have not yet read today's Lean Plate Club e-mail, I included some links to an article about buying organic. Thanks for weighing in Ajijic.


Centreville, VA: I've found counting calories boring, restrictive and time consuming. It's not about food (www.notaboutfood.com). I'm surprise to read the latest research on that as being the best way to lose weight. I think it would be helpful to find out the research on those who have kept it off while on this system.

Feeding your body fresh air, exercise, and inspiring people are as important as food. The weight takes care of itself. In terms of diet, what's worked for me for years now is eating mostly fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. I reserve the cravings for one day out of the week and happily indulge then.

Sally Squires: It's all about finding what works best for you. And clearly, tracking calories may not be for everyone. But in this study, keeping food and exercise records--plus group meetings--really made a big difference. Thanks for weighing in.


re: soy: I don't want to be a party-pooper, but your readers should be aware that certain women who are a higher-than-average risk of certain hormone-sensitive cancers (ovarian and breast) or who have such cancers need to talk to their doctors before consuming soy. There's lots of information about this on the web. And you should always tell your guests that you are serving soy-based foods, so that those who should not consume it won't.

Sally Squires: You're not being a party pooper at all. What you note is because of the phytoestrogens in soy. And yes, that can be a problem for women who have had estrogen sensitive cancers or are taking tamoxifen or raloxifen. Thanks for weighing in.


Charlottesville VA: Organic is a matter of intrepretation. Use of certain pesticides is allowed under USDA guidelines. Cage free does not mean free range. GM grains can be raised without chemical fertilizer. The consumer is better off buying locally from farmers they get to know and can ask questions of rather than buying a product labeled "organic" from who knows where.

Sally Squires: You raise a good point, although in the U.S. there are organic standards. But I agree, it doesn't always make sense to buy organic produce from California when there's great produce grown just a few miles from here. Again, it's all a matter of finding balance. Thanks for chiming in.


Washington, DC: Could you please post a link to the journal article's abstract and/or a press release? I'm interested in digging into the details of this study.

Sally Squires: If you e-mail me after the chat, I'll dig out the exact citation. leanplateclub@washpost.com.


Alexandria: Re: calculating calories. Boy, what a timely topic today. Counting calories can work for some, counting calories can become a burden for others. For me it became a burden. Granted I had disordered eating, but I had conquered the tallying for a good five years or so and just recently became obsessed again. I don't want to go down that path again, so to ease out of it, I'm counting exchanges, like diabetics do, instead. I find this more loose, yet at the same time, it still offers structure and an accountability system. I hope to get off this wagon entirely. I'd been doing so well and don't know what set this off. Anyway, exchange system, that's another method.

Sally Squires: Excellent idea. And again, what you and so many others have illustrated in this chat today is how important it is to take this knowledge and these tools and tailor them for your specific needs. That's what matters for the long run as you have found. Congratulations!


I love pasta:: Sally,

I love your chats. I also LOVE pasta. What's a reasonable amount for me to consume if I am trying to maintain my weight/lose a few lbs? I eat it 3-4 times a week with shrimp and veggies. Am I sabotaging my efforts by eating the pasta I crave? I don't eat bread or other white flours and I stay away from sugar in general. Thanks.

Sally Squires: There's nothing wrong with pasta. What counts are quantities. So figure one half cup to one cup as a serving depending on the kind, what else you're adding to it and what else you've eaten for the day. These days, you can also experiment with high protein pasta, with whole grain pasta, with veggie pasta. There are some many possibilities, so little time! Enjoy...in moderation of course.


Microwave meals?: Hi Sally, I was thrilled to see the link to microwave meal recipes in today's newsletter. My problem is that they look pretty complex and time consuming.

I'm moving this month, and am pretty much restricted to my microwave and a hot plate for cooking until I'm in my new place. Can you suggest resources for the basics of microwave cooking? I'm interested in things like how to cook a salmon filet or chicken breast, veggies, and brown rice or barley in the microwave. In other words, very simple, basic, and very few ingredients.

Thanks! Temporarily kitchen-less

Sally Squires: We were without a "full kitchen" last year for about 6 weeks while ours was renovated, so I understand exactly what you're experiencing. It's challenging, but also kind of fun, once you get into the swing of it.

I make brown rice in a Corning ware casserole dish in about 15 to 20 minutes. This can vary by the power of your microwave. But put it on high for 10 to 15, test and keeping adding a few minutes until done. You'll get the hang of it.

Fish cooks very well in the microwave and we make chicken frequently. Veggies are awesome. You might invest in a meat thermometer just be sure that the internal temp is okay. (Don't put the thermometer in the microwave or any other oven while cooking. Just use it to check the internal temperature when you check on doneness. Follow the thermometer's instructions.

Also, here are a couple of books that you might find helpful:

The Well-Filled Microwave Cookbook by Victoria Wise and Susanna Hoffman

Microwave Gourmet by Barbara Kafka

Easy Livin' Microwave Cooking by Karen Dwyer.

Hope that helps! Let us know how it goes.


Chatham, IL: Sally:

The story about the Mac diet just goes to show that it's really the calories that count. I would expect that it would be pretty tough to limit one's caloric intake on a daily basis in a fast food place. That's what I find amazing.

Sally Squires: For those who have not yet read today's e-mail newsletter, I reported on a Northern Va. man who lost 84 pounds while eating two meals daily at McDonald's. Find more about it in today's e-mail then join us on the Lean Plate Club Discussion Group to chat more about this fellow--and many other topics--throughout the week. See you there until next Tuesday's chat. Find us at www.leanplateclub.com/group

Until then, eat smart, move more with the me and the Lean Plate Club. I'm off to put some more steps on my pedometer. How about you?

E-mail me anytime at leanplateclub@washpost.com. Call me at 1-800-627-1150, ext. 45018.


Sally Squires: Thanks to all for a great chat!


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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