Carolyn:

What's the best way to deal with my wife's never-ending quest to lose weight? She is 35 pounds heavier than when we married, and has "tried" to lose weight for the past eight months. She lost only four pounds, because (in my humble opinion) she eats fattening things and doesn't work out. She doesn't want my input, but it is difficult for me to sit by and watch her struggle when some obvious remedies are out there. She reads fitness and nutrition mags, but doesn't do what they say. Oh yes, while I think she is beautiful (and I tell her that a lot), she would be even more so 10 to 35 pounds thinner. Thoughts?

--Worried Hubby

For starters, don't confuse your wife's desire to lose weight with an actual desire to lose weight. A 35-pound acquisition plus an ongoing Twinkie habit plus decorative fitness mags plus the inevitable whining combine to say one thing: "I don't like myself much."

Size really doesn't matter; you'll find people at peace with themselves regardless of how big that self is. It's how they got to that size that matters--by choice, or by compulsive scarfage of snack food. What matters is self-respect.

I'm betting your wife doesn't have much. Think about it: Have you ever known a genuinely happy person to be hung up on food? It's a matter of empowerment, really. When life is going your way, you feel like the master of your own little universe--like your choices are directly responsible for your success. When those choices start backfiring--or when they're taken away from you--your universe can seem like an unruly place.

Now add food, and stir. For the functional crowd, eating is just another no-brainer, like laundry. You get hungry, you eat. You feel like socializing, you do dinner. You wanna cookie, you have a cookie. The result: steady weights, no diets, insufferable smugness.

If you're in turmoil, you tend to think small; minor fixations are a whole lot more manageable, after all, than the Big Unruly Universe. And this being America (motto: "Bring us your tired, your poor, but not if they're fat"), losing 35 pounds seems to be the minor fixation of choice. If only they lost the weight, the thinking goes, they'd frolic worry-free in their string bikinis on the exotic beach of life.

You'd be surprised at how many waking hours can be consumed by this thought. And how many grams of fat: It's hard not to hoover when your only thought is food. The result: weight that tracks the Dow--fluctuating wildly on its way up up up.

The only "remedy" here is for your wife to feel better about herself, to gain a larger sense of control. But if a person could acquire inner peace from a magazine or even a spouse, I have a feeling we wouldn't be the fattest and, oh the irony, most thin-obsessed nation on Earth.

To nudge her in the right direction, I propose the Get Your Mind Off Your Butt theory, which holds that doing always beats dwelling--on weight, on problems, on one's couch. And this is where you might be able to help: Encourage her to make more productive use of her time, to get involved in things that satisfy her and dovetail well with her natural talents. Assume some of the responsibilities that seem to stress her out. And take the words "diet," "weight" and "fat" out of circulation. For one thing, no matter what you've said explicitly, she's reading you loud and clear. And really, is any one of us going to wheeze from the deathbed, "If only I'd talked more about dieting"?

In lieu of "input," simply take over the grocery shopping and buy healthier stuff. Invite her to take a nightly walk with you--and weekend bike tours, and rafting trips, and whatever else your imagination and circumstances permit. Be her friend, be patient. And don't miss the point: It's about gaining confidence, not losing weight.

Dear Carolyn:

I'm a 21-year-old recent college graduate. I have a go-nowhere job and can't break into the real world. I need entry-level jobs to get experience and I need experience to get entry-level jobs. I'm confident about my resume, but employers aren't thinking the same. How can I break into this great job market everyone is talking about? --J.

Which real world are you trying to find? Aspiring financiers and filmmakers and Web studs don't all use the same map. I know of only one universal truth: If you want directions to Oz, ask someone who lives there. That means talking to people whose careers make you drool. To get their attention, do not ask them to hire you. Instead, ask very, very nicely if they'll talk to you about their jobs and how they got them. And get creative: Knock on doors, hunt down internships, seek out mentors, generate ideas, consider nepotism.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or tellme@washpost.com, and join Carolyn's live discussion at 8 p.m. tomorrow or at noon Friday on The Post's Web site, www.washingtonpost.com