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Jean Nidetch, a 214-pound homemaker desperate to lose weight, went to the New York City Department of Health, where she was given a diet devised by Dr. Norman Jolliffe. Two months later, discouraged about the 50 plus pounds still to go, she invited six overweight friends home to share the diet and talk about how to stay on it. Today, 28 years later, one million members attend 25,000 Weight Watchers meetings in 24 countries every week. Why was Nidetch able to help people take control of their lives? To answer that question, she tells a story. When she was a teenager, she used to cross a park where she saw mothers gossiping while their toddlers sat on their swings, with...

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