Exercise in a Bottle and Other Horror Stories...


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

You’ve probably noticed that, nearly every day, there’s another story in the news about some newly discovered gene or hormone or enzyme that could explain why some people get obese. Not why everyone who is obese got that way, mind you, but what might be causing part of the problem for some percentage of us. It’s fast becoming obvious that “obesity” is not one condition that’s the same for everyone—it’s a whole bunch of different conditions with a shared symptom: excess body fat.

The upside of this explosion of research and data (which has been made possible largely by the success of the Human Genome Project) is that it may lead someday to a number of effective treatments for obesity that will work much better than the one-size-fits-all approach of diet modification and exercise that most of us rely on now. It would certainly help a great deal, for example, to know exactly how your individual body is “programmed” to handle different nutrients like carbs and fat, and exactly how it uses the specific foods you eat, so that you can design a weight management plan tailored to your exact needs—maybe even before you get overweight. This capability may not be that far off in the future.

The downside of these developments is that many of these new solutions for the problem of obesity may come in the form of a pill, or a genetically modified food, or even a genetically modified human being. That’s going to raise a lot of interesting…and troubling…questions.

Which means that now might be a very good time to start thinking about how far down this road we really want to go, both as individuals and as citizens of our respective societies. Consider these two very real possibilities…

Exercise in a bottle.

What if you could get most of the weight-loss benefits of cardio exercise by taking an exercise pill? Would you do it? Would it be worth trading all the other benefits of exercise for the convenience of burning some extra fat calories while sitting on your butt? Sure, such a pill would be great for people who really can’t exercise, but what about the rest of us? Would you rather be thin thanks to a pill, without changing your lifestyle, or do you think it’s better to do the work yourself and have that to be proud of, too? Is there more to physical activity than just burning calories? What message would using a pill like this send to the next generation about what’s most important?


The prospect of using genetic screening to identify individual problems that could lead to obesity and all its attendant health risks could also lead to the development of special diets and “designer foods” designed to match your individual metabolism. When you head for the health foods or diet foods section of your local supermarket, you won’t find just low-fat or low-carb versions of regular foods, you’ll find complete meals that look like those frozen “texturized vegetable protein patties” and contain everything you need for balanced nutrition, with nothing that could trigger those problem genes of yours to store extra fat. Maybe the powers that be will decide that, if you’ve got the kind of genes that lead to obesity, you’ll have to eat these specially designed products only, or pay your own way when it comes to getting medical care for obesity-related problems.

I don’t know about you, but I think food ought to be…well, food—not some “edible food like substance” engineered by scientists. Food and eating isn’t just about nutrition and health. (I’m a big fan of Michael Pollan’s point of view in his book In Defense of Food. But more about that in another blog…)

Anyway, it seems pretty clear to me that there’s a lot more at stake here than just making it easier to lose weight and avoid health problems. There are lots of big questions here about the effects of the individual decisions we make on the society around us, about individual freedom and responsibility, and about how we manage science and technology so that we control it and it doesn’t control us. And no simple or easy answers. It’s going to take a lot of thinking and talking about these things to come up with good approaches.

What do you think?

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  • 68
    Well, my opinion will likely not be very popular, but somehow that is usually how it ends up for me.

    I see this all as a matter of personal choice... the same as everything else we do. If you find the idea of eating special foods and taking pills horrifying, then choose not to do it.

    But what is the difference between food that is modified based on people's genetic makeups, and food that is modified and frozen and marketed as a diet food? What is the difference between popping a pill to gain the benefits of cardio and taking a pill like Metabolife? At least you'd be getting cardio benefits with it. (And yes, if there is ever a pill that will replace exercise, I will be stalking my doctor until he gives me a prescription.)

    I've been reading a lot about evolution and genetics lately. A general theme that I've been learning about is not only how we have physically evolved, but also how we evolve behaviorally. Maybe there is a better reason for why most of us don't like running nowhere on a treadmill... What makes exercise so sacred? With due respect, some people respond to the idea of replacing exercise the way religious people would respond to the idea of replacing ritual. I'm not trying to invalidate anyone's feelings... again, this is about personal choice. I'm just trying to investigate WHY we feel the way we do about things.

    Personally, I have never felt proud of exercise. The closest I've felt to being proud of exercising is proud that I managed to fit it into my day. And even then, it's not really pride, so much as amazement. - 9/11/2008   11:14:50 AM
  • MOMOF3IN2007
    I realize I am in the vast minority on this one, but I'd LOVE to take a pill and get the benefits of exercising. I have been working my butt off this summer with the exercise. The problem is, my "butt" (and thighs and stomach and every other part) isn't getting any smaller and I haven't seen the scale budge in almost 3.5 months. I've incorporated different forms of exercise. I've tried eating different amounts of different foods and trying to keep this under a certain number and that over a certain number and still get my water in. I'm still doing my workouts, strength training, and have recently started training for a 5k run. And yet I have seen NO benefits from all this. I don't feel 'accomplished' after I do a workout, I feel like I just wasted time because I know I won't see the scale budge. I'd much rather spend my "me time" doing something fun and relaxing, or going out with my friends for a dinner or lunch. So at this point, I'm willing to do/try/take anything to see movement on the scale/in the inches again. Not to mention that I don't always have the time or energy to do my workout routine, and it would be nice to know that if I'm short on time or really don't have the energy (I have SAD, and live in MN so the winters really do a number on me) that I can take a pill instead of forcing myself to workout, and possibly feeling miserable the whole time I am. Losing weight is just SO frustrating and hard and difficult and it's overwhelming at times. And when you're putting in the effort and the workouts and watching your diet and STILL not seeing any improvements/benefits, it's down right depressing. Using a pill now and then to keep up with the exercise aspect might give a person that much more willpower and time/energy to really focus on their food intake. That is another issue altogether. Weightloss is so individualized, it's difficult and time consuming to fine tune it to be something that'll work for you. And it's very easy to lose your way before you manage (if you ever do manage) to fine tune it to work for you. - 9/11/2008   10:43:28 AM
  • 66
    I believe that there is no substitute to a healthy diet and good exercise. - 9/11/2008   5:30:49 AM
  • 65
    I think execrising is the only way to go and to keep in shape and loose weight.
    There is no such thing as a magic pill in the bottle.
    - 9/11/2008   12:53:04 AM
  • 64
    Ok, I honestly would have said hurray for exercise in a bottle a few short months ago.
    At this point, though I must honestly say that if I tried that, I would not stop my actual exercise. I find that my physical activity has done wonders for my energy levels, my mental state, and my emotional well-being.
    I'm no longer a "take a pill to fix it" person. I get frustrated, of course.. the weight isn't coming off very quickly for me. But, the truth is, I'm in this for the long haul and I feel better more than not from my new life style.
    I won't get into my thyroid condition too much.. but I have Grave's Disease, and because it made me lose weight, I left it untreated. It landed me in a coma for 5 days and almost took my life, my ability to walk, talk, etc. etc. I have permanent brain damage from it, but thankfully "rewired". I had a thyroid storm last year and it's all because of my weight. That "miracle" drug? Yeah.. my body did that on its own. Unfortunately, it also wreaked havoc with the rest of me. So count me out. I'll go slow and steady.. even if I did gain 60 lbs once I was "fixed".
    I'll struggle and sweat to get that weight back off. And I'll be better for the experience.
    (Sorry to babble. I feel strongly about this.) - 9/10/2008   9:18:51 PM
  • 63
    I have seen headlines concerning the exercise in a bottle, but never bothered to read it since I think it ridiculous. I do agree with the person who said it might be great for people who can't exercise. BUT I thought I couldn't exercise due to a bad knee and after the encouragement from SP I now walk a mile most days and ride the recumbent bike. I had to start both of these exercises very gradually, but persistence paid off. Now I am grateful that I can hustle around the stores, etc. so much faster. So we never say "can't". - 9/10/2008   8:28:03 PM
  • 62
    Taking an exercise pill instead of getting off your can? NO way. I could only imagine the side effects. I hate meds now. If you read the entire warning label alot of time the side effects are worse than the original problem.
    I have a bad back and I can only walk for now. (would love to strength train but for now I can't. So I'm thankful that I can get up and walk) I just think in one form or another most people can do some form of exercise a few days a week. Sitting in a chair, water arobics. walking or a gym.
    Loosing weight by a pill that the side effects could be as bad as death--I'd rather die heavy. - 9/10/2008   8:23:08 PM
  • 61
    there is no easy fix to weight loss, personally would not take it thee is already too much fixes out there, and who knows what the long term effect will be. - 9/10/2008   5:15:38 PM
    I think taking a pill would be weird - and would make us lose out on the endorphins from exercise and the feel good accomlishment buzz when you're done or when you can now do 65% of a DVD instead of just 50% of it. That, and I love food - fresh, cooked, raw, junky and in between and all it's textures and stages and temperatures! YUM. - 9/10/2008   2:59:43 PM
  • 59
    We are fat because we OVER EAT and UNDER EXERCISE. It causes INSULIN problems. - 9/10/2008   12:14:45 PM
  • 58
    I'd rather eat my food and enjoy it. I don't exercise enough but I do realilze that there are more reasons for exercise than losing weight! - 9/10/2008   11:54:17 AM
  • 57
    If there is a pill out there that makes promises about losing weight then there will always be people willing to spend the money and take it! After all, that is the society that we live in...we want it, we want it now, and if we don't have to put any work in, well, all the better. Some people have real health issues that prevent them from exercising or that cause them to be overweight, but for the rest of us, we just have to take responsibility. I'll step up: I'm fat because I was eating too much junk (wanted it, wanted it now, and it was cheap). There's no magic pill that can fix it. A magic exercise pill? Sounds great until we have a bunch of blobs laying around, thin blobs yes, but with no muscles to support their frames. So, while science continues to create miracles in a bottle for weight loss, I think I'll stick with the knowledge that it takes work to get what you want, so it's eating right and exercising for me. - 9/10/2008   11:06:22 AM
  • 56
    It would be great...however it wouldnt do anything to help you change your life style and that's what this is all about...changes...my husband has been most appreciative of the changes in our food we have tried soooo many new things...I did a grilled chicken breast/salad diet once and i couldnt look a chicken in the eye after that for years....similar to a "pill"...works but it doesnt last! : D - 9/10/2008   10:54:56 AM
  • 55
    I think most dieters (not lifestyle changers, but dieters) DREAM of an exercise pill. Whoever comes up with that will be richer than Warren Buffet. I love my exercise too much. It's my "me time" and it's what keeps me going and healthy each day. So, no way on the pill for me! I am skeptical of diet pills anyway. I'm sure the pill would have a slew of bad side effects with it. Sadly, most people out there are looking for that magic pill.
    I agree with most of what Michael Pollan says too. But I haven't been able to rid my diet of all "food-like"substances. I'm working on reducing them though.
    Thanks coach Dean for this thought-provoking blog. - 9/10/2008   10:37:46 AM
  • 54
    It's funny, but 33 months ago, I probably would have thought this was a great idea, and waited patiently for it to be on the market. But, 2 years and 143 pounds lost, has given me a new perspective and understanding of what's important in life. I love exercise, almost live for it, now instead of just being a blob. The benefits of a good workout can never be found in a pill! - 9/10/2008   10:02:39 AM
  • 53
    I'm all for doing things in the most natural way, so exercise and counting calories for me is the only way to lose weight. Before I found SparkPeople I was wishing the pounds would drop, but it's only with some work and determination that the weight has actually have left my body!

    My hubby was raised by a doctor, and to him all his health issues can be dealt with in pill form. I find this very sad.

    The trouble I see with a new "diet" pill is that along with an increasing waist line also comes an increase in isolation, loss of self-esteem, depression, high cholesteral, high blood pressure and a host of other mild to severe health issues.

    Why not TRY walking FIRST to relieve mild depression? Why not TRY cutting your portions and eating a more balanced diet to lose weight? Why not FIRST TRY some exercise to lower your cholesteral and high blood pressure?

    I think that most people feel overwhelmed by adding another "thing" to do in their day, so popping a pill appeals to them because it takes no time at all to do it, whereas exercising, planning your meals and adding up the calories everyday can be quite time consuming.

    If people begin to think of taking care of their bodies as preventative medicine instead of fixing it once it's broken (and sometimes beyond repair!), we might all be better off for it.
    - 9/10/2008   8:49:57 AM
  • 52
    I agree with NESTIZMT that PERSONALLY, I'd probably use a pill like that to 'jump start' a weight loss regimine. I, also, get a 'kick' out of personal accomplishment, so would do as I have done, and choose healthier food alternatives and change my lifestyle.
    BUT lets face it, this is an obese nation/world because QUITE HONESTLY, illness aside, we are a LAZY race. Too many things have become automated to make it 'easier' on us. Simple things like taking the stairs or getting UP to change the channel have been made easier and in the end, those small things add up to a big lazy.
    BUT yep, I'd have taken the pill - #1 I want overnight results and #2 I admit, I fall into the lazy category if I'm 'allowed'! - 9/10/2008   8:08:44 AM
  • 51
    There is no magic pill. I don't mess with that stuff.

    Bite the bullet and work out - 9/10/2008   8:08:29 AM
  • 50
    NJ, what did your blog have to do with the original article?

    I'll pass on the rhetoric AND the shoes!

    A.C. - 9/10/2008   7:06:29 AM
  • 49
    If I woke up worrying about what is going to happen or what is happening, I would go crazy. I was at People's Bookstore in Austin, Texas and there was an author talking about the new development of Toll roads in our country and the privatizing of America. Big Business is getting so greedy and gov't is letting them. I have been having nightmares about that. What has been happening with the last 8 years of Bush with all these secret execute orders that has given oil companies billions of tax free money. I could go on and on. I am a worrier. I have a son that is going over to Iraq or Afganistan soon. He was talked into joining the army with the incentive of a bonus. Due to delays he did not get the bonus surprisely- now he has a 6 year contact. I could go on and on with what I can worry about. I have to live one day at a time and now worry about myself due to health issues that cropped up this year. I do not need to take on anything else at this time. - 9/10/2008   6:57:18 AM
    I'm all for real food. I think all of the things offer you describe is only a bad replacement for the real treasure when it comes to nutrition and exercise: Knowledge. - 9/10/2008   6:54:37 AM
  • 47
    I realize it might be helpful to those who are physically unable to exercise much, but everyone who is looking for the easy way to lose weight will be using them. It will be a reason not to eat healthy and exercise. - 9/10/2008   6:06:18 AM
  • 46
    Pass on this one too..... - 9/10/2008   3:51:35 AM
    I think the exercise in a bottle would be great for people who can not exercise. I know I am very limited and the amount of exercise I can do is not enough any longer for weight loss. I would take the exercise in a bottle instantly if offered to me. I would still do the exercises I can do but the "pill" would help me feel that it isn't a waist of time to exercise. - 9/10/2008   1:30:41 AM
  • 44
    Thanks for the information.

    Since I have joined SP and learned portion eating, fruits & vegetable, and drinking water and exercising has helped me a lot in losing the weight.

    I rather stick with the old fashion way and exercise and eat healthy. - 9/10/2008   1:00:15 AM
    I have to say that one time or another I got caught up in the quick fix pill. But the truth is there is not such a thing and I believe there never will be. I don't know of any DIET out there that works. For me it's all about learning a healthier life style, including exercising and good food choices.
    Jill - 9/9/2008   10:33:34 PM
  • 42
    Natural all the way, genetically altered stuff will no doubt turn out to have some nasty side effects like some of the new generation medications have. - 9/9/2008   10:32:30 PM
  • 41
    I'd rather eat healthy food and exercise. With all the "magic" pills we already have on the market, the side effects for the cures seem to be worse than the actual problem. Sooner or later we have to face the fact that a miracle PILL is not the only or best way to deal with a health issue. - 9/9/2008   10:29:10 PM
  • 40
    Thanks for the info. - 9/9/2008   9:36:37 PM
  • 39
    The great thing about having been part of the hippy generation is this is nothing new--we always wanted the natural way to do things back then, and tried hard--pesticide free gardens, natural-fabric clothes, no additives.... (yeah, we're known now for drugs, but that's not what it was about). We fought fake and chemical in every thing that existed in the 60s. Sad so little has changed; sadder still that now it's all mainstream (I almost wrote mainline--Freudian slip) - 9/9/2008   9:33:43 PM
  • 38
    Didn't altering our food get us in this mess in the first place? High frutose corn syrup, trans fat, fast food, the list goes on.
    Besides there is not pill that makes you feel like you do after a good workout. Let 's spend that research money on educating people on how to eat and live healthy, that is my opinion. - 9/9/2008   9:17:43 PM
  • 37
    I had a pill that sounds eerily similar to this one when I needed to take a muga test and was unable to do the traditional stress test needed before the muga. It was very uncomfortable and frightening, like having a heart attack actually. I do not think such a pill would be very popular. - 9/9/2008   9:17:04 PM
  • MICHAELA2780
    Sadly, I know a lot of people who would go for the quick fix in a second...even if it meant eating food-like products...these are the same people who think I'm amazing because I exercise...and just can't believe I've lost so much weight. It's not like I keep how I've made such progress a secret - eat healthy, move your butt...it's a pretty simple philosophy!

    I'm fascinated by all of the things scientists have found studying genes, but I'm sort of tired of hearing about obese genes or fat genes...that's not the ONLY reason people are obese! It is all about calories in, calories out...regardless of your genes. Genes might predispose you to being overweight, but it's how much a person eats and how little they move that determines how much weight they gain...or how unhealthy they are. I think all the talk about fat genes leads some people to believe they aren't responsible for their own condition. That isn't going to help the obese "epidemic"...it's simply going to confuse things even more. - 9/9/2008   9:06:32 PM
  • 35
    I'm sure we've all wished, at some point, for that miracle weight loss pill or an exercise pill, but I now know that it is not the answer to permanent life long health and fitness. I would rather do it the old fashioned way. - 9/9/2008   9:03:51 PM
  • 34
    I'd rather exercise... - 9/9/2008   6:20:09 PM
  • 33
    While I'll readily admit the easy fix sounds incredibly alluring at times, I'd rather learn to love my body and how to care for it - for health, not appearance. I'd like looking trim to be secondary, and that means learning good habits (in my case, often the hard way). I still want to have joy in eating food, indulging occasionally, and learning on my own with guidance. I DO think pills and special foods are great as an AID to those who just can't achieve the health level they want without special assistance. I can do it without medical help... so I want to.

    One thing that's not mentioned here that is important is that obesity is often related to socioeconomic status. Miracle pills may be a great idea, but if someone who has obesity problems related to overwork, stress, poor medical care and limited budget can't afford them, miracle pills leave out many of the people who could use the hand up the most. Personally, I'd rather see the research money for the next miracle pill go into figuring out ways to make healthy living a more affordable, feasible, and attractive choice to people who feel pinched from all sides. I'm not saying it isn't possible for those of low income to live healthy. But after living with very low income for several years, it's been my opinion that it creates a definite disadvantage. This is all my opinion, of course! - 9/9/2008   5:43:59 PM
  • 32
    I think people are jumping the gun a bit. We haven't even finished researching all the obesity genes and everything. That will take many years to fully understand obesity genes with a persons own diet and exercise choices. Not to mention creating a magic pill of exercise or a microwavable meals of the future.
    And about the whole medical expenses thing... Maybe it wouldn't be so ad for the government to provide healthcare. In this way, healthcare is a direct expense to the government. They may decide to limit the number of fast food stations, or the number of calories in a burger. Instead of fast food companies getting away with serving awful quality food for next to nothing. And maybe they will have to pass inspections and follow regulations because the government will see first hand the expense of such a obese nation.
    I am sure some people will say that it isn't fair to limit these things... but the government is supposed to act in the interest of the people. Personally, i find the lack of temptation of unhealthy foods makes it much easier to eat healthier. And i know this works for many other people too.
    And we can also work on other restaurants like olive garden, TGI fridays, the cheesecake factory, to release nutritional information on everything. Many of the dishes at these establishments are as bad, if not worse, than fast food chains, but fast food gets all the heat.
    There are many things that can be done to help citizens get healthier by just a few actions on part of the government. It can't solve it, but it can at least help those who are trying to make changes, stay on path... And perhaps, lower the obesity rates.
    Some investments can lead to big change over time. Countries like Thailand can invest a little money in education and birthcontrol and 30 years later, their birth rate is at manageable rates. Losing weight on a personal level takes time, and changing our nation to become healthier will also take time. - 9/9/2008   5:27:20 PM
  • 31
    I think that knowledge is power. If I have the obesity gene, I 'd like to know. It would cause me to be super careful at all times about what I put into my mouth.(I know, I know like I'm not super careful now! I have been for a long time!) - 9/9/2008   5:20:12 PM
  • 30
    Very scary idea that science has gone this far! I think that fitness should come the old fashioned way, with activity, not from a pill. As for 'decoding' obesity and creating 'special' food, that is very Big Brother! - 9/9/2008   4:56:48 PM
  • 29
    Straight up talking from Coach Dean.....always an excellent and through provoking read. My opinion is succinct.....there are no magic pills, potients etc. (I can wish though.) I will not play into the hands of this billion dollar diet industry because I cannot afford to and because for the majority....common sense, hard work, and dedication to CHANGING your lifestyle is what works permanenty. I guess it is hard to package, brand, merchandise and advertise good sense but if we could...ohhh the money and success we would all have!!! - 9/9/2008   4:49:44 PM
  • 28
    In the past i hve tried diet pills that were offered but found out that once you are off them it seems as if you gain the weight back plus more. I wouldnt want to try anything new they come up with i would rather do it the right way - 9/9/2008   4:47:17 PM
  • 27
    Every so often they come up with a miracle pill or mind bogging approach to deal with weight issues. It's very scary when some people would run out to get that new thing not knowing what kind of side effects or long term damage that could do to our body. Exericse and a good eating habit always work so why not stick to it? - 9/9/2008   3:47:43 PM
    Personally I find this scary to think that the government or the powers to be could or would dictate what we eat and how we all should look. As far as taking a "pill" for excercise? I don''t think I would, where is that feeling of accomplishment? Or the general "high" I have when I have completed my workout and feel so good physically and emontionally. Are we moving in a direction where we are no longer accountable for our actions? I hope not.
    Thank you for bringing this out in the open, gives us all something to think about how and where we want to go on this journey. - 9/9/2008   3:41:34 PM
  • 25
    Honestly, I would take the exercise in the pill. It'd save time, and I wouldn't need as many showers. However, I don't think they're going to be able to get ALL of the benefits of exercise into a pill any time in the near future.

    As for food: I wouldn't mind finding out that I had a vulnerability to certain foods, so I'd know what to be cautious of (I'm sure we're all vulnerable to creme brulee). However, I enjoy REAL food items the most, the sort that aren't prepackaged. I think that enjoying food is a perfectly legitimate activity; it's the amounts you eat that get you into trouble. I prefer guidelines and choice to 'this is what you're gonna eat'. (BTW, this is also why I create my own daily diet instead of using the one generated here - no offense.) - 9/9/2008   3:26:32 PM
  • 24
    The 'exercise in a bottle' may be a way to get those who really need it a chance to get up and do stuff to be proud of. I think for everyone else that you should do it the proper way. Stuff that you did not earn usually ends up not being taken care of. If you earn the healthy and fit body you want you are more likely to maintain it well.
    As for the specialty food stuff... It would be nice for those who really need it. The average person should just educate themselves and learn to eat real food in healthy ways.
    As nice as it is that they are finding out all this information, there are alot more people and companies that will use the information to make a few dollars and possibly end up hurting alot of consumers in the process. - 9/9/2008   3:25:53 PM
  • 23
    Anything chemically altered can't be good not even in genetics. How about fructose corn syrup? Proven to increase appetitie and other food addatives do the same!!! Research people Save yourself! - 9/9/2008   3:09:39 PM
  • 22
    What sounds more impressive to you or your loved ones--I got this way taking a pill or I got this way training for XYZ. A pill can't teach you the things that an active lifestyle can. The mental side effects from true exercise just can't be replaced. - 9/9/2008   2:51:45 PM
  • 21
    In the past, i would have LOVED a magic pill to help me reach my goal, but now i realize that the most effective way is to make the choice to eat properly and exercise. This is also part of the reason that I have avoided things such as Dr. Bernstein and other get thin quick options. I believe that all these things will lead to negative side effects down the road. - 9/9/2008   2:44:31 PM
  • 20
    I would love an exercise pill. It would help on those days when I can't squeeze any extra exercise in. I would use it on top of my program to fit more healthy foods in my diet! It would probably be overused by some people, but I'd still like it! - 9/9/2008   2:28:29 PM
  • 19
    I might be tempted to use it to "jump start" my loss, but I wouldn't want to have to be on a pill for the rest of my life to stay thin. (Because I'm sure that once you stop taking it, that gaining restarts). So I would probably try it until I started losing and was motivated to do the rest on my own. - 9/9/2008   2:24:03 PM

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