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Best Weight-Loss Group

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The Village Temple
33 East 12th street
800-651-6000

It's 9:55 on a Wednesday morning at the Village Temple. In the front of the room, a woman stands beneath a Hebrew prayer on the wall, combing her thick white bob and schmoozing about a recent attack of acid reflux. Someone compliments her on her sweater pin and she launches into a spiel on her obsession with antique costume jewelry. Welcome to Weight Watchers, Lenore Schmidt-style. The 69-year-old leader brings her life into every meeting (Wednesdays, 10 to 11 a.m. and 12:15 to 1:15 p.m.), and she expects those longing to drop some pounds, and maybe some baggage, to do the same. She'll be the first to tell stories of sneaking cookies in the shower or internally debating whether to eat a scoop of ice cream after it's fallen from cone to pavement. Such candid discussions -- not typical fare at the company that employs a British royal as its figurehead -- attract an unlikely mix that includes a Broadway actress, a best-selling author, a soap star, a contingent of Orthodox women, gay lawyers, healers, freelance everythings, and chubby transvestites in full regalia. Ask for a low-fat recipe, and Schmidt will direct you to a cookbook. And when Schmidt asks how you're doing, she doesn't mean whether you lost three pounds this week. She means how you're doing. "I'm not a carrot-and-celery leader," says Schmidt, who looks endearingly approachable for a guru. "That's not what they want in the Village."

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