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Forming Groups

PEER trainer, founded in 2005, focuses greatly on the online community aspect. Users can join small groups with a maximum of four members based on their lifestyle. For instance, there are groups called "Moms with Small Children," "Emotional Eating" and "Dancers Losing Weight. These groups formed with geographical preferences so that members can get together in person, or people all over the country who may check in once a week with each other can form them.

There are also "teams" on the site that have no limits to the number of members who can join. A team called "Weekly Weigh In, Daily Accountability" has about 750 members.

Shelly Meinhardt, a 44-year-old freelance writer from Eagan, Minn., says she has been a "professional dieter" for several years who was by no means able to keep off her weight. She joined PEER trainer this past June and liked the community aspect of the site. She says she weighed 244 pounds when she began, and is now down to 210.

Ms. Meinhardt says she hunted to find a group on the site that had committed members willing to check in each day with one another. After trying a few, she now says she has grown close to two of the groups she fits in to and says the groups are "helping people get through tough times.

Users say communing online with peers has benefits and drawbacks. Fellow users might be ill informed, offer negative feedback, or have their own problems, such as eating disorders. When Ms. Wood joined Calorie-Count, she says she thought a 1,000-calorie-a-day diet would be a fine way to drop weight quickly, and posted a message about her plan on the site's forums. No one corrected her, but she says she later learned by reading the posts of other users that that was a dangerously low calorie count for an adult. (The USDA dietary guidelines say that ideal caloric intake varies based on age, gender and activity level, but use 2,000 calories a day as a basic reference point.)



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