A New Slant on Eating Disorders (And Other Conditions of the “Mind”)

I watched a TED talk yesterday about how specific bacteria within us, communicate with each other and different strains. This gives them information that they need to grow, reproduce and prosper. It is a fascinating subject. You may have heard me say, (because I say it frequently!) that in terms of cells, we are only 10% human. Bonnie Bassler says between 1 and 10%. It is so ridiculous for us to believe that we are “in charge”. We absolutely are not.

Think of it this way to get a handle on it. The world population is approximately 1.7 billion. The microbes on and in you amount to approximately 10 trillion! 1 trillion is 1 million times 1 billion in the UK – different in the US but still huge.  How is it possible that the 1-10% of human cells could possibly be ruling the roost? No, we live in a symbiotic relationship – we can’t do without them and they can’t do without us – but they call the shots! Our job is to keep our natural microbiome happy and healthy and then they will do the same for us.

This article from the newspaper a while ago talks of treating eating disorders with antibiotics in the future. For me as a natural nutritionist, I think that this maybe largely unnecessary. I have not as yet, treated anyone with an eating disorder, but I’m up for it, because the theory makes perfect sense. Our diets and lifestyles are responsible for the varieties and health of microbes that we are home to. Get these in order and our health should follow.

I have attended several conferences where Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride  has spoken. Her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) has become deservedly, very popular. She explains how the brain and gut (where most of the microbes hang out) are inextricably linked. Although it is not mentioned in the book, Dr. McBride has spoken of the connection between eating disorders and the disrupted microbiome – or dysbiosis. She firmly believes in this too. The connections made in the book are to ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, dyspraxia, dyslexia and depression.

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So, these critters might be in charge, but what can we do to make them work for us? My suggestions are here in Healthy Life, but if you have a specific health issue, why not get in touch?

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The Essence of Nutrition

It would be difficult to have no idea at all about nutrition and diet. Newspapers, television programmes, magazines, posters – even supermarkets – are all ramming nutrition down our throats – pun intended! As with everything, these will have a different slant depending upon what they are selling – because they are selling.

Magazines and papers will sound-bite every diet related report as long as it sells papers, so the headlines have to be punchy. “Snacking Habits That Help You Lose Weight” and file000571098509Surprise superfoods: dieticians say popcorn and pork scratchings are bursting with nutrients – and could be GOOD for you.” You know the sort of thing. Television programmes are only marginally better as at least they have a bit longer to explain their specific point. Just looking at some of the programmes available, most are about weight-loss, reaffirming the myth that calorie counting is the way to go. Supermarkets and food manufacturers will just jump on any bandwagon that is conveniently passing at the time – low-fat, low sugar, no saturated fats, low salt and so on. But where are the nutrients? Confused? Then let me inject a note of sanity here.

“What is nutrition?”
Nutrition is supplying the body with all known and unknown nutrients required for the life and health of humans.

“How do we obtain that nutrition?”
We chew, swallow, digest, absorb and utilize the diet that nature intended. All stages of this process are necessary. We eat NATURAL foods, preferably organic.

Proteins are made up of amino acids of which there are many. Animal proteins are ideal for us as they contain all the essential amino acids that we need for the growth and repair of our bodies. Vegetarians can obtain a variety of amino acids from vegetables but as there are virtually none that contain all those needed for humans, care must be taken when menu planning.  We break down millions of cells every day and these must be replaced. Proteins are also needed for the formation of enzymes, hormones and other necessary substances in the body.
Animal protein sources: meat and offal, fish, eggs, dairy; vegetable protein sources: beans, lentils, nuts,seeds

Fats are a great source of energy. Animal fats and their essential fatty acids are needed for the formulation of hormones, the lining of cells, the metabolism of protein, the absorption of minerals and much more. They also contain the fat-soluble vitamins A, D3, and K2 – all of which work together, so rather fortunate that they are usually found together in animal fats.
Animal fats: lard, dripping, duck/goose fat, butter, cream, oily fish.
The vegetable fats that have benefits for our health are olive oil (for salads) and coconut oil (stir-fries and curries). These contain chemicals which don’t conveniently fall into the vitamins and minerals category but are good for us none-the-less.
Seed oils (rape, grape, corn, sunflower, peanut or anything loosely termed “vegetable” oil are all highly processed which makes them toxic and they have no place in a healthy diet. (Eating the seeds is fine though.) Will they harm once in a while? Not if your main diet contains lots of protective animal fats.
All fats contain saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – it’s just the ratio that changes. We need them all, but eating a natural diet will supply them in just the right ratio – nature’s good like that!

Carbohydrates. First and foremost, there are no essential carbohydrates. In other words, they are not necessary for life. If you never ate another slice of bread in your life – you wouldn’t die! The metabolism of concentrated carbohydrate foods (eg. sugar and grains), uses up our essential nutrients, increasing our need for them. The body can use carbohydrates (which it changes to glucose – a type of sugar) for energy. Most of the carbohydrate foods available today are highly processed – cakes, biscuits, sweets, cereals and they don’t have any benefits for us. Since we have evolved as omnivores, some carbohydrate foods can be included with little problem but currently there is an “epidemic” of gluten intolerance, so it may be prudent to cut back on grains containing gluten – mainly wheat. The best carbohydrate foods are from vegetables and some fruits where they also have a wealth of vitamins, minerals, fibre and other nutrients.

If you eat the diet indicated above, you don’t need to think of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients because these foods supply them! It’s not rocket science is it? There are lots of articles on the website to tell you what our diet should be to obtain these nutrients. The only thing for you to do now is cook from scratch using the best ingredients you can afford!

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Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal?

Well this is a turnaround isn’t it? Breakfast is now not the most important meal according to this study! For so many years we have been told that we must have breakfast before starting our day and we have even been told that studies show how breakfast can help us lose weight, concentrate and stabilize our blood sugar. I am as guilty as many other professionals – I haven’t actually read these studies, just accepted the evidence for the most part.

In my defence, although I do read research reports, I make up my own mind about what is right for us and this is founded upon both my observations as a nurse and nutritionist and my usual way of looking at our diet and lifestyle against the back-drop of our evolutionary diet and lifestyle. There has been much research and speculation into what is right and wrong, but the bottom line is – we should do as our ancestors did. The only problem with this is that everyone has a different view of what they actually did! I have written a bit about this before so I won’t go into detail here. Suffice to say that we ate primarily meat and some vegetation when it was available. This study shows precisely this point.

What on Earth is breakfast – or lunch, tea or dinner for that matter? These are labels we have given to eating times, for our convenience. These meal times are fitted in file6401342550312before, during and after we go to work/school/college, but they are actually convenient times when we must top up our nutrients. We need vast amounts of quality nutrients for every single bodily function you can think of – blinking your eyes and producing tears; making the enzymes needed for the digestion of food; maintaining the electrical activity needed to allow your heart to beat and your muscles to contract and so on. Everything your body does, it does not do by chance. You make it happen by eating foods that supply these minerals, vitamins, fats and more.

A while ago, I wrote a blog about hunger which you can find here. It is important that we stay in touch with our bodies and really hear the message. The first thing you should be reaching for in the morning is liquid, preferably water, tea or a herbal infusion. The body detoxifies itself over night and the toxins need washing away. This could be why some people are never hungry first thing – and some even feel queasy. Hunger kicks in when the detoxing has finished. Always drink about half an hour, before you eat “breakfast”. In fact staying hydrated is one way to prevent over-eating or eating for no good reason. Drink sufficient liquid to keep your urine pale yellow – not clear which means you are drinking too much, or amber which means you are not drinking enough.

What is breakfast for you? I can hear your thought processes –
cereal, toast, eggs, file1281259008488porridge..! But what I’m getting at is what is the meaning of the word? Its literal meaning is of course, breaking one’s fast and I believe that this is the point. Why should this meal be taken before going out if you are not hungry? This study suggests that breakfast could be skipped, but it too is assuming that “breakfast” is the meal you have before your day starts.

Breakfast is the meal that breaks your fast – whenever that is. Your body very cleverly prepares itself for a meal. Once you are adequately hydrated and your body has finished its clear-up, signalling can get underway and you consciously think about food. This prepares your digestive tract – you salivate and your stomach rumbles, both of which mean that the enzymes and other chemicals needed to digest food, are ready and waiting. Absolutely the worst time to eat is whilst stressed, because this preparation stage will be omitted and indigestion ensues.

file000374824743There will be some people who wake feeling hungry. These are the people who eat very early evening, stay hydrated and don’t drink alcohol in the evening. In other words, there is less detoxifying to do so hunger is felt earlier. I know an aerobics teacher who is ravenous in the mornings and this is undoubtedly due to rapid usage of nutrients as well as early nights.

Remember that whenever you are ready to break your fast, you should provides what your body needs – essential vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats.

Some would argue carbohydrates in addition but since there are no essential carbohydrates, I don’t agree. However, the first nutrients in the list are the ones that your body is asking for and is prepared for, so make sure you provide these.

Many people will argue the time factors involved. No time in the morning for more than a piece of toast or no time to eat at ten o’clock when hunger hits. I’ve heard all the excuses and my answer is always the same – be prepared! If you cannot eat a good breakfast file0002090572764before leaving home, be prepared, as you will get hungry and you will eat something – as surely as day follows night. I am constantly amazed that work-places are completely geared for this – the coffee and doughnuts trolley materialises! There are also bakeries, sweet-shops and burger bars within close proximity. If you have a canteen at work, go and get yourself bacon and eggs!

There should be no hard and fast rules about what you eat or when as long as nutrients are supplied. If you had roasted meat for dinner the previous evening – take cold leftovers with salad or even cold vegetables with a nice creamy dressing. If you fancy an avocado to break your fast, accompany it with a few cherry tomatoes and a lump of Brie. Eggs from hens on pasture are possibly the best nutrition and the most convenient. Why not boil half a dozen and take two or three with you? Great with avocado, salad or cold asparagus. Try making a big frittata and taking a slice with you or make banana bread and take some of that. All of these suggestions will supply the necessary nutrients.

There is quite a bit of evidence that lengthening the time between your last meal of the day and the meal that breaks your fast the following morning helps with weight control and insulin sensitivity. I think it is a good idea anyway as it must emulate the eating patterns of our ancestors. Food would not have been available for “breakfast”, “lunch” and “dinner”. There may have been only one or two meals of meat or fish, with gaps occasionally filled by a few berries or nuts (in the autumn anyway) or roots, eggs, leaves and seeds. There were undoubtedly times of hunger but generally there would have been plenty of food to go around. The beauty of eating foods that we are genetically programmed for is that when properly nourished, we are less hungry.

Stop thinking of breakfast as such and instead, think of your first meal of the day as the time to supply all those nutrients that your body has told you it needs.

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Choices Choices…

What does “choice” mean to you? Every day we are faced with choices and we decide what to do based upon our experiences, knowledge, available time to contemplate a situation and our mood.

We make choices when driving – have we got sufficient stopping distance when the amber light shows or should we accelerate? Should we overtake the slow driver in front or sit tight? At what time is it safe to enter a round-about? In the main, it is experience that answers these questions but experience comes after we have passed our driving test and we have met these situations for real. Only then can we become safe, competent drivers making the right choices. In other words, we have to learn the basics before we can make safe judgements.

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How about your work? Were you given instruction prior to starting a new job? Did you have to get a degree in something in order to follow your career path? Did you then have to undertake further, more specific training? The point I am trying to make is that in order to make meaningful choices, we have firstly to be taught and then we gain experience. It applies to most things. You only once need to click on a dodgy email to find out what a computer virus is and how to recognize it!

“Illness for the large part is preventable

You have heard it before, but if you don’t have your health, you lose everything – your freedom, your job, your home possibly and ultimately, even your life. I know this sounds dramatic but as a nurse, I have seen this so very many times. Illness for the large part is preventable. I have felt sad and frustrated when patients are diagnosed with preventable conditions that are set to devastate lives. So what is your choice?

Most people “learn” about food by walking into a supermarket and selecting foods that they want not need. We are not altogether to blame for this. A supermarket layout is designed for their benefit, not yours. Your choice is being manipulated. So often I see mothers with children in the supermarket and the children are making the choices! Did you see an advert on the television last night that made you think “I must try that”?   Again, our choices are being manipulated.

If we do learn about the food we are eating, how can you be sure that the information is sound? We are bombarded with so-called health programmes – people losing weight, embarrassing bodies, fat versus sugar and so on. These programmes are entertainment not education. By watching them we learn that vegetables are important to health and of course they are, but what we are not told is even more important. Vegetables may have been sprayed with toxic pesticides and the food may have been genetically modified which has known, serious long-term effects. The other little gem we all think we know is about calories. Calories in versus calories out = balance. So now we are searching for low calorie foods and this is stated on packaging making it easy for us. Another of our choices has been decided. Oh and of course, we must look for low-fat foods as fat is fattening. The reason the Western World has epidemics of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancers is because we trust that the information given to us is correct. We weren’t let loose in a car in order to learn safe driving so why do we think that going to a supermarket will educate us in nutrition? In both cases, we are going to crash.

My advice is to learn. Read. Possibly the first thing to look for is vested interest. Are you going to learn about probiotics from yogurt makers? Do you hear vitamin information from breakfast cereal producers? Do you trust information about heart health from margarine manufacturers?  Will you learn about cholesterol from people who want you to lower yours? When these questions are asked, it sounds mad doesn’t it?

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I want you to learn about nutrition and health from people whose aim is education not profit and I am one of these! As a nurse I believe we all have a right to health and I want to share my knowledge so that we can all make informed choices – the way it should be.

A wonderful non-profit organization is the Weston A. Price Foundation. This site has a wealth of information from people who are well qualified and really care. It’s a great place to learn the basics of nutrition.

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Real Wellness and How I Came to My Conclusions

I have had a long career as a nurse and it gave me a bit of insight into what is happening to us. It occurred to me years ago, that people were becoming sicker and not healthier despite the government guidelines for health and less people smoking. There were a few questions about health that needed answering. Some of them about what is happening today, but some regarding our evolution.

Dinosaurs and Cavemen

  1. It is likely that our genes have not changed since Paleolithic (Paleo) times, so why do we believe that the diet now advocated as “healthy”, would be better for us than the one we evolved with?
  2. How did we survive with no dieticians and nutritionists/fitness instructors/diet books and the internet?
  3. Did cavemen eat cornflakes or run marathons?
  4. Why are we getting sicker but “living longer”?
  5. Why did my mum always cut out bread and potatoes to lose weight then regain that weight when she resumed eating them?

These are my answers to the above questions:

  1. All animals need protein, fat, vitamins and minerals and (maybe) carbohydrates. A cow’s gut is unique in that it can break down grass and weeds to the very basic building blocks. From this it can then rebuild these blocks to form proteins, fats etc. This process is also why it has to eat all day! Its stomach has four chambers and its intestines are about half the length of a football pitch! We do not have the guts for this vegetarian diet. Our gut is mainly designed for meat eating but nature has ensured the maximum chance for our survival so we are also able to digest some other foods.
  2. Our taste buds and other responses to food eaten, tell us what our digestion can cope with. Are we going to eat grass? No! Are we (on a regular basis) going to eat seeds? No! Are we going to lob a stone at a duck and roast it? Oh yes! (We have been cooking for at least 400,000 years) If you are now wondering why it is that you fancy a cake with your coffee, the reason is simple. In a cake we have combined protein, fat and carbohydrates and our taste buds are totally confused. The fat and protein are detected so they give the green light.
  3. No, our ancestors did not eat corn and run around like mad things – unless it was really essential. Collecting seeds was a labour of necessity not desire 40,000 years ago. This would have been an unnecessary energy expenditure most of the time. Using stealth, skill, team work and short bursts of energy would usually ensure that the family were fed good quality food in the form of wild animals. There would have been little edible vegetation for much of the year.
  4. There are several reasons why the statistics are showing that we are living longer both from Palaeolithic times and from a couple of hundred years ago. Cavemen died from severe injuries and overwhelming infections because there were no doctors. There is little evidence of modern disease until 5-10,000 years ago. Since Victorian times, much has changed, not just our diets. We have better sanitation, cleaner air, better medical care for injuries or infections and importantly for the statistics, less neonatal deaths.
  5. In the mid 1900s, the way to lose weight was to drop bread, cakes, potatoes and sweets. This worked because there was no need for the fat storing hormone insulin to metabolise these carbohydrates. During the 80s, the government intervened with a recommended diet and we all fell for it. The NHS took it as gospel and the word recommended was forgotten. So from this time we have eaten lots of highly processed carbohydrates, less fat and protein – and bingo! We are now a nation of obese diabetics with irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune diseases! Yes I’m being facetious but the point has to be made that we are now sicker than ever, with diseases that were largely unheard of 100 years ago.

So this is where I started. It just made so much sense whereas before I was struggling to put the science behind the advice I was giving as a nurse. Now there is not only the backing of good science but for me, the history of us to give credence to the advice I now give. Natural and unprocessed food that has been produced the way it should be and a life, living as close to nature as is possible.

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How Important is Body Weight?

The height/weight charts of yesteryear and the body mass index (BMI) are completely irrelevant in determining how healthy you are.

All you need is a full length mirror and the knowledge of how human beings should look. Men, you should be pretty straight up and down both side on and full on if you suck in your abs. The love handles are nothing to worry about – Michelin tyres are a different matter! Women, you should go in at the waist without too many rolls. We hate the blubber that we can grab hold of but as long as it is not too much more than we can grab and we can detect the underlying muscle, there is little health-wise to concern us. There is new evidence that having a few more pounds than the BMI says you should have actually can prolong your life. Also, a bit of superficial padding over our skeletons protects our bones (especially as we age) and internal organs from injury.

If we have been made from the right nutrients, we can indeed have “heavy bones” and they will usually have been well formed too. So how does this get measured using the BMI? Large, heavy bones are literally the backbone to our strength and the ability to perform the physical functions we need to. What of the “thin fat people”?   Their BMI will be perfectly fine, but regrettably, their health will not. These people may be the ones with small light bones but considerable and dangerous intra-abdominal or visceral fat, wrapped around vital organs. They look slim but slim does not equal healthy and this is what we all generally believe. It’s an illusion, much encouraged by the massive slimming business.

276475_chicken_salad_iiWe now have a very unhealthy obsession with calories and unfortunately, it is this that often influences the choice between a food which is “good” or “bad” to consume. It is what makes a person choose rice cakes with low fat spread, salad and tuna (nutrient poor) instead of buttered sourdough, oil-dressed salad and cold chicken (nutrient rich).

Food manufacturers state on packaging not only calories but fats, carbohydrates, salt and protein because these nutrients are the ones that the media invariably link with poor health states. The fact that they don’t state the vitamins, minerals and other vital nutrients (unless they have been added to make the product look healthier) speaks volumes and these are the only ones that really matter. Perhaps the answer is to buy foods that are entirely natural, organic, unprocessed and complete with their natural fat?

What you put into your mouth, chew, swallow, absorb and utilize is the most important factor for your health – that,  you can control.

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Health Research – The Effect of Insulin

Since it has been known for a long time that insulin is the fat-storing hormone this study is a “reinventing the wheel” one. When we have found something that is likely to be unpopular amongst conventional health proponents, we ignore it until we have explored it a thousand times. (Even then, sometimes it will be buried if it means we will have to do a U-turn – perish the thought!)

Breakfast Cereal

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to metabolise glucose – which the body creates from sugar and carbohydrate foods for easy absorption. If you have just eaten fried eggs, bacon and mushrooms there will be virtually no insulin response because these comprise proteins and fats. If you have just eaten cereal and toast, your insulin levels will rise rapidly. Insulin can store glucose as fat if it is not being used to fuel your work-out at the gym – hence the term “fat-storing hormone”.

This study shows that the right food intake keeps insulin levels low and therefore the mice remain lean no matter how much they eat. The study stops before recommending a low-carbohydrate diet (which I firmly believe is the right diet for humans) and sadly it tries to make it fit with conventional wisdom and treatment. Never mind, everything starts somewhere and more is to be investigated.

Interestingly, a colleague (where I used to work as a nurse) had just been to a weight management conference. To my amazement, she returned with a bagful of Atkins’ bars. (Dr Atkins was responsible for the resurgence of low carbohydrate diets in the Western world during the 90s.) When I questioned my colleague on this “taboo”, she said that the emphasis was being placed on losing weight in any way that provides an effective solution for an individual. This saddens me – but only a little. Our natural diet belongs to us, not to anyone putting their name to it and Atkins is just one of these. We should eat proper food and not be swayed by hype and advertisements. (I would like to say however, that the Atkins book provided the springboard for me into studying human diets worldwide and even this diet is better than the conventional one recommended by professionals in the U.K.)

The sadness for me is that yet again, we’re missing the point. Losing weight is important for some health issues such as high blood pressure, self-image, skin infections and skeletal damage, but the underlying cause is being ignored. No – you’re wrong if you thought I meant overeating is the cause – it usually isn’t. It is a shift in metabolic processes usually caused by constantly elevated insulin levels and this same shift, causes type 2 diabetes and heart disease too. The problem is one and the same.

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Bariatric and Other Weight Reduction Surgery

I have thought for as long as this surgery has been available for extreme obesity, that it can only do harm.

Maybe barbaric rather than bariatric surgery would be a more apt name. There is evidence to show that removing visceral fat (internal abdominal fat) reverses diabetes – and of course it would. This type of fat is injurious to health so removing it solves the problem right? Wrong! Remove the fat and change the diet yes, but people want quick fixes so that they don’t have to change their behaviour.I saw a programme about bariatric surgery a while ago and one of the patients just continued to eat pizza, but in frequent and smaller amounts!

Nature has given humans the correct gut for the correct diet, just as it has for cats, snakes, flies and lobsters. Our digestive systems for receiving and digesting food will be different (not substantially different from cats) but they are perfectly designed for the foods nature intended us to eat.

I have said this many times before – how on earth do wild animals know what to eat when they don’t have dieticians, nutritionists, books and the internet to refer to? I’m being facetious of course, but consider the point. The only wild animals (domesticated animals are fed by us and therefore have no choice in the matter) that appear to us fat are the ones that need to be for their lifestyle – nature intends it that way. How would a duck stay afloat without a good proportion of fat on its body? It would sink if it was all muscle. How do seals and whales stay warm if not for their fat stores?

Humans need a covering of fat for a variety of reasons, but the dangerous excess that we are now seeing is due to the wrong diet which can lead to many illnesses – type 2 diabetes being one of the most common. If the diet is corrected, the excess disappears as do the health dangers. It really is that simple. There may very occasionally a genetically inherited reason for obesity eg. Prada Willi syndrome.

As the only diets generally available to help obese people lose weight involve calorie restriction and therefore hunger, they are doomed to fail. Hunger will always win. So bariatric surgery was invented – and very lucrative it is too (as are the slimming, bariatric equipment and diabetes businesses).  There are various operations available but all have the same aim – to reduce the stomach’s capacity for food. This is downright madness. People who became obese from eating the wrong foods usually have severe malnutrition – that is, low intake and blood levels of the essential nutrients for life. So when their stomachs are reduced to an egg-cup size, they simply cannot eat the correct quantity of the correct food needed to obtain sufficient nutrients. No doubt supplements are given, but they are not well absorbed. The long term (if there is a long-term) effects of this are yet to be seen. Sadly as this study shows, surgical intervention is very risky.

There is another way. Before this surgery is ever considered for obesity and diabetes, nutritional advice should be given and the diet overseen by a professional who truly knows what humans need and not what governments recommend.

Update July 2014. “An expansion of weight loss surgery in England is being proposed to tackle an epidemic of type 2 diabetes,” BBC News reports. Complete and utter disaster.

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