Rant 50 March 2009: Ain’t that a shame

March 10th, 2009  |  Published in 2009 rants  |  35 Comments

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.

–US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, 1914, later quoted by Barack Obama

Thankfully, I’ve never had a fear of public speaking. Unlike many people who are presently suffering through sales presentations and seventh-grade speech contests (either as senders or receivers, I imagine), the part of my brain that inspires the protohuman fight-or-flight reaction lies quiescent over the notion of running my mouth in front of an audience. I’ll get up in front of anyone to talk about anything. I can’t promise it will be interesting, relevant, or amusing, but hey, you get what you pay for. At least I’m up there and not losing sphincter control.

So it was a rather interesting experience to find myself crying in front of an audience. And not just a nice little politician’s crocodile tear. I mean full-on, let ‘er rip, snorking complete with the DTs and PTSD. WTF?

To be fair, I was one of the final speakers on a panel at a women’s roundtable where some pretty personal shit was going down. The purpose of the discussion was to share our experiences, and talk about some of the lessons we’d learned. Thus far from the panelists there’d been some A++ tear jerking material: self destruction, sexual assault, mean parents, abusive partners, and various other events inspiring a sulphuric-acid-strength corrosion of personal esteem. We were surfing a massive tsunami of estrogen, and the waterworks were on full strength. It was like some kind of hormonal wave pool. You know that feeling the day after a crazy squat workout, when you’re waddling like a penguin and getting stuck on the can? I feared that would happen to my tear ducts. There is something horrendously contagious about bodily catharsis: observing yawning, puking, and crying all inspire us to join the fun.

Aside from being generally sucky stuff, these confessions had two key things in common:

  • by the standards of normative social interaction they were deemed shameful; and thus
  • people tended to keep them secret. Unless you’re one of those desperately socially awkward people who doesn’t have an internal editor, you don’t lead with your wife beating story at a cocktail party.

In comparison to the high-quality suckitude described by many others there, my story was pretty weak. I began with a discussion of my experiences in academia, with the modest intent to describe how although I had loved the university, it had not loved me back. I wanted to share the principle of finding a situation that fit, and escaping ones that did not. I wanted to say it’s OK if you don’t fit in — that it’s probably the situation that’s fucked up, not you. I wanted to tell people to be their whole, fully developed selves in all their glorious idiosycrasy, not partial, half-formed fakes trying to fit an image. I wanted to tell people to trust themselves and their guts, and to listen when those guts are screaming GET OUT like the Amityville Horror.

I kinda managed that, in an intelligent and rational way, for about twenty seconds. And then, some sort of Snot Demon took over my body, wracking it with deep croaky sobs. My body was shaking. Years of emotions that had obviously been buried somewhere just south of my liver had just found the escape hatch, and they were leaping into lifeboats and blasting off like rats from a flaming ship.

I soldiered on, though, managing to describe my experiences and insights in sputtered, half-formed words. I think they got the idea, even if half of it was more or less Neanderthal-quality utterances punctuated by honking. (Imagine a strangled trumpeter swan trying to give a wedding speech.)

Oddly enough, although I felt mildly embarrassed by the whole thing, I didn’t feel ashamed. Here’s why.

  1. Everyone else was bawling by that point anyway. Strength in numbers! Ha!
  2. More importantly, though, shame and stigma thrive in silence. Difficult as these things may be to articulate, they derive their strength and power from our silence and fears: What if nobody else shares this? What if nobody else is like me? What if they think I’m crazy, or a freak? When you speak openly about your shame, it’s as though you’ve reared up a big black-booted steel toe and nailed that shame right in the nards.

After I had used up about 20 tissues and calmed down, and after the spell was broken by an errant male wandering into the room by mistake to discover approximately 40 weeping women (poor guy), I felt better. Way better.

Then I got to thinking about it, how much we hold inside ourselves because of shame and stigma, and how incredibly freeing it is to speak the unspeakable things.  When we name our bad things, we give them an identity. Just like finally seeing the monster in a horror movie, the unimaginable becomes real. What is real is almost never as terrifying as what is imagined. (Exhibit A: Blair Witch vs Godzilla.)

Once something has a name you can begin to take away its power. Speaking the bad thing into being begins the process of its erosion.

Once something has a name, and is spoken to others, we discover that others share our bad things… or things very much like them. We find we are not alone. In fact we find that we are less alone than we could have ever imagined. (See? Real vs imaginary.)

I started thinking more about this when I had a tablespoon in a jar of nut butter.

At that point I had probably consumed about a half-cup of the stuff, with no sign of abatement. My left brain was quietly, pathetically begging me to quit. It was presenting a variety of logical reasons to stop slathering the oily goodness all over my tongue but, like a nebbish ninth-grader attempting to rationally yet meekly debate himself out of getting a wedgie from the senior football goon, to no avail. My right brain was like Rodney Dangerfield on a bullhorn screaming FAT FAT FAT FAT BOOYAH FAT FAT FAT. Something in my body wanted dietary fat, and it wanted it real, real bad.

Some folks will say that cravings represent some real bodily need, that somehow the body knows what it wants and is always very reasonable about it. Shyeah right. Probably all my body knows is that glucose comes in many tasty formats, and it would happily enjoy them all.

But here’s the weird part: Right now, for me, the cravings are about fat. I wouldn’t care if suddenly all sugar in the world ceased to exist, although it would probably make fruit somewhat less enjoyable, not unlike those horrid Styrofoamy GMO out of season peaches that food producers inflict upon us. Salt is OK but I could take it or leave it. No, I want fat. I mean FAT, like coconut oil. I could seriously eat a block of lard or drink a jug of olive oil.

I have no idea what this is about. It started over the last several weeks. I’m still figuring it all out. What scares me is the compulsion. Suddenly, at age 35, with a healthy, happy body image, no major stress, and no definable food issues beyond just loving all of it, I’m acting like an eating disorder candidate. My nut butter noms are furtive. I’m having thoughts like “I could go out for a run and grab some tahini on the way home.” Even my liquid fish oil is looking kind of foxy. And once that rollercoaster crests the hill, there’s no stopping it until somehow I tear myself away from the kitchen with the last tattered shred of self control.

For a while I felt really strange and silly. I read up on eating disorders and nothing really seemed to fit me. I have no “issues”: no controlling father, no anxious desire to please others, no instinct towards self-obliteration. I don’t want to be skinny. I want to be a ninja but would settle for “normal person in good shape”. I can’t upchuck on purpose even when I desperately want to — which sucks when I have the flu or food poisoning and nothing would feel better than a good ol’ barf to let that dodgy shrimp salad run free.

And I didn’t tell anyone. Until one day I decided that the kookoobananas had to stop. I told OMGBFFA. Here’s the crazy shit: She said “ME TOO!”

Gah?! Did we somehow give each other a virus that makes a person devour cashews and avocado? She carries more bodyfat than me, so it’s not because I’m lean. She is apple shaped and I’m pear shaped, so it’s not because of some strange fat storage hormone situation. Spring is on the way and I’m getting outside to enjoy the strengthening sun, so it’s not the nesting instinct that seems to set in during late fall when the days shorten and the suprachiasmatic nucleus near the optic nerve says “It’s dark! Let’s eat!”

Despite my puzzlement, I felt an incredible, immediate sense of relief. I’m not crazy. (Uh, well, maybe I am crazy and she’s also crazy, which is totally possible.) Sharing the fear and shame instantaneously, dramatically reduced its power over me. Whammo! Right in the goolies with the boot!

Anyway, I’m binging on clinical studies at the moment, which are probably much better for me than a cup of almond butter. I want to get to the bottom of this before it gets to my bottom.

And I’m telling you now, to bust that stigma out in the open, to encourage you to share insights and experiences, and to remind you that none of us are alone in what we suffer. Sure, I have to endure a little nose-wiping in public, but it’s better than being alone with the Blair Witch.



  1. OMGBFFA says:

    March 10th, 2009at 8:23 am(#)

    The only thing that’s holding me back from snorting lines of tahini and coconut oil is this competition in May.

    I’m proud of you. :)

  2. Helen says:

    March 10th, 2009at 9:22 am(#)

    Sounds like a spring adrenal feeding. I’ve got it too. If we were bears or bats, I’d say its post winter semi-hibernation, but since we are busting out the moves, seems more likely perhaps related to that. I’ve been doing tabata sprints and they seem related. Perhaps it is a self-serving reading, but craving fat and eating good fats seems like a semi-trustable gut-brain instinct to me, unlike the less direct stress-carbs/sugar-infinitely diggable hole.

  3. beforewisdom says:

    March 10th, 2009at 9:52 am(#)

    Good for you.

    If you don’t act like something is shameful, you will come to believe at a gut level that it isn’t.

    On the cognitive level, why should someone be ashamed for a shameful act that someone did to them? It was the other person who did the deed.

    Everyone is powerless to prevent something at some point in their lives. That isn’t anything to be ashamed of, that is just life as a human being.

  4. JAMS says:

    March 10th, 2009at 3:13 pm(#)

    Organic old chedder and almond butter are my gateway foods. Sometimes I crave sweets but I honestly could down half a tub of unsalted almond butter without batting an eye on many days. I have been an emotional eater in the past…recently come to terms with that and moved on, but “situations” still come up. Talking/writing about it is moving forward. I was glad to read this.

  5. Reza says:

    March 11th, 2009at 6:13 pm(#)

    That sounds like most job interviews I have ever had. And not unlike the The Odyssey of George Costanza. Maybe it is time to pop out a little human being. The tahini craving is usually a dead giveaway.

  6. Trishy says:

    March 12th, 2009at 2:59 pm(#)

    I crave fat when I’m stressed. My sweet tooth died with teenager-hood, so I do not exhibit that typical stress/sugar response. I want cheese and chocolate and everything must be cooked in mounds of butter — it is my indication that I’m not happy about something. I also crave weight lifting when I’m stressed :)

    I was wondering if Reza could elaborate on the tahini craving-baby bearing correlation, I have never heard that before.

    And the phrase written by beforewisom: “Everyone is powerless to prevent something at some point in their lives.” That was really helpful for me. It makes such beautiful sense, I just never thought about it before.

  7. Natalie says:

    March 13th, 2009at 12:32 pm(#)

    I crave “healthy” fats more than anything else and also have to tear myself away from the almond butter. I always just figured that was because of all of the autoimmune issues and inflammation that I have (like my skin always being dry). My cravings have gotten stronger since moving towards a more paleo type diet. It is comforting to know that I’m not the only one.

  8. Kat says:

    March 13th, 2009at 1:07 pm(#)

    I’m glad I’m not the only one with the desire to eat avocado chunks dipped in olive oil.

    Although I’m pretty sure that, in my case, it is probably directly linked to the past week’s total meltdown of my thesis project.

    Thanks for writing this.

  9. Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach says:

    March 16th, 2009at 2:11 pm(#)

    For me it’s coconut oil in coffee, or cold coconut oil with 2 calcium TUMS (that’s how add calcium to my diet). Oh that tastes yummy indeed.

    I prefer my avocado with mayo. And hot oil, with a wee hint of soysauce. Oy. Now THAT is yumsville and for me, most crave-worthy indeed.

    Best of success in dealing with the cravings, Barbara

  10. Patrick says:

    March 16th, 2009at 6:22 pm(#)

    I was already hungry when I opened this page, but now I suddenly have the urge to down a cup of almond butter with an avocado and olive oil chaser.

    (Which reminds me of the avocado smoothie I had at this Vietnamese place recently… I think I better go eat something!)

  11. Heather says:

    March 17th, 2009at 12:19 am(#)

    I almost peed myself with glee to see you’d written another rant! In my opinion, far better to crave fat than to be wanting gobs of sugar or starch… This comes, of course, from someone who couldn’t stop herself from baking a lemon pound cake last night, and now has to somehow deal with the three quarters of the cake I didn’t devour on the spot. Sigh. I suppose this is what coworkers are for, no?

  12. noodle says:

    March 20th, 2009at 11:31 am(#)

    I don’t see what the problem is. I ate an avocado for lunch yesterday. I have heavy cream in my coffee every day, and I have heavy cream on blueberries just about every day. I eat cheese and salami and don’t bat an eye. My weight has been stable since I started doing this.

    I also find that by eating some fat, my hunger is satisfied and I’m saner. I stop craving. Yet, I don’t believe that hunger is a mind-game. It’s all about that super biological urge!

    Maybe your bod just needs some fat! Is your skin dry? :)

  13. noodle says:

    March 20th, 2009at 11:42 am(#)

    BTW, Mary Dan Eades has an interesting article on lard on her Protein Power blog.

    BBTW, I love the redesign of your site!!!

  14. Mistress Krista says:

    March 20th, 2009at 11:42 am(#)

    The problem isn’t the fat consumption per se, it’s the compulsion and the amount. We’re not talking about an avocado, or a spoonful of pumpkin seed butter here or there, or some essential fatty acids, all of which are excellent. I mean an uncontrolled rampage through everything lipid — 5,000 to 10,000 calories worth.

  15. noodle says:

    March 20th, 2009at 12:05 pm(#)

    Not trying psychoanalyze – more like gutalyze – if you ate half a cup of nut butter and thought you *could* eat that many calories worth, that you really *would* eat that many calories worth if left to your own devices, do you really think you would have? Or would you be satisfied at, say, 2,752 calories???

    Not trying to poke ya, but the thing I’ve found about fats is that by eating enough of them, you finally go “uhhhhh” and stop. Your body doesn’t want it like sugar. I know you know all this, so I’m saying it sorta for myself, but sugar has an unnatural effect on the hunger mechanism, making us consume way more calories of it before our hunger is satisfied.

    I think one needs to be careful about automatically connecting a biological urge/feeling/problem with thought. Our brain wants to make reason of everything it encounters, but we’ve been conditioned in these times to assume we’ve got a “problem” (e.g., compulsion, obsession, depression, etc.) when it’s simply a physical sensation that can be dealt with on its own. We “meta” all over the place, all the time.

    I’ve had success recently dealing with depression by “decoupling” the physical sensations of it (say, a knotty stomach) from the thoughts that will eventually (if left unchecked) drive me down into a hole.

    I don’t think it’s all that or all the other or all something else. Sometimes there is something wrong upstairs. Sometimes the brain and bod combine to wreak havoc. But sometimes hunger is just…hunger. Time to decouple. The compulsion thought might be stemming from something else I read here about “all women have eating disorders”. Yeah, if we assume that, we will!

    Thanks for the convo.

  16. Mistress Krista says:

    March 20th, 2009at 12:23 pm(#)

    Appetite, hunger, and satiety are organized by a complex and interconnected set of mechanisms. People who characteristically overeat (or have difficulty self-regulating their weight, which is usually demonstrated by struggling with excess body fat or having difficulty maintaining a stable weight) tend to be more tuned in to appetite/hunger signals and less tuned in to satiety signals. In addition they tend to “manually override” satiety — eating, in extreme cases, to intestinal rupture. In those cases people know they’re full — stretch receptors in GI tract and chemical messengers are doing their job — but they keep on truckin’. Some cognitive factor (either subconscious or some known act of consciousness) or some neurological controller (chemical, e.g. opioid or dopamine pathway) overrides the GI tract’s signals, most likely in a coordinated fashion.

    Actually what is most reliable is hunger, i.e. the physical sensations of emptiness… rather than appetite. Someone told me once that appetite translated into one of the Scandinavian languages means something like “I feel like eating”, which I think captures it really well.

    Anyway that’s the big problem: how to know what is “real” and what is BS from my body/brain. As Emo Phillips once said, “I used to think that the brain was the most fascinating organ in the body… until I realized: what’s telling me that?”

  17. noodle says:

    March 20th, 2009at 12:52 pm(#)

    *People who characteristically overeat (or have difficulty self-regulating their weight, which is usually demonstrated by struggling with excess body fat or having difficulty maintaining a stable weight) tend to be more tuned in to appetite/hunger signals and less tuned in to satiety signals.*

    That’s interesting!

  18. shrillharpy says:

    March 20th, 2009at 9:46 pm(#)

    “In those cases people know they’re full — stretch receptors in GI tract and chemical messengers are doing their job — but they keep on truckin’.”
    I spit out my green beans. Thanks for the laugh, and a new way to describe what happens when I hit the brunch buffet too hard.

  19. Elizabeth says:

    March 21st, 2009at 1:02 pm(#)

    “Anyway that’s the big problem: how to know what is ‘real’ and what is BS from my body/brain.”

    Exactly my problem. This old rant about learning to listen to your body is excellent, but it takes a lot of practice to distinguish between messages of genuine need and messages of want. I can only interpret the messages my body gives me through the lens of my knowledge from outside sources; without the information I’ve read about nutrition and exercise, I don’t think I could tell the difference between a craving for salad and a craving for pizza.

    I also can’t tell the difference between hunger and appetite, so when I feel like I want food, I often have to go over to my FitDay account and see whether that’s a reasonable desire or not (and it often is). It doesn’t help that I can go long periods without being hungry, which sometimes means making myself eat a small meal even when I don’t want to — the alternative being an all-day fast and then a sundown binge, kind of like Ramadan but for no good reason.

    Anyway, that’s my current shame: apparently I don’t know how to manage basic things like eating without the assistance of the internet and a timer. I am so talented.

  20. Zsuzsa says:

    March 22nd, 2009at 3:21 am(#)

    How I missed these rants!!! I’m so glad they’re back! and keep on releasing (I mean, emotions)!
    By the way, appetite translates to Hungarian as “desire to eat”.

  21. anonymous says:

    March 22nd, 2009at 8:20 pm(#)

    I miss these rants too! They’re always wonderful reads.

    Not sure if this is helpful, but I had a similar thing happen to me about a year ago and it lasted for a good 10 months. I craved nuts/nut butter/fats and was binging like crazy on them. This is also when I began to train much more intensely and was restricting carbs to 100-150g per day thinking it would help me lean out a bit. Between the carb restriction and training, I think it really threw certain hormones off. Once I upped my calories and carbs and trained less intensely the cravings and binges stopped. I think I way underestimated how much stress I was causing with all the “positive” things I was doing for my health.

    As you said, there are so many complex biochemical signals that affect eating I have no idea whether my situation relates to yours. Also, in my opinion, if you don’t think it’s emotional eating, it probably isn’t.

  22. Mistress Krista says:

    March 23rd, 2009at 4:52 am(#)

    Interesting — this was also correlated with an increased training load for me and a decreased carbohydrate intake. I was, to some degree, testing the hypothesis that more fat enhances satiety. Seems that up to a certain point, it’s true, but then past that point, not so much. :) Fat cravings do seem to a common problem for people with relatively lower carb intakes. I bumped my carb intake back up a little and so far, so good.

  23. Ninja M says:

    March 24th, 2009at 11:07 am(#)

    It’s so great to hear that even you have wacko food cravings! I love your description of left vs. right brain duking it out; I go through the same thing when I’ve got my hand in the bag of chocolate chips, and I was sure I was just crazy.

    It’s very obvious to me in observing my life right now that most of my current cravings are emotional, but I found the idea from anonymous@March22 that it may be linked to low carb + increased training interesting. In the past, I’ve found the same kind of craving start when I get “back on the program” (usually meaning increasing training and/or decreasing carbs) after a break.

    Glad to see the rants back!

  24. noodle says:

    March 29th, 2009at 3:45 pm(#)

    hmmm, just reading Dr. Eades Protein Power site and found something that might be of interest….

    Apparently if you’re eating low-carb, you need to up your protein intake to 100-200g/day. Wonder if that was your body craving fat…trying to get more protein from any source? Just a thought.

  25. Samantha says:

    March 29th, 2009at 6:43 pm(#)

    Well, that happened to me once. Turned out I was pregnant.

  26. Laura says:

    March 30th, 2009at 7:47 am(#)

    Hooray for the rants! Keep em’ coming – if you have time, that is! :-)

    I have a cousin who ate a really restricted diet (due to allergies) and she would get cravings for fat – her fat of choice was fresh cream. As in go to the farmer, get a liter of milk and drink the cream off the top! Whipping cream would work in a pinch if the farmer was out of milk.

    Hope you find a workable solution!

  27. LM says:

    April 18th, 2009at 9:21 pm(#)

    I tend to take these cravings pretty seriously, because I think that they are an indication of something missing from my diet. I never had the kind of fat craving you describe, but when I went vegetarian, I craved meat to the point that I had dreams about it. I think my body was low in iron, or whatever other nutrients are found in meat – when I returned to eating meat, the cravings went away. Another time, when I was crazy stressed and basically subsisting on junk food, I found myself craving fresh fruit. Any kind of fruit. I was fantasizing about oranges, apples, mangoes, whatever.

    What I notice about these cravings is that they are, by definition, unrealistic. When I was fruit-deprived and having daydreams about mangoes, I thought I could eat 5 whole mangoes at a sitting. Now, had I actually been given a mango at that point, I doubt I could even eat one. I would probably stop after that one.

    I know that it’s not always easy to figure out just what is a real signal from one’s body and what isn’t; I mostly tell by intensity. When I gave up bread (mostly), I missed it a little, but not terribly much. There wasn’t this visceral longing for it. I never had dreams about it. OTOH, when I gave up meat, I was thinking about it all the time; it never went away.

  28. Scott says:

    April 22nd, 2009at 7:31 am(#)

    It’s getting dangerously close to May and no April rant yet. I hate to ask of you, but your rants are priceless!

    Pax et bonum.

  29. KAW says:

    April 27th, 2009at 4:08 pm(#)

    All this post-game analysis has left out the one critical detail in your story: you were talking about academia when the crying jag first hit.

    Academia is just one short letter away from Macademia. (And, Goddess knows it’s full of nuts.)

    Occam’s razor, and all.

  30. Braidwood says:

    May 4th, 2009at 2:47 pm(#)

    I haven’t been here in awhile. You changed the look of everything! I miss the old design with the red, but it is easier to navigate.

    Ok, now to the comment about this story: I LOVE that you got to speak at a panel like that. I’m happy for you that you had your cathartic moment, and I feel inspired to be more honest and be myself more with people that I trust. AND I totally can relate the message you were telling the women- get OUT if you can’t be yourself. ITs not you. Not being treated well is the worst.

    As far as the fat cravings go, I say TRUST YOUR BODY. Check out thintuition.com and a book by the same guy called The Overfed Head. It is AMAZING. I love it.

    Yay, Krista!

    I was searching for info about women and clubbells. That’s how I got here and its good to see you again. I’m going to add you to my RSS feed.

  31. Sheng says:

    May 6th, 2009at 3:50 am(#)

    THANK YOU so much for sharing this! Glad that you had your emotional/physical catharsis in a supportive atmosphere, and that you got a new bunch of insights from the experience.

    I agree with you 100% about the power of speaking the truth. It’s incredibly empowering but also terrifying. But once you do it, you can actually acknowledge the issue and do something about it instead of putting all your energy into feeling shame, guilt, and self-flagellation.

    As for the fatty food cravings, maybe it’s due to emotional reasons instead of physiological ones. Fat is protective, and maybe your body’s trying to compensate for vulnerability. I’m dealing with manic depression, and go from sometimes barely eating (too depressed to cook) to scarfing down cookies (equating that with love and comfort). There are some excellent sociology papers about the emotional aspects of eating (eg. Anorexia as a means of gaining control. Binge eating as a response to poverty.) Something will probably go “ding” inside when you hit on the right explanation for you… Good luck!

  32. Christine says:

    May 11th, 2009at 7:36 am(#)

    You could alternately ask OMGBFFA to spray you with a squirt bottle full of water every time she sees you spoon in hand with the crazed FEED ME LIPIDS look on your face.

    Works for my dog and the plants, anyway.

  33. Elzi says:

    May 15th, 2009at 7:41 pm(#)

    Wow, two birds with one stone (are you the pigeon or the quail? ;)

    Human psychology -including neuropsychology- is the least studied component of food intake and body weight. All attention, especially in academia, focuses on physiology. They forget that humans have brains. That body/mind dichotomy. We tend to forget (or fail to acknowledge) that both interact together and both operate within their larger environment. Holistic? Who’d a thunk.

    Nice to see you’re still going strong.


  34. Perverse Cowgirl says:

    October 25th, 2009at 7:04 pm(#)

    I’m late in replying but I had to share that I get TREMENDOUS fat cravings around ovulation time each month (I guess my body wants to make a nice squishy home for any potential babies). Maybe that’s what it is with you, too.

    Some months, Fat Week hits me way harder than others, though, and I have yet to figure out why. It’d be nice if I could keep it to a minimum. I once drank the seasoned canola oil out of a package of feta cheese (after eating all the cheese, of course) and that’s a low point I’d prefer not to see again.

  35. Mistress Krista says:

    October 26th, 2009at 8:40 am(#)

    LOL PC, that is brutal and so familiar!

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