If you're a guac lover, this two ingredient recipe will become your new go-to snack.  This spin on guac is a great way to use a familiar favorite to introduce yourself to the funkiness of fermented foods.  Tangy pickled vegetables with live cultures of gut-friendly bacteria will be replacing your probiotic supplement in 2017.  This kimchimole can be served as a dip with crudite and whole grain crackers (try Mary's Gone Crackers or Suzie's Thin Cakes), spread into the groove of a celery stalk, or used as a topping for sweet potato toast.  Or, if you're like me, eat it by the spoonful!  A dose of healthy fats and immune-boosting probiotics, this snack packs a serious punch of nutrition that's guaranteed to get you from one meal to the next.

In a bowl, combine the avocado and kimchi, mashing with a fork.  Dig in!

Overnight Oats

Place 1 serving of oats in a mason jar with water or almond milk, a pinch of cinnamon, and splash a of vanilla.  Then add any of the below flavor combinations.  Store in the refrigerator over night.  Can be eaten cold or warm. 

Choose A Flavor Combo:

  • Banana Walnut: ½ super ripe banana, mashed + 1 Tbs walnuts
  • Lemon Blueberry Coconut:  Lemon juice/zest, ¾ cup blueberries, 1 Tbs unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Carrot Cake: ½ cup shredded zucchini/shredded carrots, 1 Tbs raisins, 1 Tbs walnuts
  • Pumpkin Spice: ⅓ cup pumpkin puree, ½ cup diced apple, 1 Tbs pumpkin seeds
  • PB&B: 1-2 Tbs PB, banana slices
  • Raspberry Mocha Almond: 1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder, ¾ cup coffee, ¾ cup frozen raspberries, 1 Tbs sliced almonds
  • Cranberry Orange Pecan: ½ cup (fresh or frozen) cranberries + 1 orange (zest, juice) + 1 Tbs Pecans

How to cultivate a lasting, healthy lifestyle in 2017 and beyond

There’s something special about the start of a new year.  We are rejuvenated with a fresh rush of motivation and blessed with a squeaky clean blank slate, providing the perfect set of circumstances to make a lifestyle change.  In fact, research has shown that the most successful behavior change occurs during times of novelty.  Whether it’s a new house, new job, new school, or a new year, any new beginning is the prime time to create change.  Yet, even with the power of novelty, change is challenging.  It’s no secret that one of the most common resolutions is to “eat healthier, lose weight, and improve wellbeing”.  But if the same resolution is resurrected and repeated year after year, this tells us one thing: our intentions are persistent, but we aren’t so great at executing.

Here’s to getting it right in 2017 and beyond!  Follow this guide to cultivate a healthy lifestyle that lasts a lifetime.  

Rethink Resolutions

The trouble with resolutions is that they are tied to a one-year deadline.  But, if our true pursuit is lifelong well-being, it’s silly to think a one-year commitment will provide a lifetime of health.  

This year, be bold and ditch the new year’s resolution.  These timestamped, temporary pledges will only produce transient results at best.  Instead, use the momentum of the New Year to cultivate healthy habits that you can repeat on a daily basis and maintain for a lifetime.  The automatic, repetitive, and consistent nature of habits is the key to lifelong well-being.  After all, what we do every day matters more than what we do once in awhile.  Tell me your daily habits, and I will tell you your health.  

Get Back to the Basics

In the past, we’ve overlooked the basic fundamentals to healthy living, and placed our faith in “sophisticated” and complex fads, jumping from one trendy program to the next.  But how can we knock the essentials if we haven’t actually given them a chance to work their magic?  This year, skip the trends and stick with the tried and true.

  1. Real food.  Real food is energizing, life-giving, disease-protecting, anti-aging, and mood-boosting - everything we need to live a long, healthy, and happy life.  Colorful fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, high quality proteins, and healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, olives, and avocado, these nutrient-rich whole foods are perfectly packaged with the vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and energy we need to thrive.  Yet, studies show an estimated 50% of our diet is comprised of ultra processed foods that are not only devoid of beneficial nutrients, but also contain toxic and artificial additives.

  2. Water.  The human body is comprised of about 65-70% water, an unmistakable indicator of its importance in human health.  Water plays a critical role in supporting the function of every organ in the body, from nutrient transportation, temperature regulation, joint lubrication, energy metabolism, tissue repair, detoxification, to cognitive function.  Water replenishment is a necessity when it comes to optimal health, yet research estimates a striking 75% of U.S population is functioning under a chronic state of dehydration.

  3. Sleep:  Sleep is our body’s only opportunity to repair, rebuild, and recharge, yet we tend to be more preoccupied about recharging our mobile device than we are about our most important device of all: our body!  When it comes to well-being, sleep is all too often underrecognized.  Studies show over one third of the U.S population is sleep deprived.  Sleep is just as important as nutrition when it comes to optimizing health.  In fact, sleep has an effect on appetite, food intake, energy expenditure, nutrient utilization, stress hormones, weight, energy level, mood, and cognitive function.

  4. Movement.  Our bodies were designed to move and groove, yet each year we are becoming increasingly more sedentary.  Studies estimate American adults spend an average of 13 hours sitting each day, and only 20% meet the CDC’s physical activity guidelines.  While it’s true you can’t outwork a poor diet, there’s plenty of compelling reasons to move your body.  Regular exercise promotes sleep quality, strengthens cognitive function, improves metabolism, relieves stress, enhances physical performances, and supports healthier food choices.  

  5. Breath.  It’s no secret that our population is living under chronic stress, but the truth is, the more we give to ourselves, the more we can ask of ourselves.  In fact, “unplugging” on a regular basis has been shown to improve productivity, creativity, energy, performance, health and happiness.    Whether it’s yoga, meditation, reading a book, taking a warm bath, sipping on tea, or doing a puzzle,  taking time to relax and reset is critical to our health and happiness.

Personalize Your Approach

While the five basic elements to healthy living appear deceivingly simple, in practice, they are incredibly challenging to implement.  Here’s the challenge: The basics alone are just a list of ingredients.  What we need, is a recipe of how to actually put these fundamentals into action.  And we don’t just need any recipe, we need a personalized recipe that takes into account our individual traits, tendencies, preferences, as well as our unique biology and health requirements.  There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all formula to healthy living. Healthy living is about finding the unique combination of habits and practices that work best for you.  Here’s how to find your personal lifestyle:

Know Yourself Better

While the basics ring true for all humanity, how we implement them will vary from person to person.  We are much more similar to one another than we are different, but those differences are very important.  Your success will depend on how well you are able to identify strategies that align with who you are and what makes you, you.  It’s much easier to adjust your strategies to work in congruence with your personality than it is to try and wedge yourself into rigid framework that directly competes against your human nature.  

Reflect on times when you’ve succeeded, and times when you have struggled.  What circumstances led you to be victorious, and what circumstances distracted you or prevented you from following through?  Consider taking a personality test to help you get to know yourself better.  (Try habit & happiness expert Gretchin Rubin’s Quiz).  Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Do you need accountability, or do you rebel against obligations?
  • Do you prefer solitude or social settings?
  • Do you prefer familiarity or variability?
  • Are you a night person or a morning person?
  • What comes easier to you, moderating or abstaining?
  • Are you a planner or do you prefer to live impulsively?
  • Do you prefer to take big steps or baby steps?

How you answer these questions will help you identify the best strategies for bringing back the basics. For example, if you are someone that needs accountability, signing up for workout classes that charge a no-show fee, or finding a workout buddy may help you maintain a regular exercise routine.  If you’re someone that prefers variability, a standard gym membership may be too monotonous, but perhaps a ClassPass membership offering a diverse collection of classes will keep you engaged and committed.

Employ Habit Hacks

Now that you’ve identified habits that support your human nature, the next step is to activate these habits.  Forming new habits can be just as hard as breaking old ones, but the good news is there is a method to the madness.  Here are a few trusty habit hacks to help get you started:

  • Downsizing:  Focus on one habit at a time, and break it down into into the smallest, easiest action imaginable.  Mentally, this will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and intimidated from trying to change too much all at once, and it will also reframe the habit into a task so simple it would be ridiculous not to follow through.  For example, if your goal is to drink 10 glasses of water in a day, rephrase the habit: “drink half a glass of water per hour”.

  • Pairing:  Piggyback on pre-existing routines that are already embedded into your daily routine, such as taking a shower, brushing your teeth, receiving a text message, eating a meal, or the sun setting.  Use these routines as the cue to trigger your new desired behavior.  For example, when you make a morning pot of coffee, let this be the cue to drink a glass of water.

  • Scheduling:  When a task is on the schedule, suddenly it becomes a priority, encouraging us to manage our time around it.  It also serves as a reminder and holds us accountable for following through.  Try setting an hourly event on your calendar to remind you to take a brief walk and grab a drink of water, or adding your weekly workouts to your calendar.  

  • Reconstructing: Make the healthy choice the most convenient choice by reconstructing your environment.  Remove or relocate cues that trigger poor behavior and replace them with cues and tools that support your new habits.  Give your pantry a makeover: place healthier choices at eye level, and store junk food on the top shelf out of arm’s reach.  Pack your gym bag the night before a workout so come morning, there are no excuses.  Make the right choice too easy to resist.

Study Yourself

The final step to cultivating a personalized healthy lifestyle is to put your lab coat on and study yourself.  Use an app or consider keeping a journal to track your habits and how they impact your mood, energy level, hunger level, performance, and weight.  Not only will this serve as a source of accountability, but amongst the data you collect, patterns will begin to emerge.  While we all thrive on real food, ample sleep, regular activity, proper hydration, and daily relaxation, our needs within each of these categories will vary.  For example, one person may find they can thrive on 7 hours of sleep, while others may require 9 hours to be their personal best.  Similarly, two people served the same exact meal may experience drastic differences in blood sugar, energy, mood, and weight due to differences in biology, digestion, metabolism, activity level, and so on.  Logging this information will help you understand how to manipulate variables such as the meal size and composition, meal timing and eating frequency, bedtime, sleep duration, rise time, water requirements, exercise type, duration, and frequency in a way that works best for you.  Trust that this is just a temporary science project and enjoy the process.  After all, no population-based research study will ever be able to provide you with the type of personalized insight that you’ll uncover during this journey of self-discovery!

Give Your Lifestyle a Purpose

With today’s heightened focus on health and wellbeing, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture and forget the true purpose of living a healthy lifestyle.  A lifestyle should be something that supports your life goals - it shouldn’t be your life goal.  Take a step back and ask yourself: What do you want to achieve, experience, or create in your lifetime?  How does your vitality empower you to pursue your passions, chase your dreams, and achieve your life ambitions?  Whether it’s raising a family, traveling the world, or starting your own company, every ambition becomes more attainable with optimal health and well-being.  

Ready to begin?  Here’s a Real Food Meal Plan to get you started!

How to enjoy more of less without even trying this Thanksgiving

How to enjoy more of less without even trying this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is hands down one of the best days of the year.  Showing gratitude and creating memories over a home-cooked meal with family and friends - what could be better?  But for all of those health-conscious foodies out there (myself included), this food-centric holiday can also bring a dark cloud of internal conflict.  The foodie voice inside your head may be telling you to “YOLO, let go of moderation for a day, and fully embrace the holiday”, while the health-conscious voice may be countering that argument, coaching you to “stay focused, practice self-control, and monitor your food choices”.  These opposing voices can put a serious damper on the whole meaning of Thanksgiving.  The good news?  There’s a way to enjoy your favorite Thanksgiving fare without overdoing it, and without relying on deprivation.  It’s called, “Slim by Design”.

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Polenta Pizza

Polenta Pizza

Pizza just got a makeover and it's never.looked.better.  This recipe is a great make-ahead meal perfect for any night of the week!  Here, I top it with DIY Pizza Sauce, Roasted Veggies, Kite Hill Cheese, and Walnut Parmesan "Cheese", but feel free to get creative and make your own personal pan pizza with your favorite 'za toppings!

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How to use Daylight’s Savings Day to become happier, healthier and more productive

If there was ever a time to try and become a morning person, mark your calendars for November 6, 2016!  While most of us typically celebrate the Fall version of Daylight Savings as the day we get to “fall back” asleep for an extra glorious hour of slumber, with a bit of strategy, we can actually capitalize on this once-in-a-year-opportunity to “spring ahead” and proactively gain an extra hour in our daily routine.

The circumstances are perfect:  As we turn the clocks back an hour earlier, the sun sets earlier in the evening (making it easier to go to bed at a decent hour), and rises earlier in the day (making it easier to rise and shine!).  Double Bonus: this advantageous time shift in sunrise and sunset happens while simultaneously blessing you with an extra hour for the taking.  The stars are literally aligning in your favor!  

But even with the perfect set up circumstances, a shift in your daily routine still requires some thought and effort.  As a former “morning-phobe” and a specialist in habit formation and behavior change, I’m here to share a few simple life hacks that have proven to successfully transform night owls into morning larks - myself included!

How to Become the Morning Person You Always Envied

Pro Tip: Start implementing these strategies the week leading up to DLS.  After all, preparation is the key to success, and change doesn’t happen overnight!

Step 1: What is your “worm”?.  

Why do you want to be a morning person?  Whether it’s going for a morning run, hitting the yoga mat, starting that side business you always talk about, cooking up a healthy and wholesome breakfast, or simply having some time to yourself before the daily chaos takes over - everyone has a reason why they want to become a morning person.  Whatever it is, write it down, say it out loud, visualize it, attach passion to it, align it with your personal values, make it meaningful, and focus on the positivity that it will bring to your life.  This exercise may sound over the top, but having a crystal clear picture of what your “worm” is and why it’s so important to you will come in handy when your alarm goes off and you begin to wonder why you should get out of bed.

Step 2:  Identify roadblocks

When it comes to behavior change, we must reflect on why we’ve been unsuccessful in the past so that we can anticipate these roadblocks and strategize ways to prevail in the future.  Make a list of current reasons preventing you from getting up in the morning. The most common reason?  Feeling tired.  But dig a little bit deeper...Why do you feel tired?  When it comes down to it, we feel tired today because of the decisions we made yesterday.  With that in mind, becoming a morning person starts with making the right decisions the day before.  

Here are 5 daytime decisions that impact your sleep schedule, the quality of your sleep, and ultimately, how tired or well-rested you feel when that alarm goes off

  • Exercise - Studies on studies on studies have solidified the evidence supporting that regular physical activity promotes sleep quality.  This exercise-sleep connection is a perfect example of how healthy habits often share a bidirectional, reciprocal relationship: Exercise promotes better sleep, and the better you sleep, the more likely you’ll wake up and exercise.  Pro Tip:  Move your body. Do something you enjoy!  Include friends. Start small.  Any step forward is better than standing still.
  • Natural Light - Exposure to natural light actually helps calibrate your internal clock to sync up with sunrise and sunset.  Pro tip: Aim to get 15-30 minutes of sunlight, ideally first thing in the morning, as this kicks off your circadian rhythm to get into the groove of being alert at dawn, while winding down at dusk.
  • Caffeine - A morning caffeine fix is 100% fair game, but the afternoon pick-me-up is where we run into trouble.  Pro tip: Take a pledge to be caffeine-free at least 8 hours preceding bedtime.  Whether you believe it or not, it’s impacting your sleep.  
  • Screen time - Studies show that a whopping 95% of the population uses some type of electronic device within 1 hour before bed.  This pre-bed screen time is detrimental to your sleep in threefold: 1. It keeps you up past your bedtime, 2. It acts as a stimulant and increases alertness, making it more difficult to fall asleep, and 3. The light emitted disrupts your body’s circadian rhythm by suppressing the production of melatonin - the hormone that tells the body to go to sleep.  Pro tip: Download the app called f.lux which makes the display of your computer screen adapt to the time of day (brighter during the day, warmer/duller at night).  Iphone users can also enable Apple's “night shift” feature for a similar effect.  And most importantly schedule some digital downtime: go “screen-free” at least 1 hour before bed.
  • Bedtime -  If you’re going to bed at 1 am every night, it’s no wonder you reach for the snooze button as soon as the first beep sounds!  Becoming a morning person requires hitting the hay earlier.  Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night, though a few of us are “extra special” and require up to 10 hours of beauty sleep to truly thrive.  Pro tip: Consider shifting your bedtime 15 minutes earlier each night until you reach a time that sets you up for success in the morning.

Step 3: Create a nighttime ritual

Remember when you were a kid and you had a very structured night time regime?  At a certain time, you would get in your PJ’s, brush your teeth, read a story, and do the whole drill?  There’s a reason parents create so much structure and consistency around bedtime - it’s because it truly works!  Yet, most adults today have no routine at all.  It’s time to bring back the night time routine.  Here are a few tips and tricks:

  • Set a “Go to Bed” Alarm.  Start by identifying what time you have to wake up in the morning.  Then count 9 hours back.  This builds in a 1 hour cushion to “unwind”, plus 8 full hours to sleep.  Pro tip: When the “Go to Bed” alarm goes off, it’s also your cue for digital downtime.

  • Prep for the Morning:  Do as much ahead of time as possible, so that very little action or decision-making needs to take place in the morning.  If working out is your “worm”, lay out your workout clothes and pack a gym bag the night before.  Eliminate as many morning time barriers as possible.  Remove all excuses from the equation.  Make the “right” choice, more convenient than the wrong choice.  

  • Set Some Bait:  Plant something special to lure you out of bed in the morning!  What will you look forward to?  Perhaps you set the coffee on a timer so that you can literally “wake up and smell the coffee.”  Prepare a bowl of overnight oats so that it’s waiting for your in the fridge.  Hang a cozy robe just out of arm’s reach to pull you out of bed.

  • Keep Calm:  Do something relaxing.  Take a bath or shower, light some candles, change into some cozy PJ’s, dim the lights, sip on chamomile tea, mist lavender essential oil over your pillowcase, read a book, write in a journal, listen to a podcast or audiobook, practice yoga, meditate, or stretch.  Find what works for you and spoil yourself rotten.  Soon enough, your nighttime routine will start to feel like the most luxurious time of the day!

  • Try a Sleep App:  The Sleep cycle alarm clock tracks your sleep patterns so that the alarm goes off while you are in a light sleep.  (I use this app everyday, it makes a huge difference -- no more deep sleep wake up calls that leave me feeling groggy and grumpy!)

  • Wake up on a "Positive Note":  Set your alarm “name” to display a positive affirmation or personal mantra.  Make it simple, positive, and meaningful: “Today is the day”, “Do Work”, “Positive Vibes”, “Attitude is Everything”, “Hard Work Pays off”, “Act the way you want to feel”, “Happiness is a Choice”, “Get those endorphins” “Just do it” (thanks Nike), or my personal favorite: “In 10 minutes I’ll be happy I decided to get out of bed”.

Step 4: Get in the Right Mindset

Before you doze off, be sure to tune into your headspace.  Habits are difficult to change, and sometimes our brains can interfere with our best intentions.  In order to prevent your thoughts from sabotaging your morning routine, take a moment to mentally prepare yourself for the morning.  

  • Remember your worm: As you’re laying in bed, visualize your “worm” and reconnect with why you are doing this in the first place.  

  • Lower the bar:  Whatever you plan to do in the morning, take it easy and start small.  The more simple your goal, the more likely you will actually take action.  For example, if you want to start running in the morning, start by saying you are just going to run for 5 minutes.  If working on your book is your “worm”, start by saying you are just going to write 1 paragraph.  Whatever your goal is, downsize it so that it becomes so stupidly simple that you’d feel ashamed and silly to not follow through.  

  • Decide & Commit:  It’s much easier to make the right decision when in a clear, objective, and rational state of mind.  It’s the times when we are tired, sad, weak, hungry, or vulnerable that our rational decision making falls victim to short-sighted shortcuts that bring a quick hit of instant gratification followed by a wave of guilt and shame.  To combat this, a great strategy is to decide not to decide in the heat of the moment.  No good decision is made during those times.  Instead, make the decision before you encounter the heat of the moment.  Don’t wait to “see how you feel” in the morning.  Decide to get up the night before.  This way, when the alarm goes off and you’re still in a morning fog, your decision making isn’t compromised by emotions, fatigue, and vulnerability.  If you make the decision at night, come morning, there is no decision to make.  You made it last night, and the decision was to get up.

  • Anticipate loopholes:  We are masters at finding loopholes and free passes.  “Oh I didn’t sleep well last night”, “It’s too dark outside”, “I’ll start tomorrow”, “I’ll just sleep for 10 more minutes”, “today doesn’t count”.  Take a minute to play through all of these loopholes in your head the night before, so that these lame and distracting fabrications don’t sabotage your morning goals.

Step 5: Create a morning ritual

With all of the planning and preparation executed the day before, your morning ritual should happen automatically.  You just have to get up, and the rest is on autopilot.  Here’s how it will play out...

The alarm goes off...and you wake up to a positive affirmation that reminds you of your “worm”, which immediately prompts you to reflect on why your goal is so important to you, and how great you’ll feel once you get after it.  You won’t dare hit snooze because you already made the decision to get up last night, and you’ve already anticipated all of those bogus loop holes.  Plus, you know that any sleep you get in between snoozes is just going to leave you feeling groggy and regretful. Remember that “bait” you planted last night? It’s all yours!  You launch out of bed and play some upbeat music to get your blood pumping with positive energy, and suddenly, you’re up!  Now it’s time to get after it. Good thing you’ve already prepared everything last night, and the task you set for yourself is so small, of course, you can do it!  You chase your worm, and while doing so, you feel great!  So great in fact, that you surpass that low bar you set!  You crush it, you feel amazing, and it’s only 7:00 am.  Congratulations.  You are officially a morning badass.

Step 6: Reap the Benefits

It’s amazing what happens when you start your day by putting yourself first and doing something that is important to you before any life distractions had a chance to interfere.  Your entire outlook of the day is transformed from “meh” to awesome.  You feel empowered, accomplished, and hungry for more.  This “goal getter” mentality born from a bright start to the day is exactly why studies have found morning people to be happier, healthier, more productive, more energized, and more successful.  I hope this jazzed you to rethink how you spend your morning on November 6th and every morning thereafter.

Remember, each morning you have two choices to make: Continue to sleep with your dreams, or wake up and chase them.  

5 Healthy Eating Tips Learned From Athletes

5 Healthy Eating Tips Learned From Athletes

The first major lesson I learned about healthy eating was recognizing the power of using food as fuel.  With sports being such a major part of my childhood, I quickly grew to respect the impact food had on my athletic performance.  But the lessons didn’t stop there.  While athletics initially taught me to value the true reason of why we eat (to nourish our bodies), more importantly, it taught me a handful a game-changing life lessons and strategies that greatly influence how I approach goal setting, habit formation, and pursuing a healthy lifestyle.

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Healthy Kitchen Hacks: The Muffin Tin

Healthy Kitchen Hacks: The Muffin Tin

We traditionally know the muffin tin as a vehicle to bake birthday cupcakes and morning glory muffins, but this common kitchen appliance’s limitless versatility opens the door to a myriad of healthy opportunities.  Here are a few simple muffin tin kitchen hacks worth incorporating into your regular meal prepping routine that are guaranteed to make healthy eating easy-breezy!

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From farm to freezer: A fresh look at frozen produce

From farm to freezer: A fresh look at frozen produce

Eat more fruits and vegetables.”
“Eat seasonally.”
“Eat locally.”

These farm-to-table nutrition recommendations are the seeds to a healthy diet and can promote the wellbeing of both our population and our planet.  But as we face harsh temperatures in the cold winter months ahead, finding fresh, locally grown produce can be a challenge, making it difficult to meet our daily fruit and vegetable quota. 

The solution?  Frozen produce!  Here are five reasons why frozen produce is the unsung hero of healthy eating...

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How to: DIY Veggie Burgers

How to: DIY Veggie Burgers

DIY Veggie Burgers are simple to make and offer the perfect solution to use up random odds and ends in your refrigerator!  Rather than choosing store bought veggie burgers loaded with highly processed ingredients, create your own using leftovers to cut costs, reduce waste, and nourish your body with nutrient-rich, real food!  Here's a how-to guide to creating a crave-worthy DIY Veggie Burger!

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