We are into the second week of 2024 and many of you may be putting new habits into practice. If you’ve started a new diet with the intention of losing weight and eating better, or you’ve implemented a new workout regime in order to build muscle, that’s awesome. But how do you know if it’s actually working?
I know, self-monitoring doesn’t sound like tons of fun. But the truth is, self-monitoring is the only effective way to know whether or not your new habits are having the intended impact on your life. On top of that, self-monitoring will tell you whether or not you’re actually following your new habits in the way you think you are.
Tune in this week to discover the only way to track your progress toward your health goals. I’m showing you why you might avoid accurately tracking everything you’re eating, how to recover when you slip up, and you’ll learn how to make self-monitoring a valuable tool to help you continually improve and stick to your new habits.
Are you ready to eat, move, and think in a way that gets you strong both physically and mentally? You deserve to have both no matter how busy you are, and I can help. I’m opening up my one-on-one coaching program for new clients, and I would love to work with you. Click here to learn more about working with me.
What You Will Discover:
- Why, if you want to change anything in your life, you need to start with awareness.
- How you might be unconsciously avoiding self-monitoring.
- The 2 easiest ways to self-monitor your diet.
- How to use the data you get from self-monitoring to make future food decisions.
- The role your emotions play in deciding how accurately you self-monitor.
- How to use accountability as a way to continually improve instead of a weapon against yourself.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
Full Episode Transcript:
You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #81. If you’ve started a new diet to lose weight or eat better, awesome. How do you know if it’s working? Let me help you figure that out.
Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high-achieving, busy, working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer, and Certified Life Coach, Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.
Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? Well, what’s good here, we are going to talk about your habits today. It’s January, and we’re in our second week of the year. Many of you may be putting new habits into practice.
So, things like eating differently, increasing your fruit and veggie intake, or decreasing the number of meals you eat out. Or maybe you’ve resolved to get into better shape this year and started a workout regimen. Those are two of the most common habits I see people putting in place at this time of year.
With that, I want to take this episode and help you figure out how to know if what you’re doing is working. If your goal is to lose weight, and your aim is to eat less calories, let me help you figure out if you’re actually doing that. Or more specifically, I want to help you figure out if what you planned to do is what you’re actually doing. And how do you do that? By self-monitoring.
Okay, so I’ll stop right here and hit something face on before I go any further. Just those two words, self monitoring, I know, they don’t sound super fun, right? In all honesty, I tried to find another more exciting term to stick in place of self-monitoring, but I couldn’t come up with one. There is no fancy term that encompasses self-monitoring.
That’s okay, self-monitoring is not sexy, and it doesn’t matter. Because self-monitoring, while not extravagant, it straight up works, and it’s essential. I say this all the time, but one of the key pieces to changing anything in your life is creating awareness.
If you want to change anything in your life, you have to know where you’re starting from. That’s what awareness is. You can think of it like you would a map. In order to get anywhere on the map, you have to know your starting point. To get from point A to point B, you have to know exactly where point A is located. Right? Always.
That’s what creating awareness will do for you. It will tell you where you are on the map. Self-monitoring will tell you where you are in your map from point A to point B. So, let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about self-monitoring. I am going to try and make this idea as palatable as possible to you. And I say “palatable” with good reason.
Many of you either shy away from or steer clear of self-monitoring altogether, for any number of reasons. I want to help you bust through those reasons, and figure out a way of self-monitoring that works for you. There is nothing to shy away from here, because self-monitoring has been shown over and over again to be an essential piece to creating lasting habit change.
This is backed by research. There are loads and loads of studies that demonstrate the utility of self-monitoring for not only losing weight, but for maintaining your weight loss once you get there. Again, while it’s not super fancy, self-monitoring is essential.
Let’s start by talking about what self-monitoring actually is. I want us to be on the same page from the get go. So, self-monitoring, very simple, is a system of keeping track of what you do. There are much fancier psychologic and scientific definitions of self-monitoring if you look it up.
But the core of self-monitoring when it comes to habit change, is that you follow and monitor whatever behavior you are doing. You track your behavior in some way.
So, let’s talk about this in terms of your diet, because this is where I most commonly see this come up and I want to be super clear about this. When I’m talking about self-monitoring, I mean that you use some way to keep track of what you’re doing.
The two most common ways to do this are, either by using some sort of food or calorie tracking app, or by food journaling. Now, I’ve talked about this before, when I did an entire podcast on whether or not to use a tracking app, but I’ll repeat it here.
If you have a history of an eating disorder or disordered eating, this may not be for you. If tracking your food, in any way causes you to be obsessive and leads to unhealthy behaviors, then obviously, this would not apply and I would encourage you to talk to your physician about what’s appropriate for you. Okay?
But with that disclaimer aside, for many of you, self-monitoring, by recording your behavior related to food in some way, can be a super helpful tool that can be used safely and smartly without it leading to obsessive behaviors. And if you’re wondering why you should bother, why you should buy other self-monitoring your food? Let me share with you some of the benefits.
First, self-monitoring gives you data. This is fairly obvious, I know, but I want to talk more about it because even though it makes intuitive sense, this often gets overlooked. Self-monitoring gives you data, it gives you details, and it can give you specifics depending on what exactly you choose to monitor.
For example, imagine you decide to start a food journal. All I mean by that is that you’re just going to write it down on a piece of paper, or in the Notes app on your phone, what you eat in a day; no calorie count, no weights, no measures. Literally just writing down what you eat in a day. Then you’ve got something to work with.
As an example, breakfast is a bagel and cream cheese. Two handfuls of nuts, midmorning. A burger, fries, and salad for lunch. A bag of chips for a midafternoon snack, and so on. If you do nothing more than write down what you eat over the course of a day, you get data, you get information. Then you can use that information to make future decisions about your eating.
So, in the example I just gave, if you notice that you’re regularly having two snacks, one between breakfast and lunch, and then another between lunch and dinner, you’ve gotten information. You can look at your meals and decide if a bagel and cream cheese is a substantial enough breakfast to keep you satiated until lunch. You can look at your lunches and see that you tend to get french fries often. Or you can see that when you snack, you tend to go for a calorie-dense food like nuts.
All of this is data, and that data helps to create awareness. So, when I have a client tell me, “I eat healthy,” but she can’t tell me what she’s had for meals and snacks for the last few days because she can’t remember, that doesn’t give us much to work with.
But if she comes to a coaching session and says, “All right, I had salads with chicken for lunch, Monday through Thursday. Then I had takeout Friday through Sunday,” that’s different. Now we have something to work with.
Again, this goes back to awareness. You can’t fix something when you aren’t aware that it needs to be fixed, in the first place. That’s where self-monitoring comes in. I’ve had so many clients swear up and down, “But I don’t eat that much,” and when I ask them how they know this, they can’t explain it. They can’t provide real hard data to prove to themselves that they’re not eating that much.
That’s not helpful. I’ve said it before, but we humans, we are terrible at estimating. We tend to overestimate how much exercise we’ve done, and we tend to underestimate how much we eat. That is a setup for a big problem.
So, self-monitoring will give you information. It will help you see what you’re actually eating instead of defaulting to the assumption ‘I don’t eat that much.’ If you write down everything you eat in a day, for seven straight days, it will be eye opening.
And I mean everything; all of the bites from your kids’ plates, the handfuls of trail mix that you grab as you walk by the pantry, the chunks of cheese and fruit you cut for yourself while you’re getting dinner together. If you were to commit to writing it all down, everything you put in your mouth, you might just be surprised.
When I’ve had clients take me up on this and actually go and write everything down they eat in a week, it can be super helpful and eye opening. If you try this out, you may be like some of my clients and find that your main meals are mostly well rounded with lean protein, veggies, and fiber. But the frequency and quality of your snacks is leading you to ultimately eat more than your body needs, and you won’t lose weight.
Or you may find that many of your meals are not as nutrient dense or as high quality as you think. You may see that you eat mostly meals that are carb-centered, like mac and cheese or spaghetti. Or that you’re not getting enough fruit and protein and veggies in your diet. This is the type of information that self-monitoring will give you.
That information is insanely useful, because once we’ve got it, we can adjust your plan and practice following through on it, to see if it moves the needle and causes you to lose weight. When we don’t have any data, we’re making our best guess. That often leads to a very slow up and down process, the results and little to no weight loss.
Okay, next. The next benefit that self-monitoring has, is accountability. It makes sense, think about it. If you made a commitment to write down everything you eat in a day, you might think twice about the random handful of chips you aren’t really hungry for in the first place. Because if you’re being honest in your self-monitoring, then you would need to write it down. You can think of it as putting another step between you and the habit.
Think about what we know about habits. When you’re trying to get rid of an undesirable or a “bad habit,” one of the things you can do is put as many steps as possible between you and the habit. As an example, I had a client who wanted to stop drinking diet soda.
When we dove into this, she explained that she would only drink diet soda if it was cold, so she stopped putting the cans in her refrigerator. In fact, she kept them outside in her garage during the summer.
So, if she wanted a diet soda, she would have to go out to her garage, get the can, and put it in the fridge or get a glass of ice in order to make a cold. That’s a lot of steps. That was on purpose, because we were trying to make it harder for her to do the habit. We put extra steps between her and the Diet Coke.
In the case of overeating, if you’re really trying to get a hold of this habit and stop, you put one more step in place. If you’re truly committed to self-monitoring the process of pulling out your notebook, or pulling out your phone to get into the app and record what you’re doing, that’s one more step.
And because as humans we’re lazy, and we don’t like to add in extra steps to our behaviors, it may cause you to think twice before you eat something you didn’t plan. Because then you have to go and record it.
That may be just enough for some of you to think twice before you reach for food that you didn’t plan for. Plus, once you record it, it’s out in the world. If you have truly committed to self-monitoring, and you honor that commitment, then you will write down whatever you eat, like all of it. Then you have it in front of you. You have real hard data in front of you that you collected yourself, and there’s no denying data.
Okay, so let’s talk about that for a minute, because in all honesty, this is a big sticking point. Some of you have flat out told me that you don’t like the idea of self-monitoring because you just don’t want to know. You don’t want to have it written down because you don’t want to see it. You don’t want to see that you had two Oreos at 10am, another two Oreos at 2:45pm, and then another three Oreos at 7:50 before he got ready for bed.
My question to that, to why you don’t want to know, is very simple: Why? Why don’t you want to record and actually know what you’re doing? After asking this very question for years, this is what I found. This comes up often.
When you are fully honest and write down all of the food you’re eating, you have data in front of you. You see the type and the quantity of snacks and meals that you’re actually having, and you may not be happy about it. You might see that you actually are eating too much, or that you’re not eating in a way that supports your weight loss goals.
For some of you that can be very hard to accept. Once you’ve got it in front of you, there’s no denying it anymore and that can be hard to do. This is where eating and thinking collide, okay? This is where I can help you.
Think about it, what is the worst thing that happens when you actually commit to self-monitoring? Not commit lite, where you kind of do it but you don’t really do it. But you fully commit to self-monitoring, and you do it and you see things you don’t like. What happens when you see that you ate seven Oreos in one day when your plan was to eat zero? What is the worst that happens?
You feel something. You feel something. Maybe it’s disappointing that you didn’t stick with your plan. Maybe it’s a shame that you have a hard time managing your urges around Oreos. Maybe it’s frustrating that you stick to your plan really well most of the time, but you had a rough day and you numbed it with Oreos.
Whatever it is, you feel it; disappointment, shame, frustration. You feel the emotion, you process it, and then you move forward. Okay? This is a huge deal. This is a huge barrier for some of you when it comes to self-monitoring, and I want to help you break through it.
In order to be successful at changing your life and changing your habits, please accept that you’re going to screw up. It’s not going to be perfect, at all. No one gets it right from day one, no one. We are all messy humans, and we all tend to overestimate ourselves.
When you decide to get really honest with yourself in an effort to change your eating habits, you’re going to see stuff. You’re going to see data you don’t like, okay? I want to help you be prepared for that. Time and time again, I have seen clients go in circles about this.
I’ve seen clients journal some days, but not others. I’ve seen clients write down meals and snacks up until 3pm, when they had a bag of chips instead of the apple and string cheese they planned for, and then they stopped journaling altogether. I have seen clients write down their meals but not record a single snack or a bite or a taste of anything, because they didn’t want to see it in front of them. They just didn’t want to know.
But that’s not helping you. Instead, that’s painting a very fuzzy picture of what’s really going on. And it’s keeping you from making the changes necessary to improve your diet and lose weight, if that’s your goal.
It’s similar to weighing yourself only when you think you’ve been “good.” That doesn’t help you at all. It sets you up for serious resentment towards the scale, if and when it doesn’t show you the numbers you want. It only serves to give the scale that much more power over you, that it has no business having. It’s all because of one thing, how you think you’ll feel.
So, remember, everything you do or don’t do is because of how you think it will make you feel. Just like you may choose to skip weighing yourself after a dinner out the night before, because you know you ate more than you planned and you’re afraid to see what the scale says. You may also skip writing down foods that are not part of your plan, because you don’t want to feel disappointed or frustrated.
You don’t want to feel it, so instead you just don’t know. You don’t know what you weigh. You don’t write anything down. You don’t give yourself any data. You leave it nebulous so you don’t have to feel anything when you know the truth.
But there is a different way, and that different way is feeling your feelings. Yes, always; you knew it was coming. Here it is. Consider this, what would happen if you decided to go all in, self-monitored to the best of your ability, put everything out there on paper or in your Notes app, and see the data for what it really is, data?
What would happen if you recorded all seven of those Oreos, felt whatever emotions came up for you when you wrote it down, and saw it in front of you and moved on? I’ll tell you what happens, you realize that it’s not such a big deal. You realize that you ate some Oreos, more than you wanted, and you get on with it.
Remember, what do you do when you have missteps? This is a previous podcast. How do you recover from a stumble? You acknowledge it and own it. “I ate more Oreos than I planned today.” Then you ask yourself what you learned from it, and what you would do differently. “I will practice managing my urges and processing my emotions, instead of numbing them with cookies.” Last, you move on, as in eyes forward. That’s it, do not make it any more mountainous than that.
To make this very black and white, when it comes to self-monitoring you can choose to think of the accountability as a vehicle for self-imposed guilt and shame, which I do not recommend at all. Or you can choose to think of the accountability that self-monitoring creates as a tool to help you continually improve. It’s your choice.
This is what I help clients do. I help them see that creating accountability is not a weapon to be used against yourself, which too many of you do. Instead, I work with you to see that accountability, transparency, and being honest with yourself is one of the highest forms of growth there is. When you process the emotions related to the reality of what you’re actually doing, when you see it in real time, you will realize that you’re human, just like everyone else.
That you have an opportunity to choose differently next time. That’s it. That is huge. If you have ever started and stopped self-monitoring over and over, or if you’ve ever selectively self-monitored because you just didn’t want to see it, I would encourage you to really dive into that and ask yourself why.
Ask yourself what exactly you’re making that data mean? The purpose of collecting the data is not to make you think you’re a failure because you ate some cookies. The purpose is to help you improve your lifestyle one decision at a time. Okay?
Do not use the accountability that self-monitoring provides, don’t use it against yourself. I see this happen too often. I wanted to make a big stink about it, because I think it gets in the way of your own improvement too often. This is what I help clients do. We break down the limiting belief that those cookies mean anything about you, so you can get on with your life and get back to your habits ASAP.
Next, another benefit of self-monitoring is that it can help you change behaviors in real time. To best illustrate this, let me explain what I commonly see happen instead. What I commonly see happen is, you’ll eat in a way that you think might be putting you in a calorie deficit, but you’re not recording anything. You’re not self-monitoring at all.
And then, once a week, or maybe once a month, you step on the scale. You put all of your cookies in that one basket when you step on the scale, and you let that one number, once a week, tell you whether or not what you’re doing is working. I see this all the time. But what this does is leaves you backpedaling.
What I mean by this is, we have to guess. We have to guess that if your weight isn’t going down something’s got to change, but we don’t know exactly what. Is it that you need to have a bigger, more substantial lunch so you don’t come home ready to snack out of hunger? Is it that your weekdays are solid, but your weekends are off the chain? We don’t know, we’re just guessing.
So, what if instead of guessing after you’ve weighed yourself, you use self-monitoring as a tool to help you change your behavior in real time. I’m not going to get into whether or not you should use this scale today or how to use it, because I have already done that. You can go back to Episode #7 and review the pros and cons of using the scale.
But instead, my point here is that instead of using the scale to guide your behavior change, how about you use the data on what you’re eating to guide your behavior change? I have said it numerous times, but it bears repeating, you could be doing everything right, and you ultimately do not have control over what the scale says. You don’t have 100% control over that.
On the flip side, you do have 100% control on what you do or don’t put in your mouth. And you can record it, so that you can make day-to-day changes based on that information. This is instead of waiting for the one time you weigh in to dictate what your next move is.
So, remember that the scale is fickle. If you’re someone who weighs in very occasionally, it’s really hard to discern what your weight trend is. But if you’ve got a week’s worth of a food diary in front of you, no matter what the scale says, you can see for example, that you’re making choices at the end of the day that are not helping you. Things like handfuls of trail mix after dinner, or an extra glass of wine Friday through Sunday night.
Those are habits you can address immediately, rather than using your once-a-week weigh in to decide that something needs to change, and then trying to wrack your brain remembering exactly what you ate over the last seven days, so you can make adjustments after the fact.
Self-monitoring will help you make changes and adjustments in real time, and this is key. This keeps you from chasing your tail and trying to access your brain to remember details of your meals and snacks that have been long forgotten. All right?
Okay, next. Along with seeing what you’re doing in real time, self-monitoring will also help you pick up patterns and show you where you need to troubleshoot.
As an example, if you’ve committed to writing down everything you eat, and you see that most every night from 7pm onward it is a free-for-all of repeated trips back and forth to the kitchen for a handful of chips, half a cookie, a spoonful of ice cream while you’re standing in front of the fridge, then you’ve got something to work with. You’ve found a pattern.
Or if you see that Monday through Friday you stay on track with substantial balanced meals that keep you satisfied, only for the weekend to be a hodgepodge of whatever leftovers you can scrounge, supplemented with takeout, there you go. In either scenario, you’ve identified a pattern, and it needs to be addressed.
Self-monitoring will help you identify patterns, so you can target and troubleshoot specific behaviors. Things like nighttime eating, post dinner snacking, or overdoing it on the weekends, which are things that come up commonly for so many of my clients.
Self-monitoring will also show you the impact of all the snacks and bites and tastes throughout your day. Things that may seem like no big deal at the time, but ultimately add up to undo any caloric deficit you’ve created. This is huge. And so often it goes overlooked because snacking is definitely where so many of you get stuck.
I often see two things that shoot you in the foot related to snacking. First, because it’s not a whole sit-down meal you might see it differently. You may say to yourself, “Hey, it’s just a snack. It’s just a bite of chicken nugget. Just a few forkfuls of my kid’s mac and cheese,” so you don’t think it counts. But it all adds up, it all counts. As annoying as that may be, it all matters in terms of your bottom line.
Second, because you’re snacking is often not planned you don’t record it. You may be doing some self-monitoring by writing out your main meals, like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But then you don’t record any of your snacks or bites or any of the things throughout the day.
So, at first glance, it may look like you’re not really eating that much. But if you were to be fully honest with your self-monitoring, and record all of the snacks and bites that you put in your mouth, you’d be able to pick up a pattern of snacking that you could then go to work on. When you don’t have data, we don’t know where to start troubleshooting. Instead, we’re guessing.
All right, next. Another benefit of self-monitoring is that it helps you see your progress. So, you can think of it this way. Imagine you’ve planned out the day before what you’re going to eat for the entire next day. Then the day comes and you follow your plan, you eat as you said you would, and you go and record it in your diary. You see that you stuck to it. You ate as you said you would, without extra snacks or random bites of anything.
You followed your plan. How do you think that’s going to feel? It’s going to feel really, really good. Because it feels good to do what you said you were going to do, even if you didn’t want to do it. That’s discipline, remember. And having discipline is having freedom. Because when you make a plan for yourself, you know it’s as good as done because you follow through. There is no brain drama of ‘should I or shouldn’t I eat this cookie?’
The decision is already made. You didn’t plan for the cookie, it’s not part of your meal plan for the day, so you don’t have it. There’s no questioning or back and forth about it. The decision has already been made by you in advance, and then you follow through and that feels good. When you’ve built up that self-trust, by regularly following through on your plan, you’ll be willing to ask for more of yourself because you know you’re a sure bet.
Do you see how this works? I really love this. It is motivating to make a plan, take action and follow the plan, and then see the results of your work. And no, you won’t see it immediately. Okay? Following your plan for one day, or one week or even one month, may not automatically result in weight loss at the outset. This is not a quick fix here.
But if you find a plan that you can stick with for the long haul, and make it something you practice every day, to the point that becomes your lifestyle, then yes, you will most definitely see results.
So, remember the order of operations: Take action, see results, and get motivation. Then use that motivation to propel more action. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Progress brings progress, right?
Alright, so now, what if you’ve heard all this and you’re thinking that self-monitoring might be helpful for you? What do you do next? In order to keep this very simple, my recommendation is to choose something. Just pick something. Pen and paper works, it really does.
What I often have my clients do is write out what an entire day of eating will look like for them, the day before they intend to do it. And then, as they go about their day, they can update and look in real time to see if they are doing what they said they’re going to do.
You can cross out whatever you didn’t eat and write in whatever you did eat. You don’t need to weigh. You don’t need to measure. You don’t need to put in any amounts, just a piece of paper and a pen to write down everything that goes in your mouth. That’s it.
You’re really looking to see if you’re eating what you planned out the day before, and if you’re not doing that, what you’re doing instead. Now, if you prefer to get fancy, sure, you can use a tracker like MyFitnessPal or My Macros, or any of the other loads of food tracking apps out there.
But again, my goal today is not to get into all the details about tracking apps, because I’ve covered that already in Episode 31. So, you can go back to that one if you’d like. But the take home here is that if you want to self-monitor, which I highly recommend, don’t make it any more of a project than it needs to be.
Keep this simple. Find a system that works for you, and take the next step of committing to it, hardcore. Because self-monitoring is only as useful as you are honest. Okay? Don’t go halfway and self-monitor only when you follow your plan. Don’t write things down only when you think you’ve been good. Don’t open up your MyFitnessPal only when you’ve been on point all day. That is missing the point entirely.
If you’re going to do this, do it honestly. Write it all down. Let it all hang out, everything. Then hopefully, if you’ve listened to this podcast at all, you’ll have loads of tools and concepts to practice when you see the data in front of you. You can process the feelings that come up when you see what you’re actually doing. When it’s no longer nebulous, because it’s right there in front of you.
Then you get to decide what to do with that data. You get to decide how to change your eating to get yourself closer to your goals. And you keep monitoring yourself all the while, to ensure that what you say you’re going to do is what you’re actually doing.
My last suggestion is this, very simple, get started. Like, now, today. Start collecting data now. Write it down and write down everything you eat in a day. The sooner you have real actual data in front of you, the sooner you can start doing something with it. And the sooner you will be on your way to changing your habits.
Self-monitoring is not something to be used against you. It is a super useful tool that will help you be honest; it will help you pick up patterns. It’ll keep you accountable. And most importantly, it will get you closer to your goals.
If you want to help with this, let’s talk. When you coach with me, I will help you determine how you’re going to self-monitor and then you’ll practice it, with me guiding you along the way. I will help you deal with whatever comes up for you as you track your progress. And we’ll practice seeing data for what it is, data; nothing more, nothing less.
Check out my website. Go to www.CarrieHollandMD.com/contact, tell me what habits you want to put in place and let’s get to work. All right?
Thank you again for hanging out with me, and I’ll catch you again next week.
If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. Share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. Be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you.
This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better or eat and move differently but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. You know making that change starts with how you think, and that is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.
Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.
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