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16 Health Lessons from 2016

2016. Oh man. What a whirlwind. The world is still feeling a little dizzy from a heated American presidency race, a slew of terrorist attacks, Brexit, ZIKA and chasing after Pokemon. Who wouldn’t be? But, 2016 had its highlights too. If nothing else, we can always learn from the ups and downs alike. Here is what I learned in my year, for better or worse.

6 Lesson #1: Expect the Unexpected

It was a month before his due date when my son decided to make his debut to the world, He was supposed to be an on-time Valentine’s Day baby. Instead, he showed up on January 19th after my water broke and membranes simultaneously ruptured (which in truth made me think I was bleeding out or losing the baby…terrifying). Thus began my education in one of the biggest lessons you have as a parent: Don’t ever think you have it all figured out.

A baby is a person. It has its own mind. And probably shouldn’t be referenced as “it.” This lesson can also apply to the body and our health. Both can take unexpected twists and turns. We may get hit by a car (ahem, been there) or fall unexpectedly ill. Or we may become marathon runners at the age of 50 after a lifetime of avoiding sneakers and gym shorts. You just never know. The unlimited potential in the unexpected is actually a beautiful thing when we learn not to be afraid of it.

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Lesson #2: Our Bodies Are in Sync with Nature

The only reason I can think of for why my son arrived a month early into this world is that there were barometric changes in the atmosphere as the January 2016 blizzard made its way to the east coast. There is actually evidence of changes in atmospheric pressure increasing the number of women who have their water break. Kind of like hospitals getting flooded by pink-skinned, squealing babies when the new moon comes around. It’s pretty incredible that we are linked so inexplicably to nature.

Lesson #3: Sleep is Crucial

This seems pretty obvious but it’s worth mentioning sleep for the millionth time on this blog. When you lose sleep, things get cray cray. I had the WORST mom brain for months when my son was under six months old, waking up lots and suffering from reflux. Now that he has slept through the night for almost five months, I can still feel the impact of restless nights. My body has become programmed by maternal instincts to wake up at the slightest noise from him. Add in weird hormonal things, a need to pee once every night around 2:00-3:00 am, and my husband snoring (sorry to call you out, love) and there ya have it. Still kind of tired. Not miserably, but just that slightly worn-thin feeling that a lot of parents live with for all 18 years their children are under their roof.

Sleep impacts the way we think and feel. An earlier bedtime can be tough to stick to when the evening hours are oh-so peaceful, quiet and MINE, but it’s so important. I would advise anyone reading this to think very carefully if the quality of their entire life could be improved by minor changes to sleep schedules. Again, it’s important stuff for our mental and physical health.

Lesson #4: Being a Nursing Mom is a J.O.B.

Being a mom is tough. Being a nursing mom is even harder. Yes, it’s a wonderful and beautiful bonding experience but it’s also incredibly challenging to juggle life around the schedule (or on-demand needs) of a nursing baby. We’re talking sprinting in and out of stores and cutting meetings short in order to feed or pump for the little one. Life is a revolving door of boobs in, boobs out. It’s no wonder so many women quit breastfeeding or don’t even initiate it! In fact, according to the CDC, the national average for initiating breastfeeding from birth is under 80%. At six months of age, less than 50% of infants are breastfed and under 20% are exclusively nursed, meaning they have to be supplemented by formula. For more info check out the CDC’s Breastfeeding Report Card.

But the thing about nursing is that it’s your child’s best chance at optimal nutrition and health. I’m not saying it’s the only way or shaming moms who have to do formula or supplement. There are lots of cases where that’s necessary, appropriate and life-saving. But, mama’s milk has everything in it that a baby needs and changes composition over time to meet those needs. Mama’s milk even produces antibodies to help baby get over specific illnesses and build up positive gut bacteria. So, even though it certainly feels like a job to breastfeed, it’s definitely worth trying to for as long as possible from a health perspective. Think of your paycheck as baby’s lifelong health!

Lesson #5: Patience is Everything 

Patience is not an easy virtue to abide by. I think it’s why many people quit their workout and weight-loss programs, and why some mothers give their kids food to appease them when they are fussy. It’s hard to deal with frustrations or a lack of desirable results, but almost always, if we hang in just a little longer, the scales will tip in our favor. Things will change.

Nothing has taught me this as profoundly as waiting for my son’s gut health to mature. He was a gassy, fussy baby in the first three months so I cut out dairy from my diet and we did everything we could to keep the little guy comfortable. In months three to six, he developed GERD (gastrointestinal reflux) and was in extreme pain. While medicine eventually helped keep things under control and we took every precaution we could to help reduce instances of reflux, there was still not a lot we could do except give his body time. Right when we thought we couldn’t handle it any more, our hearts so distraught over a baby who was chronically exhausted, reacting to pain, and having troubles with constipation, his body did a 180. Around six months of age he started going to the bathroom regularly, sleeping more soundly, weaning off his meds, and becoming the happy baby we had caught glimpses of. My patience definitely wore thin many times, but the fragment of it that I clung to kept me going. It kept me aware of the truth in the statement new mothers hear all the time: “This too shall pass.”

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Lesson #6: Isolation Hurts Health

I’ve learned firsthand that isolation is most definitely no fun. I spent lots of long days home alone while my husband traveled for work and I cared for my son in his early infancy. He was very sensory sensitive as a newborn so I wasn’t exactly able to be one of those new moms toting her baby around to Starbucks, Target and happy hour. I discovered from experience that no amount of Facebook, Instagram, texting or phone calls can equate to being with people in person, seeing their facial expressions, sensing their warmth, and hearing their laughter. “LOL” just isn’t the same. We are inherently social creatures. Our wellness is immediately improved by quality human interactions.  

Lesson #7: Weight Retention is a Choice

I think because I grew up in a small town that I saw a lot of mothers with young children who were overweight. Something about the culture of a small town and rural America seems to lend itself to this a bit more. Anyways, I had this idea that once I became a mom my body would never be the same. But, when I moved to Washington, DC in my early 20s I saw so many older women taking care of themselves through healthy eating and exercise that I was inspired to change my perspective.

Neither age nor motherhood means an inevitable decline into being overweight or less healthy. You can absolutely lose the baby weight instead of retaining it, with some effort. I could too, I realized. And I did! I’m no supermom and I’m not out accomplishing amazing physical or culinary feats every day for my health. I’m simply a woman who is reminding herself that she is the one in control of her weight and health. Not anybody or anything else. I stay on track by simply following my choice to be healthy, day after day after day. With the occasional wine and chocolate. Okay, fine. I eat chocolate every day. Anybody else is capable of just the same.

Lesson #8: Little Things Add Up

One of the ways that I lost the majority of my baby weight during the first few months postpartum was by staying gently active and keeping myself in check so that not every day was pancakes and scrambled eggs day for breakfast. Although for the record, if calories didn’t count, I would probably do that all the time. In the same way, little things that we do for our health can snowball and help us overcome a suppressed immune system, a chronically aching lower back, high blood pressure or any number of conditions.

If we try to do too much too fast, it can backfire. For example, if someone with cardiac issues tries to go out and strengthen their weak heart in a single exercise session, they might quite literally kill themselves. Similarly, we can hurt ourselves if we skip over all the small details and actions that contribute to better health. If we pay those obnoxious little details just a smidge of attention, they will add up and take care of us so well that suddenly we are enthused instead of annoyed by them.

Lesson #9: Sometimes, Health Professionals Suck

Confession time. I was going to a pediatrician at a trusted peds office in my neighborhood. I liked her when I scoped her out as a prospect. She seemed to-the-point, candid and knowledgeable. In the early weeks of parenthood, when it was so critical that our late pre-term baby gain weight, thrive and recover from jaundice, I hung on every one of her scary-sounding words. As he got a little older I started to notice that her bedside manner wasn’t as good as it originally seemed, and wasn’t always contextually appropriate.

At several check-ups she made me genuinely nervous about my son’s perfectly healthy development, all because of how she chose her words. One appointment, she mixed up my son’s weight chart with another parent’s baby. It had been a couple months since I saw her and she whisked through the door in a huff and said very frankly, without so much as a “hello,” that she had bad news about his weight. I hemmed and hawed and said I thought he had been doing okay but that as a new parent with a baby who came early, I was always nervous since he was consistently “behind” his birth-age peers. Which is totally normal and to be expected. I was holding my breath to hear her next words. My heart had started racing. I felt like I was failing at motherhood. Then she said, “Oh, whoops! I completely got you mixed up with another patient. Carter is doing great!” On numerous other occasions, instead of giving me professional advice, she gave me advice based on her own child’s preferences and routines as a baby. That’s just out-of-the-ballpark unprofessional and subjective. Period.

There is a certain way that health professionals can make you feel, even when they have to deliver bad news. Their tone and demeanor is everything. It can change lives just as much as their diagnoses, programs and scalpels. And sometimes, even when a professional is smart and trustworthy, they can suck at communicating the right way. Be it a doctor, nurse, physical therapist, personal trainer, OBGYN, or any other health professional, you know when they are out of line. For example, there’s a right and a wrong way for personal trainers to motivate people who are dangerously overweight to get back on track. Should the overweight client be shamed? Absolutely not. Should they be reprimanded? No, of course not. Should they be made to feel afraid? Ideally, no. That behavior on behalf of any health professional is unacceptable in my book. Which brings me to my next point…

Lesson #10: Fire and Rehire (your health professional)

If your health professional acts in a way that makes you uncomfortable (see Lesson #9), you fire them. Period. You don’t let them drag you through the mud. You don’t let them make you feel unworthy or paranoid. Again, you fire them. You find someone who can take care of you in the right way. Simple as that. Don’t hesitate or be afraid to do it.

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Lesson #11: Human Physical Development is Mind-Boggling

I know everyone is all crazy about babies learning to crawl, walk and talk, but I find the little details that my son discovers about his body to be just as fascinating. Okay, once he walks I will probably be ecstatic like every other normal parent. Recently, he has discovered that he can intentionally shake his head side-to-side like a “no” except he is super happy doing it, can touch his tongue with his fingers, can pinch his belly fat (haha), can scratch surfaces with his nails (eek!), can carefully stack objects on top of one another, and can play peekaboo with doors, blankets, curtains and anything he can hide behind. Believe it or not, this is the short list. 

I’ve been totally baffled as he has discovered things like lateral and rotational movement, balancing on two feet without support, and how to feed himself using his hands, So many things that we take for granted and don’t even think about are exploding like fireworks into his awareness. Every single one of these little things makes us human. Every one of the little things we can do so effortlessly as adults helps define our physical experience in the human body. It’s truly incredible and we are truly lucky to have such amazing vehicles to transport us from cradle to grave. Sorry if that’s a touch morbid to you, but to me it’s a thing of pure beauty. 

Lesson #12: Our Bodies Are All Insanely Unique

WARNING: TMI AHEAD. READ ON WITH CAUTION!

I’ve always heard that exclusive nursing is a form of birth control, for the most part. But a mere six weeks after having my baby, I got my period. Yup. Undeniably, my period. And I was breastfeeding around the clock. This is one very simple example of what tends to be a universal truth: There are no hard and fast rules that apply to all of our bodies. We all have some fundamental needs as humans like air, food, water and shelter, but we are each so uniquely designed that we can’t assume that what happens to one person’s body will happen to ours. This is why I much prefer to personalize workout programs rather than assume that one program meets the entire populations’ fitness needs. It doesn’t. It never will. 

Lesson #13: Doing Things Too Fast Will Slow You Down

When we push ourselves too hard for too long, it hurts our health. I know this firsthand because it’s something I have to work hard to keep myself in check about. In fact, just this holiday season I’ve found that I’ve reached a point of “burned out” because I ran on all cylinders for several weeks straight. I was working to finish writing a book, take care of my 10-month old while my husband traveled for work, get holiday shopping and wrapping done, host a party and do all the cooking, and manage normal chores, dog walking, errands, etc. I’m completely worn out. But, it’s not just that I’m tired.

Like other instances in the past when I’ve been a touch too hardcore, my body is now suffering from inflammation and stress. My joints ache, my stress-response is out of control (think heart racing over something stupid and minor like hearing a dog barking for a while next door), my tolerance for indulgent foods is zero, and my sleep is a bit wrecked. These are just a few examples of how our bodies break down when we chronically stress them. When we get to a place like this we must go back to basics; eat well, sleep well, rest, keep blood flowing with light exercise, focus on things that balance us mentally and spiritually. Sounds like a good recipe for the holidays anyways!

Lesson #14: Support Systems are Necessary

Without support systems, health inevitably suffers. I mean, we can all claim to be super woman (or at least try to be), with minimal outreach to others for emotional and physical support, but then we suffer. Big time. Our health thrives when we have the opportunity to lean in to others for help when we need it. It allows us to have recovery time and to build our strength back up so that we can face the world.

I take a lot of pride in being a go-getter who goes and gets things done. But when the going gets tough, I can get exhausted. This year I had to learn to swallow my pride and ask for more help to get simple things accomplished. And ya know what? I’m living to tell the tale. It wasn’t so bad after all. The help of others has gotten me through 2016. It has been paramount to my health. And sanity.

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Lesson #15: Good Health Takes Work

This probably seems so obvious. It kind of is. But so many of us KNOW the things we need to do for our health and yet, we don’t take action. We understand how to feel better but living out that lifestyle seems really difficult. Honestly, sometimes it can be. Buying fresh foods and preparing them takes a lot more effort than zapping something in the microwave. Going for a brisk walk or hitting the gym obviously requires more energy than sitting back and scrolling through social media. Although I’ve found that fingers can get tired too.

As my child has gotten older I’ve been challenged for the first time in a while to figure out how to stick to healthy choices and put in the effort to take care of not just him, but ME! Mama’s health matters, too! A few things that have helped me are walking into the grocery store with a list and a plan, acknowledging that efficient 30-minute workouts can be just as beneficial as lackadaisical 60-minute ones, and making sure that I’m in bed at the exact same time every night to ensure enough sleep. Maybe some of these simple things will help you too.

Lesson #16: Health is a Blessing

It’s a bit of a cliché, I know. But. HEALTH IS A BLESSING. Drop the mic.


Without further ado, I wish you all a very healthy, very happy holiday season! See you in 2017!

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Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Pregnancy and Exercise – Infographic

As WellnessWinz readers know, I’m a big fan of exercising while pregnant and wrote on the subject already: The Inside Scoop on Exercise During Pregnancy. Today, I’m thrilled that my friends from the UK’s MyFitnessBoutique have weighed in on the topic with the following article and infographic contribution. Thanks, guys!!! Gals – get your exercise on whether pregnant or not!

Pregnancy & Exercise 

For women who enjoy being active but are also expecting a child, exercising becomes a dilemma. Do they try and remain active for their own benefit and wellbeing, or is exercise a bad idea while pregnant?

This infographic from My Fitness Boutique (www.myfitnessboutique.co.uk) shows that pregnant women can still obtain regular exercise without doing any harm. In fact, it is rather important for pregnant women to try and get at least 30 minutes exercise a day for a minimum of five days a week. Exercises such as Pilates, squats, wall push-ups, cycling and lunges all serve to improve the stamina of women during pregnancy, making pains less difficult to bear. It also helps them sleep better at night and provides a self-esteem boost.

If you’re expecting a baby and you still want to keep active, that’s magnificent – just remember not to overdo it. All exercises should be done with caution and if you feel any strain or discomfort, stop the exercise. Even something as simple as a 30-minute walk still counts as exercise and certainly beats doing nothing. Don’t believe that if you haven’t exercised before, now is not the time to start. Do what you can and you will thank yourself for it.

Pregnancy Fitness

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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The Similarities Between Parenthood and Personal Training

Happy Spring, WellnessWinz Readers!

I’m officially back from maternity leave! *Deep breath.* Let me tell ya, it has been a whirlwind. This entire lifestyle shift means that I may not be able to blog as much as I would like to for a little bit, but I will do my best to produce meaningful and relevant content when and where I can until a better rhythm is established (and my son is letting me get more than a couple hours of sleep at a time, lol).

To kick off my return to the blogosphere, we have a somewhat humorous post: The Similarities between Parenthood and Personal Training. That’s right guys, I went there. I’m bold enough (or crazy enough) to compare my experiences as a new mom to the personal training experience. It turns out that my little one can be just as tough and demanding as a boot camp sergeant! He is my new little boss man and he kicks my butt. I’m like “No more! Have mercy, pleeeaaasseee!!” and he’s all “You WILL NOT rest until you climb the stairs 50 more times to check on me, change 20 more diapers, and feel like your back is going to break from rocking me!”

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Just following his lead! 😉 

A lot of the lessons I’m learning as a mom parallel ones I have experienced through exercise. For example, oftentimes anxiety over a situation as a mom is worse than the situation itself. For instance, within 24 hours of writing this my husband and I experienced one of the biggest fussy streaks in our son’s life. Every 45-50 minutes (one sleep cycle), he would wake up wailing and would be inconsolable. He did this all day and all night. None of us slept and we were all extra tired and cranky as a result. I began franticly googling all sorts of mumbo-jumbo and determined that he was experiencing a sleep regression. I was so sure of this that I texted some of my mom-friends and asked how on earth they survived such episodes in their children’s lives. I had resigned myself to sleeplessness for the next few weeks and was depressed thinking about the cloud hanging over all of us, bleeding into my birthday week and my first Mother’s Day. A bit selfish, but true.

When the crying escalated to an off-the-charts level, I felt desperate. Surely this wasn’t just something weird about my son’s sleep development, right? I mean, I get it – any change in my sleep patterns and I’m a crazy person. I called the pediatrician and we agreed to have him looked at. It took the doctor all of a couple minutes and a handful of questions to get down to the bottom of this stressful situation: he was constipated. My mind spun a million miles an hour over this simple explanation behind the manic day we barely survived. As I calmed down I realized that the simplest explanation was the right one. It wasn’t a complicated situation with his sleep. It was simply a need to poop. Poor baby. Apparently mama’s milk is so easily digested and turned into little baby parts that pressure doesn’t always build up in a baby’s system to help eliminate waste. 

AEBC2C5C-A537-493C-86D0-A44BC4D0990F Crazy how he went from this tiny preemie …

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…to this happy big boy!

Similarly, a lot of people come to me wanting to lose weight via personal training and pour out all sorts of complicated reasons for why they have been having challenges with it. I get it; losing weight is a physical, mental, emotional and sometimes spiritual process. Unfortunately though, we can get so caught up in thinking of the reasons that we AREN’T losing weight (job, time, family, convenience, etc.) that we bypass the simplest explanations for what WILL help us: controlling our diet and managing an exercise schedule and/or active lifestyle. The anxiety over trying to find some complicated solution for weight-loss troubles can blind people to the simple truth: they put a fork into their mouths one too many times a day and never hit the gym! Not exactly a mind-boggling revelation, right?  If only we could drop our anxiety as parents and/or people looking to feel good physically, then we would see the answers to our problems with more clarity instead of fishing for complicated, far-reaching explanations. Or turning to Google for the umpteenth time.

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Creative ways to stay active! On-the-go napping!

As a mother and personal trainer, I’ve learned that wellness is a balancing act, that change is a universal truth we can’t shake, that hormones are boss, and that your own opinion is the most important in determining what is right for both your body (and baby). Another very tangible lesson is that perseverance pays off…

Moms are encouraged to do “tummy time” with their babies; 3-5 minutes a couple times a day placing the baby face down so that neck, back and chest strength can develop through the baby’s effort of trying to lift his head and press away from the mat. When my son was first born, a month early, he was way too little to even consider trying tummy time. At just over 5 lbs he would just lie on the mat like a fragile little bird fallen out of its nest. At best, he might occasionally lift his head a tiny bit. We’re talking an inch or less. It was hard to imagine he would ever be able to do more.

Like a good personal trainer mom, I kept putting my baby on the gym mat for tummy time a couple times a day. Some days he wouldn’t tolerate it and would squeal and cry until I picked him up and other days he seemed to get the idea. He would attempt to lift his head and look around (complete with grunts and pitiful gasps). Around two months of age he was able to press up and look around while also cooing. Cutest thing ever. And at three months he surprised us one day and decided to roll over! The personal trainer in me beamed with pride over this early accomplishment. Bit by bit he grew before our eyes and today the gym mat is his favorite place during play time. In fact, many times as soon as I lay him down on it, face up or face down, he breaks into a big grin and squeals with joy as he works to grasp toys with his hands and kicks his legs playfully. It’s hard to imagine that this evolution will also turn into crawling and walking one day!

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Tummy time pro!!! 

Isn’t it funny though…that a person (even a tiny one) can accomplish feats they were never physically capable of with just a little bit of effort on a regular basis? Like adults attending the gym or working out, there are days when my son just isn’t feeling tummy time and there are days when he loves it. It’s normal to have days when we don’t feel like exercising, but persistence will go a long way. All we need to do is bite off a little, manageable bit at a time and we will see results emerge.

In my first three months postpartum, I’ve taken a similar approach. I’ve stayed consistent in being active but have taken things gradually. Thanks to having realistic expectations for my physical abilities day by day, I’ve actually been able to exercise 78 days out of 102 so far. That’s only 24 days postpartum without some form of movement. Mind you, a good number of the early days were focused on simple things like going on a walk, doing basic (and safe) core exercises on a mat, and performing yoga balance poses to regain stability after labor and delivery. Let’s not ignore the fact that there were Kegels too…LOTS of Kegels. Around three weeks postpartum, I was able to resume light weights at the gym and light resistances on cardio machines for short periods. Around five weeks postpartum I went for my first run – and wow it felt incredible!! Especially since I no longer had a baby in my belly to carry along! Although these days I do push him along in the stroller and it ain’t easy!!! 

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Stroller workout adventures!

Today, three months postpartum, I’m able to do almost everything I did before pregnancy – maybe even more! I feel like my emphasis on core conditioning (which I used to not prioritize as heavily) has left me stronger than ever in my stomach. Also, I’m shocked at how my cardio conditioning never felt like it took a hit since I stayed active during pregnancy. On my first run I felt like my lungs and adrenaline could have carried me through a marathon (although in reality that’s probably a euphoric disillusion). Staying active has not been easy in the wake of caring for an infant and suffering major sleep deprivation, but exercise has been a life saver, just as it was for my mental and physical health during pregnancy. I would be stir crazy and cranky without it.

When I left the hospital after having my baby I was shocked that I still had about 17 lbs to lose. Today, I only have about 3-4 lbs of that left. The short 30-45 minute long exercise sessions combined with eating about 200-300 calories less a day (than needed for weight maintenance) has helped me shed a few pounds a month. Honestly, it hasn’t felt like the exhausting post-pregnancy weight loss journey I feared. This is thanks to taking things slow and approaching the process with balance – something I’m confident all of my readers can do in their weight loss and fitness journeys if they approach them with patience and perseverance. Any good personal trainer or parent will do the same, approaching things on a daily basis, not trying to rush through rearing a child or getting a client fit. There is a due diligence and process to both. It’s all about the little steps. The small things DO add up – for babies trying to lift their heads up off the ground and for adults trying to see one pound melt off at a time.

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Leaving the hospital 17 lbs heavier than before pregnancy

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One month postpartum

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Two months postpartum

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Three months postpartum thanks to just a little effort adding up!

Happy to be back with you all in the blogosphere!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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