With Spring officially upon us—save for the last inevitable rogue blizzard—you’ve probably begun to think about how it’s time to emerge from hiding underneath your fuzzy sweaters and baggy pants. And if the beautiful blossoming flowers and sing-song baby birds chirping outside your window have inspired you to take on a rebirth of your own, we have the perfect advice for you.
To boost your confidence, improve your health, and slim down your midsection, we’ve compiled the best tips for how you can shrink your belly and rock those flowy dresses and fitted shorts that have been gathering dust in your closet for months.
Though it can be difficult to target fat in one specific area of your body, certain habits, foods, and exercises have been shown to help people shrink their waistlines, reduce visceral belly fat, flatten their stomachs, debloat, and tone their abs. For example, did you know that research shows those who are more in tune with their everyday lives and the world around them have one less pound of fat inside their bellies than those who aren’t as mindful?
For more waist-shrinking tips backed by research, noted experts, and good old fashion science, scroll down. And to help you along your weight-loss journey, why not subscribe to the new Eat This, Not That! magazine now! It’s full of healthy recipes, supermarket shopping guides, and essential nutrition tips—available right at your fingertips. For a limited time, you can save 50 percent off the cover price here!
Shrinking your belly isn’t just about what you put in your body, it’s about what’s going on in your brain, too. In a 2015 study, Brown University researchers asked nearly 400 people to complete a mindfulness awareness survey, which asked whether subjects agreed with such questions as “I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present.” Then, they X-rayed the subjects’ bellies to determine their degree of belly fat. The results showed that the higher people scored on the mindfulness survey, the less visceral fat they were likely to have. People who are less mindful have, on average, an extra pound of fat inside their bellies than those who are more in tune with their everyday lives and the world around them. Eating mindfully also happens to be one of the #1 Weight Loss Tip From People Who Lost 70 Pounds.
Make Fewer Decisions
Believe it or not, the fewer decisions you make in a day, the better it is for your belly. A study published in Social Science and Medicine found those who have high levels of what’s called “skill discretion”—i.e., they exercise control by getting things done themselves—tended to have lower BMIs. In contrast, those who are constantly deciding on courses of action for others may eventually come down with “decision fatigue” and make ill-informed choices, such as ordering that piece of cheesecake for dessert. That’s why we recommend rotating just a few go-to recipes during the week. Get inspired by these
20 Quick & Easy Breakfast Recipes.
Don’t Be Afraid To Instagram Your Meals
Your friends and family may roll their eyes when you whip out your phone to Instagram your meals, but what they see as an annoying habit might actually be improving your health. An analysis of “attentive eating” studies in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found those who recall their last meal as being filling and satisfying tended to eat less at their next meal, thus keeping their bellies flatter. So if you have trouble remembering what you had for dinner last night, try Instagramming your meals in an effort to feel content the next time you sit down to break bread.
Fantasize About Overeating Sugary Treats
You’re right to think this one sounds counterintuitive, but allow us to explain. In one study, researchers broke participants into two groups and asked one group to fantasize about eating three M&M’S. The other group was instructed to imagine themselves eating thirty of the sweet morsels, and when scientists invited all of the participants to enjoy some real M&M’S as part of a “taste test,” those who fantasized about eating thirty candies actually tended to eat less of the real thing than those who kept their imaginations limited to just three. In other words, researchers found that, contrary to popular belief, imagining the pleasure of gorging on a food actually reduces your appetite for it. Now excuse us while we go dream of cake!
Use Smaller Bowls
Though this may sound obvious if you want to lose weight and shrink your belly, use smaller plates and bowls. The FASEB Journal suggests overeating may be associated with the size of our dinnerware, because in one study participants who were given larger bowls served and ate 16 percent more than those given smaller bowls. What’s more? The big-bowlers underestimated just how much they were eating by 7 percent!
Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep has various health benefits for your entire body, and the belly is no exception. According to Wake Forest researchers, dieters who sleep five hours or less put on two and a half times more belly fat, while those who sleep more than eight hours pack on slightly less than that. Though that might not sound like much, when you have a regular bedtime and stick to it, you set yourself up for day-in, day-out weight loss.
“Proper sleep is crucial for weight loss. Too little sleep leads to poor food choices, largely due to increased levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. Too little sleep also decreases levels of leptin, a hormone that helps satiate your appetite. Lack of sleep also clouds judgment and causes impulse decision making, which inevitably leads to poor food choices,” adds founder and Certified Sleep Science Coach at SleepZoo, Chris Brantner.
Pick A Set Number Of Foods, And Stick To Them
As it turns out, there’s something to be said for being a creature of habit and eating the same foods day in and day out, especially if you’re on a mission to shrink your belly. When researchers looked at the diets of 6,814 people, they found that the more diverse one’s diet, the more likely one was to experience weight gain. In fact, those who ate the widest range of foods showed a 120 percent greater increase in waist circumference compared with those who had the least diversity.
Put Your Fork Down Between Bites
It takes twenty minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it’s had enough, so if you eat slowly chances are you will consume less and see your belly shrink. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found slow eaters took in 66 fewer calories per meal but compared to their fast-eating peers, they felt like they had eaten more. Though 66 calories might not sound like much, cutting that amount out of every meal adds up to a weight loss of more than twenty pounds a year! A simple trick to slow your pace: Place your fork down on the plate after each bite.
Munching on the right snacks throughout the day is one of the best ways to shrink your waistline. Need proof? According to a recent study, researchers found participants lost significantly more body weight when they incorporated low-sugar, high-protein snacks into their daily food routine. Fitting in healthy, high protein snacks (such as a handful of unsalted almonds) helps to maintain blood-sugar levels—which keeps your brain from triggering hunger pangs—and stops your body from indulging in unhealthy foods after what feels like a long day of starvation.
When you’re continually stressed out, it’s bad news for your belly. Stress triggers the release of a hormone called cortisol, and because cortisol is evolutionarily linked to alerting your body to external dangers (like that buffalo headed straight for you) and low blood-glucose levels, it forces your body to store fat and makes you feel hungry. In other words, if you’re stressed, you’ll start craving that afternoon candy bar even if your stomach is actually full. To avoid stress, try simple things like taking deep breaths and meditating for a few minutes each day.
Drink Water Prior To Each Meal
According to a study, sipping 16 ounces of water before each meal can lead to substantial weight loss. Researchers enlisted 84 obese adults for a three-month experiment and broke the participants into two groups. The first group was told to drink 16 ounces of water half an hour before each of their meals while. the other group was told to imagine that they were already full prior to digging in. When the study concluded, the water group lost about 9 pounds, while their imaginative peers shed approximately three fewer pounds. According to the researchers, loading up on H2O before meals is an effective weight loss strategy because it helps increase satiety. If you’re less hungry when meal time rolls around, then you’re more inclined to make smarter food choices.
And Buy A BPA-Free Water Bottle
Since we’ve already established that H2O can help ward off misunderstood hunger pangs, it’s not a bad idea to carry a water bottle around with you everywhere—just make sure it isn’t plastic. Plastic bottles are made with Bisphenol A (BPA) a harmful chemical which can negatively impact fertility in men and women and has been linked to obesity: A study published by Harvard researchers found that adults with the highest concentration of BPA in their urine had significantly larger waists and odds of being obese than those in the lowest quartile.
Get Some Sun
With your BPA-free water bottle in hand, head out on an early morning stroll to shrink your waist. A study found that exposure to sunlight in between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon reduced your risk of weight gain regardless of activity level, caloric intake, or age. Though the exact reason why is unclear, researchers believe the morning light synchronizes your metabolism and undercuts your fat genes. What’s more? Burning calories before you eat means you’re exercising in a fasted state—the energy you burn comes from your fat stores, not from the food you ate.
Replace Simple Carbs With High-Fiber Foods
One of the easiest things you can do to flatten your belly is to replace simple carbs with high fiber foods, which include whole grains, wheat bran, berries, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. “High fiber foods are great for reducing midsection weight or belly bloat,” says Amanda Baker Lemein, MS, RD, LDN. “Fiber helps draw in water, keeping us feeling fuller for longer, and also stimulates movement in the colon to help keep us regular. Including more high fiber foods in the diet is not only important for weight loss but also may help with the prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers.”
Cut Your Sugar Intake And Increase The Amount Of Fiber You Eat
As you may have guessed based on the tip above, cutting sugar helps flatten your belly. In a review of 68 clinical trials and studies, New Zealand researchers reported in the British Medical Journal that increasing sugar intake meant increasing body weight while reducing sugar meant reducing body weight. Similarly, increasing fiber is another way to keep your belly lean. In a study of 1,114 people over five years, researchers reported that for every 10 grams of soluble fiber people ate, their belly fat accumulation was reduced by nearly 4 percent—even if they did nothing else to lose weight. Eat more soluble fiber with these 50 Overnight Oats Recipes for Weight Loss.
Stay Away From Fructose
Speaking of sugar, the type of sweet stuff you ingest can have a negative impact on the size of your belly. In one study, researchers fed subjects beverages sweetened with either glucose or fructose. Though both groups gained the same amount of weight over a two-month period, the fructose group gained its weight primarily as belly fat because of the way this type of sugar is processed in the liver. In other words, if you want to shrink your belly then stay away from fructose, including high-fructose corn syrup!
And Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock
Simply put, artificial sweeteners cause belly fat. A 2015 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that increasing diet soda intake is directly linked to greater abdominal obesity. In the study of older adults, researchers found those who drank diet soda each day experienced more than triple the increase in waist size over the course of nine years, so put down the Diet Coke and don’t even think about reaching for some Equal to put in your morning coffee.
Know The Flat Belly Fats
Though eating fats seems like a counterintuitive way to shrink your stomach, flat belly fats such as olive, canola, avocado, and walnut oils, plant-fat rich foods like avocados and olives, and nut and seed butters like peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini, can help you get the job done. However, as with any packaged food, make sure you’re looking for one with less sugar than fiber.
Make Room For Tyrosine
It’s quite possible you’ve never heard of the amino acid tyrosine—a building block of protein—but it’s an important one to know if you want to get rid of a bulging belly. Tyrosine has been shown to prevent belly-bloating sugar cravings by encouraging the brain to release dopamine and another neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. In other words, eating more tyrosine (which can be found in eggs, spirulina, certain cheeses such as Parmesan, Gruyère, Swiss, and Romano, milk, sesame seeds, beef, and bacon) helps fend off those harmful sugar cravings that make your belly fat.
Choose The Right Booze
As tempting as a frozen margarita might be once happy hour rolls around, it’s most likely filled with viscous syrups made predominantly of high-fructose corn syrup (remember that belly baddie?) and thus high in calories. To keep your belly in shape, ditch the marg and instead choose a cocktail made with club soda and lime, or stick with nutrient-packed red wine which has about 125 calories per glass.
Stay Away From Sugar-Free Stuff
In a 2012 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that those who drank diet beverages had higher fasting glucose, thicker waists, lower HDL (good) cholesterol, higher triglycerides, and higher blood pressure. In other words, sugar-free cookies, soda, and the like may seem like the healthier option, but they contribute to a bulging belly and negatively impact your health in multiple ways.
And Steer Clear Of Refined Grains
Speaking of avoidance, another food group to keep away from is refined grains, such as crackers, chips, pretzels or ‘white’ carbohydrates like white breads or white rice. “Not only do these foods lack any fiber, but they also provide no satiety, and therefore make it easy to overeat them, leading to excess weight,” explains Amanda Baker Lemein, MS, RD, LDN.
Make A High-Fiber, High-Protein Breakfast
There’s some truth to the old adage that breakfast is the “most important meal of the day,” and if you’re looking to blast belly fat, what you eat at the start of each day can make all the difference. According to a recent study from the University of Missouri in Columbia, a high-fiber, high-protein breakfast may be the most important investment you can make in your waistline, because the study showed that eating breakfast triggered women’s brains to release dopamine, a feel-good chemical that helps to control impulses. In other words, eating a balanced breakfast decreases your chances of reaching for that 3 p.m. candy bar, and keeps your belly slim.
Go Gaga For Grapefruit
A study in the journal Metabolism found that eating half a grapefruit before meals may help reduce visceral fat and lower cholesterol levels. Participants in the six-week study who ate a Rio Red grapefruit fifteen minutes before breakfast, lunch, and dinner saw their waists shrink by up to an inch, and LDL levels drop by 18 points. Though the weight loss magic of grapefruits is not entirely understood, researchers attribute the effects to a combination of phytochemicals and vitamin C in the tart treat. To reap grapefruit’s benefits, consider having half of one before your morning oatmeal, slicing a few segments over a salad, or eating one for a snack shortly before a meal.
Try Meatless Monday
Meatless Monday is more than just an alliteration; it’s an easy way to shrink your belly. Numerous studies have shown that those who eat the least amount of meat are less likely to be obese, have lower BMIs, and the lowest body fat levels. Though it’s perfectly fine to eat meat a few times a week, these high-protein foods tend to fill you up before you can work your way over to the veggies, which are known to possess fat-fighting, waist-trimming powers.
And Remember The Non-Starchy Veggies
Speaking of veggies, those with little starch such as broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes can help combat fat. In fact, one Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics study found that consuming more non-starchy veggies resulted in an impressive 17 percent decrease in visceral fat in overweight kids. Although you may be all grown up, it’s safe to assume adding more veggies can help adults trim their belly fat, too.
Especially Those Packed With Vitamin C
In addition to being low in starch, bell peppers are also rich in vitamin C. The important nutrient has been shown to counteract stress hormones which trigger fat storage around the midsection. In other words, bell peppers act as a double belly-shrinking whammy! Veggies that pack a similar punch include zucchini, Brussels sprouts, and kale.
Like many other veggies, greens can also help you stay slim and keep your belly flat. “For clients that are looking to target their belly, I always recommending eating greens 2-3 times per day,” advises Lisa Hayim, MS, RD, founder of The Well Necessities and registered dietitian consultant for Emmy’s Organics. “When we make dietary choices, we usually load up on protein and complex carbohydrates like bread and rice. While these foods can be nutrient-dense, we miss out on major micronutrients that nourish us, fill us up, and happen to be calorically less dense. Thinking about ways to add greens to each meal is an excellent way to debloat and amp up your nutrients and fiber.”
Pass The Guacamole
Though avocados get a bad rap for being high in calories, they’re actually loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that make you feel less hungry. Need proof? A study in Nutrition Journal found that participants who ate half a fresh avocado with lunch reported a 40 percent decreased desire to eat for hours afterwards. What’s more? Unsaturated fats, such as those found in avocados seem, to prevent the storage of belly fat. In other words, those green goddesses can help you shrink your waist in two different ways.
Indulge In Some Dark Chocolate
Reaching for the dark chocolate in an effort to slim your waist may sound ridiculous, but there’s evidence to suggest that nibbling on the decadent treat has its perks. In fact, one study found that antioxidants in cocoa prevented laboratory mice from gaining excess weight and actually lowered their blood sugar levels. Another study at Louisiana State University found that gut microbes in our stomach ferment chocolate into heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory compounds that shut down genes linked to insulin resistance and inflammation. When paired with berries, the dark chocolate becomes even more effective because the fruit speeds up the fermentation process, leading to an even greater reduction in inflammation and weight.
Ready Some Raspberries
Speaking of berries, they also have qualities of their own that can help you shrink your belly. Raspberries, for example, pack more fiber and liquid than most other fruits, which boosts satiety. They’re a rich source of ketones, antioxidants that can make you slimmer by incinerating stored fat cells. Lastly, like other berries, raspberries are loaded with polyphenols, powerful natural chemicals that have been shown to decrease the formation of fat cells and eliminate abdominal fat.
And Blueberries, Too
Not to be outdone, research suggests blueberries can also help blast away stubborn belly fat by engaging your get-lean genes. After a 90-day trial, University of Michigan researchers discovered rats that were fed a blueberry-enriched diet showed significantly reduced belly fat than the control group.
Get Some Genistein
Like avocados, peanuts are also high in calories, but they have a hidden weapon in their weight-loss utility belt: Genistein. The compound, which can also be found in fava beans and soybeans, acts directly on the genes for obesity by turning them down and reducing your body’s ability to store fat.
Make A Cup Of White Tea
There are several different teas that can stimulate weight loss and help you burn belly fat, but because white tea works with your body in multiple ways to promote fat-burning, it’s really in a league of its own. According to a study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism white tea stops the formation of new fat cells while simultaneously boosting lipolysis, the body’s process of breaking down stored fat. Another group of researchers found that the tea is also a rich source of catechins, a type of antioxidant that triggers the release of fat from the cells and also accelerates the liver’s ability to turn fat into energy. Brew this and watch your belly shrink!
Want to flatten your tummy? Start your day by eating eggs. In one study with 21 participants, half were fed a breakfast of bagels while half ate eggs. The egg group had a lower response to ghrelin (the “hunger hormone,”) were less hungry three hours later, and consumed fewer calories over the course of the next day than the bagel eaters. What’s more? Egg yolks contain choline, a nutrient with powerful fat-burning properties.
Go Nuts For Nuts
Omega-3 fatty acids make salmon and some other fish nutritional stars partially because they play a key role in reducing belly fat storage while keeping us full and satisfied, but if fish isn’t your thing then reach for a handful of nuts instead. Just 1/4 cup of walnuts contains more than two day’s worth of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a type of omega 3. Walnuts have also been shown to reduce blood pressure and decrease inflammation in the blood vessels when you’re stressed, which in and of itself can help you keep your belly flat.
And Bananas For Bananas
Bloated belly? Snack on a banana. The tropical yellow fruits are packed with potassium, which helps regulate fluid balance to flatten belly bloat. Other potassium-rich foods include sweet potatoes, watermelon, and beets.
Embrace Acidic Foods
According to several studies, acidic foods help increase the rate at which the body burns off carbs by up to 40 percent. The faster you burn off carbs, the sooner your body starts incinerating fat, which can help you get a flat tummy and overall lean look. Translation: Grab a pickle jar and start snacking if you want to shrink your belly!
Learn To Love Whole Grains
While there’s no doubt many fruits and veggies can help you lose that bulge in your midsection, certain grains can lend a hand, too. A Tufts University study found that participants who ate three or more servings of whole grains per day had 10 percent less belly fat than people who ate the same amount of calories from refined carbs. In other words, swap out white bread, rice, and pasta in favor of oats, quinoa, brown rice, or wheat.
Go Cuckoo For Coconut Oil
A study of 30 men in the journal Pharmacology found that just 2 tablespoons per day reduced waist circumference by an average of 1.1 inches over the course of a month. Not too shabby. Coconut oil is a waist shrinker thanks, in part, to its medium chain triglycerides. Unlike the long-chain fatty acids found in animal sources of saturated fat, coconut oil doesn’t really raise your cholesterol and is more likely to be burned as energy than stored as fat.
Support Healthy Belly Bacteria
There are healthy belly bacteria, and then there are bad belly bacteria, the later of which studies indicate overweight people have more of in their gut. To keep the fat-causing bugs at bay, you need to eat a variety of foods that support their healthy counterparts—the kind found in the bellies of slim people. Examples of probiotic-rich foods that help you lose weight by aiding digestion include kefir, kombucha, and bone broth. Read up on our master list of 18 Best Probiotic Foods for a Healthy Gut.
Sprinkle Some Cilantro On Your Meal
Another bloat-busting food to have on hand is cilantro. The herb, though polarizing in terms of taste, contains a unique blend of oils that work much like over-the-counter meds to relax digestive muscles and alleviate an “overactive” gut. A study published in the journal Digestive Diseases and Science found that patients with IBS benefited from supplementing with cilantro as opposed to placebo because their bellies weren’t as bloated.
Beware Of Trans Fats
Olivia Tarantino/Eat This, Not That!
One final thing to avoid when buying, cooking, or ordering food is trans fats. These man-made fats are typically found in processed foods—such as boxed cake mixes. They’re a “Not That!” because, as noted in the journal Obesity, they’ve been found to pack on the belly fat in monkeys.
As it turns out, they’re not great for humans either. “Trans fats cause inflammation in the body leading to insulin resistance and impairing the body’s ability to use glucose properly, resulting in excess fat storage around the belly,” says Tina Marinaccio, MS, RD, CPT. Trans fats, which are created by partially hydrogenating vegetable oils, are beloved by manufacturers because they increase the shelf life of processed foods, but they are no friend to your waistline. “Trans fats may be lurking in any processed or fried food such as chips, baked goods, and even butter spreads,” Tina warns. “To avoid them, check the ingredients for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.”
Exercise Before You Eat
While there’s no need to hit a high-intensity spin class before you nosh, scientists in New Zealand recently found that men and women who engaged in three 10-minute exercise “hors d’oeuvres” before each meal saw lowered blood glucose levels—a fat-busting benefit these folks displayed all day long! If that task sounds too daunting, then start out by taking a walk around the office before lunch and build from there.
Try Strength Training
Strength training is a great way to stay in shape and build up muscle, and because muscle mass burns more calories than fat (not a lot, but every little bit counts!), the more muscle on your skeleton, the quicker you will lose the fat throughout your body, especially around your abdomen. A simple way to build up muscle via strength training is to do push-ups or planks.
Or Some Varied Cardio
If a cardio workout is more your speed, consider going for a walk or run, but remember to vary your speeds. “Why?” you ask. Research has shown it will help you shrink your belly. In a Danish study reported by the American Diabetes Association, two groups of people with type 2 diabetes were put on a walking program. One group walked at a steady speed, while the other group varied their walking speed. After four months, the interval-training group lost eight more pounds than the steady walkers. Even better, the walkers who changed up their speeds lost visceral belly fat and improved their blood sugar control.
Give High-Intensity Interval Training A Shot
High-intensity interval training (or HIIT) is a great belly-blasting option for those who already feel comfortable in the gym because it helps you drop fatty tissue and build muscle simultaneously. “High-intensity interval training is when you perform an exercise at or close to your maximum ability for a short period of time and then take a brief respite and do it again. HIIT should usually be done on a 2:1 interval, meaning if you did an exercise for one minute, you rest for 30 seconds and then repeat,” explains Dr. Alex Tauberg, DC, CSCS, EMR. To use HIIT to shrink your belly, do workouts that engage your core such as abdominal crunches or bridges. “By performing core workouts using a HIIT plan, you can burn calories and build muscle at the same time,” Alex adds. “This can be a great way to flatten that stomach when you don’t have too much time to work out.”
Hop On A Trampoline
Sure, trampolines are built for kids, but as an adult using one for rebounding is a great way to flatten your tummy. “Not only is it a great cardio workout (which is the first step to tightening up your midsection) but it makes your core work like crazy so you are getting the cardio plus the toning,” explains Hope Pedraza, a Certified Personal Trainer through American College of Sports Medicine “Everything you need for a tight tummy!” To get a comprehensive workout using a mini trampoline, Hope suggests jumping, lifting your knees up high, twisting, adding some light weights to move around while you’re jumping, and moving in all directions in different planes.
Dance, Dance, Dance
In the words of Lady Gaga, “Just Dance!” Explains Hope, “Dance cardio really is an amazing way to trim belly fat because it is going to help shed fat on the body as a whole. It is obviously a cardio workout, but because your body is forced to move in all different directions in different planes, it is making every single muscle in your body work. Similar to the benefits of a HIIT workout, you get the cardio plus toning benefit all in one,” she explains, noting that she teaches a dance cardio class at inBalance, the fitness and wellness studio she founded in San Antonio. “In the case of our dance cardio class, it is set up in an interval style workout because bringing your heart rate up and down multiples times amps up the challenge on your metabolism, getting you into fat burning mode even after you’re done working out.” Bye-bye belly fat!
Shed Weight Quickly
Despite the common perception that you need to drop pounds slowly in order to maintain your weight loss, the exact opposite is true. In fact, you’re more than five times as likely to succeed in your long-term weight-loss goals if you start out of the gate by dropping pounds rapidly, according to a 2013 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. To focus on rapid weight loss in your midsection, do any of the exercises mentioned above, and eat more fiber and less sugar. For more waistline wisdom, don’t miss these 35 Weight-Loss Ideas To Lose Weight Fast.
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