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Weight change & associated health problems

Support for weight loss - family, friends & colleagues

In this section, we explore what people told us about talking to family, friends and colleagues about their weight.

The people we spoke to differed in how helpful they found it to talk about their health and weight with others. Not everyone wanted to discuss weight with friends and family; for example, Julie thought her daughter found it boring to listen to, while her sisters would find it awkward because they are overweight when she no longer is.
 

Julie doesn’t really talk to anybody about her successful weight loss because she thinks they find it boring, or it makes them feel awkward if they are overweight.

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Age at interview: 73
Sex: Female
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Okay and do you talk to friends or family about what you are doing in terms of diet, maintaining and health….?

No, because nobody seems especially interested and it’s such a bore isn’t it meeting people and saying, “Oh well I’ve done this and I’ve eaten this,…” [makes snoring sound].

[Laughs.]

So, talking to my daughter well it’s like, “Oh stop nagging mum,” you know. Because obviously if I tell what I’m doing she’ll, that’s boring for her as well because that’s not on her list of dos and it’s not on her shopping list. So, it’s like, “Oh, mum do stop going on,” you know. So no I don’t talk to other, I sometimes talk to my sisters about it, occasionally. But I don’t like to talk too much about it because they don’t seem to have the same discipline as me and it makes them feel a bit awkward.

You know, like I talk to my sister the other day and I said, “Well, I’ll be out walking and I’ll probably being doing this, doing…” She said, “Oh, oh I sometimes feel like going for a walk and I can’t be bothered,” you know, and I feel as though I’m almost sort of bragging a bit or putting, making them feel awkward, so I don’t talk about it. Don’t talk about my weight or anything or their weight because I know they’re much heavier than me. So I don’t want to make them feel awkward.

Yeah.

So, I don’t really talk to anybody about it, no.
 

 

Lina tries not to bother her family with her weight issues because she doesn’t want to be a burden.

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Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
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You have your family there you can sort of talk to and ….

Yes, well I don’t want to bother them [laughs].

Okay.

I try not, I try to make it that I don’t want to bother them too much. I don’t want to be the old sister that everyone thinks, ‘Oh God, oh, she’s calling me again. I’m not answering it.’ I don’t want to be one of those ones, so I don’t.

Okay.

Fuss them all the time and I realise sometimes it might get them, they might be having a really good day and then I ring them up and say, “Oh guess what….” you know?

I don’t like to bring people down when I’m already down, so what I try to do is do something to make myself upbeat or just completely not talk about the subject. If they bring it up, but start on a nice note, “Hi, how are you today?” you know, start off like that and, and go from there. But I never, I hate starting off a conversation with, ‘Oh, I’m sick or this happened to me today.’ I realise it’s not good.
 

Liz said all of her friends were slim and “they wouldn’t particularly understand”. Lesley said she would talk to family about her weight but not friends because it was too personal a subject, while Carole said she would find it too embarrassing.
 

Carole can talk to her friends about her MS and her epilepsy but not her weight, because it is “too embarrassing”.

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Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
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Tell me about sort of support around you. I mean you live on your own?
 
I live on my own. My son it at university and he comes back every now and then but not, yeah, I’m on my own now so.
 
And what about friends and family around or…?
 
My, no family, my twin sister died suddenly and my mum and dad have both died and my other sister is in New Zealand, so no family nearby, well, no family here. I’ve got some good friends. A couple of my friends who have, probably my best friends, my closest friends have fallen out with me because they found, not fallen out, I think they find my health issues too difficult to cope with so they’ve completely backed off and that’s very weird.
 
So but I’ve got some, I have got some other good friends, yeah. But I’m quite a private person with, I’ll talk about my health but not about my weight. I find it too embarrassing. It’s yeah.
 
And with your good friends, you don’t like to touch the issue of weight gain?
 
No.
 
Okay
Which is strange. I can talk to them about the MS. I can talk to them about the epilepsy, anything that’s like that, that’s medical but I can’t talk to them about the weight. It’s too embarrassing somehow.

(For more on support see “Local and National NHS/Charity support for weight management specifically for people with chronic conditions” and “Online and other digital sources of information and support for weight loss”.)

Family

As the clip from Julie highlights, talking about weight and health with family members can be a sensitive issue, not least because family members may face similar weight-related health problems. Ellie said her sisters were both motivated to successfully lose weight when she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. There can be different dynamics with different family members. June said she and her brother support each other with food: “I use him and he uses me for a bit of, like confessionals to do with food… we try to be a bit positive about it”. However, she wouldn’t bring up concerns about her grandson’s eating habits for fear of being seen to interfere by her daughter-in-law.
 

Kate’s family tell her that she is looking too thin now she has lost weight. Her sister didn’t speak to her for two years after Kate offered to help her lose weight.

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
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I’m interested to find out what your family has, kind of how have they reacted? Have they been supportive or are they amazed or?
 
Well that’s interesting My sister says, “You’re looking too thin. You’re looking peaky.” She’s very obese and so. I once said to her, “What can we do to help you lose weight?” She didn’t speak to me for two years. So it’s a very sensitive subject in our family. And my father is always, my mother is always trying to make my father lose weight and it’s a sort of a family joke. And he won’t do it. And my mother she again says, “Oh you are too thin, you’re too thin. You’re looking ill.” They don’t, they don’t like it. They don’t like it.

Siblings, parents and extended family can all be part of a support network, or be perceived as part of the problem. Heather’s mother was a PE and cookery teacher, and Heather had found her helpful over the years. By contrast, Ellie had a difficult relationship with her mother, who would say cruel things to her about her weight.
 
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Ellie’s relationship with her mother was made worse by her mother’s “cruel” remarks about her weight. Her two sisters are trying to lose weight after Ellie was diagnosed with diabetes.

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Age at interview: 69
Sex: Female
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My mother was quite cruel. She never missed an opportunity to say, “You’re fat.” And that was awful and like she’s come at Christmas and she’d say, “I’ve brought you some chocolates but by the look of you, I shouldn’t have bothered.” She’d say it really scathing things like that or horrible things, like, once she was in, she was having a bypass vein in her leg and she said to me, “It’s just as well you don’t need an operation, they’d never get through.” I thought, ‘That’s really cruel and that made me feel really, really sort of childish and defeated and it caused a lot of problems for me in my relationship with her.

She got worse as she got older, much worse. She was all right when my dad was alive, but once he died she fought him all her life, she started to fight with me and she’d pick real fights in public, it was horrible. But her favourite one was to say, “You’re needing to,…” what was it, “you’re needing to starve yourself for a week,” or something and she’s sitting there with her bacon roll [laughs] and that was hard. But my son has never said anything to me, but he hates me being fat, I know he does. It doesn’t bother me with him and my two sisters are like me so, we just laugh at each other…

Okay.

...but me being diagnosed has had a good effect for them because they’re both trying now not to get diabetes. Like [sister’s] started first, she’s the youngest and she’s fifty-five. She started about five years ago and she’s got all her weight off and she looks like somebody of thirty. She looks great. Whereas, [sister’s] five years younger than me and she only started last year, and she’s lost about a stone, so she’s, she’s doing all right. But I’m sure that was the trigger was me being diagnosed.

Okay.

Absolutely positive it was.
 

When Shirley got to her biggest, she became so depressed about her weight that her oldest sister took her aside for a chat. She said, “then I knew I had to take a grip of it and they were really good, my sisters, because they were all like, ‘How are you doing this week?’ and ‘How much have you lost?’ And it was nice to have that support there”. June, Lina, June X, Joan, Sue X and Sue Y all mentioned supportive sisters or brothers who they could talk to about their weight.
 

Sue X and her sister support each other by text messaging and sharing recipes.

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Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
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Have you, have you sort of kind of experience of losing weight sort of maybe influencing your sisters or asking, or are they asking you for kind of advice?
 
Yeah, my, my middle sister who’s, who’s really pretty overweight, she’s doing Slimming World now. So, she’s just lost two stone now. She’s probably still got about another four or five to go. But, so last week she didn’t lose and she was quite disheartened. But so, I text her all the time to find out how she’s getting on and I keep motivating her and we send each other pictures of the meals that we’re cooking to kind of support each other, and if I come across a good recipe that I’ve tried, I’ll send it to her and she does the same back.

Support could also come from a partner or spouse, be it sharing the same meals, words of encouragement or a shoulder to cry on. Some of the people we spoke with said it was a support just knowing that their partner loved them whatever shape or size they were. Sometimes support was more practical. For example, Sandra’s husband had bought her an air fryer so that they wouldn’t have to eat greasy food anymore (an air fryer uses circulating hot air to cook food that would otherwise be deep fried in oil). Sue Y’s partner went with her to a course for diabetics which taught them about healthy eating. He now eats the same food that she eats and helps to keep her on track not to overeat. When partners shared the same healthy meals, it was not only practical and convenient, but also a form of moral support. Hilary’s husband was so supportive of her weight loss regime that he offered to give up his favourite food at Christmas – sherry trifle. Jim’s wife encouraged him to get into Slimming World and keeps him in check when it comes to how much chocolate he’s eating.
 

Jim and Linda have been married for 47 years. She actively encourages him with his weight management.

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Age at interview: 71
Sex: Male
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Jim: Well this is Linda, my wonderful wife, and I must say that I’m incredibly lucky with the way this is all panned out for me. A lot of the things I’ve, I have I’m sort of only just in frame for anyway and I don’t think my weight is, is a great big issue. Literally it’s not and as I say I’m 83k today, so Linda’s been a great help and a very supportive wife. We’ve been married for 47 years and she instigated us taking a really positive interest in Slimming World, so you’re probably the best one to explain.

See, I just take this medical knowledge that I get from my wife who’s got such a good background in, wide experience in all this stuff. It’s wonderful for me to have a partner and I’m very conscious that I’m probably statistically one of the few that have got such a wonderful set up and I’m very, very, I mean I would do my best for her as well, but I don’t have the background and she does it all the time.

Linda: Mm.

Jim: So I’m very, very fortunate and I do realise that and I’m also very sensitive that a lot of people don’t have anybody to help with this which is, which is…

Linda: It’s natural instinct for me…

Jim: ...life.

Linda:…..and I used to do cholesterol testing and everything and I used to have to advise the patients, so I’ve got all that as well which is quite interesting and I say to him, “Your dark chocolate, it was, it was a couple of pieces a day, not the whole bar.”

Jim: Oh, I don’t have that. Not the whole bar [laughs]. That is extreme.

Linda: It does vanish from the cupboard [laughs].
 

 

Liz says her husband “would do anything” to help her but he doesn’t know what to do.

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Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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I'm such a lucky girl – I've got a lovely life, I've got a fantastic husband, and I feel like I've let myself and him down you know. He loves me despite... I mean I was... what am I, fourteen and a half... sixteen and a half.. .I was two and a half stone lighter when we met. He still loves me. I keep telling him there's more of me to love now, but hey.
 
But he's six foot five and at some points in our life together in the last five years, there has been less than half a stone between us. I mean that’s just, you know, he's a big strapping bloke, and that is so depressing. And we had occasion to meet up with some of his family, and his ex-wife was there, a few weeks ago, and I cannot tell you how awful I felt. I felt like I'd let him down because I was fat. And I try so hard.
 
You said that you have a wonderful husband?
 
Yeh
 
Is this something that you can talk about?
 
Oh yeah, he knows, he knows.
 
He knows how you feel?
 
Oh god yeh, he's seen me come back from my slimming class and he'll go, "How did you get on?" and I'll just burst into tears, and the poor bloke he doesn’t know what to do with me [laughs]. What's he supposed to do? You know, he's not great with women that cry; no men are. If you want anything from a man, just cry. He's ... you know he's... he would do anything to help me, but he doesn’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do really. Because whatever I'm doing isn't working, so perhaps I don’t know what to do either you know. He would do anything.

Not everyone found their spouse supportive, however. Zaida said that her healthy cooking got on her husband’s nerves. Kate said her ex-husband used to try and control her and hide chocolate, which she described as “an area of tension”. Jane felt angry with her partner for not getting on board with her plans for healthy eating.
 

Sometimes Jane gets angry with her partner for not supporting her efforts to eat healthy food.

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Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
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Now I’ve finished work a bit late and it’s my partner who is actually cooking because he gets in before me, so I always tell him, you know, “Just be careful what you put in the food,” things like that and I say, sometimes I get like angry because I said, “You know I can’t eat that, why did you cook it?” you know what I mean…

Okay.

….but that’s a bit selfish, yeah.

Okay, okay so you have to tell him?

Yeah what I need to eat and if he says, sometimes he choose like, okay, “Yeah I’ll prepare something else for, for you,” or like, I would say, “the pasta,” then I would say, you know, “just cook the brown pasta.” “Oh, I’ve cooked it.” “Well then maybe freeze it and then next time I can have it or something like that.”

But he will cook for you, the brown one?

Yeah, yes, I will say to him, you know, “Could you please just cook that for me,”

Okay.

To make, yeah, to make changes or….

Hm-mm and so in which other ways he support you? I mean with your, because he knows that you want to eat differently to look after your health.

Yeah, I don’t, I don’t know, I’m the one who buy the food each week [laughs].

Okay.

And I probably will have, like, say, for example, today I said to him, I always tell him what to, what to cook, like some, yeah, he might choose unhealthy stuff. Yeah and I will say, “Okay that’s fine, you know, if you want.” Like, for example, yesterday he asked me to buy a baguette, but I know he wouldn’t even have a multigrain baguette and he would like white baguette, so I just got him that and I will eat mine. But yeah, I don’t know, I mean I’m not sure if he, I have to remind him all the time like, you know, “Don’t put too much oil,” and things like that. I think I have to tell him otherwise I don’t think he will just bothered or to know what I’m eating or not, yeah.

So, you have to kind of educate him?

Yeah, I educate him and say, “Look, I can’t have that, then, you know, don’t, don’t do it.” Or sometimes I just say, “You know what, just eat it yourself,” because I feel angry, you know what I mean. I feel like, ‘Okay, you know I can’t eat it then, then just leave it. I’ll eat something else.

Yeah.

Like, today I said to him I put some salmon into the, to defrost. So I said to him, “If you don’t mind cook some new potatoes and there’s broccoli,” and then I say, “whatever,” because I know whatever he wants to be cooking I can go home and make a bit of vegetable on my side because he probably, I don’t know, he loves potato but he probably wouldn’t even have the salmon or I don’t know what he wants to cook with it, yeah.

Okay so that’s the thing. I suppose a little bit more help would be useful?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I think from him if he’s, if he’s cooking and saying, “Okay you know what I can have, what can I have?” Or any simple dinner. I said to him, “It’s important for us to eat healthier.” I keep reminding him that as well because I said to him, you know, “You eat butter, you would drink coke and things like that which is not good.”
 

Grown up children could also be a source of support, motivation and information. Lesley said that both her adult children have become slim and keen on healthy eating. Her son in particular is interested in understanding the effect of food in the body and he has become “like my dietician”.
 

Lesley says that she gets lots of support from both her children, who have managed to keep their weight ‘under control’ - particularly her son, who studied biochemistry.

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Age at interview: 60
Sex: Female
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And both my children were overweight when they were growing up as teenagers. My daughter was quite overweight. Never knew why because she was always, she always ate healthily, but as they’ve grown up they’ve both become quite keen on being slim and being healthy and eating healthy. They’ve sort of taught themselves.

My son especially is very much into all different ways of eating. Not so much a diet but understanding the effect of food in your body, so he’s, he becomes like my dietician. You don’t want to mix that with that sort of thing or have this. So that’s been quite, I think we’ve learnt a lot from here because, you know, there were times when they both got, can get quite chunky and now they sort of keep it all controlled, so that in a way is a good thing.

Probably having that support as a family round you is, is it makes it so much easier than perhaps trying to do it on your own or if you’re living with someone who says, “This is what I’m going to have, my pie and chips.” I don’t have that at all. I just have nothing but support. I think that makes it a lot easier.
 

Friends

Good friends could be a great source of support. June X felt that her friends had done as much for her as her immediate family – “my friends are, you know, really do their darndest”. Having friends who also had weight issues could provide a particular bond, because the experiences of gaining and losing weight were shared. Ellie said she didn’t really like joining things or going to clubs but had her small circle of friends who all had the same interests: “there’s our little group and we do the same things and support each other… all of us have got an issue with weight, so that always helps and you can help each other sometimes”.
 

Although Myra doesn’t talk to her family much about her weight, she has a good group of friends who are really supportive.

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
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Can you talk to friends and family about issues to do with weight?

Friends. Not, not so much family. I do to my sister a bit, but I think she thinks, ‘Oh Myra just eats too much.’ Because her attitude to food is so different to mine, but friends, yes, yes. My friend who’s lost three stone is ever so helpful and ever so supportive and she said to me recently, she said, “Look, Myra, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve put a few pounds on after having a hip done because, you know, it, a) the hip is probably heavier than the one they took out [laughs]…

Yeah.

…..but also you’ve been inactive and recovering.”

 

Kate finds support in her close girlfriends.

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
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What about sort of support group? Do you have not a support group…
 
Yeah
 
…but sources of support?
 
Oh close girlfriends. Close girlfriends in fact another girl, a very dear girlfriend of mine has also lost a lot of weight recently but she’s been through a trauma, a marital trauma if you put it like that. So she and I are texting each other to say, “Look let’s go and buy some new pants and bras because we are too small now.” And so that’s been very supportive, very supportive. You know telling each other how good we look. And how we are having to buy new clothes and things.
 
Ok
 
Or dig out old ones, haven’t worn these for months for years. Yeah.

 

Janet felt she was treated differently by doctors when she was bigger. She would like health teams to offer more support for weight loss.

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Age at interview: 62
Sex: Female
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Do you have any messages for health professionals who want to help people with weight control?

I seriously think they should be, especially the health teams, I think they should be more supportive. There’s support out there if you’re drug abusers. There’s support out there if you’re alcoholics. There’s support out there if you’re smokers. The support for people that are fat is not there. I don’t care what anybody says, it’s kind of “You’re eating too much, go home and diet.” It’s, that’s no always the cause. We’re not all alike. Everybody’s different and I think they should take that on board, health care workers.

Okay. So, do you think there was a kind of judgement there?

I, oh, definitely. Definitely and something I’ve never thought, I’ve always been a confident lady and when I were big, I’ve always had loads of friends and, you know, I’ve always been the life and soul. Never bothered me. But somebody once said to me, “If you’re slimmer, people treat you differently,” and I said, “Rubbish.” It’s very true that.

You have found that out?

It’s absolutely. Especially on the health teams, yeah. Doctors like to sit and look me in the face now. I cannot tell you, people will look at you rather than look at you. They’ll look at me, they’ll look at me face and talk to me direct. When I were bigger, and I never thought that could ever possibly be true. So that came as a huge shock to me…..

That’s very interesting.

….and it’s true. You were just like a blob on the face of the earth, weren’t you? People now talk to me, talk to me, to me face.

So, do you think they were embarrassed or…?

I don’t know but I, I, but if you’d have asked me when I was as big as I were, would I think I were treated any different, I would say, “Truthfully, no because the group of friends I had, nobody ever looked at me like I were big.” I mean, these friends that have come in now, we’ve been friends since we were babies, they’ve never looked at me any different. Fat or thin, I’ve always just been Janet haven’t I? So, I never thought that strangers would ever treat me in a different way and yes, they do. Absolutely, one hundred per cent.

The workplace was another area of life where some of the people we spoke to found support. Although colleagues could be critical of weight gain – for example, Angela felt criticised for putting on weight after having her son – more often than not, support could be found amongst pockets of colleagues in a similar situation. This could help in workplaces like Shirley’s that had a ‘cake and biscuits’ culture.
 

Shirley was one of several colleagues who were all on the same weight management programme.

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Age at interview: 56
Sex: Female
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Can you talk to your friends and family about issues to do with weight management or diet or things like that?

Yeah, I’ve got, I’ve got, family are fine. At work, I’ve got three or four girls, we’re all on the Slimming World, which is quite handy because you have got that awful staff room that ends up with biscuits in it and whatever, and you do get people like, because one or two of us are doing it, you know somebody could walk in. So yeah, I’ve got work colleagues that you can, I’ve got, actually one friend that I do work with that is a teacher, she’s never dieted in her life and she said she’d never ever get on that bandwagon because she said, “I know, but I think I balance my week out,” she said, “because I would never get..” and I look at her and I think, ‘No, you don’t need to.’ She’s not ultra-skinny but she’s not overweight either. So she’s got the right balance in her week where she enjoys her food, but she doesn’t have to, and I sort of look at her thinking, ‘Wish I could be like that.’

 

At work, Joan and her colleagues weighed themselves once a week and put money in a kitty to be shared out before Christmas.

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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When you started losing weight, was it gradual?

Yes, I had lost about three stones before anybody noticed. I: Okay. Because some of the guys in work went, “Have you lost weight?” and I was like that “Ay, I’ve lost a wee bit.’ And one of my other colleagues, “What do you mean, you’ve lost a wee bit. How much have you lost?” And I was like, “Nearly three stone.” And they’re like that, “Oh my God.” But what we used to do in work when I started losing weight was that we would, everybody would weigh themselves once a week and we all paid two pounds a week but rather than and, at Christ-, the week before Christmas you all got your money back [laughs]. So that went quite well, and it was just one girl who done it and it was only you that knew your weight and at the end of the time the used to ask, “So who’s lost the most weight this week?” “Oh, that’s a secret.” You know, so it was quite confidential, so that was quite good, that helped as well.
 

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