An overview and a happy story--big changes! Or, raw vegan to Paleo

I have a happy story to share today. Something I've been wanting to post for a long time, but I get nervous. I'm not sure when it all started--either January 2010 or Christmas 2012, but now, January 2015 when I feel the best I ever have, it's time to let the cat out of the bag and share my successes.

Warning: if this stuff (health, body image, lifestyle) doesn't interest you, feel free to skip this post. I'm often hesitant to share content like this, but I'm passionate about it now and I hope my story can help others--so I'm writing for those of you who this will really speak to.

I've posted about my shift from raw vegan to Paleo, but a lot has changed since then, and I often get questions from people asking if I feel better now, or why I like one better. And I have a hard time answering. I'm very conscious of how much I talk about food and health, since not everyone likes to hear about it. I don't want to be the cheerleader no one wants to listen to, rah-rah-rahing about how great my new trend diet is. BUT, there's so much to say. So many things I want you to know if you are interested. My way of eating has dramatically improved my health, alleviated or removed many of my physical and mental heath issues, and given me a new passion for lifelong health. I know there are people out there who struggle with ongoing issues and may someday find the diet that works best for them. If hearing my story helps them explore the massive world of internet knowledge and find their solution, that'd be awesome.

So I'll start in the middle.

Pre-Phase 1: 10-Year Vegetarian, then Mostly Raw Vegan


Hope these graphics are helpful! I thought they'd be easier than a paragraph explaining all my symptoms and changes.


During both my vegetarian and raw vegan phases, I thought I was "fine" despite my ongoing health problems.

But then... my husband changed everything. Sure, I thought I was fine, but he was struggling with health problems, too, and he started learning about leaders in the Paleo and Bulletproof Diet trends. (He ate mostly vegan, also very low fat, with more cooked foods than I did but very rarely meat or dairy.) He wasn't sure how to talk to me about this, but he basically said he wanted to start eating a lot of grassfed beef and butter. Turns out a high fat (30-50% of calories from healthy, unprocessed fats) diet makes people lose weight and feel better, he was learning. I was very uncomfortable with his new interests.

I'll skip over my reaction to this shocking development from my until-then compliant mostly vegan husband. (He now has a blog, Grassfed Geek.)

As I did research of my own and began to learn more about high fat, grassfed beef- and butter-filled diets, I realized I couldn't argue. I had never felt solid in my reasons behind being vegan, and I realized there was a lot of science on both sides, but I felt much more confident in the science on the ancestral, human diet side (omnivorous diet).

So, I began transitioning to eat a higher fat, less raw vegan diet.

Phase 1: More fat, cooked veggies



Amazing what a difference FAT makes! Energy is good.

So, as I continued to research (listened to lots of podcasts and read lots of blogs and books), I got excited about making the leap to eating meat again! (Husband was excited. He started eating meat regularly, too.)

Phase 2: Meat, & no longer fruit/raw sugar at every meal



The weight loss was surprising at the time (I didn't realize how much muscle and bone mass I'd lost). Skipping Phase 1, since it was pretty short, but compare these photos from the summer before (Pre-Phase 1) and three months into eating meat (March 2013, Phase 2).

I look at that first photo now and feel shocked. Look at the bags under my eyes. Look at the tiny arms that don't look like they could hold much up without collapsing. I won't go into body image much in this post since it's a huge topic, but at the point in this photo I thought that I was pretty small but still could lose some body fat. (!) When I look at the Phase 2 photo, I remember that I was a little self-conscious that I was getting heavier--but those jeans are minuscule. My butt is tiny. My face looks much fuller, though. I still wore the same clothes, although my bras fit more snugly! Those 10 pounds went to my muscles and boobs.

Side note: While there's no photo of it, pre-pre-phase 1 (high school, college, grad school) I was never such a low weight. I wasn't built skinny--no one in my family has the Taylor Swift genes, more the ScarJo genes--and I was never as small as I was in my raw vegan years. Hence why the Pre-Phase 1 photo is so scary to me now.

Phase 3: Complicated! With a happy ending.


Things were going really well. I felt energized and healthy eating meat from local sources, and no longer drinking smoothies and juices all the time and not feeling any more satisfied. (My husband lost about 40 pounds eating meat and fat and cutting out grains and sugars.) I was so excited to have found Paleo, and loved learning more about humans, diet, history, health, modern medicine pitfalls, the food industry, local food, sustainable food, movement, training, and all those topics I still love.

So then...


These photos show the end of Phase 2 to the beginning of Phase 3. As you can see, they were taken about a month apart. This was the beginning of my weight gain, and while I could still wear some of the same clothes, my face and arms were fuller (and the dress fit more snugly).


And then, the post-medication weight gain was very difficult. I look at photos taken a month apart and I remember the struggle I had having to buy all new jeans and shorts in that short period, gaining 20 pounds and not knowing when it would end.

But, it did end eventually. The weight gain continued for another month or so, but slower. There's a warning, folks--don't get on ADHD medication unless you absolutely have to. So crazy to gain that much weight so fast after getting off it.

So I learned:


But that's not really part of this story. What the whole "Paleo" thing has taught me is 1) which foods irritate me and which work for me (almost everyone who eats "Paleo" defines their own parameters based on trial and error, eliminating foods) and 2) Why are we modeling diet after our ancestors, again? There are so many things in our modern lives that don't make us happier. Hunching over our desks all day. Medicating ourselves (in my case, anyway) before addressing the root of my hormone, neurotransmitter, and gut issues. Getting flat feet from wearing positive-heeled shoes. Irritating our skin with industrial beauty products. (Speaking for myself about all these things, no judgment to others.) Eating "Paleo" to me means taking care of my body with what is natural and easy for me.

Being on that medication was not right for me--I knew it at the time but denied it. Eating only fruit and salad was not right for me. Now, I eat incredible, high quality food and I feel good almost all the time. Those are two huge wins for me. I've also learned that I feel great when I lift heavy weights regularly, and stand at my desk at work big parts of the day. If all those positive things mean I weigh more than I did when I was unhealthy, well... so what??

Today: Health is the goal.


I'll skip ahead a few sub-phases to some images taken in the past few months. Again, I can't really go into body image today, but if you read my post the other week you know I'm very excited to celebrate physical strength as a goal, and (as evidenced above!) you can imagine that I don't believe being skinny at any cost is a good thing. I like these photos of me because I look happy, strong, and HEALTHY.

That's what this journey has taught me so far. Oh, and how we eat today? I am SO totally tired of the word "Paleo," but we do still eat what can easily be defined as The Paleo Diet, although I think of it as "real food" more than anything else. Husband can tolerate dairy, I can't. He can also do white rice, which I only eat occasionally. As much as we're all human and there are foods that our bodies have evolved to eat, we also all have our individual tolerances and once we cut out the processed foods, we can identify which foods make us feel best. That's part of why it feels so great to eat what seems like a limited diet.

But I didn't want to talk about our diet as much in this post as I wanted to share the incredible positive changes that I can't believe I've experienced through changing my food! (If you want to learn more about Paleo, I shared some more in this post along with a couple short lists of resources.)

Here's to health!

2017 update:


I wish I could say I felt 100% comfortable in my body no matter what size it was when I'm in good health. But, I didn't always feel good about the size and weight I had arrived at despite other successes. In 2016 I played with the macronutrient ratios in my diet and increased carbs while reducing fat and increasing protein, and lost and kept off several pounds, though tracking felt too restrictive after a few months. I continued to work out about 3x/week until we moved into our fixer upper in October 2016 and our lives (and home gym) have been turned upside down by house projects for a while! Now I get in 1-2 workouts per week and maybe yoga.

I've also found I can tolerate white rice, some dairy, and some legumes better than I did early into my healing Paleo diet days. Eating Paleo for me was a path to learning about my body and healing my relationship with food, and while it was a fantastic template, my diet some days includes non-strict Paleo things at multiple meals.

I should probably post a more recent photo of myself post-intentional weight loss. But it's winter and I'm wearing tons of layers in all the recent photos. I'll try to add one sometime soon!

49 comments

  1. Your happiness and confidence beams brighter and brighter with every phase. Congratulations on finding a lifestyle and mentality that works best for you!

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  2. What an interesting account of what was going on! You were very self-aware! I will say this, though, you look great now!

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  3. Even though I may have SPAM at breakfast, I may have kale at dinner. It's about balance. :)

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  4. Love this post! Thank you so much for sharing your health journey. I appreciate a voice for health and strength in a culture that obsesses about being skinny.

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  5. What a great post - it was very brave and thorough to share the journey to find out what your body likes and doesn't like, and what makes you happy. It is an important point you are making on how food can affect us on multiple levels and we should be thoughtful and aware of its effects, good and bad, and adjust!

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  6. I agree with everyone below, great post! it can be scary to share these types of things, but I enjoyed the post and lots of good information!

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  7. Good for you for sharing your journey so thoughtfully. It is so wonderful to find out exactly what our body needs. Thank you for sharing!

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  8. I absolutely LOVE this post. Thank you for sharing your journey. So glad you are feeling strong and healthy. I agree: good overall health should be the main goal, not skinny!

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  9. It makes me happy to see that women are starting to focus more on being healthy than on being skinny! Thanks for sharing your story!

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  10. Its so amazing to see the difference in your health and appearance - You look gorgeous as always girl!

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  11. Thank you for this brave brave post. It's really interesting to see your body in the phases, and also that once you started feeding your brain, you were able to get off medication. (Not that it is the answer for everyone)

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  12. This is so great! I totally agree with everything you said! My husband and I switched to Paleo/whole food diet almost 6 months ago at the suggestion of my doctor. (also I'm a big believer of your way of paleo too. Learning what your body does best with and remove the food it doesn't tolerate) It's been totally life changing! We feel better, don't crave the sweets anymore, lost weight, are stronger, the list goes on. I feel the same way you do, it's hard to not talk about it when you feel so much better and want others to feel the same way. I love your outlook on gaining a little weight, but feeling healthy and strong. That's one thing that I'm working on. Since we changed our diet, I stopped craving the sweets and junk and actually consume a few too little calories. Even though I felt good and full, my body needs more. So now I need to gain a little! reaching for more avocados & grass fed beef :) Thank you for sharing your story. Please continue to do so. & some recipes! :))

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  13. Thank you for that wonderful compliment!

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  14. Congrats!! It just gets better =) I do have some recipes, all Paleo-friendly, http://www.create-enjoy.com/p/real-food-recipes.html.

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  15. It's so important! I hope the message continues to spread!!

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  16. Wow! LOOK AT YOU!! Healthy really does show up as happy.

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  17. What an inspiring journey. I'd love to try paleo but not sure how to do it with kids at home. Can you recommend a good cookbook for parents?

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  18. Hi Justine - my book, "Practical Paleo," is perfect for anyone new to Paleo. It gives you an easy-to-understand foundation (along with a chart on poop all kids love!) and over 100 easy, weeknight-friendly recipes along with that (all with photos). It's anywhere books are sold and on Amazon. It's the #1 selling book on Paleo out there. My best to you - hope to hear about your journey!

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  19. Paleo Parents is the resource for you - https://www.facebook.com/PaleoParents. The have a new book out called Real Life Paleo that helps you transition into Paleo. They also have a book called
    Eat Like a Dinosaur: Recipe & Guidebook for Gluten-free Kids.

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  20. Really proud of your progress Suzannah! Good job sticking to the changes and being brave enough to share your changes and struggles!

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  21. What a courageous and important post, Suzannah. I think one of most important takeaways from this is that defining one's relationship with food is a journey. (My personal journey has included a lot of speed bumps!) You are so beautiful, and it is genuinely uplifting to read that you are feeling happy and healthy and strong now inside your own skin these days. I think, ultimately, that is what we are all striving for.

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  22. Healthy does feel so much better than skinny ! Great story, thanks for sharing.

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  23. This was a great post to read. I went through a similar journey which involved weight training and eating what I called "clean", Real food, portion controlled, no dairy and only meat was chicken, There was one "cheat" meal a week where I could eat anything and as much as I wanted. This causes you to really narrow down what you truly love eating. Also no alcohol except for cheat meals. Weight lifting worked for me in a way nothing else did, and I had had performed my share of aerobic classes, step classes, etc. By weight lifting, I didn't feel stress, was only keeping up with myself and doing what I was capable of, at MY OWN pace. It was relaxing, actually. Cardio was somewhat of a component, but not crucial. A half hour every three days, but really, just getting weight off was more important, so regular weight lifting and eating properly were most important. The biggest thing was, YOU HAVE TO EAT to gain muscle and the long term benefits far outweigh anything else. Better for your bones too - ling term. Your body, after all, is held together by your muscles, with no muscle mass, you are more prone to injury. As we age, this becomes more and more important, particularly after 50, so the sooner you start, and if you can maintain, the better off you will be for your whole life. Emphasis on "whole". If we are lucky, that will be a long time, and having bodies that can sustain us is very important. I lost 60 pounds total over 2 years. Eventually I stopped exercising as much, but still ate well and maintained for about another 6 years, but slowly and after stopping weight lifting completely the weight has come back on, but I know why. I also know how to get it off. I know what works for me, and I know that even though I eat healthy, my body is one that NEEDS physical exercise. It just is that way. The good part is I enjoy exercising, but I just haven't had "time" for a number of reasons, but I also know there will be a time for it soon again. I was never a small person either, and I never will be. Like you, I don't have the genes, but I know what it feels like to be healthy and happy with myself. The way my body changed through the process, made me much more aware of it, and when I gained the fat weight back, versus the muscle I could tell the difference. Our bodies are efficient machines, and weight lifting can be done at any age. Just get started and feel the difference. It just has to be coupled by good eating as well to see the results. It wasn't until I combined both; cut out the sugar, processed foods and PORTIONED it according, PLUS weight lifting that the results showed. It seems like a lot, but with the cheat meal it really wasn't. I will always weight lift. It is a life-long exercise.

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  24. You look so strong and healthy now! Good for you!

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  25. I really like the graphics. Nice job. And what an inspiring story! I eat like you do, a mostly grain-free Paleo-ish, real food diet and feel way better overall. I love coconut oil and grass-fed beef. In fact, for lunch today we had grass-fed beef heart with lots of vegetables. :) It was very good. It's my belief, back up with lots of research (like you did), that good fats from clean animals build bones, muscles, and the brain.

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  26. Agreed with the above, Eat Like a Dinosaur and Practical Paleo are both great! (And how amazing that Diane Sanfilippo herself commented, OMG OMG OMG.) Nom Nom Paleo's book is also kid-friendly, and she has a whole series on school lunches. There are a lot of Paleo mom bloggers/blogs and podcasts on this topic - I suggest searching the archives of The Paleo View and the Balanced Bites podcast for topics about kids! Let me know how it goes!!

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  27. What a great compliment, thank you!!!!

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  28. Thank you! And thanks for the comment. So interesting to hear others' stories. I agree, I'd like to weight train for the rest of my life, too!

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  29. Thanks for the comment! I just started oil cleansing yesterday, will see how that goes!

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  30. Thank you, Tracy! I love the information you share on your blog, great that you're getting the word out there on your story and research, too.

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  31. I've followed you for a long time, and back in the raw vegan days (when I was already eating Paleo), I would actually cringe at the thought of your diet. That sounds judgmental. I don't mean it that way! I just couldn't understand how you could get what you needed from that way of eating. I am so happy that you are so happy with how things are going with your health. It's always a journey and goodness knows it never ends, but it sounds like you feel great about where you are now. Congratulations!!

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  32. Hey Suzannah! I'm not totally sure where to ask this, but this seemed like as good a place as any. I was wondering where you buy all your fabric? Sometimes Joann's just doesn't work for me in terms of selection (I tend to be extremely picky, haha). Do you have any advice?

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  33. Great post. I do have one question though. Another article that I read on the Paleo diet (explaining how it works and viewpoints on both positive and negatives) pointed out that some on the Paleo diet tend to have high cholesterol. Has this been an issue for you or is this something you have had check before your change and after? I have low cholesterol but I eat a low fat diet and haven't tried the Paleo diet. Just wondering if anyone you know has check this out or had this issue.

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  34. What a wonderful post to read! I was shocked to find out that you were on ADHD medication. I'm glad you got off that medicine. My husband used to take ADD medicine as a kid and then it started to make him act weird. His mom took him off the medication. Now, you would never even know that he has ADD. Thank you for sharing that personal side of your life.


    I like seeing all the new recipes that your posting on your blog. My husband and I eat everything in moderation. We do eat meat but not lots of it all the time. Chicken and turkey are staples in our freezer. We also eat fish. Once a year I might treat myself to some beef or a good steak. I don't eat that kind of meat often. I look forward to the days when I do have it. It's a treat for me.


    Fruits and vegetables are also a apart of our healthy eating as well. I do eat dairy. I try not to eat lots of it. We don't buy an prepackaged food in our house. I a lot of things from scratch. We don't eat junk food at all unless were out at a party. I like to make homemade bread. We also like eating rice and pasta. Again, we eat all that in moderation. I I've never had a problem with my weight. I always make sure that what I'm putting in my body on a daily basis is healthy food. That's what is the most important to me.Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. I enjoy reading your blog a lot because you have so many similar interest like me. You enjoy sewing which I love as well. Thank you again.

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  35. Awesome post! Thanks for sharing your journey.

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  36. Very interesting but not surprising. Food and exercise - that's what healthy living is all about. Whatever works for each individual is what's important, and as we age, it becomes even more important (trust me on that one!). I haven't eaten red meat or pork since college (38 years ago), and stopped eating most chicken a few years back, but I love to cook and eat a balanced, home cooked diet 95% of the time. And while I exercise every day, I make a point of moving - taking stairs, standing while on the computer, parking far from my destination, etc. Thanks for sharing your experience in a balanced way.

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  37. Haha, it's not just you, the selection at most chain fabric stores is usually cheap quality and very limited. Online shopping has the opposite problem sometimes, though--SO many choices and the prices can be higher. I recommend FashionFabricsClub.com to start. Look for nicer quality apparel fabrics, sometimes you can find designer lines sold to the public. I think it takes a while to get good at online fabric shopping, good luck!

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  38. Haha, I TOTALLY understand! Thanks for reading my blog back then, anyway. =) I feel the same way now, like when I see people posting pics of their green juice cleanses. So sad. Their poor bones and hormones. Thanks for your support!

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  39. Sounds like you have a great attitude about food, and home cooking and moderation have kept health problems away for you guys! Very cool.

    There's a lot of research on how grassfed beef is one of the healthiest meats we can eat (short piece here http://chriskresser.com/why-grass-fed-trumps-grain-fed), so don't worry about eating it sometimes! It has been really health-promoting for me, restoring my omega fats balance and hormones.

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  40. Yes, cholesterol is one of the big topics people worry about when they hear Paleo eaters eat higher-fat diets. There has been a TON of research on dispelling mid-century cholesterol myths, though. Here are some in one series:

    http://chriskresser.com/the-diet-heart-myth-cholesterol-and-saturated-fat-are-not-the-enemy
    http://chriskresser.com/the-diet-heart-myth-why-everyone-should-know-their-ldl-particle-number
    http://chriskresser.com/the-diet-heart-myth-statins-dont-save-lives-in-people-without-heart-disease
    http://chriskresser.com/the-diet-heart-myth-how-to-prevent-and-reverse-heart-disease-naturally

    In our personal experience, my husband's cholesterol went DOWN when he switched from a high carb, processed food vegetarian diet to high fat, higher protein. We have had our cholesterol levels measured and not only are they normal, our triglycerides, which are more important for determining risk factors, were extremely low.

    There is also a great summary section on cholesterol in Eat the Yolks! http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1628600195/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1628600195&linkCode=as2&tag=adrada-20&linkId=M2KCYBPO43NAMM77 Great book!

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  41. I love the depth of this post. You are so inspiring. Thanks for sharing this so fearlessly, Suzannah. The changes you've made to your life are truly amazing.

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  42. This is so inspiring for your blog readers! What a great transformation indeed!

    If your blog readers want to start paleo diet, I highly recommend to get a cookbook first that will help you start and continue to attain great heath and well-being.You know what's the main reason why people quit paleo after they started? That's is because of the frustration of eating the same food over and over again in their meal plan.

    Please read this review to help you choose: Best Paleo Diet Cookbook

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  43. You look awesome!! I love how healthy and vibrant you look now as opposed to the raw vegan stage. Keep up the "real" lifestyle and thanks for sharing. It's inspiring to see someone who is happy with their health and body.

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  44. thank you so much!
    I was just looking for some information about Paleo and reading your blog because I love it and then OMG! this article literally popped out.You look beautifully healthy and happy!

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  45. That's awesome!! Thank you! Enjoy learning about Paleo, best wishes! =)

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