white woman with long brown wavy hair in a ponytail wearing a black tank top and short holds a kettlebell in each hand and walks away from the camera

The Problem With “Getting in Shape”

The general narrative in the fitness world says that by “getting into shape”, you will get smaller. In reality, there are so many other ways to measure your fitness that have nothing to do with the size of your body. ‘Getting In Shape’ really has no concrete meaning, and it’s time we stop equating fitness with a specific look.

Listen To Your Body podcast 339 The Problem With Getting in Shape

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Key Takeaways

If You Want To Dig Deeper Into The Problem With ‘Getting in Shape’:

  1. Challenge those in the fitness space to stop defining fitness as ‘a look’
  2. Focus on the benefits of training that have nothing to do with your body size
  3. Work to include marginalized bodies into the wellness space for the greater benefit of everyone

Fitness Is Not a ‘Look’

Fitness doesn’t have a specific look. Instead, it is your ability to do a task. Simple as that. Working out and ‘getting in shape’ simply to get smaller is not sustainable, and the companies or trainers that guarantee that your body will get smaller are not acknowledging all of the other things out of our control that go into fitness, and all of the other benefits of getting stronger and healthier. Your size does not equal your health and has no reflection on how fit or how unfit a person is.

How To Stop Comparing and Start Representing

If we compare ourselves to the highest performing human specimens participating in an activity, is that an accurate representation of all the people who engage with that activity? By comparing ourselves to the top athletes in the world, we are doing a disservice to the people out there who want to engage with a certain type of fitness but don’t see anyone who looks like them being represented.

The idea that fit bodies have to look a certain way stops people from engaging with those pursuits and perpetuates the stereotype that fitness is a certain look and only people who look like that can be deemed ‘in shape’. By challenging these narratives and making fitness available to people who don’t fit the conventional ‘fitspo’ version of health, we can break down these assumptions and, in turn, make ‘getting in shape’ more beneficial for everyone.

What stood out most to you from this episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

In This Episode

  • Why ‘getting in shape’ really means nothing (4:12)
  • How I want to challenge the fitness space to focus on fitness as an ability and not a look (10:35)
  • Addressing the fit bias and fit shaming I see online (14:40)
  • The benefits of strength training that have nothing to do with how you look (21:50)
  • Why I don’t like to promise anybody that ‘getting in shape’ is going to look a certain way (27:53)


“Getting in shape when used to mean getting fit is a huge problem because physical fitness isn’t a look, it’s not a look.” (7:14)

“Strength training can give you a new lease on life because you get to focus on what your body can do, not just on what it looks like.” (15:34)

“I can think of so many people who are not fitting the ‘thin fitspo’ gently toned but not too muscular body who are fit as fuck! Fit as fuck for what they do. And that to me is a cause for applause.” (19:50)

“We have to be able to tease apart fitness from overall health and wellbeing. If we think health is multifactorial and influenced by so many things out of our control, we have to be able to tease apart fitness from health and from weight.” (24:44)

“I hope that this podcast gives you some seeds of ideas to ask or to bring up with that potential personal trainer that you want to work within your city, or that potential email that you open up… what does the person or the company promising to you? What other ways are there going to be to see how your fitness has changed and improved?” (32:01)

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Related Episodes

LTYB 335: Breaking the Body Stereotype with Amanda LaCount

LTYB 324: Is It Wrong To Want To Lose Weight?

LTYB 319: Why Fitspo Needs To Die

The Problem With Getting in Shape FULL TRANSCRIPT

Steph Gaudreau

The term ‘get in shape’ is ubiquitous in fitness and nutrition marketing, you’ve probably said it a lot even when it comes to your own body. And yet, what do we really mean by it? And is it as harmless as it sounds, and you can expect a little bit of chili pepper action, as I put a call to action out to the fitness and nutrition space to do better when it comes to using the term get in shape.

The next evolution of Harder To Kill Radio is here. Welcome to the Listen To Your Body podcast & on this show, we’ll explore the intersection of body, mind, and soul health, and help you reclaim your abilities to eat and move more intuitively, hear your body’s signals, and trust yourself more deeply.

I’m Steph Gaudreau, a certified intuitive eating counselor, nutritional therapy practitioner, and strength coach. On this podcast, you can expect to hear expert guest interviews and solo chats that will help you deepen your trust with food movement, and your body. Remember to hit the subscribe button and share this podcast with your friends and loved ones. Now, on to the show.

Hello, my friend. Welcome back to the podcast if you’re brand new around these parts, welcome. Thanks so much for being here. And if you’re a returning listener, thank you so much. It means a ton that you come back to the show week after week. We’ve recently celebrated six years of this podcast together, things have changed, a lot of things are the same. And yet, here we are. And it’s 339 episodes later, which blows my mind. Before we jump into the content today where we’re going to be exploring the term get in shape, I’m going to invite you to get my free workouts. So if you are listening to this, you want to get some free strength workouts, go lift some weights, you can do this in your house, you can do it outside in a gym, whatever floats your boat, then go to Steph gaudreau.com slash workout. And this is for my free mini-course. So go ahead and check it out. There’s a video I’m walking you through it, I’m teaching you as a guide on the side. And you’ll walk away with basically what equates to a week of free strength workouts. So go ahead and get that at StephGaudreau.com/workout. Okey-dokey.

So this episode is probably going to be spicy. And it was brought to you by popular demand. Because recently on Instagram, I put up a series of stories if you’re not following me, I invite you to do that. But I put up a series of stories that were inspired. I’m using that term lightly inspired by an email that I got from a very popular nutrition company, which shall remain nameless. Because it’s not even necessarily a problem with that specific company. And I’m just not somebody who’s in the business of calling out specific people. But really, I wanted to bring this to you because one, this this this set of stories which are in my highlights, and you can go check it out now got a lot of feedback. And a lot of people saying yes, please keep ranting about this. And then I put up a story that asked do you want me to do a podcast on it? And the overwhelming answer was yes. So here we are.

Okay, here, this podcast is going to be a bit more stream of consciousness. Sometimes they try to give you exact bullet points, but I’m just kind of talking through this conversation here. And I would love to know your thoughts on it. So if things are standing out to you, you can certainly send me a DM on Instagram or share this episode and you know, put your thoughts on it and I would just love to see what you think. But okay, here’s the thing ‘get in shape’ is used a ton as it’s like a catch-all phrase that kind of means nothing. My husband would call it a nothing burger. And it means it’s like what does it mean? What is getting shaped me and so here’s what it means. For most people, it means losing weight.

But also, it can be used in the context of fitness to mean having a specific body look. That means you’re a fit person. Now, the email that I got, was really about the title was how to get in shape. Okay, so that was the title of the email subject line. And then you opened it up and it was, you know all these nice things about how this company is different. And then it was a bunch of before and after pictures, it didn’t really say a bunch about how these people made changes. So we don’t even know specifically what they did. We don’t specifically know if, you know, how did our health improve, aside from, you know, distinctly different from just a smaller body? Because we know that body size doesn’t necessarily confer health. And that’s just, that’s something we’ve tackled on this podcast many times in many different ways.

But here’s the concern that I have is that then people see that and they think, yes, so getting in shape me as my body has to shrink. And specifically in the context of exercise, that unless you’re achieving a specific Look, it means that you are not fit. And there’s something you’re doing wrong like your body is not good enough. So I want to tease this apart for you. And by the way, if you google get in shape, you can do it if you want, you’re not going to be very happy about what you see, the very top hit on Google when you search ‘get in shape’ is for a company that rhymes with doom.

So it’s, you know, right there front and center reinforced constantly by marketers and by people on social media. getting in shape means shrinking your body weight loss. And we know weight loss isn’t a behavior. This is why this is such a problem, right? Anyway, long, long way of saying that getting in shape when used to me and getting fit is a huge problem. Because physical fitness isn’t a look. It’s not a look. Fit fitness is not a look. And yet in their minds, because it’s been reinforced over and over again, by a lack of body diversity and marketing. When you Google Fit person, right, your per fit woman, you’re going to see a thin, white, likely blonde, probably lightly muscled, toned looking young woman, right. So it’s been reinforced by even things like what we search for what we see in magazines, does anybody read magazines anymore, always what we see online, and those sorts of things, it’s reinforced to you that fitness does have a specific look.

And you could even go so far as to think about certain sports, for example, like, oh, all gymnasts look like this, or all crossfitters look like that. And part of that might have some validity. So for example, a basketball player who plays at the professional or Olympic level is probably going to have an average height that’s above the rest of the population. If we’re talking about height, in terms of body diversity, a gymnast is probably going to be on the shorter side, and so on and so forth, you’d get my drift, right. A Cross Fitter. at the professional level, right? We’re talking about the people that do this as their jobs is likely to show the kind of musculature more or less that comes from the type of high repetition hypertrophy type of lifting that they’re doing. So high repetition, relatively lightweight, right? And I know that you know, we can lift a lot heavier, there’s like max lifts. So but at the same time, a lot of the lifting is like somewhat lighter weight, higher repetition. Okay, so yes, there is there are these things, but then when we think about it, it’s like, are we comparing that fitness to the highest Echelon? If we think fitness is a look is like the highest echelon of the sport? And does that represent the wide variety of people that engage with that sport, or that physical fitness pursuit? in the world? If we’re only comparing to the highest performing human specimens? Is that an actual representation of all of the people who participate in that activity and the answer is going to be fuck no. And even then, are we seeing less body diversity because of things like access to those sports or who participated in them as kids.

And so I think that’s a little bit of a different discussion. But what I wanted to bring up here is that fitness doesn’t have a specific look fitness. According to and I love this, this definition from Dan John, who is an O.G. strength and conditioning track and field coach whose silk is kicking around here and there. Dan John says that fitness is the ability to do a task. That’s what fitness physical fitness really means. And so my challenge to the fitness space is to quit making fitness about just a look like, Oh, you look the part or Oh, you look fit. Because that is not what fitness actually is. For example, if you are a fit runner, then you’re able to run the distance, your fit to run the distance that you’re training for. For example, if you want to be a marathoner, you want to do a marathon.

A fit marathon runner is somebody who is fit to run a marathon. Or if you are lifting weights, then your fitness, if you’re only focusing on that is really about your ability to lift weights. Now, of course, we can argue that there are, there are many different types of marathon runners. And but again, are we only comparing to the highest level if we pull back and look at the scope of who runs a marathon. And we, by the way, live on the marathon route here in San Diego for the rock’n’roll marathon. And aside from the last two years, when the marathon hasn’t happened, the marathon always runs by our house. And for hours, and hours and hours on marathon day, I will tell you what we look at, we see so many different people running. It’s beautiful. There are so many different bodies, ages, sizes, you name it. And so what that tells me is that when we’re thinking about fitness, about running, we cannot, we cannot assume that there is one specific look for a runner. The same thing goes for lifting weights, which is my my my jam in my zone, although I’ve done a marathon and I hope to never do another one because it was so painful. But I don’t want to yuck your Yama if that’s your thing.

If you’re listening to this podcast and thinking, yep, you convinced me Steph, I want to get stronger, I am ready to take that next step. Or it’s just been a while since I’ve worked out and I’m ready to get back into it. Then I want to invite you to sign up for my free strength workout mini-course. Not only do I walk you through all of the incredible benefits of strength training, but I’m also giving you three workouts completely done from start to finish. With all of the tips and pointers, you need to make sure that you are executing them as well as you can and getting all of the benefits out of them. So if you want to get this free strength training mini-course it is super simple. Just hop over to StephGaudreau.com/workout. That’s StephGaudreau.com/workout and get enrolled in my free strength workout mini-course.

So there was a conversation that happened on this Instagram. So I turned my story series into a set of into a reality which is if you’re not familiar with Instagram, or you haven’t been on in a while is a short 15 to 32nd video where people get funny, they entertain, they lip-sync, they dance they point like all sorts of stuff is just kind of like Tick Tock but different. And so one of the comments that came up and I’m going to assume that this person is okay with me reading this comment because it was made in a public social media account on my account. So the comment says, wouldn’t you say that generally speaking, a person who is genuinely fit does not have does have a look though. I mean, we all have different body types and hold on to body fat differently. But a person who needs a general definition of fit, strength, endurance, and flexibility will not be carrying a lot of excess weight.

Isn’t that two huge assumptions because I follow plenty of people on Instagram who are in larger bodies and who are fitness fuck for the specifics, you know, sports and things that they do. Okay, so that’s a huge assumption. And then it says you are clearly very fed. Pause. I don’t know if this person has followed me for a while. Maybe they’ve seen me lifting weights? I don’t know, or I don’t know if this comment was solely based on how I look, which I tried to look, if showing a lot of body on Instagram is your thing, and you’re, you know, out there, you’re a coach, that’s your thing, like, I just don’t tend to, like make that my sole focus. Because I really want people to see that strength training can give you a new lease on life because you get to focus on what your body can do, not just on what it looks like.

So I’m not sure where that part of the comment came from. But then, so it says you are clearly very fit. But that depends because I am not fit to be a long-distance runner at this point in my life. I’m not a fit runner, because I don’t run, okay, I run around the mat at jujitsu every day. But I don’t run long distances. And while my cardiovascular fitness is probably generally higher than it used to be, when I wasn’t doing jujitsu, I’m not running, I’m not, I’m not fit to run, I could probably get pretty far based on sheer willpower alone. And the fact I do have a little bit of cardiovascular capacity because I train in a sport that demands some cardiovascular capacity. But so we can see where right this is, this is a generalization, you’re clearly very fit. This is my favorite part. But um, but we’ll never be built like Victoria’s Secret model into I mean, maybe Victoria’s Secret will increase their body diversity, who knows.

I’m not a super, super thin person, but I do have thin privilege and I am in a smaller body. So But nevertheless, I thought that was an interesting one, then it says I’m reasonably fit. But we’ll never have a body like David Beckham, who is an English ex-soccer player. I suppose my issue here is that while technically correct, I feel your message and others like it are very easily used as excuses to keep the bar very low for an individual which really caught me there. And then it says thoughts hope I didn’t come across as too dickish here not meant to be adversarial. And a nice emoji at the end. So. So the interesting part that caught me I was kind of following along. And I was like, well, we could debate you know, like, what what is fitness and you know, okay, I won’t look like a retort Victoria’s Secret model.

But the part about that using this idea that fitness doesn’t have a look as a way to give individual people an out for not exercising doesn’t make sense to me. And I feel like this is kind of the end. So this person, obviously, we had a little back and forth exchange. And it was totally fine and pleasant. And, you know, we went on our way. And I’ll read what I wrote here in a moment. But the thing that struck me is, there was almost This is what people do when they concern troll, right. They’re like, I’m just concerned about your health or things like that. And to me, that was a really big jump to say that because we’re acknowledging that fitness is, is your ability to perform a task. And we could say like what your body can do in a general sense.

To me, it felt like a leap to then say, and I’ve heard this in other places, and this is why I bring it up, right, that it’s going to be it’s going to keep the bar really low. And so I see it from a different point of view. And here’s what I wrote. I can think of several amendment people off the top of my head, meaning several people who don’t have a body that would fit a fits bow definition of a fit body based on look alone, right.

So that was the first part I can think of lots of people and you’ve got to look for it. You got to look for people out there who are breaking the stereotype to use the term from Amanda Lacount who was my guest a few weeks ago. Amanda is an incredible dancer she’s in a plus-size body. I can think of so many people who are not fitting the quote thin fits bow gently toned, you know, but not to muscular body who are fucking the fit as fuck fit as a buck for what they do. And, and so that to me, is like a cause for pause like, there are so many people and would there be more people who are in a more diverse array of body sizes who are doing

They are like doing their sport, or they’re just generally active or what it is that they’re doing, exercising, and they find that thing that they really love dance. They love golf, they love lifting weights, like whatever it is, if there was more accessible, and if they saw more people like them go, Oh, this sport or this exercise is available to, like, Whoa is available to people who look like me. And that’s what Amanda’s whole episode was about. So please go back and listen to that if you want to hear more. And then there’s also the question of things like access, where are these spaces? Are our people feeling welcome? Do they see themselves represented, whether it be more people who are willing to engage in fitness if it wasn’t just about the look, and so here’s what I said here.

You see excuses to keep the bar low, I see people’s pressure to mold their bodies into shapes that they’ll be unlikely to achieve be lifted them enjoying movement for the sake of movement, again, et cetera. The narrative that fit bodies look a certain way keeps a lot of people away from fitness spaces or pursuits. And this person, you know, was a pleasant exchange instead, you know, that’s fair, I didn’t think about it from that perspective. Thanks for your response. To which I said, you know, thanks for considering a different perspective. But I think that this conversation fits well into the problem with talking about getting in shape, meaning that your body is going to be molded into a specific look now, yes, okay, let’s take lifting weights, for example, you might increase your muscle mass, strengthen your bones, you know, become more flexible, in certain ways. I mean, maybe you’re stretching along with lifting or you’re going to jump on coach RT threes mobility program, the upgrade guys, I don’t know you’re going to like you’re just generally becoming more active, maybe you’re going to walk more, you’re going to increase your cardiovascular capacity from walking like whatever it is. But when you are doing those things, if you only have in mind that you’re going to get smaller.

I’m wondering how is the stainable that’s going to be and how, what else there’s going to be to hook into because here’s the thing, and I’m drawn back in my mind many years to Noel Tarr, who has been on this podcast before. And she wrote an article about Hey, like, I’m a personal trainer, and I don’t have a six-pack. And to me, that’s super representative of the crux of this entire one-sided conversation. Me speaking into this microphone is that when we make fitness about a look, we do a couple of things. We either make people feel bad, or we put it out there that it’s like it’s not a good thing unless your body achieves a certain size, or a certain leanness, for example.

And that does not acknowledge that there are so many things that go into it. And this is why I don’t personally or I should say in my business. I’m Yes, I’m about helping women lift weights and feel themselves properly so that they get stronger, they perform better. They’re, you know, not getting wrecked by their lifting and they have more energy, I’m really careful to not assign or promise that there’s going to be a specific shift in the body size. Because there’s just a lot of factors that go into that. There are so many factors that go into it. And when we set that up as the ideal as the expectation, people will either end up feeling really guilty, really shameful or just like their fucking failure and they’re not doing it good enough. And when that happens, we set people up for

not being satisfied with all of the other benefits that they get from a regular movement practice, or from strength training or from daily walking or whatever it is. We have to be able to tease apart fitness from overall health and well-being if we’re thinking like health is multifactorial, and it is influenced by so many things out of our control. We have to be able to tease apart fitness from health from weight, body weight, body size, right.

And recently, I put a reel up about eating more carbs and somebody you know, like really just genuinely and vulnerably was like I’m feeling so much but like my body is getting bigger. And that can happen when we’re, we’re actually providing ourselves the nourishment that we have deprived our bodies for so long. And sometimes even when we go from like really moderate intensity, kind of like, like long-duration cardio to backing off of that lifting weights walking, right, so we’re like doing low-intensity cardio, we’re getting some strength training, which has so many benefits, and I’m going to hammer this home until the cows come home, that was two, that was two figures to speech together, that didn’t really work. But when we, when we set the expectation that, oh, you’re doing these things, and you’re actually improving your health in the process, you’re lowering, lowering your stress, you’re getting more active, you’re giving your body the nourishment it needs, I say we as an industry still set the expectation that that means that person’s body is going to get smaller.

And when it sometimes doesn’t happen that way, that’s a mindfuck and a half. And it makes the person feel like, Oh, well, in order to see progress, I’m going to actually have to try harder. And to do that I need to cut down on what I’m eating again, and like, ramp my exercise way back up. Which puts us back to a place where things aren’t running so well, that we’re trying to kind of ameliorate in the first place. So I bring that up. And I could really relate to this person. Although for me, because I had strength training there to focus on, I wasn’t focused on the size of my body. So I’ve talked about this a couple of times on the podcast. And I wanted to share the story really quickly again, that for me, I came from triathlons and endurance mountain biking, or raced bikes for eight years, I did triathlon at the tail end of that, and I wasn’t eating enough, I was over-exercising, I really wasn’t on a great training plan. And I was just getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

But I was also getting way more stressed out had a lot of stress in my personal life. My relationship was not in a good spot, not happy at my job. feeling pretty shitty, even though I was out there, you know, running, biking, swimming. And, you know, I performance was like, it was okay, but it wasn’t great. I didn’t feel good. I was not sleeping. Well. I mean, you name it, right. So, by all intents and purposes, you’d think well, on the outside, you’re probably super fit, right? You look the part of a triathlete, or you look the part of a biker, you’re like getting smaller. And, and, and you know, muscle mass is going away. Like that’s a good thing, I was a terrible thing for me. terrible thing for me.

And when I started fueling my body more properly, right? When I started lifting weights and cutting back on the ridiculous amount of cardio that I was doing, and training in that way, I got bigger, my body got bigger. And this is one of the reasons why I find it hard in good faith to talk about promising to promise that getting in shape is going to look a certain way. Because what happened for me isn’t what a lot of people assume or desire to happen, which is a specific body change, which is usually getting smaller.

Of course, there’s the opposite of that, which is wanting to get there to be a certain size. And that’s a whole other conversation, especially in things like the physique world. Suffice to say, it’s more complicated than promising a specific body outcome, which is why I can’t do that. And I don’t do that with my one on one coaching clients. I don’t do that in my group programs. And I don’t do that in my programs like made strong. I don’t. And I did at one point, I was like, you’re gonna do this and this, like, your body is going to look like this. And over time, I’ve realized why that’s not helping people. Right? So what can we focus on if we’re talking about fitness, your ability to do a task better than you could before? How adapted you are to that kind of training, how good you are doing that thing? And I don’t mean like you’re winning, but just Are you improving your ability to do that thing? How do you feel in your body? Right, what is your what are the other markers of health and well-being that you’re considering? Are you considering that you’re a whole person and it’s not just about the size of your physical body that informs your health and how you feel? Are there elements of your health that you can’t as tightly control, things like genetics, things like your race, things like even potentially where you live or the things you’re exposed to in your environment, there’s only so much we can control with that?

And I feel like boiling, ‘getting in shape’ down to promising a size decrease is disingenuous, at least for me. And that’s all I can really speak for. But I wish and I hope that the industry does better, I hope that we make these conversations more nuanced, with, with everyone out here listening to this podcast, with people on social media, with our potential one on one clients, if you are someone who’s coming into a gym for the first time, or you want to set up a fitness program, or you want to start making behavior-based changes so that you’re incorporating more fuel into your life, you’re eating more food, or you’re, you’re incorporating things like more protein, you know, whatever it happens to be, I hope that you’re, whoever you encounter is talking about these nuances. And I just know that’s not the case across the board. But I hope that this podcast gives you some seeds of ideas to ask or to bring up with that potential personal trainer that you want to work within your city or that potential, you know, email that you open up and you’re like, Oh, this, I just did this program this like boot camp for six weeks online, like it would make me get smaller because it’s going to help me get “in shape”. What does that actually mean? What is the person or the company or the or the people promising to you like, what other ways are there going to be to see how your fitness has changed and improved.

So that my dear friend is this episode of the podcast on ‘getting into shape’, I would invite you to do a couple of things here. First, please share this episode out, share it on Instagram stories and tag me that way I can reshare it. And I just love to see that it’s out there in the world and you’re listening and loving it. I’d also invite you to get my free set of workouts. So if you want to start strength training, or it’s just been a while and you want to get back into it and get started in a way that’s not going to just completely leave you feeling wrecked, then you can do that st StephGaudreau.com/workout and subscribe to this podcast. If you’re not if you just happen to come across it, please hit the subscribe button on your podcast app.

It means so much & it sends essentially a signal to the podcast app that this is a podcast that people want to hear and hopefully drives it up so that more people can see it. Lastly, the best way to find out what I have going on right now. And that includes one on one coaching that includes a new group coaching experience that’s going to be coming soon. That includes all of my DIY programs, the best place to do that and see what’s current is on Instagram, in my LinkedIn profile, so go follow me on IE, I’m at @Steph_Gaudreau. Go ahead and tap on the link in my profile. It’ll bring up all of my current offerings including my one on one coaching. My group programs I’ve got one coming soon. On this especially related to fueling your body properly. If you lift weights, it’s gonna be epic, and all my DIY programs. Alright, thank you so much for being here this week. It really means so much. I appreciate you go out and have a kick-ass week and I’ll talk to you soon.



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Hi, I'm Steph!

Lord of the Rings nerd, cold brew drinker, and depending on who you ask, crazy cat lady. My mission is to help you fuel for more, not less: bigger muscles, strength, energy, and possibilities. We’ll do it with my signature blend of science, strategy…and a little bit of sass.


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