A low-carb cult? Article deems LCHF ‘magical thinking’


Are you a guilty member of the low-carb high-fat cult? That’s apparently the name for the growing number of people who have transformed their health on a low-carb diet. But it’s just ‘magical thinking’ according to a new article.

The author concludes that any weight loss on low carb is simply due to eating fewer calories. And similarly, the thousands of reversals of type 2 diabetes is in the end only the result of going on a restrictive diet. It’s “basic science”.

One of Twitter’s odder subcultures warns you of its obsessive presence with the hashtag #LCHF. It stands for ‘low carb, high fat’ and its followers have remarkably strong feelings about carbohydrates. Why? Mostly because they used to be fat and then they gave up carbs. They are no longer fat and so, QED, carbs are the cause of obesity and people shouldn’t worry about calories or physical activity. Silly old scientists won’t admit this profound but hidden truth because they have been bought off by Big Grain or Big Pharma or something, but who needs scientists when you have personal testimony?

What the author apparently doesn’t know, is that in addition to a great number of success stories there is science in place showing that low carb is usually more effective than a simplistic focus on reducing calories. Just check out our low-carb science page if you are interested in these dozens of randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of nutrition science, demonstrating a superior effect of low carb.

It’s science. Nothing magical about it.

Spectator Health: The BBC is promoting carbohydrate hysteria


The science of low carb

Low carb


Debunking the debunkers

Nutritional science is “a scandal” that should “go to the waste bin”

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  1. Ruth
    I was not always overweight. I packed on the weight after my first pregnancy, when I was diagnosed as having gestational diabetes. And that's where my insulin resistance problems started, as I packed on more and more weight with each subsequent child. All efforts to lose the weight were unsuccessful because low-fat calorie restriction diets left me hangry and without the willpower to continue. Until I discovered LCHF way of eating. I've lost 76 lbs since June, 2017 and I can honestly say I've completely forgotten what that "hangry" feeling is like. Total satiation and never hungry. in fact, I fast for 18 hours each day, because I'm simply not hungry. I've normalized my blood sugars and have been able to stop two of my three diabetic meds; I've normalized my blood pressure and have been able to get off those meds; I no longer need my CPAP machine because my sleep apnea is gone; I've healed my recurrent diverticulitis in my colon because of the anti-inflammatory nature of LCHF. Hmm, sure seems magical to me. I'll eat this way the rest of my life, which is now going to be a little longer because of this diet.
  2. Tess
    I'm glad that all this people saw fantastic results with LCHF.
    My concern with this diet is the cholesterol.

    How is everybody dealing with this factor?

    Replies: #59, #62, #73, #76, #84
    I applaud Diet Dr. -a "food for thought" website - excellent, user-friendly, in the forefront health info.- always!

    Thank you Diet Dr. for your offerings-all round very palatable!

    Lisa-RN,Type 1

  4. Tess L
    I'm glad that all this people saw fantastic results with LCHF.
    My concern with this diet is the cholesterol.

    How is everybody dealing with this factor?

    Reply: #61
  5. Andrea
    You cand do it because the carbs are making you eat. I’m not kidding. Stop then Cravings disappear vinnietortorich.com
  6. Dorian
    I actually, like a lot of people, tried the science. I ate a high carb, low fat diet for over 30 years, even though I'm old enough to remember when a "diet plate" in most restaurants consisted of a hamburger without bread, a scoop of cottage cheese and a slice of tomato. But science said otherwise so I struggled with weight, which I started putting on around the same time hclf started being pushed on us. Ended up 60 lbs. overweight while I went on unsuccessful diet after unsuccessful diet. A year and a half ago I gave up "science" for magic and have magically made most of my excess weight disappear, along with five inches from the lipedema on my knees which I'm told can only be cured with liposuction. I find that I believe less and less of what the medical industry would have us believe about anything. It seems as though their "cure" for most everything is removal of one body part or another. I got talked out of my gall bladder while on a low fat diet which was explained to me as a result of eating too much fat.
  7. Sarah
    Well, yeah, it is "basic science".... but why don't more people know the science, and change their diet, and fix their health? It's going to take a long time for the masses to recover from decades of nonfat propaganda.
  8. Sandy Hintze
    I am super happy with following LCHF since March 2018. I don’t have cravings and I feel good except for 1 thing . . . Major constipation. I have a dietician that states that you can’t stay on it long term because osteoporosis can develop because of diet. He also states that u can have a heart attack if you had a slab of cake because of potassium levels changing suddenly. This, I must admit, made me nervous.
    Please give me your thoughts.
    Replies: #68, #69, #80
  9. Sarah
    There is good information on this site (and all over the internet) regarding updated information on cholesterol and how it shouldn't have been demonized.
    Personally, I did LCHF for a year, and had my cholesterol (total of both good and bad) go up a whopping 11 points, LOL.
    Reply: #88
  10. Andrew Woodland
    I don't think the author of that article knows what he is talking about at all. I went to see a nutritionist after I started Keto and she was 100% supportive. Since starting Keto three months ago, I've lost thirty pounds and have seen my blood sugar levels drop from pre-diabetic to normal. Yeah, this is just anecdotal and not scientific, but sure don't give a whit! It's WORKING!!! Author of that article can go pound sand.
  11. Andrew Woodland
    Tess L, though I am no expert, my nutritionist said that one can reduce cholesterol while on LCHF by eating meat and dairy products made from grass-fed/free range animals. According to her, animals fed on grass are much healthier than those fed on corn and feed. KerryGold butter is an example. One can also get fats from other sources such as avacado, wild caught salmon, and olive oil. Good luck!
    Reply: #89
  12. MsMandyIng
    So far mine is unchanged excluding my Triglycerides which had jumped to 239 before keto after tying to add whole grains for theee months. 6 mos on keto it’s back to normal at 57.
  13. K Swank
    Hi Tess, before LCHF MY cholesterol was horrible and MY doctor desperately wanted me to go on a statin. Since I started my readings have dropped and continue to drop. My hubby`s doctor was so concerned about his cholesterol that he ignored thrashing glucose reading that was 1 point away from pre-diabetic. A year later the glucose was at T2D levels and the cholesterol was still bad as well. I got him to eat LCHF and in 3 months he had lost 40 pounds, blood sugar was in the normal range, and the cholesterol was normal as well. All with out drugs. Not scientific bus it works for us.
    Reply: #90
  14. Barbara
    I feel very sad when articles like this come out. Cult? Magical thinking? No science? Anecdotal evidence only? Yes, most people are drawn to "diets" because they struggle with being fat. That struggle never ends. The "diet" that fixes it never ends either. A lifetime commitment to some form of low-carbohydrate plan leads to healthy eating. Period. Just look at the pictures on the Diet Doctor front page. I don't count anything but my lucky stars that, beginning with Dr. Atkins, I've learned a way to eat that helps me live a better life. Thank you, Dr. Eenfeldt, and your excellent team. You have my subscription.
  15. Marsha
    I’ve just started the LCHF lifestyle. I’m not overweight, and I have avoided grains, sugar, etc for years. I started to feel awful. Long story short. I have numerous digestive issues. I used to eat at least a cup of mixed fresh fruit per day. Sweet potatoes, lots of carb dense veggies. I thought I was eating healthily. And for all intents and purposes, I was. Then health issues set in. So. I started the LCHF eating. So far it’s helping. Chronic fatigue plagues me, and I’m hoping this will help. I’ve only been in this for two weeks. I have the most amazing doc (Brd Cert nephrologist, internist, and endocrinologist. He supports this 100%. Don’t listen to this blow hard who wrote the article.
    Reply: #78
  16. Heather
    Ok here's a thought. Dont do this because of your fear of cholesterol rising cos your doctor or nutritionist says it will or there is no scientific evidence, which there is, sit in your chair getting fatter and unhealthier eating less calories and tasteless lfhs food or at least give LCHF a try. What have you got to lose, when the weight drops the inflammation reduces your diabetes reduces or heavens forbid disappears, then worry about your cholesterol levels. This is not magic it works if you at least give it a try. i personally want to enjoy my life travel and see the world on my own steam, not from a TV screen from a chair or bed because i am so overladen with diabetic medications and statins. The writer of the Twitter article obviously hasnt even given it a try. End of rant
  17. Nancy
    @Tess. I went on this for my high cholesterol. My cholesterol was 248 and after a few months it was 200. HDL is up and LDL is down. It’s been 4 years with good results. My weight is ok but I lost 8 lbs anyway. I refuse to take statins for my situation. I’m a RN for over 40 years. People are getting huge and I believe them when they explain how they are following their dietician’s plan. They feel hopeless and horrible. It’s really sad.
    Reply: #91
  18. Heidi
    For those with constipation issues: Check out linseed focaccia and other keto bread recipes, try these and they may help. I eat linseed bread regularly and this has solved the problem I had. Just remember to drink heaps of water when you consume it.
  19. Heidi
    For constipation issues: Check out linseed focaccia and other keto bread recipes, try these and they may help. I eat linseed bread regularly and this has solved the problem I had. Just remember to drink heaps of water when you consume it.
  20. Monica Ambs
    I am surprised that there are still people asking about cholesterol. If you watch all of Dave Feldman youtube videos you will see the truth. Cholesterol is also no longer a nutrient of concern as per the AHA. What people are more concerned with is the damage you did for he first 40-60 years of your life. Some are getting a CAC score to see the true disease. As per your lipids, the concerns could be the number of small dense LDL not necessarily the total because the large ones are no problem.
  21. Frank
    The article is observed to be a populist commentary and purposely contrarian. That is what the journalist is paid for. The writing is to meet a word count and I imagine the guage of 'success' of the article is the number of clicks or page views that are generated. It looks like we have certainly helped out there, so these articles won't be going away very soon. Nor should they. For many they display contemporary ignorance. For just as many they confirm the threat of magical thinking to health. It's for the reader to decide.

    At risk of more page clicks, look at the headline list of "health" commentary articles under the paper's authorship. The articles are written skillfully to be rapidly and easily digestible, such is the media platform for which they are written. The commentary is colourfully sprinkled with language, like I'm doing here, to provide an immediate hit of reader indignation or reader bias conformation, depending upon the bent of the reader's current nutritional knowledge. The stories are cast with heroes, villains and bumbling bureaucracies; with the villains being the heroes of the low carbohydrate healthy fat eating community.

    The way it is written is fit for purpose. The benefit for LCHF followers is that it questions our beliefs and our gurus. That should hopefully help us be critical, adaptable and fair minded about an evolution of nutrition science and LCHF knowledge.

    Reply: #97
  22. Jo
    Let's be clear about Christopher Snowden's motives in righting this hyperbolic diatribe. He has been against the drive to reduce smoking as well as the introduction of a tax on sugary soft drinks in the UK.

    Here are two quotes from Tobacco Tactics website. Tobacco Tactics self describes as "a unique academic resource that explores how the tobacco industry influences policy and public health in the UK, the EU, and internationally."

    Quote 1: In 2012, Snowdon joined the tobacco funded Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) as a Research Fellow.[4] The IEA accepts funding from tobacco companies. A year after joining the think tank, Snowdon became Director of the IEA’s new “Lifestyle Economics” unit. [5] [6]

    Quote 2: The IEA refuses to disclose whether it receives funding from the food and soft drinks industry.[24]

    I downloaded the above quotes from http://www.tobaccotactics.org/index.php/Christopher_Snowdon.

    My personal view is that Diet Doctor should not give oxygen to Snowden's interest driven outbursts. Just call him out for what is really driving what he writes!

  23. Anne-Marie
    Tess there is a lot of evidence to debunk the cholesterol issue. There is a lot of information on this site about cholesterol that you would find enlightening, just search for cholesterol. Fat does not cause cholesterol - inflammation does. I have been on LCHF for 2 years now and I went to a cardiologist a couple of months ago and had an ECG test, my doctor was amazed at the results as I had almost no plaque or calcium in my arteries and he said he has only seen such clean arteries in a child. I attribute this to LCHF
    Reply: #92
  24. Frank
    New doesn't = good. But due to quirks of human psychology, physiology and evolution that result in a strong drive for novelty seeking, re-invention is continually presented as something 'new'. I love the old saying, "It's the same old news".

    You are correct in the observation that LCHF is not suited for All. It is suited for many who are overweight and Type 2 diabetic.

    If a single person is an n=1 in a nutritional experiment on them self that is successful, then that way of eating is 100% successful for that person. If the personal experiment fails, then that nutritional experiment is a 100% failure for that individual. The successful experiments are peppered as incredulous anecdotes throughout these comments. The incredulity being toward any individual who may suggest LCHF did not improve their health.

    A poorly formulated high fat diet certainly could be risky for people prone to pancreatitis.

  25. Linda Louise
    No one macro nutrient eating style is right for every body. That seems obvious. However, I suspect that many people who do poorly (fail to lose weight, do not change A1C, experience a raised cholesterol) on HFLC are really eating HFLC... supplemented by additional carbs. Are not in ketosis. However, there will be a small minority of people whose bodies do not thrive on ketones. Estimated as 10% of the general public, as I understand it. The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of success.

    This is a website I widely recommend. Even for people who have not interest in ketosis, but just want to learn about carbohydrates and care about what they eat.

    Reply: #93
  26. Lisa
    Tess, that was my worry too when I started the low carb ketogenic diet three and a half years ago. HDL and LDL went up, triglycerides went down, and my Triglyceride/HDL ratio dropped into the normal range. As it turns out, much of the information on cholesterol is wrong. Ivor Cummins in his presentation, The Pathways of Insulin Resistance (Breckenridge 2017) which is available to view here... https://www.dietdoctor.com/member/presentations/cummins-breckenridge overs a good overview of what lab tests and imaging should be used to determine risk or heart attack or stroke. And if you like his presentation, there are many more by him both here on Diet Doctor and on YouTube.
    Reply: #94
  27. Ray
    reply to Pete, food for day, breakfast BPC (mct oil, ghee, cacao power, coffee, pink salt), green drink (mix greens with home made chicken stock in "Vita-Mix) 2 cups per day , I am required to drink 2 cups of stock per day and 2 cups of greens per day, so I combine them and drink it as my green combo. I don't always eat a lunch but split it up between lunch and dinner. usually 6 oz of beef, pork, chicken, lamb, shrimp, and to get the fat up I cover it with bechmel , holidays, or some other sauce made with butter,eggs, cream cheese, heavy cream and the like. veggies I do once in a while, and I do feel guilty about that, and I am trying to eat more, but when I finish the meat I am usually full and satisfied. I never feel hungry and almost all cravings are gone. I do eat nuts from time to time.

    Exercise-- I do 20 min per day to sweat on stationary bike. and yoga , 20 min in a chair (Peggie Cappe "yoga for the rest of us" video) and some PT floor exercises for my bad back. All together I try and get 150 minutes per week, I Play golf with a cart once a week But that's not really exercise. I would say that what I do is eat the fat and try and exercise each day. Read all the Keto info and watch you tube about lchf and I weigh my self each morning on a balance beam scale. and subscribe to diet doctor.

  28. Cynthia
    Hi Marsha,
    I have fibromyalgia, into week 3 of LCHF. Lost 6 lbs and taken a good inch off each thigh, but what I notice most is how good my muscles feel, especially in my legs. They don't constantly burn nor feel heavy.
  29. Thorsten
    this might help to understand the motivation of the author a little bit better:


    keep up the good and important work! Best wishes, Thorsten

  30. Carol
    Eat your greens! Broccoli and cabbage are great. Berries are good too but watch the carbs. We haven’t had any issues with constipation. We don’t go as often but know problems. Do DietDoctor two week challenge and see if that helps.
  31. Susan
    I was happily on LCHF for a year. Diligently. My LDL cholesterol went up exactly 100 points! My open-mided doctor told me that, while the large majority of people do extremely well on LCHF, about a quarter of the American population has the opposite result. Scientists admit they don’t know why. Maybe genetic?
    Reply: #86
  32. Susan
    If LCHF is a "cult", we're in!
    My husband and I are into week 7, and I've lost almost 14 pounds, and my husband has lost 23 pounds!
    We've tried vegan (for a full year), gluten-free, high protein, etc... without prolonged success -- mainly because they were not realistically sustainable.
    We have several family members in the healthcare profession, recently graduated, and can honestly say that the misconceptions and outright falacies of what they are being taught about nutrition in institutions of higher learning, and on-the-job in hospitals, are shocking.
    Clearly there is no "silver bullet" when it comes to nutrition and weight loss, but low carbs works for us, and we are enjoying the journey...
  33. TeeDee
    I have a graphic from about 1912 "Diabetic Cookery". Unfortunately, photos can't post here in the comments, but it is LCHF and was used for weight loss and for the treatment of Diabetes in the 1800's and throughout the first half of the 20th century, so anyone that says it's a 'fad' or a 'new trend' is misleading you. We've known for years how best to treat obesity and diabetes with a LCHF diet. Sites like Diet Doctor are crucial to help people do what's best to treat both and articles that are critical of LCHF are showing their conflicts of interest for all to see.
  34. Kathleen
    My cholesterol was high to start with when I began LCHF/Keto. I read everything I could on the topic and learned that it was NORMAL for cholesterol to go up in the early months of Keto for someone who was losing lots of weight as the cholesterol stored in the fat cells are dumped into the bloodstream before clearing it.

    I was classic, and my numbers all went up and scared by doctor half to death, and I showed her the data from Dr. Sarah Hallberg (board certified lipidologist and lipid researcher with Keto patients and Dietdoctor contributor) and after a few months, my numbers started dropping, and still are...increase was a temporary phenomena and now I am below my starting cholesterol and am coming down.

    Most of the research on cholesterol is changing just like it did with low-fat eating...current science is showing not to worry much about cholesterol unless is is damaged/oxidated cholesterol. Clearly we all need to pay attention, but not to worry as with all things Keto, over time it alllll gets better!

    One more example for fun...my insulin levels were super high and stuck even after my A1C normalized, and then after 8 months Keto eating, they dropped 22% in 3 months. So the answer is to stick with it and the body will do all it can to fix itself; bye-bye big Pharma!

    Reply: #95
  35. Tiffanee
    LCHF is the ONLY 'diet' that has ever worked for me, for both weight loss AND metabolic marker reversal- IT EVEN WORKED BETTER FOR ME THAN THE BARIATRIC SURGERY I HAD 5 YEARS AGO!!! There is definitive science behind ketosis, the author makes themselves sound ignorant and unable to actually DO a literature search (had they taken the time they may have actually found all that scientific evidence and skipped writing this sad article).
  36. Robin
    Something to check might be the ApoE status. Or perhaps Lp(a). Anyone with an ApoE 4 variant would do better on a low fat diet. We learned this the hard way.

    We all inherit two ApoE alleles. There are three variants - 2, 3 and 4. So, we might get two copies of ApoE 3 (3/3 - most common), or any variation of these - 2/2, 2/3, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4. My husband has one ApoE 4 and suffered angina and a heart attack after we were grain-free for just a few years, and latterly increasing saturated fats.

    Feeling rather betrayed, really, as nowhere - or maybe hidden away somewhere - is there such information on these 'don't worry about the fats' sites. Dangerous advice to those with an ApoE 4. This has been known about for decades and affects something like 25%-30% of the population. ApoE 4 increases the risk of Alzheimers and heart disease.

    Always learning.

    Reply: #98
  37. Bruce Jones
    I have tried to follow low carb, paleo, and now me to, for a number of years with varying degrees of success. I have been diabetic for years, on medication but not insulin. Lately I have been diagnosed with stage 3 kidney disease. I have been warned off protein, fat, and high potassium grains and vegetables. My LCHF has been blamed for contributing to the reduced kidney function. Does this diet damage kidneys? And now that kidneys are damaged, is it safe to continue with LCHF?
  38. Tess L
    Thank you, Sarah!
  39. Tess L
    Thank you, Andrew!
  40. Tess L
    Thank you, K Swank!
  41. Tess L
    Thank you, Nancy!
  42. Tess L
    Thank you, Anne-Marie!
  43. Tess L
    Thank you, Linda Louise!
  44. Tess L
    Thank you, Lisa!
  45. Tess L
    Very interesting!
    Thank you, Kathleen!
  46. Philip
    The author (Christopher Snowdon) is a writer for the Institute of Economic Affairs, a right-wing organisation which receives funding from big multinationals and pursues a privatisation agenda. Could it be that Big Food is one of their sponsors and the article is a deliberate attempt to obfuscate and rubbish LCHF, since this way of eating is so clearly a threat to large food corporations?
  47. Philip
    Brilliant comment, Frank, 100% spot on
  48. Susan
    Thank you Robin. And for other people who do not do well on LCHF, I have to tell you I would not go on a statin and re- altered my diet. I ate no sugar (no value) only healty unsaturated fats (olive and avacado) about 7 oz of fish/meat per day but learned to eat beans and lentils which attch to cholesterol and escort it out
    . I chose not to add back grains, but did add sweet potato. And statins and sterols from a supplement called CholestOff. It worked! All my numbers went back to normal and I gained no weight within 6 months. While I’m relieved, I do miss the food from LCHF. But you cant’t have everything!
  49. RT
    I commented on the article, but my comment was wrongly removed as spam (a common problem with Disqus, in my experience). Here is the comment:

    The author of this article is engaging in ad hominem and straw man arguments. Among many other flaws in this piece, he condescendingly claims that the debate over low carb is a scientific consensus vs. “keyboard warriors and diet book salesmen.” Another point is his histrionic use of the term "hysteria" to describe criticism of standard dietary habits. In fact, qualified researchers - including an ever-increasing number of medical doctors - are proponents of LCHF as a viable way of eating to not only lose weight but to reverse the effects of health issues such as fatty liver and type 2 diabetes. Such professionals refer to level 1 scientific evidence to back up their arguments, and laypersons who decide to adjust their eating habits to LCHF are often simply in agreement with their arguments, as opposed to the author's straw man of “keyboard jockeys vs. experts.” If Expert A and Expert B are giving me two different pieces of advice, which expert should I trust? If the advice concerns what I should or should not eat in order not to get sick and die an early death, I consider it sheer idiocy to simply assume that the expert that represents the government health authorities must be right. Hence his ad hominem dismissal of LCHF eaters as “cult-like” betrays an abysmal lack of critical thinking. The author attacks what he apparently views as the weakest arguments while ignoring more persuasive evidence (also known as cherry-picking). As a case in point, Prof. Tim Noakes in South Africa was accused of professional misconduct in 2014 and eventually exonerated (twice). His alleged “unprofessional conduct” was a Tweet in which he opined that weaning babies from breast milk to LCHF was healthy. Noakes was found not guilty, then the authorities appealed their own decision, and Noakes was found not guilty again. So here are the key points of this example in relation to the author of this article’s spurious and wrongheaded non-arguments: 1. The prosecution against Noakes produced one meta-analysis (which was revealed in court - by public nutrition policy expert Zoe Harcombe - to have been grossly misinterpreted by them), while Noakes’ defense team produced literally dozens of examples of scientific evidence - including randomized controlled trials and meta-analyses- which the prosecution failed to dispute. 2. The prosecution had four years, the full financial resources of the state, and a full-time team of lawyers and health professionals at their disposal; if LCHF were simply “cultist magic,” it would have been child’s play to debunk Noakes and secure a guilty verdict. Instead, they were reduced to changing the accusations against Noakes after the fact in the hope that something would stick, and they failed utterly in their attempt. This was in large part because Noakes’ defense team presented the abundant scientific evidence in favor of LCHF which the author of this article claims does not exist. As someone attempting to write on this topic, if he is unaware of the evidence associated with the Noakes case, he is guilty of monumentally sloppy and unprofessional research. If he is aware of it and has decided to ignore it in favor of collectively smearing LCHF proponents as anti-science cultists, he is displaying a contemptible level of intellectual dishonesty. Honest disagreement begins with an acknowledgment of what an argument actually consists of, not dismissing people you disagree with as quasi-cultists. A consensus of scientists is not the same thing as a scientific consensus, and the primary argument in favor of LCHF has always been not that science per se is wrong, but that official government nutrition guidelines do not represent the best available science in terms of weight loss strategies to deal with issues such as diabetes and fatty liver. To read about some professional opinions in favor of LCHF, i.e. medical doctors who cite actual science to back up their views, one could search the following names: Andreas Eenfeldt, Tim Noakes, Ted Naiman, Sandra Hallberg, Jason Fung, just to start. Science, not “magic” or “cargo cult thinking” is the basis of their assertions. The refusal of this author - and far too many like him - to comprehend this fact seems indicitave of an inherently weak argumentative position.

  50. James
    Another article calling into question the types of diets that have been recommended for so many years was published last week in JAMA. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/268...
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