Dumping Sugar: This Is Not a “Detox”

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.29.39 PMYou know how I like a good challenge? They give me a reason to try something new. They get me focused on a thing for a limited period of time. It’s something to blog about.

So when a friend said on social media that she and some of her peeps were about to dump sugar, my ears perked up. They’ve been following the plan Krista Scott-Dixon outlines on Stumptuous.  And today was the big day: week three, day one is the day you actually give it up. Weeks 1-2 are all about planning, learning, readying yourself.

This isn’t a regular challenge, mind you.  It’s not supposed to be temporary. This one is more akin to a total life change, like giving up alcohol (which I have done) or meat (which I have done) or dairy and eggs (which I have pretty much done except for sometimes, which I’ll get to in a minute).

Anyway, I got my friend Anita sort of on board to try this with me, even though she isn’t quite as motivated and is taking it as but a temporary challenge.  We reviewed the plan.

Step 1: Get your head right

Step 2: Plan and schedule

Getting your head right means buying a notebook (or setting up a shared google folder called “Sugar Project”) to serve as a journal. Crack it open and do some reflection. The first writing exercise is “write down all the reasons you want to give up sugar and answer the question ‘why is this meaningful to you?'” The idea is to be clear on what you’re doing and your reasons for doing it.

I went into this a bit ambivalent about whether I should take this as a time-limited challenge or a life-change. But when I reflected on my reasons, I started to lean towards the life-change project. Here’s from my journal:

  • I always feel a little bit out of control around sugar.
  • If I’m going to overeat, sugar is usually involved.
  • I recognize that sugar has pretty much no nutritional value and that it lurks in all sorts of processed foods that I would be better off without.
  • I remember the year I went without sugar and how much better I felt–I slept better and my energy was even through the day. I had fewer food cravings and I never felt over-full after a meal.
  • I like the idea of feeling satisfied with fruit for dessert.
  • The easiest time I ever had maintaining a weight that I felt good at was when I didn’t eat sugar.
  • Sugar is something I usually go to mindlessly, without thinking. Next thing I know, I’ve eaten something, it’s gone, and I hardly enjoyed it.
  • I like a challenge, especially if it’s good for my health
  • Sugary treats are the most frequent things that take me away from my vegan principles, and that always makes me feel bad.
  • I have a tendency to idealize sugar-laden desserts and treats, as if they have magical qualities that will solve all of life’s problems or add super-specialness to life’s special moments. This is delusional and means I use sugar as comfort, which I know to be a poor coping mechanism.
  • I don’t consider myself a sugar addict, but I do think that the less it’s in my life the better I will feel.

Some of these are not so compelling, like “I like the idea of feeling satisfied with fruit for dessert,” which is an odd thing to have come up with but I wrote all of it down so there you have it. But others are a bit more serious, like this business about idealizing sugary-laden foods and assigning magical qualities to them — this seems like it might be better replaced with some positive life skills.

There’s also my vegan principles. Lots of sugar is vegan, so that’s fine. But lots of baked goods are not vegan. I often “joke” that I’m vegan except I’m willing to make concessions for baked goods. I went to a vegan society lecture the other night and I feel re-committed to a more stringent approach. I am a fairly principled person. Making concessions for cake just makes me feel badly about myself.

So doing this tipped the balance a bit more strongly towards the thought that giving up sugar would be a positive life change.

The second exercise asked about anticipated obstacles and proposed strategies for coping with them. Here’s what I said:

  • Special occasions (strategy: try to remember that occasion is not all about desserts and sweets; have a back-up, like fruit salad; drink tea)
  • I’m not sure I’m prepared to fully give up chocolate (strategy: very high cocoa content dark chocolate)
  • Any time someone goes out of their way to prepare a vegan dessert item with me in mind, I will have a hard time saying no.  (strategy: offer to bring dessert –fruit salad; let people know in advance that I’m not eating baked goods anymore)
  • Whenever I am at Fresh and need to say “no” to their chocolate cake (strategy: eat a piece on Tuesday; hope that by the next time I’m not interested in chocolate cake anymore)
  • Having my apricot jam and other treats in the house could be a challenge (strategy: Marmite; peanut butter and banana instead of jam; see if there is a sugar-free substitute jam available that isn’t awful)
  • Race nutrition — so much of it involves sugar.  (Strategy: I need to think of substitutes: bananas, dates and nuts, other fruit, potatoes (I read that they’re good race food)
  • Race hydration — I always reach a point when I want to take the gatorade for the carbs. If I’m not going to do that I will need an alternative that I am not yet aware of. (strategy: water but I know that’s not enough; concession for race day in the name of proper hydration; do some research).
  • Condiments — trying to imagine fries, homefries, and sweet potato fries without ketchup (sad face), veggie dogs without ketchup or relish (extra sad face). Maybe this means that fries will no longer be attractive. (Strategy: Homefries I’m willing to experiment with Frank’s hot sauce. Veggie dogs — maybe just go for the yellow mustard (read the label today and discovered: no sugar).
  • Will this trigger “the diet mindset”? If so, that’s trouble. (Strategy: monitor the situation and be honest about motives)

I have yet to do writing exercise 3:

Writing exercise 3: Grieve the Loss

Get out a piece of paper and write down all the feelings you feel (physical and emotional), and all the thoughts you have about sugar. Thoughts and feelings.

I feel as if this will be a tough one precisely because I do associate desserts and sugar with comfort, fun, and celebration.

Up top I said, “this is not a detox.” I don’t believe in the whole idea of eating clean or detoxing. This is really a reflection on what kind of foods make me feel good (and in what way).  And I don’t plan to be a fanatic. I’m going to keep eating fruit. Natural sugars will not freak me out. My focus at least for the beginning will be on ditching processed foods and refined sugar products. There is just no really solid reason why these need to be in my life. If life would be sad without them, then that in itself says something kind of sad about the rest of my life.

Anita was gung ho yesterday when we reviewed the plan. She was set to dive right in on day one, week three TODAY. That would have made today the day of truth when we cut out sugar. But I really do need some time to reflect on this — is it something I even want to do?

Our compromise: roll weeks one and two into one week and set D-Day for next Monday.  Will report back.

Have you ever thought you might want to get sugar out of your life? Did you? Why? Why not? Does this kind of challenge resonate with you or make you want to run for the nearest piece of triple chocolate cake?

 

 

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, vegan, triathlete, sailor, philosopher, sometimes knitter.

40 thoughts on “Dumping Sugar: This Is Not a “Detox”

  1. Sam B says:

    Great post but yeah, not my thing. Blogging about why tomorrow.

    Like

  2. Jean says:

    Groan. I rarely had sugar in any food as a child and teen. Now I have a little coffee snack nearly daily that seems to include sugar….except for the height of summer and fall for local fruit harvest from the farmers’ markets.

    You know, I was never that organized Tracy, when I dropped out of eating white rice. I just well, absentmindly forgot about rice gradually.

    Like

  3. Jean says:

    One things for certain I’ve never drank Gatorade or like drinks..when exercising. Of course there’s orange juice, which has to be consumed in measured amounts..

    Like

  4. Nora says:

    I am not one for added sugar in products that don’t need it (I’ve always taken my tea black), but I cannot get behind a sugar = enemy approach. “Sugar” isn’t just the white stuff. It’s not some evil substance that is laughing at the thought of derailing a healthful lifestyle.

    It’s great to try and stick to a plan that minimizes processed foods, but the wholesale sugar elimination thinking is a bit fuzzy.

    That said, if a sliced up banana with your peanut butter makes you happier than a teaspoon of blackberry preserves go for it. 🙂

    Like

  5. I have to be honest. I hate this post. It sounds just as culty as any cleanse. I respect your decision to eat however you please, but obsessive monitoring of food intake and denial of pleasure goes against my feminist principles. This sounds just like the “permanent lifestyle change” that any diet promises. If this is your thing, great. But I am not into reading more about it, frankly.

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    • Tracy I says:

      You’ll probably feel more resonance with Sam’s post tomorrow, when she talks about why she would never do something like this.

      Like

    • Tracy I says:

      I also appreciate your comment because this is something for me to reflect on over the next few weeks. I’m not sure this involves “obsessive monitoring of food” (I don’t believe in tracking) or denial of pleasure (I get pleasure in all sorts of ways, thankfully), but I have considered that it could be just another fad.

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      • I appreciate your response. Your original post sounds like any “permanent lifestyle change” that a diet would promote. And if your goal is to reduce sugar, but you really enjoy a little ketchup on your veggie dog, I fail to understand why you would deny yourself a tiny pleasure in an attempt to be hyper-vigilant. I refuse to live this way. I think it’s disordered eating.

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      • ainsobriety says:

        To avoid sugar you have to become an obsessive monitored of food. It is in everything….

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Nicole Rae says:

    Have you considered coconut water as a Gatorade replacement? I myself hate the stuff, so I’m not sure if most varieties are processed/sweetened or if it would be simple to find just straight up coconut water. But I’ve heard it has a lot of natural electrolytes, similar to sports drinks.

    I like your post. I’ve considered dumping sugar, too. It’s been a long, gradual process so far… I’ve managed to cut out sweeteners in my drinks completely, and am working on making more things from scratch at home so I can cut down on sugars in processed foods. Next up, sweets. I don’t think I’m so gung ho that I’d cut out ketchup… but who knows! Maybe one day. I’d love to follow your progress on this – looking forward to next week’s blogging.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have to be honest that I don’t even understand the principles of “dumping sugar”. First of all, because we can’t, it’s our fuel. Second of all because it’s in everything, including fruit and veggies. The moment you chew a piece of bread, even if it’s whole wheat, there is sugar in your mouth due to enzymatic reactions with your saliva (yes, I remember grade 13 Bio, don’t judge me).

    So really, this seems like a hyped up “cut out processed food” thing. I know you won’t get totally obsessive about your behaviour because I kind of know you, but the post you linked to set off all my alarms. I just can’t demonize a really good lemon danish, you know?

    Liked by 4 people

    • Bad lemon danishes, on the other hand, are a waste of my chewing time. They disappoint me.

      Like

    • Tracy I says:

      I agree with you (not surprisingly). There are so many things about the Stumptuous post that make me uncomfortable and in my haste I didn’t comment on them. But this is a process and I have time to comment over the next few weeks (and will). I love this discussion. I’m really a moderate (or at least an aspiring moderate) in so many ways, so it’s fairly clear to me how this story is going to end. And I do need to reflect on it in light of feminist principles (as prompted by Queer Femme Mama’s reactions, which could well have been my own if I’d read this post written by someone else). I also agree that bad danishes are a waste of time.

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  8. ainsobriety says:

    For years I demonized sugar. I read labels. I refuses any and all desserts. I ate no fruit, as I see it as sugar in, perhaps, a worse form. I even switched to vodka instead of wine.

    It became very disordered and obsessive. Which I am inclined to be.

    I have had to completely change how I view everything to recover. I don’t drink. I eat what feels good for me. Which sometimes sweet desserts and chocolate.

    I feel so much better. I have made peace with my body. My normal, imperfect, wonderful body.

    I like your thoughts. I do hear a lot of weight loss desires in your list.

    I step back now and ask myself why I stick to things. I don’t drink because I feel a million times better sober and I fully embrace this life.

    I don’t eat gluten because I have celiac disease and it makes me ill.

    I am considering vegetarianism because I see some holistic and natural reasons this might be for me.

    Sugar occurs naturally. It fuels our bodies. I appreciate eating too much of it doesn’t make a person feel good. But is some not a way to have some special treats (or fuel for sports)?

    Rigid rules are confining. It’s worth considering.

    I look forward to hearing how things go.

    Anne

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tracy I says:

      Thanks for this. All of the comments are making me reflect and rethink. I really appreciate your taking the time to send a kind response that challenges me to think.

      Like

  9. winspearean says:

    Your point about idealizing sweets really resonates with me, so for me the whole challenge means dumping sweets. I’m just so out of control with them. Maybe I’ll reintroduce them some day when I think I can control myself around them. But I can’t be hyper vigilant about it either because it’s just depressing (and I don’t think that’s what you or Krista are saying anyway). I’ll have HP sauce on my meatloaf, no-sugar-added syrup on my oatmeal, and Splenda in my coffee because those things don’t trigger binges for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So here is also part of the problem with the idea and our judgements about what counts as “sugar”. I don’t know what you are eating that is “no sugar added” syrup but unless it’s artificial sweetener in some kind of goopy non nutritive base, it’s sugar. And I’m not judging that you are using it. But there is lots of data (which I’ll go find and post eventually) that artificial sweeteners are part of the problem regarding craving and metabolism. So I think a lot of this (not just your situation, but everyone who struggles with this) is a hidden shame about eating the “idea” of sugar as opposed to what is and isn’t sugar and an “idea” that it makes us wild and out of control when we eat it. I can’t say for sure it doesn’t but I’m highly suspicious of that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Swithers, S.E.. (2013). Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements, “Trends in endocrinology and metabolism”, vol.24 (issue 9), pp 431-441

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  10. “There is just no really solid reason why these need to be in my life. If life would be sad without them, then that in itself says something kind of sad about the rest of my life.”

    This is what troubles me. Part of food is pleasure and joy and commensality. Life WOULD be sad without pleasure and joy and commensality and that doesn’t mean the rest of your life is lacking. It means that food is not just fuel.

    I also want to challenge the idea that sugar has no nutritional value. Not just because it has a lot of macronutritional value (that is, calories!) especially for endurance athletes, but because I want to look at nutrition from a holistic perspective in which it’s not just about the numbers but about foods that feel good physically and emotionally, and about not unnecessarily restricting ourselves.

    Finally, my experience is that restricting something you have a sometimes-troubled relationship with entirely doesn’t lead to a magically cured relationship with it. It tends to lead to obsession and rebound (or binging).

    My alarm bells are ringing, here, and I wanted to share that, as well as (like Queer Femme Mama) challenge the idea that dieting/wholesale restriction is in line with feminist politics.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tracy I says:

      I appreciate your thoughts on what you find troubling about this post. I will be addressing at least some of these thoughts in a post on Thursday since they’ve been voiced by several people and deserve some reflection.

      Like

  11. I feel like this about coffee

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  12. catherine womack says:

    Wow– it’s clear from the comments (and also my own immediate reactions to your post) that there are some serious issues to be sorted out here. I found myself reacting strongly negatively, but haven’t yet worked out the reasons why (will take some time to do this). And this is very very interesting! You’ve hit on something important here– I look forward to reading more comments, reading Sam’s post tomorrow and doing some more thinking (and writing) about this. Thanks!

    Like

  13. Great post! I just finished writing my Wednesday post based on something I read over the weekend. I have been contemplating the idea of giving up dairy even though most of my favorite foods involve cheese. I am definitely a sugar junkie, but I haven’t found it to be a root problem in my health. Dairy though, I feel like it may be giving me more trouble than it’s worth and I recently read something that stated that our bodies stop making the enzymes necessary to break down lactose properly as we age (since we’re the only species that eats another species milk). I wonder how true this is and if it might help me to overcome my feelings toward dairy? You’ve really got me thinking deeper! Thank you!

    Like

  14. Caitlin says:

    I’m a little surprised to see this post to be honest. I love so much of what you about and the things you espouse, and so I never expected to see you write seriously about taking on a restrictive eating challenge like this. I mean, you do you, but I can’t deny that I’m surprised by this.

    Also I agree with Queer Femme Mama and thespanofmyhips – there’s nothing sad to me about taking pleasure in food. I actually consider it to be one of life’s great pleasures and don’t see anything wrong with eating something just because you enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Kaija says:

    First, this whole idea, that sugar is “toxic” and “addictive” and the root of so many evils doesn’t square with my training in and knowledge of biomedical sciences…it sounds like typical internet food obsession and hyperbole.

    Second, as someone who tends towards the obsessive and who has recovered from a restrictive eating disorder, the “experiment with cutting out foods!” (without a solid medical reason) can be dangerous for some people (like Russian roulette, you probably won’t know if your genes are preloaded for ED until it’s too late). Shifting one’s discomfort with body issues or food (and what it represents) out of the self and onto an externalised food villain isn’t a good route to getting to the bottom of what’s really at the root of a real or perceived problem. We all self-soothe and reward ourselves in different ways. It’s the pattern of stimulus-response and how we do or do not self-regulate and work with our emotional responses that is usually more of an issue than OMG THE BAD FOOD MADE ME DO IT!!! (the modern version of “the Devil made me do it”.

    Finally, as other commenters have pointed out, as a feminist, I am really reacting harshly against the suggestion that any woman should spend time journalling about sugar. Really? This is the best use of the time of functional, capable, interesting multi-talented/multi-tasking women who are already at least in part aware of the line of bullshit they’re being fed? THIS is what we want those women to do with their time and their precious minds? Journal about their feelings about sugar? No, just NO.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tracy I says:

      Forgive me for feeling a bit defensive in the wake of this onslaught in today’s comments but the fact is, in addition to the 20 minutes I spent journaling about sugar this week (as an exercise in self-reflection), I also spent a good few hours revising a paper on collective responsibility and climate change. I get that this is (clearly) an issue that serves as a flashpoint for people, but I’m astonished at the level of attack that’s bubbled up in the comments. I have come today to see that people feel betrayed on some level by the very idea that a feminist fitness blogger would talk about food restriction in any way, shape or form.

      Like

  16. kaija24 says:

    First, this whole idea, that sugar is “toxic” and “addictive” and the root of so many evils doesn’t square with my training in and knowledge of biomedical sciences…it sounds like typical internet food obsession and hyperbole.

    Second, as someone who tends towards the obsessive and who has recovered from a restrictive eating disorder, the “experiment with cutting out foods!” (without a solid medical reason) can be dangerous for some people (like Russian roulette, you probably won’t know if your genes are preloaded for ED until it’s too late). Shifting one’s discomfort with body issues or food (and what it represents) out of the self and onto an externalised food villain isn’t a good route to getting to the bottom of what’s really at the root of a real or perceived problem. We all self-soothe and reward ourselves in different ways. It’s the pattern of stimulus-response and how we do or do not self-regulate and work with our emotional responses that is usually more of an issue than OMG THE BAD FOOD MADE ME DO IT!!! (the modern version of “the Devil made me do it”.

    Finally, as other commenters have pointed out, as a feminist, I am really reacting harshly against the suggestion that any woman should spend time journalling about sugar. Really? This is the best use of the time of functional, capable, interesting multi-talented/multi-tasking women who are already at least in part aware of the line of bullshit they’re being fed? THIS is what we want those women to do with their time and their precious minds? Journal about their feelings about sugar? No, just NO.

    Like

  17. Ange B says:

    Thank you for your post Tracy. Having ‘done’ a sugar elimination thing (the whole pantry purge etc) a few years back I am interested to hear your thoughts on both your experience and the discussion this post has raised.
    I wonder if an announcement of a change to vegetarianism/veganism (depending on your starting point) would raise the same debate/ire? Is is because of the association of sugar-excess-weight-body image that we as feminists feel challenged? As opposed to sugar just being another food.
    If I stop drinking alcohol or eating wheat because to not do so makes me feel better, why shouldnt I stop eating food sweetened with sucrose – if that makes me feel better?

    I should add I didn’t stick with a ‘sugar free” lifestyle but I learnt a few interesting things about myself along the way and am better for the experience.

    Also – re training and race nutrition. Check out EDNR real foods. Friend of a friend in Canberra Aust. who recently completed Ironman NZ without a single gel or the like (bananas, orange, non- sweetened electrolyte drink and homemade berry gels and cookies did the job!).

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I have been reading here for a while but never commented — this post and the discussion have inspired me to finally chime in. The response to this post makes me a bit uncomfortable for reasons of something I’ve been noticing more and more — the ubiquity of policing women’s choices when it comes to how we take up space, even in body-positive and feminist circles. It seems incredibly difficult to not turn any woman’s choice on what she does with her body into something for public, politicized comment. While I don’t think we can ignore the fact that women’s bodies are politicized and a lot of women’s choices are heavily influenced by social constructs and politics that are often oppressive in ways we don’t even notice, I’m not comfortable with only looking at the larger context when talking about women’s choices for their bodies. For me, body diversity also means accepting the fact that there is no one right way to exist in a woman’s body. Some women will be of a certain size, some will enjoy lifting weights, some won’t care much for exercise at all, some will feel great eating meat, some will be vegetarian, and some may even just feel better not eating much sugar. Of course, all of those decisions or sensations of “feeling better” don’t exist in a vacuum (do I feel better eating less sugar because I actually feel better or because I feel like I’m eating ‘properly’?). I want to make sure that when I talk about those conflicts, I’m talking about the conflict and not the woman trying to sort it out. And on that ramble, I’ll say bye and thank you so much for the thought-provoking post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tracy I says:

      Thank you so much for this. I have to admit that I went to bed last night feeling beaten up by some of the response to my post (particularly those that called my feminism intI question). But I also take feminists seriously and have done my best to read past the tone to the content. I’ll be blogging on this tomorrow. I agree with you that there are different ways of being and we should be able to make our choices even if some of them might be less than perfectly authentic (who lives completely free of the influence of patriarchal social norms? Do we really need to attract each other for it? I sure hope not!). So thank you for your comment. Please chime in more often because your thoughtful and smart reflections are most welcome here!

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  19. I take responsibility for the initial harsh tone of my comment and apologize for that. I think what a lot of us are trying to say is: absolutely eat however makes you happy. But blogging about what many see as an extreme food restriction could do harm. It’s also not particularly feminist or original. Or scientifically sound. And it’s triggering for people in recovery for eating disorders.

    Learning what works for you is great. But reinforcing the idea that any sugar is inherently harmful or that “healthy” eating requires extreme vigilance is a problem in my eyes.

    Sharing a baked treat with my daughter or at the dinner table with my parents is a ritual infused with joy and steeped in culture. If I don’t feel like eating the cake, I am not going to eat the cake! But I would never, ever demonize cake or any other food in front of my kid. We talk about how some foods are “growing foods” that keep us strong, and others are “sometimes food,” which we enjoy just because they taste good.

    I can tell you, my father-in-law and his wife went on a few cleanses and had our family over for dinner. They served us dessert and bread products and just sat there and did not eat the stuff themselves while they talked about their supposedly virtuous diets. It. Felt. Awful.

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    • KateNorlock says:

      I don’t know how anyone could read Tracy Isaac’s post and attribute demonizing to her. It is a model of reflective and analytical thinking, and she does not demonize sugar any more than she demonizes alcohol or meat. To continually insist that she is demonizing something is an uncharitable caricature of her view. It is to use loaded language to imply that she is irrational.

      Tracy, I think you are particularly feminist, and I find your personal narrative particularly original.

      Liked by 4 people

  20. Dee says:

    A couple good books to read are “A Year without Sugar” – by Eve O. Schaub or Salt Sugar Fat – by Michael Moss. I wouldn’t say they demonize foods but describe the body’s interaction with the foods and (specifically Moss’ book) how that is exploited by the food industry (which is a WHOLE other topic). Being aware of how your body reacts to things and how you feel (“I remember the year I went without sugar and how much better I felt–I slept better and my energy was even through the day. I had fewer food cravings and I never felt over-full after a meal.”) is very important.

    And until you try, you won’t know what works best for you. I look forward to reading your journey.

    Like

  21. foodinspiredlife says:

    A couple good books to read are “A Year Without Sugar” – by Eve O. Schaub or “Salt Sugar Fat” – by Michael Moss. I think it’s a good look at how your body reacts to things you eat and (specifically Moss’ book), how that is exploited by the food industry. We all know portion sizes have grown exponentially and how “everything in moderation” is a commonly used saying. Sometimes zero is the only feasible amount for someone. I can’t wait to read more about your journey.

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