Fat Acceptance: An intriguing idea gone wrong

I stumbled across Shapely Prose (a Fat Acceptance (FA) blog) as it was a WordPress featured blog. At first, I thought it was a good idea for larger people to have a community where they can get support, as often they can get alienated by media and society at large, saturated with unrealistic body expectations, which we recognize at our blog. Suddenly, I found myself censored at this prominent FA blog, simply due to challenging some of the premises in their advice column (more details here). It got me interested in the movement in general, visited a few other FA blogs, and began to see an ideology and culture crystalizing around it, bordering on dogma. Below are my impressions.

Identity: Fat acceptance as Replacement to Self-Acceptance.

I’ll touch briefly on the word “acceptance” which merits a post of its own. Identifying oneself deeply with fat, and hoping others to overlook it and/or accept it, will create mixed results. This is the problem with pride which often leads to arrogance. This is what seems to happen to some of the FA bloggers more than their readers whose responses tend to be more nuanced.

“…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” – Serenity Prayer

I believe much of the FA ideology is rooted in comfort. It is easier to accept than to change. Easier to surrender to sensory hedonism than mindful consumption. Pure unquestioned acceptance leads to stagnation. Pure unquestioned change leads to stress. Both can lead to a loss of self esteem. Fat is just one characteristic of a person, and no one is its full incarnation. It’s OK to have some dissatisfaction, as it helps us grow as people.

There is no conflict in saying I like who I am but dislike some of the things I do (or fail to do). Self-worth to me comes from a sense that I can stretch my limits in a realistic fashion. This has occurred to us through exercise and applied LONG-TERM nutrition not quick fix diets.

Distortions of valid social issues

We are against bigotry, and believe that people should be respected and granted basic human dignity regardless of their particular nationality, sexual orientation, “gender”, “race/ethnicity” (will elaborate on the quotes in a future post), AND size. I believe this may have been the initial premise of FA, which is admirable. Militancy in extremes can flip upon itself, thus turning feminism into sexism, unconditional love to an expectation of unconditional attraction, and empowerment into victim mentality.

Intuitive Eating

There’s a mantra that is heard so often, which ironically is one I agree with: Diets don’t work. An extension of that is something called intuitive eating. Reading the principles, they sound reasonable except # 5 “Respect your fullness”. Many people (including myself before I began learning about nutrition) use fullness as a gauge to end hunger. This can result in bloating, lethargy and consuming more calories than needed for sustenance and well being. I was using food as a sensory playground, rather than a source of nourishment. I don’t believe in denying myself any type of food, yet one can indulge with full awareness of the caloric density of the food, and consume accordingly.

The term “intuitive eating” itself is a problem, as it suggests honouring the wisdom of the body forged through the millenia of evolution. It overlooks the fact that we don’t live in hunter-gatherer days where food was scarce, it took more body energy to get it, and was unprocessed unlike many calorie-dense, packaged foods we find in our supermarkets.

What can be more intuitive and innocent than a child? I was fairly overweight as one, and I ate what I wanted when I wanted. I was fortunate to have my parents notice my overindulgence and began to practice mild portion control and serve healthier foods. Some parents unfortunately use food as a pacifier. Below is a tragic example of what can happen when a child is permitted to eat “intuitively” in these days of low nutrient calorie dense packaged foods. (Vid: 2:39 min)

Our brain is also a remarkable organ that’s evolved through time. It’s ok to use our knowledge in nutrition in harmony with our stomachs and our palate. Feels right, AND makes sense. Not one or the other. BOTH.


25 Responses to “Fat Acceptance: An intriguing idea gone wrong”

  1. There is no way in hell that little girl weighed 420 pounds at 8 years old without a medical disorder. This is NOT an example of actually eating intuitively. If you do research, doctors believe she had a chemical imbalance that caused a constant need to eat.

    This video is APPALLING. I can’t believe someone would air this. This is a situation where the child’s mother clearly was uneducated and didn’t realize that her daughter needed medical help. I am glad child protective services intervened, but truly sorry that the whole world is making fun of what this poor kid went through.

    Most children who do not eat intuitively learn the bad eating habits from their parents. I learned to scarf my food down because my father would otherwise take it off my plate. I learned to sneak food because I was put on a super restrictive diet and was constantly hungry (and to illustrate how restrictive it was, I would sneak food and still lose weight).

    I never really had much of a chance to eat intuitively. Most children don’t because most parents – especially mothers – are obsessed with their own weight. It sets up a bad eating pattern, a disordered eating pattern, for many children.

    I’ve heard stories of children as young as three refusing to wear something because it makes them “look fat.” This is a sad state of affairs.

    I don’t agree with everything Kate Harding or bloggers like her have to say. However, I do think that fat bias and mockery is the last “acceptable” form of prejudice, and that needs to stop. It is just made worse with the media portraying images like these of poor Jessica Leonard and calling her the “fattest child in the world.” I don’t care if she weighs more than any other child… at the end of the day, it’s crap.

    I am concerned with all eating disorders, not just those that result in weight gain. I write a blog with the attempt to educate, to inspire and to help people – especially women – help themselves. I’m far from being on the same level as Kate Harding, and I doubt I will ever be where she is. That’s fine. I have regular readers, and that’s enough for now.

  2. Hi 99ppp, I was interested to investigate and follow up on the background to this. I’ve just been reading the comments on the FA blog and am appalled at the name calling they levelled at you. I saw nothing wrong with your comments at all – merely expressing an opinion and because they disagreed they then started trashing you. Disgusting! It has nothing to do with actually accepting another person, it is about pushing their point of view militantly as you point out.

    And I agree with everything you’ve said here. One thing I’ve also learnt is that feeling full is not the gauge of eating enough – it is the gauge of eating too much! We cannot eat intuitively because we are not in touch with our intuition anymore.

    Keep on questioning and probing. The things people find painful or offensive are the things they should be looking at to see what lies beneath for them. Unfortunately most just react instead of looking at the opportunity to grow and learn.

  3. @zenuria: thanks for your comment and I appreciate your support. I agree that eating until full is eating too much, best to eat nutritious foods moderately to end the hunger feeling. Some in those FA blogs have trouble having someone disturbing their echo chambers, so they limit speech. It’s unfortunate, since most people of conscience would agree that bigotry towards others is unfair, regardless of their particular characteristic.

    @juliet: I think its very likely that doctors will place that little girl on a calorie restrictive regimen. I don’t think that one needs a medical degree to do that and the parents could have fed her reasonable portions of nutritious food instead of loads of empty calories. Now she’ll have to endure extreme restriction.

    I don’t deny myself any foods. Denial can lead to rebellion, and then to binging. The key to nutrition is to gain awareness of the nutrients and calorie density of food and consume accordingly. Diets suck. LONG TERM nutrition is where it’s at. Not quick fixes.

    I took a peek at your blog, and saw pictures of cupcakes, and a link to the same “intuitive eating” site I mentioned above. Why not images of fruits and vegetables along with them? Do you agree with #5 “Respect your fullness”? Do you believe a person can overeat, just like they can undereat? Where does that line lie?

  4. This is valuable writing which applies to being a member of any movement, organization, etc. Groups can be very valuable, however they often ride a thin line between support and going over the limit. We must always approach all things such as this with open eyes. Your thoughts are much appreciated.

  5. @tobeme: Thanks for the kind words. I also tend to be skeptical of groups/movements/organizations and prefer to deal with individuals.

    The whole FA movement reminded me of a milder form of what Camus described in his terrific book, The Rebel. He writes that the rebel will respond to some injustice, often valid (bigotry towards larger people or media influence in this case), but once revolution is successful, it may become more tyrannical in the fervent pursuit of utopia.

    The FA movement has now a successful and substantial online presence, and often refer to their network as the “fatosphere”. Now some charismatic leaders emerge (prominent bloggers) write, and others march lockstep. The emergence of specialized lexicon is also interesting.

    Here’s the wikipedia summary of the book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rebel_(book)

  6. Agree with the author Says:

    @ Juliet
    I followed up on that case and there was nothing medically wrong with that child–she simply overate. After medical counseling she was put on a Doctor supervised DIET and lost most of the weight. However, due to her obesity her bones are now forever disfigured.

    I understand your frustration Juliet but you speak from things that you only see with your immediate eyes not of things that are hidden from view. There is another side to FA, one which people seldom see or wish to discuss. I work as an Paramedic in a large city and there are people whom everyday civilians like Juliet never see. “Shut-in’s” we call them are more common than you realize. They are the end-result of the “surrendering” which the author describes and 90% of the time there is nothing “medical”
    that produces the weight gain. I’ve seen limbs amputated due to raging diabetes and PVD, rotting flesh, machines/help needed to simply “wipe oneself”, fungus growing between the folds of fat, inability to take vital signs because adipose blocked access, hoyer lifts that have failed and much much WORSE due to being obese. My last call was a “shut-in” who had not seen the light of day in over a year, she was covered in her own urine/feces and her flesh was gangrenous. There was more but I will not repeat it here. Welcome to Fat “acceptance.”

  7. @Agree: Thanks for the comment, from one who has seen the toll overeating has taken on people. I was ambivalent about putting up the youtube vid, yet I believe more should be aware of the struggles that accompany morbid obesity, and how poor eating habits (which is often ignored and genetics gets pointed as the culprit) can get can be passed down from parents to children as well.

  8. 99ppp,

    I just realized you commented on my blog about intuitive eating back in September (I haven’t been there in a while). I don’t know if you will even see this comment, but here goes 🙂 A few points for you to consider about intuitive eating:
    1. The authors of the website (Tribole and Resch) you linked to about intuitive eating wrote a book on the subject (or 2 I guess). The book goes into much more depth about these issues.
    2. Intuitive eating is not eating whatever you want whenever you want. It is about learning to recognize your body’s signals, mindfully eating when physically hungry and stopping when you are full.
    3. If a person feels bloating and or lethargy after eating, then they are eating past what intuitive eating (as written about by Tribole and Resch in their book on the sibject) describes as fullness and/or not eating mindfully.
    4. Intuitive eating does not mean ignoring nutrition. In the initial stages someone may eat a lot of oreos and chips to get over the idea that there is no food denied, but as the process continues (see Tribole and Resch’s book for the full process) nutrition is definitely addressed. (I actually eat far more nore nutritously when eating intuitively)

    All that being said, I agree with you about the fat acceptance movement on many levels. There does not seem to be much room for differing opinions on some subjects.

  9. Thanks for response, I’ll address your points.

    1. The fact they wrote a book on a subject isn’t relevant to the validity of their thesis.
    2. The word “intuition” implies using the body’s inner wisdom rather than the intellect. There an incongruity to giving an intellectual argument for a intuitive process. Why the need to learn what is suggested is innate?
    3. I argue that the additives in processed and/or packaged food skew the body’s ability to gauge what an intuitive level of eating is. We don’t have to hunt our food, it is easily accessible, so best to eat to end hunger rather than to feel full (I don’t believe these feelings are analogous). If they define “fullness” as “end of hunger” then the argument is semantic, yet even then, the term “fullness” is an unfortunate one. The lethargy one may feel after overindulging may not be unpleasant, and from my experience it can cause light euphoria. This is why I insist that distinction is so crucial in my post.
    4. I agree with not ignoring nutrition. But doesn’t that require one’s intellect? This is why its best to read labels (using our intellect) to assess what nutrition we are getting (calories/nutrients). As far as eating junk food to get over the idea of denial, one can simply consider the idea of choice. If one consumes more calories than one expends they are going to gain weight. I understand the reluctance to micromanage calories, it a major drag, yet I believe that portion control can be a lifelong habit well worth learning and becomes easier with practice.

    The list itself is very reasonable.. it was just “Respect your fullness” was a principle that I feel needed to be reexamined, and perhaps calling it “INTUITIVE eating”. Can’t think of a better name at the moment. On the FA movement, I agree that it’s not doing itself any favours by narrowing the range of discussion.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment! 🙂

  10. Thanks for the response 99ppp. I’d like to respond.
    I did not mention the book as primae facie evidence of their thesis (and actually it is not originally their idea), but rather that your response appeared to be based on the webpage and perhaps what FA bloggers may talk about rather than the entire book. Obviously the book goes into much more depth on the idea that would likely (in my mind at least) answer many of your issues. It seems some of your objections are based on semantics. Intuitive eating does indeed require you to use your intellect including reading labels etc. and fullness is defined as the end of hunger. I think reading the book would likely answer many of your questions/issues.

  11. Well, Donna I don’t feel I should have to read a book to order to understand what “intuitive” (or “fullness”) means. The authors are saying what intuitive means to them, and I don’t agree. I’d like to know what “intuitive” means to you, as you understand it. If you agreed with the authors, you should be able to articulate it without needing to refer to it.

    Semantics are relevant here. I cannot simply embrace their definition, unless they give me good reason to do so. Considering that I am having this discourse with you, and not them, perhaps you can tell me what you feel eating intuitively is, and how fullness feels to you.

  12. I wasn’t suggesting you have to read a book to understand the meaning of words, I was suggesting you need to read a book to understand what the process of intuitive eating is. If your argument is that the terms “intuitive” and “fullness” are unfortunate choices that is one thing, and I can’t say I would argue about that. However, it appeared to me you were critiquing the process of intuitive eating from your comment on my blog and because you linked the website. I suggested to read the book because to critique the process you would have to know what the process was, just as if you were going to critique a research study you would have to read the study, not just the abstract, to understand the process and the definition of terms.

    So, I guess I need to ask what you are interested in discussing. Is it the meaning of words or the process of intuitive eating? If it is the word “intuitive” that is the issue, we could call it “thin within” or “gentle eating” or “mindful eating”, all terms used by other authors to describe a similar process since the 1980s.

    For me intuitive eating is about getting in touch with my body’s physiological signs of hunger and satisfaction or fullness. It is about recognizing when my body needs food for physiological rather than psychological reasons. It is about recognizing what foods “satisfy” my body. It is about making food choices mindfully, both in type and amount, looking toward what tastes I enjoy and what will make my body feel good and healthy rather than following rules. That means that I eat fruits and veggies because I like how they make me feel and how they taste. It also means I eat some chocolate because I like how it tastes, but not too much because too much makes me feel sluggish. It means I stop eating when my hunger ends. For me this feels like a very gently pressure in my stomach. If I feel bloated or stuffed or am uncomfortable then I ate way past satisfaction or fullness. “Intuitive” in this context means being in touch with myself and my body regarding food and eating.

  13. I appreciate the thorough response, Donna.

    I can’t allow the authors to appropriate the word “intuitive” and “fullness” despite the studies they might have made. Highly processed food tend to fool the body’s natural satiation levels, in our experience. I agreed with most of the principles on the post and the comments, but objected on that one specifically. I have direct experience with that phenomenon (pure empiricism) so that will trump the pages of references that book may have, in my mind. Myself with salty starchy carbs, my co-blogger here with sweets. The less we ate those high density foods, the less we tended to crave them.

    There are no “bad” foods, just bad portion sizes. Part of mindful eating is being aware of the energy being consumed as contrasted to energy expended. To ignore energy/caloric content isn’t mindful, imo. If one consumes more energy than expended one gains weight, less energy lose weight. It’s that simple.

    Sometimes taste and nutrition don’t align. Yet they can, and to find those foods is the key to long term nutrition, instead of crash diets.

    The “gentle pressure on my stomach” is what I used to think the end of hunger was. Now, it’s simply the end of a sunken stomach feeling, noises and some lightheadedness. The best analogy I can give is like filling a party balloon with just enough air to end its flatness but NOT to stretch the membrane (increasing its surface area higher than its deflated state). That’s the end of hunger to me now.

    “If I am 100% honest with myself I have to admit that I want to lose weight. I am not happy or comfortable at my current weight. My hips and knees hurt. my back hurts. I am tired a lot. It does no good to deny what I feel.” – Your August 26, 2008 post

    I wish you the best of luck, Donna. Unfortunately I don’t see you having much success while you indulge your palate more than gaining a greater awareness of your caloric intake. Portion control worked for us both, we’ve collectively lost 65lbs. We exercise erratically and working on gaining a rhythm, yet we understand that weight loss is 70% nutrition. We’ve also had lapses in nutrition, especially over the holidays, but we haven’t lose track of the good path to health.

  14. 99ppp,

    I can’t allow the authors to appropriate the word “intuitive” and “fullness” despite the studies they might have made

    Okay, well, as I said I’m interested in talking about the ideas, not the appropriateness of word selection.

    I wish you the best of luck, Donna. Unfortunately I don;t see you having much success while you indulge your palate more than gaining a greater awareness of your caloric intake.

    Okay, it shouldn’t surprise me that you would jump to such conclusions considering what you have already written about intuitive eating, yet it does. I make no claim that I am perfect at eating intuitively, or that my previous flog represented the ideal or end of process in intuitive eating. As I said before it is a process. I am quite aware of the nutritional and caloric values in foods. In fact I could probably tell you the caloric content of any given food within 50-100 calories. I don’t think it will do much good for me to say again that intuitive eating isn’t about ignoring nutrition since you don’t seem to believe me. Also it does not mean eating large quantities of food. It is really in essence about portion control, but the portion size is not based on rules,but on the needs of your body.

    While I appreciate your concern for me, your assumptions are not accurate. In actuality once I get to a certain point in the process intuitive eating leads me to consume fewer calories, to eat more fruits and veggies, to eat a variety of nutritous foods. If you’ll notice in that blog entry you quoted above I said that I do better when I eat intuitively. In actuality I have already been successful losing weight with intuitive eating. This past summer I lost a total of 22 lbs doing it. A few years ago I lost 60lbs and my cholesterol dropped 25 points and my blood pressure to 115/65.

  15. “In fact I could probably tell you the caloric content of any given food within 50-100 calories. ”

    That’s impressive, I would find it hard especially with calorie dense food. I used to think I did when pouring olive oil on my salad before I used a spoon to do so. I did the same with pouring soy milk on my coffee.. once I began to measure, the weight seemed to drop off. Others like ourselves may not have your knack for estimating caloric intake, and “intuitive” eating may become counterproductive. Caloric content would have been very useful info to add to the pictures on your blog.

    About palate and nutrition, its not either or, and I never suggested you ignored nutrition I just questioned how balanced its importance was, especially when it comes to high-density processed food.

    I’m pleased it has worked for you, but I doubt it would work for me for the reasons I outlined. I find it can be very easy to underestimate how many calories are consumed and both of us found great success using portion control.

  16. I don’t believe there is only one right way for everyone to manage their weight. Different things work better and worse for different people. It is good if you found something that works for you. I feel that I have as well. It seems to me that you still do not understand what intuitive eating is, but I don’t know that I can express it any better than I have (which is why I reccommend the book). I have just been trying to address your comments because it really is a process that cannot be understood by reading a list on a website. But, I’ll try to adress your comments again.

    Eating intuitively means eating smaller amounts of food without having to count calories. After umpteen diets and nutritional counseling I count calories in my head almost unconsciously. I didn’t put calories on my blog because it makes me obsessive to count them and I don’t want to put that on other people. That is part of what intuitive eating is about, not being obsessive. When I am at a certain point in the process there is no need for me to count anything to loose weight or keep track of food types etc because my body clearly tells me what is too much and what it needs and when I listen I eat a health balance of food and loose weight in a peaceful and non obsessive manner. I know others with the same experience. There is published research demonstrating the same experience. I make no claim it works for everyone, but I know it works for me. My comment back to you was to address your critique left on my blog because I felt your critique was not based on you actually understanding what the process of intiuitive eating was about. Your responses here, unfortunately reinforce that.

  17. Donna,

    Sigh… we’ve gone over this a few times now on my post and in the comments, but here I go, ONE LAST TIME:

    You: “It seems to me that you still do not understand what intuitive eating is..”

    Me: “Well, Donna I don’t feel I should have to read a book to order to understand what “intuitive” (or “fullness”) means. The authors are saying what intuitive means to them, and I don’t agree.”… “I can’t allow the authors to appropriate the word “intuitive” and “fullness” despite the studies they might have made. ”

    Intuition: The act or faculty of knowing or sensing without the use of rational processes; immediate cognition. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/intuition (you may check other dictionaries, yet its pretty much in the same vein)

    Me: 2. The word “intuition” implies using the body’s inner wisdom rather than the intellect. There an incongruity to giving an intellectual argument for a intuitive process. Why the need to learn what is suggested is innate?

    You: “There is published research demonstrating the same experience.” (appeal to reason)

    I believe I’ve spent enough time on the word “intuitive”, and I will post no more comments with that word. I’ve got no interest or need in buying and reading a book that sounds TO ME like sophisticated rationalizations for eating what one wants, which I can easily do: “Because it tastes good and I like to eat.” I’ve used it before, for most of my life, so I have mounds of experience with it, and it didn’t work for me. Glad it worked for you, especially if prone to getting obsessive about calorie counting.

    I agreed with most of the summary of Tribole/Resch Program as outlined in the website, just had an issue with a couple of points, so I don’t believe I wasn’t open minded.

    ME (last paragraph on my post): Our brain is also a remarkable organ that’s evolved through time. It’s ok to use our knowledge in nutrition in harmony with our stomachs and our palate. Feels right, AND makes sense. Not one or the other. BOTH.

    You: I don’t believe there is only one right way for everyone to manage their weight. Different things work better and worse for different people. It is good if you found something that works for you. I feel that I have as well.

    This I can fully agree with, and perhaps we can agree to disagree on the rest.


  18. We at http://www.biggerfatterblog(.)blogspot(.)com are the voice of the new fat acceptance. We admit that obesity is unhealthy and that all fat people are gluttons. We just think that gluttony is good.

    The problem with the old NAAFA style fat acceptance is it is run by stupid jealous stinky fat girls.

    We at BFB represent the vast majority of fat people. Crazy womyn like Kate Hardon have made fat acceptance laughable even to most fat people.

    Fat people are lazy greedy gluttons. Why should we fatlings deny that? True fat acceptors accept the joys of gluttony and sloth and the dangers.

  19. @FatBastard: It took me some time to approve your comments especially after seeing your site, yet I saw some valid points made, however coarse the delivery which for now, I’m going to take as satire without meanspiritness.

    A well-adjusted person who’s accepted their size completely wouldn’t bemoan anyone else’s perceptions of them. The fervour of their activism suggests otherwise.

  20. Diets work but fatlings love their gluttony too much.

  21. FishNChuck Says:

    You Fat Bastard! Always finding a way to push your views on others! In my opinion this man is giving an insight into the minds of these ‘intuitive eaters’. It’s sickening, but it gives you a new perspective on what these people truly justify their lack of health with.

    If someone is good at portion control, I agree that they can eat whatever they want. But just eating whatever you want, and however much of it you want all the time is a recipe for disaster.

    Think about those poor couples out there where one reasonable half takes care of themself, and the other just eats themself to whale-dom. They turn around and rant about how the fit spouse is shallow for wanting an attractive partner. The truth is, their lust for food far outweighs their love and lust for their partner, and the fit spouse has every right to find this unacceptable!

    • @FishNChuck: Thanks for your feedback. My initial controversy at Shapely Prose was on the topic of attraction, as the advice seeker felt shame simply for intermittently finding her partner’s size a turnoff. The FA movement wasn’t even on my radar until I stumbled onto that site, and I’m glad to hear that Kate Harding has recently “closed” it, suggesting the FA propaganda and the appeal of the movement might be receding.

  22. Who is the dumbass who writes this blog? Fat acceptance has nothing to do with accepting the extreme obesity you love to refer to. Fat acceptance is about living your life the best way you can while accepting yourself as a viable and worth while person even if you are overweight. It’s about not letting the obsession with your weight get in the way of your life and your goals. It’s about moving forward spiritually and improving ones self esteem all while working to better your life situation. Obviously to any thinking individual your idea of what fat acceptance is about doesn’t fit in with the core premise of its intended reality. The situations that you are placing under the guise of FA can be and are attributed entirely to mental illness and ignorance and are totally unrelated to Fat Acceptance.

    BTW, the little girl (Jessica) does indeed have a medical issue that causes her to overeat. The very fact that she must take daily medication to curb her out of control appetite indicates a either mental illness or endocrine imbalance. In more recent interviews with her she freely admits an addiction to food and a continuous physical and emotional desire to over eat which is reminiscent of Prader Willi Syndrome.

  23. If it’s about self-acceptance, why not simply call it that? The sad paradox of the movement is that the particular condition expands to envelop a person sense of identity. If one identifies as “fat” and attempts to interject pride instead of simply being a human being, they remain in the trap of seeking worth from those around them.

    I don’t blame the little girl above, it is the parents that gave her access to that food. At the end, what did the doctor treat her condition? Portion control, something her parents could have done in the first place, or sought help how to apply for it if they were ignorant.

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