How to Eat Well

Dr Chatterjee recommends eating a rainbow of different coloured vegetables

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This week we’re back to Dr Chatterjee’s Four Pillar Plan and the pillar I’m looking at is ‘Eat’. It seems quite relevant to be writing about food at this point as Mr Simple and I have started the 5:2 diet today. Actually, he is starting it, bullied into it by me and I am keeping him company. He keeps saying that he will cut out beer and crisps or just eat a calorie-controlled diet every day, but it never happens. I think that the 5:2 diet, although it is difficult on the fast days (I know I have tried it before) the good thing is that on the other days you can eat normally, including the occasional bowl of crisps, and it is still effective.

So what does Dr Chatterjee saying about eating…

Dr Chatterjee does not believe that there’s one true diet that’s optimal for everyone. According to him we are capable of thriving on a whole range of diets. Have you heard of blue zones? These are magical areas where the proportion of people who live past 100 is up to ten times higher than the average rate. If you go back to my previous posts by Dr John Day you will see that he studied one in China.

The broad and basic principles that are consistent among all the blue-zone diets are:

  • None has a processed-food culture. By and large they eat fresh, unprocessed, local produce.
  • They all sit down and eat meals together.
  • They eat what’s in season.
  • They have treats, but only at very special festival times such as Christmas and Easter, not every day after school or every Friday and Saturday.
Many of our foods contain a lot of sugar

Dr Chatterjee recommends the following:

De-normalise sugar

Retrain your taste buds by removing all sugars from your cupboards and get into the habit of always reading the label on your food to check the sugar content. It is really surprising where manufacturers hide sugar e.g. mango chutney, which I love with curry, is full of sugar – it is the main ingredient.

A new definition of ‘five a day’

Aim to eat at least five portions of vegetables every day – ideally of five different colours. Dr Chatterjee says that one of the reasons for this is that variety is good for the bugs that live in our gut and their associated genes collectively known as our microbiome.

How to increase your colours:

  • Print out the rainbow chart from drchatterjee.com (link) and put it on your fridge. Tick off all the colours you have consumed in one day.
  • Get into the habit of snacking on veg – carrots with hummus, cucumber with tahini, celery sticks with almond butter.
  • Leave colourful appealing vegetables on the kitchen worktop or your desk so that you see them regularly: bright orange carrots, red and yellow peppers, green olives.
  • Add two vegetables to every meal, including breakfast. If you’re having eggs in the morning try adding spinach and avocado. This is one of my favourite ways of increasing the amount of vegetables that you eat. So many people eat cereals and toast for breakfast, missing out on the opportunity to get in one or two of their five a day.
  • Roast a whole baking tray of colourful vegetables drizzled with olive oil; eat some with your evening meal and save the left-overs in the fridge. They can form the basis of lunch the next day.

Introduce daily micro-fasts

Get into the habit of eating all of your food within a twelve-hour time window. Our bodies are designed for going without food for certain periods of time. As soon as you start to give your body a break from all the gorging, incredible things start to happen. Eating all your food in a restricted time window allows your body to repair cells and the immune system. I heard a great analogy on one of Dr Chatterjee’s podcasts – your body trying to repair cells with food still passing through your gut is like workmen trying to resurface the motorway with cars still driving up and down it.

Six tips to help you micro-fast:

  1. Choose a twelve-hour period that suits your lifestyle. Note that your twelve-hour eating window is from the beginning of your first meal to the end of your last meal.
  2. Your body likes rhythm so try and keep to the same times every day, even at weekends. Occasionally you may need to change your eating window – this is absolutely fine.
  3. Outside your eating window stick to water, herbal tea or black tea and coffee. Be careful with caffeine so you don’t adversely affect your sleep.
  4. Try to involve other members of your household or even work colleagues. This will help to keep you motivated and increase your chances of success.
  5. Don’t be disheartened if you miss a day or even two. It really doesn’t matter. When you feel ready, try again and see how you get on.
  6. When you are feeling comfortable with twelve hours, you may choose to experiment with short eating windows on different days. If you do this pay attention to how the change makes you feed and adjust accordingly.
Try to drink more water – adding calorie-free flavour

Drink more water – aim to drink eight small glasses of water per day (approx. 1.2 litres)

Tips to help you increase your water intake:

  • Have two glasses of water when you wake up each morning
  • If you’re hungry mid-morning or mid-afternoon, try having a glass of water instead of a snack
  • Once every hour get up from your desk and go to the water cooler
  • Drink a glass of water thirty minutes before each meal
  • Set an alarm three times per day to remind you to have a drink
  • Try adding lemon or orange slices for flavour – I add fresh mint leaves

Unprocess your diet

There’s no need to count calories, fat, carbs, weight watchers’ points, slimmer’s world sins. Simply focus on avoiding highly processed foods. It’s a pretty safe bet that any food product that contains more than five ingredients is highly processed. Dr Chatterjee believes that the major problem is not that we’re simply eating too much food; it’s actually that we’re eating the wrong type of food. We are now eating large quantities of low-quality food.

Tips to unprocess your diet and eat more real food

  1. Start your day with a meal containing some protein as well as some healthy, natural fat. This will help you stay full for longer, stabilise your blood sugar and help you avoid the mid-morning crash e.g. those eggs and vegetables, not cereals and toast.
  2. Keep an emergency snack pack with you at all times. It can live in your back-pack, your car and even your office. Dr Chatterjee’s includes a tin of wild salmon, almonds and nut butter.
  3. Write a meal planner – many people find it useful to plan out their meals for the whole week so that they can plan their weekly shop.
  4. Remove all highly-processed food from your house – if it’s not there you are much less likely to eat it.
  5. Healthy food is available to buy in every supermarket. Find out where it lives and only shop those aisles.
  6. Come up with five simple meals that you can whip up in fifteen minutes or less. These will become your go to staples.
  7. Keep frozen vegetables in the house at all times. Easy to steam, they can be a quick, healthy snack or form part of a meal. I think that there is a snootiness around frozen veg i.e. they are seen as only eaten by the lower classes, except maybe frozen peas. In fact they have more nutrients than fresh veg that have taken days or weeks to get from the field to your plate. They are also cheaper than fresh. In particular I like frozen spinach to put in curries and have recently bought broccoli and cauliflower for this purpose as well.
  8. Keep pre-chopped garlic and onions in the fridge at all times.
  9. Make sure you always have a healthy protein source such as fish or eggs in the house. Protein is the macronutrient that keeps you most full. It takes little time to boil an egg or pan-fry a salmon fillet.
  10. Herbs and spices are your friends – use them freely as they are a great way to add new and exciting flavours to a meal. Many, such as turmeric, ginger and black pepper, have powerful health benefits. Mr Simple and I eat curry several times a week. I think that you can curry almost any vegetable.
  11. Make your kitchen area desirable. You want to love being in your kitchen.

So that’s it. Do you want to change your eating habits? I think that it’s so easy to overeat and our society makes it easier to be fat than it is to be thin, which takes real effort and a great deal of willpower. As Dr Chatterjee’s suggestions show, you have to make it easier to make healthy choices. What are your tricks for doing this? I would love to know. Or are you struggling with food? Need some help? I would love to give you some more tips to try. Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to check out ‘The Four Pillar Plan’.

How to Sleep Well

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A couple of weeks ago week I introduced to you Dr Rangan Chatterjee, a GP and author of ‘The Four Pillar Plan’. I talked about how to relax and hopefully that’s given you some good ideas. This week I want to tell you what he says about how to get a good night’s sleep.

According to him, waking up feeling refreshed is a good general barometer of overall health, but I know that many people struggle with this. He believes that waking up at the same time, give or take 30 minutes, without an alarm, is a good indicator that your body’s intrinsic biological rhythms are working well. I am lucky as this happens to me, but Mr Simple complains as he likes to sleep in. Unfortunately I feel like death warmed up when I do that. Most days I get up and go and make a cup of tea. This helps to get Mr Simple going in the morning.

Not being able to drop off within thirty minutes of trying means that there is likely to be something in your lifestyle that is un-training your body’s own natural ability to sleep. I think Mr Simple is jealous of my ability to fall asleep almost as soon as my head hits the pillow. He would say that he struggles to get to sleep, because as soon as I do so, I start snoring and he can’t get to sleep due to the noise level.

What then are Dr Chatterjee’s tips for a better night’s sleep. Firstly…

Create an environment of absolute darkness

Try to keep your bedroom completely dark and free of televisions or e-devices. One of the worst things you can do in the hour or two before bed is look at your smartphone or tablet. What goes for e-devices also goes for television. Turn it off at least 30 minutes before you go to bed. I’ve never really understood the idea of having a TV in the bedroom. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a bookworm and so bed is for reading and not watching TV.

Embrace morning light

Spend at least twenty minutes outside every morning. Even on the dullest days we’re still exposing ourselves to light at a higher amount outdoors than if we were inside. This is not something that I am good at. My excuse is always that if the weather was better I would do so. Also, our patio area at the back of the house is a bit tatty at the moment and not a pleasant place to sit. Once it is looking better I will have no excuse.

Have a cup of tea outside in the morning

Tips to help you embrace morning light:

Have your morning tea or coffee in the garden or next to a window

Don’t get your newspaper delivered; collect it on foot.  My frugal streak would say not to buy a paper at all, but just go for a walk. My grandfather used to go to the local shop every morning to buy his paper. Whenever we stayed with my grandparents we would go out with him to the shop in the morning.

If you must drive in the morning, leave the car a ten-minute walk away from your destination.

If you shop in the morning park as far as possible from the supermarket entrance.

Get off the bus half a mile from your destination and walk the remaining distance.

Consider getting a dog and taking it for a walk every morning. This is lovely on a summer’s morning, but I’m writing this on a particularly wet day in July and the thought of having to take a dog out in that is not something that I would look forward to. I do know though that when we looked after a friend’s dog for a week last August I went out twice a day no matter what the weather.

Try to take a morning break and go for a short walk outside. This obviously depends on where you work. Some offices are not in particularly good locations for walking, but if yours is, try to spend a few minutes outside.

Create a bedtime routine

No matter how late you go to bed, no matter if the next day is a Monday or a Sunday, always get up at the same time. If you did stay up late the night before and are still feeling tired in the morning, it is worth trying to catch up a with a nap later on in the day.

Dr Chatterjee’s ideal night time routine

Make sure that all vigorous exercise is done by 6.30pm.

By 8.30pm turn off your computer and mobile phone.

Watch a bit of TV, but make sure it’s relaxing and do some light stretching at the same time. I watched the film ‘Everest’ a few months ago; a true story about a climbing accident and couldn’t sleep as a result of thinking about the trip leader who had to say goodbye to his pregnant wife as he was going to die on the mountain.

Alternatively, sit and listen to relaxing music or do some deep breathing in silence.

Drinks should be non-caffeinated.

Go to bed around 9.30pm. Mr Simple thinks that this is super early, but it’s when I think about going upstairs. It takes time to brush my teeth, wash my face and then I have half an hour or so to read, so lights out is not until after 10pm.

Have the bedroom window open a little. Central heating can make the bedroom too warm. It is better to have a cool bedroom and snuggle under a duvet.

Read next to a dim light until ready to fall asleep. I have a sunrise/sunset lamp which I absolutely love, mainly for the mornings as it gradually increases the amount of light in the room over 30 minutes. It is so long since I was woken by the alarm in a pitch black room and had to tell Mr Simple to cover his eyes as I switched on the bedside lamp and blinded us both. I have also used it at night when Mr Simple is away as I can go to sleep next to a dim light rather than in darkness, worrying about who might be breaking in to murder me.

Manage your commotion

Minimise any activity that will raise emotional tension before bed. Make it a cast-iron rule that you do not discuss emotive subjects in the evenings or crack into a new work task.

Tips to manage your commotion

Don’t watch the news, a thriller or any similar commotion-causing programme before bed.

Don’t discuss financial or stressful family matters

Make it a rule not to check work emails in the ninety minutes before bed. In an ideal world I would say don’t check work emails after 5pm.

Focus on relaxing exercise in the evening such as yoga or light stretching.

Meditation before bed can help you quieten your mind.

Educate your family and friends about your evening routine.

Make an entry into a gratitude journal before bed.

Enjoy your caffeine before noon

Ensure that any caffeine you do choose to consume is taken before lunchtime. When I started taking a flask of coffee with me to the office in order to save money, as there was usually some left in the afternoon, I was drinking it and had several sleepless nights as a result.

Tips to reduce your caffeine intake

Drink non-caffeinated herbal tea to get you past your 3pm slump.

Avoid decaffeinated coffee as many brands still contain trace amounts.

Drink sparkling water in place of your caffeinated beverage. Not sure I agree – just drink tap water -it’s cheaper.

Reduce your sugar intake. This will actually give you more energy and reduce the likelihood of craving a caffeine pick-me-up in the afternoon.

Drink camomile tea in the evening. This can be a great caffeine-replacement as well as promoting relaxation before sleep.

So that’s it. How do you sleep? Could you try some of these tips to help you feel more refreshed when you wake up in the morning? Do you have any other advice for how to get a good night’s sleep? I would love to know them. If you want to find out more don’t forget to check out Dr Chatterjee’s book.

Ideas for relaxing

The by-line of this blog is ‘Ideas for simple living, saving money and being well’ and I feel that recently I haven’t talked enough about being well. With that in mind I decided that I would introduce you to Dr Rangan Chatterjee. Dr Chatterjee is a general practitioner (GP), and you may know him from the BBC One series ‘Dr in the House’. The basic format of the programme was that he would stay with people who were suffering certain medical conditions, which were often caused by their lifestyle. Once he had made his assessment he would then ‘prescribe’ certain activities, foods and therapies in order to treat their conditions. I really liked the approach that he took, looking at the causes of the medical problems rather than just treating the symptoms and helping people to make permanent lifestyle changes to address their difficulties.

I then started following his podcast in which he interviews people from all areas of the wellbeing spectrum, from other doctors to sleep experts and chefs. His interviews often lead me to discover some really interesting individuals and then I can explore their ideas and maybe even buy their books.

Dr Chatterjee has himself written two books. So far, I have only read one, ‘The Four Pillar Plan’. This is an affiliate link (my first one), so if you click on here and purchase the book I will get some money. Alternatively, do as I did and get it out of the library, but if you decide to buy a copy it would be nice if you remember where you heard about it first.

According to him ‘The Four Pillar Plan’ tells you how to:

‘Relax, eat, move and sleep your way to a longer, healthier and happier life. This book is the solution to help you feel better than you ever have before.’

This is a pretty steep promise, but I do think that it lives up to it. The book gives lots of simple and easy-to-implement advice about how to make small changes to your life in order to see big improvements to your health. I got it out of the library at first, but liked it so much that I decided to buy it. I thought that I would take you through the four chapters – relax, eat, move and sleep – over my next few blog posts to give you some tips on how you can improve these areas of your life.

So here goes….

RELAX

According to Dr Chatterjee the health problems of the majority of patients that he sees are driven entirely by their lifestyle. The source of their problem is the way they’re choosing to live and their conditions are often exacerbated by the fact that they’re very busy. In order to address this he suggests the following:

Regular Me Time

Every day, for at least 15 minutes, enjoy some time for you. It must not be an activity that involves any electronic device. Examples of phone-free me-time you might consider are:

  • Having a bath
  • Going for a walk
  • Sitting in a café having a drink
  • Sitting on a park bench relaxing
  • Reading a magazine
  • Reading a book
  • Singing
  • Playing music
  • Gardening
  • Cooking with your favourite album playing, or in silence
Focusing on the positives can improve your state of mind

Keep a gratitude journal

This is a popular tool which I have come across in a lot of literature. Dr Chatterjee suggests that every night before you go to sleep, you write a list of all the things that have gone well for you that day and what you’re grateful for. He believes that this can be really effective at changing your thoughts to a more positive outlook.

Practise stillness every day

I have written about the benefits of meditation before, but that can seem quite daunting. Here Dr Chatterjee has some very simple and easy suggestions for creating a small period of calm in one’s day. He recommends making time to practise stillness for at least five minutes daily. A simple way to create a similar state of mind to that of meditation is through simple breathing exercises. He says that when your out-breath is longer than your in-breath, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which you can think of as your relaxation mode.

Stillness interventions you might think of trying:

  • Deep breathing
  • Yoga breathing practices such as breathing in through left nostril for four, holding for four and breathing out through the right
  • 3-4-5 breathing: breath in for 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and breathe out for 5 seconds.
  • Five minutes of colouring in

Reclaim your dining table

Dr Chatterjee states that in the last few years the importance of social connection to physical health has started to become clear. In order to increase our social time with loved ones he recommends eating one meal a day at the table, in company, without your devices. He believes that we’ve evolved as tribal creatures living happily in large groups so the brain interprets social isolation as a major problem. Apparently the levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to be higher in lonely people, so we need to make more social connections with others.

There we have it, chapter one. How do you relax? I find cooking, listening to my favourite comedies on the radio or pottering in the garden are times when I can forget about my work day and feel relaxed.

Let me know your thoughts on his recommendations or maybe try a few of his suggestions and see how you get on. I think in our busy world we all need to find time to relax or and to make the most of the time that we do have to cut off from the pressures of the day.  

The Longevity Plan Chapter Five – Find Your Rhythm

For me this means having a routine. I am a creature of habit and love routine maybe more than most. I find it comforting. Some people seem to enjoy living chaotically and stumbling through the day from one crisis to the next, but I like to know what to expect. I don’t find it boring; I find it calming. From the moment that I wake up I know what is going to happen, as I have a morning routine and I look forward to each part of it. Every evening I plan the routine for the next day. I can’t do the same each morning as my work pattern varies. Sometimes I leave the house at 8am and other days I can log on to my computer at home at 9.30am.

Waking Up Slowly

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My day starts when my sunrise lamp gradually lightens the room. Sometimes this wakes me up, other days it takes the alarm to do that, which is actually the radio coming on. The dulcet tones of Mr Humphrys arguing with a politician on the Today programme is my choice of listening in the morning.

Every day starts with a cup of tea in bed – you may be able to guess that I don’t have children! This used to be a weekend treat, but now it happens every day. Monday to Friday I make the tea, but on the weekends I get to stay in bed and my other half makes it.

Whilst drinking my tea I read a non-fiction book; at the moment it is A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button, founder of the website, Buy Me Once.

If I have time I exercise. This is usually a short jog on the treadmill. If I don’t have time I just shower. Before I leave the bedroom I turn back the duvet to let the bed air. I don’t agree with the recommendation that you should start your day by making your bed, because my understanding is that you sweat in the night and you need to let the bedding and mattress dry out. I would say that it is actually unhygienic to make your bed straightaway.

Quiet Time

I always have ten minutes sitting in silence. I am not sure whether I would call it meditation, as I don’t think that I have mastered that art. I sit with my eyes closed and try to concentrate on my breathing. Thoughts come and go and sometimes things that I had forgotten come into my head or solutions to problems dawn on me. Other times I can’t focus and I give up before the timer goes off on my phone to say the ten minutes are up. Then it’s breakfast time before I start work for the day. Whilst eating my breakfast I read emails on my phone.

Sunlight

Dr John Day recommends getting outside into natural light, especially in the morning, but at some times of year it isn’t light in the morning! He believes that it is incredibly effective at adjusting our circadian rhythms. Sometimes I think so many of these things would be easier if I lived somewhere warmer and sunnier, rather than in Wales where we’re more likely to have torrential rain or fog than sunshine! Maybe I need to try to incorporate this into my routine once the warmer weather comes or just move to the South of France – one day maybe!

Making the transition from work to home

As you may guess I have an evening routine as well. When I come home I get changed out of my work clothes and straighten the duvet now that the bed has had the day to air. Even if I work at home for the day or am there for the afternoon, I don’t get changed into my evening clothes until after I have logged off for the day. It is a psychological thing. Once I am in my tracksuit bottoms I am off-duty. I cook dinner, listening to iplayer, usually a comedy from Radio 4 Extra; some light-heartened entertainment helps to pass the time.

We are very unsophisticated and dinner is usually taken on our laps watching TV. We rarely have puddings and so we treat ourselves to a square of dark chocolate after dinner. I usually spend time on my computer, reading emails, catching up on social media and working on my blog. I also review the day and plan the next morning.

Bedtime

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Dr Day states that fundamental to establishing a good rhythm is to get plenty of sleep i.e. seven to nine hours. Me, I like to be in bed with my head on the pillow by 10.30pm. After computer time I may watch a little bit more tele if it’s not too late, but about 9.30/9.45pm I’m upstairs, doing my ablutions – as my other half calls them i.e. brushing my teeth, washing my face, etc. Then I spend 30 minutes reading fiction. By this time of day I am too tired to read a non-fiction book and immersing myself in a story about other peoples’ lives helps me to wind down before sleep.

Obviously there are days when this doesn’t all happen. At weekends I don’t always have my quiet time. Breakfast can be a very leisurely affair drinking coffee and doing a crossword. If I am going out for the evening there is no routine, but on the whole this is how life is and l love it.

Your Routine?

So what are your daily routines? Do you even have a routine? If not, have you thought about starting one? What would be your ideal routine? I would love to know.

If you are thinking about starting a morning routine I would suggest checking out the recent post by Radical Fire in which she tells you about ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod and how she has used that to shape her routine. It might give you some ideas.

Be In Motion

In chapter four of ‘The Longevity Plan’ Dr John Day states he believes that a life of constant, but not overly taxing movement, using every muscle group in our bodies, is a model for the very best kind of exercise there is. This should include short bursts of more strenuous activities. He believes that we are designed to be in movement all the time.

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For me the challenge that I face is that, like most of the population, I earn money by sitting in front of a computer for much of my day. Our modern lifestyles meant that we are mainly sedentary creatures. The message from Dr Day is that although doing some strenuous exercise during the week i.e. going to the gym or for a jog, is of benefit, the best thing that we can do for our health is to be on the go most of the time.

My own pattern is that I tend to spend Monday to Friday either sitting in front of a computer, sitting in the car or sitting talking to someone…as you can see there is a theme here! The weekend is fortunately a different matter. As I don’t have a cleaner I can be almost constantly in movement doing all those lovely jobs such as dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the toilet. When the weather is warmer there is also gardening to be done and walking up and down the garden gets in much needed steps.

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I really need to find ways of incorporating more movement into my day, but like everyone I find that going out for a walk is much more attractive when the sun is shining and in this current cold weather I just want to stay in the warm.

Dr Day suggests the following:

  • using part of your lunch break to take a walk or bike ride
  • using the stairs in your office
  • parking far from the office door and walk
  • if you must sit, set an alarm to remind yourself to stand every 30 minutes

In ‘The Four Pillar Plan’ by Dr Rangan Chatterjee he recommends what he calls the ‘five minute kitchen workout’. Basically, whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or the rice to cook, do a few squats, lunges or calf raises. That seems much more manageable to me.

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He goes on to suggest ‘high intensity interval training’ – two ten minute sessions each week. By ‘high intensity’ he means going all out, sweat running and heart pumping. By the end you should be out of breath and unable to hold a conversation for a good thirty seconds. An example he gives is running on a treadmill for one minute and twenty seconds at 4km hour and then 12km per hour (or whatever feels very hard to you) for 40 seconds. This should be repeated three to five times. If my maths is correct that is a maximum of ten minutes exercise.

If you don’t have a treadmill his suggestion is to walk out of your front door and go to the end of your road. From there, walk as fast as you can for one minute. When that minute is over, look to see which house number you’ve arrived at, then walk at a normal pace back to the start. Now you repeat the same sequence, but this time you want to see if you can beat yourself and get to a house further down the road. Try to do this five times in total.

Dr Day concludes by saying that it is so important to stack the deck in favour of motion and the best way to do that is to make it fun. Do the exercises you enjoy doing, because if you don’t enjoy doing it, you won’t do it.

So how do you fit movement into your day? I’d been interested to see how people squeeze this in during their busy schedules. Do you try to be in constant motion or is short bursts of intensive training your thing? Maybe like me it’s just the vacuuming workout on the weekends!