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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 02, 2010

Dear Mark: Primal Advice for High Schoolers

By Mark Sisson
63 Comments

It’s a question that frequently comes my way. Teenagers, who have found MDA and jump on board with the PB, have their brand of difficulties going Primal: skeptical – if not disapproving – parents, decidedly un-Primal school lunches and social outings, team fast food stops, etc. How does a high schooler go Primal when his/her family isn’t? What does the choice mean for navigating other areas of teen life?

Dear Mark,

I’m 17 and have been trying to switch over to the PB, but some areas are harder right now than others. I’m really getting into the workout ideas and love the simplicity of your Primal Blueprint Fitness ebook program. For me, the eating part is the most complicated. My parents are unsure about the diet and don’t offer much support for the choices I make with the PB. I think they believe it’s just a phase that I’ll give up if they just wait long enough. The social thing is a little bit of a challenge, and don’t get me started on the McDonald’s runs my basketball team makes every time we have an away game. Do you have any suggestions for those of us in high school? By the way, your site is great. I’ve even got some of my friends reading it now. Grok on!

Thanks to Dan for this week’s question. First off, to all the MDA high schoolers out there, kudos for taking charge of your health. You have the chance to benefit from your choice your entire life – a responsibility that truly deserves a big hats off.

That said, I recognize the kinds of hurdles my younger readers can face making a Primal transition. When you live under your parents’ roof and direction (not to mention financial umbrella), implementing some parts of the PB can be tricky. It certainly takes more work and thought. As in Dan’s case, the food issue seems to present the most problems. Although teenagers’ lives usually allow enough freedom to influence their own sleep schedule as well as outside/workout time, meals are another ball of wax.

Modern Family

Parents generally want the healthiest life for their child, and many are naturally suspicious of diet “fads” their kids appear to latch onto. (A number of us probably experimented with some novel diet or food obsession at one time during our teen years.) Nonetheless, there’s obviously a difference between the latest grapefruit cleanse and the Primal Blueprint – a cornucopia of taste and nutrition harkening back to the tradition of primeval families everywhere. (Doesn’t that sound convincing?) Speaking from the position of a parent myself – whose son goes by his own vegetarian version of a Primal diet, I can vouch for the power of good conversation and thoughtful initiative. I know I better understood my son’s perspective – and he understood my concerns.

  • Share specifics. In addition to explaining the general idea behind the PB, talk about some of the things that draw you to the PB. Print out some of the introductory articles (in addition to other favorites), and share them with your parents. If your parents are skeptical of the science behind the diet, invite them to explore the site themselves. Share some of the research we talk about on MDA. Let your parents know, too, what the PB means to you personally. Talk about your experience thus far. Tell them what you’ve changed in your lifestyle and what other goals you have. Even if they’re still doubtful, it’s at least a solid start. They’ll understand more of where you’re coming from and be more likely to take the next step.
  • Work out logistics. This is where the rubber hits the road. Show them you’ve thought it through and can make it work without adding undue pressure to the family finances or work load. Think about how much of your diet you need to change when it comes to home. What are the meals/dishes you can still enjoy with your family, and where will you need to fill in with other Primal additions? Come up with a plan for a sample week – complete with shopping list. Talk about the plan with your parents and how the list and additional food prep (your responsibility, as you can probably guess) could be incorporated into your family’s budget and schedule.
  • Go along to get along. After you’ve worked out the details as much as you can (this might take a few rounds over time), be prepared to head out on the grocery run. This may involve accompanying the shopping parent to the supermarket or using a specified amount of money your parents have given you to shop on your own. Either way, show them you’re willing to accept their rules and make it all work. If you have the freedom to shop where you want, you’ll likely find more Primal variety and possibly better deals at co-ops, farm stands and farmers’ markets if they’re available in your area. It’s doubtful that you’ll be cowpooling any time soon, but comparison shop for the best options given your circumstances and budget.
  • Share a meal. What would your parents say if you offered to make dinner for everyone? If it’s never been your thing in the past, forgive them their initial surprise. Schedule a night when it’s convenient and when everyone has the time to enjoy it together. Make it a real family event. Your parents will appreciate the quality time and obvious effort. As for winning them over to your Primal adventure: if a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what the full experience of a Primal meal can be for tentative parental figures. We parents are suckers for an opportunity to relax while someone else cooks for a change. If you do the dishes, you’re golden.

School Menus

Ah, school. Even after you win over the most cautious-minded mother, there’s the truly epic quest to revolutionize the school lunch menu. (Anyone game?) While you’re trying to persuade the administration, there’s plenty you can do to keep Primal.

  • Bag it. Yes, it’s the obvious choice. With some ingenuity, an extra 10-15 minutes in the morning, and maybe a couple pieces of equipment (high quality thermos and insulated lunch cooler), you can sit down to a feast that will put those soggy pizza slices to shame. Pack up some soup, stew, hard boiled eggs, fresh veggies, my signature salad, or whatever counts as your favorite Primal fare that week.
  • Forage – and supplement – wisely. If you find yourself needing to make school fare at least part of your meal, implement your best foraging tactics. Charm the kitchen staff into giving you extra meat and veggies. Hit the salad bar if you have one. Keep some Primal snacks (sealed) in your locker or bag, or bring supplementary Primal foods to fill in the gaps if you’ll be doing regular school lunches on a daily basis.
  • Bring travel supplies. A similar principle holds for those dreaded fast food stops every high school team seems to make (e.g. football to debate). Forage as you can (e.g. order a salad or at least ditch the bun), and come prepared with Primal provisions so you aren’t totally dependent on the PB revised value meals.

Social Scene

The social scene will likely offer more temptation than pushback. Although you might get verbal support from your friends, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to give up late night pizza runs. You might find yourself sitting back while others dig in, but there’s no reason to skip the outings all together.

  • The key is preparation. Whether you’re going out to eat or just over to someone’s house, make sure you’ve eaten beforehand, and keep a stash of your own edibles if you think you’ll want them. (Primal bars are a great choice here.) There’s always the option of hosting your friends of course. Even if they choose to order in, you’ll have your own supplies ready and waiting.
  • Expand into new territories. Finally, you can always explore some other potential hangouts that offer at least some semblance of Primal fare. Many a greasy spoon diner offers both late hours and decent omelets. (The people-watching is much better to boot.)

Have ideas for the teenage PBers among us? Other questions or concerns to raise? Be sure to share your comments and tips. Thanks again to all the high schooler readers out there. Keep in touch and Grok on!

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63 Comments on "Dear Mark: Primal Advice for High Schoolers"

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Jason
Jason
5 years 10 months ago

I’m sure (most) parents will find it hard to argue that lots of veggies, some fruits and good cuts of meat are bad for you. You might have to go the lean meats route for a while, but you could supplement with coconut products. Cost wise, a can of coconut milk or half a coconut a day isn’t too large for them to say: “Nay!”.

You don’t have to eat any grain products or legumes if you say that they make you feel sick.

Good luck to all primal teenagers out there.

Primal_Joe
Primal_Joe
5 years 10 months ago

Good advice for all of us adults, also.

WRS
WRS
5 years 10 months ago

I’d just like to offer a word of encouragement for the teen PBers to stick with it. As Mark noted, it will be difficult at times, but you will never regret it. I only wish I would have found the guidance of the PB and community of MDA a lot sooner than I did. Grok on!!

The Primal Palette
5 years 10 months ago

One of our fellow Tumblr bloggers is a girl in college that continually impresses us with how she comes up with Primal-friendly meals from the cafeteria. I’ll be passing along this link, bet she’d love it.

Jiri Feala
Jiri Feala
5 years 10 months ago

Well, you are not alone in your struggle. I’m 32y/o and cant get my family to support me either. My wife, bless her heart, is a diehard believer in the food pyramid and all the whole grain propaganda fed to us as kids growing up. She still tries to “Get all the Food Groups” in every meal. It’s all pretty laughable to me, given all the research/debunking articles etc. i’ve read.

Jenny
Jenny
5 years 10 months ago

The trick is for her to realize, if possible, that there’s basically nothing in whole grains that can’t be acquired more healthfully (with more vitamins) and efficiently from other foods.

Maybe the comparisons here will help drive that point home:
http://hbfser.wordpress.com/2010/07/31/lets-talk-numbers/

Jenny
Jenny
5 years 10 months ago

I’d imagine that while some parents and families won’t buy into some of the “gluten is toxic to everyone!” arguments, they’d be hard-pressed to disagree with this: “I feel like grains displace other more vitamin-enriched food I could be eating, so I’d like to eat more vegetables and fruit instead.”

Plus that makes it more about nutrition than about whether your approach is “low carb” or not. (I know a lot of people automatically assume that a lower-carb diet is bad, too…)

Lev
Lev
5 years 10 months ago

I cannot imagine how these conversations go…

“I have decided to eat a more nutritious whole food diet rich in vegetables, fruits, proteins, and healthy fats.”

“Oh, don’t worry it’s just a phase…”

Max Gazzara
Max Gazzara
5 years 10 months ago

I’m 19 years old and primal, and my family and friends have basically accepted what I do. Some of my family members actually introduced me to being primal. Sometimes, unfortuantely, my mom goes on about how I should be eating grains in moderation. She does not understand. I do help with the cooking though, always making something primal, and when I eat out I always make sure to eat as primal as I can

Eduard
5 years 10 months ago

I wish I had this advice in high-school. I used to eat at McDonald’s all the time then, because I thought it was a fad.

Dozer
Dozer
5 years 10 months ago
I have teenagers and fortunately for them I’m the food dictator in our family. So, it’s easy for them… However, many of their friends have decided they to want to be primal and they do not receive any support from their parents. Unfortunately, Mark is right in that you need to be very proactive in order to make the primal diet a possibility. Don’t draw a line in the sand and make the primal diet your Alamo. This will encite resistance and a closed mind from your family. Be INVOLVED…. Suggest meals that YOU can make for the family. Hamburgers… Read more »
Someguy
Someguy
5 years 10 months ago
Its hard to eat primally at a high school. If you say other wise try it… go ahead. Vegetables are usually corn or potatoes, when “actual” veg is served it looks dry and un-terrestrial (watch it long enough and it might start to move). Oh, and that thing in the plastic container in the corner, that might be a salad, might not, whatever it is prepare for a horror show if you open it. I find eating a big breakfast and IF for lunch or to bring lunch works best. As for socially, I never really mention it to friends.… Read more »
Kelda
5 years 10 months ago

I’m 43, don’t get me started on my Mother’s attitude to Primal!

When my kids were teenagers the thing that persuaded us most with any of their apparent ‘fads’ was how long they stuck with it, if a month on they were still on track with whatever it was likely they wouldn’t give up and we’d look carefully and be supportive/invest as appropriate, so stick with it but be polite about it, never get into a teenage mood, and never scream and shout; quiet diplomacy should win out.

Good luck to anyone trying to be Primal with their non-Primal relatives!

Bennett
Bennett
5 years 10 months ago

Lots of love for all the up-and-coming Padawan Groks. Even when I was trying to stay healthy by CW standards, I got blowback from my parents and had to make any runs for extra vegetables, lean meats, etc on my own time and dime, and pretty much forsook family mealtimes. There’s definitely some sacrifices to be made, and my dad still razzes me about being a ‘picky eater’–less than a month after needing bypass surgery for a heart blockage. Oy.

Ani
Ani
5 years 10 months ago

This post was so inspiring, I’m 17 so glad to hear that there are other teenagers out there who are primal. I feel lucky because my family understands (although I still get asked if I want a tortilla or some bread at times). I tend to do almost all the cooking and grocery shopping in the summers for my family, and help out as much as possible during the school year. My friends don’t really understand, but I don’t care since the effects of their diets will show up in 30 years.

Primal Toad
5 years 10 months ago
Great tips. I think one needs to simply do the best they can with what they got from where they are. When your friends and family members are not primal it can be easy to fall off the path as I have personally done so a few times. But, its easy to get back on since you are certain that living primally is healthiest. I have learned to not stress about certain situations. I spent Halloween weekend in Chicago with my brother and Friday night we ordered Pizza. I ate the pizza and moved on. My brother never has food… Read more »
Christine
Christine
5 years 10 months ago

ANY kid who needs a new home where parents embrace healthy food choices can apply for any of the rooms coming vacant as my teenagers move on to college.

Just be prepared to get the whole Grok package – yardwork especially 🙂

Will
Will
5 years 10 months ago
As a fellow 17 year old, I can sympathize with Dan. Fortunately, my parents are supportive because of my Crohn’s Disease. I was on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for about a year and healed enough to tolerate Grains again. Now, having relaxed my diet for at least a year, I have been struggling to get back on ever since I learned about evolutionary health philosophy (John Durant on the Colbert Report). I tend to enjoy the discussions that I get to have with friends, although I haven’t seemed to convince anyone entirely… Debate is fun. Anyway, Grok on!
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Meagan
5 years 10 months ago

I can only imagine how hard it would be if I found the PB when I was in high school. Good advice!

Toni T
Toni T
5 years 10 months ago

I too am in high school and trying to persuade my parents to follow the primal lifestyle is tough. My mom is unsure of not having dairy for the bones but I assure her i am getting enough calcium. (supplement) But my dad is starting to get high cholesterol. My family comes from the phillippines so they have rice pretty much everyday.

Sarah Due
Sarah Due
5 years 10 months ago

I’ve been eating (mostly) primal for about 7 months now and I’m in culinary school. Imagine trying to explain to a class full of up-and-coming pastry chefs why I don’t eat half the food we make! It’s initially a shock to them, then people get used to it and actually have a lot of questions and show a lot of interest. Planning ahead and bringing healthy snacks is a big help. Kudos to going primal in high school! It’s great to see the younger crowd focused on healthy lifestyles while most are double-fisting sausage McMuffins on their way to school…

james
james
5 years 9 days ago

You could always make almond flour or coconut flour versions, I suppose. 😉

limit the sweetener, etc, and you might be able to get it to a point where it is acceptable to eat.

Matt
Matt
5 years 10 months ago

Thanks Mark!

I’m 16 years old and fairly new to eating primal and its been awesome. I’ve started this diet because I was tired of my acne, arthritis, and Irritable Bowl Syndrome. So far all have improved.

One question concerning injuries, can this diet help grow back knee cartilage? I need terrible surgery because a of a knee injury and I have no cartilage left. Thanks!

Sophie
Sophie
5 years 10 months ago

Hi Matt,

I don’t know if this is true, but Pete Egoscue hypothesizes that cartilage can grow back. You might want to look up his website. He has functional exercises that intend to realign the skeletal system in such a way that keeps the same damage from being caused over and over again. I have used them somewhat, to good effect, but don’t have enough experience with them to whole-heartedly recommend. Good Luck!

rebecca
5 years 10 months ago

Try a combination of horsetail and solomon’s seal herbs– I’ve had fantastic results with that combo for most cartilage/ joint injuries that I see, some of them pretty brutal. I’d do either a tincture (one part of each) 30 drops three times a day, or a strong tea, 3 times a day.

Daniel
Daniel
5 years 10 months ago

Definitely great advice for all of us. I just began my PB transition and this article may be one of the best I’ve read thus far. I will certainly take the advice to heart. Thanks.

Paul
Paul
5 years 10 months ago
When I started 12 months ago (introduced to paleo from crossfit then moved onto primal after reading The Primal Blueprint) my family never supported me (except my fiancee who I live with has been joined in from day 1). But slowly over time I now hear my mother talking to her friends about my “lifestyle” (finally convinced her it isn’t a diet and its my lifestyle) and now I have my brother and his wife readying MDA and I hope they take it up (especially for their children also). It takes time but those closest to you will see the… Read more »
Luke
Luke
5 years 10 months ago
I agree that this lifestyle is very difficult to pursue in high school. I was fortunate enough to attend a private school where, at the very least, I had more food variety (salad bar, etc.). I’m currently in my second year in college, where I find it infinitely more simple to workout how you want, eat when you want, and do weird grok things when you want. The best I could advice I could give to a high schooler is “screw it.” I’m jealous of younger people who are doing the grok. I wish I had discovered this lifestyle much… Read more »
Luke
Luke
5 years 10 months ago

*I’m so skilled at proofreading.*

Toni T
Toni T
5 years 10 months ago

Love it.

will
will
5 years 10 months ago

Im 17 and the hardest part for me has been support from my peers. I started bringing primal food to lunch at school over pizza and received a ton of criticism. Not sure what the deal is here in Missouri but im hoping people will eventually learn.

Jenny
Jenny
5 years 10 months ago

Unfortunately, if they weren’t on your case about this, they’d probably find something else to snark about. That’s a big part of teenageryness…

At least you’re 17 and will escape soon!

Erin
Erin
5 years 10 months ago

I guess school cultures vary. Most varsity athletes in our school preferred the soup/salad bar, because it was self-serve, whereas the other options (subs, nachos, hot lunch of the day) were portioned by lunch ladies. You could choose a large plate of salad and some fruit/dessert or a small plate of salad or sandwich and a bowl of soup (sometimes the soup tureen even had chili or lasagna!). As long as you could fit it in/on your dishes, it was yours — best way to fill up!

James
James
5 years 10 months ago

I’m also in highschool – 16.

I’ve been primal for a year now and going extremely well.

I’m lucky that I have a job because I generally have to buy some of my own food, mostly meat. I live in a rural area, farms left, right and centre (grass fed), but my dad still buys cheap meet from the supermarket.

Also, my mother thinks I’m crazy, and is sincerely considering sending me to a nutritionist / doctor.

DThalman
DThalman
5 years 10 months ago

wow hang in there

Tara
5 years 10 months ago

This is really great advice, wish I had known about the PB in high school!! What a great time to start creating good habits!

DThalman
DThalman
5 years 10 months ago

what an opportunity, to start such healthy living early in life. and once again, well written, carefully thought out advice. a lot of it applies to me at 48 since i have severe food intolerances and can’t cheat at all on my diet without serious consequences. it requires a lot of work and preparation…but it’s worth it

Ulla Lauridsen
Ulla Lauridsen
5 years 10 months ago

I have the same problem when out with the Danish Home Guards. The fare is usually a stew with mash potatoes or rice and some salad on the side. I fill my plate with salad and pours the stew over that, and it usually ends up being both primal and quite tasty.

Hans
5 years 10 months ago

Also for at work and at school I wrote these dietary guidelines: http://bit.ly/9OYe5F

San
San
5 years 10 months ago

Great post.

kweber
kweber
5 years 10 months ago
I’m in my second year of college, but I suppose since I’m 19 I still count as a teenager. I started following MDA after I left home, but I’ve discussed it with my mom during my visits home. She’s supportive, but concerned that I should be eating whole grains to absorb vitamins. I’m not a particularly skilled persuasive speaker, but I do my best to help her understand. Part of explaining my diet is understanding it. I’m finding that the more I research and learn about nutrition, the better I can explain my diet. So that’s my advice for my… Read more »
jj
jj
5 years 10 months ago

As a parent (of a 2 year old, so TOTALLY not a teenager), I’d be pretty impressed if my kid came to me and wanted to plan meals for the week. Seriously, no matter how wacky I thought his eating plans were, I’d let him give it a try. It’s great preparation for adulthood.

Chef Rachel Albert
5 years 10 months ago
Hi Jenny Those charts in the link you sent have some good information; however,the nutrient list for sweet potato erroneously says it provides a certain % of vitamin B12. Vegetables do not contain any vitamin B12. All biologically active vitamin B12 is found in animal foods (those rich in protein) and vitamin B12 supplements made by bacteria in a laboratory. For a more accurate and detailed but short chart comparing the vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content of many veggies and fruits to grains, showing how the fresh produce contains far more nutrition, check out the chart taken from The Garden… Read more »
chiromamma
chiromamma
5 years 10 months ago

Being a primal parent with primal kids who also wish to “partake in the rituals of our culture”, I’d say go 80/20. 80% pure Primal. Mark gave you lots of good tips. Allow up to 20% of your diet to be a slice of pizza, really good burger, ya know? I’m hard core anti-fast food but you can find SOMETHING, even at McDonald’s to carry you over until you get home. Good on you. You’re not alone. My daughter is a hard core Primal Teen

chiromamma
chiromamma
5 years 10 months ago

I’m thinking we might need a Primal Teen page.

Robert
Robert
5 years 10 months ago

Hummm. Excellent post. I would be curious about your Son’s vegetarian version of PB. Would you share it out? Thank you.

Julie Aguiar
Julie Aguiar
5 years 10 months ago
Time for Carrie to chime in, Mark! It is a constant battle with the kids. Dad is an overweight carboholic, as is his diabetic mother with bowel and heart disease, Ooops, scratch the diabetes, she had Lap-Band surgery and lost a bunch of weight, (but still doesn’t eat healthfully) We work odd hours in the food industry, so 3 days a week I cook, and we have lots of salad, veggies, meat ( I always supply leftovers, they never get used) and fruit. Dad days are fast food, pasta, etc. Grandma days are pizza, Mac and cheese, chicken nuggets,diet coke… Read more »
Julie Aguiar
Julie Aguiar
5 years 10 months ago

sorry for the spelling, lol its 1 am on the east coast!

Nora
Nora
5 years 10 months ago
Hi Mark! I was wondering if you knew anything about the primal diet being able to increase the height of the human body? Also, I am an 18 year old primal female and am in my first year of college. I am taking a human nutrition course and I must admit it is so hard not to get mad at all the incorrect information the FDA and grain industry are feeding (no pun intended) to western civilization – and pretty much everyone in the world. It is especially hard for me to pretend that I believe in the food pyramid… Read more »
Kasi
Kasi
5 years 10 months ago
This kind of reminds me of a similar problem I have (might have to write Mark eventually). I’m in the Army, currently deployed to Iraq, and that means I have virtually no control over what food is offered at the dining facility (and the non-DFAC options are Subway, Burger King, and Cinnabon). I do the best I can – luckily there is a salad bar, so I get meat and salad – but I end up eating the same thing day after day. I’ve been dreaming about getting home and being able to cook for 10 months now. The people… Read more »
Tim
Tim
5 years 7 months ago
Warning, this is more of a rant than a contribution to the discussion, so feel free to skip, unless you are a parent who eats processed food and sugar and/or feeds it to your children, read on OR ELSE. I’m 20 and living with my parents and have been eating primal for a week. They’re skeptical of the primal eating plan but are willing to support me, though they say that I need to get a job soon to start paying for some of my food (I’m trying to get a job, not easy around here, especially since my made… Read more »
Tim
Tim
5 years 7 months ago

Seventh line down
*my mom made me lose two jobs

William
5 years 5 months ago

This is a great help. I’m 15 and trying out the Primal Lifestyle and have found it a bit tricky in school for meals.

Jacinta
Jacinta
5 years 3 months ago
I am seventeen and have been slowly incorporating the Primal ways into my lifestyle for a while now. it is really hard, i am one of 5 kids and my parents cant afford much except pasta and rice. i work, however, and have come to the compormise of primalizing my breakfasts and lunches, and just having smaller portions of my family’s dinners. On nights where we cook for ourselves i eat primally as well. i know it is not fully primal, but even cutting carbs out of two of my three meals a day has made huge changes to my… Read more »
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Pin Up Dresses
5 years 18 days ago

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james
james
5 years 9 days ago

I would definitely recommend picking up Gary Taubes’ books, if your parents are willing to read(sorry, if not… I know some people who’s parents can’t read anything more complicated than a menu). That one is usually a pretty good explanation of why it works in a way that they can’t really contradict(its very hard to argue with a piece of paper).

Randy Knapp
5 years 8 days ago

I can imagine a kid being shunned in middle school for his or her weird eating habits. It would be great if they had primal parents and could just show a picture of their dad with his shirt off and just say, “My dad is strong and healthy. I want to look like my dad, so I eat like him!”

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