Are You Stressed And Gaining Weight?

What Causes Stress?

If you find yourself feeling stressed and gaining weight, you are not alone. Prior to the early 1970’s, the majority of family units were structured as a one wage earner household where the male worked and the female stayed at home taking care of the house and family. Driven largely by social and socio-economic factors, all of that has changed. Now, the overwhelming majority of families include both parents working. We find ourselves on a treadmill of more work, more responsibilities, more demands and non-stop scheduling that has many of us in a state of physical and, at times, emotional exhaustion.

Added to the mix is our competitive culture, which often lends to isolation or “them against us” thinking. Isolation of this nature causes additional “hidden” stress. The perennial truth is that the whole world is one family. It is said that there is only one disease: the disease of separateness. The root cause is separating oneself from the awareness that as a member of the human family, we are one living collective organism. The drama created by a “one up” or “one down” dynamic, which we find in competitive societies, can lend to the exhaustion and the psycho-social behavioral issues that contribute to overeating.

Exhaustion and Obesity

The tipping point at which our bodies can no longer compensate for or adapt to the stress is based in large part on the threshold of nutritional competency and the state of integrity of our nervous systems. When our central nervous system, which governs every cell in our body and makes life possible, is not working efficiently, we have a decrease in bodily function and a decrease in the ability to adapt to the world.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, CFS, is rampant in our culture today and growing at an alarming rate because of the over stimulation and increased demands placed on our nervous systems. Add to this inadequate nutrition and a decreased ability of our bodies to digest and absorb properly because of the stress, and we see the building blocks of the epidemic of chronic disease currently being reported.

The Hard Results

What is so shocking for us as American’s is that while we live in one of the most affluent societies ever to exist on earth and have one of the most technologically advanced medical systems, we are ranked at approximately 26th in the “World Health Olympics”.

This is not the failure of our medical system but, in fact, our collective societal failure to live in our bodies mindfully and respectfully, taking time for rest, proper nutrition, reflection, intimacy with self and others and serving the common good of all. It is this imbalance that leads us to chronic stress, which leads to physical and, if you will, spiritual exhaustion that is producing the levels of chronic disease and rampant obesity we see today.

 

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Forgive For Your Own Good

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We read and hear that forgiving is something we need to do for others, and that when we forgive others it allows us to let go of feelings of anger and resentment. There are now numerous studies that show when we forgive others, the biochemistry of letting go of the negative feelings we have carried around with us has the power to transform our own health and sense of inner peace.

In the daily news, we see the most unthinkable and unimaginable events occurring. We see people who harm and kill others, parents who violate and abuse their own children, and even children that murder their own parents. For most of us it is difficult to forgive even benign insults and events in our relationships (such as a rejection or slight), let alone something of horrible tragedy. The thought that a victim of such cruel violence could let go of a grievance against another person who has perpetrated such acts seems impossible.

The Danger Of Holding A Grudge

However, what science is now demonstrating is that the simple act of “holding a grudge” against another person can create chronic long term stress with accompanying feelings of anger and frustration. This chronic emotional and physical response to a perceived hurt or insult can lead us to become sick and even develop ongoing, chronic disease states such as hypertension, asthma or digestive problems.

The use of the term “perceived insults” or wounding is intentional. This is because while there are people in the world who do unimaginably horrible things to others, much of what we experience in our lives is a perceived hurt of rejection that causes us not to forgive another.

What Is Forgiveness?

In 2000, as a result of a lecture arranged at a hospital I worked at, I had the privilege to meet Fred Luskin, PhD, founder of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, and hear him present his work and research on the subject of forgiveness. Dr. Luskin is the author of the book Forgive for Good, and a world renowned researcher on the subject of forgiveness. His scientific studies demonstrate the healing power and health benefits from the process of forgiving others for either actual or perceived transgressions against ourselves, or to those we love.

Dr. Luskin was the lead researcher on a study in Ireland, which included individuals from both sides of Northern Ireland’s civil war. These individuals had all lost a loved one due to the country's civil conflict. In his groundbreaking book, Forgive for Good, he outlines what forgiveness is—and, what it is not:

“Forgiveness is for you and not the offender”
“Forgiveness is about your healing and not about the people who hurt you”
“Forgiveness is taking responsibility for how you feel”

“Forgiveness is a trainable skill – just like learning to throw a ball”
“Forgiveness is a choice”

“Forgiveness is not condoning unkindness or poor behavior”
“Forgiveness is not forgetting that something painful has happened”

“Forgiveness does not mean reconciling with the offender”
“Forgiveness does not mean giving up your feelings”

So then what does forgiveness mean? Forgiveness means being willing to find new ways to experience “justice” and to choose not to be victimized by other’s choices or actions. It can also mean experiencing an event from a different perspective, which allows us to reclaim our life even from the depths of our suffering, loss or despair.

The Benefits

Forgiveness has been scientifically proven to decrease depression, increase hopefulness, decrease anger, increase self-confidence, enhance relationships, decrease stress and physical symptoms of illness, decrease heart disease and increase immune function. Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves that helps us live more peace-filled, healthier lives. There are many excellent books on the subject to assist with and facilitate the process of forgiving what seems to be the unforgiveable.

The Science of Heartbreak

science of heartbreakLike most healthcare practitioners, I often hear clients discuss their fear of loving or trusting another person after they have been terribly disappointed or hurt in a romantic relationship.

Being deeply hurt or emotionally wounded through deception, rejection or infidelity cuts to the quick of the human heart. Many of us would like to be able to just “put it behind us” and move on with our lives, but the research of a remarkable scientist now explains why it is so painful and difficult to bounce back quickly from a broken heart. The research also throws light on how difficult and sometimes desperate we can feel during that experience.

Helen Fisher, Ph.D., biological anthropologist, is a research professor and member of the Center for Human Evolution Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University and chief scientific adviser to the Internet dating site Chemistry.com (a division of Match.com). She has conducted extensive research and written five books on the evolution and future of human love, sexuality, marriage, gender differences in the brain and how your personality type shapes who you are and who you love.

Brain Issues

Fisher’s research on heartbreak identifies areas of the brain, the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area, whose involvement in romantic love proves this deep-seated drive to be far more powerful and urgent than we may have previously believed. Fisher says that romantic love is “really a drive that is deeply primordial and primitive.” She explains that romantic love experiences “are way below the emotional center and in fact are not emotions at all, but rather a powerful drive and need that is shared by all human beings.”

Through thousands of imaging studies both in the U.S. and in China, Fisher and her research team has established just how important it is for human beings to be in relationships where they experience reward for their feelings and efforts toward the significant other. There are additional studies that show that the same portion of the brain, the anterior insula, is both the location of physical pain, as well as heartache. In a previous article I discussed a study that showed how Tylenol influences this part of the brain and can reduce the discomfort of heartache as well as a headache.

If you want to understand more about this fascinating subject and how to help yourself overcome the heartache of lost love, visit www.helenfisher.com, where a book list on her research is available. You can also download a free excerpt from the Amazon #1 bestselling, multi-award winning book Changing Behavior, by going tohttp://www.changingbehavior.org/

The Science of How What We Believe Becomes Our Reality – Part I

thoughts become things"Mind is the Master Power that molds and makes, and we are mind. And ever more we take the tool of thought, and shaping what we will, bring forth a thousand joys, or a thousand ills. We think in secret, and it comes to pass, environment, is but our looking glass."    James Allen

At some point we have all heard the adage "Thoughts are things," which serves as the central tenet of such popular New Age philosophies like the Law of Attraction, featured in best-selling books like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. And while many skeptics have been quick to dismiss the idea of "As a man thinketh, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7) as nothing more than a pop psychology platitude, the ongoing findings of medical science are telling a different story.

In an article from the January – February 2013 edition of Harvard Magazine Cara Feinberg profiles the pioneering work of Dr. Ted Kaptchuk, Director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital. In the article, Feinberg chronicles the exciting findings made by Dr. Kaptchuck and his team in conducting a "clinical drug trial" charting the effects of prescription medication vs. acupuncture in relieving the pain of the trial participants:

"Two weeks into Ted Kaptchuk's first randomized clinical drug trial, nearly a third of his 270 subjects complained of awful side effects. All the patients had joined the study hoping to alleviate severe arm pain: carpal tunnel, tendinitis, chronic pain in the elbow, shoulder, wrist.

In one part of the study, half the subjects received pain-reducing pills; the others were offered acupuncture treatments. And in both cases, people began to call in, saying they couldn't get out of bed. The pills were making them sluggish, the needles caused swelling and redness; some patients' pain ballooned to nightmarish levels.

"The side effects were simply amazing," Kaptchuk explains; curiously, they were exactly what patients had been warned their treatment might produce (emphasis added)." Even more startling, "…most of the other patients reported real relief, and those who received acupuncture felt even better than those on the anti-pain pill. These were exceptional findings: no one had ever proven that acupuncture worked better than painkillers.

But Kaptchuk's study didn't prove it, either – the pills his team had given patients were actually made of cornstarch; the "acupuncture" needles were retractable shams that never pierced the skin. The study wasn't aimed at comparing two treatments. It was designed to compare two fakes (emphasis added)."

Although Dr. Kaptchuk doesn't contend that patients can simply "think themselves better" his study – along with many others conducted on the placebo effect – does prove a very important, and critically under looked, fact in health care: "patients' perceptions matter, and the ways physicians frame perceptions can have significant effects on their patients' health."

Beliefs are powerful things and what we tell ourselves and others tell us can make us better or worse. We all have "our narrative" and we tell it over and over again both to ourselves and to others. We believe it, we expect it and we project it. When we change our beliefs and our story, we change the outcomes.

One of the better known studies which demonstrates how changing our narratives can change our outcomes (and our lives) is the 1980s breast cancer support group study that was written up in the journal Advances. All of the women had breast cancer that had metastasize before the study began.

Their prognosis was poor but they became a group who listened to each other's stories, supported each other, cared about one another and helped each other manage their symptoms and disease. They also helped each other change their story. It is not surprising that the women in this support group lived on average 18 months longer than breast cancer patients with the same degree of metastasis.

This article has previously appeared on Huffington Post

Better Health and Optimism from a Cookie?

When was the last time you cracked open a fortune cookie?  Those little slips of paper, filled with uplifting, motivational messages, always seem to brighten our days.  Snippets of inspiration such as “you will be sharing great news with all those you love”, “be patient – success is near” or “happiness awaits you” get posted on our bulletin boards as a reminder of possibilities yet to come.  These little harbingers of imagined visions or destiny spur us on and make us think, “what if it really could happen?”

By taking that one minute out of your day to pause and reflect on the fortune cookie’s positive message, you might suddenly stop and realize – this may be the first affirmative message you’ve received all day!  Amidst the hustle and bustle of looming deadlines, grid-locked traffic and disgruntled coworkers, somewhere from the vastness of space and time, this little paper has provided a ray of light and a reminder of those filed-away visions and dreams.

But this seemingly random and well-meaning message invites an even deeper question:  What are we getting from these little fortune cookies that we are not getting in our day to day encounters that may be essential to our spirit, our sense of well-being and even our health?  When was the last time you got this kind of a message from your friend, or from your partner?  Positive reinforcement can relay a possibility of hopeful outcomes or imagined dreams being fulfilled.

Optimism has been shown to be an important part of good health and wellness. Without such sparks of inspiration or encouragement we can tend to forget that life can be more than just the daily grind of work and responsibility. We can lose our optimism, our wide-eyed wonder at things which inspire us, lift our spirit or open our hearts.

There is something significant to this power of suggestion and optimism. Reasonable optimism has been scientifically proven to impact nearly every aspect of our lives – from living longer to doing well on a test, to enjoying success in our work.  Likewise, pessimism has been shown to contribute to feelings of depression, illness and withdrawal from the world.1

We can all become someone’s fortune cookie message by bringing hopeful messages to those around us. We can offer words of encouragement to a coworker struggling with a tough project.  We can give our spouse-partner a shoulder rub and tell them how much we appreciate having them in your life.  We can share moments with each of our children and let them know how great their latest efforts in school are or how much you enjoyed the dinner they prepared, or how well they did at soccer practice.

We can choose to be a person who communicates just how special and valued others are in our life, and reinforce their deeply-held hopes that good things will come soon.  By sharing meaningful communication and hopeful affirmation with those we love, our words become a soothing balm that makes the bitter stings of the bad news and turmoil in our everyday lives not so disappointing.

  1. http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/03/05/us-optimist-health-idUSTRE5247NO20090305     Optimists live Longer Happier Lives

Handling Conflict in Relationships

Conflict in relationships is inevitable, but the way we handle and respond to it is not. Some of us try to avoid dealing with conflict, while others want to immediately resolve things head on. Instead of trying to avoid the conflict, it can be constructive to objectively write down our thoughts and feelings and share them with the other person in a way that expresses how we feel, and in a style that makes us comfortable, such as possibly in a letter, a greeting card or by e-mail.

For those of us who tackle conflict “head on”, it can be helpful to take a step back and discern if this issue is something that must be resolved immediately, or can we give ourselves time to process what has occurred and see the conflict from the other person perspective.

Respecting your partner’s or friend’s experience of a particular conflict doesn’t mean you “go along to get along” or that you should not express your own experience or feelings about it. It does mean that you respect and consider the other individual’s unique experience of what has occurred and that they want to be seen, heard and valued just as much as you do.

By being open to accepting what the other person is feeling and what they have experienced, you send the message that you sincerely care about their feelings. And, while you may not agree with their feelings, you bring integrity to the relationship that allows them to be who they are and express how they feel in a safe and non-hostile environment.

Would You Rather Be Right or Be Loved?  An important question to ask ourselves when we are dealing with conflict in a significant relationship is would we rather be right or be loved. This is a simple litmus test that can help us to find a balance and a win-win situation for both the parties in a conflict, and also allows us to reflect on what is important in both our life and in our relationships.

Communication is a key to successful relationships and to solving relational conflicts. For a free chapter download to better understand why others behave as they do (and why we behave as we do) as well as for well-researched information about how to improve your relationship communications, visit www.changingbehavior.org.

 

What Happens to Relationships When We Don’t Feel Understood


When couples are asked what it is in their relationship that makes them feel fulfilled, the answer is inevitably that they feel “understood and cared about”. Contrary to what many of us believe, having misunderstandings is not the problem in our relationships. It is not having a misunderstanding that is what creates bad feelings and unhappiness in relationships, but rather not feeling that the person we are most intimate with and care most deeply about doesn’t understand who we are and what we are feeling.

In order to feel loved we must first experience that others understand us and regard us as good and valuable human beings. If our significant others do not understand or get who we are and how we feel, that leaves us with a feeling of being misunderstood. It can also lead to our feeling alone because only someone who truly knows us, rather than just thinking they know us, can truly love us for who we actually are.

When we are in a relationship we do not want to continually explain ourselves to another person, or justify our values, beliefs or the choices we make in our lives. If after a time, that person cannot be really present to us, listening to what we have to share and sharing their own thoughts and feelings, the relationship quickly deteriorates. This is why one of the important focal points in good couples counseling is learning what is called “active listening.”

The main purpose of active listening is to let your partner know that you are truly listening to them and that you are really “present” to them as well – that means they have our full attention.  And by giving them our full attention, we can more authentically understand how they feel and what their point of view and opinions are about the important discussions that make up all relationships.

A key component of active listening is when we reflect back to the other person what we understand they were communicating to us so that we can be sure that we understand and not mis-interpret their communication. When we do this, we ask questions to clarify, such as “Are you saying that you were upset that I did not go to your aunt’s house for dinner on Sunday, even though you had said it didn’t matter if I went or not?

By working together so that the listening partner and the speaking partner both understand that clarifying their understanding of what is being communicated and also participating in active communication as well as active listening, the relationship can take on a greater depth, intimacy and fulfillment. Effective communication is always the key to any good relationship. For a free chapter download from the award winning, Changing Behavior, visit changingbehavior.org.

Being Happy with Who We Are


With such a strong emphasis on achievement, accumulation and recognition in our society, it can become easy to be discouraged or disappointed with who or what we perceive ourselves to be, especially in how we stack up in the “pecking order” with those around us.

Being happy with ourselves is a choice that each of us can make every day by taking simple, practical steps to develop habits of happiness. It starts with creating an environment for us to work and live in that reduces our stress and work load, and brings order and ease, making our work and our living easier.

This uplifting environment can also provide us the experience of soothing tranquility rather than focusing us on the disorder and chaos that often becomes the working and living environments we find ourselves in.

Cleaning out desk drawers, closets, discarding excess and re-defining what is important to keep and what feels good to get rid of is a first step to creating a peaceful and happy living or working space. Creating an environment that truly resonates with our values is like building an oasis in the desert. By eliminating the need to accumulate more and more “things” around us, we can unburden ourselves, have a more orderly, relaxing and peaceful space to live and work in.

This is also true with friends and acquaintances. Just like with material things, we can also accumulate unnecessary or unwanted relationships that can make demands on our time and energy and often insert negativity or sap our physical or financial resources. Clearing out the toxic or unhealthy relationships we may have can bring personal renewal and further our sense of happiness and contentment.

Take the time to appreciate family. For most of us there are few individuals who have done more for us than our family members. This includes anyone and everyone in our family who support us, are there when we need them and provide a “safe harbor” throughout our lives.

Losing loving family members can be devastating but no more so than when we fail to appreciate them as they are helping us along life’s bumpy road. By taking time to give back and express our gratitude to those who care and nurture us will not only bring them pleasure and a sense of being appreciated, but will give us a reminder of how loved and cared for we are, allows us to feel more content and happy with being who we are.

For more information about this topic you can access a free excerpt from the bestselling book Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with Easy to Learn Proven Communication Skills by visiting www.changingbehavior.org.

Three Things You Can Do This Weekend to Change Your Life

The most important relationship we have is with ourselves. The way we think, eat, behave and use our resources define the quality of life we live. We all want to thrive and enjoy a healthy fulfilling life. Yet, in our over scheduled, frenzied personal environments and ever encroaching culture, the simple, basic, no-cost things we can to do to have an excellent relationship with ourselves and a happy, healthy life are often overlooked.

Here is a list of 3 simple immediate actions any of us can do immediately to improve and restore our well-being and enhance our health.

1. Buy with Cash –

Over the last 5 years, most of us have had a reality check regarding the corrosive nature of debt. It can cause stress, anxiety and sleepless nights, robbing us of our well-being and causing us to lose control over our relationship with money.

One of the fastest and easiest ways of “turning the ship around” when it comes to debt is to commit to using only cash for purchases and cutting up the credit cards. While we can have an emergency card or line of credit squirreled away for a real emergency, by reining in our spending habits and eliminating debt we can do more for our sense of well-being and health than following the latest health trends and starting an exercise program.

Yes, it’s true – reducing and eliminating the crushing stress of debt accumulation is the number one act of self-care we all need to commit to. Studies show that chronic stress and worry will make us sicker and even cause life threatening events such as stroke and heart attack more so than any other lifestyle behavior. Also, by paying in cash you are more aware of what you are actually spending and have the opportunity to ask yourself – “Do I really need to make this purchase?”

2. Clean out Your Closets

In our consumer drive environment we are invited daily to buy, buy, buy and can find ourselves living with closet, attics and basements overflowing with “stuff”. Much of this stuff we do not even use and may not even remember we have.

One of the most satisfying experiences is to clean out closets, drawers, basements, attics, garages, storage areas, etc., and thin out all the excess material possessions we have and do not need or use. Giving things away to the local “swap shop” or donating these unnecessary belongings to Goodwill or the Salvation Army will not only free up room and space in our homes but will also provide a greater sense of control over your living space as well as provide a sense of orderliness and cleanliness – all good things for our health and happiness.
 

3. Post Your Life Goals and Affirmations

We all have goals and dreams we want to realize. One of the fastest, proven ways to achieve those goals and manifest our dreams is to write them down and post them throughout our whole working and living environments. Take the most urgent and important goal you have at this time and focus on it daily using post-its or other reminders of what you want to manifest.

This no cost, proven method for creating the things we want in our lives can become an excellent life-long habit. When one goal is realized or achieved we can identify the next important goal and work on that specifically, using our desire and unconscious mind to manifest our dreams. After all, thoughts really are “things” and by repeatedly thinking on something, we can create it into reality. Everything was a thought before it became a reality – the chair you are sitting on was a thought in someone’s mind before it was created. We can and do create our lives with our thoughts – so post away and realize your goals.

Do We Unknowingly Create Unhappiness?


Most people identify themselves as a “glass half full” kind of person.  We don’t intentionally set out to wreck our moods or think ourselves into unhappiness… do we?  However, we can feel like tumbleweeds in the wind, our moods – which can create stress may quickly shift from the impact of a difficult work environment, a nagging spouse, or even something as seemingly benign as the weather.  And all these mood stressors impact us on a physical level too – by increasing the body’s production of a stress hormone called cortisol.

Cortisol initiates a vicious cycle of food versus mood, wherein we crave sugary, carb-laden foods and shun healthier alternatives like fish and vegetables.  Of course, eating all this garbage makes us feel more depressed and more negative, which floods the body with more cortisol.  But the good news is that you can break the cycle – and it all starts with something as simple as a thought.

As it turns out, the more frequently you have negative thoughts, the more depressed you feel [1].  Conversely, the happier you feel, the more your health and your mood improves.  Classes in understanding happiness have even sprung up on college campuses.  Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D ., an associate of the Harvard Psychology Department teaches the single most popular course on campus – a course about how our levels of happiness and unhappiness are rooted in our thoughts, deeds and words.[2]

But can we really learn to be happy?  A new school of thought put forward by psychologist Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychology Association believes that we can all be happier by recognizing how our thoughts and words contribute to our moods.   The good news is that you can start feeling better today by following a few proven steps that boost your body’s natural “happiness chemicals”.

According to an article by the Cleveland Clinic,[3] you can quell a bad mood almost instantly by:

·         Holding hands or hugging – A 20 second hug with your spouse releases the feel-good brain chemical oxytocin, which in turn helps you relax and feel calmer.

·         Get social – Resist the urge to hibernate in your home alone and grab a pal (or two, or three) for an evening out.  When women are emotionally close to their friends, the hormone progesterone is increased, which subdues anxiety and reduces stress.  Men get the same benefits whether they’re with their buddies or with women.

·         Enjoy more of nature – The fresh air, the trees, the crisp leaves under your feet, the warmth of the sun on your face… getting out into nature revitalizes your body and mind while clearing out the cobwebs of too much time spent indoors.

·         Laugh out loud – Rent a comedy movie or listen to your favorite comedian. Boisterous laughter releases endorphins which help you feel happier and more at ease.

Feeling happier is not a matter of willing your body to do so.  Your brain is smarter than you think, and no amount of telling yourself “I am happy…I am happy” is going to change your mood.  Instead, combine your affirmative statement with a reason – such as:

Today I am going to feel happy BECAUSE…(I’ll finish that big project at work / I’m grateful for my family / I’m taking better care of my health, etc.)

Back to the cortisol culprit – how do you slam the breaks on a seemingly never ending cycle of cravings that can disrupt your mood?  Follow these tips, from the Food and Mood connection by the Mayo Clinic [4]

·         Keep your blood sugar levels even throughout the day by consuming more whole grains, fruits, and leafy green vegetables

·         Avoid alcohol as it can interfere with your body’s natural ability to get a good night’s sleep

·         Eliminate caffeine as you’re likely to experience a “crash” later when your blood sugar takes a nose-dive

·         Consider eating 5-6 smaller meals per day rather than 3 large ones as this also contributes to better blood sugar levels.

Overall, you can learn to improve your mood and well-being by taking these simple steps. Try it out and let me know your results in the comments below!

[1] The Effects of Reducing Frequency of Negative Thoughts on the Mood of Depressed Patients
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/620107

[2] Tal Ben-Sharar: The Secret to Happiness:
http://harvardmagazine.com/2007/01/the-science-of-happiness.html

[3] The Cleveland Clinic: Mood Boosters: Think Happy Thoughts to Boost Your Mood
http://www.clevelandclinicwellness.com/mind/moodboosters/Pages/ThinkHappyThoughtstoBoostYourMood.aspx

[4] The Food and Mood Connection:   http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/food-and-mood/my00716

Copyright 2013 G. Donadio