Karen C.L. Anderson is a New London-based writer and blogger. In 2005, after she lost 55 pounds, she became a weight-loss success story, and was featured on the cover of a national magazine.
But success, she found, did not include an automatic happy ending. After regaining half of the weight, she began a search for self-acceptance and self-love, rather than a new diet plan. Her new book "After (the before & after)" is an honest and unflinching accounting of that quest.
We exchanged emails with Karen to see how life was treating her, after "After."
Q: Your book is a good example of "there is no magic bullet" for weight loss. What do you think is the most important advice you give to someone who wants to lose weight?
A: Experience has shown me that acceptance is more powerful than any diet, pill or gimmick, so first and foremost, love and accept yourself. People often think that if they accept their bodies, they won't change them. They are motivated by pain (emotional and physical) and desperation. It's normal. I still am sometimes. But I have found that anything I undertake out of desperation usually fails in the long-run.
It's also important to understand that our "selves" and our bodies are inextricably connected. I often hear people say things like, "Oh I like myself, it's my body I hate." Being that disassociated from your body does not help. You can't trust something that you hate and for me, this whole thing is about trust. Love and appreciation for your physical body, no matter what it looks like, will lead to healthy, permanent weight loss.
Keep asking "Why?" In the book, there's a chapter where I ask myself a bunch of why questions out of frustration. Then I read something that said, "Whys" shut us down. Asking "How" opens us up. And I don't disagree, but for me, in addition to love and acceptance, understanding myself has been the key to this whole thing.
And finally, all of it takes practice. You don't get it once and forget it.
So to sum it up: love and accept yourself, understand yourself and your motivations, keep asking why, and practice.
Q: How has the journey been, since the book came out?
A: There have been ups and downs in all aspects of the journey, which is to be expected, right?
My weight fluctuates and sometimes I feel a little desperate about it, which I accept as normal. Because I don't weigh myself, I go by the way my clothes fit. I try to have an objective and yet somewhat compassionate relationship to that particular bit of information.
I remind myself that it's not about being perfect, it's about catching myself sooner and not beating myself up. And if I do go down that road? I try to see the opportunity in it.
For example, my whole exercise routine has been out of whack since I got some tendonitis in my right shoulder and elbow. I took some time off, but when I got back to it, I couldn't seem to get into the same groove. It's uncomfortable so I've been exploring that discomfort on my blog. And in the meantime, I tell myself to "just do it," knowing that something is better than nothing. And that reminds me, the "all or nothing" attitude will get you every single time!
Q: You did a good deal of inner work — what areas continue to be more difficult?
A: Being honest with myself is sometimes hard. I'll find myself feeling frustrated and stuck and I start making excuses. It usually leads back to an old pattern or way of being that, while comfortable, is also destructive. I have to dig deep to figure out why. It's unsettling to me, but I have learned to be okay with "unsettled" because it usually leads to one of my beloved "ah-ha" moments.
I've had people tell me that there's no way they could do the inner work, that it's too scary and that they'd rather follow someone else's plan or specific diet for the rest of their lives. Maybe it's just me, but the thought of doing that is soul-crushing. I'd like to believe that ultimately, I can trust myself to do the right thing for my body. That it can come easily and naturally for my body to be at it's natural and healthy weight.
Q: As you have made your journey, what things have gotten easier?
A: Catching myself sooner has gotten easier. And by that I mean, catching myself when I am in the midst of behavior that doesn't serve me, whether it has to do directly with food or in regards to how I am treating myself.
Q: In what other ways has working toward greater self-acceptance influenced your life?
A: Sometimes I feel like people misconstrue self-acceptance as being selfish. What I have found is that the more I love and accept myself, the more I am able to love and accept others. It just goes around and around. It benefits everyone.
The single greatest gift of doing this work has been that I am much more confident in my relationships. I feel more able to give and I like how I handle myself. I aim for three things in my relationships: 1) be for, not against; 2) it's not mine to fix; and 3) practice don't preach. I'm not always successful, but I try.
Q: Your journey — like that of many others — seems to be a step forward and two back. Does it continue to be that way? How would you encourage others to keep at it?
A: Yes, it does continue to be that way but I have come to believe that there really is no such thing as a backslide. It's all part of moving forward, even when it doesn't feel like it.
There are many clichés in the dieting world: "Get back on the wagon," "Get back on track," "Start again tomorrow (or on Monday,)" and so on. I like to think that it's more a matter of continuing from right where I am.
Karen C.L. Anderson will speak and sign books at INCITE Wellness Center, 208 Otrobando Ave., Norwich, on Monday, Aug. 22 from 6:30-8 p.m. She will also be taking part in Empowerment Eleven, a personal day of reinvention (www.annegarlandenterprises.com) on Oct. 4. Visit www.kclanderson.com for more information.