Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Review: After the Before & After

After hearing the interview with Karen C.L. Anderson on Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone, I decided to check out her book, AFTER The Before & After: A Real-Life Story of Weight Loss, Weight Gain and Weightlessness Through Total Acceptance. I liked what she had to say on the show and was hoping the book would share more insights on how she came to feel the acceptance she talked about.  I got the book as an iBook for the iPad, because I am trying to avoid any more book clutter. I have a whole bookshelf full of this kind of book already.

Karen's story will sound familiar to a lot of people -- she lost a lot of weight, got her "success story" published, and then regained about half of what she lost.

I found a lot of good insights and "ah-ha" moments, even as someone who, as mentioned previously, has a whole shelf full of books like this one.  Many of the triggers she talked about were triggers I share, like the fear of being "a show-off" and needing or wanting too much attention.  I also recognized myself in a story she told about being on vacation with her husband.  After a three-hour hike, they went to a deli to pick up some sandwiches.  
Tim said, "Boy, these things are huge"and that he might not be able to eat all of his. did I think I could eat all of mine, I also knew I'd probably be hungry afterward. In fact, I was angry that I was hungry in the first place and Tim wasn't. I was angry because our dinner reservations weren't until 7:30 and I didn't want to appear like a piggy after eating my "huge" sandwich.
It's perfectly reasonable to be hungry after a three-hour hike, but women are often ashamed of having an appetite, especially one larger than a man's.  I think this gendered shame about having needs would have been worth exploring, but she went in a different direction discussing the differences between people who are "tend toward thin" and those who "tend toward fat." It feels like a lot of women who "tend toward fat" are with men who "tend toward thin," and that opens a whole other can of worms that was also not really the author's direction for the book. 

Her direction from the book can be summed up in this quote from Abraham used to begin Part II of the book:
You cannot struggle to joy.
Struggle and joy are not on the same channel.
You joy your way to joy.
The book chronicled her attempts to "joy her way to joy" through self-awareness, self-acceptane, and the cultivation of healthier habits.  It is not a book of neatly packaged insights won through this process, but more of a diary of the process itself.

Though I find that kind of writing interesting, which is why I read blogs, I have to confess that I would have liked this book better if it was less bloggy. As I was reading the book, I was struck by how rough it felt, as if it were just a series of printed-out blog entries. I compared it to books by Jennette and Shauna, who turned their weight loss blogs into books. They each reworked their stories to have a stronger narrative arc and to fill in some of the details that blog readers wouldn't know.

Because I bought it as an iBook, I didn't notice that there was a good reason for why the book felt different -- it is "published on demand" through BookLocker.  There wasn't an editor looking over Karen's shoulder, helping her to see where readers might want more detail or suggesting that chapters follow a consistent format.  I felt a little silly for not realizing this until I was working on my review, to be honest. It made me realize that the self-publishing route is a lot better option than it once was, especially with the prevalance of ebooks.

Concerns aside, I think the question of what happens "after the before & after" is an important one. Many people who lose a lot of weight and then regain some of it feel like failures.  This book proves that all is not lost just because some of the weight comes back.  People who have lost and regained (like me) probably still are in the process of learning whatever it is that the extra pounds have to teach us.  Karen, especially, seems to have found a lot of important insights in her "struggle against the struggle," and I'd recommend her book (and/or her blog) to those who want to see how another person has managed to learn from the process of loss-regain-loss.

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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07