Dr. Kari Anderson joined us for an interview on her book, food body & love: but the greatest of these is love. What follows are our questions in italics and her thoughtful responses.
Your latest book is your memoir on binge eating, food body & love: but the greatest of these is love. Who is your target audience?
Originally, my demographic was aimed at my typical client; middle aged women who have had life-long struggles around food and body image, feeling isolated, demoralized, and misunderstood. They may have never considered themselves to have an eating disorder, identifying as failed dieters or food addicts. After the book was released, reviews from professionals revealed that they recommend the book to “anyone” not just people suffering from binge eating. I hope that it finds it’s way into the hands and heart of people that need to hear a compassionate voice telling what seems to be their own story.
As a child, your parents encouraged you “to improve my willpower and stay on my diet.” Although these recommendations sound antiquated, they are markedly rampant today. Your thoughts?
There are well meaning parents everywhere concerned about the feared hardships of those living in larger bodies in our society, as well as the warnings regarding “obesity” and health. Unfortunately, the warnings regarding restrictive eating creating an obsessional drive for thinness and disordered eating isn’t making the headlines despite our best efforts. My book dives into the science of eating behavior, which in turn may shine a different light on what’s happening. Biological cravings have nothing to do with willpower, I hope to cultivate some compassion.
Please tell us about some of the benefits of mindful eating.
Mindful eating brings awareness and intention toward our eating behavior. When expanded to the entire mind-body experience, it can improve interoceptive awareness and cultivate body wisdom and acceptance. The goal of mindfulness is to achieve an intrinsic trust and connection with our bodies, knowing how to care for it, including the food we choose to feed it.
Why would you like people with a history of trauma to know more about their central nervous system?
I want their experience to be validated. I don’t want them to feel badly and accept pejorative labels such as “too sensitive and over reactive”. I want them to understand that their eating behaviors are influenced by their nervous system and it’s much more complicated than we once thought. I want them to feel empowered, knowing they can influence their nervous system and learn ways to feel better without turning to food.
How has your understanding of Dr. Steven Porges’ polyvagal theory impacted your life?
Dr. Porges validated my experience with an explanation. His theory explained my behavior, my shameful behavior with food and my troubled relationships of the past. Although in recovery for decades, understanding the science driving my behavior allowed for an even deeper level of compassion for myself and for those who come to me for answers. He sparked a curiosity in me to learn more. He and his wife, Sue Carter, who is also a scientist, study the biology of love and bonding. Their Love Code referencing beautifully compliments my beliefs that we are wonderfully made in the image of a God who is the essence of love. This is the lens for which I see life through.
Can you please describe the ventral vagal state of safety?
It is physiological safety, a bodily state “without fear” that allows us to connect with others freely and fully utilize our mind-heart connection. Porges coined the term neuroception, a process allowing us to scan our environment and signal our nervous system – like a human traffic light, letting us know when it’s safe to proceed. The ventral vagal state is a green light. Unfortunately, those with trauma backgrounds may have some re-wiring issues with their traffic lights, they may sense danger more often as a pattern of protection. Others may develop patterns of connection as a default, their traffic light works as intended, they attach freely and easily. In internal family systems (IFS) therapy, the ventral vagal state is where our true authentic self-lives freely without needing to use protectors to hide behind. We describe this state with 8 C’s: Confidence, Curious, Connected, Courageous, Compassionate, Clear, Creative and Calm.
What do you think came together to inspire your book, which I see as an act of courage mixed with science, research, and practice wisdom?
I’ve always tried to be real and authentic as a counselor. Combined with a gift for storytelling, I get that from my father, I learned that it softens the room and makes it safe for clients to open when they feel someone “gets it”. After I co-authored my first book, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating with Michelle May MD, I knew my next book would need to be a much more personal work. I needed to share how the polyvagal theory changed how I see myself and how it confirmed my life’s work. Many have said it was courageous, I saw it as necessary.
About the author:
Having personally struggled with binge eating and weight stigma, Dr. Kari Anderson’s professional career is driven by a personal passion. She has a therapeutic presence that creates a safe, non-judgmental, and healing environment making her, as patients often state, “someone who gets it.”
Kari positioned herself as a respected clinician and leader in the field of eating disorders. Over the course of 30 years, Kari has developed several treatment models and helped thousands of patients and their families for programs such as Green Mountain at Fox Run and Remuda Ranch.
Kari earned her Doctor of Behavioral Health with her research project The Mindful Eating Cycle: Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder at Arizona State University in 2012. Co-creator of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Program, Kari also co-authored the acclaimed book, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating: A Mindful Eating Program for Healing Your Relationship with Food and Your Body. Her memior, Food, Body and Love: but the greatest of these is love was written as a testimony to why she believes she developed an eating disorder and what she believes to be the best healing methods after decades practicing as an eating disorder therapist.