Stable Weight: A Memoir of Hunger, Horses, and Hope (Hopewell Publications, 2021)
By Lisa Whalen
Biography/Memoir/Health, Mind & Body
Ever gingerly opened a book, unsure where it may head, or how?
Stable Weight was one of those books. When Mom and I sat down to read it, she let me in on a secret. I’ll explain at the end of this review. So stay tuned. And don’t tell Mom. Let’s just keep this our little secret, okay? Meanwhile, on to the review:
Stable Weight is much more than a stroll down memory lane. It’s an intensely frank memoir chronicling the author’s journey of discovery and recovery from an eating disorder “with the help of a therapist and ten special horses.” The expansive, colorful narrative spans the author’s life from infancy on. It probes the social, cultural, psychological and other factors, both internal and external, that drove her “starve-binge-extremes” and the cycle of escape, comfort, and punishment related to food.
Well-written and structurally sound, the story is laid out in three basic parts: Falling, Impact, and On Course.
The prose is candid and captivating as the author describes the “twin therapies” of riding and writing as she battles anorexia. Also the chasm between mind and body and how sitting down to eat “became a comfort – a break from physical, mental, and emotional stress.” How the longer she starved herself, “the more intricately tied eating became to relaxation and reassurance: a perfect recipe for developing an eating disorder.” Some readers may recognize themselves in the shy youngster Whalen describes who tries her best to avoid trouble or unwanted attention by trying to be invisible: “The less notice I drew, the less trouble I’d attract.”
The author goes on to vividly describe how and why she lands in a Minnesota psych ward at age 29. (Keep an eye out for “B.C.” and “A.C.”)
A Deep Dive
Indeed, Stable Weight is a deep dive into the complex and varied physical, emotional, social and other factors tied to an eating disorder. The author carefully explains how exercising “will power” over eating and pride over how far she could push her body to go without fuel made her feel like self-discipline was “the first power I’d ever wielded.” And it was “intoxicating.” It also describes how “success” related to food and eating was almost always dangling just out of reach, or over the next French fry refused. Also:
- Links between sensitivity, trauma, and depression.
- North Platte and Omaha, Nebraska.
- Sometimes, in order to move forward, we need to go backward.
- Cal. The Yahoos. The Trench Coat Guys.
- “Stop trying to be perfect.”
- How perfectionism distorts perception.
- How, in the author’s internal world, “perfectionism fueled an eating disorder the way water vapor fueled a hurricane.”
- How riding helped her “battle perfectionism.”
- “Pick up a posting trot!”
- Nature-nurture combinations.
Skillfully interwoven throughout the text are lessons learned and shared with horses at Seventh Farm Riding School. Like how riding “centered in impatience and perfectionism prompted by riding reminded me that real growth happened one step in the sand at a time.” (Alert readers may note occasional echoes of Monty Roberts’ classic, The Man Who Listens to Horses.)
This book is illuminating and eye-opening. It’s honest and authentic. Reflective, insightful, and sensitive, the story neatly sidesteps canned answers and empty platitudes. The lyrical prose deftly chronicles “how jumbled pieces fit together in a life story whose plot I was desperate to gain control of so it would stop wreaking havoc.”
Chapters and paragraph transitions are as smooth as spun silk, flowing seamlessly between the author’s youth, growing up years, and present day. A fair amount of dialogue is included. But the bulk of this book is told via internal narrative.
Some readers may find the story occasionally strays off course into just Too. Much. Information. Additionally, detailed descriptions of riding technique, lessons and maneuvers, et.al., will captivate some readers. It may put others to sleep. But the writing is solid. Indeed, The “personal and professional gifts riding bestows” shine through like sunshine after a spring rain. Or a tranquil blue sky after a hurricane.
Moment of Truth (Hi, Mom)
That being said, I didn’t particularly like this book. Didn’t hate it. Just didn’t love it. It seemed a bit over-long. Over-written in places. On balance, however, I can respect it as good art.
So if the author’s courage in telling her story about battling an eating disorder and depression encourages just one other person to do likewise, then she deserves much credit.
Kimber Chimes In
You know Mom loves me, right? Thinks the sun rises and sets on me. Cuz, ya know what? It kinda does. Oh yeah.
Anyway, what you may not know about Mom is that dogs weren’t her first animal love. (Nobody’s perfect.) That honor goes to horses. (I know. I was shocked, too.)
So this book stirred long-ago memories of welcoming whinnies. The sweet smell of summer hay. Jangling bits and bridles. The squeak of saddle leather. The heft of a curry comb. Peering into the wise, luminous eyes of Mom’s favorite horse, Dapple. This book reminded her of something she knew long ago but somehow misplaced over the years: Everything is better with a horse. And of course, me. Savvy?
Our Rating: 3.5
Picnic image credit: Public domain