Book Review~~Running With a Loud Voice: Rachael Steil “Running in Silence”

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Rachael Rose Steil
Portrait of a Writer Writing

 

 

“Delicious food available at my fundraiser THIS Sunday!! Check out this oven roasted beef simmered with prunes, sweet potato, carrots and split yellow beans. 🙂 Come this Sunday April 3 to eat this awesomeness and learn more about my upcoming book.”

A book is born. A mission is launched. A young runner and author speaks out to help those who haven’t yet found their voices.

 

 

 

Since the publication of her self-help memoir, Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It, Rachael Rose Steil is running and making herself heard. She is running and shouting as, near the end of her book, she writes,
“Winning. I didn’t have to fight as much anymore. I was winning.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running in Silence opens with this scene:

  “WITH A BUTTER KNIFE in one hand and the numbers on
a scale in the other, I pulled the crumbs and rock-hard frosting
of the frozen birthday cake up to my tongue.
     And I clawed. I clawed deeper into the cake from my squatting
position over the chilly kitchen floor, clawed desperately for any
morsel I could chip off the solid block of sugar. All the while the
hair on the back of my neck stood up for fear that someone would
come by and catch me in the act, for fear that someone would
walk into this cold, white kitchen and find good, sweet Rachael
sitting before the open door of the refrigerator as a food thief.
      I could have waited for the cake to thaw. I could have pulled
the cover off the dessert to avoid cutting my wrist as my hand
scrambled beneath the plastic. In fact, you could say that with
proper discipline and control I could have avoided the incident
altogether.”

And so Rachael Steil begins the story that will take her on a harrowing journey from the exhilaration of a place among All-American collegiate runners, through the rigors of unsuccessful and increasingly painful starvation diets, the humiliation of binge eating, the loss of friends, the loss of hope, ultimately the loss of herself.  Through and out the other side.

Running in Silence is the story of an eating disorder and its impact on the life of a serious athlete. It is the story of recovery from that eating disorder.  It is a riveting story, a page-turning story. It is a book you can’t put down.  Questions and challenges, called “Food for Thought” and “Mile Markers” follow every chapter. The reader is engaged, invited to participate.  The book ends with a Glossary of terms specific to running or to eating disorders, and a twenty-five page worksheet with questions, assignments, and meal plans for mental and physical recovery for those who have problems with food and for those who support them.

I have read Running in Silence more than once. That harsh, painful, self-revelatory scene on the midnight kitchen floor has never lost its power.  The book simply could not begin any other way.  No introductory statement, no explanation of the pain of eating disorders, no exposé of the online gurus who promise easy answers (although you will find all those  in this book), could have delivered the gut punch of that image of Rachael, huddled on the floor of her parents’ kitchen, desperate, ashamed, driven, powerless, starving.  There is no doubt, from that first page, that we are about to meet a very courageous woman and a very fine writer.

Running in Silence is a memoir and a self-help book, and Running in Silence is more. It is, I believe most importantly, a testament to honesty, to the honesty of one young woman, wrestling with her demons, not the least of which was the demon that screamed, “Don’t tell!”

But Rachael Steil is telling and by her honesty she makes possible the honesty of those who have not yet spoken.

We travel with her as she adopts the raw food “lifestyle,” the high protein “lifestyle,” and–my particular favorite–the thirty-bananas-a-day lifestyle.  The book is not without its hilarious moments, and Rachael has a sharp wit. Looking online once again, this time for proof she wasn’t becoming some kind of fanatic about her food, Rachael reports,

 “As I researched more, I found a documentary online called
‘Health Food Junkies.’
     ‘So this is . . . fresh pee,’ said a woman with a diamond-shaped
face and wide, blue eyes. She held a glass of yellow liquid
to her pursed lips.
     ‘And this is a daily thing?’
The woman took a sip and swished the urine around in her
mouth.
     ‘Yes, daily urine therapy.'”

Or, at the height of her “fruitarian” period,

“I CARRIED BOXES AND boxes of bananas, watermelon,
and melons into my room each week. My roommates never said
anything about it, but once when two of Anna’s friends came
into the room while I sat, unseen, on the other side of my desk,
they saw the five melons I had on the floor and shrieked with
laughter.
     ‘Holy shit, how many melons do you need?! It reeks in here!'”

Subtle, but revealing, is the simple, obsessive recording of her weight at the beginning of every chapter: 120 pounds, 121 pounds, 128, 140, 150.

Chapter Two, “Unraveling Raw,” begins:
“122 pounds
One hundred and twenty-two pounds
55 kilograms
8 stone
One thousand nine hundred and fifty-two ounces
122 pounds”

Rachael makes lists. Rachael keeps track of things.  Rachael is not out of control. Running in Silence is the chronicle of her increasingly frantic attempts to maintain that control and her dawning realization that perfect control is what addiction is all about. At one point, she tells herself,

“If I could understand every possible thing about
nutrition, then I wouldn’t have to worry about
anything anymore.”

She tries every conceivable way of eating, of restricting eating, of eating less, of eating more, of not eating at all.  And every time she breaks down and she binges.  After every attempt to lose weight, after every failure, Rachael finds herself hiding alone with her food.

And she becomes very adept at hiding, so that it isn’t a complete surprise when even her mother completely fails to believe that Rachael has a “real” eating disorder.  The scenes between mother and daughter are heartbreaking,  a study in the complete breakdown of communication.  The description of her mother’s unconscious cruelty is nearly unbearable.

Any reader who has felt the despair of not being understood, the frustration of not understanding, any daughter, any mother, will shudder at this exchange:

“‘Just eat two pieces of toast instead of five’ kept ringing in
my ears. Only now it was ‘eat twenty bananas instead of thirty.’

Had she understood a word of what I had just said?

The moment we came home after dinner, my mom dug the
knife in deeper.
‘Alright, how about you get on the scale?’ she asked, pointing
to the bathroom.

I looked at her, horrified.
Get on the scale? What the hell?”

One of the more frustrating parts of Rachael Steil’s story is the repeated moments of clarity when, as a reader, you think, “This is it! She finally gets it.” And, indeed, that is what Rachael thought–that this time was different.This time she understood the reality of her disordered eating and the insanity of her attempts to “fix” it.  And each  time, she turns around and discovers just one more sure-fire plan, one more diet, one more thread of hope.

And one more person who can make it right: her coach; her friend, Dave; Jill at the Health Food store; Dorianrider at 30BAD; the elderly man at the “Rawluck” hawking his “cabbage lettuce”; John in Colorado.

They can’t save her.

Running in Silence ends:

“Perhaps, in this journey to self-love, I would find something beyond running to keep me happy and balanced. Because I knew, deep down, that running would not save me.

Rawchael would not save me.

Rachael would.”

Running in Silence tells us is that it is possible to come home.

Rachael Steil has come home, and she is inviting everyone who identifies with her story to make a start on that journey.  Rachael Steil is on the road; she is taking her “self” along.

Find Rachael:
Running in Silence
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Contact her at:
runninginsilence@gmail.com

Rachael is committed to carrying her message to as many people as she can. She loves reading and answering your emails!

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One Response to "Book Review~~Running With a Loud Voice: Rachael Steil “Running in Silence”"
  1. This sounds like a harrowing book, and one that might convince any of us of the need to leave behind our obsessive search for the perfect diet. I wonder if it can also help stop young women from starting down that road.

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