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Taming the Obeast

A few weeks ago, I read Lori Lansens’ bestselling book “the wife’s tale“.

The book tells the story of Mary Gooch, a 43 year-old woman with severe obesity, who lives her life in defensive, deflective blame, segregating herself in the small farming town of Leaford, Ontario.

When her husband dissapears on the eve of their 25th wedding anniversary, Mary abandons her comfortable position to take the next flight to look for him in California. Soon after arriving she loses her wallet and passport, which further complicates her situation.

With the help of some unlikely friendships that she makes along the way, Mary undertakes a journey of self discovery resulting in an amazing transformation. The deeply insightful story touchingly depicts the heart-wrenching daily reality of someone living with severe disabling obesity.

In an opening sequence, Mary describes how, as a nine year old, she heard her doctor whisper the word “obese” to her mother. Never having heard the word before, little Mary imagined that she was under the power of an “obeast”, a creature that had taken over her body and was manifesting itself in her starving gut.

As Lori Lansens, who hails from Chatham, Ontario, a rural community near the border to Detroit, notes in her self-penned author profile,

“I drove the curving roads of the Santa Monica Mountains thinking of the thousands of conversations I’ve had with women about loneliness, self acceptance, marriage, husbands, body image, food, denial, betrayal and more recently, encroaching middle-age. I thought about what it means to be a stranger, and how one can be transformed by circumstance, and as I found my own tribe of friends and settled into the new rhythm of a different life, the story of Mary Gooch unfolded.”

Although her biography makes no mention of any weight issues that Lansens herself may have experienced, she tells the story of many patients that I see in my clinic everyday.

Anyone who still believes that we will solve the obesity epidemic by simply telling people to eat less and move more should take the time to read this book – but my guess is that if you believe that the solution to obesity is as simple as eating less, then you may have little interest in a book which reveals uncomfortable layers of complexity to a problem for which there are no easy solutions.

If any of my readers have read “The Wife’s Tale”, I’d love to hear from you.

Edmonton, Alberta


  1. Its starts in childhood, with walt disney, every notice all the evil mean characters, are over weight..I remember being taunted in school being called aunt tamanila..from a disney movie that had been playing at the theater, that weekend..and that was the start of my nickname, in highschool..a time when young women, is experiencing and exploring her sense of self..I found myself silently sitting out my recess hours reading about the human the time the year was over I had read almost every book the library had on the subject..another time the only other chubby boy..was taped to my desk chair, waiting for us to change classes..and when I went in , I looked..heard the kids teasing me and fred..and turned my head to the teacher for help only to find him laughing..running from class to the bathroom I cried..vowed never to go back to school again, but I had to understand it first year of college, doing accounting..the wall dawned posters, good secretary, bad secretary and yes..the bad one was fat..stank..and had a messy desk..etc..and so it contiunes for any child or adult facing weight related is the last excepted form of prejudice no matter what your culture..from jabba the hut, to the joker..hollywood has single handedly..created who people thing we are and human beings do not even know by the time they reach adulthood..that they even think that way..its ingrained in them..somewhere in my mid twenties, I researched the word morbid obesity..after having made major changes in my life for a year, a doctor showed his utter disgust in me and disbelieve..(so that you know me, I am the lady who had 50 has just been diagnosied with cushings..)..any his disgust he suggested only my jaws being wired..were the answer..laughed at me..and then suggested obesity working my way through that pain, I dubbed morbid obesity as..more a beast I see instead of a human being before me..and I have used it as a teaching tool..every since, when I meet and find doctors who will listen to me..I plan on reading this book..and thank you for sharing it..thankfully I have had the opportunities to meet people also..who understand, reach out and help educate well in life..thank you

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  2. Thank you for this recommendation: I am now half way through this gripping story. I am enjoying the image-rich language and writing style. My heart breaks for the character. Yes, I am gaining insight into the nature of her internal struggles, guilt and shame but am also struck by how similar we are. I would say the main difference is that ALL her struggles remain internal and solitary and that seems to be a large part of the trap she is in. It really speaks to the magnitude of the impact of social isolation caused by the stigma of obesity (which begins in childhood). I look forward to the rest of the story and will broadly recommend this book because it is a good read and also because it may help somewhat with the obesity bias issue.

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  3. Dear Dr. Sharma,

    I just wanted to share that I read the Wife’s Tale and I loved it. I couldn’t put the book down. I found it especially interesting given that I am life coach who specializes in helping people who want to develolp healthier lifestyles and who have food and weight issues. I have had my own struggles with weight and food, but this book gave me a new perspective on what people go through who are morbidly obese. I also loved how the story developed and sharing in Mary’s story of growth and rebirth. It is a book that I will be recommending and most likely re-reading. Thanks so much for recommending the book.

    I love reading your daily blogs and get a lot of information from them. I look foward to continuing to be a fan of yours.


    Brenda Garrett
    Chapter One Coaching

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  4. I wasn’t as impressed with this book as others seem to be, but perhaps that’s because most of the time I don’t think about my weight, and despite being 140lb overweight have never gorged on food the way Mary does.

    I found it odd that Mary would look at her fat jiggling so often, and I found it odd that she would keep going back to the same stores to get mountains of sweet fatty “treats.” I would have expected to read about the times when she tried not to eat that way (and how she felt during those times), or about hiding food from her husband and shopping in different places because of her shame. I also found it a little unbelievable that she just stopped eating after her husband left.

    I was also dissapointed in Mary’s journey of self discovery. It seemed to me to be more about her discovery of others than her discovery of self.

    I will reread this book because others obviously got something out of it that I didn’t, and perhaps I will get more on a second reading.

    The biggest thing that Mary & I have in common is mothers who used to say “you have such a pretty face … ” with the implication that it was too bad about the rest of me.

    Like Joanne (above) I felt discrimination in school. I was always chubby, but at the age of 11-12 I was a fairly good tennis player, and played doubles regularly during lunch period … until a new student came to the school who was athletc & loved playing tennis, and then I wasn’t wanted any more. I often found, even in college that the only person who wanted to be my friend was the other person that everyone hated for whatever reason.

    I’ve suffered from depression for many years, and have often been told by doctors to just lose weight & I’ll be fine. I’ve had supervisors who, while not saying anything directly to me about my weight, have criticised & ridiculed every other overweight person they’ve met. It took me a long time to come to terms with my weight, and, as I said, I don’t think about it much. Having come out of my shell, I’ve learned that people like my personality, and don’t really notice my weight. It’s a lovely feeling. Unfortunately there are still many many people out there who think there’s something fundamentally wrong with someone who is overweight, and who don’t stop to learn anything different.


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