Weight is one of those polarizing topics that no one mentions or everyone does. It’s either not polite to bring up at all, or it’s still impolite but nobody cares, spreading derogatory comments across social media. It’s far less common to discuss weight in a healthy way—and it’s even less common than that to discuss weight as a health issue.
Thin people’s bodies are often (though not always) subject to praise, regardless of their actual lifestyle. People of most other body types may be subject to criticism having little to do with health—and everything to do with judgment. When Tommy Tomlinson sat down to write his memoir of obesity, he sought to address the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ in a thoughtful, personal manner.
Image Via Tommy Tomlinson
The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America charts Tomlinson’s mostly successful attempts at weight loss—but it also addresses the environmental and cultural factors behind obesity. Part self-help book, part memoir, and part informative nonfiction, the book offers readers an emotional portrait of the 5% of American men and 10% of American women who are morbidly obese. The memoir includes statistics, but it doesn’t rely on them. Tomlinson felt the memoir needed to be more intimate:
There are so many factors — genetic, cultural, environmental — but the more I talked about those, the more I felt I was straying from a really intensely personal story, which is what I had set out to do. Those studies are pretty available in the news, but I wanted to focus on what it was like from the inside.
Image Via Nieman Storyboard
Tomlinson describes his life with a searing vulnerability:
One thing that’s almost a day-to-day thing is that when I go somewhere unfamiliar, I have to figure out the right place to sit. Even though I lost weight, I’m still big enough that it’s a struggle for me to get in and out of, say, a booth at a restaurant. If I go out with somebody, I always have to ask for a table. Sometimes the chairs are too tight, so I have to ask for a chair without arms. I’ll ask for a table for two, and they’ll say, “How about a booth?” and when I say I need a table, they’ll look at me like, “Why would you want that?”
In his memoir, Tomlinson offers a nuanced analysis of why unhealthy eating is so addictive. While comparisons to alcohol, tobacco, and other commonly-abused substances, food is a necessary part of life. “There’s not a whole [television] channel about doing drugs. But there are multiple food channels where people indulge their appetite for food,” Tomlinson explains, hoping readers will understand the challenges of compulsive eating from a deeply personal perspective. “You cannot just stop eating.”
Featured Image Via Carpe Diem Charlotte