I have been extremely lucky in my life to never have to have worried about a weight problem.
I was blessed with a fast metabolism, have always exercised, and when I was diagnosed with a mild form of Crohn’s Disease four years ago, my bigger problem was trying to keep weight on, not go on a diet.
So as much as I have empathized with family members, friends and co-workers over the years who have struggled with dieting, I never truly could put myself in their shoes, much as I tried.
But never in all my years of reading about weight and diet issues have I understood more what it’s like to be obese in America than after I finished reading Tommy Tomlinson’s astonishing new book, “The Elephant in the Room.”
I’ve been a huge fan of Tomlinson’s for a couple decades now, ever since I first started reading him in the Charlotte Observer (I worked in Wilmington, N.C. in the late 1990s so I tried to read the state’s best papers as often as I could). He is a tremendous wordsmith, a beautiful phrase-turner, and from all I’ve heard and seen, a heck of a nice guy as well.
But for his entire life he has struggled with his weight. A child growing up poor in the South, Tomlinson writes movingly about how food was how parents showed their love, and goes on for pages about his favorite delicacies.
He was active athletically as a kid which kept his weight a little bit in check, but as he got older his weight ballooned way out of control, until he weighed 460 pounds at the end of 2014. He movingly discusses how many calculations he must make every day when you’re his size: Where you can sit at a restaurant, on on airplane, in a conference room constantly seeing if the chairs will hold you, or if you’ll suffer the embarrassment of breaking one.
Two major events in his life finally triggered him into doing something about his size: He turned 50, and his sister Brenda died. She, too, was overweight and that contributed to her death.
In this fabulous book, Tomlinson is as naked and honest about himself and his feelings as any writer I’ve ever read. He spends an entire page describing his body when he looks at himself in the mirror in the morning.
“My body is a car wreck. Skin tags — long, mole-like growths caused by chafing– dangle under my arms and down to my crotch. I have breasts where my chest ought to be. My belly is strafed with more stretch marks than a mother of five … Varicose veins bulge from my thighs. My calves and shins are rust-colored and shiny from a condition called chronic venous insufficiency … my body is crumbling under its own gravity.”
He discusses his desire not to do a “fad diet” that promises you can lose 30 pounds in 30 days, instead wishing for a longer-term solution. As he details his year-long quest to live healthier and save his life, Tomlinson takes readers into some dark corners of his soul, but also provides fascinating facts about how we as Americans are coping with getting heavier (Did you know that movie theater seats are four inches wider than they were in 1990?)
Tomlinson has setbacks, he has triumphs, but all along the way he’s brutally honest about how his weight has caused him to miss out on so much in life, affecting his relationships with his wife and friends, his inability to have children, and much more.
You can’t help but root for this good, decent man when he writes beautiful paragraphs like this one, talking about the things he’s never been able to do, but that he believes he could do if he’d ever let “the man inside him,” one who is not obese, come out.
“There’s a bicycle I want the man inside me to ride. Nothing fancy — I’d be fine with one of those old-man bikes with straight handlebars and a cushy seat. Our neighborhood is full of bike riders. There’s a group that rides through every Tuesday night. Sometimes we sit on the porch and wave at them as they glide past our house, a rolling parade. I’m tired of watching parades. I’d like to be in a few.”
I cannot recommend “The Elephant In the Room” highly enough. It’s a wonderfully-written tale by a man who’s finally confronted his demons and is trying to finally beat them.
Tomlinson should be highly cheered for having the courage to write this book. I strongly encourage you to read it.
**Next up today, I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this incredible UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi before or not, but if I haven’t, you have to check her out. She’s been doing these amazing floor exercise routines all winter and this one from the other night, in her hometown of Seattle, was sensational.
This woman just exudes joy.
**And finally today, I heard this story on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and it once again made me question the future of our society, as in, “really, we need this now?”
So let’s say you’re eating a bag of chips and the grease is all over your fingers and then you get a text or need to make a phone call. Well that’s gonna be messy.
But never fear, a company in Japan has invented something to solve your finger-lickin’-good problems.
Allow me to introduce you to a product called One Hand Chips. Instead of grabbing a handful of chips with your fingers, with One Hand Chips, you just tip a cup filled with hundreds of chip bits to your lips, and you kind of drink them down, like you would a soda or a beer.
That’s right people, when you’re too lazy to eat chips with your fingers, we as a society have lost. Let’s just give up, go home, and let the robots run everything.
Sometimes I weep for the future.