The Problem with Tommy Tomlinson's inspirational new book, "The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man's Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America."
Tomlinson grew up in Georgia. He's an ardent scholar of the glories of South's vernacular cuisine: fried chicken, biscuits, barbecue, catfish browned in flour and bacon grease, and "tea so sweet it could hold its shape without a cup."
"There has never been been better food created anywhere in the American South, "he writes.
Southern eats are working people's eats. The pandering calories, baptized in butter and other cooking fats, are meant to be burned off outdoors. Tomlinson is a writer. He mostly sits at a desk and, between paragraphs, ingests cubes of cheese.
A few years ago he topped out at 460 pounds. Scales at Weight Watchers meetings would not hold him. He tended to turn chairs into matchsticks. His shirt size was XXXXXXL, or 6X in clothing-store lingo.
Tomlinson would probably have only been with M.B.G. – a Mildly Big Guy – if he did not have a taste for fast food. He writes exceedingly well about the lust for grease and salt.
If you've ever been in a fast food parking lot, wolfing items from a big hot bag and praying for no contemporaneous judgment of your behavior, know this: Tomlinson is the laureate of this experience.
"On those days when the gravity of solitude tries to pin down, fast food serves as a little bridge to the other side," he writes. He'll sit in his car and watch people. "At least, I tell myself, I've been out among people for a while."
He walks through the excitement of, among other things, the Wendy's: "The part I really like is out of the edge, where the meat and the cheese melt into pure umami."
Calvin Trillin Fats Goldberg, a pizza shop owner who lost a great deal of weight. "I did not get fat on coq au vin," Goldberg said. Neither did Tomlinson. Krispy Kreme donuts, bowls of peanut M & Ms, chili dogs, Hardee's cinnamon biscuits and chips of chips Ahoy cookies were among his fetishes.
Tomlinson did not grow up with money. His parents make minimum wage at a seafood processing plant. He's observant about chain restaurants and working-class life. "It's easy to look down on fast foods," he writes.
Tomlinson was for many years a reporter and columnist for The Charlotte Observer, where in 2005 he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. He's written for many other publications, often about sports.
"The Elephant in the Room" runs on two tracks. In the first, Tomlinson tells us about the year he tried to lose weight.
He bought a Fitbit fitness tracker. He went on what he calls the Three-Step Diet: "1. Find a way to measure the calories you eat and drink. 2. Find a way to measure the calories you burn. 3. Make sure that every day, number one is less than number two. "
This book's second track is an affecting memoir. He writes, "I was fat."
We follow him through high school and college and into journalism. He has, in many respects, a very good life: plenty of friends, a job he loves, a wife he adores.
"When I was a kid, I never climbed a tree or learned to swim." When I was in my 20s, I never took a girl home from a bar. Now I'm 50, and I've never hiked a mountain or ridden a skateboard or done a cartwheel. "
He decided to lose weight after realizing he was digging his grave with his own incisors. "Guys like it does not make it to 60," he writes. He has serious health problems, and fears his life wants to "stop like a needle lifted off a record."
He has no argument with fat-positivity advocates. But he writes: "I'm just going to speak for myself. I do not want to expand the world to make room for me. It's not good for me, and it's not good for the world. I need to make myself fit. "
He adds," I'm not supposed to be this big. Maybe other people are. Not me. "
Tomlinson goes out of his way to criticize the movie critic Roger Ebert, not just because he is" a fat guy who thrived on TV through the force of his talent. "
He admired Ebert, too , cause "he wrote about a mass audience." Tomlinson's prose does something similar. His words are "clean and witty and punchy," he says, "he's a poor guy," he says. 1965] Tomlinson may not be for everyone. Like Rick Bragg, he can sometimes seem like a Southern boy with just a bit too much syrup in him. If you're tired of the word "mum", put your teeth on edge, in your mind, a pre-moistened towelette.
I love this book. I found myself sneak-reading it from the moment it came in the door. As with a sack of White Castle burgers, I hate to reach the end.