Tommy Tomlinson: The Weight I Carry

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In a piece at The Atlantic adapted from his forthcoming book, The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America, Tommy Tomlinson shares the physical and emotional costs of weighing 460 lbs, the emotions that drive him to eat, and the uplifting litany of activities he looks forward to doing as he loses weight.

“Eat less and exercise.”

That’s what some of you are saying right now. That’s what some of you have said the whole time you’ve been reading. That’s what some of you say—maybe not out loud, but you say it—every time you see a fat person downing fried eggs in a diner, or overstuffing a bathing suit on the beach, or staring out from one of those good-lord-what-happened-to-her? stories in the gossip magazines.

“Eat less and exercise.”

What I want you to understand, more than anything else, is that telling a fat person “Eat less and exercise” is like telling a boxer “Don’t get hit.”

You act as if there’s not an opponent.

Losing weight is a fucking rock fight. The enemies come from all sides: The deluge of marketing telling us to eat worse and eat more. The culture that has turned food into one of the last acceptable vices. Our families and friends, who want us to share in their pleasure. Our own body chemistry, dragging us back to the table out of fear that we’ll starve.

On top of all that, some of us fight holes in our souls that a boxcar of donuts couldn’t fill.

My compulsion to eat comes from all those places. I’m almost never hungry in the physical sense. But I’m always craving an emotional high, the kind that comes from making love, or being in the crowd for great live music, or watching the sun come up over the ocean. And I’m always wanting something to counter the low, when I’m anxious about work or arguing with family or depressed for reasons I can’t understand.

There’s a boat I want the man inside me to put in a lake. Daddy’s johnboat lives in our backyard. It’s green aluminum and still has its Georgia registration number on the side. When I was a kid, we hauled a thousand catfish over the side of that boat. Daddy died in 1990, and the boat hasn’t been in the water since way before then. I’ve always been afraid that I’m so big, I’d tip it over. It needs a drain plug and a little love. But it’s still strong enough to hold a normal-sized man, and maybe his beautiful wife.

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