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Man shares the shame and guilt associated with being overweight in America

When Tommy Tomlinson started writing a book about his weight, he hoped people could relate to him. He also learned about himself along the way.
/ Source: TODAY

Years ago, Tommy Tomlinson visited an orthodontist to ask a question about some possible work. The orthodontist agreed that he could do it, but he added a caveat.

“He said, ‘Yeah, we can do the work, but first I want you to lose 100 pounds and then I will do it,’” Tomlinson, 55, recalled to TODAY. “The two things literally had nothing to do with one another. But he was just adamant that he wasn’t going to fix the problem until I dealt with my weight.”

Tomlinson, a journalist based in Charlotte, North Carolina, has been overweight his entire life. He recently wrote a book, "The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America," about his experience as an overweight man and his attempts to lose weight. In the book, he describes the shame he often feels.

“Well-intended people want to tell you how to make your body better when you are just trying to get through checkout line at Target,” he said. “Most people are trying to come from a place of kindness. But the fact is, whatever change an overweight person is going to make mostly is going to have to come from within … Not so much external.”

Tomlinson wrote the book for several reasons. He believes many overweight people share similar experiences and have common feelings. He hoped he'd help them feel less alone.

“By putting my thoughts out there, I hope people won’t think ‘Oh I am the only person thinking about these things,'” he said.

He also addresses the difficulty the nearly 94 million Americans with obesity face in their daily lives. Take eating at a restaurant — when Tomlinson goes out he scans the room and looks for a table. Because of his size he can’t sit in a booth so he likes to ask to be seated at a table.

“The external is how difficult it can be to navigate the world and figuring out how I am going to sit. And being really anxious about getting on the plane and making sure I am out of the way and making people uncomfortable,” he said. “These are the external things that overweight people have to navigate all the time."

But he also wanted to understand his own relationship with weight and how he could be healthier in a way that makes sense to him. Like others, Tomlinson dieted and shed weight and gained it back. He knows that being overweight impacts his health: His sister died at 63 due to complications related to her weight. By writing this book, he discovered that counting calories is helping him slowly lose weight.

“I have tried the other ways and failed,” he said. “The frustration is I am not losing weight really fast … It is more like a rock slowly eroding against a river. It only happens over a long period of time.”

While making small changes helps, confronting his emotions around food and figuring out the why is also improving his health.

“The biggest step for me is how I get here in the first place,” he said. “Once I understood myself better that burden was lifted off my shoulders. I wasn’t searching all the time to figure out why I was eating and that lead me to make a change.”