Tommy Tomlinson’s battle with weight leads to book deal

Tommy Tomlinson and I met at Zada Jane’s for lunch the other day to talk about the book contract he’s signed with Simon & Schuster. The book’s about weight. His and other people’s.

By his own admission, Tommy, a freelance writer and a former Charlotte Observer columnist, is “a fat guy.” As long as I’ve known him, we’d never mentioned it.

We both ordered sweet tea. We would later confess the stuff is one of our downfalls. I ordered an omelet. Tommy, a turkey and avocado sandwich with a handful of sweet potato fries.

First, the basics. The good stuff in a minute.

About three years ago, Tommy pitched his agent the idea of a book about his battle with weight. OK, fine. But Tommy soon realized he wasn’t comfortable writing about such a personal subject. There were family issues. He might hurt someone’s feelings. All that exposure. He couldn’t get over the hump.

Then, this past summer, Tommy decided to write about Jared Lorenzen, another fat guy, a former NFL quarterback who soared from 290 to 400 pounds when he went to an indoor league. During the interview, Tommy and Lorenzen confessed their struggles (and their penchant for Little Debbies). Pretty quickly, Tommy realized his own story had to be part of the story about Jared.

The article was published by ESPN in August and went viral. Mail poured in from people struggling with all sorts of things – not just weight but drugs, gambling, the gamut of obsessions. Tommy had gone public with his weight and survived. His comfort level was on the rise.

He met with his agent. In a blink, the agent sold the idea to Simon & Schuster.

We can look for the book in late 2016 or early 2017. Between now and the writing, Tommy will be traveling the country watching, listening, hanging out, trying to grasp why this country is so food-obsessed.

For instance, he’ll visit The Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, featuring triple and quadruple by-pass burgers and a reward for those who clean their plates: they get rolled out of the restaurant in a wheelchair.

And, surely, a chapter on the culture of Southern food, because that’s what Tommy was raised on. It’s not easy to give up fried chicken, biscuits, gravy, veggies steeped in fatback.

The writing? I suspect that will be fairly easy for Tommy. He’s been a Pulitzer finalist and voted Best Columnist in the country.

His own weight loss program during the process?

He says he’s down 40 pounds from his peak weight. (He won’t divulge his peak, he tells me when I ask. That figure he’s saving for the first page of his book.) He’s done this with exercise, mostly walking, and portion control.

“I’m not good with the ‘eat-this-but-don’t-eat that’ programs,” he says. He prefers the “not-what-but-how-much” approach.

Then the philosophical questions: Why do we backslide? And, if I’m not a fat guy, who exactly am I?

And the really big, kinda scary one: When I stop using food to fill the void, what is it I’m really craving?

Who of us can answer that? How many, I wonder, even dare to ask it.