I’m writing my own weight loss memoir, and I have some strong opinions on both writing and storytelling. So these three brief reviews belong together. The first two books first appeared on my old blog in 2007, and were edited for this republication. The review of Transformation Road is new.

From Chunk To Hunk: Diary of a Fat Man by Fred Anderson

Big and Tall Chronicles by Gary Marino

Transformation Road by Sean Anderson

Readers of my posts to alt support.diet may recall I’ve praised Fred Anderson’s From Chunk to Hunk before. Anderson’s book is a diary, originally on-line and revised for print, detailing his loss of 171 pounds over a year and a half. Some of the ‘reviewers’ at Amazon have criticized the book for being excessively motivational and short on specifics of his diet and exercise routine, but I like it for just those reasons. The body will do what the mind tells it, be it gorge on chocolate or bike a century. Anderson shows that the road to a better life isn’t always easy, but change only happens if you make it happen, and making it happen begins with your thoughts. I often find myself turning to this book when my resolution flags.

Some people may be put off because Anderson didn’t count calories – he eliminated junk from his diet, cut portion sizes, and began exercising, and that’s it. As he lost weight, he refined his diet and increased his exercise, but still didn’t calorie count. Also, he bought his bicycle at Wal-mart. So much for eliminating junk…. But aside from that lapse, this is a wonderful book. Unlike many
– perhaps most?- ‘writers’ on the Internet, Anderson is a capable teller of his tale, leavening his motivational approach with humor. His book reads well, and despite its episodic nature, we get the feeling of Anderson growing as a man as he shrinks in girth.

Promising more than Fred Anderson’s book but delivering less is Gary Marino’s Big and Tall Chronicles. It’s an at times funny memoir of growing up obese, but the book rambles and the prose is often sloppy, ‘conversational’ writing. Better edited, his story would have considerably more impact; as it stands, it gets lost in the awkward prose. And for a person who did stand up comedy, I’d expect more humor and less whining. This transformation is from dark to joy, or it should be. Instead we dwell on the dark, and all the forced “take my wife – please!” style quips Marino tosses off don’t lighten the text.

But there’s another problem, for me at least, aside from the writing as writing. There’s something offputting about a person who needs to hire SIX people to help him lose weight. Yes, Marino had a “Dream Team”, including a personal dietitian and sports medicine specialist; most people who lose weight do all right alone or with a group, not through the efforts of an entourage. And it was one person, named Gary Marino, who ultimately was responsible for Gary Marino’s weight loss. At times that’s not what comes through to the reader. Marino, like Fred Anderson, tracked calories and improved his diet as the main engine of his weight loss.

Sean Anderson isn’t related to Fred Anderson, but he has something in common with Gary Marino; both were comics and did stand up. Unfortunately that’s not the only comparison. Sean’s book is also dark, and excessively weighted towards an account of his fat days. Comedy is often born of pain, and super obese people have a lot of it, but as a reader that’s not what you look for in a book like this. Transformation Road would be twice the book had the author focused on the joy he discovered instead of rehashing what made him miserable. For instance, Anderson ran a 5K and included a photo from it, but there’s no mention of it in the text. I still enjoyed the book, and found the account of his career as a comic and a radio personality funny despite the darkness. (BTW the Transformation Road audiobook should be very good – thanks to the wonders of the Internet I’ve heard the author on his day job as the host of a morning show in Oklahoma, and he has the perfect radio voice. ) But even here I was scratching my head – why include a photo of himself with Louie Anderson – again no relation – and not write about it?

Unlike the other two authors, Sean Anderson followed what he called a “calorie bank” approach to weight loss, basically setting a daily limit and staying within it, and in his book doesn’t spend much time describing the changes he made to what he eats. He continues to write about his weight loss, which like any person’s is a story of up and down, at his website www.transformationroad.com.

From Chunk to Hunk is out of print, but it’s available from Amazon sellers. Big and Tall Chronicles and Transformation Road are available from Amazon and other sellers, and Transformation Road can also be purchased from the author at www.transformationroad.com.