Al Roker lets out a secret

The "Today" personality cops to an embarrassing admission -- and raises awareness about gastric bypass

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published January 8, 2013 3:36PM (EST)

       (<a href=''>DFree</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(DFree via Shutterstock)

The technical term is "sharting." What's that, you say? You didn't want the image of jovial weather maestro Al Roker's flatulence that, uh-oh, wasn't just flatulence this morning? At the president's house? Yeah, well, it wasn't on my agenda either but them's the headlines. World. Wide. Headlines.

Roker, who has a new book out about his dramatic, 100-lb. weight loss titled "Never Goin' Back," took to "Dateline" this week to discuss his journey – and the not-so-fun side effects of gastric bypass surgery. Speaking with NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman, he recalled attending a White House event shortly after his operation in 2002. "When you have a bypass and your bowel has been reconstructed, you think you're pretty safe," he said. "I probably went off and ate something I wasn't supposed to, and I'm walking to the press room, and you know, I gotta pass a little gas here. So I'm walking by myself, who's going to know? Only a little something extra came out."

"You pooped in your pants," Snyderman explained for the layperson at home. The beloved "Today" show icon assented. "I pooped my pants." And with that, America's TMI meter recalibrated itself.

Roker's revelation is about as gross as it gets, but let's put it in perspective. If you'd struggled with obesity your whole adult life and had the chance to a) lose a hundred pounds and b) get invited to the White House, I'd wager you'd think a slight case of messypants would be a small price to pay.

Cringe-worthy though the details of his incontinence may be, Roker has done a service to the substantial population of obese Americans who opt for surgical solutions. As he went on to explain on "Dateline," the incident didn't affect him "horribly, but enough that I knew … I was panicking. So I got to the restroom of the press room, threw out the underwear, and went commando. It told me that I've got to be very vigilant about what I eat."

That's a crucial message, wrapped up in a disgusting anecdote. Surgery isn't a quick fix or a cure-all. It changes a person's body and forces him or her to make permanent changes in eating habits. The first few months after gastric bypass surgery, the stomach can only hold a few tablespoons of food. Certain difficult-to-digest foods may be off the docket for good. And as the surgeons at Duke explain, "The volume you can tolerate will always be limited."

Roker's embarrassing admission was no journalistic gotcha moment. It was a deliberate, attention-getting message. He followed up the, er, explosive revelation with a Monday Facebook post in which he said, "Folks need to know the lengths people will go to lose weight. A bypass is no easy answer and has a lot of consequences; some embarrassing, some lethal." The mortality rate for the procedure can be as high as 1 in 50, which include potentially fatal complications like infection and choking.

So yeah, har har har and ewwwwww. But also, thanks. Roker's Facebook commenters have been full of grateful remarks from fans, many of whom have gone through the procedure too and admit "It's a fight every day" and "I've been struggling." He could have just been the triumphant winner in the war on weight, but he let himself be vulnerable and embarrassed and all too human. He put himself out there as part of an honest conversation about his own obesity, and the consequences of surgery. Before you point and laugh, go ahead and think about the most humiliating thing you've ever experienced, and if you'd be willing to tell it on national television to inform others of the risks of an operation. That makes the weatherman pretty damn brave. Al Roker, you're the shit.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Al Roker Dateline Flatulence Gastric Bypass Obesity Today Show Video