The Visible Man

Invisibleman

We’re in the parking garage, returning home from a shopping trip. Our stops included PetSmart, so, in the back of the car, there’s a bag of Chelsea Chow. I scoop it up, hugging it close to my chest and belly, and walk toward the elevator.

The bag weighs twenty pounds. WIth every step, I can feel that extra weight in my feet, pushing down on my arches. It impacts my posture, too, pulling me slightly forward. Twenty pounds is not that much weight, but by the time I cross the elevator lobby, ride up eight floors, and walk the long hall to our front door, I’m ready to be rid of that bag.

I used to carry exactly twice that much weight — crammed up inside me, mostly around my middle — every day.

At 190 pounds, I’m slimmer than I’ve been in almost two decades. I’ve dropped the equivalent of two twenty-pound dog food bags of fat. I’ve reduced my waist size from over forty inches down to just over thirty-five. In December of 2010, more than a third of my body weight was pure fat; today, my body fat percentage is just 18.2%. I’ve gone from being dangerously obese to being only marginally overweight. The associated changes — in my face, in my body, in my energy, in my clarity of thought, in my outlook on life — are still new to me.

The strangest thing? There’s less of me … but I’m more visible.

When I was fat, I could walk the streets of Midtown Atlanta unseen. Men and women would pass me on the sidewalk, oblivious. Waiters would inform me of specials, deliver meals, and clear dishes without ever once looking me in the eye. Salespeople, when I could find them, were accommodating, but distant. I accepted this as the way the world worked.

Now, men and women glance at me when I pass them on the street: nodding, speaking, grinning, flirting. Waiters make eye contact, striking up unhurried and extended conversations. Salespeople offer to help, and, when their offers are declined, they hover nearby, smiling, alert for any indication that I need help. Even at work, people pay more attention, listen more closely, and respond more thoughtfully to the things I say.

In short: once I lost weight, the world magically became a friendlier, more social place.

I’m self-aware enough to realize that some of these apparent changes in the world are due, in part, to changes in me. For the first time I can ever recall, I like the me I see in the mirror. I like how relaxed and lean I look in a black t-shirt and shorts. I like my more angular face and the length of my neck. I like not huffing and puffing as I walk. Unencumbered by all that extra weight, I carry myself with more grace and more confidence. All of this, undoubtedly, impacts how others see me.

But having been both fat and thin, I also know this: Fat Mark and Thin Mark receive unequal treatment. This is due, in part, to the fact that people make a lot of assumptions (about intelligence, about desirability, about personality, about character) based on body weight alone. I don’t think they do this out of malice. I don’t think the response is due entirely to cultural conditioning. I believe it is hardwired, instinctive, an aspect of human nature.

It’s good to be healthy. It’s good to be at home in your own skin, comfortable with your body, proud of how you look. It’s good to embrace the reality of what size you really are … to decide whether or not you’re happy with that … and make the conscious choices that support the goals you set for yourself.

It is also very, very good to be visible.

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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  • Your weight loss is inspirational. Are you still continuing your low carb lifestyle? I'm thinking about reading the 4 hour body myself. While I carry cat litter instead of Chelsea Chow, I wouldn't mind having 20 lbs less of me so I can smile when I set that heavy bag down!

  • Hey, Brett. Thanks for the note!

    I kept a strict low-carb regimen for for six full months, and credit that program with making it possible for me to lose weight without being hungry. It also encouraged me to eat more vegetables than I have ever eaten in my life.

    Recently, though, especially after watching the movie "Forks over Knives," I began to be concerned that my high intake of animal protein (in meat, in cheese, in eggs), while producing quick and easy weight loss, could be setting me up for avoidable health issues further down the road. And once my partner decided to become a vegan, I elected to experiment with that approach to eating, too.

    If you rule out both animal product AND carbs … you aren't left with much to put on your plate! So, while trying a vegan diet for the next sixty days, I'm reintroducing (but carefully restricting) carbs into my diet. I'm mostly eating whole grains (whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat wraps, oatmeal, brown rice). And even on this diet, I still restrict sugars and desserts to one day a week.

    I'm still losing weight — albeit more slowly — and I'm fine with that. 🙂 By the end of this year, I expect to weigh about 180, for a total of fifty pounds lost.

    Meantime: glad you're inspired! I think the important thing is just to try … to experiment .. to see what works for you. Start easy: limit carbs or have deserts just once a day. I think you'll see results very quickly.

    M.

Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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