“Triggering” Numbers (Weight, Calories), and Portia De Rossi

Portia De Rossi’s (Portia DeGeneres) new eating disorder book Unbearable Lightness has received some criticism for centering too much on weight, calories, and food and exercise rituals. Portia uses numbers (describing her weight, calorie intake, and exercise) extensively, and some critics say there is danger the book will give weight loss “tips” to extreme dieters and anorexics. As one Amazon review put it, it could teach a reader “how to be a good anorexic.”

On many online eating disorder support forums, the use of these types of numbers is not allowed; the reasoning being that weight/calorie related numbers are potentially “triggering” to those with eating disorders. This means that hearing/reading these types of numbers can potentially fuel their obsession with weight and put them at risk for engaging in eating disordered behaviors like starving, binge eating, and/or purging.

While writing my own book, I debated whether or not to use numbers as it related to my weight, calorie consumption during binges, and amount of exercise. I don’t disagree with support forums forbidding the use of numbers (after all, we wouldn’t want these forums to turn into places for members to compare weights, measurements, calories, and exercise); however, I ultimately decided to use numbers (sparingly) in my book. There were three reasons for this:

1) The numbers help give a more accurate description of my life as a bulimic. Simply saying I was “underweight” from dieting, “gained a lot of weight” from binge eating, “ate a lot” during binges or “overexercised” would be avoiding the whole story. I decided that in order for binge eaters/bulimics to relate to my story, I needed to bear all of it. That being said, weight and calorie numbers are not a focus of my book, as they are in Unbearable Lightness.

2) Avoiding all “triggering” numbers isn’t possible or necessary. One look at the magazines in a grocery store check-out line shows that there is too much information on calories, weights, and diets out there. Women, and many men too, talk frequently of weight, calories, and exercise. It’s not a good thing in our society; but it is unrealistic to think you can void it all. Learning to not be bothered or “triggered” by these numbers is a better solution than avoiding them.

3) Avoiding the “triggering” numbers would take away from my message of self control. To recover, I had to learn that regardless of what I heard, saw, thought, felt, or read, I could control my actions. In other words, I had to learn that nothing could “trigger” me, and I hope my readers take that message away from my book. Then they can read read Unbearable Lightnesswithout all the numbers being a problem.

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