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Eating disorders can impact any family regardless of the age, race or sex of their children

For more than 20 years, Dallas Children’s Theater has tackled some of the toughest issues teens face through their “issue” plays, which feature teens both on the stage and working on the production behind the scenes. This approach resulted from the theater’s efforts to find the most non-lecturing, accessible way to present these stories, and it was determined that if told by teens, the plays would make more powerful connections. Over the years, these performances have opened up the conversation between parents and their teens and inspired many teens to come out to parents about difficult issues they were battling.

The most current issue the DCT Teen Scene Players are confronting is eating disorders.

Eating disorders are one of the most common and most tragic issues that can impact a family. In fact, 1 in 20 children will battle an eating disorder at some point during their youth. Deaths from eating disorders outnumber deaths from all other mental health issues combined. According to the Eating Disorders Coalition, at least one person dies every 62 minutes as a direct result from an eating disorder.1

For parents, that’s a sobering statistic, and one Elisa McCall’s parents know all too well. Elisa was a 1994 graduate of Highland Park High School.

Elisa’s story
At the time of her death, Elisa McCall was a vibrant, beautiful 20-year-old college student who had struggled with bulimia and depression for more than seven years. Despite the fun-loving, seemingly carefree image she portrayed to outsiders and friends, Elisa led another life – one filled with fear, self-loathing, anxiety and depression. At the heart of these self-destructive emotions was bulimia, the all-consuming eating disorder over which she felt she had no control.

Ultimately, when her struggle with bulimia and depression became too great, Elisa took her own life. After her death, her family found her personal journal, which vividly detailed the emotional roller coaster of her last six months of life. It also contained her wish that her story be used to help those facing similar battles.

Rick and Leslie McCall founded the Elisa Project to provide individuals and their loved ones with education and support while increasing community awareness, promoting recognition of the warning signs, encouraging treatment and providing objective information regarding the availability of appropriate professional services.

Beginning the conversation
Young people typically keep their eating disorder a secret because of denial, shame or concerns about stigma. The conversation is difficult. So how do parents begin the conversation to help their child to either establish a healthy relationship with food or open up about an eating disorder they may already be battling? For starters, parents must understand that eating disorders can impact any family regardless of the age, race or sex of their children.

Fact: Eating disorder behaviors may begin as early as 1st grade.
The frightening statistic is, according to a study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, 42 percent of 1st graders want to be thinner and 46 percent of 9- to 11-year-old girls report dieting with some frequency.

As children enter their teens, the issue only becomes more dangerous. Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives.

These statistics hold true across all races, yet minorities are frequently not as connected with the resources necessary to address the problem.

February is Texas Eating Disorder Awareness Month (#TXEDMonth), and the last week of the month is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (#NEDAwarenessWeek). In observation of this month and in conjunction with the Elisa Project, the DCT Teen Scene Players are bringing the issue of eating disorders to the stage.

“EAT (It’s Not About Food)” by Linda Daugherty dramatizes and decodes the baffling world of eating disorders in boys and girls through a series of scenes ranging from realistic to satirical to humorous.

The audience will meet Amy, a 14-year-old girl in a downward spiral with an eating disorder. Amy is ultimately hospitalized before she begins the difficult road to recovery. Her story is interwoven with other vignettes that reveal characters dealing with eating disorders and body image.

Joey, battling bulimia, recalls being teased by classmates and describes a frantic nighttime binge. A young wrestler learns the tricks of "making weight" from a teammate. With only her face and arms visible through a cardboard cutout of a thin, glamorous female TV star, a generic television actress celebrates her perfection. Another character relates the myriad reasons for overeating while being dressed in a "fat suit." "Fairly well recovered" Calorie Woman shares her compulsive counting as she relates the calories in a Starbucks latte. These and many more characters provide challenging dramatic and comedic moments.

At the end of each show, there is a talkback with experts from the Teen Scene Advisory Council and other area professionals.

Though “EAT (It’s Not About Food)” is recommended for ages 12 and up, parents of younger children are invited to attend. Mom of two, Sherry Ward says in her Open Letter to Parents, “I thought I was exempt from the issue of eating disorders because No. 1, my boys are so young, and No. 2, my sons are boys and eating disorders just happen to girls. I’m embarrassed to admit how wrong I am. Bring your teenagers, leave your younger kids at home or come by yourself. We can never learn enough when it comes to our kids.”

“EAT (It’s Not About Food)” is presented by DCT in conjunction with the Elisa Project and supported in part by The Hersh Foundation, Thomas and Diana Klein, and The Texas Commission on the Arts. “EAT (It’s Not About Food)” runs Feb. 10-19. Tickets are $16 for youths and adults and can be purchased at dct.org, or by calling 214-740-0051. All performances take place at the Rosewood Center for Family Arts, 5938 Skillman St., Dallas, 75231.

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About Dallas Children’s Theater
Dallas Children’s Theater features professional actors performing for an annual audience of 250,000 young people and their families through mainstage productions (12 in the 2016-17 season), a national touring company and an arts-in-education program. As the only major organization in Dallas focusing solely on youth and family theater, DCT builds bridges of understanding between generations and cultures, instilling an early appreciation of literature, art and the performing arts in tomorrow’s artists and patrons. For more information on DCT, go to dct.org.

Sources: 1 Eating Disorders Coalition. (2016). Facts About Eating Disorders: What The Research Shows

Media Contact: Jo Trizila, TrizCom PR o) 972-247-1369, c) 214-232-0078, jo@TrizCom.com

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