Play addresses eating disorders

Dartmouth commemorated its sixth annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week yesterday in Filene Auditorium with the week’s keynote events, a one-woman play starring Jessica Peck entitled “The Thin Line” and a panel discussion about eating disorders.

The play strove to give the audience a realistic view of the causes, the defining characteristics and the effects of eating disorders and aimed to end common misconceptions and to explore the confusion and sense of helplessness experienced by those close to someone suffering from an eating disorder.

A girl named Ellen was the play’s main character. According to Peck, her need to control at least one part of her hectic life was the main reason for the development of an eating disorder.

Peck’s other characters included “Miss Negativity,” Ellen’s self-destructive inner voice, Ellen’s friend, who felt concerned and helpless and Ellen’s mother, who worried that her daughter’s disorder was her fault.

Peck used sunglasses and different sweaters to alert the audience members to a change in character.

In the play, Ellen started on the downward spiral toward an eating disorder at the age of nine or ten when she first adopted a steady regiment of diet and exercise.

Panelists agreed that the age of people afflicted with eating disorders is dropping. “Parents should make dieting a four letter word,” said Marcia Herrin, the director of the Eating Disorders Education, Prevention and Treatment program said.

Heidi Fishman, a counselor with the Office of Human Services, spoke about a study done at Pennsylvania State University in which the researcher left a group of children with toys and snack foods. In the study, children whose parents did not restrict their food intake ate some of the snack food and then moved on to the toys. The children who came from homes where their parents limited their intake of food took advantage of the opportunity to eat snack food and binged, not knowing when to stop.

The role of the family unit and close friends as both part of the problem and of the solution was common to both the play and the discussion.

In the play, Ellen’s mother feared she may be to blame for her daughter’s eating disorder — although she only wanted the best for her daughter — and Ellen’s friend expressed deep concern for her friend’s well-being but did not know what course of action was best to take.

Gail Zimmerman, the Dean of First Year Students, was struck by the characters’ quandry, and suggested students in similar situations utilize The First Year Office as a source of support and assistance.

Both the play and the panel discussion touched on the role of men in the lives of those coping with eating disorders. In the play, for example, Ellen’s father affectionately calling her Elly Belly as a child adversely effected her already negative body image.Fishman and Jack Turco, a physician at Dick’s House, both said that many people they counsel mention seemingly innocent comments jokingly made by men close to them. Fishman stressed such comments would not single-handedly cause a eating disorder, but may act as a contributing factor.

Fishman did note that an appropriately supportive father can be tremendously helpful in helping his daughter build a positive body image.

Other members of the panel were Jeff DeWitt, a supervisor in the Office of Residential Life, and Allison Sydlaske ’03, an active member of Students Against the Abuse of Food and Exercise.

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