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Mom shares daughter's struggle with eating disorder

It is crucial for parents to take action as soon as they detect a problem

Editors note: The following is a West Linn mother’s account of her daughter’s struggle with an eating disorder. She asked to remain anonymous to protect her daughter's privacy.

As a parent, I read with interest the West Linn Tiding’s recent insert titled “Healthy Life—Kids’ Health.” I noticed a wealth of advice on how to combat childhood or adolescent obesity and how to help our kids lose weight. All of the articles devoted to this topic in some fashion offered helpful tips and valuable information. However, I could not help but notice the lack of any discussion about eating disorders and the damage that too much emphasis on losing weight can cause. This hit home for me because of our teenage daughter’s struggle with an eating disorder.

I Am You

Eating disorders cross all socio-economic and demographic boundaries. I am likely what people would consider a typical West Linn resident and mom. If you saw me at Albertson’s or Safeway, you could easily associate with me.

My husband and I are educated professionals. Our three kids are successful in school or other activities. We have a dog, two cats and a minivan and SUV in the garage. We are involved in our church. Our home is nicely kept. From the outside looking in, some may think we have it all together.

How Quickly It All Changes

Over the course of a few short months in 2013, we noticed changes in our daughter. She started making changes in her eating. At first, we thought this was good—how could the switch from pizza and chicken fingers to fresh fruits, vegetables and quinoa be bad? She increased her level of exercise. That, too, seemed positive as cross country would soon be starting so the extra base could only help, right?

Then we noticed her lackluster mood and increased irritability. What had seemed a natural, healthy weight loss became concerning, especially in conjunction with the elimination of more foods from her diet. Most of the weight loss happened in the autumn, when cold-weather clothing made it easy to hide how thin she had become.

Time for Action

It was heartbreaking to see her looking so awful and to know that she was not happy. I would have given anything to change that. It was clear that something had to be done. I called West Linn Family Health Center.

I told them I believed our daughter had an eating disorder and wanted to bring her in. It was helpful for them to know the reason for our visit so they could be prepared—and for me to understand what to expect.

I arranged to see our favorite physician’s assistant there, knowing that our daughter really liked and trusted her. Despite our daughter’s independent spirit and mind, she accepted the decision and compliantly accompanied me that morning.

A Whirlwind

At the doctor’s office, our daughter’s heart rate was only 41 beats per minute. After a roughly two-hour appointment, our P.A. recommended in-patient treatment.

I was so scared and just wanted to cry when they suggested the hospital but I knew I had to stay strong because she also was scared.

The P.A. coordinated the intake for us at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at OHSU. We were sent home to pack and make our way to the hospital.

We both cried a bit — we just stayed close and I kept telling her how proud I was of her that she was willing to get help and that I would be with her every step of the way. Our daughter stayed at Doernbecher for nine days until her heart was stable enough that she could be released.

We were sent home with a very strict meal plan to follow — I was 100 percent in charge of her food. She was originally not even allowed to be in the room when I prepared food nor could she go to the grocery store with me. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and then a morning and afternoon snack. Physical activity was limited to short walks.

Weekly therapist appointments first focused heavily on food — which foods to reintroduce, what other challenges to add, discussing what things were hard or easy in a week. Over time, as her physical health improved and activity was added back in.

Now, therapy has been reduced to twice a month. Over time, sessions have focused not just on food but on more of the root issues, which are often fear and a drive for perfection.

We are Among the Lucky Ones

Our journey is not over. I have no idea how long it will really last or what each phase will look like. But, I do know that we are truly some of the lucky ones.

We took action within only months of the problem beginning. We are also committed to and able to provide the level of treatment needed. For us that has involved the triad of medical doctor, dietician and therapist.

However, many teens suffer for years before getting help — and others never get help. My friend and fellow West Linn resident, Genevieve Remington, struggled with an eating disorder starting at the age of 14.

Her eating disorder went untreated until she was nearly 21 years old when she had a seizure while in a doctor’s office for flu-like symptoms. She spent six weeks at St. Vincent’s Hospital and then required almost a decade of intense therapy to overcome her eating disorder.

Genevieve says her road would have been much easier had she received help early on.

Today, Genevieve is in her 40s and knows all too well the challenges that our adolescents face in the world of food, body image and overall health. She is a strong advocate of early intervention and I am grateful to her for her guidance to me and our daughter through this process.

Parental Action is a Must

Eating disorders are a complex mix of physical and mental disease. Getting help early is always recommended. This may include talking to other adults involved in your child’s life as well as securing an appointment with your primary care provider.

Most of all, be aware of what’s going on in your teen’s life and listen to others when they raise concerns. Remington says that her sister knew there was a problem and shared her concern with their parents. The parents, though, didn’t believe her and ignored the situation.

At times I have felt angry — angry at the disease, even angry at my daughter for not just getting it and going about life. Really those moments are about fear and frustration from not being able to just live and I need to readjust my thoughts.

I have also felt guilty at times. Like many women, I have made comments about weight and appearance. I realize, now, that those things impact our children. Sometimes the guilt weighs on me heavily. But I cannot let it guide me to despair. I have to remain focused on the path ahead and change as need be to support a better tomorrow for my daughter and my family.

For the sake of my daughter, I have asked to remain anonymous. However, if you are concerned that your child may have an eating disorder, I would be happy to be a resource. If I can help, contact the West Linn Tidings at email@westlinntidings.com and they can connect us.

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