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Published May 06, 2012, 11:30 PM

InDepth | Father says trust key to helping child with an eating disorder

FARGO – When David Buchanan asked his daughter whether he could talk to a reporter about her eating disorder, she said, “Go for it. We are a happy story.”

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

FARGO – When David Buchanan asked his daughter whether he could talk to a reporter about her eating disorder, she said, “Go for it. We are a happy story.”

The father of three says his 26-year-old daughter has largely recovered from anorexia and bulimia. She’s currently living a healthy, happy, fulfilling life in New York City.

The 58-year-old Fargo man started noticing the signs of disordered eating when Amy was about 14.

The ninth-grader was overly concerned with her looks, losing weight and jumping up from the dinner table to go to the bathroom.

Buchanan and his wife, Cindy, started to suspect their daughter had a problem but weren’t sure how to approach her, or when.

Then the opportunity presented itself.

When he picked her up from an activity, Amy said she was hungry, they stopped for burgers, and she inhaled hers.

She ran straight for the bathroom when they got home.

“That led to a lengthy conversation on the floor of her bedroom,” Buchanan says.

He and his wife learned one of Amy’s teachers shared their concerns but was struggling with whether to tell them.

Kelly Kadlec, a psychologist with Sanford Eating Disorders & Weight Management Center in Fargo, advises loved ones to approach the topic with concern.

Let them know you’re aware of what’s going on, but be prepared that they might deny it or make excuses.

Be persistent. “Just because you’ve talked about it once doesn’t necessarily mean things will change,” Kadlec says.

After the Buchanans talked to Amy, she was nervous but willing to get help.

Her parents took her to an eating disorders clinic in Tulsa, Okla., about 60 miles away from where the family lived at the time.

She went once a week for a while, then twice a month, then once a month, all throughout high school.

“It was a slow process,” Buchanan says.

He worked with her on increasing her food intake, starting with counting out Cheerios.

The father and daughter also went on a lot of walks together. Sometimes they’d talk, sometimes they’d walk in silence.

“More often than not, it was pouring things out,” he says.

David and Cindy provided Amy with the support and structure she needed while also respecting her privacy, something they did for all their children.

“We didn’t want them to feel like we were looking over their shoulder,” Buchanan says.

He stresses the importance of keeping the lines of communication open. If Amy’s struggling, she’ll call mom or dad.

Psychologist Kadlec says disordered eaters feel their destructive behavior is their only coping mechanism.

Mental health professionals teach them strategies to deal with their urges to restrict, binge or purge.

In the early stages of Amy’s eating disorder, her parents were fearful of what might happen.

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

If they aren’t fatal, eating disorders can lead to potentially dangerous medical complications.

Dr. Natalie Irvin with Sanford Eating Disorders & Weight Management Center lists effects on the brain, heart, endocrine system and kidneys.

The physician says there’s little malnutrition doesn’t affect.

“ ‘There may not be a future here’ is a frightening thought,” Buchanan says. “Even now, it still scares me.”

He emphasizes the importance of having an open, trusting relationship with your children.

“When it came time to confront this, she trusted us,” he says of his daughter.

Buchanan thinks she may have had some relapses in college, but they didn’t hinder her success.

“It’s always there, but it’s not a daily struggle for her anymore,” he says. “I can’t tell you exactly when it quit being one, but I think it did at some point.”