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WICHITA, Kansas — A simple change in how doctors diagnose binge eating could lead to more insurance coverage and help for thousands of people.
Larry Smarsh has fought the eating disorder for years, and his job as a cab driver does not make it any easier.
“There are so many fast food restaurants around, it can get very tempting,” said 62-year-old Smarsh.
Especially when he’s feeling depressed, upset, or just bored.
“That was one of my binges. I’d go buy a whole chicken,” admitted Smarsh.
Or a pound of potato salad, quarts of ice cream, or baloney sandwiches. Like many binge eaters, Larry had dieted a lot.
“During those times I’ve probably lost 100 pounds each time and gained 100 pounds back.”
Larry finally realized his problem was not just physical, but emotional.
“What they’re getting is numb,” said Dr. Beth Hartman McGilley. ” So what that relationship to food serves is just quieting the demons.”
She says binge eating is the most common eating disorder and the one that affects more men. But only now is the diagnostic manual that psychologists use classifying binge eating as a specific mental illness, like anorexia or bulimia. Before, it was lumped into a catch-all category that some insurance companies refused to cover.
Now, that should change.
“There’s no way an insurance company can say this illness stands any differently in relationship to any other psychiatric illness,” said Dr. Hartman McGilley.
People needing treatment are not those who gorge once in a while, like at Thanksgiving, but those who do it at least once a week for three months.
“A binge is eating way past fullness, eating rapidly, secretively, lacking a sense of control,” said the Wichita psychologist.
And feeling guilty later. For Larry, it made him shy, isolated and diabetic. Now he’s learning healthier habits from picking the right kinds of food and spreading his meals out to becoming more active and social.
Like any addiction, though, Larry knows it’s on ongoing battle.
“I have to watch myself all the time, and sometimes don’t do a very good job at it,” said Larry. “”I never would consider myself totally recovered.”
Because many men are reluctant to speak openly about their binge eating, he’s working to organize a support group. If you’d like more information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.