An eating disturbance shares many similar characteristics with eating disorders, but is less severe in scope. As a result, many abnormal dietary patterns and behaviors, such as binge eating, excessive exercising, weight cycling, and chronic dieting may involve many of the same attitudes and impulses as eating disorders, though they do not meet the clinical criteria for diagnosis.
Eating disturbances usually develop during adolescence and early adulthood. While they occur in both males and females, they are far more prevalent among females. They are characterized by distorted eating patterns and usually occur in individuals of normal weight who have a history of dieting and a strong desire to become thin. As with eating disorders, body perception and self-esteem are closely intertwined. Many cases may start out innocently, with only small dietary changes such as eating smaller or larger portions of food, and eventually progress beyond the individual's control. For some, eating may become highly restrictive, accompanied by stringent elimination of certain high-calorie, high-fat foods. Others may consume these foods in excess, but only during episodes of gorging. Symptoms include obsession with food and calories, fear of specific nutrients (such as fat), rigid categorization of foods as "good" or "bad," irrational fear of weight gain, excessive weighing, avoidance of social situations where food is served, and denial of eating problems.
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