‘Girl Dinner’: intuitive eating or eating disorder?

By: Isla Leabetter

Content warning: this article contains discussion of eating disorders.

While scrolling through your TikTok For You Page, you may have stumbled upon an assortment of unconventional food items, haphazardly assembled on a plate, while the phrase ‘girl dinner’ is melodically growled in the background. The term was coined by TikTok creator Olivia Maher, who shared her charcuterie-inspired ‘girl dinner’, including cheese, grapes, bread, and gherkins. This sparked a trend where others would post their chaotic, quickly prepared meals under #girldinner, sharing quick and creative 1-3 ingredient meals, microwaved leftovers, random sweet treats and more. These meals, characterised by limited or ‘lazy’ preparation, seem to showcase a shared practice among girls and women of intuitively eating what you crave in the moment, without catering to an expectation of a well-prepared meal.  However, some videos under this hashtag have sparked a negative response, with viewers labelling them as unhealthy or even glorifying eating disorders to a young female audience.

Undeniably, a single slice of cheese wrapped up in a single slice of salami is not a filling or nutritious ‘dinner’. Similar bite-sized meals are littered throughout this trend, which, without the knowledge of the posters’ entire diet, could promote the idea that it is normal to eat such a small amount of food, perhaps encouraging eating disorders. Some videos go even further, showing empty plates which suggest that these girls are eating nothing at all. Of course, TikTok encourages creators to post short, satirical content without much context, so many of these ‘girl dinners’ are undoubtedly jokes meant to encourage engagement or are simply displaying a one-off meal which does not represent their entire diet.

It is somewhat irresponsible to be posting these ‘girl dinners’ with excessive restriction without some explanation or context

Nonetheless, creators cannot control who’s For You Page their video lands on. Social media inherently encourages comparison, even if the poster does not intend it. Consequently, making light of restrictive eating could have a negative impact on people vulnerable to disordered eating habits. Thus, it is somewhat irresponsible to be posting these ‘girl dinners’ with excessive restriction without some explanation or context.

However, as consumers of this content, it is important to be mindful of our own triggers. If we are aware that content showing food could be potentially harmful to us, I believe we are partly responsible for limiting our exposure to trends such as #girldinner. Unfortunately, we are not fully in control of what comes up on the TikTok For You Page, but we can quickly scroll past a video or click ‘not interested’ to avoid videos coming up in the future. All being said, I believe the debate around who is responsible for triggers is nuanced and a two-way consideration.

There is beauty in the chaos of ‘girl dinner’

Still, I believe it is reductive to claim that the entire trend promotes unhealthy and disordered eating. In fact, ‘girl dinner’ in its purest form encourages eating intuitively as we can eat what we want in the moment without worrying about prep time or aesthetics, whether it be popcorn and banana, cheesy pasta, or nachos with every dip you could think of.  Olivia Maher who sparked this trend emphasises this with her comments to Women’s Health about what ‘girl dinner’ means to her. She expressed that “I just get to enjoy exactly what I want and the bits of everything I want to have,” and “I’m just left feeling satisfied and giddy at the experience.” So, shouldn’t girls, who are consistently criticised for everything they do, especially on social media, be able to enjoy a trend highlighting a relatable playfulness in our eating habits?

To conclude, there is no doubt that we should be mindful of what we put in our bodies and what we promote to each other online. But I do not believe that a trend typically showing one-off meals created from a few random ingredients is inherently unhealthy or promotes eating disorders. A trend that makes light of our late-night cupboard raids and creative combinations is largely harmless and a relatable bit of fun.  To me, there is beauty in the chaos of ‘girl dinner’.

Image credit: Sahil Chatterji via Flickr

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