I was eating girl dinners before they were all over TikTok—and I was miserable.
I only had some slices of turkey, two mini cucumbers, veggie sushi, and nine strawberries for dinner today. I’m doing so well. Look how little I’m eating, and I’m losing weight, too. The last time I weighed under 150 pounds, I was in high school. Look at how well I’m doing!
This was the cycle of thought I was stuck in for well over a year of my life.
After recently moving away from my family, I was completely burnt out, vastly underestimating how exhausting it was to move across two states. I was also three months into my new job, which had thrown me directly into the busiest season for the company. Not to mention the fact that I was wildly stressed and homesick.
Combining all of these factors created a perfect storm for my once-dormant disordered eating habits (otherwise known as orthorexia nervosa, or healthy eating in an unhealthy way paired with overexercising) to rear their ugly head again. My mental health took a nosedive.
And thus, even as a certified personal trainer who knew the importance of nutrition for fueling your body, I found myself succumbing to “girl dinners” before they were even a thing.
What are “girl dinners”?
@janellerohner 🥕🫑🥒🥦🍓🍎🌭 #mukbang #cottagecheese #cottagecheesemustard #mustard @TiffanyElizabeth | Weight Loss ♬ original sound – JanelleRohner
In case you haven’t been on TikTok recently, the trending topic of “girl dinners” has exploded in popularity recently, with well over 70 million views.
In essence, girl dinners are beautifully styled charcuterie boards simple snack plates, or small amounts of food. The meal also emphasizes that it’s low effort. They’re perfect for when you get home from work completely exhausted and know you need to eat. Simple enough, right?
But there’s a problem. A really big problem, actually.
More often than not, the girl dinners that are glorified on TikTok aren’t well-balanced meals—they’re snacks, which shouldn’t substitute a meal. And the newest low-calorie meal trend is just feeding the nutrition misinformation machine on TikTok.
The rise of TikTok nutrition
Thanks to Instagram and TikTok, the power of fitness influencers is greater than it ever has been. There are hundreds of people marketing supplements and weight loss schemes. How does the average social media user know the truth in the wake of these health trends?
One of the first big TikTok nutrition trends that still garners millions of views is “What I Eat in a Day.” Most begin with a “body check” to show you what the person looks like, followed by an entire day of their eating. Spoiler: they usually look like models or pro athletes.
For people like myself who are recovering from an eating disorder, we can quickly fall down the rabbit hole of finding the “perfect diet” so we can look like the people in these videos. Even seeing them now one year into recovery, I still feel a panic attack coming on when one of those videos pops up.
It wasn’t until Registered Dietician and YouTuber Abbey Sharp posted a video reviewing a “WIEIAD” video that I realized how toxic these trends really are.
Sharp posted in a recent caption, explaining that following someone’s “WIEIAD” isn’t a tangible solution, highlighting how we could all eat the exact same foods and still look different. This “new” revelation completely blew apart how I thought about social media and nutrition fads.
But with girl dinners on the rise, the trend is quickly becoming another black hole of anxiety for anyone with mental health issues surrounding food.
Why are girl dinners unhealthy?
In most girl dinner videos, the calories are substantially less than a proper meal. Whether this is a conscious effort to cut calories or not is unclear, but regardless, the trend is still unintentionally glorifying under-eating.
Worse still, girl dinner videos have taken on a life of their own in even more toxic ways. There are plenty of videos toward the top of the page where the girl “dinner” is just going to sleep hungry. Some are vaping and drinking alcohol, or even just chewing gum.
The trend is helping to glorify disordered eating habits, normalizing them via endless exposure on social media. Even major news outlets are praising girl dinners for being “the perfect summer no-cook idea.”
If we aren’t careful, these types of videos will seep their way into Gen Z and beyond, creating a vicious cycle of “almond mums” or “cashew mums.” For those who grew up in the 90s low-fat culture like myself, we know how dangerous these mindsets are, often taking years of work (and therapy) to overcome.
How to make a healthy girl dinner
Don’t get me wrong, you can definitely make a healthy girl dinner! And there are definite benefits to this new trend.
As far as pros go, the meals are low effort with no cooking involved. It’s also a great way to clean out your fridge and reduce food waste. Plus, for those of us who love snacking or grazing when we eat, we get a little bit of everything we love.
So how do you make the perfect girl dinner? Follow these steps to ensure your snack plate is actually a meal and gives you enough calories to end your day:
- Don’t try to cut calories. Eat until you feel satiated.
- Be sure to include fats, carbs, and proteins for a balanced meal.
- Make your plate colourful to ensure you have plenty of different nutrients on the plate.
- Add foods you like instead of trying to copy what your favourite influencer is eating.
- Treat it like a meal by scheduling downtime to eat mindfully.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, then always reach out for professional support.
For everyone trying to stay healthy at uni, here’s how to eat well on a student budget.