I don't know about you, but I've had the "girl dinner" TikTok sound in my head for weeks now. No matter what I'm doing, whether it's laundry or trying to churn out another article, a little voice in my mind is singing "girl dinneeeeer, girl dinnneeeeer" on repeat.
I love any trend that brings women together in a positive way and allows us to bond over something we thought was a peculiar quirk only we had. The girl-dinner trend is a prime example, inviting us to embrace the joy of food without the constraints of toxic "what I eat in a day" content or unwarranted dietary advice. It's a refreshing shift, uniting us over the simple pleasure of eating.
But as much as I love the girl-dinner trend for everyone else, I can't partake in it myself. I can't relate to it because of my eating disorder. Despite celebrities like Aimee Lou Wood and Jonathan Van Ness courageously sharing their own experiences, people still don't realise the lasting effects of eating disorders. And for me, that manifests in not being able to spontaneously throw together a girl dinner.
Girl dinner is essentially a meal assembled of snacks. It could be chips, olives, cheese, meats, or popcorn, for example. It's akin to a charcuterie board, but with a twist — allowing for spontaneous, often quirky, combinations based on cravings. A friend of mine from university fondly recalls her go-to girl dinner — a tortilla adorned with cream cheese, sometimes spruced up with cucumber or sriracha. My other friend shared that she eats Doritos with cream cheese every time her partner is out, as she doesn't see the point in cooking for one.
When I look around me at others and see trends like girl dinner, I'm reminded of the healthy relationship with food that I'll never have.
A girl dinner can be crafted based on budget and the idea of finding the cheapest way to fill yourself, but the TikTok trend is more focussed on effort and cravings. When we're alone, we don't have to bother with Ottolenghi pasta dishes, and we can admit that we'd rather eat a whole jar of pickles in front of Netflix.
After my friends shared their girl dinners, they asked if I had any. I shared some older examples and was met with horrified expressions. What initially popped into my mind were the weight-loss techniques I used back when my eating disorder ruled my life. The truth is, the closest thing I've ever had to a girl dinner wasn't inspired by cravings and taste; it was dictated by counting calories and faking fullness. Even in recovery, conceptualizing a true girl dinner is difficult.
Food Has Always Been My Enemy
My eating disorder emerged at around age 15, but it may have been even earlier. Looking back, I've never felt comfortable in my body and always tried to lose weight. Each summer, I dreamed of returning to school in September and having everyone notice I was skinnier.
But at fifteen, I began using unhealthy methods to lose weight, including over-exercising, going to extreme calorie deficits, and purging. Naïve to the harm, I believed I was merely taking a more challenging path to reach a common goal: losing weight. I remember the first time I starved myself, counting each hour until I gave in and ate something.
I slowly began recovering at about 19 years old, but even now, six years later, I can't shake the mindset I built during that time. I'll always remember how many calories are in each type of food, and I'll always feel like a before picture. When I look around me at others and see trends like girl dinner, I'm reminded of the healthy relationship with food that I'll never have.
Girl Dinner Requires a Certain Level of Intuitive Eating
To many, girl dinner is about whatever you're craving, whether that's salty or sweet, fresh or out of a bag. But when you've struggled with an eating disorder, you lose faith in your cravings. Your hunger cues were once your biggest enemy, and you often manage to rewire your sense of appetite completely. I reached a point where a rice cake with honey was the ultimate treat, and I had completely forgotten the salty taste of chips. Part of my recovery was relearning what hunger felt like and no longer being so afraid of it.
I struggle when people discuss intuitive eating because, while it works for many, it requires a level of trust I can't afford right now. I can't choose only to eat when I'm hungry, because my body and mind will fool me into thinking I'm not. And I still struggle to view food as anything but a reward or punishment.
For these reasons, many people recovering from an eating disorder are encouraged to follow strict mealtime plans. You want to avoid the intense hunger that could lead to binges or purges, and you want to ensure you're getting regular nutrition. Your meals become staples in your day, and food needs to be viewed as fuel to keep you alive. If you start picking away at meals, you'll lose the sense of control you've built up.
This isn't intended to criticize the girl-dinner trend. I wish I could partake in it. I wish I could see food as something to enjoy, rather than something to fill the emptiness, a way to treat myself or punish myself. I wish that my mind wouldn't calculate the calories or how much exercise I've done today.
I want to be part of the girl-dinner trend, but I see food differently as a result of my eating disorder. I have to follow the rules I set for myself to ensure I don't return to that dark time. I have to treat myself like a child with meal times, forcing myself to eat regularly and finish my plate, as I'm scared of the alternative. It took so long for me to relearn my hunger that I can't risk losing it to an aesthetic charcuterie board or Doritos with cream cheese.
It's easy to forget how ingrained food is into social situations, and how much we take a healthy relationship with food for granted. You never know whether someone has struggled with their body image and food intake, so be cautious when discussing anything related to diets, calories, or weight. Assume the worst rather than the best, as you simply can't know the damage you might be inflicting. Even though a girl dinner may feel like a wonderful moment of unity, remember that it's not a universal experience for everyone — nothing is.
To everyone who can have a harmless girl dinner, bon appétit and enjoy it extra for me. And for those of you who can't partake: you're not alone in this. I'm right there with you, singing "girl dinner" over and over, but never eating one.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has resources available including a 24/7 helpline at (800) 931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text "NEDA" to 741741 or use its click-to-chat help messageing system.