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The Northwood Howler

TikTok’s “Girl Dinner” raises awareness for a preexisting problem in women

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Elva Tang
TIK TOK TUMMY TROUBLES: For many, Girl Dinner is not just a trend, but a constant habit.

Leftover roast chicken, a handful of shredded cheese and half of a pretzel—if you’re a teenage girl you’ve likely found yourself rummaging through your fridge at some point, pulling together scraps of various foods to fulfill the calling in your stomach. This is Girl Dinner. 

People believe that this trend pulls the “holy internet trinity” of glorifying, normalizing and romanticizing unhealthy eating habits. However, the concern of malnutrition is not new, and has been an omnipresent problem underlying in the lives of many young women—Girl Dinner merely brings it to light.

Girl Dinner is, according to the New York Times, a term popularized by a viral TikTok video and sound. In the summer of 2023, women of all different ages and backgrounds came together to show off their roughly assembled meals with combinations that made sense to no one else but women.

The truth is that many women, from the early ages of puberty when they become conscious of their bodies, develop an unhealthy relationship with food. A survey by Girlguiding, a youth organization for girls similar to the Girl Scouts, reported that over 30% of girls aged 7 to 10 feel unhappy with the way they look. A heartbreaking 19% of girls aged seven to ten have reported negative online comments about their bodies. 

The results of this trend are a plethora of unhealthy eating habits, with 53% of women aged 11 to 21 reporting starting diets, something that has manifested itself in Girl Dinner: a combination of small portions of random foods that are not usually nutritious. 

Restrictive food intake during the day leads to the release of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. According to OHSU, this hormone, paired with the body’s circadian system, increases hunger for “sweet, starchy and salty foods” in the evenings. Girl dinner essentially reflects a rough sort of intuitive eating as women scrounge in their fridges and kitchen cabinets for a plate that satisfies all of their needs, some of which are tied to lessening calorie intake. But this type of eating does not account for nutritional needs. 

When Girl Dinner is done right, it can be healthy and fulfilling: for example, Olivia Maher, credited for coining the term, showed off a surprisingly healthy plate of cheeses, fruits and breads.

“It had positive aspects to it, and it was a pretty big spread,” said Jessica Saunders, assistant professor of psychology at Ramapo College, who specializes in eating disorders. “There were multiple food groups represented.”

However, some Girl Dinner videos are a cause of concern, as Saunders noted that many of the meals she has seen are too small and may influence young girls into following unhealthy eating habits.

“The target audience for much of TikTok are adolescent girls who might not understand what normal, intuitive eating is and might think, ‘This is what I’m supposed to eat for dinner,'” Saunders said.

Girl Dinner is also an explanation for a concern over malnutrition in girls that has only recently gained attention. A study by pediatricians from across the country found that nearly 40% of teenage girls and young women in America have low levels of iron—concerningly, it was the first to research iron deficiency in young women, but was only published this summer. They are also suffering from a lack of other important nutrients and minerals, such as vitamin D, calcium and folate. The problem has always been there, but only now that women are sharing their common experiences, people are taking concern.

Girl dinner is not “romanticizing” or “glorifying” unhealthy eating. It’s merely revealing a problem that has existed for so long. It is because women are finally going public with their eating habits that people are now starting to pay attention to the nutrition of young girls, and not just their body shape.

“Adolescent girls are often overlooked and their nutritional status has not been well-studied,” professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine Nancy F. Krebs said in an interview with OHSU. “In order to break the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition in many populations, the global health community has to pay more attention to the nutrition of adolescent girls.”

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About the Contributors
Lucy Kim, Junk Editor
Lucy is tired. Lucy would like to go home. She was unfortunately given the ability to project the demons of her mind palace to the entire school. Lucy is taking bribes through Venmo @klucy243.
Elva Tang, Graphic Artist
Elva is a graphic artist on The Howler who loves art, and can be found actively perusing the aisles of Michael's for niche paint colors despite not planning to buy any. Outside of The Howler, she plays the flute and enjoys learning about skincare. She can be found at your local trader joe's purchasing dried mangoes

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