Disordered eating has been trending on social media since the early 2010s, but now it wears a new deceptive mask
cw: eating disorders
Approximately one million Canadians have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Teens and young adults are the most at risk groups. Women are particularly vulnerable as they make up approximately 80 per cent of patients. The risk of developing an eating disorder is further heightened by social media trends that glorify unhealthy eating.
The ‘girl dinner’ trend went viral on TikTok this past summer and remains popular on the for you page. ‘Girl dinner’ started as a joke where young women and girls were showing weird combinations of food they put together as meals. However, the trend quickly slipped into the dangerous territory of disordered eating. People now use it to show off their tiny portions of food. Dinner implies a full meal, but many ‘girl dinners’ are barely a snack.
When ‘girl dinner’ first started promoting unsafe behaviours, I was reminded of the eating disorder culture that ran rampant on Tumblr in the early 2010s. Both ‘girl dinner’ and the pro-anorexia rhetoric from Tumblr encourage people to obsess over lowering calorie intake to obtain the ‘ideal body.’
Although awareness has increased, the culture has not changed. If anything, it is more pervasive and even deceptive. In the 2010s it was easy to discern what posts promoted eating disorders and unattainable bodies. For example, the quote “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ was popularized in 2009 by Kate Moss.
Today, it is much trickier to identify certain trends as problematic. ‘Girl dinner’ falls into this category of deception for two reasons.
First, it started as a joke. These meals were not intended to be taken seriously. However, calling a cheese string, five strawberries, and two hardboiled eggs a dinner sends out a harmful message. Some even started calling crying, vaping, and sleeping a ‘girl dinner.’ There are even ‘girl dinner’ filters on TikTok. Several of the options include things like medication, cocktails, and condiments. These are not meals.
Second, ‘girl dinner’ is linked to a broader trend of using the word ‘girl’ as an adjective in phrases like girl dinner, hot girl summer, and girl math. Typically, ‘girl’ has been used to devalue womens’ abilities. Now, the term is being used to reclaim feminine energy and activities. However, in doing so the dangerous implications of ‘girl dinner’ have been harder to discern.
‘Girl dinner’ wears a deceptive mask so it is critical to take a step back and analyze the issues with this trend and others like it.
Several eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder have been listed with symptomatic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental illness. Collectively, eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses. Disordered eating should never be promoted.
Tumblr was a breeding ground for eating disorders, hating one’s body, and abusing food intake to change one’s appearance. Social media is likely the reason why every single woman in my life has suffered from an eating disorder or has shown signs of disordered eating. Every single woman.
I was young teen when eating disorder culture spread like wildfire on Tumblr. Being bombarded with unhealthy images, quotes, and blogs contributed to my personal struggles with food. It is my hope that McMaster students and Generation Z alike can be the ones to end this cycle of toxicity, and this starts with calling out ‘girl dinner’ for what it is - a trend glorifying mental illness.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder McMaster University’s Student Wellness Centre offers resources to help you find trusted support for you or a friend in need. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre offers a helpline, information, and referrals. The NEDIC also offers resources specifically for racialized community members.
If you need urgent care, St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton has an Eating Disorder Program to help treat and guide anyone 16 or older. The program does require a referral from your doctor, but St Joseph’s has a self-assessment to guide you towards the treatment necessary for you. Please remember that you are never alone.
cw: this article references eating disorders/disordered eating
Body Brave Canada is a charitable organization that provides resources and support for individuals struggling with eating disorders/disordered eating. On Nov. 10, they will be holding a Book Swap at The Spice Factory (121 Hughson St. North) in order to being the community together and raise awareness about their work. There will be a reading by local author Anne Bokma for her new book, “My Year of Living Spiritually: From Woo-Woo to Wonderful” and a pop-up shop for the body-positive clothing brand Mettamade.
Julie Shea, the chair of Body Brave’s Board of Directors, says that she hopes the event will help people realize how important it is to have adequate resources for eating disorders/disordered eating.
“Eating disorders are sometimes not given the validation that they need to have. They’re a very serious mental health disorder and I don’t think enough people realize how serious and prevalent they are, and that they have a 10% mortality rate. This is in our community. There are people dying in our community, there are people suffering in our community, and there are no resources,” said Shea.
Body Brave Canada seeks to fill the gap left by traditional health care. They offer a number of accessible options and resources, both in-person and online.
Mettamade is a manifestation of the good work Body Brave has done for the community. It was created by mother-daughter duo Carol Davies and Morgan MacDonald, both of whom have worked with Body Brave in the past. They create clothing that is more forgiving for people who struggle to shop and find clothes that fit. They have designed a sizing system based around gemstones instead of numbers. Rather than a size eight or a medium, you might be a topaz. The fabric is bamboo-spandex, making it both comfortable and sustainable.
“When you wear them it’s like giving yourself self-compassion,” said Davies.
Mettamade frequently collaborates with Body Brave and donates a portion of their sales to the organization. For the Book Swap, 50 per cent of the proceeds will be donated to Body Brave.
“We’re giving back to a group that was instrumental in my daughter’s recovery,” said Davies.
Mettamade was in part created to make more forgiving clothes for MacDonald while she was struggling with an eating disorder. It was during that time that she and Davies started to work with Body Brave. MacDonald wasn’t able to find resources elsewhere, but Body Brave helped her.
The Book Swap takes place this Sunday Nov. 10 from 2 p.m.-5 p.m. at The Spice Factory. Tickets are $20 each. Bring five books with you and take five away. If you are interested in supporting Mettamade, they have a few pop-up shops coming up this month and a brick-and-mortar store in Westdale.
“We need people to know we’re here, and to support the cause,” said Shea.
To find out more about Body Brave Canada, you can take a look at their website or drop by the Book Swap. If you or someone that you care about is struggling with disordered eating and are not sure where to turn, reach out.
By anonymous contributor
For a long time, my eating disorder flew under the radar. People always talk about calories, sizes, sugar, fat and new cure-all treatments so casually. Because thinner is better. So, for the most part, I was just like everyone else in our diet culture.
It sounds wonderful; I’ve really romanticized it. The weight comes back sometimes, fluctuating behind smiles and therapy sessions, but all that means is your bra and jeans never fit right. I think it is very important to mention that most people with eating disorders do not lose weight. In fact, the vast majority, like me, are never underweight. So all the crying and counting leads to nothing but more unhappiness and temporary, unglamorous fixes. And a lot of therapy.
I’m not here to discuss my eating disorder “journey.” I want to talk about Western society’s disordered-eating “journey.” About how being fat became a punchline, and the only thing your doctor wants to talk about during your five-minute appointment at the wellness center.
Let’s talk about how new students enter university with one of their top concerns being the dreaded “freshman fifteen.” It’s horrific that this expression has become so commonplace among my classmates. Even the calorie counts on the menus in the student center reinforce this obsession our demographic has with thinness.
This “epidemic” of obesity is on everybody’s mind all the time. I can’t tell you the number of people I witness who venomously insist on non-fat milk at Starbucks — ironic considering “non-fat” has more sugar which begs the question, what is the true epidemic here?
There are things the public health campaigns do not want you to know. Like how much money is generated by diet-fads and weight-loss companies. How little their guidelines are backed by scientific literature. How much easier it is to blame you than blame society. How hard your body will fight to stay at its predetermined ideal weight – and that you really can’t change that predetermined weight. And, the most shocking to me, how little weight affects health.
Your body was not designed to handle weight fluctuation. Any amount of weight loss is a worst-case scenario, and this is whether you are 100 or 500 pounds. So your body is going to fight like hell to stay where it is unless it’s below the genetically predetermined ideal size.
Ask pretty much anyone who has tried sustained weight loss. You can do it, but it will be a constant struggle. Unless you lose weight extremely gradually, in which case you are likely not doing it consciously, you cannot be happy or relaxed around food. You will be starving yourself until you are hungry enough to eat a horse, and then you’ll eat that horse.
As for weight and health, we all know about body mass index. 18-25 is normal, and then everyone below is a “model” and everyone above is “disgustingly” unhealthy. But the science says otherwise.
A high BMI is not correlated with high morbidity or mortality rates until you get into the above 30 range. And above 30, the rates of morbidity and mortality are far more correlated with physical activity than with weight. So most research would show that so long as you can move with your body, you can live with your body. How’s that for a slogan?
It is true that freshman do gain some weight during their first few months at university but nowhere near the exaggerated fifteen pounds. If you gained some weight, relax – it’s normal! Researchers at McMaster University are currently investigating environmental and biological determinants of weight change because, yes, that number on the scale really isn’t all up to you.
So drink that full-fat latte. Stop obsessing over food. It doesn’t lead to anywhere good. The world is your goddamn oyster, with lots of other yummy things on the menu. Quite frankly, weight loss is boring. But that’s another story.