By now, most of us of heard about #girldinner, a TikTok trend that has exploded in popularity recently: the hashtag has almost 1. 5 billion views. It started off as a place to show ‘picky’, low-effort dinners – think plates full of lots of different snacks, or styled charcuterie boards. At some point, it was co-opted by diet culture and became a space dedicated to glorifying restriction, with users sharing meals such as two boiled eggs, one cut-up strawberry and a single string cheese.
Now, there’s a new disordered eating trend in town: #girlcalories, whereby women essentially try to write off calories they’ve consumed by insisting they ‘don’t count’ if consumed in a certain way. Confused? Yeah, me too.
One video by radio duo @jonesyandamanda further explains the premise of #girlcalories: “It’s the way we justify to ourselves what is calorific and what isn’t. If someone offers you something that you didn’t seek out, like a biscuit, it doesn’t count. If you don’t have dinner, the next day you can indulge with no guilt because you haven’t eaten anything the night before. The next day’s calories don’t count. It’s a free day. ”
She continues: “If you pick at something, or tear the corner off it, like the corner of a pie or a bit of pastry croissant, it doesn’t count. If you don’t have a main, but have lots of starters, it doesn’t count: it’s a light dinner. Liquids aren’t calories; wine doesn’t count as calories. If you eat something while you’re cooking or prepping food, it doesn’t count. Kids leftovers? Don’t count. ”
You might think that’s enough, but unfortunately the list goes on: “If you’re drunk and you eat something you don’t remember, it never happened. If you choose dark chocolate rather than other kinds of chocolate, it’s like eating air. Anything that doesn’t touch your plate: if you eat chips off your husband’s plate, it doesn’t count. If you eat something, doesn’t matter what it is, could be a sugary, fatty teriyaki chicken, it doesn’t matter if you have it with brown rice. This is girl calories. ”
Phew. OK – where shall we start? I don’t think you need me to tell you it’s problematic, but let’s explore why.
Firstly, the whole concept of #girlcalories relies entirely on the belief that you need to monitor your calories and watch what you eat. It’s a narrative we’ve been fed our entire lives, and one that has led to not only a great deal of disordered eating, but also, in some cases, eating disorders. Counting calories can encourage unhealthy eating behaviours: the focus on consuming a certain, limiting amount can lead to a preoccupation with food and eating and an ever-growing need for control around food. Ironically, this is simply an illusion of control: ultimately, it can lead to a loss of control around food which can subsequently dominate your entire life. I say this with confidence because I’ve been there: I had an eating disorder for the best part of a decade and I’ve never felt less in control.
“Women live under the looming diet culture myth that we need to be thin to be worthy, successful and happy, whereas men simply don’t face the same pressures. ”
Secondly, my feeling is that this encourages binge eating, where people eat a large amount of food in a short period of time, by espousing the idea that some calories are ‘free’ and ‘don’t count’. Let’s refer back to this particular quote: “If you don’t have dinner, the next day you can indulge with no guilt because you haven’t eaten anything the night before. The next day’s calories don’t count. It’s a free day. ” I’m no trained expert, but I believe this is glorified binge eating.