Screencap of a TikTok featuring @liviemaher. She is a young, white woman with long, brown hair wearing thin-rimmed glasses and a grey t-shirt. She's holding a hand to her ear as she holds her phone up in her other hand to shoot a video as she stands in her kitchen. The text above her reads "Another beautiful day as the creator of Girl Dinner."

‘Girl Dinner’ Is Also ‘ADHD Dinner’ and Deserves Respect

Last night I ate three sticks of string cheese and 4-5 cubes of pineapple for dinner. I am 44 years old, but that was my “girl dinner.”

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Back in May, Olivia Maher posted this video on TikTok coining a phrase that has since become synonymous with young women eating snack and appetizer foods as meals.

After having heard another TikTok user talk about how peasants in medieval times would eat nothing but bread and cheese, Olivia shows off her current dinner, which is bread and cheese, and calls it “girl dinner.” Since then, young women have taken to social media to share their girl dinners, which consist of anything from ice cream bars to tortilla chips and dip.

Karma Carr (@karmapilled), who’s created many a funny song on TikTok, created the sound that has accompanied many of the Girl Dinner videos. This is absolutely what played in my head as I was digging into my string cheese last night:

@karmapilled

i CANT FIND THE GIRL DINNER PERSONS ACC BUT SHE IS MY HERO (alt: @karma (´◠ω◠`) )

♬ original sound – karma carr

The feminist analysis of Girl Dinner

As is the case when young women do anything, there have been think pieces galore about Girl Dinner. The Washington Post‘s Emily Heil covered the entire Girl Dinner trend cycle: its origins, the spin-offs (Boy Dinner, Mom Dinner, Husband Meal, etc), the pushback (is it disordered eating in disguise? Is it sexist that we’re gendering eating in this way?), and the feminist analysis.

Laura Danger took to TikTok to connect Girl Dinner to the fact that straight, married women without children gain an extra seven hours of housework a week compared to single women, while their husbands lose an hour of daily work.

@thatdarnchat

Why do YOU think there’s such a gap in labor after nuptuals? #girldinner

♬ original sound – Laura Danger

Queer couples are never included in discourse like this—you’d have to look beyond binaries and accepted gender truths to do it!)—but I’d argue that this happens in queer couples, too. It’s not as if married queer folks have magically figured out balance in domestic labor. In my marriage, I absolutely take on more of the domestic chores than my wife does. Among the queer couples I know there’s always one person, no matter their gender, who “picks up the slack” on that front more often.

Still, Danger’s video is great, and makes the point that “girl dinner” is actually just … free woman dinner. It’s what anyone who doesn’t have the responsibility of caring for another person heaped onto them eats more often than not. Because honestly, who makes themselves a pot roast or chicken regularly? Or tacos, or roasted vegetables? Who has the time/patience to make different, elaborate dinners-for-one every night?

I’m married and my wife and I still both eat Girl Dinner more often than not.

Girl Dinner: It’s not just for girls. Or for dinner.

My wife and I both have ADHD, which is an interesting complication when sharing a household. ADHD affects, among other things, a person’s executive functioning. According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child:

“The phrase ‘executive function’ refers to a set of skills. These skills underlie the capacity to plan ahead and meet goals, display self-control, follow multiple-step directions even when interrupted, and stay focused despite distractions, among others.

Much like an air traffic control system at an airport helps planes on different runways land and take off safely, executive function skills help our brains prioritize tasks, filter distractions, and control impulses.”

For folks with ADHD, our “air traffic control system” doesn’t work the way it does in a neurotypical person. I always describe it to neurotypicals by citing an old-timey reference: The Three Stooges trying to get through a door.

All the thoughts are trying to get through my brain at the same time, constantly. Sometimes, this means they all shove through, and I’m doing twenty things at once, taking forever to finish any one thing. Other times, there are so many thoughts they don’t all fit through the door and get stuck, so I do nothing. Or I do one very basic thing, using all of my daily allotted bandwidth.

When I said I do most of the housework in our home, that doesn’t mean I do it often. It just means that when it eventually gets done, I’m usually the one who’s done it. Emphasis on eventually, because I will just as often be paralyzed by the sight of dirty dishes in the sink, or clutter in the living room, or trash piled up in the bin, and let whatever it is sit for weeks until I have a “good day” full of the bandwidth and hyperfocus needed to get those tasks done. My wife has different strengths (mostly around our finances and electronics) that she gets to when she has “good days” for her executive functioning.

Living in a two-ADHD household means:

  • Our place is never as clean as we’d like as often as we’d like
  • Our bills are sometimes paid late, even if they’re on autopay (which solves the problem of “forgetting to pay” with the alternate problem of “sometimes overdrawing our account because we forgot what was on autopay”), and
  • Our meals are Girl Dinner 85% of the time, with the remaining 15% being a random mix of take-out and/or cooking for ourselves depending on the day.

I can’t fully convey to neurotypical people just how much energy it takes for a neurodivergent person to even try coordinating an “air traffic control system” in the first place. It’s exhausting having to work twice as hard to accomplish half as much as others. Yet, too many neurotypicals hear all this as “an excuse” rather than as a reason, despite the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) including ADHD under disabilities for which reasonable accommodations can be requested and are required.

Capitalism has done a great job of getting us to internalize “productivity” and “hustle culture” as moral virtues. You are “good” if you’re “getting stuff done.” You are “bad” if you’re not.

While my wife was diagnosed with ADHD when she was a teenager, I just got diagnosed a couple of years ago. Before my diagnosis, I had a lot of shame around not being “productive” enough, “organized enough,” or “not having enough discipline.” After my diagnosis, my shame shifted to “not being able to figure out my ADHD” fast enough.

Somehow, I expected that I should be able to undo four decades of self-created coping mechanisms and adaptive strategies in less than two years because I’m an adult, dammit. That’s when both my wife and my therapist lovingly reminded me that, yes, my wife did get diagnosed much earlier, but the struggles she had as a child didn’t “go away.” It’s something that’s always in flux, and some days are better than others.

No shame in this game

I realized that I wasn’t trying to manage my ADHD. I was trying to live like a neurotypical person. The shame I felt after my diagnosis was about needing all this help to do “basic” tasks like “being on time,” or “paying bills,” or “cleaning my apartment.” But there should be no shame in this game! My brain works differently than other people’s.

Despite those differences making some things difficult (like my editors’ jobs as they navigate my parenthetical thoughts), they also provide many of my greatest strengths. I see the world in a way others don’t. I’m adaptable, creative, and think “outside the box.” And if I’m passionate about something, I will hyperfocus on that sh*t, becoming an expert while accomplishing all related goals.

Seeing the Girl Dinner “trend” get so much attention has actually made me feel better about myself. It shows me that not only am I not alone in eating this way, but that there’s nothing shameful in it. It is one of many ways to eat that is no better or worse than a three-course meal.

Eating Girl Dinner—aka ADHD Dinner—allows me to feed myself while also preserving my limited bandwidth for other important tasks. And I think I’m finally okay with that.

(featured image: screencap)


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Author
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.