my boss gets angry when I won’t share my food with her

A reader writes:

My supervisor is obsessed with food!

It started when I first went on a diet. I would have my lunch box packed with all of my essentials for the day. I thought it was just her being friendly when she asked to taste certain foods when I sat down at my desk to eat. But then I noticed her asking for food pretty regularly — even food that’s not “shareable” like fish tacos, salad, or chicken wraps. This got to be expensive. I tried coming up with a system. I would offer her healthy snacks only or one meal (breakfast or lunch). Once I did that, she totally flipped on me — doing really childish things such as buying the rest of the office lunch but not me, telling coworkwers that I’m “greedy,” and offering everyone one in the room food but skipping me deliberately and obviously. That doesn’t bother me because they tend to eat unhealthy anyway. But I can still tell she’s bothered by my refusal to share something like my salmon.

There have been other changes too. She’s hot and cold with me now. Some days she’s happy-go-lucky with me. The next day she may go sit in another part of the building all day. But I’ve noticed that no matter her mood, she’ll still ask for my food and sometimes for seconds. The office just kind of knows that she’s into diets and weight. Name a diet and she’ll do it, no matter how restrictive — three-day grapefruit challenges, military diet, cabbage cleanse, etc. Sometimes she makes jokes about being broke and not having money for food. I feel like the rest of her treatment seems to be that she’s just a moody person in all of her interactions with people. But I’m not sure.

What do I do, if anything? I’m not a rude person, just not up to feeding another person every day during the week.

I’m thinking about just eating in my car. But that seems like a spectacle as well.

Something is wrong with your manager.

This would be really inappropriate from any coworker, but your manager doing it is downright bizarre. And it’s really pretty awful, given that power dynamics are of course going to make you feel more pressure to give up your food to her, whereas with a coworker you’d probably feel easier giving a firm no and sticking to it.

I think you need to do two things:

1. Stop giving her food. Stop trying these compromises like healthy snacks only or just one meal a day (!). Stop entirely, both because you shouldn’t have to be feeding her at all and because I think it’s going to be easier if you have one consistent message.

2. Talk to her. At some point that isn’t a meal time, sit down with her and say this: “I want to give you a heads-up that I need to stop sharing food with you. I need to cut back on how much I’m spending on food, and when I share it with you, I often end up without enough for myself. I’m concerned that in the past when I haven’t wanted to share, you’ve said I was being greedy and seemed to feel it was a personal slight. I want to be really clear that it’s not — this is just about me being able to feed myself and not blow my budget.”

3. If she keeps asking you for food after that, hold firm. Say things like “Sorry, I only brought enough for me” or “I’m planning to eat all of this myself, but if you’re interested, I got it at the cafe across the street.”

All this said … something’s out of whack with your boss. What you’re describing isn’t normal, mature, or reasonable behavior. It’s even less so coming from a manager, who’s not supposed to nurse petty grudges over your salmon. So I’d assume that you haven’t seen the last of her loony behavior … but at least by cutting off her access to your food, you can hopefully be better-nourished when it happens.

{ 593 comments… read them below }

  1. ZSD*

    She’s broke and can’t afford food, but then she can buy lunch for everyone (but one person) in the office?
    I mean, that’s obviously not the most insane part of this woman’s behavior or anything. It’s just the most blatantly inconsistent.
    But she’s just nuts. And rude. And you shouldn’t have to feed her.

    1. Imaginary Number*

      Makes a lot of sense when someone is living paycheck-to-paycheck, not out of necessity to live that way, but because they’re not managing their finances. Buying food for the whole office right after payday and then not having enough money for food two weeks later is a perfect example of that.

      1. Hotel GM Guy*

        I buy food for my employees fairly regularly, but that comes out of the company card for “employee relations”, not my pocket.

        It’s possible that boss’s money is actually company money set aside for things like catered lunch.

        1. babblemouth aka One Of The Greatest Minds Of The 21st Century*

          That would make deliberately excluding one employee even worse though…

    2. Jules*

      I notice a lot of bosses tend to claim they are broke. How is it you make more then me, Im single and yet I have more money.

      1. MK*

        Well, someone who makes more money than you (individually or as a household) can easily have less money, if they have more non-negotiable expenses (debt, etc.). But, yes, I agree it’s really tonedeaf to complain about being broke to people who are being paid significantly less than you.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          The boss isn’t necessarily paid the most on the team.

          I agree that complaining about pay is inappropriate at work, though. Doubly so for the boss.

      2. Allison*

        Maybe they want the employees to think “gee, if the boss doesn’t even make that much, I shouldn’t bother asking for a raise.”

      3. Moonsaults*

        I’ve noticed the ones who are most flamboyant and loudly exclaiming they’re “broke” are just immature and want attention, they aren’t actually broke and don’t know what broke feels like, so they can go ahead and make light of it in front of others who are probably actually struggling.

        I had someone complaining that our commissions were low this month, it’s the slow period and it’s on top of our base pay that’s above and beyond reasonable at least. I’m saving every penny of my commission to get out of debt and move and this person was over the top upset because they wanted to use the commission for an extra huge gift for their spouse. I didn’t feel much sympathy for them, it was still a very healthy check BTW.

      4. Tsalmoth*

        As a manager who is married with a disabled wife and a kid in college, I can assure you that my employee who has no kids and is partnered with someone making a good salary is, in spite of a salary about 30% lower than mine, in a much better financial position (she casually mentioned dropping $150 apiece for tickets to a comedy show on short notice the other night — that’s beyond our entertainment expenses for the month). When I was single in a job that paid half what I currently make, I had a lot more disposable income.

        1. Non-Prophet*

          As you have demonstrated, there are several factors that impact personal finances and how much discretionary income people have. For this reason, I think it’s wise to avoid oversharing details of our personal lives that could come off as tone deaf to colleagues in a different financial situation. None of us fully know the circumstances of our managers/coworkers. And that’s fine! In fact, I think it’s highly inappropriate for personal finances to be discussed in detail in a professional setting (unless, of course, you are a CFP, tax accountant, financial advisor, lender, etc). And it’s doubly inappropriate for someone in a management role to be discussing personal finances with their direct reports.

          Not saying that your comment suggested otherwise, of course! Just wanted to make the point that regardless of whether or not this manager is actually experiencing financial difficulties, it doesn’t change the fact that: 1) she should not be discussing her financial situation at work and 2) it’s not OP responsibility to feed her!

        2. MashaKasha*

          Ah, thank you. I couldn’t get my brain around “why is it I’m single and I have more money”… that’s exactly why? no dependents?

          My disposable income went down after my divorce, and WAY down after the kids started college and the dog got terminally ill. And I probably do get paid more than a lot of people in my office. Kid #2 is in his third year of college, kid #1 supports himself, the dog has gone on to a better place, so hopefully I’m about to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

          1. Non-Prophet*

            I think Jules’ point was that a single person doesn’t (typically) have other sources of income/support. Whereas a person who is not single may have a second income contributing to the household. We don’t often know the particulars of our coworkers’/managers’ finances, nor should we.

            But the take-away is the same: it’s inappropriate to discuss personal finances at work. And its inappropriate for the manager to try to use her financial situation to guilt OP into feeding her. That’s just wrong.

            1. MashaKasha*

              I totally agree with that last part. All I ask is that we don’t jump to conclusions about people whose finances we, like you said, don’t know and shouldn’t. It would really upset me if I found out that my coworkers are speculating behind my back about what ridiculous ish I must be spending my money on, or what kind of outrageous credit card debt I must’ve accumulated, that I cannot join them for lunches and whatnot; because I should be able to with my salary. It never even occurred to me that they might be asking that question. I’m just trying to get my family to the point where my both kids are on their feet and self-sufficient, have been working hard on that for the last six years, never gave a thought about my coworkers’ finances, and assumed they were the same way. Little did I know.

              Then again, I’m single too, so there’s my excuse, hah

              1. Non-Prophet*

                I think everything you’ve said here is spot on. The main point I was trying to emphasize is that the boss’s financial situation should be irrelevant to any advice OP takes away: regardless of whether or not boss IS experiencing financial difficulties, boss shouldn’t be discussing it in the workplace. And she definitely shouldn’t be abusing her manager role this way.

                I think most people don’t care at all about their coworkers’ finances. I certainly don’t (though I sometimes wish I could give people the side eye when they tell me about a super pricey purchase, and then complain the very next day about how tight money is). I think the reason people have speculated here about the boss’s finances is solely because boss has said she is “broke” as a way to guilt OP into feeding her.

        3. Cat Cashier*

          No, no no, someone who makes 30% less than you isn’t in a better financial position than you are. Disposable income isn’t relevant here. Total income is what’s relevant. You chose to either marry a disabled person, knowing full well that being disabled is very expensive in the US (I am also disabled and I firmly believe it shouldn’t be expensive, but nonetheless, it is), or you chose to marry someone knowing that anyone can become disabled and in general that marriage is expensive. You presumably spent thousands of dollars on the wedding, rings, and etc. You also presumably chose to have a child and then chose send that child to college, knowing that both of those things cost thousands of dollars. Someone who makes 30% less than you cannot afford to do all of those things. Sure, they can afford to drop 150$ on a comedy show, but they can’t spend tens of thousands of dollars on children and healthcare and weddings because they don’t have tens of thousands of dollars. They chose to attend a comedy show; you chose to get married and have kids. Whose choice was more expensive? She is not in a better financial situation. You are. Because she earns 30% less than you.

      5. seejay*

        Easy. More debt.

        My ex easily made three to four times more than I did, but he had spent it far more foolishly than I ever did in the past and had a *huge* wopping amount of debt following him around (think in the $90-100k range and none if it was tied to mortgage, education or car loan… yes, it doesn’t sound like a big amount but that was all towards “stuff” that had no value and no RoI and no longer any value, so we’re talking essentially small pissing away amounts that he’d racked up over the years). You’d be surprised how much someone can burn through $15k a month in income when they’re dropping a third of that on rent, a few thousand on meals out, another few thousand on entertainment, nevermind other incidentals and putting large chunks on the credit card as well.

        1. Allison*

          if you really do mean 90-100 THOUSAND dollars in debt that isn’t school, house, or car-related, that is an insane amount of debt. I have about 6k in credit card debt thanks to some big expenses that snuck up on me in recent years, and I have been trying to wittle it down but I’ve been under the impression that when it comes to credit debt, even a few thousand is bad news bears.

        2. PlainJane*

          Or more medical expenses or more dependents or more dependents with medical expenses… As someone said upthread, this is why it’s best not to discuss personal financial situations at work, as well as why one shouldn’t assume much about someone’s financial status based solely on what one thinks they make. People’s financial situations can be complicated and non-obvious.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          A friend had 29K on her credit card. For whatever reason she neglected to pay anything for a few years. All of the sudden she owed 95k on purchases worth 29k.

          My point is that what might seem like manageable debt at the start can suddenly become financial ruin. This could happen to anyone. All it takes is neglect or other more pressing responsibilities and the next thing we know we are in a huge financial black hole.

      6. Jen*

        After-school care for kid 1, daycare for kid 2, RRSP contributions for me, half a mortgage, my share of household expenses, all the food for the household, clothes/boots/necessities for kids, RESPs for both kids, gas for the car, my phone bill… my paycheque disappears very quickly once it gets in.

        I had way more money to spend when I was single.

    3. TootsNYC*

      she may be expensing that lunch for the office, especially if there’s a provision for working lunches

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yup, this. Every manager or supervisor that buys lunch for their team at my company puts the lunch on their company credit card then expenses it later.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Yes, if that’s what’s happening here, it’s incredibly inappropriate and grandboss needs to be informed.

    4. Laura*

      If she buys the office, it would probably be considered employee moral or something and she can get reimbursed. I had a boss that would always treat us to lunch on Saturdays if we worked. But once his started college, he started turning it in.

    5. Iron Thunder*

      Am I the only one who thinks you should escalate this straight to HR?? This is just bizarre behavior.

      1. M-C*

        You are. When you work for a nutcase, escalating to HR just ensures your life will be hell as long as you work there. HR can arbitrate, but they cannot do miracles.

    6. Whats In A Name*

      “Broke” can be objective. When I think broke I think can’t buy groceries or go to a friends house because they can’t afford the extra gas. Both situations I have been in. When other people hear broke they think “can’t get my nails done this week” or “can’t go on vacation this year”.

      Now, I also think the boss says she is too broke for food as a tactic for getting food off of co-worker, not because she can’t actually afford food.

      But even if she can’t for whatever reason we want to speculate it’s not appropriate, OP should escalate to HR IMO, and no one’s manager should be discussing finances of any kind at work. It just screams childish to me.

      1. Jules*

        They don’t want to be bothered with the hassle of preparing food. I go through all the shopping, cooking and cleaning afterward and you breeze in like im a caterer and swipe my meal up.

        Also too, sometimes I don’t eat all that’s on my plate and will plate up for lunch food that’s touched a fork that’s been in my mouth.

        Yoy never know when other people prepare the food.

      2. michelenyc*

        Broke to me is having to eat ramen and frozen peas for lunch and dinner which I have had to do as a professional adult! Boy did it suck!

        1. JessaB*

          Broke to me is dollar bologna and the cheapest thinnest bread in Save a Lot. Supplemented by the food pantry at St. Vincent de Paul. Been there done that.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I mean, it doesn’t really matter if she’s broke—bullying someone who reports to you into sharing their meal (or packing a full second meal for you!!!!) is so deeply inappropriate that it’s a wonder she’s been getting away with it for so long. OP, you have to reinforce your boundaries with her; her behavior is fully bizarre.

    8. Jojo*

      Tell hr. Boss is moching food and if you don’t give it to her she badmouths you to the whole office. Tell them you want to change departments because you are not comfortable with this deranged behavior

    1. Cube Farmer*

      That analogy is not too far afield. If I give my dog one piece of people-food, she assumes she should come ask anytime she sees me with people-food. If I refuse to give her my food, she eventually retrains to not ask/beg for any more. She pouts but is not able to make my work life miserable, so I guess that is where the analogy ends.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Yup. When we first got our (late and great) dog, I was dead set not to give him any of my table scraps while I’m eating. I had no problem ignoring the dog, dog got the message and wasn’t begging, everyone was happy. Then my (now ex) husband started feeding him people-food at every meal and every snack, because, according to him, the puppy-dog eyes were too much to bear. That completely broke the system, and the dog continued begging till the day he passed away nine years later.

        But holy cow, yes this is where the analogy ends! My dog wasn’t in charge of my performance reviews, my salary, and neither did he get to decide whether I remain employed at my current job! What OP’s boss is doing is so over the line!!

        1. TootsNYC*

          I had a cat who never begged, and then ONE TIME a guest at a party coaxed her over and gave her a piece of ham. Bam! Cat on the table trying to eat human food.

          1. MashaKasha*

            Same thing happened with my part-time cats. I was well on my way to training the cats to stay off the tables and counters, at least while I was in the room. Then the rest of my family were all, “oh what’s the point, they’re going to do it anyway”, and let them do it when I wasn’t home, and then BAM! Cat face in my coffee cup while I’m trying to enjoy my morning coffee.

            1. Jennifer is a Thneed*

              My cats all know the rule perfectly well: no cats on the table if humans can see them.

              (My version of that rule is a little different…)

              1. JB in NC*

                My cat would never get on the counters with me around, and the few times I caught her on the counter, she would freeze and look at me with such a guilty look!

                1. Spider*

                  Sometimes I come home and my cat is oddly not waiting for me at the door as usual, and just as I turn around to shut the door, surprise! I see him sitting on top of the kitchen table, frozen in mid-movement, staring at me. As soon as I say, “WHAT-” he bolts and runs before the “-are you DOING?” even gets outta my mouth, the little barbarian!

          2. many bells down*

            My mom would always prepare fish the exact same way: bland barely-seasoned cod with lemon wedges. And I hated it, so I’d sneak some to my cat every time we had it. One night my mom had sliced lemon for something else, but we weren’t having fish. Halfway through dinner, my very confused cat leapt onto the middle of the table. He smelled the lemon but wasn’t getting any fish!

            1. Cath in Canada*

              We don’t use much canned (human) food in our house, so on the rare occasion that I do open a can of chick peas or tomatoes or something, I have to let my yowling cats sniff it to verify that it isn’t tuna.

              1. And Peggy*

                I had a cat who was over the moon for chick peas. We could not open a can without him getting involved. He was such a great, weird little beast.

                1. Adlib*

                  I used to have a cat who loved tomatoes! It was so funny. No idea why though.

                  One of my current cats doesn’t like human food but sniffs it anyway. The other cat we call Garbage Cat since he will eat all food and a lot of non-food items.

  2. Murpy*

    This is very weird behavior. Like super weird.

    Is she constantly doing some kind of diet so she’s hungry all the time, and this is why she asks you for food? And she assumes your food is healthy so it’s OK? (Not that it excuses it, but it’s really bizarre behavior, and I’m trying to find some explanation.)

      1. animaniactoo*

        revised law – anything that can go wrong will, and anything that can’t? Well… we can arrange that.

            1. Allison*

              I say that a lot too. I picked it up from a cat-loving friend who makes that noise a lot, probably because her cat does it.

          1. SignalLost*

            My cat’s nickname is Merpy. Lord Merpington of Boxington-on-Merpshire, if you’re being formal.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I kind of like “Murpy”. It made me say, what happened to the “h”? I am easily amused, though.

    1. Manders*

      Yeah, the line about grapefruit and cabbage cleanses made me think that she could be spending a fortune on trendy diet products (hence all the complaining about having no money for food) while also going hungry. The human brain fixates on some weird things when you deprive it of essential nutrients… which isn’t, of course, an excuse for the boss’s behavior, but it does explain why food is always on her mind and why it’s taken on such a massive significance in her life.

      1. Reverend(ish)*

        This. I don’t want to armchair diagnose, but I’m having a hard time shutting down warning bells in my head about binge eating disorders. Which, while not trying to diagnose the manager, maybe looking into some non enabling responses in eating disorder literature might help op? AAM’s response fits the bill well, but it’s good to have some variety to really drive it home.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, when I was at my worst with allergies out of control, I was mooching food from friends, etc. I was really moody about food and kind of moody in general. We relate to life through our own lens, of course, but the first thing I saw here was some sort of nutritional problem gone out of control. You’re right about all those diets not helping that much, especially if she is doing it without a doc/practitioner helping her.

          OP, that does not help you very much because you can’t fix it even if this is the case. Alison is right about being consistent. Set a boundary and stick to it. On the chance that there might be more to this story, watch for other issues coming along. It looks to me like this boss is looking for a scapegoat and she is eyeing you for whatever reason. I hope I am wrong.

    2. caryatis*

      That was my guess too…hungry all the time + feeling like she “can’t” buy her own food, but it doesn’t count if you share someone else’s! People (particularly chronic unsuccessful dieters) like to tell themselves these kinds of lies about food.

      1. Murphy*

        I had a friend that did that. He was seeing a nutritionist and everything. When we went out, he would take pictures of the food HE ordered, but not the rest of his wife’s meal that he finished or other appetizers that he sampled. And he wondered why he wasn’t losing weight.

      2. BPT*

        That’s exactly what I was thinking. Like when you only “have a taste” of someone else’s food, the calories don’t count. (Except obviously they do, and even moreso when you’re eating half of whatever someone else is bringing.)

        Like most people have probably had some deluded thoughts about calories/food/eating habits at some point. But this boss sounds like next level delusion.

      3. Crazy Canuck*

        Yup, my ex-wife was convinced for some reason that my french fries where calorie free. Somehow.

      4. Meg Murry*

        I’ll admit I was sort of this person in high school, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I had a sort of complicated messed up relationship with food – I would bring something like an apple and a yogurt for lunch, or maybe occasionally a sandwich. But every day the cafeteria made french fries, and since we were the last lunch they often brought around the extras at the end and gave them away. I always wanted some, because they smelled so good, but I didn’t want to buy and eat a whole order. So I would often ask one of my friends at the lunch table if I could have a fry – and I really would just eat one. But I hadn’t realized just how much I did it until the one guy signed my yearbook “Yes Meg, you can have a fry :-)”. I know he was joking, but I felt a little bad then.

        Although I did at least occasionally offer to buy an extra round of fries for the table, and I baked a cake or other dessert to share with the table every couple of weeks. But yes, based on my past behavior, I would put this down as “person who has an unhealthy relationship with food” – but since this is OP’s boss, not her high school BFF, I think the only thing OP can do is continue to hold the line on not sharing at all.

    3. March(e)*

      Yup, my thought as well.

      Is she tracking what she eats as part of her diets? Maybe in her mind, borrowing from you doesn’t “count” in her tracking, so she can fill up without feeling accountable for it.

    4. neverjaunty*

      That doesn’t explain her punishing the OP or verbally attacking her. Something is very wrong with OP’s boss, and her office is a sick workplace for treating her like a missing stair.

      Food is a very primal thing. Forcing someone to share their food, or to go hungry so you can eat, or denying them food while others eat in their pretense, is an exercise of power.

      1. Murphy*

        No of course not. I just meant the constantly asking for someone’s meal in the first place, nevermind the irrational response to the OP very rationally saying no.

      2. Shazbot*

        I used to work with a female manager who had utterly, wholeheartedly, 100% bought into the notion of “alpha” behavior and that to succeed in the world you had to be “alpha” at all times. “Alpha” of course meaning aggressive, abrasive, confrontational in situations that didn’t need confrontation, consciously taking every opportunity to “assert dominance” or some other bro-tastic horsepucky.

        And while the details don’t quite match, I’m left to speculate whether the manager in this case is sort of doing that to the OP. That she has somehow gotten it into her head that she needs to “show the OP who’s boss” and taking her food is some sort of gesture to that effect. If the manager is already known for pursuing trendy food fads maybe she’s pursuing some bad managerial advice from out on the web somewhere.

        1. OhNo*

          It sounds like she could be doing some version of this without even realizing it (so not intentionally following bad advice). For example, maybe the boss subconsciously equates sharing food with being friendly. So OP stops sharing food, and to the boss it’s the equivalent (mentally) of outright saying, “I don’t like you, you’re a bad person and I don’t want to be friends.”

          Or, boss could just have a bad case of BEC-itis. Especially if she is on restrictive diets a lot, I can see her getting the feeling that the OP is eating at her, or making a show of it and refusing to share just to be mean.

          1. Anonamoose*

            That’s how I read it. Food is social. Boss Lady thinks ‘sharing’ food is ‘caring’ about her employee. Then employee is like ‘step off yo!’ and Boss Lady immediately thinks she’s being rejection. Either way, issues.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I mean, it could be that, but it sounds so much like the schoolyard bully that it’s hard for me to imagine she’s even mature enough to conceive of herself as an alpha trying to assert her alpha-domination over everyone else, including OP.

      3. Central Perk Regular*

        That’s exactly what I came here to say – it’s an exercise of power. We don’t typically think of food as an item where power is involved, but it absolutely can be in a specific situation.

        Way back in my college days, there was a girl who lived in my dorm who would ask to “taste” people’s food all the time and it was so awkward. She would do this to just about everyone who lived on our floor (50 people give or take). We all had meal plans, so it wasn’t like she was going hungry or anything like that.

        One day I came in with a sandwich and sat it down on a table while I went to grab something out of my room. When I came back literally 10 seconds later, I found this girl holding my sandwich, getting ready to bite into it. I said something along the lines of “Um, I was going to eat that.” She got really mad and pouty and couldn’t understand why I couldn’t share my sandwich with her because she was hungry. People had been letting her get away with this bizarre behavior and she felt entitled to do it all the time, so she couldn’t understand why anyone would say “no.”

        1. Emma*

          My brother was like that, as was my father. There are reasons I am so paranoid about my food I never leave it alone/unsecured.

        2. Renee*

          We had that girl too and she had been diagnosed with an eating disorder. We (our social group) all thought it was a way to eat that was allowed to her according to whatever rules of eating she had created in her head. She would also eat only “components” of food. For example, a friend had taken an M&M cookie from the dining hall and the girl asked if she could have it. My friend reluctantly gave it to her and she proceeded to eat only the M&Ms out of the cookie. My friend’s response was that she would have lent her a dollar to get a bag of M&Ms out of the dorm vending machines if that’s all she wanted. She was nice though so she stayed part of the social group and we all kind of understood why it was happening, although we all agreed that it was pretty rude.

        3. Minister of Snark*

          My sister had this problem in college. Her school had meal plans that allowed a certain number of “card swipes” per week. Most people chose the plan that allowed them “swipe” for meals in the cafeteria 10 times per week. You could use all of your swipes in one day if you wanted, but that left you without meals the rest of the week.

          One girl in Sis’s friend group got into the habit of sitting down at the cafeteria table and asking people to let her use their card to “swipe” for a meal. So the person who let her use their card would have to go without some meals that week. And while this may not seem like a huge deal, she NEVER brought her own food or paid for her own food. She did this multiple times a week. And when you had someone asking every day, even if different people lent her their card on a rotation, that meant regularly missing meals. And if no one was willing to lend her their card, she would just sit at the table with a forlorn expression, staring at people’s food until someone relented.

          Finally, another girl in the group told her, “Look, I’m tired of you guilting us into giving you our food. This isn’t SHARING. You’re asking us to miss meals because you won’t pay for a meal plan. You’re telling us that your needs are more important than ours and that’s not OK. Cut it out.”

          The girl stomped off, yelling at the girl that she was selfish and mean. But she moved onto another table and didn’t bug sis or her friends again.

          1. The Strand*

            Is it possible this student’s parents (or the student herself) couldn’t pay for a meal plan? The fact that she never brought her own food or paid for her own food is what makes me ask. Also that I’ve been that poor before, where you either choose to avoid social interactions around food, or hope that someone will catch on and cover for you.

            It’s not OK what the student did by saying people were “selfish and mean”, but sometimes at that age, they are covering for something. I knew which of my friends was literally holding their families together from a distance by doing the budget or getting the lights turned back on, but it wasn’t necessarily something they all shared with their friends from stable backgrounds. Meanwhile, students themselves don’t realize that weird behavior could be masking another issue (eg eating disorder, rather than being a moocher).

            In college, a student clerk called me a “spoiled rich kid” for charging groceries at the school store. I was a Pell Grant recipient. Before leaving my abusive mother, my dad prepaid the school to help me with expenses, telling me to charge at the store what I needed when my savings ran out, including groceries. I wasn’t on the meal plan and definitely couldn’t afford it. Financial aid didn’t bother to recalculate what I owed, even though my mother stopped paying her share of my tuition, so I had to pick up full time work during the same time period. Like my dad, I ended up working at my job, graduation weekend. It never occurred to the student clerk that he was in a far more intact financial and family situation than I was; he just lashed out at what he assumed were “lucky circumstances”.

            In retrospect, I wish I had done what one of my close friends did during the same time period, which was go on food stamps. Anyway, students today are hopefully far more aware of how tenuous their friends’ finances might be.

      4. INTP*

        Just being hungry at the time doesn’t explain it, but if she has an eating disorder, it can really warp a person’s sense of normalcy and create all sort of bizarre beliefs that lead to bizarre behaviors as the person develops rationalizations for all of their behavior. I could see all of this coming out of a person deeply entrenched in an eating disorder – they don’t just make you weird about food but can cause people to behave bizarrely in all sorts of ways.

    5. Minister of Snark*

      And not just asking for a “taste.” She seems to be asking for the whole meal, or all of the snacks. (As exhibited by the “breakfast or lunch or snack” venture that was met with such an overreaction. Who expects to given an entire meal brought in by a coworker? And then calls someone selfish and greedy for wanting to eat their own food?

      1. OhNo*

        In addition to that, who asks for seconds? Who takes so much that the original person doesn’t have enough left to eat? That behavior is so out of the realms of normal sharing requests that it just makes this whole thing weirder.

  3. N.J.*

    Is there a way to escalate the responses to dealing with a situation like this? I’m so flabbergasted that a manager would act like this that I am having a hard time thinking of something useful to contribute. Basically, if the responses and coping mechanisms you have outlined for the OP don’t work, what is her next recourse? Is there a path forward for escalating this to ….the boss’ boss…HR…anybody at that place who isn’t bonkers?????

    1. The Other Dawn*

      That’s what I came here to say. What happens if none of this works? I’m guessing escalate to the boss’s boss or HR. And I guess if no one can make it stop, she will have to eat elsewhere. She shouldn’t have to, but what else can you do if nothing else works?

      1. designbot*

        I was also wondering about HR. The daily pestering might not be something they’d be interested in stepping into, but when it gets to the point where the boss is retaliating because you didn’t give her your lunch or is singling you out from the rest of the team, that feels like their territory.

        1. Lil Lamb*

          This seriously is giving me flashbacks to having my lunch stolen by the school bully. Maybe the OP’s boss just doesn’t realize she’s crossing any boundaries? I have a manager who sometimes does this. On days she doesn’t have food she would walk around making statements like “Oh I don’t have lunch today. I wonder if anyone will share with me”

          1. BPT*

            I get that people (including myself) often have issues with food. I really do.

            But I have an even bigger issue of taking things from people. Like I honestly, literally do not understand someone who would go around asking for other people’s food. It does not compute in my brain. If I had forgotten my lunch, and I absolutely did not have any money to buy food, I would skip the meal. You’ll be hungry, but humans aren’t going to die from skipping one meal. (And if you do have a medical condition where you have to eat, I doubt you’d forget your life-saving meal more than once.) To me, the embarrassment of asking people for food would far outweigh any minor hunger I was feeling.

            1. Anion*

              I’d ask to borrow a couple of bucks for lunch well before I’d even start to consider asking someone else for their actual food.

              1. designbot*

                This–it’s such a common thing, who hasn’t forgotten their wallet or their lunch once in a while? While maybe people might give some sideeye just because she’s the boss (admittedly I’d ask a peer long before I’d ask my employee), it’s far less severe than actually trying to take the food from someone else’s plate.

                1. JessaB*

                  Yeh but there’s a huge difference even if it’s the boss, if it’s once in a while, but this seems to be every day and multiple times.

              2. Lissa*

                Same, holy crap! Money is way less personal and why would somebody assume anyone would bring enough *meal* for multiple people? I get it more with snacky stuff, but it’s still rude. But with full on meals? That is really really weird.

              3. Whats In A Name*

                Right?! “Hey, I know this sounds crazy but I left the house without my purse, do you have a $5 you can loan me for lunch?” is way way less offensive/embarrassing/personal to me than “Hey, I know you brought that lunch for you, but since I forgot mine can I eat yours instead?”

                I can think of a time or two I got hit with nausea and flat out asked a co-worker for some of her stashed crackers to settle my stomach, but I can’t remember ever asking someone for food just because I needed some.

            2. Emma*

              My issue with food is that I cannot stand someone even hinting at taking mine. Even “Oh, that looks so good, can I try a bit?”, said in all innocence, gets my hackles up, and actually taking or touching my food is one of the few things guaranteed to cause me to start screaming at someone in public.

              Ironically, I will happily cook for people and bring in food to share with others, and when I worked at a place where I had a desk to store stuff, I’d usually store a box of cookies or something there for my coworkers to munch on.

              1. Lissa*

                me too! My friends even joke about it (in a fun way not a mean a way) that if you go near my food you’ll get a fork in the hand. For some reason the “can I have a taste” language used in the OP gave me actual rage.

                I used to have an acquaintance who we called “are you done with that Jo” because she’d swoop in if it even looked like you were done. Many people would give her some but I’d always say no, to which she’d response “but I’m really hungry” and it’s like yeah that’s nice, so am I! I’m still bitter about the time a friend set aside a bit of her restaurant meal for me because she didn’t like that element and Jo snagged it, and my friend is super passive so didn’t say anything. Heh. Mayyyybe I have food possession issues, oh well.

                1. Emma*

                  Don’t you really love it when people decide their hunger automatically trumps yours? My brother used to pull that “but I’m hhhhhhuuuuuuungryyyyyy” crap, or he’d try “But I really like that!” My response was basically yours – that’s why I’m eating it, get your own!

                  I really, really don’t understand people like this. It’s not your damn food, so lay off. And even if you do think it’s acceptable to ask for some (I, er, don’t), you need to allow that people can say no, otherwise “just asking” is just a different way of demanding.

              2. Rebooting*

                Same here, really. I have a weird THING about people touching my food, and I can’t eat something if someone else has taken a bite of it first – and that includes my boyfriend and girlfriend. Add that to being in recovery for an eating disorder, and it’s best if people step off my personal food :P

              3. Tiger Snake*

                You and I should never meet during mealtime then; one of my regular compliments to people about homemade food is it smells good, without ever intending for it to be a hint that I want some.
                (Because I don’t. I actually can’t stand most foods, including basically every meat known to man. Food smells so much better than it tastes!)

                1. Emma*

                  I actually don’t mind comments if they stop at “That looks/smells good” or continue with “What is it/Care to share the recipe?” Because, ironically, I love talking about cooking and swapping recipes. It’s the “Can I have some?” that sets me off. (Or the long, drawn-out, half-sighed “That looks gooooooood” + wheedling glance that is absolutely a sly way to ask for some.)

                  The funny thing is, if I don’t think you’re gunning for my food, I’d actually be inclined to share a bit. It’s when someone feels entitled to some that I snap back hard.

          2. Adlib*

            That’s a really weird thing to say too! Does anyone ever share or does she ask in a joking way and then go get her own?

    2. Jesmlet*

      I would 100% suggest taking this over her head if the steps Allison suggested don’t work or if there seems to be further recourse. This is just ridiculous, petty and incredibly inappropriate, especially given the power dynamics at play. You’d want this kind of crap documented with HR in case it escalates just as a preventative measure/safety net.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Absolutely. I don’t think your boss is going to take the conversation well (I really, really hope she does! But just in case…). I would be prepared with next steps (HR, ideally. Her boss if that’s not an option).

    3. Aurion*

      Yeah, this was my thought too. If she is this affronted at only sharing one meal (what even, seriously), then I don’t think she will take the boundary-setting well.

      I would be prepared with a script to report to HR/boss’s boss, and to go straight to them right after OP’s boss flips out at their conversation.

    4. TootsNYC*

      well, I might take it to HR in a proactive: “I’m going to do this, but I’m a little worried I’ll get a bad reaction, so in case that happens, I want to be on record” way. Depends what the HR crew is like.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        Yeah…I’m wondering if this might a good time to use the “I’m having a problem and I’d like your help crafting a solution” approach…

    5. Important Moi*

      I’m often envious of the commenters who say go to HR like that will resolve the problem. HR doesn’t work like that here at my place of employment.

      (Before anyone says anything, I am trying to get out of here.)

      1. INTP*

        I wouldn’t expect HR to solve the problem, or even do much at first. But I do think it would be a good idea to say something only to have this documented in some way. When a person is sick often there is no end to what they’ll do to rationalize and “prove” to themselves that their behavior is normal, and I think it would be better for the OP to be on record as saying “My manager seems to be targeting me for a strange reason” BEFORE the manager submits an accusation to HR herself rather than after.

      2. Whats In A Name*

        I was think more of escalating to have documentation in case of retaliation later, not as a means to actually solve it. I am not sure my HR departments would be on board with getting involved on that level – it’s not just yours!

    6. Sketchee*

      I feel the first suggestion is guaranteed to work. Under no circumstance give your food to this person. It’s definitely unreasonable of the boss to be asking at all and there’s not much control we can have over the boss’s behavior. We have full control over our behavior.

      Don’t give food. State that you’ve talked about it. I’d even say privately that it’s really unusual behavior and tell this manager that I hope everything is okay.

      At that point, you can accept that this manager is strange. That may mean exiting this job sooner than originally planned.

    7. Q*

      OP to HR: I understand that Boss has a medical condition that requires her to take all my meals or get angry and shut me out of work, I’m just wondering if there is a way I can be reimbursed for her dietary accommodation.

    1. Wepwawet*

      But it shouldn’t be necessary. I would be thinking ahead about how to bring this up with HR or the manager’s boss. It’s so totally inappropriate.

      1. Lisal*

        It absolutely shouldn’t be necessary, but I know if it were me I would go to my car, drive a short distance away (like to a park, or someplace I could buy coffee) and just eat there.

        1. Aurion*

          I feel like if the manager is this affronted at only sharing one meal, she would view a deliberate leaving of the premises as a slight as well.

      2. AMG*

        Agreed– it definitely should not be happening. But if it is going to impact OP professionally to say something to the boss, it may be the easier, softer way to go.

      3. Moonsaults*

        It shouldn’t be necessary but it boils down to “is anyone else going to be able to stop the bad behavior?” Can she go to HR, does she want those waves? How much does she otherwise like her job? Sometimes it’s really not about what’s fair or even legal, it’s about which hills you’ll die on, especially professionally speaking.

        I think we’ve all put up with some over the top behavior because it’s better than unemployment and starting all over again just because Hungry Betty is picking through your meals.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Nothing in the OP’s letter suggests that the only alternative to letting her boss steal her food is financial and professional ruin.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Or, make it a point to eat out of the office for a month, to break the habit, and then start this.

      It would be nice if there were a pleasant place to drive to that you could eat your lunch in. (though cold weather is coming, etc., etc.)

    3. ..Kat..*

      It isn’t just that the boss keeps asking for OP’s food. It is that boss is treating OP like crap for not wanting to share her food. WTF, the boss wants seconds!

    4. M-C*

      Totally agree with AMG. If you have the suggested talk and then eat in front of her, it could easily be interpreted as goading her, and you’ll find yourself having to whack her back every day. See above how well that works with the cat :-).

      I’d recommend the talk to explain why, followed by a strict policy of no food at work. Sitting in your car in the parking lot is indeed a bit weird. Sitting in your car in the company across the street’s lot, or down the road at a public park, or anything really, would be preferable. If you think it’s really going to be a problem, announce that you’ve decided you need to spend every lunch hour at the gym, and won’t have time to eat lunch any longer. Then drive to the park and eat in your car. Surely a diet nut would think that lie reasonable :-).

      Remember to consider the psychology of gambling. If someone wins every time, they fairly quickly lose interest. If they lose all the time they usually never develop an interest. But if they win some of the time they get totally hooked. If you decide to stop handing over food, there must be -no- exception. And unless you’re willing to take the consequences of direct confrontation with your boss, you need to remove yourself from the line of temptation entirely.

  4. Karanda Baywood*

    You need to shut this down and fast.

    I like Alison’s advice. “I can’t share food anymore. I need to stick to my budget.” Repeat as necessary. Same message every time.

    1. Engineer Woman*

      I wanted to say part of the problem stemmed from providing the manager with some food in the first place, but I can see from the post how it got out of hand – from “can I have a taste?” to somehow providing quite a lot of sustenance.

      OP, you need to act now to stop it and considering how much you’ve been providing – Alison’s advice to tell her you can’t do it any longer because of your budget seems the best bet.

      I don’t see at all how not feeding your manager equates to being greedy. Wow!

      1. Karanda Baywood*

        And maybe OP needs a good response to being told she’s greedy. “If by greedy you mean wanting to eat the lunch I paid for and made, then, yes.” Calmly and deliberately.

        1. Sketchee*

          +1 to this. It’s a lot easier to make your own limits seem routine and boring. “Yep I’m not the person to share this.”
          It’s like talking about the weather. It’s going to rain some days. React to it like it’s just this person’s nature.
          Often when someone calls another person greedy or selfish, it’s because they want their way.

        2. Jen S. 2.0*

          Agree to own the greedy (which obviously you are not). “Yep, it’s one of my best qualities!” **chomp!**

          (I love to own it when someone calls me selfish, which usually just means “you didn’t consider what **I** wanted at a time when you weren’t obligated to do so.” Nope, I didn’t!)

      2. AndersonDarling*

        What was the children’s book? If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? I guess when you grow up it turns into “If You Give Your Boss a Taco.”

          1. Minister of Snark*

            And then when he’s finished with the margarita, he’s going to want some guacamole “to absorb the alcohol.”

            And then he’ll want some chips, because you can’t eat guacamole with chips….

          2. Fafaflunkie*

            Now the question: will the boss do what the mouse does in the story? I.e. the mouse wants a broom to sweep up the hair he cut when he asked for the scissors. What would OP get in return from boss when (s)he keeps asking for the taco and the margarita?

            1. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life*

              No, the boss is the If You Give A Moose a Muffin story. The moose eats ALL the muffins, wants more muffins and makes a mess of the house when they have to go get more muffin supplies, and then eats all the jam.

              We tell our kid to get friends like the Mouse and not the Moose.

      3. Emma*

        My male relatives have the same definition of “greedy.” Greedy, to them, is not giving generously to them on demand. In their minds, they are also that openly generous (in reality: they’re not), so they believe that such great generosity on their parts should merit an equally generous response.

        My response is generally that if it’s greedy for me to want to eat my own meals, use my own money, or have my own belongings intact in my possession for me to use as intended, then I’m happy to be greedy. With people like this, there is no way to ever convince them you aren’t greedy by any reasonable definition, so you might as well embrace it.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          My friend group had a (guy) friend who did this with all things money related. Whenever the group went out we always ended up paying for part of his meal and all of his tip b/c he’d round down his contribution and fail to cover his tax (and he tipped at 7-10% of the underestimated subtotal—who does that??). Same thing with catching long-distance rides and never offering to contribute to gas/tolls, or with showing up to a potluck bbq with nothing to contribute and then absconding with leftovers and the host’s extra beer. These were all things that wouldn’t have bothered us but for the fact that he was being cheap (if he’d been in financial straits, we would’ve covered him, no question, but that wasn’t the case).

          We finally had a friendtervention and told him he was essentially stealing from food service workers and his friends and that it wasn’t appropriate (of course worded way more kindly). He legit said he’d had no idea he was doing it and that no one had explained what he’d done wrong, they just called him cheap. To his credit, he usually catches himself, and now all it takes is raised eyebrows to signal he’s underpaying/backsliding, and he corrects course.

          This approach might not work with a boss, but I like to think friends want to be good humans, and they’ll try to be better people if your bring it up with them with kindness.

      4. zora*

        yeah, the slow escalation makes it difficult.

        I worked somewhere where they didn’t provide coffee, and I got paid much less than a living wage, so not enough to buy delicious coffee from the fancy coffee shop every day. So, I brought my own small french press in, and brought in my own ground coffee to make coffee at my desk every day. A coworker who decided we were BFFs (we were not, that is a longer awkward story), started asking me “oh, can I borrow some of your coffee, I am so tired!” Ok, fine, I’ll be nice, because I knew she had a tendency to hold grudges with people. But then it went from once a month, to asking a couple of times per week.

        At one point, I did manage to say “Um, sure, but it’s becoming a little expensive for me, could you pitch in, or maybe pick up a pound of coffee every other time?” She was all apologetic, and said ‘Oh yeah, of course! I’ll get the next pound of coffee!” But then she kept ‘forgetting’ to bring in the coffee, and not having cash to contribute. And this just went on and on and on. I eventually did get up the courage to say, “listen, you can use my press if you bring your own coffee, but I bought this coffee for myself and it’s expensive.” And she stopped asking, but yeah, she definitely got pouty and our relationship took a hit, that it never recovered from. Thankfully she wasn’t my boss, she was just a coworker with no real power over me. If she was my boss, yikes, that would have been so much harder to do!

        Good luck, OP, I know this is really hard, but being awkward is the only way to make this stop, there is unfortunately, no great answer. I’m sorry your manager is such a weirdo!!

  5. Rincat*

    Is she asking anyone else for food? Why just the OP?

    I might have a talk with her overall about her behavior, but only if you feel comfortable. She’s clearly unpredictable so I can understand if you don’t want to do anything that might affect your job.

    1. Grits McGee*

      I was wondering this too. (It sounds like it’s maybe just the OP, since she’s the only one on a diet????) Unfortunately, this is so weird and outside the boundaries of normal workplace behavior that I don’t think there’s any context that doesn’t make this situation 100% bananas.

    2. Tequila Mockingbird*

      OP says that she’s dieting and brings healthy foods, and that her manager is also “into diets and weight,” while the rest of her coworkers eat unhealthily. Manager is probably self-conscious about her poor eating habits and wants to emulate whatever OP is doing.

    3. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      At my old job, I was really the only one who brought in homecooked meals, which meant every meal involved comments about my food.

      It’s so nice to be in an office where people regularly bring stuff in. No one says anything other than the occasional, “that smells good.”

      1. INTP*

        Yeah, I’ve been in that scenario too. I actually did often eat in my car or outside just to avoid a conversation about my food. I also stopped eating chia pudding because I was legit going to lose it on the next person who asked me “What IS that?!?” and then sang “ch-ch-ch-chia!” like they were hilarious.

      2. Wwr*

        I’ve never been big on stuffy etiquette, but “don’t be weird about someone else’s food” seems like a no brainer. Don’t call it gross, don’t ask invasive questions, just act like a normal adult human being. It’s not that hard!

  6. AMG*

    This sounds to me like something that an anonymous tip to HR would take care of. Alison, I know you aren’t a fan of anonymous emails to HR but given how irrational the boss seems, would this be a scenario where it could apply?

    1. Anna*

      I think even if it were anonymous it would be fairly obvious who it was just based on the interactions. Unless she’s also being weird about food with other people, but still it seems this wouldn’t be as anonymous as the OP would hope.

      1. AMG*

        Maybe…”My boss is taking my coworker’s food and then treats my coworker really badly if she doesn’t comply.” If the boss is doing it with other people, then it definitely gets easier.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t do it anonymously because it’s very hard to investigate something like this if it’s anonymous and it will lower the credibility … and there’s also no real need to keep it anonymous! It would be fine to just talk to them about what’s going on.

      1. Emma*

        Easily enough – send it from a free address you don’t otherwise use, from a computer not your own, not from your own house or office. You can go beyond that if you really need to.

  7. Lady Blerd*

    “Something is wrong with your manager.”

    That’s the beginning and end on this one because whut…?

  8. Uyulala*

    Eat in your cat and if anyone asks just give a breezy “I just want to get some me-time out of the office during the day.”

    1. JaneB*

      CAT? Wouldn’t it be dark and kind of cramped in your cat???

      Car, I assume, but thank you for the much needed lol!

    2. Namast'ay In Bed*

      What if you’re more of a dog person?

      I know it was just a typo, but it made me laugh nonetheless :-D

    3. Gentle One*

      Oh, dear–wouldn’t that be…ummm…difficult? (Sorry-I presumed a typo, and it did give me a good laugh, which I so needed!)

      1. socrescentfresh*

        I’d be so tempted to bring in a fake lunchbox full of something awful and then see if the manager still eats it. (And then eat my real lunch offsite.) But then again, sometimes I’m a terrible person.

        1. Golden Lioness*

          This! or find out what is it the she doesn’t like and make it an ingredient on your lunches!

        2. AD*

          And then you’d be threatened with a lawsuit and fired (if you’re the LW who wrote the recent “Spicy Food” post and the later update)!

          1. Golden Lioness*

            I can see how that (albeit wrong) can happen, but what I was suggesting is more subtle… let’s say she does not like onions and you make food with onions would be hard to argue that as it would be spice or laxatives.

          2. TL*

            This is why you need a diverse palate, ‘ethnic foods’ like fermented shrimp paste, raw fermented salted fish, stir-fry pig intestines, and goat eyes are the best meals in this situation.

        3. Wwr*

          So, growing up, I had two dogs. For years it was just the one dog, then we got another. Dog Prime was very picky about her food, whereas New Dog would eat anything. My mom took to giving him healthy snacks like asparagus stems (told you, ANYTHING) since he was a four legged garbage disposal. Dog Prime wouldn’t eat ANY of that crap, she thought it was gross, but once New Dog had the food, she had to have it. Mom would give her a bowl of veggies, she’d chew it up and spit them out just to demonstrate her ownership.

          I’m not saying the OP boss would do that, I’m just saying she might not been even be as mature as my first dog.

        1. Emma*

          My cat wouldn’t cooperate. She’d just sit there and give you a disdainful stare when you opened the box.

      2. Stone Satellite*

        I vote for this one. A week of bringing in inedible “food” to share with the manager might be a viable solution. Mmm, shoe leather.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          If only OP had the same hot-sauce/spiciness preferences as the OP accused of “poisoning” HR’s illicit work lover, who’d been stealing the OP’s food.

      3. Golden Lioness*

        I would love it if I could bring my cat to work. She would be pretty disrupting, though as she’s all about getting attention.

    4. Uyulala*

      Glad people got a giggle. Autocorrect first had something else and I changed it to “car” but apparently then in went to “cat”. :)

        1. LBK*

          The Google results pretty unanimously say Groucho, but I’ve definitely heard it attributed to Twain before.

      1. Jennifer is a Thneed*

        –Groucho Marx

        (the whole quote, with attribution, is the motto for a good independent bookstore in my old college town)

  9. Imaginary Number*

    “She makes jokes about being broke and not having money for food.” probably translated into “she’s broke and doesn’t have money for food.” The fact that she sometimes buys lunch for the whole office (except you) suggests she’s probably justifying (in her head) the mooching by “making up for it” when she has the funds.

    I have an acquaintance like this from a book club I belong to that frequently goes out for dinner and drinks after. She usually buys one drink and then makes comments about how everything on the menu is so expensive (we usually go to a local sports bar, not a fancy restaurant or anything.) She then makes puppy-eyes and comments about how good everyone’s food looks until someone offers her their fries, nachos, or something like that. As soon as it looks like someone might not finish and/or have leftovers she pounces and asks if she can finish it (and that includes not-easy-shareable items like pasta.) Then every few weeks (I think after payday) she’ll order an appetizer for everyone to share and loudly comments about how it’s so nice that we all share food. It’s gets very uncomfortable.

      1. Jayn*

        Do book clubs usually work by invite? Mine is just “we’re meeting in x public place, show up if you want.” Not sure how they’d handle someone causing trouble, since it would be hard to really kick them out.

        1. Imaginary Number*

          It’s a very large, open group (think Meetup.) The actually meetup is at a coffee shop where it’s generally only expected that you buy something, even if that’s a cookie. But every week there’s an open invite to go out for dinner/drinks.

          Our group also takes pride in being very accepting. We have members from a wide variety of ages, races, economic backgrounds, job backgrounds, etc. We generally make a point of not telling people they’re not welcome just because they’re annoying, in particular because we also have had members on the autism spectrum who haven’t necessarily “fit in” well but still have valuable contributions for the purpose of the group.

          However, I’m just sharing this as an anecdote about someone whose behavior matches this. What might be acceptable for this kind of group is NOT acceptable in a workplace environment.

          1. MashaKasha*

            I’m in a lot of meetup groups that do lunch or dinner either before or after the event. I say no to most of them, because, if I joined all of those lunches/dinners, not only would I be broke, I’d probably weigh three times what I do now. It always goes over well and I’ve never felt less welcome at meetups because I don’t do the food piece with them. And frankly, for the few after-meetup dinner events I do decide to fit into my budget, that’s a Big Expense Of The Month for me and I’d probably be royally pissed if a fellow meetup member, whom I barely even know, helped themselves to my once-a-month dinner out.

            Also, some of my meetup groups go to rather pricey dinner places. A sports bar, OTOH, is totally doable. You guys are doing it right and being inclusive. Actually, I kind of want to join your book club now, even if that means I’ll have to share my app with Moochy and let her take a sip out of my beer bottle!

            1. Aurion*

              And depending on the restaurant, the portions can be big. Sure, the dinner out is a splurge, but at least I’d get two meals out of it and won’t have to worry about next day’s lunch. I’d be so pissed if some acquaintance basically ate my lunch for the next day.

        2. Artemesia*

          Most book clubs I have belonged to are closed membership groups; there are meet up clubs that basically are open to all comers, but I don’t think that is the norm and wouldn’t be for a group that goes out to eat.

    1. MK*

      Wow. When any of my friends are on a budget, the rest of us have to really insist to get them to accept an occasional treat.

    2. all aboard the anon train*

      I had a “friend” like that from a meetup group I was in. I eventually got so annoyed by it I told her to stop mooching and that this was MY food that I paid for and if I had leftovers, I was taking it home for myself. Or I’d just ignore the comments completely as if she hadn’t even said anything until she got the hint.

      Moochers are one of my biggest pet peeves. Shutting it down firmly is usually the best way to go.

      1. Emma*

        Yes, this. And if you really don’t have the budget to do something, then do what most people do and don’t go. Or go and don’t order anything and don’t make an issue of what a martyr you are. It’s not other people’s responsibility to make sure you get everything you ever wanted.

        I have quit friend groups over moochers like this, especially when others (i.e. not just the moocher) made me out to be the bad guy for not sharing my food or not chipping in to pay for the moocher. But I have zero patience for this shit and I consider it stealing.

    3. Kerry*

      What if your book club acquaintance really is having trouble affording the frequent dinner and drinks? If she doesn’t have the money, it’s expensive for her.

      1. Aurion*

        Then she should opt out of the dinner after, or suggest they go out for coffee or something cheaper she can afford.

        1. Kristine*

          In theory, yes. But in reality it’s awkward to be the one naysayer in the group. Not that I’m condoning her food stealing, that’s obnoxious. But I make a good $20-50k less than the rest of my friends and when all of them are excited for Trendy New Restaurant it’s really hard to be the one to say “Can we actually get some coffee instead?” And of course I don’t want to miss out on the fun with my friends, so I go and then don’t buy any food (usually there’s a bread basket to munch on). That way I don’t have to be the one that derails the plans and still get to enjoy their company.

          1. Aurion*

            I’ve been the one eating very lightly (or not at all) at a group dinner, so my sympathy is very limited for this kind of mooching. Eat beforehand and order an app instead of an entree, or nurse a drink and chat. Does it suck? Sure, and I’m not denying it. But mooching gets people irritated enough that it negates all the social time and relationship-building the dinner is for.

            I think munching on the communal bread basket is fair game, but poaching other people’s food and leftovers with sad puppy eyes is obnoxious.

            1. Imaginary Number*

              Quite often there’s one or two people (myself included) who will order a whole appetizer platter as an offering to the group. So honestly it’s not so much the mooching that’s the issue. We have more than one or two (particularly college students) who will nurse their pepsis while happily snagging a fry or onion ring if it gets passed around. It’s the fact that she basically announces her intent to avoid having to pay by snagging any leftovers/shares that someone has (although it’s usually phrased as “I’d be happy to help anyone out who orders too much food …”)

              1. neverjaunty*

                Yeah, it’s mooching. When someone chooses to OFFER food to others, accepting is not mooching. Emotional manipulation like making puppy eyes, or not-really-joking joke about “helping”? Mooching.

              2. ..Kat..*

                I have been the college student nursing the Pepsi (actually, water – who are these big spenders who can afford Pepsi?). Now that I can afford it, I will order the big basket of fries (or whatever) and then make sure they split it with me. Or even just tell the college students that I am going to treat them that night. I remember all the nice people who looked out for me when I didn’t have much. They were so kind! And now I want to look after the next generation of students. But this is totally different from mooching. Or demanding food from your subordinate.

                1. ..Kat..*

                  Sorry, I know this was a bit off topic. But I was suddenly nostalgic about all the nice people who looked out for me when I didn’t have much!

                2. I was a broke student once too....*

                  ..Kat.. Yes!!

                  Back in the eighties I was a broke student, and there were kind people who invited me to dinner at their homes or a restaurant. I do the same now, and hope they will pay it forward as well. I met a really nice young couple from my part of Canada a few years ago while staying in a hostel in Rome. They were doing a year of travelling on a very tight budget and considered a pear from the local market a treat for lunch. I invited them to dinner at a casual but fabulous restaurant and was thrilled to be able to treat them and enjoy a meal with them. I will always remember the pleasure having that meal with them gave me.

                  Probably a bit off topic, but thanks for reminding me of that meal!

          2. Fortitude Jones*

            Why though? If they’re your friends, you should be able to tell them, “I’d love to come to Trendy New Restaurant, but it’s a little out of my price range.” Since they like you, they should have no problem with this. I would feel awful if a friend who made less than me never said anything every time I suggested a place to hang out that was outside of her price range and then sat around munching on bread while the rest of us ate real food – it’s uncomfortable, and I don’t want people I care about to be uncomfortable when all we had to do was go somewhere else (and I could hit up the new spot myself some other time).

            1. Just Another Techie*

              One thing I do with a friend who makes less than half what I do is we take turns picking the restaurant, and whoever picks pays for both meals. So one month we’ll do a super fancy trendy restaurant or sushi or something, and the next month might be coffee, or trying out a delicious hole in the wall kebab stand or something. My friend doesn’t end up feeling like she’s accepting charity and I still get to have my cake (hanging out with friend) and eat it too (the fancy restaurants I enjoy). This definitely won’t work for everyone and requires a fairly close relationship and a lot of trust though.

              1. KR*

                This is kind of what I do. Or if I know my idea is expensive I offer to pay for it or pay the majority of the meal – a few months ago I wanted to go out and spend a stupid amount of money on good ol’ in-season New England seafood. It was expensive af and I knew it so I paid for my meal and the app since it was my idea and my friend paid for his lobster roll but he helped me finish my lobster.

              2. Imaginary Number*

                It works well when visiting with a relative/friend who’s unemployed. “Hey, if you grab lunch I’ll grab dinner tonight.” Both knowing that dinner is probably going to be twice as expensive, but there’s something to be said for both parties pulling out their credit card the same number of times (even if the amount charged is quite different.)

              3. Artemesia*

                For years we socialized with friends by trying to find places where we could eat for little. In Nashville we could eat BBQ, Ethiopian, Chinese for 10 bucks a head easily. And even in Chicago we have a couple of places like this where a family style meal of dim sum at a BYO place can be 10-12 a head and even some nicer Italian places will let us order family style and 6 people will get 4 aps and 3 mains and drinks and have plenty of food at a reasonable price.

                But when friends want to go to places out of your league, it is awkward —

            2. Jennifer is a Thneed*

              I suspect that you would *notice* if you had a friend who always came along and never bought much. And then you might be sensitive enough to realize a reason why. And then you might buy that friend a meal, or independently suggest a different restaurant, or ask your friend to suggest one.

              I’ve also found that people who grew up poor or poor-ish are much easier being open about not having cash for xyz, (and more aware of how people tend to spend) and people who grew up middle-class or richer get embarrassed about it and won’t say anything, but will just suffer.

              1. YawningDodo*

                “I suspect that you would *notice* if you had a friend who always came along and never bought much.”

                Yep, this. I’ve been out enough with my friends to know who sometimes has trouble paying for a meal, and that contributes to my decisions about how to handle going out with them. Generally if I’m going to hang out with a particular friend who may not have dining out in his budget, I’ll either suggest doing something else (a night in with board games, maybe) or I’ll offer to cover it. My friends are pretty up front about that stuff and I’ve never had anyone in my current circle mooch. There’s a big difference between mooching and accepting an offer that’s freely given.

            3. Kristine*

              >If they’re your friends, you should be able to tell them, “I’d love to come to Trendy New Restaurant, but it’s a little out of my price range.” Since they like you, they should have no problem with this.

              I’ve done this before and while they did change the plans for me, it was very obvious that my friends had been looking forward to trying the new restaurant and were disappointed when the plan changed, and that disappointment put a damper on the rest of the evening. And I hated being the cause of that disappointment, I felt so bad the entire night. It’s much easier to go with them to the restaurant and just have some bread.

              1. Fortitude Jones*

                That’s really sad. Maybe it’s because, like Jennifer mentioned above, I grew up poor, so saying, “I can’t afford this” brings me no shame and my friends/family get it and adjust their plans accordingly. And I do the same for those who are even broker than I am, and I’m never bummed about having to do it – if I’m hanging with someone it’s because I want to spend time with them. The food or drink or whatever is completely incidental.

              2. Sketchee*

                There is an episode of the show Friends about this. Half of them make more money than the others and hijinks ensue!

                Sometimes reality is disappointing. I don’t think you’re responsible for the facts of the situation. They chose to change plans. They wanted you around more than they wanted to go to some fancy restaurant.

                Often the happiest decision isn’t perfect. There’s not really a perfect solution other than to have fun, be polite about it and be okay with your own choices and the decisions of others. Can’t always have everything and everyone all the time and that’s okay. =)

            4. Cath in Canada*

              A couple of years into grad school, I went down to London for an old friend’s birthday. She’d got a really great job in finance and was doing very well, so her new friends had chosen to take her to a fancy bar. I asked if I could buy her a birthday drink, knowing that even a vodka tonic was going to be pricey, and she asked for a bottle of champagne!

              I said “remember when we lived together and we watched that episode of Friends where they go to the expensive restaurant and half of them ate teeny tiny appies or side salads and bread sticks, and we were all students so we all sympathised with Rachel, Joey, and Phoebe? Well, right now, you’re being Monica, Ross, and Chandler”. She laughed and apologised, and let me buy her a vodka tonic :)

              1. Lissa*

                I love that story! So nice to be able to be honest with a friend, who’s just being thoughtless really, and have everything work out just fine.

                TBH I get so awkward any time I’m in a position where I have to pick an item for somebody to buy for me, because I’m never sure exactly what they mean. it’s the same when I offer friends gas money — I don’t drive, I’d way rather they just tell me an amount than possibly guess way too much or way too little.

                (Also I remember that episode of Friends well. That show gets a lot of flack but I think that was a great episode for addressing a super common problem that rarely gets mentioned.)

          3. Sketchee*

            I tend to just be closer friends with people I can be honest with. If I’m treated as a naysayer for being honest about my budget, it’s information about them.

            I just opt out and see the expensive friends less often. That’s an easy way to keep myself in check. It’s about taking full responsibility for my budget for me. Yeah that’s awkward. Embrace awkward moments as a neutral and regular thing.

            If someone is unreasonable about trying to get me to live beyond my means every weekend partying… I’ve learned the hard way that this is an issue of incompatible lifestyles.

            My budget means making choices. Missing out on stressing about money that I don’t have to spend? Happy to miss out on that!

            Some of us will still go to Trendy New Restaurant and say “I ate before! Just love spending time with you!! Totally can’t afford this place on my budget. I’d rather be awkward no money guy than miss out totally. Or fake having money” Like I said, I love honesty.

          4. Imaginary Number*

            We almost always go to a local sports bar for that reason. Most of the food is $5-10. Very rarely someone in the group will organize a (separate) outing for Italian or Indian, but that’s never on the same day the club actually meets.

          5. Whats In A Name*

            Yes, but what you are doing and what book club lady are doing are 2 different things.

            People who are generally aware will go and munch on the free chips (or nothing) or drink water and order a house salad or cup of soup over a drink.

          6. Emma*

            You know, if you can’t be honest with your friends, you really do only have the options of not going or going and not getting much/anything. It is not your friends’ job to subsidize your night out. It would be one thing if they offered, but you are not entitled to it, and it isn’t fair of you to ask, whether directly or via “hints,” for others to cover you. (It is certainly not fair to do what many moochers do, and add your food onto a group order and then just not pay.)

            I say that as both the person who is almost always the lowest earner among my friends, and a person who really hates moochers.

            I mean, what do you want? Your friends to magically intuit you can’t afford anything, and arrange only outings you can do? They won’t know you can’t afford it unless you tell them. Or do you want them to keep arranging the unaffordable outings and just graciously and constantly pay your way? That’s hardly fair to them.

            I’ll be frank – if you constantly expect others to pay your way, or you get put out when people arrange a meetup you can’t afford but you don’t say anything, I wouldn’t be hanging out with you for long. It’s on you to deal with your own circumstances like a reasonable adult.

      2. Imaginary Number*

        I absolutely believe it’s legitimate. But the social outings are not part of the main function of the group, just extra social hours that are tacked on at the end.

      3. BPT*

        The dinner and drinks isn’t a mandatory part of it, though. She could eat beforehand, and then just go out for a drink (without complaining) if she wanted the social interaction after.

      4. Addie Bundren*

        I’ve been in this situation, and here’s what doesn’t help and never will: making people feel guilty and conned.

      5. neverjaunty*

        It certainly is cheaper to go along and then manipulate people into paying for her food, yes.

        If you’re talking about a group of friends, it shouldn’t be hard to say “guys, I don’t want to kill the fun, but I’m on a tight budget, can we do X instead?” Speaking as the person who usually isn’t the one in the group who is broke, real friends understand and would be fine with that.

      6. Moonsaults*

        Then she should find a bookclub that fits her budget. It’s not mandatory that everything be within everyone’s budgets.

        Either that or you just keep your mouth shut and drink or eat what you can afford, that’s what it all boils down to. So what if she really cannot afford the frequency of the dinners and drinks, that’s doesn’t ever excuse bad behavior and mooching off people.

      7. chocolate lover*

        Then it would make more sense for her not to go out to dinner after, or only go occasionally.

    4. Amy the Rev*

      This is the person I’m terrified of being. I was studying abroad and working 5 different regular babysitting/tutoring jobs at the time to have spending/travel money. The majority vote for our group of friends was to spend spring break in italy (I wanted to go to greece or morocco, but alas). Since I was on a super tight budget and the rest of the folks on the trip were very, very wealthy, the compromise was that we’d stay in hostels/hotels with kitchens so that I could make myself cheap meals and wouldn’t have to get anything when we went out to eat. I was perfectly happy with the arrangement because I cared more about having time with friends then eating food at restaurants, and it meant I was able to afford the trip (my food budget was the equivalent of $20/week or so). So I’d make myself a bowl of plain pasta and gobble it up before we went out.

      One night, the waiter at the restaurant asked why I wasn’t ordering anything, and jokingly asked, “diet?” I responded, “no, poor!” . When he brought over everyone’s meal, there was an extra plate of some delicious truffle pasta dish, and he indicated it was for me. One of the girls in our group said, “wow if I had known It’d get me free food, I’d pretend to be poor also!”…I wanted to scream at her that I’d gladly trade places with her, and that I wasn’t doing it to get free food- I had in fact already eaten before we left, and she knew that! ugh it was so embarrassing.

      The waiter comped our appetizer and dessert as well…he was such an incredible man we left him something like a %100 tip.

      1. Aurion*

        Aw, what a nice guy. I hope the rest of your table shut down the girl making the poor wisecrack though, that sucks.

        I remember once I was out for a meal and the my back was facing a counter, and a guy who was sorting clean silverware pushed the basket a little too hard and it hit me in the back of the head. No silverware fell out, it was just a light tap, but oh man, the apologies he gave me. And he comped me dessert too.

        Food service doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

      2. Lil Lamb*

        Wow. It’s one of those thoughtless comments that people can make when they don’t realize that there are people worse off than they are.

      3. Emma*

        I … don’t know that I would’ve been able to bite my tongue. You’re a much better person than me.

        That was super nice of the waiter.

    5. Lovemyjob...truly!*

      I started a book club last year and one of the people who attended would do this! I fielded many complaints from the other members who hated that she did this (along with several other disruptive habits that always ruined book club for at least two or more people). I did have to un-invite her. I actually used a lot of the advice from here and CaptainAwkward to do it in a kind but firm way. She handled our book club breakup with so much grace and class; it reinforced the idea that being honest about how you’re feeling can be done in a way that doesn’t come off as nasty and mean as long as you’re okay with the fact that not everyone can be happy in all situations.

      1. Imaginary Number*

        Funny enough, I did submit this to Captain Awkward a while back so we’ll see if it gets posted there. I didn’t mean to derail the discussion to an unrelated situation.

        1. neverjaunty*

          CA’s advice in situations like this is usually 1) ignore the hinting and 2) politely set boundaries.

      2. Emma*

        Yeah. I think a lot of people have the mistaken assumption that if you have an open, diverse group you can’t ever set boundaries or remove people, and that’s really not true. In fact, if you aren’t willing to do that, you can often have groups flame out or split when a problem member is being catered to and others understandably don’t want to deal with it anymore.

    6. Minister of Snark*

      Ugh, oddly enough, the “It’s so nice we all share!” thing would bother me the most, I think, because of the self-congratulatory posing of it all. SHE is more virtuous because SHE shares and if YOU don’t share, you’re a bad selfish person. She’s not a mooch, she’s a saint!

      1. Emma*

        Oh, yes. That’d get my back up, and I would have a very hard time not ending up in a screaming philosophy debate with her.

    7. Alienor*

      “Broke and doesn’t have money for food” may have some truth to it, but if so I’ll bet it’s more like “doesn’t have money to eat out/buy the food she would like” I don’t think it’s an accident that she’s going after the OP’s salmon and not someone else’s cheap bologna sandwich.

  10. Jen*

    Food and work is always such a hot mess, isn’t it? I can think of so many weird things:

    -The boss with the eating disorder who would buy me treats (giant brownies, chocolates) and stand at my desk and watch me as I ate them saying “YUMMM” as I chewed.
    -The co-worker who would come by every day as I ate and remark on whether or not what I was eating looked/smelled good.
    -The co-worker who would accuse me of being anorexic if I wasn’t eating a big lunch or bulimic if I was eating a big lunch. And then became angry when I politely told her to please stop talking about what I’m eating and accusing me of having an eating disorder.

    People are messed up about food. I’m sorry, you’re dealing with this OP.

    1. Technical Editor & Resume Reviewer*

      That first example gives me the heebie jeebies. Just, eww. I would refuse to eat in front of her.

        1. Lil Lamb*

          I vaguely remember a sitcom episode where a character was on a diet and she would pay someone else to eat cake so she could watch her eat it

            1. Natalie*

              Jack offers Liz a steak to eat when he is on a heart-attack related restriction, too… I’m starting to feel like this has actually happened to Tina Fey at some point.

          1. Jennifer is a Thneed*

            Nothing like the same, but when I was recovering from jaw surgery and couldn’t eat solid food for several weeks, I really enjoyed smelling other people’s food. Sure, I missed eating it, but I found that I also missed *smelling* it.

            I have a feeling that this was not going on with ANY of the examples being cited here. :)

            1. Anion*

              When I was pregnant I used to ask my husband to please drink a beer, so I could sit close to him and smell it. :-)

              1. Jen*

                I’ve walked very closely behind smokers on a bad day so I can breath in their secondhand smoke. Once I was caught and I had to tell the kid “Oh I quit smoking years ago and I just want to breathe in the fumes for a bit.”

    2. Engineer Woman*

      Are these hypotheticals or real examples of strange boss and coworkers?

      If former: Jen, you’ve got a good imagination! If latter: I never knew how lucky I was with my coworkers and bosses (although I do have some grumbles, none this strange!)

    3. May*

      It’s surprising how many people don’t understand that food/eating habits are a sensitive subject for many people. I am a very picky eater for a number of reasons and almost always opt out on the occasions when our office orders lunch for everybody and throughout the years I’ve had to explain myself over and over to curious coworkers. I don’t really mind someone asking why I don’t want to order something if they leave it alone when I say that I’m really picky and would prefer to eat my protein bar but some people just won’t let it go. I’ve had multiple coworkers (including a manager) ask me “So what do you eat at home?” (none of your business but thanks for making me feel really uncomfortable), try to get me to tell them what restaurants we should order from that I’d like even though I’ve consistently and repeatedly said not to worry about me and I’ll deal with my own lunch (thanks for not only making me feel really uncomfortable but also making me feel like I should thank you for putting me in this awkward position). I know there are people who love to talk about food but don’t press people for details they’re not offering up of their own accord!

    4. TheOperaGhost*

      I’ve gotten the anorexic/bulimic comments at work too! It’s incredibly annoying and invasive. Though, come to think of it, they never actually said bulimic; more continued to make comments about how I could eat so much and still be as skinny as I am. Heavily implying that something else was going on.

      1. Elle*

        A co-worker implied that to me once, too. I was so paranoid about eating in front of him after that. People are weird.

      2. many bells down*

        I was on depo-provera after my first child, and I didn’t lose any of the baby weight while I was on it. After about a year, I decided it really wasn’t working for me and stopped it. All the weight melted back off. And the office manager got very upset and kept accusing me of being anorexic.

        The irony here was that the office manager was a very thin woman who would eat two bites of a salad and loudly proclaim she was full. I am very sure she was projecting.

    5. Mona Lisa*

      I had a co-worker who was like #2. She used to comment on everything I ate and how I was “making everyone look bad” if I ate nuts as a snack or brought a salad for lunch instead of grabbing take-out.

      People should not comment on others’ food except to say, “Wow, that looks/smells delicious!” Anything else is pretty much out of line.

      1. Allison*

        Agreed! I generally hate when people comment on my eating habits, especially when their comments draw attention to “bad” habits like my daily bagel (which is whole grain and eaten with reduced fat cream cheese, but to most people bagels are always bad and people who eat them are doomed to be fat forever).

        Even “that smells good” makes me uneasy, because I can’t figure out if it’s just a compliment or comment, or if they really just want me to know they can smell my food so I eat somewhere else or start bringing in blander, less offensive food.

        1. BPT*

          And even if it was an extra large bagel with 200% fat cream cheese, so what? Maybe that person had saved up calories for that exact treat. Maybe they’re trying to gain weight. Maybe they don’t care about losing weight. Maybe they balance treats with super healthy eating at other times. I don’t understand why people comment on what other people eat, no matter what. It’s why I always eat with my door closed at work.

        2. Wwr*

          I ate a huge fully carbed bagel with bacon chive cream cheese today and my far ass enjoyed EVERY SINGLE BITE. Mmmm.

          Butt outta my food, world. You don’t want to get between this girl and her calories.

      2. Purest Green*

        I stopped eating in our communal break room because one woman always took a look around the table and commented, “Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia and all being so good” as they ate their salads and other noticeably healthy things, pointedly leaving my name out of the list.

    6. designbot*

      the receptionist/office manager at one of my jobs was like your first example. The boss always liked to have a box of cookies around and the office manager was always the one responsible for keeping those stocked, put out, etc. Well when this lady was hired suddenly the amount of sweets in the office doubled, and every time she opened a new box of cookies she would specifically take some around to offer a few of us. I said “no thanks” the first few times, then when she continued started saying “oh I wish you wouldn’t push these things on me, I really need to watch my diet.” She eventually “joked” that she wanted to make the rest of us fat while she lost weight so that suddenly she’d be the thin one, and laughed like it was the best joke ever, but I think that’s as close to the real motivation as we’ll get. She’d also comment on people lunches all the time, bring up food and dieting constantly, and just generally make me nuts when it came to food. I don’t have the healthiest outlook on it in the first place and her commentary just made sure it was always top of mind.

    7. Merida May*

      I know these would be so uncomfortable to deal with in real life but I snorted at my desk when I read the first one.

      1. May*

        That one reminds me of the episode of 30 Rock where Jack asks Liz to eat a steak in front of him after he has a heart attack.

        1. LBK*

          Huh, never realized that Tina Fey has used that trope twice – it happens on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, too.

    8. chocolate lover*

      Not as bad as that, but when I switched jobs not too long ago, one of my newer colleagues frequently mentioned my candy-eating habits (Yes, I love chocolate, see my username!), how I must have tons of cavities and my dentist must love me, and on and on. I was trying to figure out what to say to him to get him to stop, and one day I just blurted out “I assume that’s not what you came in my office to say?” That put an end to it, thankfully.

      1. Marisol*

        I tend to chalk comments like this up to the inherent banality of office chitchat. Sometimes people want to make a friendly connection with a colleague and yet have nothing more meaningful to say than to rehash the only distinctive detail they know about you, so they fall into conversational ruts which to the receiver can sound like carping. That’s my take anyway.

        1. Alienor*

          When I started at my current company, I had a small poster in my cube for a TV show that I liked at the time. For the first year, that TV show became my entire identity at work because it was the only thing people knew about me–I mean, I was a fan, but not THAT much of a fan!

      2. Friendly Neighborhood QA Tech*

        People I work with remark on my chocolate eating habit… but that’s because it isn’t uncommon for me to just be consistently munching on it while at work – perk of working at a chocolate plant. Why throw out small samples when you can just eat it?!

    9. Wendy Darling*

      I used to sit by someone who gave me a detailed audit of how healthy my food was every time I ate lunch at my desk (which I usually did because the lunch room was crowded and noisy and I liked to relax a bit). She’d had a health scare and was on a very strict self-imposed non-evidence-based diet, and would helpfully explain to me why my lunch was going to give me cancer. (Because apparently anything except local organic non-GMO vegetables and lean meats gives you cancer.)

      She got very offended when I asked her to stop commenting on my food, as she was just trying to help.

      1. Mona Lisa*

        My first boss made a big deal of the fact that I was bringing my lunches to work and reheating them in plastic containers. She told me on multiple occasions that I would get cancer from the plastics leaching into my food, and then other co-workers joined in on telling me what kind of dishes to buy. My thought was that, if they had such strong opinions about my food containers, they could buy me new ones to replace what I had.

        (I now do own a nice set of glass containers, but they were given as a gift. As much as I love them, they weren’t something that was a high priority in my first job after grad school budget.)

        1. Wendy Darling*

          The latest research actually indicates that storing and reheating food in plastic is not a big deal, especially if you’re using actual food storage containers and not repurposed yogurt cups. So it’s misplaced fussing anyway! I actually used those disposable-tupperware single-serving-size plastic containers for *everything* during grad school (you can get six for like $3 if you grab them on sale and they’ll easily last a year or more if you take care of them!), including defrosting and reheating food in them on the regular, and am pleased to report that I still do not have cancer.

          I now have and generally prefer glass food storage containers but that’s because I make a lot of strong-smelling and/or turmeric-rich foods, and glass doesn’t stay smelling like curry forever or turn bright orange. My smelly orange plastic containers are not a health hazard, just mildly distasteful.

        2. Jen*

          Oh the cancer people! I had another co-worker who would always tell me that my splenda packets were going to give me cancer. Go away, shoo!

          1. Laura*

            Oh! I have a friend that does that. Why yes, I use Splenda, my father is a diabetic. We prefer to take the risk and not kill him quickly with sugar.

    10. Wonder Woman*

      I had weight loss surgery years ago and soon thereafter began traveling for work with groups of coworkers. My closest coworkers knew my deal and didn’t think much when I’d order a meal and only eat 10% of it. But there was one guy from another group who never failed to make a big deal every freaking time. Always commenting that I didn’t eat much. We probably had a dozen dinners together over a few years and he never failed to snark about it. He never actually asked after my health or seemed concerned, but he had to comment.

    11. hayling*

      At my last job my coworkers were all obsessed with food, commenting on when and what I ate, going on crash diets. It was awful, and it was paradise compared to what the OP is experiencing!

    12. Cath in Canada*

      I have one coworker who’s weirdly obsessed with my lunch, too. When I have a cold lunch it’s “oh, I don’t know how you can just eat a sandwich / a salad / veggies and hummus, I absolutely have to have a hot lunch! Don’t you want a hot lunch?”. When I have a hot lunch it’s “oh, I’m so happy for you that you have a hot lunch today! Isn’t it just so much better?!”. When I change things up every once in a while, it’s “why did you change what you have for lunch? Are you on a diet?”.

    13. DrAtos*

      I’m so glad that at my current workplace, 99% of the time people eat lunch on their own, either going out, eating at their desk, or eating in the break room at different times. I really do not enjoy eating everyday with co-workers. I had to do it at my last job and it is very difficult to maintain a healthy diet. Often people want to try your food or ask why you aren’t eating specific things that either you don’t like or don’t want to eat because of your diet. I gained weight from a lot of office lunches and dinners at appointed times (12-1 everyday whether I was hungry or not), and now I have so much more control on when and what I eat. It really sheds some light on the prevalence of eating disorders when seeing co-workers either starving themselves or binge eating and wanting everyone else around them to eat a lot and gain weight too.

  11. MarketingGirl*

    Maybe this is some weird side effect of being on all these restrictive diets? I wonder if she has reasoned with herself to believe that if she doesn’t buy it/make it for herself, it doesn’t count in her diet… and she just can’t help herself with your food because she’s restricting her own food? Satisfying her cravings in some way?

    I don’t know. But this is weird and you should definitely put an end to it.

    1. Nolan*

      I was thinking along those lines too. Like, she’s probably low on calories, and depending on what she’s eating on her own time her blood sugar levels might be all over the place too. It sounds like someone who’s constantly hangry that’s also justifying her theft of OP’s food as an acceptable cheat. Like, it’s healthy so it doesn’t count, or something.

        1. Nolan*

          Well yeah, she’s definitely escalated this to an absurd level. I was more thinking that’s where the fixation itself is coming from, along with the hot/cold attitude the OP described. I’m wondering if the warm days are mostly ones where she’s eating on a regular schedule, and the cold days are mostly when she’s trying a new crash diet. From the letter it sounds like the food/diet fixation has been there for a while, it just wasn’t directed at OP until now. Lashing out at the OP for not enabling her diet cheats is not acceptable in any way, and constantly asking for her food to begin with also crossed a line. I’m just wondering if her dietary habits are contributing to her behavior.

    2. Manders*

      Yeah, that was my thought–I remembering learning in a psychology class that back in the bad old days before modern rules about ethical research, scientists did some studies of human participants on starvation diets, and the healthy subjects ended up becoming obsessive about food. Even after the period of immediate starvation ended, the participants still constantly worried about food.

      It doesn’t excuse the boss’s behavior, but I see why someone who’s going through periods of only eating cabbage or grapefruit might not be in a rational state of mind.

      1. Collarbone High*

        I can attest to this first-hand. I’ve had two surgeries for Crohn’s disease where I was on a liquids-only diet for 2-3 weeks and I thought about food constantly. I spent hours reading menus on restaurant websites, and the first surgery happened during Restaurant Week in my sister’s city and I passed my time in the hospital mapping out a RW plan for her. Your brain really, really wants you to eat and will not let the subject go.

        1. Mononymous*

          I can empathize. I also have crohns and my (terrible) pediatric doctors, when I was 10-16ish, used to just throw their hands up and declare me NPO when nothing else seemed to be working. No food or liquid of any kind by mouth, IV only, 2-3 MONTHS at a time. Once over Thanksgiving/Christmas. While also on high doses of prednisone, so that was extra special with the cravings and constant hunger! Then during other times when I was allowed to eat, my parents wondered why I would get so upset if I wasn’t completely secure in knowing when and where my next meal would be. I would literally break down in hysterical tears if I thought I was about to miss a single meal. Not because I would be harmed by the loss, but because I never knew when they would take literally everything away from me again so I needed to eat all I could NOW. (Except I was too young to actually understand and verbalize any of that, so they all just thought I was being melodramatic. Live and learn, I guess.)

          I’m so lucky I didn’t come out the other side with an eating disorder. Food stuff like that really messes with the mind after just a very short time.

            1. Mononymous*

              Thanks :)

              It was long enough ago that I’m over it for the most part, and I’ve learned a lot in hindsight.

          1. esra (also a Canadian)*

            Hello Crohn’s friends!

            Seriously though. Do you ever want food more than during that miserable day of prep before a colonoscopy.

        2. hi.*

          I had weight loss surgery a few months ago – my actual appetite is as tiny as my stomach is now, but my head hunger & cravings are larger than life. I eat minuscule portions of high protein, low carb food and protein shakes but I spend an embarrassing portion of my free time browsing photos of food and restaurant menus.

    3. TL -*

      Being on a very restrictive diet does give you a weird relationship with food – but it’s super inappropriate to put that on others.

    4. hi.*

      I used to smoke a long time ago, and I had more than a couple of acquaintances who truly believed that they weren’t smokers if they didn’t buy their own cigarettes. If you say “Hey can I bum one?” 3-5 x a day… YOU’RE A SMOKER. A cheap, mooching smoker who no one wants to take smoke breaks with.

  12. sunny-dee*

    I don’t want to diagnose anything because I really can’t, but her behavior sounds like she may actually have a mental disorder rather than just being weird. It’s just too off. The problem with that is that she may not respond rationally or consistently.

    So, I guess be prepared for stormy weather, and I’m sorry you have to deal with this. :(

      1. Observer*

        Why? Even if her thyroid made her hungry all the time (not likely, but not important) this would still be very, very weird, to say the least. Of course, many mental illnesses are directly rooted in physical / physiological issues, but if I were going to go down the “disorders” path, I’d say mental illness.

          1. Observer*

            I hear. I still think that when you hear hoof beats, you think horses not zebras unless you are in the African Veldt.

            In other words, I’d never say that you must be wrong, but it’s not the first place to look, I think.

    1. AnonAcademic*

      I don’t want to speculate about diagnoses, but I agree generally that this seems to go beyond a quirk or typical social inappropriateness.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      When diabetics’ blood sugar goes too high or too low they lose brain cells. And it could conceivably damage the brain and the person could exhibit symptoms similar to a mental illness. Check out insulin rooms in old psychiatric hospitals. To me, it looked like dropping their blood sugar was a way of performing a lobotomy-like operation without having to do surgery.

  13. Observer*

    If there was ever a time to go to your boss or HR, this is it. This is clearly not a small place, so there must be someone above her. What she is doing is just bizarre and problematic enough that any reasonable boss or HR person would realize that this needs to stop, and needs to stop NOW. They may not care about losing YOU or about losing ONE person, but if this keeps up, she’s going to create the Department of Turnover.

    It also creates a potential for legal issues, as she’s using her supervisory position to make seriously unreasonable demands. Presumably the amount you are spending on her food (!) is low enough that you aren’t effectively below the minimum wage. So, it’s crazy, but probably legal. However, if a good lawyer wanted to twist to be treated like a payroll deduction, I’m not sure how much of a hassle it would be for the company. Worse, though, is if she ever does cross the line of legal. Patterns of behavior OTHER behavior are used in cases all the time, and it’s going to be very likely that any lawyer would make the case that this woman is clearly someone who crosses boundaries and that the company should be liable for this. It wouldn’t necessarily stick in court, but it could make for the kind of case that would be expensive to defend.

    To be clear, I’m NOT saying that you should shout “law suit”. I’m just saying that when supervisors cross the lines this blatantly, good HR departments want to know and stop it, and one of the reasons is because that kind of behavior raises a company’s risk profile.

  14. regina phalange*

    I would go straight to HR at this point. That type of behavior is so outside the norm, it needs to be addressed.

    1. Kms1025*

      Completely agree with Regina and AT. Is this a new job or a new manager? Has she always been this way or a recent development? This behavior is just so weird I have to wonder what’s really going on with her. In any case, report her up the office ladder and minimize contact with her as much as possible as well as considering getting out of this particular crazy town.

  15. AT*

    I’d get out of there; your boss sounds extremely odd. The fact that you need to say something about sharing food tells me that this isn’t a person you can expect to behave rationally.

  16. Catalin*

    Am I the only person who has a really good food situation at the office? I bring my food, as I have health issues related to insulin and need to eat very specifically. My boss keeps non-perishable/semi-perishable food in her office (think Kind bars, nuts, tea bags) and actively encourages her direct reports to chow down at any time. (Or borrow an umbrella or rain coat, or use her personal items like mugs, etc).

    I keep reading all these articles about coworkers and bosses stealing food; it’s like, damn!

    1. Murphy*

      I’m pregnant and I eat/snack at work like 6 times a day. No one has ever remarked on it (except maybe a “that smells good” at lunch time) and no one has EVER asked me for any food off my plate.

    2. KR*

      My boss bought a couple 50-pks of individual size chips/cookies/crackers for the office for christmas. Lasted us until summer and it was great.

    3. Trig*

      Yeah, there’s nothing like this column to make me appreciate my job! The only comments on anyone’s food I’ve heard were people exclaiming how good the amazing food truck dish of the day was, how great it is when there’s leftover food from a fancy meeting (the goodies are always first to go), or how I’m “so good” because I usually bring a packed lunch or leftovers, while my coworkers (who only come in once or twice a week anyway) buy their lunch. I usually respond with a breezy, “not good, just cheap!” and that’s the end of it.

      It’s so nice.

    4. Marisol*

      We have a breakroom stocked with snacks, both healthy and unhealthy, as well as fresh organic fruit, and all manner of sodas, teas, and coffees. Once a week my company caters a lunch for the whole company. I’ve had a couple guys here tease me about how little or how much I eat because I am slim, but I don’t mind it (if I did I would say something). I’ve never experienced anything like a lunch stealer, much less a lunch stealer who is my boss. I am dumbfounded at these stories.

    5. Victoria, Please*

      I feel like we are abnormally sane at my office. Everyone brings their food or goes to local restaurants to get it. No one ever steals anyone’s food. Everyone cleans up after themselves in the kitchen (and every now and then we do a team deep clean). No one ever comments on what someone else is eating. As long as you don’t eat too many client snacks, it’s fine to grab one every now and then. Everyone can eat whenever they want, whatever they want, and we don’t tend to have stinky food. If the team goes out for a celebration, I buy either the lunch or the first round of drinks as appropriate.

      Reading AMM makes me think that we are weird for being so calm! But boy am I glad.

    6. Bethlam*

      Another “boy does this make me appreciate what I’ve got” comment! We do a lot of sharing – both of food, recipes, food ideas, and successes and failures when we’re trying to eat healthier – and commenting, but it’s all done very amicably and reciprocally. And we’re all considerate. One of my co-workers absolutely hates the thought/smell of sauerkraut, so when I bring in leftover pork and sauerkraut, I heat it up in the downstairs microwave and eat on a different floor so he doesn’t have to smell it. Another co-worker can’t stand seafood, but handles the company lunches. So someone else pitches in and unwraps and plates the tuna subs when she orders from Subway so she doesn’t have to touch them.

  17. Cranky Pants*

    My roommate does this. He will even take things from my plate in the few moments it takes me to get up from the table to refill my water glass. He’ll even drink from my water if I leave it unattended even though he has his own. He’s not my boss, but he thinks he is. It’s not really OK but I forgive him easily because he’s really cute…and he’s a cat!

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Yeah, I was starting to be annoyed at your accepting this because he was cute and wham! you got me!

        1. Myrin*

          Right? I felt exactly the same way and then BAM, I haven’t been that surprised by a plot twist in at least five years.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Lol, I was gearing up for some outrage and then was like “wait, drinking from water even though he has his own…”. My cat does that. There’s no water in the world as delicious as mine, apparently, and the more precariously perched the cup the better the water tastes, or so I deduce from her determination to access it regardless of the consequences.

      1. Elfie*

        Yeah, my cats just won’t eat people-food AT ALL (yay, I can eat in peace!), but leave a glass of water out – nope! Even weirder, at home we only drink fizzy water… the cats love it!

      2. Jennifer is a Thneed*

        Water inside the house must be clean-as-clean-can-be, but water outside the house? Like, water in the plant saucers on the deck? The filthier the better! Mmmm, soil and dead leaves must add some gooood flavor.

    2. fishy*

      You know, now that you mention it, this boss really does remind me of a cat. My cats beg for food every time I’m making a meal for myself, and if I share some with them it only makes them beg even more in the future. Best never to give them any of my food at all. My food is only for me, not for the cats or for the boss!

    3. SJ*

      My cat has never shown an interest in human food (other than when I crack open a can of tuna), but glasses of water left anywhere unattended are a prime target.

      1. Judy*

        I read once that cats like to hunt for water. I have a small bowl that I move around our bathroom, from the floor to the vanity to the edge of the tub, so she can hunt for it. She’s pretty much stopped drinking from the water near her food since I started it, and seems to be drinking more water overall.

        1. Construction Safety*

          Hmm, the third-degree rescue walks past the freshly poured water bowl & licks the inside of the shower.

          1. Golden Lioness*

            Mine does that too, and sometimes licks the water off my legs, too if I don’t towel off quickly.

        2. Chomps*

          oh, interesting. That would explain a lot. I should start doing that. Actually, the last time I went out of town, I left a human glass of water on the floor for her in addition to her normal water bowl.

        3. Sydney*

          I read also that they don’t like to drink water near their food either. I don’t know if it’s true or not but I keep a bowl of water away from the food. And that seems to be the one she drinks out of the most!

      2. Marzipan*

        My cat is super into glasses of water at the moment. I just hear a little lapping noise and look down and there he is with his face crammed into the glass. I have to have a bottle of water by my bed instead of a glass. He doesn’t want to eat human food, but gets quite put out if not allowed to smell it. And he will lick unattended cheese, butter, yogurt or Marmite.

        (I would just like to add that my predictive spellcheck thingy suggested “He doesn’t want to eat human resources” which is quite apt…)

        1. Alienor*

          My cat will lick anything dairy-based -ice cream, yogurt, sour cream, etc. Sometimes I give him his own tiny dab of sour cream on a plate and let him go to town.

      3. MsChandandlerBong*

        Lucky duck! At least 1/3 of the pictures I take of my cats involve them doing food-related things…sitting on the pizza box, climbing on the table in search of scraps, licking the inside of a yogurt container, stealing pizza crust off my plate. Four out of five were strays, and I think one of them has the “I better eat as much as I can because there might not be food for a while” mindset.

    4. Cranky Pants*

      I just couldn’t resist – I read the OP letter and all I could think was that it sounds exactly like my cat – he even gets all bent out of shape when he is told no (about 17 times a day). Thankfully, my other cat isn’t at all like this. One greedy little fiend is more than enough for one house!

      1. KR*

        +1 If I even mention begging to my dog he leaves the kitchen or looks away from me if we’re both on the couch, but if I tell my cat not to beg she just screams at me.

    5. Golden Lioness*

      Yup! have cat can confirm … but how can you resist? And the best way to have kitty come running is opening a can of tune… it’s like a magnet!

    6. East of Nowhere south of Lost*

      Spousal unit started feeding Fat Cat roast beef when he’d make a sandwich. Fat cat has decided it is always best policy to beg and whine even if the human is eating veggie soup. There is always a chance of roast beef.

      Luckily Fat Cat is cute.

    7. nonegiven*

      DH would turn his head to see TV and turn back to his lunch to find my cat eating from the other side of his plate. We keep a spray bottle on the table

    8. Serafina*


      My small and fluffy ones are such pains with food – my boykitty does what your “roommate” does, sneaking and lurking to get at my food or drinks. His sister won’t try to eat my food – but she will try to play with it. She’s one of the little furmonsters who loves knocking bottles or glasses of beverages onto the floor, and she’ll paw at whatever’s on my plate given half a chance. I’ve offered her a tidbit as a treat before – sometimes she won’t eat it, just wants to bat it around.

    9. Al Lo*

      My cat is all about mayonnaise. We can leave almost anything else out and she won’t touch it, but if there’s leftover mayo-based residue on the plate, she’s all over that.

    10. Lady Bug*

      My dog will knock over your beer so he can drink it (before we run to clean it up because its bad for dogs).

      1. Chomps*

        That’s funny. Any time I have any sort of alcohol my cat will act like she wants it, I let her sniff it, she gives it one sniff and turns away.

  18. JustAnotherHRPro*

    every time I think I can’t hear anything more bizarre on this page, I am proven wrong….

    1. Engineer Woman*

      But you have to admit: boss who gets angry if you don’t share you food is not as bad as boss who wants (insists?) that you get tested to donate a liver/kidney for his relative. Sorry, I forgot all the details about that one, but that boss was more bizarre. Not that this is a contest and OP definitely has a very valid and large problem!

        1. Merida May*

          Could be! We had a temp at my current job who found out I kept a bottle of sriracha at my desk and made it appoint to stop by to ask for some several times a week. When she was unceremoniously fired I found out she’d made a habit of asking to borrow other things, like several hundred dollars in cash from a variety of managers.

      1. SMM*

        That’s more terrible, but less bizarre. We can at least understand why Boss insists on people donating an organ for his relative.

      2. Tequila Mockingbird*

        I hate to say this (and I certainly don’t want to derail this thread or start any controversy) but I strongly suspect the liver donation letter was fake. It’s SUCH egregious illegal behavior – at a supposedly large company with multiple branches – and no HR/attorneys/managers spoke up to stop it? A story that juicy and outrageous would have made national headlines after the fired employees went public. Not to mention, Allison said she wrote the OP several times asking for an update, with no response. Fishy.

        1. neverjaunty*

          That assumes a lot of things – that fired employees will promptly speak up, and that big companies care deeply about stopping misbehavior no matter how popular or powerful the wrongdoer. Could the letter be fake? Sure. But not because we haven’t read a news story about it.

          1. Tequila Mockingbird*

            And believing the story assumes a lot of things, too. It didn’t pass my smell test.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I often don’t get updates I ask for though, so I wouldn’t read anything into that.

          I did have some back and forth with the letter writer before printing the letter, and the tone of that made me think it was genuine. But of course there’s never any way to know for sure.

          1. Tequila Mockingbird*

            Thanks, Allison! I wasn’t trying to impugn your integrity in printing the letter, or anything.

            And for what it’s worth, I’ve *never* suspected any other letters on this site were fake… just that one!

            1. Brooke*

              People act in pretty interesting/unbelievable ways when it’s a life or death situation, like an organ transplant.

            2. Ellen N.*

              Although I wasn’t ordered to be tested as a kidney donor, at one job we had a client and a friend of a client who each needed a kidney. We were strongly encouraged to be tested as donors. Therefore, I believe the kidney donation letter may well be real.

          2. O.P. Here*

            I am the original poster (or whatever you would call it.). & I can assure you that this is an authentic issue. So much so, that I have asked multiple friends and relatives about how to handle the situation and they all come back with generic or useless info. I think it’s because no one has ever had to deal with an outsider like this who has gone through such lengths to obtain someone else’s food. But I am definitely appreciative of the feedback here. It’s just taking a while to sift through lol

            1. Marisol*

              They are talking about a different poster–one whose boss was insisting that employees get tested to see if they were a match for a liver donation because the boss’s brother needed a liver…I forget the specifics but that’s the gist. I don’t think anyone doubts that your letter is real.

            2. nonegiven*

              Maybe you could offer to supply lunch for $x/day. Just set the price to cover your entire food budget for all your meals plus her lunch plus time and a half for the time to prepare two lunches.

            3. Tequila Mockingbird*

              Hi OP,

              Did you write the letter about your boss mooching your food? If so, no one was accusing you of faking your situation. I was referring above to a different story from a few months ago, where OP’s boss was forcing his employees to get tested to donate a liver to his brother. Sorry for the confusion! No one doubts you’re telling the truth!

  19. May*

    Just be sure not to share with her if you bring in something really spicy or she’ll probably have you fired for poisoning her!

    1. Here*

      Ah, but in the end, you would be hired back at double your original salary (with bonus training opportunities) and get to see the manager and her lover in HR fired. It totally happens.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I will never forget the first time I heard of exlax brownies. Our work place was a h-hole, it was by far the worst job I have ever had. This problem was a minor one but it actually got dealt with. My coworkers would bring in cookies and what not to share. The very disliked boss would always help himself. This went on for a while. Then someone made exlax brownies. I was warned, so I knew not to take one.

      Twain was wrong. Three (or more ) people CAN keep a secret and be among the living.

      This boss was so self-focused that he never noticed ALL of us (15-20 people) STARING at him while he ate the brownies.

  20. ZSD*

    I’m adding this to my running list of posts to request updates on!
    Alison, could you remind me what time of year you usually do that post when you invite people to ask for updates? Thanks!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oooh, I should be doing it very soon, actually, because I like to run a bunch of them during December. I’ll put it on my list for sometime in the next week!

  21. Sarah*

    There is no legitimate or sane explanation for her constantly asking to have some of your food – especially unshakable things like salmon and tacos etc. That kind of behavior on a daily basis would even be weird from a really good friend at work. Your manager has a bizarre obsession with food, and she’s fixated on you and your food at the moment. Getting her to stop focusing on you won’t be easy or quick, but I completely agree that you should stop giving her any food at all. Given her inappropriate fixation and response (buying everyone else food, calling you greedy etc), your sit down with her will probably not go over well. It’s still necessary though. Do you have an HR department or someone you can go to with the problem if her retaliation gets worse?

    You could potentially first try just saying, “Actually, I’ve noticed that when I share I find that I’m still hungry, and I’m on a really tight food budget, so I only have enough for me.” each time she asks. Doing that casually but publicly might be a good first step before you meet with her – that way you’ll have already tried a very normal tactic before you have a big sit down, and then you can say, “As I told you, I’m on a tight budget. It’s very uncomfortable for me when you call me greedy for simply sticking to my budget. I’m sorry that I can’t afford to bring more food so I can share; that’s just not something that is possible for me to do.”

    Then, hopefully you have a next level person that you can take this to, since your boss likely is not going to be able to rein in her inappropriate behavior.

    Please let us know what happens!

    1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

      This. Embarrass her publicly about it as much as you can every time she does it without making a spectacle of yourself. Tell her no and ask why she’s doing this in a voice that’s a little too loud. Even straight out tell her “I know you think other people’s food doesn’t count for your diet, but it really doesn’t work that way.” She needs to know her behavior is not OK, and she needs to know other people are aware of it.

    2. Ellie H.*

      Fixation is 100% right. She obviously has an eating disorder. I’m really interested whether she does this with other people besides the OP or she just senses that it wouldn’t fly with others.

  22. Snarkus Aurelius*

    It’s a control issue, and it can be very foreign to you if you’ve never seen it before.  I have no advice, but I’ll do my best to explain it.

    My sister is the exact same way except she acts that way towards my food and me.  She’d never dare do that with anyone else and certainly not at work.  When we lived together as adults, she never kept a lot food in the house except for wheat germ or a few vegetables.  If I did, all of it would be gone in a night.  If I hid food in my room, she’d find it and eat all of it in one sitting.  (My solution was to do all of my eating out of the apartment.) 

    In my sister’s world, she honestly believes that if she didn’t buy it or make it or bring it into the house then it doesn’t really “count.”  That detail, combined with her chronic hunger, would lead to this behavior.  Rather than try to address the irrationality of it, I took my meals elsewhere.

    1. AMG*

      I can see why it was you–you were her sister and roommate so she felt comfortable. I wonder why the boss has targeted the OP though. Maybe she feels comfortable enough or dominant enough with OP.

      1. Grits McGee*

        I might be reading this incorrectly, but it sounds like OP may be the only one in the office eating fairly healthily, which may made her an attractive food-stealing target for boss.

        1. Kelly L.*

          It might also just be better food, as in tastier. OP’s meals sound droolworthy as I sit here eating my TV dinner!

      2. neverjaunty*

        Or the OP is the only one who doesn’t accommodate her behavior as normal. Whatever is driving the boss here, it isn’t rational and the OP can’t fix it.

      3. Tequila Mockingbird*

        I thought OP’s letter made it pretty clear: OP says it all started when she went on a diet and started bringing healthy foods. Her manager is also “into diets and weight,” while the rest of her coworkers eat unhealthily. So manager wants to emulate OP’s eating habits.

        Hopefully OP will appear and give more context!

        1. O.P. Here*

          Hi, it’s me, the OP. She definitely does this with others, but it started with me when I began to eat healthy foods and lost weight. Yes, she will ask for my co-worker’s fries. But she will almost “zero in” on your dark chocolate macadamia nuts. And then she just never stopped. And it really started adding up because I count my food and snacks against my daily budget. So there really is no “extra”.

          1. Marisol*

            Well, yeah, why would there be extra? I never bring more food to work in case other people want to eat it. No one does that unless it’s something special like baking a batch of cookies for the office. And most people account for their food in their budget (whether you’re talking about money or calories–people have to manage that shit). You are normal. So very normal.

    2. V*

      TW: eating disorder

      When I was a freshman in college, I behaved how your sister did. I would buy only super low calorie high fiber food and not enough of it in an effort to lose weight. Then once or twice a week I would binge on whatever I could find in my roommates food stash. I knew it was wrong and I would replace her food the next day, but during the binge it was like I was blacked out from all reason. I wouldn’t buy myself more/different food because I felt like it would just trigger a binge. After my freshman year, I was diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder, a form of bulimia. I saw a therapist and nutritionist weekly for a year and over time got to a place where, even though I wasn’t “cured” and still have difficulty when under certain kinds of stress, on the whole I manage the disorder pretty well. I am sharing this in case you recognize similarities in your sister’s behavior and want to read about BED and treatments or suggest that she might want to look into it. I had never heard of it before my diagnosis, and assumed that I couldn’t be bulimic because I wasn’t purging.

        1. V*

          Yes, absolutely. And I would replace the food the next morning. We eventually had a conversation where she told me that my dieting habits didn’t seem healthy. I assume she figured out I was binge eating even though I only did it in private, combined with “meals” I would let people see me eating, like a can of pumpkin mixed with artificial sweetener, and my exercise regime of 10 miles a day, even if I had to do it late at night. In retrospect, I’m sure it was a very difficult thing for an 18 year old to bring up with her roommate, and she did it in a very caring and non judgmental way. It was not the sole reason I sought help, but it was a contributing factor.

          1. Laura*

            Awh, that is a sweet aside in an otherwise difficult story. Kudos to your former roommate for being so empathetic, and to you for seeking help.

    3. nonegiven*

      When my husband was a kid, his brother kept stealing from his plate. Once he drew back his hand with a fork sticking out of it. DH got an ass whipping but his brother never did it again.

  23. Important Moi*

    Are you my co-worker? My boss AND co-workers used to do this. I just started eating at my desk. They now think “mean” and moody because I don’t share my food or make myself available to them.

  24. Thalia Al Ghul*

    People are really out here working with lunatics. I would start documenting my interactions with her. She has obviously tried unsuccessfully to let her know she’s not ok sharing her food. This is ridiculous and I can’t even make sense of it. What the hell??

    1. Anion*

      Working with lunatics? You should talk, Daughter of the Demon. How are things at the League these days?


      (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

      1. Thalia Al Ghul*

        Things are great at the league. We just implemented a “no sharing of food or weapons” policy.

  25. Rwlikz*

    It’s always so tone-deaf when managers/higher-up’s complain about being broke – one of my old bosses used to do it all the time, when I knew for a fact he made more than double what I did, and used to take about 6 vacations a year, whilst I was legitimately struggling to make rent. Of course, any talk of a pay rise was completely out of the question! It’s not that I think that managers or people higher up the food chain shouldn’t earn more – of course they should! – but it’s then pretty bad taste to moan about being broke to people who almost certainly earn less than you!

    1. Lissa*

      I seriously think some bosses do this to try to head off you asking for a raise. When I worked in food service the owners did this *constantly*. And not just one set of owners, either. I found out way too much about my bosses’ various financial dramas due to this kind of thing. I sincerely believe it was a way to make you feel like you should never ask for anything because they were so hard done by.

    2. Isabel C.*

      Vile Pantsless Ex-Boss decamped in a huff from Cornell because they would “only” pay him $100K per year. When I looked dubious about that, Child Bride defended him by saying that, well, he had two sets of alimony to pay.

      This was while I was in the process of quitting, or it would have been a precipitating factor.

  26. animaniactoo*

    I would also backtrack to be clear that the budget is behind the previous refusals “I’ve been struggling with this for awhile and trying to accommodate your requests, but it hasn’t been working very well so I just need to stop. I hope you understand.”

    However, I would not give a lot of hope for actual understanding. I would expect snide comments about anything else you spend your money on as being unnecessary… be prepared. Figure out how you’re going to counter that. “Yes, being able to do X is very important to me so I budget carefully to be able to do it.” “Oh, more important than being able to share food with your co-workers?” IT’S A TRAP! “At this point, yes, but it’s okay – I also don’t expect anyone else to share their food with me, so I don’t feel it’s unfair.” Or “I have very few things which make me feel as good as this does, so yes it’s very important to me.”

    Seriously – plan for every “guilt trip” “taken the wrong way” comment you can, and figure out how you want to counter it. It might just be one statement “This is what works best for me, it’s not personal.” repeatedly, or it might be switching up a few times to toss a few of the other counters in there now and then. It’s going to be a mix of what you feel comfortable with and how your boss reacts to all of this.

    1. animaniactoo*

      On the one statement path btw – when nothing is going to work, it is far better to stop trying. There’s just no point in continuing to try because nothing is going to work. So it’s a fruitless endeavor. Instead, save yourself the headache and frustration of not being able to get through, and you’ll also stop giving them ammunition to counter you with.

      1. the_scientist*

        I’m a big fan of the shrug and the dismissive “yup” “sure” “mhmmm” response or similar. For example:

        Wow, that looks really fattening: sure
        You know, you’re going to get fat if you keep eating like that: shrug + yup
        That’s not enough lunch, you’re too skinny: shrug + mhmm
        You’re so greedy for not sharing your food: yup, I’m basically the worst.

        etc. etc. etc.

        Given the power dynamics at play here, I don’t know that this is the best option for the OP, but it’s one that I have used with great success.

    2. KellyK*

      I like the idea of a single statement that’s repeated rather than an explanation for every possible argument. Your budget is *yours* and your food is *yours*, and it doesn’t matter if you’re going to Tahiti twice a year or buying gold-plated toilet paper—your boss has no right to expect you to share. (There are situations, like a blood sugar emergency, where it’d be the decent thing to do, but this is not any of those situations.) “It’s not in my budget,” and “I prefer not to discuss the details of my budget.” are totally reasonable things to say regardless.

  27. Combinatorialist*

    If you are bringing in stuff you cooked and she tries something like “oh that looks really good” you can respond wtih “oh it is, would you like me to send you the recipe?” then you are being “sharing” without feeding her and still getting to enjoy your food

  28. AMT*

    I wanted to make a suggestion like eating lunch outside the office, going to HR…but this is just too nuts. OP needs to start job searching, like, yesterday.

  29. Allison*

    At first I presumed that the manager would make more than the employees, and if they can afford food surely she can as well. But maybe she’s dealing with money troubles? Not necessarily debt or overspending, but maybe there’s an ongoing medical expense or messy legal proceeding that’s leeching her paycheck and she really is struggling to afford food. Or maybe her life is messy in some other way and she doesn’t have time to shop or cook? Or can’t do either efficiently for some reason.

    A part of me believes we should all be compassionate to people enduring hardships, but realistically, people shouldn’t be expected to feed their superiors at work. Occasional sharing is one thing, but on an ongoing basis? No. OP, your not your manager’s mommy, she’s not your BFF at the lunch table in middle school who lost her lunch money this morning, she’s an adult who needs to figure out how to take care of herself, utilize employee assistance if it’s available, or find a reliable source of help outside of the office.

    1. Karanda Baywood*

      It doesn’t even matter if the manager is having money problems. It’s still completely inappropriate for any reason.

      1. Allison*

        I did cover that in my second paragraph. But first I wanted to acknowledge that fact that she may be actually struggling because some commenters seem unconvinced she could be having actual problems. I wasn’t trying to make excuses for her or convince the OP they need to keep giving the boss food.

        But again, to clarify, it’s not appropriate to expect people to “take care” of their bosses by feeding them during the workday.

        1. Observer*

          Nope. The money she spends to shame the OP could go to feeding herself, if that were the issue.

    2. neverjaunty*

      We should be compassionate to people enduring hardships. That doesn’t mean we need to tolerate abuse from them.

    3. TG*

      Many people have money troubles in their lifetimes, but few of them demand that their subordinates hand over their lunches. Whatever the manager’s issue is, this is the wrong way to handle it.

      1. Kristin D*

        Also, the manager calling OP “greedy” and buying lunch for everyone but her are also problematic behaviors. A person who was really just struggling would likely not do that.

  30. Bexx*

    So, is your boss like 9 years old? This sounds like what my classmates in elementary school did to kids who wouldn’t willingly give up their candy or whatever. I called those kids bullies. Feeling a “right” to others food is such a base show of dominance. Yuck!
    I think Alison gave great advice. I’m sorry you’re working in this kind of strange environment!

    1. Allison*

      It sounds like a child telling another child “my mommy said it’s important to SHARE! you have to SHARE with me! YOU HAVE TO SHARE! SHAAAAARE!”

      Some parents forget to tell their kids that other kids don’t always have to share with them.

      1. BPT*

        Exactly, this is why parenting advice has started trending away from telling kids “you have to share,” and rather, “it’s nice to share when you can, but if that’s Timmy’s car, then you can find something else to play with.”

        1. Allison*

          Thank goodness! This is a much better message.

          When I was growing up my dad would tell me that if I was a good little girl, I would want to share everything. Now at 27 I have a ton of guilt and anxiety over setting boundaries with people . . .

          1. Madageddon*

            +1. I had this on top of managing an alcoholic parent, and it’s caused paranoia and anxiety around other people, and made me a doormat for a really long time: do they need anything? Am I in the way? Am I breathing too loudly? It’s exhausting.

      2. Bexx*

        I hated those kids! But yes, it’s definitely the parents causing that. I never had a problem sharing my toys, even though I’m an only child. But I still despise the pleading of certain people to share my food. It’s just a flat “no,” with a long, uncomfortable stare. We were poor and I didn’t get extra lunch.

      3. Mockingjay*

        Sharing is really confusing for little kids. When you share Legos with Suzy, you get them back. When you share cookies with Timmy, you don’t get them back.

        1. Filmgal*

          Not to mention what happens if you do share and the other kid breaks your toy, but you get in trouble with Mom and Dad for having broken a toy. Never mind that the other kid broke it, you should’ve stopped them from doing it. And then the next time the kid comes over and you refuse to share, you get in trouble again with Mom and Dad for not sharing because you don’t want to get in trouble for your toys getting broken.

          Really, really confusing stuff.

          1. Purest Green*

            Ugh, yes! When I was seven or maybe even younger, I just got a toy troll that talked when you pushed a button on it. I realized the toy would eventually wear out if I made it talk too much. So when I showed up at my friend’s house with my new toy and he and his sister immediately took it from me and started pushing the button repeatedly, I asked for it back and explained how they were wearing it out. Their mother called me selfish. Like, OK, I guess I should allow people take my stuff and ruin it.

  31. Venus Supreme*

    My mom once had a supervisor who would always eat the candy out of the bowl on her desk. He was otherwise a terrible manager and the best way she was able to get him off her desk was to replace the candy with nuts.

    Although this would take way too much time, planning, and energy, I’d like to see OP figure out what the supervisor dislikes and eat that for about a week, paired with a firm “No, don’t eat my food.”

    I’d really, really like an update on this one! I want to see how this story plays out.

    1. DaBlonde*

      This advice made me laugh.
      As a middle child I made it my life’s goal to find foods that my siblings didn’t like so I could have it all to myself.

      1. AMG*

        As a mom and wife I do that currently. Lavender hot chocolate with almond milk? Yes please! I’ll eat it with my dried veggie chips and red pepper tzatziki.

        1. VintageLydia*

          You just reminded me that I have freeze dried snap peas in the pantry (that my 4 year old would eat, but he’s at school. It’s completely safe from my husband!)

      2. KitCroupier*

        This is how I got my favorite pizza : pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers and olives.

        My younger relatives never touched it so I’d get a pizza all to myself and for breakfast and lunch the next day.

      3. Isabel C.*

        I spat in the ice cream so my sister wouldn’t eat it. She ate it anyhow. This exchange says a lot about both of us.

  32. Moonsaults*

    Even growing up with an older brother and a dad who would pull the “you weren’t gonna finish that were you? *snatches it*” game, this hurting my head wrapping my mind around.

    I had a former friend who had a complex eating disorder, she was obsessed with food to the point it gave me a huge complex. She’d like to play the game where she was “helping me” because I didn’t “need” all the food on my plate, etc. It also helped with her control issues because she could “test” things and not feel like she was eating too much and then going into a spiral over that. The fact that she’s into all the fad diets and so fixated makes me think it’s very much something that’s ingrained inside her and nothing you say will ever fix it or make her see she’s being wildly inappropriate.

  33. Flexible Dieter*

    I guess a “get on her level” strategy option that may work (just in case reason and logic don’t work… because [see the original post]) is for the OP to indicate that she is now counting her macros and literally weighing and measuring all of her food. Therefore, her lunch, breakfast, and snacks are all pre-measured (to the gram!), so she can’t share without wrecking her diet. Manager should comprehend this and back off… but the downsides are: you are bringing no logic into the equation, which this manager really needs; you are opening up the floodgates for her to do the same and be way too into your “diet” (tell her you don’t have time to explain and to google IIFYM or flexible dieting); you are probably lying, which some people don’t like to do.

    1. BadPlanning*

      I was thinking something similar — both the “this is my carefully measured portion and cannot shared” and the risk of providing a “reason” that gives the boss more ammunition (debating the amount, harassing the OP for not making an additional “sample” portion).

  34. Jersey's Mom*

    Next time she stops at your desk while you’re eating, sneeze (or cough) directly onto your food. Bonus points if you can fake a really juicy sneeze/cough.

      1. Fafaflunkie*

        And watch this boss feign a cough on OP’s food as well, with the mindset being “if they’re going to keep me from having that by grossing me out, I may as return the favor.” If boss is so obsessed with OP’so food, I wouldn’t put this past boss.

        1. Fafaflunkie*

          This phone does not like this text box. I knowI left out the word “well” in the sentence containing “favour” (which this phone also spelt American for me. No offense of course.)

  35. PK*

    Wow…this is just odd. I wouldn’t react very well to it. Besides the fact that it reminds me of bullies taking your lunch (although less confrontational), my friends joke that I’m ‘food aggressive’. I’ve been known to smack a hand for getting too close to my plate and scowling at the idea of sharing food that I specifically ordered/brought for myself. Good luck!

    1. Aunt Vixen*

      Sounds more like “food defensive” to me. It is not aggression to react against an attack. (To be clear: I mean this to be a defense of you, PK, not a mere semantic correction.)

    2. Adlib*

      Haha! I actually do this to my husband sometimes only because there’s usually somewhere he can get the same thing I’m eating his own self. Still, I totally understand the feeling!

    3. Sparkly Librarian*

      My family has a patented anti-food-snagging move called the double snakebite. *brandishes fork*

      1. Golden Lioness*

        I thought my family had the patent on that. I actually used the fork on my brother after he would not back off (lightly, no one got really hurt)

        1. nonegiven*

          My husband left a fork sticking out of the back of his brother’s hand once. His brother is 6 years older. It only took the once to break his habit of stealing food from DH’s plate.

  36. Tex*

    I wouldn’t bring it up as a monetary expense issue, instead I would focus on saying something like: I brought enough for one portion only and I need it to get through the day without being hungry/faint/light headed. (Optional add on: I am counting calories, I can’t go under, etc.)
    Since you can’t gauge if the real problem is her lack of money or her inability to regulate her food intake, I think a firmer boundary is needed. After all, if she offers you an extra 10-20$ per week in lieu of mooching off you, it would still be weird and annoying.

    1. Shazbot*

      This is tempting to do, but really it means you’re justifying to your boss why you should be able to keep and eat your own food. It’s a bad idea to do this because someone like this boss will just keep asking and dismissing whatever you say. (“Oh, you’ll be fine, you don’t need that much—I just want a taste? What, you think you’re going to faint if you don’t eat that ONE BITE?!”) You can’t be reasonable or logical with someone who isn’t reasonable or logical.

      It has to come down to NO, boss may not have food, full stop. No excuses, no reasons, no justification…just NO.

      1. not really a lurker anymore*

        And no apologies. I feel that in this case, the boss will hear “I’m sorry but” and not stop asking.

  37. LCL*

    Don’t discount eating in your car. I eat lunch in my car several days a week, because it is the only way I can be sure that I won’t be interrupted and asked to work. I bring my phone so I can be reached. Now that I think about it, most of the jobs I had, I would take lunch break in my car sometimes so I could listen to the radio and read the paper without interruption.
    You shouldn’t have to do this, but if your boss is too intimidating or will respond irrationally, its a workable solution and you may relish the peace and quiet.

    1. Adlib*

      I used to do this a lot too in an open floor plan I used to work in. It’s actually a nice getaway.

  38. Tiny_Tiger*

    Your manager sounds like a girl who used to cling to me in junior high and would constantly ask to borrow my makeup. I lent her my powder foundation once and that was all it took. It took me weeks to finally get her to stop asking, after telling multiple lies about having left it at home.
    This is just insanity though. She “punishes” you for not sharing YOUR food with her? Go above her or tell HR what’s going on. If you’re a manager, you don’t get to be petty and deny 1 person out of the entire office of a benefit the rest are receiving no matter how irritated you are with them. Granted if it was me, I would’ve been telling her no from the first because I love food and I have to really like you or have leftovers I can’t eat to even consider letting you have some.

  39. Blue Sticky Note*

    I can see the appeal of using “I’m on a tight food budget” as a reason for saying no to crazy boss, but it might have an undesired effect. I wouldn’t want my budget to become another issue for boss to sink her teeth into. A polite, but flat, “Sorry, I’d rather not share food,” or, “I only brought a single serving,” might be more effective in the long run.

    Also, the retaliation angle definitely seems worth bringing up to crazy boss’s supervisor or HR.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I like “I only bought a single serving.” I agree that you don’t need to tell her you can’t feed her because of your budget. You can’t feed her because it’s not your responsibility to feed her, no matter how much money you have available. It’s not like you’re going to be able to logic away her crazy.

    1. Manders*

      I’ll never get tired of herring stories about strange lunchroom antics, but I cod never do anything like this myself.

    2. Marisol*

      If she’s delusional enough to think she’s entitled to your food, you need to snapper out of it!

  40. Karyn*

    Wow. This is straight up awful.

    I’m on the Beachbody diet and every weekend, I go shopping for food to make meals for the week. That’s my food budget. I plan enough to feed myself, and that’s it. I would be super pissed if someone else demanded to share the food I made, because this diet isn’t exactly inexpensive since it’s all healthy, fresh food. I also buy protein shakes from them, which I assume your manager would want samples of as well if you were doing that.

    I suggest what Alison did. A firm “no,” and if it continues, seeking a new job. That is just ridiculous.

  41. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Start eating Durian fruit if you can get it! It is not spicy or poisonous but is so incredibly stinky that even the Bizarre Foods guy won’t eat it.

    Also, I would flip out if someone took food from me while I was eating, or anything I had designated as mine to eat. My mom was and is a control freak and athlete, but I became chubby at puberty. She would serve me small portions, glare at me for taking seconds, and restrict my lunch money to the cent, so I could never buy any snacks at school (it wasn’t an issue of affording lunch money either). And if I ran out before month’s end, she would snap, “well, you can stand to miss a few meals!” Plus, my brother was a major athlete, too, so he would grab at the food and take any scraps/etc. from my plate, even if I still wanted them for later (e.g. I would eat most of the chicken off the bone, then put the scraps down, eat some sides, then later eat the last bits of meat and cartilage off, if I could not get enough other food), while I was eating!

    As a result, I have eaten any and all treats for me IMMEDIATELY until recently, because “someone will take them later if I leave them.” Only lately, at 26, am I now able to realize “it is ok, no one will now take it, the snacks will still be there.” I would freak out if someone then took from that.

    And I can really only share SOME food, occasionally, with my wife. And even then, I get angry if she takes without asking. I will literally growl if anyone reaches over!

    Sorry for the rant. Your boss sucks, OP.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        I think her idea was, it wasn’t, because I could still eat the usual lunch? But often, I didn’t like what was served, and I didn’t get much chance to snack, and so I would buy other things. And sometimes, my sixth-eighth grade would randomly have “ice cream days” for .75-$1. I had to either sit it out while everyone else had ice cream, or have it and then miss my lunch on the 31st. I wasn’t allowed to brown-bag it either, unless it was literally my least favorite food and I asked at least a week in advance (hard, as menus were usually weekly).

        Things got better when I started babysitting, and then working at 15, and made a friend. I had to give over half my paycheck from formal work, but would spend the rest on food/coffee. According to my mom, I spent it on coffee and going out with my friend; but actually, I told my friend some of what was going on. She agreed to pay for most of our outings and not tell my parents, let me keep food in her locker/on her lunch tray (my mom also taught at my high school and would be able to make me open my locker, or randomly come to “talk” to me during lunch when she had time and her prep period was during lunch), and would just straight-up give me food.

        My friend came from an immigrant family and a culture of strong hospitality, so she knew how to cook early on and would get my favorites and make me anything reasonable I liked, when I would go to her house after school. And even order food for me at her place in exchange for homework help! (as she struggled with nuances of writing work in English, I proofed all her essays).

        I thus have much more adventurous tastes than my family does. My friend couldn’t fix my family, but she could fix me a great lamb biryani.

        1. Golden Lioness*

          That’s a great friend! and your mom was so wrong! Glad you’re over that, even if it took a long time!

  42. Lora*

    I just…have no idea what to say. Was this person raised by wolves? What a horribly rude boorish a-hole.

    The closest I have ever seen to such a thing is when I was ordering lunch in for a client and my grandboss asked if I could order one extra for him. Which, fine, it was going on the company card and it’s not a hardship to order an extra turkey club sandwich.

    I imagine this person gobbling OP’s food with her hands, chewing with her mouth open and smearing her dirty fingers on her blouse, belching loudly, then leaving a trail of crumbs back to her office.

    Huh. Googled and it turns out there are a great many classes offered for teaching adults etiquette for business meals. Apparently it is a common issue. Public Service Announcement: please, for the love of heaven, learn meal etiquette and tipping customs in various countries.

    1. Marisol*

      that’s funny because grandboss asking for a sandwich on the company dime is not even remotely close to the OP’s boss’ behavior. just shows how out of whack the situation is.

  43. Shazbot*

    Stop allowing this nutbag to eat your food, immediately. It’s only a matter of time before she gets sick for some reason and blames you and the food of yours that she ate.

  44. FroggyHR*

    Your manager has an eating disorder. Μy sister had anorexia, then EDNOS for about 10 years, and this kind of food obsession is typical. People with eating disorders often track their intake every day, planning meals to the calorie. But!…. Trying someone else’s food may not “count” for them. Bring a big lunch for herself would probably terrify her, but grabbing a bit here and there from you doesn’t count in her mind.

    Alternate theory- she’s got financial issues and truly is food-insecure.

    Either way, it’s not cool or appropriate. Stop giving her food and tell HR.

    1. Recent College Grad*

      I agree. As someone who recovered from an eating disorder I immediately thought of that when I read this letter, but I hesitate to be an armchair psychologist. OP, if you do think this is the case, be firm, but try to approach the issue from a place of compassion.

    2. Student*

      Food insecurity is real, serious, and not what is happening here. I wish commenters would stop giving this theory so much credence with the substantial evidence against it; I assume it’s just ignorance, but as someone who’s actually been through food insecurity, it’s astonishing to see this level of disinformation is out there.

      When you are actually food insecure, you are living with a gnawing hunger in your stomach almost 24/7. Your body is slowly consuming itself. You think constantly about food, yes, and you sometimes do outrageous or socially undesirable things to get food, yes, but not like this. If you are food insecure, you’re more likely to horde or steal food, not to go on the latest fad diet. It’s incredibly unlikely that a white-collar manager-level employee is food-insecure. She may make occasional poor choices with her money, resulting in her not eating as much or as well occasionally, but that is not food insecurity. Food insecurity is when you regularly cannot adequately feed yourself. It is not a weekend of minor deprivation where one can’t afford a salmon lunch and has to settle for grilled cheese. It’s a life where you’re buying the cheapest, high-calorie food you can get in order to not feel like your stomach might rip itself out of your middle all the time, where you wish you had money for a fresh grilled cheese but might need to settle for moldy bread.

    3. Observer*

      Alternate theory- she’s got financial issues and truly is food-insecure.

      Sorry, that’s nonsense. People who are genuinely food insecure do NOT spend money on buying food for others! Not even to shame the person who won’t “share” their food.

    4. Anon for this*

      As a recovered anorexic, I have never done this, and reading about people with eating disorders taking food in this post has been surprising.

      I think we can all agree, though, that it’s super weird and inappropriate! And none of the possible reasons for it are any of OP’s responsibility.

    5. Emma*

      Neither my brother nor my father have eating disorders, and they do this kind of shit to all their female relatives (and in my brother’s case, all of his friends). Why? Because, from what they’ve said, they consider it being smart, and they consider it their due.

      OP’s boss may have an eating disorder, but there are other possibilities as well.

  45. LNZ*

    I’d honestly probably furrow my brow as if to indicate just how strange this request is followed by, “No, Judy, you may not have any of my lunch” while maintaining furrowed brow. I’m not sure how much grace needs to be shown here. It’s tacky and rude of the boss.

  46. Mabel*

    When I focus on eating better so I can lose weight, I measure and account for every bit of food I prepare or buy, and there’s no way I am going to share it. That would mean that I wouldn’t get to eat everything I had brought, and that’s rough emotionally because I’m prone to feeling deprived when I’m eating less (or less of the foods I really like).

  47. Bertha*

    I’m so sorry you are dealing with this, OP!

    I have some theories here, based on my obsession with diet/weight culture (not with dieting, but the culture surrounding it.. I love reading books on this stuff) and past experience with losing weight and eating healthfully in public (aka at lunch, even though I just drag it back to my desk).

    First of all, the OP didn’t mention if this diet resulted in weight loss, or if OP started losing weight before the official diet, but if the OP did lose weight.. I suspect there is at least a little jealousy from the supervisor. If you are able to easily stick to this diet, there may be jealousy that you don’t have issues with food as well, and the fact that it’s so “easy” for you to eat healthfully. I base this on the fact that she’d be willing to try any diet ever.. people who will do anything from vegan to paleo to cabbage soup have some disordered ideas about eating, because they don’t stop to consider how congruent the diet is to their lifestyle. A commenter above mentioned “control” and I think that’s part of it, but I think the reason for the need for control is jealousy. Has she ever commented on your appearance or weight? Even if she isn’t, I still think this could be the case. She could be demanding food from you because a) she’s jealous and wants to eat what you are eating to experience this success or b) maybe she wants to sabotage your efforts, because she is jealous. While I think the other suggested ideas that she’s doing this so it doesn’t “count” are potentially involved, I think the fact that it relates to you, specifically, has something to do with jealousy. When you say she’s offering everyone “food,” is it junky food? I bet it’s because she knows you are on a diet, and this might be her subliminal way of implying you are better than everyone else, and that’s why she’s not even offering you the food? I dunno..

    It does take some money to healthfully, but more importantly, it takes planning. Salmon is delicious and healthy but also kind of expensive. I mean, preparing it at home and bringing it to lunch is still much cheaper than eating out at 90% of places, but still, maybe that’s why she thinks that you have “money” or even time or that you should share your food. Still, this lends to a jealousy issue.

    Maybe these things don’t apply at all, and admittedly, even if they DO, that won’t solve your problem. But sometimes getting inside someone’s head is helpful to finding a solution (even if the solution is LEAVE).

    Flexible Dieter made an interesting comment above suggesting that the OP start saying that she can’t sure because she is accurately weighing everything, etc. If my theories are correct, I wouldn’t be surprised if this specific tactic resulted in her actually being even worse than you.. because then she perceives you as have EVEN MORE control and success when it comes to eating and your weight.

    1. O.P. Here*

      Thank you for your suggestions! This along with Allison’s comments are definitely striking a cord with me. About 95% or more of what you described is DEAD ON…. and I never thought of it in that way. All I can think of is, “Who does this?! WHO DOES THIS?!”… Sadly, it tends to be the only thing I can think of as a response. I appreciate your reply

      1. Bertha*

        I feel like her general attitude and behavior reminds me of some of the nutty things people have said to me over the years, especially after periods when I’ve lost weight. I see above that she will “almost ‘zero in’ on your dark chocolate macadamia nuts.” Okay, call me the “crazy-food-obsessed-person-whisperer” but this actually further cements my theories. This is another relatively expensive food (and btw there’s no judgment here, I’ve clearly bought it if I know the price!!) and it wouldn’t surprise me if she’s wasted money on pyramid scheme diets (Shakeology, Advocare, whatever) with no money left for “real” food. I feel like macadamia nuts are in the category of salmon (kind of expensive, very healthy, etc. etc.) .. they are also just fatty and high calorie enough that people who are on some insane diet can’t eat them. The result is that you are torturing here by not just losing weight, but also eating edible food and not suffering throughout the process.

        I wish I could tell you how to deal with people like this, but to an extent, it’s an issue that she’s only going to solve with a therapist. But I feel like at the very least once I started seeing patterns’ in people’s reactions and, it helped me to take it less personally or be less frustrated by it. A little bit.

        Ugh! Good luck!

    2. Interviewer*

      Whenever she asks for your food, I would not bring up a reason or a possible argument for her to refute. I’d just say, “No, that’s not possible.” End of sentence.

      And I’d go above her for help. Likely everyone else is noticing her behavior, but rather than speculating on the causes or reasons for it, you need to focus your meeting specifically on how her behavior impacts you in the workplace. The exclusionary and retaliatory behavior is where you keep your discussion centered, hopefully with someone who has the skill to address it and manage it with her.

      I’m so sorry this is happening to you. Hopefully all of our comments here have proved to you that This. Is. Not. Normal.

  48. ArtK*

    OP, I see a couple of things that you can change in yourself, beyond what’s been recommended here. First, and foremost, try to put the guilt out of your head. Just because she calls you “greedy,” it doesn’t mean that you are. Wanting to eat the food that you paid for with your own money isn’t being greedy. Greedy isn’t the complete opposite of generous; you can be just fine without being either greedy or generous. She’s trying to coerce you into being generous. Her sob-story about not being able to afford food is part of that coercion, as is the overt exclusion when *she* is generous.

    The second is to work on “no” and “I’m afraid that won’t be possible.” Simply because she’s a supervisor, it doesn’t mean that you have to accede to everything that she asks. Don’t engage in explaining why you will no longer share, simply “I’m afraid that I can no longer share my food” When she asks why, respond “It isn’t possible” and stick with that response. Anything else is an opportunity for negotiation and more guilt.

    1. CanadianKat*

      Also, calling somebody “greedy” is really childish. I can’t remember anybody using that word after kindergarten, at least not to anyone’s face. If a coworker was conspicuously eating from a large box of chocolates on their desk when I came to their office and didn’t offer me one (or said no when I asked if I could try them), yes, I might think them greedy. (Unless they offered a plausible excuse, eg. they have low blood sugar and will pass out if they don’t eat these now.) But even then, I would never, ever say to them that they’re greedy.

      1. Emma*

        The only people I’ve ever heard use the word “greedy” seriously are people who are way overstepping normal boundaries in what they request and are tossing the word out to try and get you to cave.

  49. Canadian J*

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this, OP.

    When I was on a diet, I was warned that some people may try to sabotage my progress, and I wonder if a version of that is happening with your situation. I was told that other people in my social or weight group may try to derail my regimen for their own personal reasons. Maybe they’ve tried diets before, and not made any progress, and in their frustration are taking it out on you? Maybe they see you succeeding, and want to slow you down? Maybe they’ll bring in unhealthy foods to celebrate your weight loss, and insist you eat some? Or, bring in treats and make a show of not sharing with you (“well, you’re on a diet, so I guess you can’t have any of this”)? Maybe they insist on taking you out for lunch, but only to fast-food places? Maybe they make comments or smirks about the salad you ordered, while they order an extra-large fries – and then make a point of showing how much they are enjoying them? Some of these are examples of things I experienced first-hand (but, honestly, I laugh about it now!).

    I agree with other posters that your boss is exhibiting signs of power/control issues, and I wonder if she may also have some food issues that are combining into the weird show you’re seeing and experiencing.

    I also agree with Alison’s advice, 100%. Be calm, clear, and reasonable – and repeat her word suggestions as necessary. Keep in mind that you’re dealing with an unreasonable person, and realize that you might never see a complete turn-around – but that’s a reflection on her, not you. Keeping my fingers crossed for you!

    1. Ellen N.*

      I believe your analysis may be correct, because it happened to me. I was on a medication that raised my blood sugar to dangerous levels, so I had to be careful about eating carbohydrates. I was repeatedly asked to participate in group dessert events by coworkers. When I explained my situation instead of the coworkers understanding they would tell me that a little bit wouldn’t hurt, calling me antisocial, a party pooper, etc.

  50. Rebecca*

    This is why we don’t feed the bears in my rural area. Bears can get really aggressive if you feed them, they start to expect to be fed, and then the food sources stop. Angry, hungry bears are no fun to deal with.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      This had me saying in my head:

      This is why we don’t feed the bosses in my industry. Bosses can get really aggressive if you feed them, they start to expect to be fed, and then the food sources stop. Angry, hungry bosses are no fun to deal with.


  51. Central Perk Regular*

    I would never do this, but in a situation like this, it’s tempting to bring in laxative-laced brownies or something similar.

  52. One Handed Typist*

    I have major concerns about this situation. OP has stated that there has already been retaliation from the manager when OP chooses to not share and manager is making negative personal remarks about OP for not complying. That is easily within the boundaries of “creating a hostile environment”. I’d definitely make notes (with dates and times if possible) on when manager has retaliated and follow Allison’s advice. Keep your documentation to yourself for now to give your boss a chance to reel it in, but if there’s no improvement or ANY further retaliation, HR needs to get involved.

    1. Adam V*

      Note that the EEOC’s guidelines on harassment says this:

      “Harassment is unwelcome conduct *that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.*”

      Similarly, Wikipedia agrees:

      “In many United States jurisdictions, a hostile work environment is not an independent legal claim. That is, an employee can not file a lawsuit on the basis of a hostile work environment alone. Instead, an employee will have to prove that she or he has been treated in a hostile manner *because of her or his protected class*, such as gender, age, race, national origin, disability status, and similar protected traits.”

      This is one manager being mean to one of their subordinates – it’s definitely bad management, but I don’t think it reaches the bar of “hostile workplace environment”.

      (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, I just play one on the internet.)

      1. Greg M.*

        they should check their own company’s guidelines too though. I looked up our definition of harassment and bullying in the workplace when the general manager of my store refused to stop calling me a nickname I hate. it was a generalised definition referring to vexing behaviour so while not legally actionable it certainly would be reportable.

        before anyone asks I threatened to call hr about harassment and it was finally dropped.

        1. Adam V*

          That’s true, the company can create any rules it wants, and you’d be within your rights to complain to the appropriate authority to try to enforce them.

          But in that vein, you don’t even need there to be a rule – you should be able to tell HR “my manager is freezing me out because I said ‘no’ when she asked to share my food, here are some examples of her behavior since then” and a competent HR department* will get your boss to knock it off.

  53. Chickaletta*

    The fact that she says she’s “broke” and then buys the rest of the office food doesn’t mean anything. I have a friend who claims to be broke to the point that she cannot pay her rent on occasion, yet she owns several designer handbags, designer jeans, goes to the salon for color and highlights on a regular basis, owns an iPhone… you get the picture. Some people’s ideas of necessity vs. luxury is screwed up these days.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      I had friend like this. She would borrow money from me for gas and then I’d find her at the corner bar a few nights later. I finally had to put my foot down and stop being her piggy bank. This was about 15 years ago and she slowly faded me out once I did stop paying. I hear through mutual friends she is still the same way. “Broke” but never without booze, cigarettes and a new car.

  54. CanadianKat*

    She may truly be broke and not have enough money for food. But begging from your subordinates and insulting them when they’d rather keep their lunch for themselves is not the way to deal with it. There are social services for that, and financial counselling. Reduce non-essential expenses. Convert high-interest debt to lower-interest debt. Find resources that help with food specifically. Shop on sale. Etc.

    She may be hungry – whether it’s because she can’t afford food or because she’s dieting and thinks she can/should do with less. Again, constantly begging from coworkers is not the answer. Stick to your diet, go buy a snack, or bring more from home.

    She is ridiculous. Tell her you are bringing to work exactly as much food as you need. If you give her your food, you’ll end up going hungry and your productivity will suffer. Suggest to her a few options where she can go buy food. Offer to give her the recipe if she is curious about how your food tastes on a particular day. She is nuts!

  55. Erin*


    Next time she asks I’d say, “I can’t share anymore, it’s starting to break my budget.” Then next time, I like Alison’s, “I’m planning on eating this all myself.” Firm, short sentences. Don’t go into an explanation.

    But, yeah. This will only take you so far, because, to steal an expression I saw on this blog once, she is cuckoo crazy pants.

  56. Cheesehead*

    I wanted to make a small but important change to Alison’s script: call it what it is, and be forceful about it. The boss is not asking her to *share*….the boss has been expecting the OP to *provide her lunches and snacks*. The boss wants the OP to give away her own food. Sharing implies a small taste once in a while, or if the OP has some extra that she doesn’t want. Sharing in a good way is generally initiated by the giver, not demanded/solicited on a regular basis by the taker/receiver. So I think that all notions and verbiage of this being ‘polite sharing’ should be removed.

    I want to change Alison’s script/wording to make one important clarification: “I want to give you a heads-up that I need to stop **providing your meals and snacks for you**. It’s simply not in my budget to buy and cook your food for you, and it’s not my responsibility to feed you. If I give you the food that I bring for my own meals, then I don’t have enough for myself, and that’s not right. If you think that my meal looks good, I’ll be happy to share the recipe with you and you can try it at home. But the food that I bring for my meals and snacks is for me, and me alone. In the past, you’ve said that I’m greedy for not giving you food. This is not about me being greedy; if you were my child or my dependent, that would be different. But that’s not the case. And it’s very uncomfortable when you make disparaging remarks like that about me, and not warranted at all. Can we agree that you’ll stop asking me to provide your food, and that the unflattering comments will stop too?”

    And OP, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of getting someone higher up involved in this, even on the periphery, like, “I have this situation. This is what’s happening and this is what I’m going to do about it. Do you have any other advice for me?” Because really, this petty power play by your BOSS is wildly inappropriate. It would be inappropriate if she wasn’t your boss, but because she is, there’s a bad power dynamic here. And I don’t think it would hurt if you start documenting the incidents so there’s some sort of a trail if you’d ever need it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I love this. Especially the phrase “providing meals and snacks for you”, I think that calls this what it is really is. Drag this out into the light of day, OP, she is not bumming a taste here and there. You are actually paying for her meals. I would never pick up another adult’s food bill for them neither would most people.

      I have been thinking about what you could say when she argues, OP. I think you could say something like, “Annnd I have provided $356.69 worth of food for you over the last X weeks (months). My suggestion to you is that you forget about asking me for food and I will forget about the $356.69 worth of MY food that you have eaten and have not reimbursed me for.” Try to work up an reasonable number, you could probably comfortably figure $20 per week over however many weeks this has been going on.

    2. Brisvegan*

      Could you even ask a grandboss or HR if it is a requirement of your work to provide and pay for your bosses meals, as you have been penalised for not doing so?

  57. A*


    Sorry, that’s all I’ve got. Your boss’ behavior is bizarre and you have every right to nip it in the bud.

  58. Christine*

    Dear OP,
    You can always have a coworker inform her that she shouldn’t eat your food, you never wash your hands when you go to the bathroom. The coworker, can go “pss, I wouldn’t eat anything she prepares. She doesn’t, well you know wash her hands after going to the bathroom. I’ve also seen her sneeze on her food and continue eating it. Isn’t that gross.”

    I do not like people that mooch, it’s a hot topic with me because I’ve had coworkers in the past steal my lunch. I would be blunt, and tell her that I’m on a budget and cannot continue feeding her. I would also mention this to HR.

  59. Christine*

    …. hit the enter button too soon. Tell HR, because if she’s having such serious financial issues, etc., and has access to money it could be a concern.

  60. Anon4Now*

    I have a couple of food allergies, so I always take my lunch to work with me. My boss at former company loved to stop by my desk and comment about my lunch. It was usually a positive comment like: ” your lunch smells good”. I never offered him a taste since he had diabetes and I had heard from other co-workers that he was unhealthy and very sick! He never brought his lunch and was seen eating lots of candy and sweet stuff (kept at the desk of an admin. on our floor that loved to share candy with everyone). My boss was very unpredictable (he would often forget about important meetings/conversations, appointments with vendors and loved to share personal info. about his life during product meeting, etc.)
    I used to think that I could help him and offered nutritional info. to him. This was information I was finding on the web and I was sharing it with my parents too (since my dad was dealing with a health issue also). I hoped that this would him (my boss) help get his diet and (maybe) his diabetes under control. He was a good person, but an awful boss! I hope he is doing well.

  61. Jill*

    I’m reading this and conjuring up memories of a colleague that came bursting into my supervisors’ office. We’ll call her Ginny. Colleague was literally yelling at Ginny because she goes by “Ginny” instead of Genevieve. It came out of nowhere, had nothing to do with the nature of our work , and was so over the top. Turns out she ended up having to go on an FMLA leave for some kind of extended treatment for a mental illness.

    So, I would agree with everyone to stop giving her food. But stay sharp because it seems like she’s off-balance somehow. If her behavior continues to stay this weird or escalates, go over her head. Your supervisor’s behavior is over the top.

  62. Serin*

    Between this kind of thing (and I think we’ve seen a less extreme version of this kind of thing before) and the thing where a boss or a co-worker blatantly steals someone’s lunch out of the work fridge, I really am starting to wonder whether there’s some other work playbook that a small percentage of the population is working from.

    “When I was a little girl, my daddy would come home and take off his tie and say, ‘You want to know whose lunch I ate today?’ and I used to say, ‘I can’t wait till I’m big like you and everybody knows that it’s OK for me to eat anything I see!'”

  63. Andy and the Big Gal*

    I wonder if anyone will get the alias I used.

    This reminds me of a coworker/acquaintance of my family. He worked with my mom and I helped him get a job at my company. We were trying to be nice. Shouldve known once we had to do his resume he was used to everyone doing for him in life.

    He would comment on lunches brought in. They were leftovers from the previous meals of the week. We tried to tell him how simple a roast can be. Its the easiest thing ever. Cooking is easy. Its all about wanting to learn. He didn’t. He’d frequently bring up us making him a meal (like a roast) and bringing it in to him. Around the holidays, at fridge lean out, someone had bought a ham (whole ham) and left it in the fridge. It was given away (imagine this) to Jerry. A co-worker even took it home to cook and slice up and brought it back to him. He was promoted up thru the ranks and people just kept taking care of him. It got to be ridiculous. Im not doing for a capable grown man.

  64. DrAtos*

    It sounds like her boss has an eating disorder and possibly associated mental/psychological problems that come with that. She really needs to seek professional help to design her own healthy diet menu. Her diet is all over the place and she probably doesn’t have the knowledge and control to maintain a healthy diet. So she is sometimes starving herself on extreme diets and at other times eating unhealthy food with her coworkers? She probably thinks it’s a good idea for her weight loss to take a small portion (which is obviously not right) from OP’s lunchbox each day as a substitute for breakfast and lunch since OP is good at packing healthy meals. Also, salmon can be expensive. Maybe on top of having an eating disorder and not having any self control, she’s really cheap and doesn’t want to spend the money on fresh seafood, fruits, and veggies. If this continues or the abuse gets worse after denying her food, OP should make a record of all of this and report her to HR, or just look for another job. This woman sounds very unstable.

  65. Anon 12*

    I might be tempted to blow my nose over the food and pretend to wipe a big yucky mess onto a napkin before handing her something.

  66. O.P. Here*

    Hi, OP here. I’m overwhelmed with all of the responses and kind of wish I would have done this month’s ago! There’s so many suggestions and people who have dealt with the same thing…. Good to know that I’m not the crazy one. Most of my friends and family end up just laughing and perplexed at the absurdity.

    1. Aurion*

      This is only funny/absurd to people who don’t have to go through it, really. I would be pretty damn angry.

      Good luck, OP!

    2. neverjaunty*

      Hey, you don’t owe us a response or update, OP. People do like to hear ‘what happened’ and ‘was there a happy ending’, but you wrote in for advice – you didn’t sign up to be a pen pal! If you feel like responding to people great, if not, don’t sweat it.

        1. Sydney*

          Yes I really want to know because the gall of this woman is unbelievable! (but only if you want to! )

  67. Greg M.*

    ugh this bugs me on so many levels. basically I’ve reached the point where I honestly just want people to leave me alone about what I eat. decades of bullying about my weight combined with lots of people who can’t mind their own business just leaves me at wanting to eat my meal in peace. I literally reached the point where I had to tell my mom she was not allowed to comment on my weight ever again.

    I’m tempted to suggest a different tactic but I don’t know how well it would work.
    “This is food prepared for me by me from my money. In the past I’ve politely shared with you but we’re all responsible for our own lunches. Further at points where I was not able to share with you or didn’t want to you reacted extremely negatively to the point of punishing me and publicly humiliating me. This behaviour is unacceptable, and as such I will never be sharing food with you again. This is the final time I want to discuss this any further comments on this issue will result in me calling HR and filing a complaint.”

  68. Elizabeth West*

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, and I’m not trying to armchair diagnose. But this reminds me so much of two different people I know who have eating disorders (one had orthorexia and the other one anorexia; they have since entered recovery and are doing well). Both of them became really extremely interested in food — like, EXTREME interest. The letter mentioned that everyone knew the manager was really into diet and weight, which is what makes me concerned. :(

    Even if she doesn’t have any kind of ED, the behavior is problematic and I agree that OP needs to shut the scrounging down. And maybe HR or the manager’s boss needs to hear about this because it’s very bizarre. I would approach them out of concern, but OP can’t keep letting the boss eat all her food. It’s expensive, and if boss does have a problem, I’m sure OP doesn’t want to enable it. The exclusion is bothering me too. It’s all just so weird.

  69. Boss Cat Meme*

    How about, when the boss asks for your food, quickly touch it all at once, then lick every healthy pretzel, then pretend to cough all over it, then say, “Help yourself.” ha ha!

    But seriously, having that conversation is very important. So many problems can be avoided very early on if people address bad behavior while it’s happening. For example, what did you do when she very obviously walked past you with food for every other person? If it were me, I would say, “Where’s mine? Why did you skip me? Oh, wait, you forgot me.” When she ordered lunch for everyone else in the office, and skipped you, what did you do? I probably would say, “Hold it, I give you my food every single day and now you’re going to buy food for everyone BUT me?”

    I honestly believe that people need to be called out for bad behavior. Not in a mean, aggressive way or anything, but way too often we just sit there in silence and let people say the worst things to us and we stew about it later. Sometimes, even a simple “What’s going on here?” is enough to let people know you’re not going to suffer fools in silence. A lot of times if people say something odd or inappropriate to me, I will look them right in the face and say, “What do you mean?” They will either tone it way down (usually) or ramp it up, but that almost NEVER happens. I think for many people, just having another second chance to turn their filters on is enough.

    If you don’t want to get your HR involved, and in some places that’s not always the best approach, I might try a little pushback here, every single day until the message sinks in, “No, I’m sorry, I didn’t bring food for you today and I won’t have any food for you tomorrow.” Or try it in a joking way, “What am I here, Whole Foods? Pack your own lunch. I’m your teapot painter, not your mommy.” Try to think of a fun way to say NO every day. And when she calls you greedy, agree with her. Tell her, “yes, I AM greedy. I believe each employee should eat their own lunch.”

    1. Not So NewReader*

      It took me a looong time to learn this lesson and I totally agree. And the part about not many people pushing back is absolutely true. I’d like to encourage you to stand up for yourself, OP.
      And BCM is right, if she accuses you again of being greedy it’s fine to agree with her. You can agree with her and KEEP your food. (People think if they agree with a statement like this they have to change what they are doing. Uh, no they don’t, not in situations like this.)

      You can also say, “Oh, don’t you remember today was your day to bring in food for you and me? Nope sorry, I don’t have any extra. I was counting on yours.”

      You can tell her you need her SSN because you are declaring her a dependent on your taxes, after all you feed her most of her food.

      Whatever you do if you try to be subtle or keep things in the dark this problem will only fester. Pull it out into the light of day and call it as you see it.

    2. Emma*

      Yeah, a surprising amount of bad behavior basically relies on the complicity of others to be successful. And by complicity, I don’t mean anything hugely nefarious, either – just letting them get away with it, time and time again. Pretending it didn’t happen, that it’s not a big deal, whatever.

      And the truth is, we’re so strongly conditioned not to make waves that the person who calls out the bad behavior is often seen as the “wrong” one – but that kind of “shoot the one who notices” mentality is what lets people get away with being jerks, and that mentality won’t go away if people keep feeding it.

  70. GlamNonprofitSquirrel*

    Delurking to comment after a long hiatus … What the actual $(@#&!$@#? Your boss has deeply disturbing behaviors around food.

    Maybe our nonprofit office is too food motivated but I try to buy breakfast or lunch at least once a month. We’re currently trying all of the tacos in the area in order to create a comprehensive ranking. With one vegetarian, two gluten free, one person with braces, another with serious food allergies – we still manage to not be weird about food unless someone hogs the guacamole.

    Unless one of my staff member brings in food and puts it in the “PLEASE EAT THIS – AVAILABLE FOR EVERYONE” location, I would never ask someone to eat their food. That’s just … WTAF?

  71. specialist*

    Well, your boss has some serious issues. I don’t know if you’re going to get a positive outcome, as your boss seems to have it in for you already.

    I like alternative solutions, and I’ve not seen this one mentioned in the comments. Although I really enjoyed reading the comments. So I do this with my godchild. I ask her if there are things she wouldn’t do to earn money. When she can’t think of anything I ask if she would clean up dog poop all day for minimum wage. (One must put this into terms she can understand. Would you clean up dog poop for 4 hours in order to buy that shirt you want?) Everyone has their price. I am sure if I told her that she could have a new iphone with unlimited texting for the entire year for 10 minutes of poop cleaning, well, I wouldn’t finish the sentence before the yard was poop-free.

    Tell your boss that you would be happy to prepare a lunch for each of you for tomorrow–if she gives you $20 to cover the cost. I have purposely set this cost high, as you should be profiting from it. You set the price based on your willingness to make an extra lunch. If you really don’t want to do it, tell her that the ingredients are expensive and you’ll need $40 for the lunch. Now she’s not going to want to do this, but she’s now in the position of having to say that she doesn’t want to pay for it, she just wants to eat yours for free. And every time from now on you’ve got the response, “well I offered to make you lunch, give me the money and you can have one for yourself!” (Plus, think how much fun it will be to watch the boss eating your leftover pasta from last evening’s night out. Okay, maybe not.)

  72. BabyShark*

    My boss likes to walk by my office as I’m eating my lunch and say “oh no thanks, I didn’t want any” totally unprompted. My response is always “good, because I wasn’t offering any.”

    We also have a designated spot that when there’s leftovers or somebody brings in food to share, that’s where it goes and we all know it. The gall your boss has is astounding. I’m glad you decided to write in and hopefully you can fix this soon!

  73. Lady Phoenix*

    I would tell your manager that you will no longer provide her with any food, with the only exception being potlucks and special events (Holidays, Parties, etc). Don’t explain why; just simply state that you cannot provide her meals anymore and stick with that role.

    When she comes up to you afterwards, asking for food, simply state, “I told you that can’t give you any more food. Please stop asking.” Then you start documenting incidents afterwards. Document times when she keeps asking, when she excludes you from team meals, and when the manager gives you an attitude. Then you can take your findings to someone over her head and hopefully get some peace of mind.

  74. Crazy Canuck*

    OP, I would recommend going to HR before standing up to your manager. Not because you should expect them to solve the problem for you, but to have it on the record and to cover your ass before shit goes down.

    You see, I’ve seen behavior similar to this before. About a decade ago I worked with a girl who had a pretty bad cocaine habit. She skipped meals all the time because of the drugs, and as a result, she was always hungry, and always broke. As things progressed, she started mentally falling apart. She ended up getting fired after getting into a screaming argument with a customer about something. She was not rational at all by the end, and lashed out at everyone around her on her way out.

    She did end up going to rehab and getting clean for a while, but it didn’t stick. The reason she’s on my mind is that I just found out this morning that she died yesterday of a fentanyl overdose. So I might be projecting because this is on my mind, but I thought I’d throw it out there as a possibility for the OP to consider.

  75. Eating Celery with Betty Draper*

    If she’s dieting off-and-on, maybe she’s eating your healthy food as a way to manage her diet without having to take responsibility for it herself. Or maybe she’s sabotaging your diet. I lost about 50 pounds several years ago, and some of my friendships have never been the same. Some of the people who were dieting and not successful got resentful and/or distant as the weight loss began to be noticeable. Maybe that’s at play here? She’s OK with you on the days when she feels “skinny” and not when she doesn’t?

  76. Jacob*

    Really, really disappointing to see how many people decided to ignore the “Please don’t armchair-diagnose others” commenting guideline here. Says the mentally ill guy with a history of disordered eating, who somehow has managed to refrain from terrorizing anyone into forfeiting their lunch.

  77. GiveMeMyDamnNaan*

    One of my friends, and I use that word lightly at this point, started really pushing the envelope with manipulating situations so it would always end up me paying for both of our takeout dinners at her home (‘Oh, I bought this $10 round of drinks and now it’s your turn! I’ll order, and I’ll have this $20 entrée…), then on top of it, sneakily swiping half of my food out of the box (‘Let me put this on a plate for you!’) – if not most of it – hoarding it for later in the carry out container while I would visit her at her place, quite a drive from my home. I’ve never witnessed such bizarre behavior revolving around food, and to be fairly honest I’ve decided I’m going to stop going to see her because it’s become such an infuriating problem in my mind. What an a-hole. I don’t care what excuse she has, it’s just blatantly rude. She was always a mooch when we lived close to each other, but I guess I just didn’t realize til I got away from her behavior every day just what a food hoarder she is. She’s pretty obese, and completely delusional about how weight-loss works, and how she got to the weight she is (She tells people ‘I’m vegan!’ Then gets drunk as hell and eats a bunch of sausage at 2 AM). It’s become a real deal breaker as far as our friendship, which is really sad that it’s over take out food (on multiple occasions, incidentally). I try to be generous with my friends but I have my limits just like everybody else, and I don’t like it when I feel like someone is taking advantage of me and treating like I’m too stupid to notice what they’re doing.

  78. Mckmore*

    This is bizarre because I used to work with someone who did this exact thing expect it was to fellow co-workers. She would eat her lunch, which was always hearty, then would come into the lunch room during breaks to demand food from others’ lunches. If you refused, or looked at her weird she would loudly, and aggressively, tell everyone you were greedy and selfish. You could be eating anything, even boring items like a tuna fish sandwich. I often felt like she had an eating disorder because she was obsessed with food and eating.
    You boss may be using this as a way to show dominance over you, or to bully you. It could also have to do with her eating. It is strange and I hope you can get it worked out.

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