my coworker acts like the food police

A reader writes:

I’d like to ask some advice about what to do regarding a coworker who I think is TOTALLY crossing personal boundaries.

I work in an office that’s made up primarily of women, but the issue is with this one man who will not keep his thoughts about everyone else’s food choices to himself. He’s known by some of my coworkers to give them funny looks about whatever they happen to be eating, and I’ve heard him on numerous occasions offer up his opinion on various coworkers’ food choices completely unprovoked. This guy isn’t qualified in any way to be doling out nutrition advice – a fact I’m very much aware of because I’m in eating disorder recovery and have been going to a registered dietitian for nearly 3 years, so I have a lot of information stored in my brain – and even if he was, NO ONE ASKS HIM FOR HIS OPINION.

He’s yet to criticize my food choices (I rarely eat with other people in the office anyway … too much diet talk is triggering as hell), but I’ve often joked to friends outside of work that the day he does will be the day I get fired. I do know my other coworkers don’t appreciate it, and I know of at least one of them who has said that she actively tries to hide her eating from him because he’ll give disapproving looks.

Is there anything I can do about this guy without him having directly affected me? Being nosy about other people’s choices in general irritates me, but I hate that so many of the women that I work with get randomly harangued about their lunches for no reason (and with no consideration paid to their overall diet, which he obviously cannot see). I just feel like I can’t do anything since he hasn’t addressed me directly.

Oh, but you can, you can!

Your coworker isn’t just impacting the people he’s directing his unsolicited, unwanted dietary opinions toward. He’s creating an environment where people’s individual food choices are apparently up for public discussion and shaming and where food is moralized over, and that’s something that affects everyone in earshot, whether they’re his direct target or not.

And for the record, even if he were qualified to be doling out nutritional advice, it would still be wildly inappropriate and intrusive for him to do it without being asked. The only people with standing to monitor and comment on what people eat are people you’ve explicitly invited to do so. This guy is just out of line, period.

It also makes it worse that it’s happening at work. It’s annoying enough to have to deal with constant diet talk when you’re with friends or family — and those are people you’re choosing to spend time with. But it’s even worse when it’s at work, because you’re a captive audience and because there’s some pressure on you to be polite in order to maintain reasonably good working relationships.

So, yes, speak up! You can either do it in the moment or, if you’re comfortable with it, you could talk to him one-on-one in private.

If you do it in the moment, you could say any of these:

• “Enough with the diet talk! It’s exhausting, and it’s not good for anyone.”

• “Do you realize how often you comment on people’s food?”

• “I don’t think any of us want to have our snacks at work scrutinized. Can we lay off the diet talk?”

• “Why are you monitoring what other adults eat?”

• “Hey, chill out with the weird looks when someone eats a cupcake.”

One big advantage of speaking up in the moment — and doing it in front of others — is that it can be really good for other people to hear someone pushing back on this kind of behavior, and you may find that others chime in and join you — if not now, then possibly the next time it happens. There’s value — and, frankly, a fair amount of satisfaction — in taking the dude’s attempts at social shaming and turning that around on him. And I’d bet a pretty large amount of money that people will be cheering you, even if they only do it silently.

However, talking to him one-on-one and making a more direct, personal appeal could be pretty effective too, if you’re comfortable doing so. For example, you could say something like this: “I’m not sure if you realize how often you comment on what people are eating, especially if they’re eating something you don’t approve of. Considering the prevalence of eating disorders and food issues more broadly, creating a culture at work where we scrutinize people’s food like that can be really problematic. Plus, people may have health issues that impact what they eat and that they don’t want to discuss with co-workers. I know you’re coming from a place of wanting to help, but for all of these reasons, I want to ask you to stop commenting on people’s personal food choices.”

That might make a bigger deal out of it than you want to, but it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to say if you’re comfortable with it … and you’d be doing everyone in your office a service if you were willing to say it. But you’re also not obligated to take it on in this way — it’s just an option if you want it. (Frankly, it’s also an option to do nothing if you want to. You’re not duty-bound to shoulder the burden of shutting this guy down, unless you want to. If you do want to, I applaud you — but I also don’t want you to feel like your history with an eating disorder gives you a special obligation here.)

And here’s hoping that the rest of us can all use your letter as a reminder to rein ourselves in on diet talk too. Hopefully most of us aren’t overtly judgmental and jerky like your coworker is, but it’s so, so common in offices for a culture of diet talk to emerge, with people bonding over what they are and aren’t eating, or talking about the “bad” foods they ate or wish they could eat, or announcing that they’re being “good” today because they’re eating a salad, or sighing over someone else’s delicious-looking burrito. Not only is this particularly crappy for people who are struggling with disordered eating (which weirdly is something that the diet-talkers never seem to consider), but it’s pretty terrible for the rest of us too.

My answer to this letter was originally published at New York Magazine.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 449 comments… read them below }

  1. Kyrielle*

    Yes, OP, everything here. And I am so sorry for you and your coworkers that you are having to deal with him.

    The stock photo is hilariously spot-on for the kind of looks he deserves (but probably isn’t getting) when he pulls this.

    1. Charlie*

      I just….how does anybody think that this is even remotely appropriate? Like, who doesn’t have that voice in their head going, “self, time to shut up now”?

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I’m related to someone like this, and here’s the best explanation I can give. They really do think their gift of wisdom is so awesome that it far outweighs social etiquette or awareness of others’ feelings. They really do think they’re pointing out information no one else has noticed any it’s for everyone else’s own good.

      2. hi.*

        I’d like to pre-empt my comment – I’m in no way suggesting this person has a form of Autism, nor do I want to generalize people with Autism with blanket statements about common traits. But I do have a person on the spectrum in my family who definitely does not have that “self, time to stop talking now” voice in her head. She doesn’t know that a lot of her observations aren’t polite or appropriate (like, “Merry Christmas! So I heard you want to start a family soon but you know you’re too fat to have babies right?”). I was so upset but any emotion I showed would’ve just been baffling to her because to her, it was just a true and factual statement/observation. (Again, not a generalization of autistic people, am talking about this specific person only.)

        1. Former Retail Manager*

          I think your family member sounds fantastic….not being sarcastic! I find it refreshing when people have the balls to say what they really mean, no sugar coating, regardless of the reason that they may do it. Obviously, could be problematic in a work environment, but still, she sounds fabulous!

          1. hi.*

            It’s interesting that you say that. I wrote a comment about something incredibly hurtful and inappropriate that was said to me, and you think it’s fantastic? I mean, I guess you can say that “honesty is refreshing” in some situations but how about not hurting people’s feelings? This person can’t help it, so we don’t fault her for it, but she hurts people’s feelings all the time. I thought that was clear from my comment but I don’t think saying deeply hurtful things to people is something to be celebrated. It’s something we deal with. I don’t think it’s just problematic in a work environment, it’s problematic everywhere. Telling people that their marriage won’t last or they’re disgustingly fat is not fabulous. She can’t help it but it’s not a positive thing.

            1. Chriama*

              Yeah. I think there’s a big difference between people who are able to say difficult things without equivocating or softening so much the message is lost, and people who say hurtful things (whether intentional or not) under the guise of ‘honesty’. Quite frankly, you need to earn the right to be honest with people by having a close relationship with them. General acquaintances and strangers on the street don’t deserve to be exposed to your bluntness or whatever.

            2. Former Retail Manager*

              I was reading quickly and glossed over the fact that the comment was made to you and you found it hurtful. Sorry about that. In my mind, I was envisioning comments about disliked family members to other family members who also disliked that person…in a very sitcom gossipy way….not a brutally honest bring you to tears sort of way. I also come from a family where that sort of comment, to me to my face, would likely elicit laughter. I admit that I forget that there is a whole world of people that don’t have that reaction, especially when they’re struggling with whatever is being criticized. Truly…my apologies.

            3. Anna*

              I’m going to disagree with you that she can’t help it. She can, if someone will tell her it’s rude and inappropriate and more importantly, none of her business. A person whose on the spectrum may have a filter with bigger holes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t figure out how to keep things from getting through them.

              1. halpful*

                can I agree and disagree with both of you? I’ve certainly improved a lot, but I do still have idiot-ball moments where I don’t realise the non-literal implications of what I said until hours later. There are ways to point things out that help me, and there are ways to point things out that send me into a shame meltdown that just makes me too broken to say anything at all (which is horrible if they’re mad at me for my silence in the first place). Your suggestion sounds a bit closer to the latter than the former. :/ I can’t quite put my finger on why, though. it just reminds me of terrifying lectures from people who believe I’m choosing to be difficult and should “just” do as I’m told with no regard for why I’m failing to do that. Like when my mother lectured me on how rude it was to not talk to her friend, despite the fact that this friend was smoking tobacco in our living room and tobacco has always been one of the worst of my asthma triggers. :(

                …wow, that might have more to do with my own past than what you actually said. on a more constructive note… I think the times when feedback has been helpful, it’s come from a place of “hey, you might not realise what this looks like to other people, maybe avoid X and focus on Y instead” instead of “how dare you be so rude, stop that this instant or else…”.

                1. Anna*

                  I think that stopping someone at the moment and saying “Hey, halpful, that was rude and hurtful to me. It’s also inappropriate to comment on someone’s weight or health. I know sometimes you just say stuff, but take a moment to remember that you’re talking to a person.” My irritation comes from the idea that people on the spectrum are fragile or unable to learn when in reality most people want to know when they’ve put their foot in their mouth.

                2. Anna*

                  Which is to say, rudeness at someone being rude in most cases does not help. But if someone on the spectrum speaks plainly because that’s how they speak, I can’t see how speaking plainly to them would be a bad thing. (Not shaming them because that’s manipulative and about power, but being honest and clear about how it makes someone feel is not.)

                3. Michelle*

                  The thing is, just because you explain that *this* comment is rude or hurtful, and even if she understands, that doesn’t mean that she will realize that the next comment is rude or hurtful before she says it. I feel like maybe people who don’t struggle with such things don’t always fully grasp how complex it actually is to understand all of these social cues and conventions.

                4. MichelleK*

                  You know, as someone who works with quite a few people on the spectrum (and who incidentally is no stranger to putting her own foot in her mouth, and not realising it till hours later, or in some cases till someone points it out. Not saying I am on the spectrum myself, don’t think so, but I am definitely what could be termed socially awkward): I feel that depending on the case, some can and will learn, while others will not.
                  As Michelle points out, social cues are really complicated and while commenting on someones weight and health is rude no matter what, many rules are not so straight forward. I think it is fine to mention the mistake respectfully, but clearly, however don’t expect everyone who is on the spectrum to internalise your feedback and not make the same mistake again. Have found though that consistant feedback given in a way they are comfortable with, will usually yield progress.

                5. Psychdoc*

                  You make an excellent point. It is helpful to support a person (any person) to learn social rules that can be followed in multiple circumstances, rather than ‘do it because I said so’. Plus, teaching allows for questions. If your mom said that it is ideal to talk w guests, then you could have mentioned the peoblem, which could have lead to a discussion about how and when to avoid talking w people and how to make a polite exit.

                  I think another important part is to not volunteer a correction. It would be better to pull the person aside when possible, and ask if it’s alright to mention the emotional reaction that may have occured. The goal is to gently point out an accidental error, rather than publicly shame, tar, as feather someone. Since, let’s not kid ourselves, EVERYONE has made dude comments unintentionally. Or not so unintentionally.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Whoever picks out the stock photos for the Ask a Boss column over there has definitely found their calling in life.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        I am now imagining someone at New York Magazine who first got the assignment to find stock photos for the Ask a Boss column, and the heavens opened and cherubim and seraphim sang and light streamed down and they flung their arms in the air and said, “THIS IS WHAT I WAS BORN FOR!”

        because whenever I see the chosen photos, I feel like they deserve to have had that feeling.

  2. Gandalf the Nude*

    For the record, is sighing over someone else’s burrito okay if it’s not for diet reasons? I mean, sometimes coworkers’ foods look and smell amazing when all I’ve brought is leftover meatloaf.

      1. Candi*

        Although I try to keep “I miss chocolate” down to one comment of every hundred. :p

        If I’m tempted, I bend my mind to remembering the nausea/vertigo/sledgehammer behind the eyes that will result in 12-18 hours if I eat more then a piece the size of my little fingernail -the larger the portion, the worse the symptoms. Not a fun way to spend a day or more.

        I still miss chocolate, though.

        1. OP*

          This is EXACTLY how I am with gluten. Like, yeah, regular pizza crust DOES taste better. But you know what’s NOT better? Calling into work two days in a row because of really horrific GI symptoms. Not even a temptation.

        2. Miss Herring*

          Is it the caffeine/dairy/sugar content, or something about chocolate itself? If caffeine/dairy/sugar is NOT the issue, you should try a REALLY strong cup of Assam loose leaf black tea.
          (Assam loose leaf tea, ~$5 for a 14 oz package (I got the Swad brand) from an Indian grocery store; this amount should last you for at least a month.)

          Put two teaspoons in a large mug, pour in boiling water, and let steep 10 minutes. Remove leaves, pour in a splash of milk. Add two or so spoons of sugar, to taste. The resulting tea is really strong with a delicious malty flavor (like malted milk, not like beer) that (I think) is a good replacement for chocolate.

          If it is the chocolate itself, then you might need to start watching out for barbecue sauces, hot sauces, chili, and similar items. I have seen chocolate added to a lot of this in recent months as a secret ingredient. You poor thing. :(

    1. OP*

      OP here. I know for me, I have NO issue with something like, “That smells delicious!” Or “What is that? It looks amazing!” I think the sighing mentioned is more the forlorn, woe-is-me, I-won’t-let-myself-eat-that-and-I-must-let-everyone-know type. It’s hard to explain, but I’m sure most of us have experienced it. It’s not really uncommon within diet culture and, unfortunately, is often used as a way to bond. Or, at least that’s how it seems. At this point in my recovery, I tend to just leave conversations like that, so no bonding for me, I guess. Ha…

      1. B*

        This! The sigh and response of that smells delicious is very different from the sigh and response of Oh how I wish I could eat that but it’s so bad for me I never will allow that. The smells delicious is a happy response while the other is inadvertently being negative because it makes the other person (me) sometimes feel guilty when they are already beating themselves up.

        Food, unless it’s an I love what you made/brought/got, should be left alone at work. You never know what anyone is going through. OP – please speak up the next time he says something. He needs to be put in his place.

        1. LSP*

          A sigh for dieting reasons can definitely becoming annoying if it’s something someone does every day. However, I used to work with someone with celiac, and she would sometimes bemoan her dietary restrictions, wishing she could just have one piece of cake at the office party, etc. That was totally understandable. She would likely need to be hospitalized if she ate that.

          When we held a baby shower for her, I got a friend of mine who specializes in baking for dietary restrictions to make a cake for her. It was chocolate with a peanut butter buttercream filling. It was some of the richest and most delicious cake I had ever had! No one could believe it was gluten free!

          1. OP*

            Just me, but I actually can’t eat gluten either and I tend to try to keep a low profile about it. Like, I’ll say if I can’t have something I’m being offered, but otherwise I just accept that what I can eat looks different sometimes. Once again, just me, though.

          2. fposte*

            I think even there she needs to keep the frequency low, though, and avoid the “I wish I could eat that” kind of comment; otherwise you can still end up with people feeling weird about what they eat near the person and even trying to avoid eating near at all. Which can come from a perfectly legitimate impulse on both sides, but it’s not what you want to have happen.

            1. KellyK*

              I agree. A couple “Wish I could eat that” comments, especially when the food restriction is new, are one thing. Frequent sighing, griping, or whining should really be toned way the heck down to avoid making coworkers feel uncomfortable.

              1. Annonymouse*

                At my work it can be tricky because we work in a sports industry where some people actually compete PLUS a bunch of us have food allergies / intolerances.

                We don’t talk about food in the office (thankfully) but if we have shareable food:
                2 people are lactose intolerant
                1 of them is also a coeliac
                I have allergies plus I’m pregnant so the amount of foods I can’t eat is ridiculous.

                Also because of the severity of my allergies I’ve had to ban lettuce from my front desk. Because if the get lettuce juice on something common (phone, mouse, keyboard) and I get the juice on my hands and rub my face I will have an anaphylactic reaction.

            2. Turtle Candle*

              Agreed. If I had my yogurt smoothie and someone who couldn’t have dairy said, “Oh, that looks delicious, I wish I could still have yogurt!” once, I would think nothing of it. If they said it every time I brought a smoothie for myself for breakfast, I’d start to feel guilty about my breakfast choices (and resentful of her for inspiring the guilt, probably–I’m no saint), which is another thing entirely.

            3. Jess*

              I think tone has a lot to do with it. If you’re turning down something I think it’s fine to say “Oh, I wish I could have that, it looks delicious!” or something like that if it’s said with a smile because it’s a compliment on the food.

          3. SimontheGreyWarden*

            My MIL will occasionally have a “wish I could” moment, usually if someone offers her something with gluten (not celiacs but she has a sensitivity and feels sick after eating gluten) but it’s never said in a wistful way, generally just as a response.
            “Want a piece of pie?”
            “Oh, wish I could, thank you but no.”

            I think that kind of tone is different than just wishing.

      2. Gandalf the Nude*

        I figured as much but was a little concerned that the two weren’t distinguishable enough.

      3. Mabel*

        The thing I hate about this is that people are bonding over something so negative (being deprived of delicious food because…???). The other thing that’s so annoying about it is that it relates to food and our bodies as though there’s only one right way to eat/be and that any deviation is wrong and bad. Aaaargh!

    2. Vaca*

      Yes, but within reason… it irritates me to no end when somebody says “I wish I could eat that!” or “you lucky dog!” or something. Yeah, thanks for reminding me I shouldn’t be having pizza.

        1. Honeybee*

          When people do this repeatedly in an annoying way, some variation of this is usually how I respond.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Yeah, sometimes it’s just a smug, passive aggressive way of saying “you don’t care if you get fat, but *I* take care of myself!”

        1. Allison*

          Right. I figure a lot of people are watching their weight, and putting a lot of effort into eating healthy, and then I come along with my Korean BBQ chicken breasts and they may think it’s unfair they “have” to eat salads and I’m not holding myself to the same standards.

        2. I'm not a lawyer, but ...*

          On my first day at oldjob a coworker (my age and size) told me that I was lucky to be single bc her husband would kill her if she got fat or let her hair go gray like I did. I smiled and suggested she try it. But that’s just me.

      2. designbot*

        Depending on the reason, the translation may not be “god, you’re treating yourself so terribly by eating that!” but rather “man, I wish my body weren’t messed up and I could enjoy normal tasty things.” I’m dealing with some very new and very strict dietary changes, and I promise you if I say “I wish I could eat that!” I mean it in the latter way.

      3. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Yes, this is super annoying.

        There used to be an unused table in my work area and that’s where any extra food/treats ended up being put. Every day, at least one person would come hover over the table. “Ohhh, those cookies look so good. But I should be good. Well… maybe if I have a salad for lunch I can have a cookie.” OMG eat the cookie or don’t, I don’t care. No justification needed.

        Or if they saw me eating a cookie, “You are so lucky you can eat whatever you want!” No, I don’t eat whatever I want, I eat healthy 90% of the time and work out every day. So having a treat here and there really won’t derail me. Also, my weight is not the only indicator of my health.

        /end rant

      4. Noobtastic*

        There’s a huge difference between “I wish I could eat that, but it would make me sick because allergies/intolerance/reason” and “I wish I could eat that, but it’s siiiiiiinfull, and I’m righteous dieter-person who is above such things!”

        The former just makes you feel sorry for the poor, deprived soul who wants to be able to eat a tomato again, and the latter just makes you want to go postal.

    3. paul*

      Furthermore, are puppy dog eyes directed at the jumbo (holy cow forearm sized) barbacoa and jalapeno burrito my coworker brought back ok?

      1. HeyAnonny*

        I brought leftover meatloaf for lunch today and my apartment backs onto a burrito shop. LIVING THE DREAM.

        1. Meghan*

          Oh man. I dunno if living behind a burrito place is the best or worst thing ever, but I do know I would eat burritos alllllllllllll the time if I have your apartment.

    4. Allison*

      I may misinterpret that, honestly. If someone sighs over my food I might think either the smell bothers them, or they think it’s unhealthy, or they’re thinking “geee, it MUST BE NICE that Allison doesn’t have to eat healthy like the rest of us . . . must be nice . . .” That said, when people comment that I’m really good about bringing my lunch every day because they can’t make the time for lunch prep, I don’t take that too personally . . . well, I do wonder if they’re thinking “ugh, must be nice Allison doesn’t have kids to take care of and can make her own lunches, us parents have more important things to do at home.”

      Basically, I’m just always worried that people are mad at me and disapprove of something I’m doing, wearing, eating, or what I do at home, because my after-work activities must seem so frivolous to people who have children, and husbands, and houses to take care of. But that’s my anxiety talking.

      1. StrikingFalcon*

        If it helps the anxiety train any: both my parents managed to pack their lunches most days at least, even when we were young. I’m sure it was more difficult when there were young kids in the house, but it’s a thing some people prioritize and others don’t. It’s not you – eat your lunches and enjoy your free time however you want.

        1. MichelleK*

          Agreed, first thing I thought too.
          I think personal circumstances do play a roll, but so do choices and prioritisation. If you really want or value something, it will be high on your list of priorities and then actually doing it all then comes down to good planning.

    5. Bwooster*

      I hope it is, because I used to work with someone who was always so on point with his food choices, I was always eyeing his plate wistfully.

    6. Michele*

      I think that is OK because it is a positive comment and not a judgmental one. At least I hope it is OK, because anytime I smell oranges or cinnamon, I comment about how good they smell. I think it is like the difference between telling a coworker that you like her earrings and telling her that they don’t work with her outfit. One is nice to hear, while the other is not.

      1. Ellen N.*

        Actually, it can be problematic when coworkers comment on your food because it looks good to them. I cook dinner pretty much every night. My husband and I eat leftovers for lunch. He stopped eating in the lunch room and now eats in his car because so many of his coworkers commented on his food while they were eating frozen lunches. He only has half an hour for lunch so answering questions about what he was eating and confirming that he is fortunate to be married to someone who cooks from scratch shortened the time he had to eat. For me, I don’t mind when someone says my lunch looks tasty. When it goes beyond that, I feel like I should share and I usually don’t have enough extra.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yes, even with positive comments I think you should leave it at “Oh, that smells great!” or “That looks so good–what is it?” No sighing about how you wish you had time to cook/someone to cook for you or third-degree on the contents/origin. (I am sincerely chuffed when someone says, “That looks so tasty!” about my meals, but I had one coworker who would give me the third degree about what I was eating and the provenance of the ingredients and then sigh, “I wish I could afford to make myself caprese salads and things like that,” every single day. It started to make me feel guilty for not eating, I don’t know, peanut butter sandwiches and ramen or something–which in turn annoyed me.)

  3. k*

    I wouldn’t be able to resist putting on my sweetest voice and saying something like “Fergus, I never knew you were a nutritionist!” And looking perplexed when he muttered that he wasn’t. The more passive aggressive approach, but it would be satisfying.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      People like this often don’t have the ability to recognize when they’re being called out. His response would most likely be something like “you don’t have to be a nutritionist to know blah blah blah…”

    2. OP*

      I actually did that the very first time I witnessed it. Well…it was a slightly sarcastic, “Oh, so you’re a dietitian?” But…similar message. I was kind of new in the office at the time, though, so I didn’t want to press the issue.

      I’ve considered handinghim the phone number of my RD and letting him know that he can certainly call her and talk to her about my diet since he seems so concerned. I probably wouldn’t actually do that, but the thought makes me laugh.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Obsessing over everyone else’s food might be a sign of an eating disorder of his own. Might. He also might just be a know-it-all ass.

        1. OP*

          I would be surprised. There’s kind of a way people talk about food that shifts when dealing with an ED and he doesn’t give off that vibe…I’ve yet to meet an ED patient who criticizes the ways others eat in this way. I mean, it’s entirely possible, but I would be surprised.

          1. Moonsaults*

            I think the problem lies here that there’s a difference between ED patients that are in treatment and those who refuse to admit they have a problem. When you don’t accept that you have ED, you can come across like a big piece of trash talking to others in the manner this guy seems to.

            It could be a different spectrum as well, there are plenty of fat shaming individuals who have ED. I had a former friend who was anorexic and was a real piece of work when I started showing signs of my own ED, she didn’t think I was doing it right. She’d constantly say things about other people’s food choices as well in that “I can’t’ believe anyone would eat that.” kind of way.

            1. Clinical Social Worker*

              She didn’t think you were doing your eating disorder right? Did I read you right?

              Wow that sounds awful.

          2. INTP*

            I know what you mean but I feel like with orthorexia it often doesn’t apply because people are so likely to not know they have a problem and therefore aren’t trying to seem normal.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            +1. Even if he had a cast-iron reason for doing it, it still impacts on other people, and it’s a choice to talk about it.

          2. Jessesgirl72*

            Not in the slightest. But maybe the referral to the OP’s dietician (or another RD) might shut him up. ;)

            I might even do it from a place of (feigned) concern about his obsession of everyone’s food.

          3. Mephyle*

            It can matter because knowing where someone is coming from can sometimes guide the most effective approach to getting them to stop it, or at least rule out approaches that are less likely to work.

        2. Allison*

          Sometimes the biggest self-appointed experts on nutrition are people who are struggling to lose weight themselves, and figure they’ve gotten all this really valuable information, it would be really helpful if they spread it around so everyone could make better choices!

      2. A (real) dietitian*

        I don’t think it’s a good idea to confront him alone, you risk him starting to pay more attention to your food choices than you would like. If you do decide to speak up again about him being the food police you might want to make sure that some of your co-workers will back you up a bit in the moment.

        If you do challenge him and he kicks back again, you could say that you aren’t a dietitian or registered nutritionist any more than he is. A qualified and responsible nutrition professional would know that making random, unwelcome and unsolicited dietary comments to specific individuals and making them uncomfortable about their eating habits and food choices is unprofessional and potentially dangerous. I don’t know about the U.S. but in the U.K. any dietitian who did this would be over-stepping professional boundaries so far that they risked a complaint being made to the regulatory body.

    3. Allison*

      Might backfire. He might say “well I’m not officially a nutritionist, but I know these things because ____.” Some people fancy themselves experts on stuff they know little about because of one silly reason or another.

      One time I was taking a swing dance class, after about a year of weekly classes, and this follow I’d never danced with started giving me unsolicited feedback on how I lead something and I said “wow, how long have you been dancing? are you an instructor somewhere?” she said “oh this is my first class, but my boyfriend’s an instructor so I just know these things.” Yeah, my boyfriend was teaching the class we were in, I didn’t act like a student teacher because of it.

      1. INTP*

        Yeah, or they say that RD programs teach what the FDA requires and the FDA is governed by Big Agriculture. Food police often have extremist views and aren’t remotely convinced by credentials. It’s not a conversation I’d want to start personally.

    4. Mints*

      Somebody commented on my getting a piece of candy from the candy bowl once and he was like “What? Mints?”
      Me: ??
      “You’re getting chocolate? A piece of fruit would be so much better!”
      Me, sarcastically: “I’m really glad I asked for your opinion on my food choices.”

      I don’t actually recommend this, because it was pretty snarky and I already was at Bitch Eating Crackers, but it still felt super satisfying.

  4. Aurion*

    I really dislike the moralistic judgement involved in food in all its myriad forms. It’s food. It tastes good. It’s not punishment, it’s not sinful, and eating food should not be cause for guilt. If you don’t want to eat it, don’t. If you want to eat it, enjoy it. My mother tells me all the time about how she feels guilty for indulging in some snack or other, and my response is always a mystified (or impatient, depending on the day) “you can eat it, don’t eat it, or eat it and go for a run.” Food should not inspire guilt.

    My food comments to my coworkers are only of the “that looks/smells great! What is it? I need to hunt this down the next time I eat out” variety.

    1. OP*

      Honestly, the guilt felt by those of us with disordered eating IS mystifying. Or so I’m told. It’s my default. I literally just realized recently that when most people SAY they feel guilty about eating something, they don’t feel actual moral guilt like we do. It doesn’t make sense, but this stuff rarely does.

      1. Oryx*

        Yes. The faux morality of food is a constant struggle and I’m trying very hard to rewire my brain but it’s a long process to undo. I’m so used to seeing food as “good” or “bad” and then to assign the same label to myself if I eat a good or bad food.

        1. hi.*

          i’m going through a major rewiring right now. i’m losing weight now (i have quite a bit to lose and i’m about 40% of the way to my goal). i’m doing it in a different way than i ever have – i’m in therapy and i’m actually dealing with my issues with food addiction and disordered eating. for me it’s not enough to just go on a restrictive diet and go to the gym, i need to talk out my issues with my mom having eating disorders when i was a kid, my upbringing which taught me that severe restriction = good and enjoying your food = evil which i rebelled against as an adult by going in the exact opposite direction. i need to work on eliminating the guilt, stop turning to food for comfort, and stop using extra weight as a wall around me to prevent attention on me. like you said, it’s a constant struggle. eating a low carb diet is a piece of cake (lol) compared to dealing with all of this mental shit.

      2. Natalie*

        I think it’s a kind of virtue signaling: *I* am doing the Right Things. If I have a heart attack, it’s just the bad luck of an unfair universe. But others, who are not doing the Right Things, have clearly brought that heart attack upon themselves by not being sufficiently ashamed when they eat cupcakes.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          “Virtue signaling” is a good way of putting it. In a way, it reminds me of a former coworker who used to get all up on her high horse about how she’d never use her smartphone at work, in response to people who would spend their break time playing Angry Birds or surfing Buzzfeed or whatever. She made this huge point of how she put it in her purse at the beginning of the work day and didn’t touch it until clock-out time. Thing is, while she never took an Angry Birds break, she wasted way, way more time, usually in non-work-related office chatter. But her virtue signal was “no smartphone use,” and she hung onto that despite the fact that it actually had nothing to do with the real issue at hand (how much time are you wasting vs. working productively?).

      3. SimontheGreyWarden*

        I’ve never had a full blown ED but I have struggled with disordered thinking for most of my life. I have been trying to break the habit, but I can’t even do strict calorie counting because my mind goes into “I can shave 50 or 100 calories off today because I was 5 cal over yesterday” and it’s all a downward spiral from there.

    2. Adam*

      Yep. And the food you eat may be objectively bad for you, but it’s no more my business than where you buy your clothes or what’s in your Netflix queue.

      1. OP*

        Really, all food can be eaten in healthy moderation. That’s the thing: even if it were socially acceptable for this dude to comment on people’s diets, he sees them eat one meal and maybe a snack per day. So…doesn’t really get a full picture there either way.

        1. Kyrielle*

          This! And if anything, if I drop “comfort food” in a day, it is usually going to be my work lunch because honestly? Halfway through a workday is a great time for that. (For me, personally. For others, maybe not, and that’s good too.)

          That, and there’s also someone who will complain (because of the impact on them, which I do understand!) about foods that are smelly, especially if they need to be reheated. So add that to everything and, yep, my lunch will be fine when taken in view of my whole diet (or not, and that’s MY issue to work out and no one else’s), but it’s probably not going to be my “most virtuous” meal of the day, especially since I’m trying to eat it, not stage a performance for some jerk. :P

          1. designbot*

            This is a really good point to remember, that we each are dealing with our own circumstances including how our bodies respond to what type of behaviors, what we’re dealing with emotionally, at work, at home, our time constraints, budgets, so many things… if I hear “but the right type of fat is good for you!” one more time I’m going to strangle someone, because yeah I wish I could be chowing down on an avocado right now but it’d land me back in the hospital. The person most qualified to make the choices in your life is YOU, because you have all the data that nobody else has about the impacts on your life.

        2. Adam*

          Totally. I bring my lunch almost every day, and it’s usually of the very boring variety (sandwhich, carrots, simple salad, etc.). But I’ll usually go out to lunch once a week and usually get whatever the heck I feel like, including burgers and a milkshake if I’m in the mood.

        3. sam*

          This SO MUCH.

          Not to get too much into it, but I have metabolic issues that I see an endocrinologist for, and as a result of that, I have some….weird…eating practices. I generally avoid eating carbohydrates in the morning, and because I’m usually rushing I just make myself a protein shake in the morning. Which generally means that by the time lunch rolls around, I’m HUNGRY. and lunch tends to be my biggest meal of the day, because I’m both hungry and have to tide myself over until dinner, which, given the work hours I keep, isn’t going to be for another 7-8 hours.

          So I usually get a big lunch. it probably provides most of my calories for the day. And every time I think that maybe I’ll just get a salad or a yogurt? Two hours later I’m scavenging the office or getting something really terrible out of the vending machine (and I don’t even mean unhealthy – our vending machines always have just awful selections and seem to be half-empty all the time).

    3. Bonky*

      One of my coworkers is a vegan. I watched her shut down a moralising food-police idiot who was wittering on about how vegans are “always talking about their vegan food, and I am sick of it”. It was beautiful: she pointed out, smiling kindly, that she talked about food absolutely no more than he did. Food discussion is a natural part of human conversation: we all eat, and we all do it every day. It just happens that the food she eats is different from the food he eats.

      For the record, I’ve never heard any proselytising about veganism from her; just an occasional moan when we’ve ended up somewhere where she can’t eat anything. Sometimes she will make a very kind offer to share one of the delicious meals she brings in for her lunch, or some baked goods that she’s brought in.

      We haven’t heard a peep from angry moralising diet dude on the subject since she spoke up. I’d love to know what agency people believe they have in what other people eat. It’s no more appropriate than having a strong opinion on the way they sleep or carry out any other bodily function.

    4. Barney Barnaby*

      I hate the food-as-guilt thing. Eating a cupcake is not the moral equivalent of, nor worse than, lying, cheating, stealing, being nasty, cutting off people in traffic, whatever. There are actual things that we all do every day that are worth feeling guilty over, and a freakin snack isn’t among them.

      1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

        For real. I remember reading an article in some magazine or other where “nutritionists” — I don’t think they were actually certified, qualified people — commented extensively on what certain celebrities reported they ate. One was Iman. Her whole day of eating was like produce produce produce salmon produce protein whole grain — and then she “confessed” to eating (GASP) two Werther’s candies after lunch every day. Guess what the commenting nutritionist zeroed in on? Pearl-clutching “carbs are evil!!’ LORD. First, it’s TWO fricking Werther’s candies; and second, it’s freaking IMAN. In what universe would Iman care what you think?

    5. Lily in NYC*

      I shared a home with a guy like this when I studied abroad. We had an amazing chef and three course lunches every day and none of us gained weight because we walked so much. I wasn’t even friends with this dude and he felt the need to comment when I took seconds on my favorite dessert. I looked at him and said “I don’t recall asking for your opinion” and the look on his face was priceless and he never bugged me again. I’m usually cheerful so when I get icy people know I mean business!

      1. WellRed*

        You had an amazing chef? My fantasy, when I strike it rich, is to have my own personal chef/grocery shopper. The hell with maid service or personal trainers or private jets.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          It was the best year of my life! The Rockefeller family donated a villa in the hills of Florence to my university and we had an incredible chef who made big lunches for us and then we had a small dinner and we were on our own for breakfast and on weekends. I would gladly go back and live there scrubbing toilets if they’d allow me.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I used to live with a boyfriend who was a professional chef. It was amazing. My best friend and I still talk about the night she was hanging out with us at our house and we said we wanted a snack (meaning like a Reese’s cup or something), and he disappeared into the kitchen and came back 20 minutes later with a full-on gourmet strawberry tart that he’d just prepared.

          Also, living with him is how I learned that you must sweat your spices in a pan before using them.

          1. Mints*

            Wait what’s “sweat your spices”? Google thinks I mean people sweating when eating hot/spicy food

                1. Natalie*

                  @ Aurion, probably, but I doubt it’s significant enough that the average person could tell the difference. Just do whichever one is appropriate based on your recipe.

                2. Turtle Candle*

                  Blooming is if you heat them up in a liquid or oil, and toasting in a dry pan, is my understanding. But both serve the same purpose–it’s just that it’s convenient to do it right in the oil if you’re, say, going to sautee an onion next.

                3. Turtle Candle*

                  Oops, I answered not quite the right question. I haven’t noticed a major difference between blooming in oil and toasting in a dry pan, so I just pick one depending on whether I am going to need oil in the next step anyway. Blooming in water-based liquids tends to have less intensity of flavor, IME, although it’s still good to use sometimes.

        3. Jane D'oh!*

          I once shared an apartment with a girl whose fiance was a chef. Never before or since have I been so devastated over someone else’s breakup!

      2. Crazy Canuck*

        Never underestimate the power of an ice-cold “I didn’t ask for your opinion.” I’ve used it to shut down many, many things over the years.

    6. Allison*

      I work with a lot of women who constantly say things like “oh noooo I can’t eat that! I’m trying to be good today! get it away from me, I can’t eat it!” If you don’t wanna eat it, then simply decline and don’t go helping yourself when it’s placed on the table. Why must you make a big production of your diet and act like eating a piece of cake is “bad”?

      1. Mints*

        I had a coworker like this, who really blamed all of us for her poor impulse control. She made the receptionist stop buying candy because she couldn’t stop eating it. If some of us were getting something unhealthy for lunch she seemed legit annoyed. Order food or don’t, stop taking it out on me.

      2. designbot*

        Honestly as someone who probably says more of that stuff than I should, we’re probably all having trouble sticking to what we’ve decided we should be doing, and we’re trying to convince ourselves to stick with it.

    7. INTP*

      My mom does the same and it’s really hard to listen to her self hatred about it. Especially when she understands the science behind everything and what she should do but acts like a yo yo dieter and then hates herself for it. Like duh mom, of course you bought that candy bar at Target after you ate barely caloric vegetable soup for lunch. If you weren’t programmed to seek available and efficient sources of calories when hungry then we would have all died of starvation long ago from being too lazy to kill a mammoth and just eating leaves and berries instead.

    8. Bonky*

      I’ve been very surprised to find that the food-police thing is one of the tools people use when they start to treat your body as public property when you’re pregnant. I’m a tough nut, so I’ve been able to be appropriately withering every time it’s happened, but it’s a bit shocking.

      Very posh London restaurant, business meeting. Waitress says: “You can’t eat that.” (The food was very mildly spicy.) I say: “I think I can.” She replies: “No you can’t. You’ll be ill.”

      I shut her down and ordered the thing, and it was very tasty. I am still pregnant.

      I have been told off for getting supermarket sandwiches for my work lunch. I have been told off for ordering medium rare steak.

      Several colleagues have also remarked disapprovingly that I am about to go to Japan on a business trip (sanctioned by my obstetrician, with whom I also checked about eating raw fish while I’m there – he says it’s fine). They’re “concerned” that he must be wrong. This guy is one of the best obstetricians in the country, and was on the team that delivered both Prince George and Princess Charlotte. I think I’ll take his advice over that of the events intern.

      1. Hrovitnir*

        Euuuuugh. Go you. Food policing is the devil, but food policing mixed with pregnancy is horrifying. When I think about strangers thinking they’re more entitled to touch your body (?? Try less???) and strangers telling you what you should eat, I am incredibly glad I don’t want children.

        Good luck with surviving your pregnancy without killing anyone, and I hope everything goes smoothly!

      2. Mags*

        I was at a salon that wouldn’t give me the layers I’d requested because “my hair was going to fall out” once I delivered.

  5. Master Bean Counter*

    I like the question approach. “Fergus, why are you commenting about my food?” or “What makes you say that?” Pushes all of the awkward back on him, where it belongs.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      Don’t ask him “what makes you say that!” It will only encourage him and produce a long lecture! I have met too many of that type.

      Questions that point out it’s none of his business are the key. Not ones that sound like an invitation to expound on his opinion!

      1. Charlie*

        Yeah, this. Don’t leave an opening to reply. “Fergus, please don’t comment on my food, now or ever.” “Fergus, like I said, please don’t comment on my food, ever.” “FERGUS DID I STUTTER”

        1. Fish Microwaver*

          Yeah, I’d say “Fergus, please don’t comment on my food”. It’s direct, unambiguous and polite.

  6. Lemon*

    What an ass. Please give this guy a verbal smack down next time something like this happens. I know it feels “rude”, but you have to remember that he is the only being truly rude. Even just a simple “What’s your deal?” can be very effective.

    I also feel like there is a whole extra level of ass-ery when it’s a man policing a bunch of women about their food choices. Maybe that’s just me and my issues with men and food, but that really got my hackles up.

    1. Christine*

      It’s an ugly trait on his part. Could his co-workers come back with gender or sexism complaints in this situation? It’s one thing for women to complain to female co workers & friends about their weight gain, but we sure in the hell do not want a male coworker commenting on it.

      1. Izzy*

        Even drinking water is not safe from intrusive comments. Because of a medical condition, I need to drink a lot of water. I used to lug around one of those big 64 oz water jugs, and refill it at least once a day, to make sure I drank enough. So a man I barely knew remarked, in front of people assembling for a meeting, “you know, drinking a lot of water won’t help you lose weight!” Ex-CUSE me? A lot of assumption and presumption there. Yes, I am a woman of size. What, if anything, I am doing about that is NOYB!

        1. INTP*

          My former coworkers would all look at me in disgust when I drank water from the sink if the cooler ran out, and one told me it would give me cancer if I didn’t get a special Japanese filter. They would literally sit around complaining of dehydration and being deprived of water rather than drink a little tap water. Not one could name what they were afraid of in the water, they just wouldn’t consume it (and in one case, emphatically declared that she didn’t even let her dog drink tap water). No, I do not live in Flint.

          1. Merida May*

            That happens to me, too! My co-workers at a few different locations have had a serious aversion to tap water. And we live in an area that has gotten awards for the quality of its water.

          2. Venus Supreme*

            This baffles me. Unless your tap water is seriously compromised, why not use it?! If I can bathe in it and wash my face with it, I can surely take a couple sips of it… They can go enjoy their Japanese filters away from me.

            1. James*

              My wife is very sensitive to changes in the chemistry of water–each municipal source has slightly different combinations of chemicals (hard vs. soft, low vs. high pH, low vs high iron, etc), and it takes her some time to adjust to it. So she doesn’t drink tap water when we travel, or for the first year or so if we move.

              Me? I’ll drink from the tap. I’ll drink well water if the owner trusts it (used to drive my dad nuts, until I produced the water sample data for one!). I’ll drink rain water. I drank the tap water in foreign countries and didn’t have any issues. My wife jokes that my stomach is made of iron. Only thing is, I can’t do spicy food.

          3. CDM*

            My MIL had an elderly cat who refused to drink tap water. ( we have a well and the water is so much better than chlorinated public tap water). MIL used to buy bottled spring water for the cat.

            And then the cat would go outside and drink from muddy puddles and the fish pond.

            I don’t like chlorine in tap water since I’m spoiled by what I have at home. But I’ll drink it if I don’t have an alternative.

        2. Hrovitnir*

          Eww. My sympathy. Part of what makes me really hate being fat is never knowing when someone is going to out of the blue comment like that. The presumption annoys me probably even more than the implicit judgement. Especially the assumption they know more about nutrition by dint of being slimmer than you – I seriously doubt it, buddy.

          Walking around knowing whenever I exercise in public or eat “good” food people are assuming it’s for weight loss, and when I eat “bad” food people are judging you for being a bad fatty… it’s not great for my generalised anxiety. (And yes, I know not everyone does, but if you’ve ever talked to humans in real life or on the internet you’ll appreciate it’s pretty bloody common.)

    2. Marillenbaum*

      On the rare (thankfully) occasions I’ve dealt with this, they usually get a “Dude, let it go” from me. Or, my best Regina George: “Why are you, like, OBSESSED with me?” then go back to ignoring them and eating my lunch. It’s one of those delegitimizing techniques where the other person only looks worse if they keep talking, which is generally a thing I try to avoid, but I figure if you’re being a jerk, you lose the right for me to treat you like a fellow adult.

    3. Catnip Melba Toast*

      Yeah. This. When I’ve had people (men and women) rudely comment on my lunch, I respond with “Oh?”, “Okay”, or “Whatever” in a bored, bland tone. Then I go back to eating and ignore them.

  7. Somniloquist*

    This is one of my pet peeves. At a previous job I was called out for having a salad that was too large or eating more vegetables than other people or whatever and people could even act affronted that I wasn’t eating like them like it was a criticism that they had to address.

    It’s food, not religion.

    1. Clinical Social Worker*

      I too have had people criticize me for choices such as eating cauliflower. I was told that eating so many carbs like the cauliflower was what made me fat. I also once had someone ask me, aghast, if I was going to eat *the entire bag*…of snack-sized rice crisps. Not joking.

      1. Zombii*

        Carbs. In cauliflower. The thing 9 out of 10 Paleo recipes push as sub for carbs.

        I mean, yeah, cauliflower is what made me fat but that’s because I cover it in cheese sauce?

        1. Clinical Social Worker*

          I was eating steamed cauliflower. I was mystified. [He was eating a cheeseburger from a vending machine and said I needed to eat more meat like him, for context.]

  8. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    Tell me this person is a Crossfitter* who is also a Paleo/Keto evangelist.

    *I have lots of Crossfitter friends, and I am a runner who goes to a HIIT studio. This isn’t meant as an attack on all Crossfitters … just the ones who push diet/lifestyle on every.single.person they meet.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        What’s funny is, so many of us are used to that from extreme fitness-diet evangelists that it is normalized!

        (Me, I’m a live to eat person. I am That Person who instagrams her food and hashtags it with #nomnomnom or #thisiswhyirun or something equally obnoxious. I am sure he would be constantly judging my food and I’m sure I would give him a piece of my mind if he did.)

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      I get why paleo eaters evangelize; it’s a focus on eating real, unprocessed food, which we could all use more of.

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        “…which we could all use more of.”

        This is a leap. And evangelizing, unless you’re “preaching to the choir,” IMO, is never appropriate. Food choices, and even what is “healthy” for any particular person, is just way too personal.

        1. KellyK*

          +1 Even if it’s objectively the One True Perfect Way to Eat (which it’s not), your coworkers don’t need the sales pitch unless they’ve asked for it.

          1. fposte*

            I think “sales pitch” is such an apt phrase. Whatever you feel like you’re doing on the inside when you talk about the wonderfulness of your new approach to life that other people should share, it’s a sales pitch to the listener.

            1. Candi*

              The thing that bugs me about paleo?

              The pitch almost always includes ‘this is how our ancestors ate’.

              Then I look at the list of foods and the foods come from all over the world. Especially the plants.

              The trade routes to do that did not exist in Paleolithic times. Especially between the Americas, Australia, and Eurasia/Africa. Transportation was slow too.

              There’s also the ‘why did the ancestors look for other foods if paleo is so great’, but I consider that more subjective.

      2. fposte*

        There’s no connection between those two things, though. People evangelize about every damn thing under the sun and its correlation with the genuine value of the thing is very, very weak. There are just schools of cultural thought that have more of a culture of evangelism than others, but all of ’em need to dial it back.

      3. Trout 'Waver*

        The paleo diet isn’t particularly healthy, especially for people prone to heart disease. Diet choice should be informed by medical professionals, not random well-wishers.

        1. Goober*

          And the only universal truth is that where health and medicine are concerned, there are no universal truths. Everyone is different.

      4. BethRA*

        Every adherent of every niche diet thinks “we could all use more” of whatever their thing is in our diets/lives/whatever.

        It still not anyone’s business to preach about food to someone else, especially not in the workplace.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Like, in my case, the answer is cheese. I’m a strict adherent to the Cocktail Party Diet, wherein you subsist entirely on cheeses, olives, canapes, and champagne. You don’t lose any weight, but you have a damned good time while doing it!

          1. M-C*

            oooh! love that! I want to work in your office Marillenbaum . And then I could tell you about my favorite French diet, where you get a lot of foie gras and chocolate, while taking plenty of naps.

      5. Anonymoosetracks*

        Ugh. As someone with a (thankfully temporary) medical condition that makes many unprocessed foods unsafe for me and many processed foods safe, (paleo-friendly fruit and many veggies are right out, for instance; paleo-unfriendly cheese is in), just, no. I work with my nutritionist very closely, thanks. I would flip out if someone at work tried to evangelize at me about what I should be eating.

          1. Solidus Pilcrow*

            Or the decorative wax fruit in a bowl.

            Speaking of, do they still make that stuff? I haven’t seen a fake fruit bowl in years.

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

        Even if paleo diets were ideal, an awful lot of people don’t have the money or resources for a diet that expensive and inconvenient. Preaching at, say, the receptionist who lives mostly on rice, beans, and ramen about how she should be eating paleo is amazingly tone-deaf and offensive, especially if you are a lot better off.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Oooh yeah. I recently had a houseguest (a friend who I love, so in general, feeding her isn’t something I’d consider a burden), who ate a fairly strict paleo diet: only grass-fed beef and pastured chickens and wild-caught fish and organic produce and whatnot, and no filler carbs (which means that you have to buy more of the pastured/wild-caught meat and organic produce, to get the same number of calories, since she couldn’t fill up on potatoes or rice or bread or top herself off with sweets–even things like ‘fruit for dessert’ she would eat only in moderation, even if it was organic etc. etc.), and…. it was amazing to me how much more that week’s groceries cost. Like I said, she’s a dear friend and I offered to host her, so I don’t begrudge it, but it really hammered home to me how much economics come in to play with this kind of thing. And I am paid well and spend a fair amount on food usually, so it wasn’t even as though I was comparing it to a ramen and peanut butter diet myself! It brought home to me that there’s a good reason why so many peasant diets around the world are based on starches–they’re a cheap way to fill up!

          I learned a lot of cool new recipes (turns out I love acorn squash mash… although I won’t lie, I’ll probably put some maple syrup on it when I make it for myself), but it was an eye-opening experience.

      7. State Certified Nutritionist*

        All food is real food. The idea that only paleo-suitable foods are real is ridiculous.

      8. Mookie*

        Safe, highly-processed food is what keeps much of the world’s population from, just barely, starving to death in times of war, famine, and drought. The only thing we could use more of is food and water of any description, full stop.

    2. kb*

      My mind also went to Crossfitter, haha. I know some wonderful humans involved in Crossfit, but the extremely vocal ones… ugh.

      1. kb*

        And I don’t even mean vocal as in large fitness-based social media presence or liking to talk about it– I mean the ones who will not stop until you go to class with them. I’ve had to explain so many times that my health goals/needs do not align with Crossfit, but it’s always questioned.

          1. kb*

            Haha, I would believe it. I don’t want to knock something that makes people happy and gets them moving, but I do get concerned when I see people putting their health in jeopardy for anything (let alone something that’s supposed to be for wellness)

          2. Hrovitnir*

            Haha! Crossfit fills me with mixed feelings. I think there are lots of things good about it, and I really liked initially how it was someone quite strength focussed with a lot of women. OTOH it’s turned into some weird cultish subculture in a lot of cases, and I wince at the horrible technique that’s encouraged by the high-reps goal. I see a lot of back injuries in the future of many people making crossfit videos.

            I think it’s pretty cool in theory and I know people who really enjoy it so more power to them! I just on balance am not a fan.

            1. Gigi*

              A friend of mine got her CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Certificate over the weekend and let me have a look at her course materials with all the theory and training techniques and methodology behind it. And there is SO much emphasis on correct technique! Plus suggestions for scaling the difficulty of workouts depending on the person’s current level. I think if every box actually operated in this way (eg, no weighted squats until you’ve perfected the air squat, etc, and cut back on the prescribed weight or reps for the workouts if you can’t maintain correct technique) there would be a lot fewer injuries. But people think heavier and faster is going to give them better results in less time and get swept up in the competitive part of things and think how cool it would be to try the impressive-looking Olympic lifts… and no suprises what happens.

              I love the all-rounder athlete approach (although I don’t agree with their claim that people who choose to specialise in one discpline, like marathon runners, are less “fit” than elite CrossFitters). I totally get why some people love it and I totally get why they get great results from it… and I totally get why it would be hell on earth for some people. Honestly, I think the best fitness program you can follow is the one that you can sustain because you enjoy it and it challenges you, whether that’s CrossFit, running, yoga, long walks on the beach, kickboxing, or sit-ups in front of the TV ;)

    3. Jane D'oh!*

      “There’s a support group for people who peaked in high school. It’s called Crossfit.” –Matthew Broussard

  9. Gumbyjune*

    Eh, if it were me who he was making comments to, I would buy some cupcakes or donuts or whatever, position myself right where I could look him in the eye, and eat those treats while staring at him. If he made a comment I’d probably say something like “Good thing I’m not obsessed about my weight.” Or “Isn’t it nice I can eat these and still have my doctor say I’m healthy?” And no matter what he said to me, I’d repeat my chosen phrase over and over and over.

    I realize it’s passive aggressive, but people who diet shame don’t have normal social boundaries. Sometimes the only way to get the message across is to speak their language.

    1. Clinical Social Worker*

      I once did this with a carrot at a job where EVERYONE commented on my food choices.

      I have also had the flipside, where a fellow intern asked to watch me eat. She would deny herself food but watch me eat something like a cookie or fruit or anything really. It was…odd.

    2. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore*

      Is that really passive-aggressive though? I’ve always considered P-A moves to be things that were far less obvious/confrontational. Here you are basically saying ‘I am deliberately eating this AT you, and I DARE you to open your trap about it!’ I’d consider that to be just plain old aggressive…or maybe sarcastic-aggressive would be a better term LOL.
      Not that any of that negates your advice, I think it’s funny AF and even if it doesn’t get through to the Food Police, he’ll look like such an arse to everyone else that it will deflate the power any of his remarks to them may have had.

  10. Christine*

    One response “I wasn’t aware that I asked your opinion.” When people find themselves hiding what they are eating from a co-worker, it’s gone too far. I need to relax at lunch so I hide. But if someone was making me uncomfortable about my food choices or the extra 15 pounds I’ve put on at work … shame on them. The supervisor’s need to nipping this in the bud.

    I’m surprised someone has tore his head off. Sorry … my passive aggressive would be full force in this situation. He wound find a sheriff or police badge on his desk one morning saying “food police.” Aware that the passive aggressiveness is an ugly trait and it’s under contract 90% of the time, but it would pop out fully in this situation. I’m uncomfortable with the extra weight and I how I look that someone like that would be a fire storm. My boss has an eating disorder … she would have torn him a new one 3 times over and it would have shown up on his evaluation.

    1. AMG*

      I love that response. It’s on par with his behavior that I also can’t believe nobody has emphatically called out.

      It reminds me of when I was pregnant and people would just loooove to tell you what you should eat. Because male coworker has kids so that makes him qualified to tell me what I can have for breakfast. He got an earful that day and I never got so much as eye contact from him from then on. Bye, Felicia (*takes another bite of donut*).

    2. Charlie*

      I love it. Little badge, little police hat. As soon as he discovers them, go over with a Bible and deputize him. Just make it as painful and awkward as possible.

    3. Michele*

      I can see that backfiring easily. If the guy has no shame (and he might not based on his comments) he might take pride in it. I can see some jerk walking around calling himself the food police every time he smells chocolate.

  11. Robert Bobby*

    I eat lunch with a group of about 6 coworkers and there are 2-3 of those who will always bring the conversation back to diets/food. I’m OK with “woah, that look/smells amazing!” especially when it’s obvious the coworker put a lot of effort into cooking a delicious meal for themselves. But beyond that, I totally agree it’s way out of line to comment on people’s eating choices and definitely out of line to give unsolicited nutrition advice. This is one of my biggest office pet peeves!

  12. Tomato Frog*

    Just channel my mother and say “Don’t comment on other people’s food” in a tone that’s like a ruler rap across the knuckles. Has an 100% record of effectiveness.

    1. Natalie*

      Yes, I’m a fan of the direct approach here. It’s so socially acceptable to be the fat police or whatever that I think asking him why he’s doing this will just inspire a discussion about how he just cares so much and needs to tell people all the things they’re doing wrong. And that sounds exhausting.

      1. Tomato Frog*

        Yes, and bringing up his lack of qualifications to comment on dietary choices is a bad idea for the same reason. When someone’s being rude, you don’t want to get into a debate about the merits of their rudeness.

        1. Annie Moose*

          Good point. Even if the guy WAS a dietitian or whatever, it still wouldn’t be appropriate for him to out-of-nowhere comment on (and judge!) his coworkers’ food choices. The problem isn’t “he doesn’t have the right background to say these things” (although he probably doesn’t), it’s that he shouldn’t be saying them at all!

    2. Hannah*

      Totally agree. Proclaiming “it’s rude to comment on people’s food” has been effective for me. I feel like I’m standing up against it, but at the same time it doesn’t invite further discussion, which I’m not interested in having.

    3. Allison*

      I’ve recently become a fan of looking someone in the eye and saying “can you not?” and if they push back, explain why you want them to stop.

    4. Joan Callamezzo*

      This. Was eating lunch with a new, fairly-recently-converted vegetarian coworker once. She looked at my plate as I sat down and said, “*I* don’t eat anything that used to have a face.” I stared back at her and said, “*I* don’t comment on other people’s food choices, because it’s none of my business.” She shut up and never said another word about my food after that.

      1. Mostly Snark By Weight*

        My response to “I don’t eat anything that used to have a face” or similar vegetarian/vegan obnoxiousness is always “Vegetables are what food eats.”

      2. sam*

        reverse – I recently met up with a college friend (at a mutual friend’s birthday) who I hadn’t seen in 20 years. back then he was…aggressively vegetarian. When he sat down, he ordered a chicken burrito. When I did a double take, he said something about how he gave up on the vegetarianism a while back, but made particular note that he (and I QUOTE) “was such an asshole about it back then”.

        And then we both laughed our heads off and had a great time catching up.

        1. Joan Callamezzo*

          That’s awesome. My BFF is also a recent convert to veganism, but she isn’t evangelical in the slightest. She went vegan for her own health reasons and she doesn’t give a flip what other people eat.

          1. OP*

            See, and I think that’s great. My dietitian is actually vegan as well…a fact that I only know because her decision to do so caused her to explore nutrition. She’s very much of the “whatever works for you as an individual” camp, so if you aren’t restricting/binging/purging/otherwise abusing food, you feel good physically and emotionally, you aren’t miserable, and you can do what you want/need to do in life, the you’re good to go. For some people that MIGHT be veganism. For me, I know every time I’ve considered veganism has been because I wanted to restrict calories as much as I could. But I like bacon a lot and there’s no medical or ethical reason for me to follow such guidelines so…not vegan over here. And that’s okay.

    5. Emilia Bedelia*

      Or my mother- “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. Amazingly appropriate in many situations.

  13. EA*

    What is it with offices and food talk?

    I think it’s so interesting in weird sociological way. Every office I have been in, people loved to talk about their foods/diets/the foods of other people. Maybe just a lack of other things to bond over? My boss always tries to get me to talk to her about calorie counting, which I don’t do, and personally am not a huge fan of. She will come out of her office and be like “how many calories do you think are in the cookies up for grabs in the kitchen” generally I just make up a number.

    1. Aurion*

      I find diet talk as a bonding experience so baffling. My mother is a fantastic cook and she will talk my ear off about all the ingredients she put into this dish and the exact method she used to make sure it doesn’t overcook or bring out the flavour or what have you. Those are at least interesting to listen to, even if I haven’t a hope in hell of replicating it (because I am far too lazy).

      But diet talk, calorie counting, guilt over food, etc. is so incredibly negative. I mean, it practically exists to make the speakers feel bad about themselves. Bonding over negativity is a thing, I guess, but I really hate how this topic of all topics is such a common bonding experience when there are so many other much more positive/interesting topics out there.

      1. caryatis*

        Calorie counting doesn’t have to mean negativity or feeling bad. It’s just a way of making sure you don’t overeat, which many of us need to achieve or stay at a normal weight.

        1. Aurion*

          Sorry, I should have phrased that better. I know people choose whatever diet works for them and calorie counting is often a part of that. I meant specifically the type of calorie counting that is filled with negativity and guilt, like the “I ate half a cookie and I need to spent two hours on the treadmill to make up for it otherwise I am bad” and using that as a bonding experience with others. It’s that negativity as a bonding experience that mystifies me.

          I’m still not sure I’m phrasing this all that well, but this is pervasive enough that I hope you understand what I mean.

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            I had MyFitnessPal a while back, and it gave me such a complex. “If you ate like this every day in 5 weeks you would weigh [X-20] lbs!” Except I do, and I DON’T and OMG …

            I finally deleted it off my phone because it was leading to disordered thinking, not something I normally tend to.

            1. CrisA*

              Oh god, yes. I’ve been using it for close to a year and I admit, I’m down close to 50 lbs. But man, I never had disordered eating problems before. Now I look at the numbers I logged in myfitnesspal and how much I went over that day and think things like “oh, I’ll just not eat tomorrow to make up for it.”

              THIS IS NOT GOOD.

              1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

                I only talk about food at work to ask where someone got something (there is a restaurant with a cheap lunch special that varies, so I may ask “oh, is that the $6 special today? Maybe I will get it,” to say something looks good, or to share my own food.

                I’m overweight and short; it shows. But, I also have a history of subclincal anorexia (I met all the markers except weight, because I started out fat, and at my lowest was skirting the normal/underweight line).

                Long story short, I got better, my wife moved in and started cooking in her Southern way, I started eating for comfort again, and I took steroid meds for allergic reactions and asthma. So now people think they can police me again re: food because guess what, fat again.

                But policing still really bothers me. I don’t think I would be believed if I were to explain to anyone my history and why I don’t like food comments as a result, so the least I can do is not make those comments myself.

            2. Natalie*

              IKR? I really want a food/exercise tracking app where you can turn off the damn calorie counting and weight stuff.

              1. Oryx*

                I food journal, where I just write the food down to pay attention to patterns (time of day, what I’m eating, how I’m feeling) because the calorie aspect is just too mentally dangerous and triggering for me.

                1. Natalie*

                  But I’m so lazy, I just want my tiny computer to do it for me! /whine

                  I suppose the ultimate issue is that all the free trackers are ad supported, and there’s not a ton of ad revenue in intuitive eating, health at any size, etc.

              2. Astor*

                SERIOUSLY. I bought a fitbit to track how much I walk/etc so that I can summarize that info at medical appointments without having to manually record it myself. It’s really useful for some aspects of my chronic illness to be able to see the trends, etc.

                But I have yet to figure out a way to see how far I walked without also seeing how many calories I have burned and also how much my weight is still exactly the number I entered the first time because I am not tracking my weight.

                1. Anon-denominational*

                  This. Also, I am pregnant now and so I don’t WANT to lose, but fitbit doesn’t give me a pregnancy option and because I had lost 40lbs before getting pregnant, I feel like it is ashamed of me. I haven’t increased calories by much overall but I am definitely feeling thicker in places, and it adds up to horrible body images.

                2. Zombii*

                  @Anon-denominational Is there any way to make the suggestion to Fitbit re: Preggers Mode? As much as I dislike that being a default assumption in so many situations, it seems like a very useful setting to have available when it comes to fitness.

              3. Hrovitnir*

                YES. It offends me so much that almost everything aimed at tracking food/exercise *insists* on telling you the calories you’ve eaten/burned. A lot of the machines at the gym can’t be changed to not display calories burned either. Nooo. I don’t have an eating disorder, but they’re pretty common and it’s no skin off anyone’s nose to make it optional!

            3. many bells down*

              I stopped adding my food to my UP app, because it would always give me a terrible score no matter what I ate. Meanwhile, my husband’s takeout Thai would somehow have a higher score than my homemade salad or tea-and-English muffin breakfast.

            4. Emilia Bedelia*

              I used Lose It! for a while and man… it was not good for me. I’ve stopped food logging, but it was really quite unhealthy for the time I did it. Maybe some people can keep a log, but I found that just having that number attached to my food made me keep trying to push it lower and lower. It was not surprising to figure out that solving some other emotional issues in my life pretty much removed the need/urge to log my food obsessively.

              1. Zombii*

                Similar problem with Lose It! According to that app, I ate fewer calories that I was supposed to on the aggressive weight-loss setting and I gained 15 pounds in 2 months. My weight had been stable for 5 years prior to that. My problem is that I make a lot of my own food, so I don’t have nutrition labels to take calorie information from. Once I quit the app, everything leveled out again and I’m back where I was but no lower.

                Of course this was all my fault for not double-checking that the pre-programmed calories were accurate (210-calorie basic unglazed plain-flavor donut according to the app was actually 340 according the package I checked months after quitting the app—I assume similar oversights in different categories were present).

          2. caryatis*

            Yes, I see what you’re saying. I guess I just wanted to make it clear that you can count calories, exercise, not eat certain foods, or whatever you need to do to maintain a healthy weight without making it into the sort of moralistic and counterproductive self-loathing session you’re talking about–and certainly without openly critiquing others’ choices.

        2. OP*

          It kind of ignores natural hunger and fullness signals and the fact that caloric needs shift from day to day depending on a myriad of reasons…how much you walked yesterday vs today, if you’re getting sick, what time of the month it is, etc.

          (I don’t want to belabor the point because I know it’s totally OT, but I highly suggest the book “Intuitive Eating” for just about everybody. It’s very informative and has the most balanced view I’ve seen about eating and weight thus far.)

          1. Oryx*

            On the same subject, have you listened to the Food Psych podcast yet? I highly recommend it for the same reasons. She interviewed one of the IE writers a few weeks ago.

          2. Lemon*

            I’d also recommend “Health at Every Size”. It talks about intuitive eating, as well as just generally having a good relationship with food and exercise.

            1. Not Karen*

              I’ll have to check out “Health at Every Size” – thanks for the recommendation. I’m a huge proponent of intuitive eating. (In fact it baffles me that there are people who don’t eat intuitively… like how do you decide when/how much to eat if not by your hunger level??)

              1. fposte*

                For most people, definitely including me, it’s by availability and container constraint. I guess Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating, which is a great book, is the complement to Intuitive Eating.

              2. Oryx*

                For those of us who have struggled with disordered eating and/or are chronic dieters, there is a disconnect between our brains and our hunger cues: we don’t listen to our hunger cues, don’t recognize hunger cues, ignore them, some combination of all of the above, etc.

                1. fposte*

                  I think it’s even broader than just people with disordered eating experience, though; genuine hunger (the between meal kind, not the starvation kind) isn’t something that Americans necessarily regularly experience or expect to, and we focus much more on achieving satiation than on responding to hunger cues. I’m fascinated by the (probably oversimplified) cultural difference between the French approach of teaching kids to eat until they’re not hungry and the American approach of eating until you’re full.

                2. Turtle Candle*

                  Social training can also seriously screw up hunger signals even in people who don’t otherwise have disordered eating. And this can work in both directions–both social shaming for eating ‘too much’ or ‘the wrong thing,’ or, in my case, social pressure to eat more. I have always had a tiny appetite. Eating too much at a time makes me feel extremely ill, so I tend to have 6 small meals a day rather than 3 big ones, given my druthers. (I’ve tried to force myself onto a 3-larger-meals pattern, simply because it’d be socially easier, but it doesn’t work; I feel sick after meals and still find myself nibbly in a few hours anyway.) But there are a lot of social occasions where I got pressured to eat more, especially as a kid. Hurt feelings if you didn’t eat enough of Grandma’s pot roast. “You only ate half your lunch and now you’re looking for a snack just three hours later?” Waiters and waitresses being concerned that you’re not eating “enough.” My first college RA (sweet, well-meaning, but over-involved), who was sure I was anorexic and watched my plate like a hawk in dining hall during hall lunches–and never mind that I was getting plenty of calories if you counted the apple and almonds I would have three hours after lunch.

                  So I started to think of food not in terms of how much I actually was hungry for (which might be 4 bites of pork chop and 6 bites of salad and then save the rest for later) but in terms of how much I was socially required to eat (or hide) before I could call myself done. It really, really messed up my ability to tell whether I was hungry or not, full or not. And I love food! I do love food! It’s just that even the most delicious of dishes, I might only be able to eat half of. I will love the half I ate, I genuinely will, but if I feel pressured to eat All Of It so as not to Insult Grandma or Waste Food, I will stop loving it.

                  I think we’d all do a lot better to look at each other’s plates a lot less. I mean, I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t keep an eye on whether their kids are filling up on Red Vines right before dinner–but in general, apart from introducing healthy food habits to small children? We’d all be better off if the only comments we ever made about anyone else’s food were restricted to “Ooh, that looks delicious” or “Can I ask you for the recipe?”

                3. Candi*

                  One of the best things I did for myself was learn to eat slowly (when possible) and give my stomach time to tell my brain “oh yeah, there’s food down here”. According to one study I read, that can take about twenty minutes. I certainly feel fuller without feeling bloated by scarfing when I felt I was soooo hungry. This also helped me figure out decent amounts to fix/buy.

                  Another piece of advice I read in a book many years ago involved the ‘potato chip bag’ problem, as the book humorously called it. Basically the idea that if you take the whole chip bag (or box of cookies, or what have you) and set it next to you while watching TV, doing work, etc., automatic eating can take over and before you know it, it’s gone.

                  To combat this, the book recommended putting a portion in a bowl and putting the bag away. By the time you’re done, you’re in the middle of whatever and less likely to immediately get another portion. (I like large shallow bowls.) Using human laziness to manage portion control. :p

          3. Anonymous for this.*

            I’ll have to go find that book! I’m trying to do raise my toddler to be a more intuitive eater than I am… none of that “Three more bites.” or “Aren’t you full yet?!” stuff. Another book that really changed things for me was The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life by Wendy Shanker. Reading it was like a light bulb moment for me.

            1. Candi*

              One thing I found helped with my kids was leaving lots of empty space on their plates, while letting them have seconds and thirds until they were full.

              I started it after reading a study about how many parents bugged their kids to eat everything on their plate, even if it was a full plate. It got encoded in their brains, even as adults, that they had to eat everything on their plate. I was trying to combat that, that it’s okay to put a little on your plate, it’s okay to eat just this small amount, and it’s okay to get more if you’re still hungry. Watching what they ate helped me adjust portion sizes accordingly.

              Another thing that helps tremendously is the ‘no thank you’ bite. It’s amazing the number of new foods they try if they’re allowed to say no after one bite -and how many times they don’t say no. :)

        3. Observer*

          You have a point, but there is a reason why Weight Watchers, for one, has backed of it’s focus on calorie counting. And, it’s not just because it makes it easier to sell their foods.

          1. Aurion*

            Fair, but human metabolism is really hard to quantify exactly. I know a triple-decker hamburger with all the sauces and fixings is going to have more calories than a small plain baked potato, and obviously caloric intake will influence body weight. I’m not against dieting and caloric counting as a principle. But the moralistic self-loathing part (great description from caryatis) seems to just be a way of self-punishment, and I wish the latter isn’t as pervasive or encouraged by society as it is.

      2. Allison*

        I really wish people would banish this kind of negative food and body-related talk around the holidays especially, both in the office and at home. It sends a terrible message to young women when they hear the women they look up to (both family members and older coworkers) always talk about how cake is “bad” or how we all need to be careful about food around this time of year, or that good women make sure they stay skinny.

        My cousin often rants about how Americans eat too much meat just as we’re sitting down for holiday meals, or makes sure to comment on the importance of eating lots of veggies. She may have a point, but why ruin our annual roast beef dinner?

    2. paul*

      Because talking about which chocolate candies and Tex-Mex places are the best leads to fun new discoveries. At least at my office.

  14. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    “Bob, we’re not eating our lunch AT you. And you still haven’t told us where you earned your Master’s in Nutrition.”

    1. Venus Supreme*

      I love this. Adding this to my mental storage of one-line responses.

      Another one I use in various situations is: “You’re speaking to someone who doesn’t share your viewpoint.” (Say this straight-faced and without emotion. Conversation shut down!)

      1. fposte*

        Somebody posting here once offered up a wonderful variant of that: “I hope you’re not saying that because you think I agree with you.”

        1. Venus Supreme*

          I really like that one! I haven’t heard it phrased like that. I got the former phrase from my mom (we don’t normally see eye-to-eye on political stances) and I’ll be adding the new phrase to my book.

        2. James*

          I’ve asked a few Food Police “What do you hope to accomplish here? What is your end goal?” Only one actually responded with anything other than random spluttering, and that turned into a fairly fun conversation–he was respectful and courteous, as was I, and I at least learned a lot (mostly that he was wrong). But like I said, everyone else just sort of shuts down at that point.

            1. James*

              Turns out, he wanted my opinion on a diet book he was reading–one of the original Atkins/Paleo diet things. The book made some pretty strong claims about human evolution, and while my field is mammals, I know enough to discuss it. And the discussion on both our parts started out really polite; we’d worked together in conditions where discussing diet is more acceptable (working 12 hours a day in the desert means sharing ideas of what sort of lunches to eat!).

              Our disagreement was about wheat. My research points towards specific groups of humans evolving to handle wheat, while his pointed towards humans not being able to handle it. There are subtleties to how humans adapt to new foods that make this question really difficult–when humans adopt a new staple food the population ALWAYS suffers medical problems, and genetic variability means that some groups simply won’t evolve to handle it and will move away from it. It makes the data hard to interpret. Both stances are reasonable (but of course mine is MORE reasonable! :D), and we approached it as two scientists. I honestly enjoy that kind of discussion!

              1. Hrovitnir*

                See, that’s a conversation I’m OK having* – minus the entry being food policing. I find the need to claim “humans evolves to eat x” so irritating. Humans are generalists, it’s kind of our strength! Looking at patterns of intolerance between populations is really interesting, but the idea we shouldn’t eat grains because it’s not “natural” is just silly. (If not eating grains makes you feel good, go you! But I stand by the statement that blanket statements about what specific foods all humans should/n’t eat are silly.)

                *I’m in biomed on the molecular side so only did a few physiology and food metabolism classes, but I find it really interesting.

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  One of the most fascinating things I learned recently was how many of the plants that we eat are actually manmade, in the sense of not existing in nature before agriculture. Like, all cabbages, plus brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower, are created by human selective breeding–there is no such thing as s wild broccoli (or well, there may be a feral broccoli now that seeded outside a human farm? but there was no broccoli before humans). And the plant that they were bred from is an unassuming weed that doesn’t really look like any of the above; it looks like a squashed dandelion. But from that, so many tasty plants! I think the same is true of most stone fruits, peaches and plums and apricots and whatnot. In fact, as I understand it, almost all vegetables and fruits that you can buy in the grocery store are significantly different from their wild ancestors–and that’s even before you get into the difference between cattle and aurochs, or wild boar and pigs.

                  This has absolutely no bearing on what I think anyone should eat (I have been known to make dinner out of Sour Patch Kids, so I have no stones to throw) but I find it fascinating.

                2. Mookie*

                  Turtle Candle, yes! That’s the reality — that we’ve been eating hybridized, genetically-modified food all along and that selecting for traits is a long, but necessary process — that puts paid the notion of the “natural” or “primitive” or paleo diet of our ancestors being desirable and healthy, much less feasible in the long run. Food tastes good because we made it taste good! It’s supposed to be palatable! It’s supposed to be nutrient- and caloric-dense. It’s supposed to be easier to cultivate or raise under difficult conditions, more adaptable, bearing more abundant harvests more frequently, easier to keep and store and combine for multiple uses, because it’s necessary for our survival. Ditto cookery, which stretches what you’ve got and which makes the unpalatable or unsafe food both edible and nutritious (removing chemical barriers to free up for absorption the macro and micronutrients).

                3. James*

                  There’s also the fact that a lot of animals people ate in the Paleozoic simply don’t exist anymore. Until that team of Japanese researchers succeeds, there simply aren’t any mammoths alive anymore (and that won’t be a mammoth, just something physiologically nearly identical to one–elephants being a species that teaches their young). I’ve heard very good arguments that as a species we evolved to hunt megafauna, and mammoths in particular; domestication was a poor second-best (at the time). Fortunately, humans are incredibly adaptable!

                  The whole notion of returning to caveman days has always struck me as silly. There’s no evidence that they were better off than we are, particularly since the death rates were so much higher. I would have been killed pretty early on, what with not being able to see in 3D (and therefore unable to project the path of things coming at me). I’ve often wondered if the diseases we see today aren’t simply a factor of people living longer, and with medical conditions being identified these days. If Ugg the Caveman dropped dead due to heart disease his tribe wouldn’t have known why; they’d just have known that Ugg died.

                  The one part I did like about the book was the emphasis on eating more vegetables. Not because I didn’t eat them before, but because it confirmed what I knew: eating vegetables is really, really important to your health. I’ve worked on sites where the only food available was fast food, and after three days of that you can definitely tell that something’s very wrong. Fortunately my wife and kids love vegetables as much as me, so we have a very healthy supply of peas, carrots, broccoli, green beans, squash, and the like in the house! :D

                4. Aurélie*

                  De-lurking just to say that this is the best comment thread ever and that it’s enlightened my lunch break. Thanks for all this great insight!

              2. Venus Supreme*

                This is TOTALLY off-topic (I might repeat this for the open thread and try to find James there) but I really want to hear your thoughts about how allergies are developed in an individual. I’m the only one in my family with life-threatening food allergies and there’s a bunch of theories floating around as to how I got stuck with them and not my siblings.

  15. Rachel*

    This letter also needs the Jerks tag.

    I wouldn’t want to eat anywhere near the office if I worked with a guy like that.

  16. Menacia*

    Ugh, my office is made up of a group of women (the leader of whom is a certified quasi nutritionist) who all go in on the last diet craze/fad (mainly because she pressures them into it). I want NO part of this at all (and must give off that vibe because I’m never approached to join in, yay!), because it becomes just another spotlight to shine on the leader (who is seriously narcissistic). I used to eat lunch with the group (which has changed over the years) but now I stay far, far away because this group is at the core. I like each of these women individually, but I’m over hearing them make their shakes, tell each other it’s time for a shake, what shake flavor is your favorite, blah, blah, blah. Ultimately, it’s not ANYONE’S business what I eat or don’t eat, and for someone to constantly comment about my food would be so completely annoying. I don’t feel guilty, I eat what I want to eat, the consequences of which are mine and mine alone.

  17. Recent College Grad*

    Yay for the OP in this letter still lurking around here, and for your eating disorder recovery!

    Alison, have you ever thought of doing a roundup of food-related workplace issues (both related to eating disorders and general idiocy)? I’m the person who commented in an open thread a few months ago about how my boss pantomimed purging during a department-wide dinner and I was too shocked to call him an ass. Anyway, I think an encyclopedia of your advice on this topic would be really useful.

    1. OP*

      Oh my word. I would have imploded. At my last job, I DID get a bit loud when a coworker said he “understood the appeal of bulimia”. I didn’t totally overreact, but my response was pretty firm.

      1. Recent College Grad*

        I almost punched him in the face. (I did recover from an eating disorder too, but I also feel that anyone regardless of personal history had a right to be offended by what he did.)

        Also, WTF?! But kudos to you for putting him in his place.

  18. LSP*

    Somewhat OT here, but I’m reminded of a (former) friend of mine who had been struggling with her weight for a long time, but never seemed to really make an effort to do anything about it. She was also a mother of two girls, so I just assumed her life was too busy to make time for herself, which I totally get.

    Then, one day, she started losing weight. She dropped down several sizes, and began posting all sorts of pictures of herself on social media talking about her progress. People would ask her for advice and she would give a standard “eating less, cut out dairy, cut down on carbs” kind of answer.

    Off-line, she told me she had lost weight due to a new medication she was on, but continued to dole out advice to anyone who would listen.

    1. OP*

      Yeah, this is why I have issues with a lot of body talk in general. It’s just assumed weight loss is healthy, so people think the topic is up for grabs. I dropped a bunch of weight over the summer because I’d relapsed, so when someone mentioned my weight loss and asked what I’d been doing, I just said, “I’ve been ill.” Truthful without spilling my life story and my weight hasn’t been mentioned at work since. But, yeah, you just never know what’s going on with people and the assumptions that are made are maddening.

      1. sam*

        The most screwed up thing I ever witnessed was my mom being thrilled about all of the weight she lost when she had cancer.

        And then people wonder why I have issues with food/weight/etc.

        1. OP*

          I’ve been somewhat ashamed to admit that I actually envied the weight loss I saw in someone who I knew was going through chemo. This damn disorder messes with your brain. It’s horrible and I still feel terrible for having such thoughts.

          1. many bells down*

            I’ve had people remark enviously on my daughter’s digestive disorder because she can’t gain weight. I don’t think it’s restricted to people who have/had eating disorders. Sure, maybe “I can’t gain weight” sounds good to lots of people but one person literally commented on how great that was when I told them my daughter was in the hospital with a feeding tube so she didn’t starve to death.

            1. sam*

              yeah – I have some friends who have various autoimmune/digestive disorders and it’s amazing what people will still say to them. One, who has celiac, and who also has horrible migraines and was going through one of those “you have to cut all potential triggers out of your diet and add each one back slowly” tests for a while (which didn’t work), and who ALSO happens to naturally be one of those size-2 people, has people (including strangers) regularly accusing her of being anorexic. So that’s extra fun.

              The other is someone with severe crohn’s, who has subsisted on a feeding tube for years, and who just had an extremely rare small intestine transplant, but you know, please yell at her about how she should eat some bread.

        2. Joan Callamezzo*

          TBH, I was pretty happy about my weight loss during chemo too, although it was less, “YAY, cancer!” and more “At least there’s a silver lining in this otherwise crappy thing that is happening to me.” And every time I dropped more than 3 pounds in a week, I was swarmed by dietitians, and I had family cooking for me, so it wasn’t like I was in any danger of actually starving.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        I overheard some workmen recently and one of them was saying, “You’ve lost so much weight — are you OK?” The other guy said he had been sick. It was stunning to hear because I’ve spent most of my life in female-dominated offices where weight loss is always assumed to be a goal, you know?

        1. Former Retail Manager*

          Yes…the male view you mention is my view, and I’m female (a fat one at that). I’ve been both overweight and a healthy weight and I’m okay in either place. I generally associate weight loss with negative health consequences unless I know the person is actively working to try and lose weight or has had weight loss surgery. I feel for OP and anyone else who has to exist in that environment where weight is always being observed or criticized in some way. I would have some choice words for the guy in this letter in a heartbeat.

      3. oldbiddy*

        I got so many compliments after I had chickenpox and lost 10 lbs. Never mind that that 10 lbs was mostly muscle and my skin looked terrible. It was absolutely ridiculous.

        1. Anon-denominational*

          Everyone started complementing my friend when she suddenly lost like 35lbs. Never mind that it was because she had a tumor removed along with a piece of her intestine, and was on a liquid/restricted diet for a while, after being in septic shock. But yeah, tell her how much better she looks when she’s recovering from life-threatening illness.

  19. Student*

    When this comes up, be relentlessly opposite of what he wants you to be. He wants you to be ashamed of yourself, your body, your “willpower”, and your eating choices. So, embrace yourself and your decision. Refuse to be ashamed (if you can’t manage that for personal reasons, then ACT like it). Offer him some of the food he is complaining about. Tell him how delicious it is in a way that indicates you enjoy causing him discomfort with food. He scolds about empty cupcake calories? Tell him you’re only eating foods covered with frosting this week, and that it is fantastic. Tell him that you’d rather be fat and happy than skinny and live without chocolate. Laugh in his face and tell him you couldn’t care less about his opinion of your food.

    He’s obviously obsessed with food; consider preying on that obvious weakness if the earlier things don’t work out. Comments that insult his own food choices (even if they’re mostly fabricated) can easily put him off balance and are pretty widely used in the dieting world as a diversion tactic: “I heard (his current lunch choice) is high in additives that cause cancer/water retention/swine flu/gas/third-world poverty, how can you complain about my food when you’re eating that?!” Barbs like, “Why should I take your advice on dieting, since its obvious yours isn’t doing anything for you?” burn people like this even if they’re underweight. . You don’t need to cater to someone else’s neurosis when he clearly doesn’t care to be baseline polite by minding his own business on something that doesn’t impact him. I don’t recommend going mean with him right off the bat, but if he wants to be a jerk to all his colleagues, sometimes your last recourse is to meet fire with fire.

    1. OP*

      …I actually think this is wildly inappropriate and goes against so much of what I know to actually be true. I don’t think fighting fire with fire is a particularly good plan, and I certainly will NOT shame ANYONE for their weight or choices. My eating disorder does that to me; I’m not doing it to anyone else.

      1. Elisabeth*

        Yeah, agree with OP. The point is that you want your workplace to be completely free of this kind of talk. Don’t stoop to his level. He needs to stop, period.

      2. Jesmlet*

        Yeah I semi-agreed with the first paragraph but I think the second takes it too far. Being overtly confident about your choices is one thing, but insulting someone else’s choices or implying things about his weight is just not the best thing to add to an already tense work environment.

        1. OP*

          Not to mention it completely negates the message of “OUR WEIGHT AND DIET DON’T AFFECT OUR WORTH”, so, you know, I’d just be proving the guy right to a degree.

        2. Annie Moose*

          I feel the same way.

          It would be pretty funny to stare someone down and tell them you’re only eating things covered in frosting this week. (and then I’d bring in, like, a chicken breast and veggies the next day with a dollop of frosting on top, just to be annoying about it. “Wakeen, why do you look so confused? I told you I was only eating things with frosting this week…”)

          But everything else, uh, no. Not appropriate.

      3. Student*

        You’re so deep into the personal food-issue spiral aspect of this that you can’t see it’s not about food, and it was never about food. It’s about him lashing out at others over his problems; it’s about power and ego and deflection. He’d criticize your food even if you were dying of being underweight and eating exactly whatever diet he favors this minute. It’s about giving others criticism, it’s about finding fault, it’s about him reassuring himself that he’s better than whomever he is digging at because he can make them feel small and ashamed.

        You’ve bought his basic premise, that he somehow has a right to judge others for their food choices. You buy that this is somehow a thing he does to “help” people. That’s bunk – he’s not trying to help people, and he never was. This is the reason that normal conversations about norms that AAM recommends are not going to be effective in reigning him in. He isn’t unaware that dieting and food is fraught for many people, he is counting on it, and he’s counting on you to act like he is well-intentioned as long as he uses certain phrases. He chose a common soft spot, it’s one you happen to have, and he started prodding it. He’s a bully, making others miserable to distract him from his own issues.

        By all means, start out from the premise that he is well-intentioned, but if it fails, take a harder line. Taking him seriously gives him all the power. Realizing that his food advice is loony, that he’s someone to be laughed at at pitied, not someone who’s opinion on food is legitimate, gives you back the power to decide over normal things in your own life. Life isn’t a Disney movie. Bullies rarely back down after consensus-building discussions or sensitivity lectures. They back down when they can’t hurt you any more.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          “You’re so deep into the personal food-issue spiral aspect of this that you can’t see it’s not about food, and it was never about food.”

          Whoa there. That’s not really appropriate. There are ways to shut down this behavior that don’t involve levels of psychoanalysis and game-playing. A simple “don’t comment about my food” accomplishes the objective without all this extra drama.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Honestly, food is primal enough a topic that I think that conflicts about food/health are, in fact, often about food/health. If you were talking about his car or something, then yeah, probably it’s a reflection of something else. But food, and health, are sufficiently basic topics that I think it’s foolish to say “it’s not really about food, it’s about power!” Sometimes? It’s about food. I’m willing to take the LW for her word that that’s the case here, and not that she’s just being naively blinded by the immediate topic (and, yikes, holy condescension, batman!).

        3. OP*

          Yikes. Honestly, it seems like you may have some stuff to work out because there are a LOT of baseless assumptions being made about what I think, the guy in question thinks, how we interact, and how I present myself.

          1. OP*

            (And as far as being naive in these issues…I’m, as I have openly discussed, in eating disorder recover. I’m SUPER aware that food issues aren’t actually about food. I’m also very aware of diet culture and a lot of the rancid thought processes that drive it. I study this stuff a LOT. I just plan on working in my particular office for the foreseeable future and don’t want to stir up contention when it isn’t necessary. I also don’t want to bully, namecall, body shame, food shame, or be aggressive to a fault. I’m a blunt person and can stand up for myself if need be; I just need to balance that with being appropriately cordial in the workplace. I don’t plan on making enemies out of acquaintances because I’ve read malice into someone else’s thoughtless actions.)

      1. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore*

        Exactly this! I could get behind this, or “Didn’t you know your lunch contains an ingredient widely known to cause plagues of frogs/make your toes fall off/disrupt the phases of the moon/make wild giraffes think you are their soulmate/something else wildly ridiculous that could never be caused by any kind of food.

        1. slick ric flair*

          Yes, but you are also responsible for professionalism as well. Adding to drama is not an appropriate response in the workplace.

    2. Observer*

      I don’t think I could think of a worse way to deal with the issue. The guy is acting like a jerk. Responding in kind is, at best, not likely to be useful.

      At worst, anyone who is already uncomfortable is going to be furious at the OP for making the situation exponentially worse.

      1. Student*

        I’ve actually had a fantastic success rate with this. When I get scolded for my unhealthy food by an jackalope co-worker, usually just saying “It’s delicious, try one!” signals that I do not buy into their food-shaming one bit. They promptly stop trying to control my food choice to seek out people who they can shame and control and obsess over food with.

        I’ve only had to go farther than that rarely, and only once had to tear somebody a new one by throwing full food-obsession related insults. That guy was cruel, I enjoyed hurting him after all the other people he’d hurt, and I do not regret it at all.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          “That guy was cruel, I enjoyed hurting him after all the other people he’d hurt, and I do not regret it at all.”

          Not everyone is you. Again, there are ways to shut this down without engaging in office psychological warfare.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Even apart from the fact that not everybody feels that ‘he was cruel, so I should be crueler!’ is a good tactic–

          This tactic has the high potential for splash damage. If you see his yogurt and say “Gosh, didn’t you hear–the proteins in yogurt cause cancer!” then that doesn’t just hurt him, it hurts everyone in earshot who eats yogurt. If you come up with a ‘zinger’ like “I don’t know why I should take diet advice from you, seeing how far it’s gotten you!” *eyes his stomach/muscles/whatever*, you’re not just hurting him, you’re hurting everyone in earshot who fears being judged for their weight. The cruelty isn’t restricted to the initial offender. It ripples outwards.

          I have no issue with responding to “how can you eat that???” with “because it’s delicious!” But your other suggestions? Are merely spreading the dysfunction around with a big shovel.

    3. Appalled In Tulsa*

      There are so many things wrong with this comment I don’t know where to start. You have some very damaged thinking going on. I hope you get some help to oversome your issues! Good luck.

  20. MWKate*

    This is one of my top, top, irritations. You are an adult. You can eat what you want, and everyone should stay quiet about it. I don’t care if the person eating it is thin, fat, average, whatever – it is not anyone’s business. Some people place such judgement on others’ food habits that it’s not a polite observation to comment on someone’s food anymore, it comes across as morally judgey and icky.

  21. shep*

    I’ve had some minor but alarming disordered eating tendencies in the semi-recent past. I never outright starved myself, but I did flirt with some dangerous binge/purge cycles, and my daily functioning was hampered by constant obsessive thoughts about food. (I am in a much, MUCH better place now.) I ate normally but hyper-healthily in front of my coworkers. My office is really big on potlucks and simply bringing in food and leaving it for communal consumption, and people would comment on how “good” I was and “oh, you can just have one of X or Y”. That is not nearly as stressful or rage-inducing as what OP has to deal with! But it definitely had its own share of anxieties attached, at least for me, and seemed more insidious than outright disapproval, because these people were encouraging me to eat out of camaraderie.

    OP, I hope he gets sorted swiftly and soon. You shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of behavior!

  22. AnitaJ*

    OP, from one person in recovery to another, so much love and solidarity. I’ve struggled with this issue (diet talk at work) for YEARS and years and it’s still something tricky to navigate. I support you. Keep on being awesome!

    1. OP*

      Thank you so much! I’m 5 weeks into IOP and am doing a lot better. Still kind of fragile, but definitely getting there :)

  23. many bells down*

    I went through a phase where I wouldn’t eat a salad in public for years, even if I really wanted one, because I’d invariably hear some variation on “oh no WONDER you’re so skinny!” I just … like salads. I also like giant pieces of cake with an inch of frosting on top, and rare steaks, but no one would comment on those.

    Now, my daughter has a digestive disorder that makes it very hard for her to gain weight. And she’s very picky about her diet usually, because the wrong foods will aggravate it. So she has to deal with the same thing a lot. Although, the other week I caught her eating an entire can of cake frosting, with a spoon. I was about to yell at her to knock it off when I realized; hey, that’s like 1200 calories and she doesn’t have any cavities, so heck, eat all the frosting!

    1. OP*

      I HATE stuff like that. The number of times I’ve had comments like, “Oh, you’re being good” because I was eating an apple with peanut butter for a snack is ridiculous. It’s an apple with peanut butter. It’s like the more average snack in America. My morality didn’t climb ten points because I happened to choose that food combination. Ha!

      1. Allison*

        That makes me cringe too! It’s so condescending, like I’m such a *good little girl* for eating my veg’ables!

    2. Annie Moose*

      The weird thing about me and salads is that I always eat salads with, like, half a chicken and a pint of salad dressing on top, and I STILL get remarks about how “healthy” it is. Maybe it was, before I upended the bottle of Italian dressing over it…

      (And I’m somewhat lower than average weight due to genetics, so I feel really uncomfortable when people comment on it anyway. No, I don’t really work out… no, I don’t spend much effort to deliberately eat healthy (I just get busy and forget meals or am too lazy to make anything)… this is just how I am. Leave me alone. Whether low or high, my weight is not a moral indicator.)

      1. many bells down*

        Yeah seriously, have you looked at this salad? It’s half hardboiled eggs and bacon and salami with a pint of creamy dressing. Just because there’s lettuce in there doesn’t mean “healthy”.

      2. Natalie*

        Yeah, I’ve always found the idea of salads being healthy (where that word is being used as a euphemism for “low in calories”) to be hilarious because I always put a ton of cheese on my salads. I was a vegetarian for some years at a point when vegetarian food wasn’t super easy to find at restaurants, and I ate from a lot of bad salad bars. Shredded cheese and salad dressing were basically the only items in the salad bar with any nutritional content whatsoever.

        1. Michele*

          In some parts of the country, people order fries on their salads, so I tend to not equate salad with healthy.

      3. Jane D'oh!*

        I’m about to eat a taco salad covered in sour cream and guac, and am nodding frantically in agreement.

  24. Sami*

    I always say dieting is my mother’s favorite spectator sport…I didn’t spend time with my grandmother until I was older and there is no doubt where it comes from. Me and all of my siblings have food issues.

    OP- by speaking up you are not just voiding issues for yourself but other people.

    Thank you.

  25. M-C*

    Op, you might want to read up a bit about bullying bystanders. As you’ve already found out, being a mere witness can be almost as stressful as being the direct target. But luckily intervention from a bystander is the most likely to stop the behavior. Of course you worry about being the next target, but in fact that’s not very likely if you take the initiative, he’s just less likely to do it again in front of you. And someone else is very much more likely to come to your defense in turn .

    One thing where I disagree with AAM is on the personal talk. You’re not his friend, you’re not his supervisor, you have no reason to have any sort of personal talk. And I’d strongly advise against any mention of eating disorders or triggers or anything like that, ever, as you don’t want to give him any ideas of ways in which you might be vulnerable. The real issue here is not food, it’s bullying.

    So please do make some remarks any time he starts. The funnier the better, as that’ll get the best results. At his expense. Nickname him the Food Police, use it in other contexts “did FP fisnish that report?”, call him that to his face. Loud stage whisper “uh oh Jane, better hide that donut, here comes the FP”, you get my drift. He’ll stop. He’s just an insecure prick who’s figured out a way to get to most women, using it to compensate for being the only man there.

    1. Kyrielle*

      I’m not sure I’d go to the mocking point so much as use some of the other call-outs above – but yes to the first paragraph. Actually if you push back when he does it to others, I suspect you’re significantly less likely to be a target – most jerks of this type don’t want a target that will push back, and he’ll have that data point about you before he even tries it.

      And if pushing back *doesn’t* work and he escalates, I’d be tempted to pull in a boss or even the HR department at that point, assuming I had no reason (related to the specific boss or HR department) not to.

    2. kb*

      I don’t know if I agree with starting with the jokes. This guy seems like he’s one of those “I’m helping these women by shaming their food choices” type of guy, which clearly sucks. Even though this guy should be aware that he’s being obnoxious, he probably doesn’t. And in my experience with these types of people, they’ll feel a attacked by the jokes and lash out in some way. It’s in no way the OP’s responsibility for having this conversation, but I’ve found the best way to stop people from being terrible is to act as if they don’t realize they are terrible. “Hey Fergus, I know you probably don’t mean it to come across this way, but fixating on everyone’s food can come across as shaming their choices. Would you mind not commenting unless someone asks?” This way, they don’t feel as if you find them a horrible person and they can just cut it out without feeling the undying urge to defend their actions. If they persist, head to snark, but I’ve found that assuming the best often leads to the best responses.

  26. Venus Supreme*

    Oh. My. Goodness. This coworker could be in cahoots with OldBoss at ToxicJob.

    I was living off of microwave meals and leftovers other people gave me and OldBoss would make comments like, “What are you eating? That looks disgusting.” He also offered unsolicited advice about How I should be Eating Five Small Meals per Day and How Organic Is Better For You (he spoke in monologues for days). I even overheard him telling a young female coworker that if she wanted to watch her calories she should stop drinking Vitamin Water. Then he’d make comments about how my clothes were fitting me. It got so bad I would eat in a random stairway to get away from him. Triggering as hell especially with my unhealthy relationship with food.

    OP, I feel for you and I applaud your ability to not get sucked in by the crazy. Shut this MF-er down!

    1. No, please*

      I once had a co-worker a lot like this. She mostly talked about herself but sprinkled in some “helpful advice ” throughout the day. She was pretty unhappy with herself and tried to warn me of all the ways my body would’ve terrible if I didn’t change my habits. She was triggering for me too. It’s just so rude! Food wardens- please stand down!

      1. Venus Supreme*

        What is their end goal? “Thanks so much, Bonnie, I was really enjoying this spaghetti and meatballs but you’re so right! I’m going to go paleo-raw-vegan ASAP! Excuse me while I find some dandelion tea…” Food wardens indeed!!

    2. INFJ*

      I seriously thought you were talking about the same OldBoss at ToxicJob as mine, but we didn’t have a stairwell…

      It’s crazy how common this kind of thing is.

      1. Venus Supreme*

        We were located on a floor in a building consisting of different offices (y’know, city stuff) and I’d just silently step out and eat on the stairway… But we had a rule that only one person could leave the office at a time, and I shared the space with a chronic smoker. Sigh. I’m glad to be out of there and at NewJob with a healthy relationship to food!

    3. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore*

      Thanks to the impulsiveness from ADHD, dyspraxia, and other disorders that went undiagnosed for most of my life, it would have only been a matter of time before I responded to “that looks disgusting!” with some kind of smartass remark anywhere from “good thing you’re not the one eating it!” to “so are you!/so’s your face!”
      I am so, SO glad those same disabilities left me unable to work almost any kind of corporate office job because I wouldn’t have been able to last at any of them.

  27. Christine*

    Thought … you know some men will find a button to push that upsets a woman. He can be told you do not find it funny, etc., but the behavior continues. If he’s married, how does he treat his wife? He may be aware of the reaction he’s getting and is enjoying it. Even if someone doesn’t respond, our body language, facial expression , voice, avoidance of him, etc. could be giving him some satisfaction. That is reading too much into it, but he’s a horses rump.

    OP — please let us know how you decide to handle it and his reaction.

      1. fposte*

        And we have come all this way in the thread and no one has invoked the invasive female dietician who had to be escorted out by security?

        Link in followup. Link is also *to* the followup, because that’s the juicy bit.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think we need to make this gendered. (We’ve been making a LOT of letters gendered lately when there’s nothing in the letter to support that, and I want to cut way down on it.)

        1. OP*

          Yes, this. I work in a medical office, so a large portion of the staff is female. Even if this is somehow related to gender, it would be impossible to know for sure just because the vast majority of my coworkers are women.

  28. J*

    UGGGGGGGHHHH I hate people like this! I once worked with a guy who kept track of what I ate and then told me the approximate calorie count at the end of the day. I was dumbfounded.

      1. J*

        So was I! I just kind of sat there and stared at him before turning back to my work. It was the next day before I finally worked up the courage to tell him never to do it again.

    1. alter_ego*

      This is obviously awful, but I am intentionally tracking my calories at the moment (with assistance of a nutritionist and therapist in a safe healthy way) but sometimes I just really don’t feel like sitting down and figuring the calories out. I wonder if that guy could transfer to my office and do the work for me.

    2. Michele*

      That would send me over the edge. I have never had an eating disorder that was bad enough to require professional help, but I spent the first 30 years of my life with some really messed up views on food, including hiding what I was eating because I was made to feel so ashamed (and eating became an act of rebellion that I did in private). It took me a long time to develop a healthy relationship with food. That would just be too much.
      As it is, I hate when people make moral judgments about food or comment about my weight or exercise habits in anyway.

      1. J*

        I hear you. I have much the same relationship with food and it was devastating. Thankfully, I’m not in that job anymore, but for the last few months I was there, I refused to eat in front of him, which meant missing out on team events.

    3. Hrovitnir*

      Oh. My. God. That is so creepy – how close he’d have to be watching, the amount of time he would have spent looking it up. I actually love the staring and looking away as an initial response, and I’m assuming he stopped when you told him. But by god should you not have had to!

  29. Mononymous*

    Ugh, the food police. I’m one of those with a health issue that affects diet: I have Crohn’s, and it does seriously impact what and how much I can eat. It also varies pretty wildly over time, depending on flare-up status, current medications, etc. So yeah, I’ve seen the side-eye at my lunch box or plate. It sucks. I’d kill for a good salad right now, but leafy greens make me feel like I’ve swallowed barbed wire for now. :(

    I’ll never forget the time I was out to dinner with friends and my best friend commented, albeit in a well-intentioned way, “is that all you’re going to eat?” I know she was just concerned for my health and wanted to make sure I was getting enough nourishment, but I didn’t know how to answer because sometimes I just have to eat small meals because of how my body works. Before I could respond, her husband gently shushed her and said “she isn’t pointing at your plate and asking if you’re really going to eat all of that, so you shouldn’t comment about how much she’s eating either.” I was so glad he said that right then. We should all be like him!

    Btw, OP: congratulations on being in recovery, and best wishes for continued health!

  30. Argh!*

    The only time I have ever raised my voice at work was when the resident food nazi expressed an opinion about my food that one last time that broke the camel’s back. The actual words were appropriate though – I informed her that she is not my doctor and that her opinion on my food choices is not welcome. She had singled out me for this advice, so it solved the problem. In hindsight I should have told her that it was none of her business the first time she tried to “help” me.

  31. Not doing that again*

    Reminds me of the dieting contests my employer used to have. We’d all talk about nothing except food and exercise during the entire 2 month contest. We’d starve ourselves and do all sorts of unhealthy things to lose as much as possible as fast as possible. After the first week everyone was grouchy and not much got done. It caused health issues for some, and soon as the contest was over all the weight cane back. What a nightmare. I’m ashamed for participating. I’m sure the few who didn’t participate were continually irritated.

    1. Not Karen*

      That’s so sad… My old employer had these health and wellness “goals” that were oftentimes completely ridiculous and similarly ignored the bigger picture like “didn’t drink soda for two weeks.” Really? It’s better for a chronic soda drinker to abstain for two weeks and then restart than it is for someone to have 1 soda every other week?

      1. Not doing that again*

        It really was bad. They offered 2 weeks paid pto to the winner. I came in 2nd 2 years in a row, so I put myself thru all that for 1 lousy “good job” day. Several contestants would get sick every year. unsure why they thought that would make us healthy. Now I work on eating healthy most of the time and trying to like the way I am.

        My new company has those goals, I ingore them.

  32. Oryx*

    I call myself a “recovering chronic dieter” these days, as someone who has suffered from ED and decades of yo-yo dieting. So much love and solidarity here. Work is so difficult sometimes, although this job is so much better than my previous. I couldn’t eat with my co-workers because ALL they talked about was diet and calorie counting.

    1. OP*

      Seriously. I HATE eating in the break room with others. I usually take an early lunch so it’s avoidable, but today people came in toward the end of my lunch and I heard the following conversation within minutes:

      “You’re only eating an apple?”
      “I’m going to be bad tonight, so yeah.”


      1. Oryx*

        We had cupcakes the other day at work. I’d already eaten lunch so I declined.

        “You have amazing willpower!”
        “No. I just ate. I’m not hungry.”


        1. Marillenbaum*

          Learning to be mindful about what I genuinely do and don’t want is still a process for me, but it feels revelatory. Realizing that just because something is there doesn’t mean I have to eat it, or that if I really want a Milky Way bar instead of dark chocolate (which tastes like death!) that it’s totally okay to eat it and enjoy it has made my life so much more joyful.

          1. Oryx*

            Yup! It’s amazing, I’m finding that there are certain foods I thought I liked or I would always eat just because it was there (and I wasn’t “supposed” to eat them) but now that I’m giving myself permission to eat them I kind of feel “eh” about them.

          1. Oryx*

            Which is fine, but the point is the idea of “willpower” against “bad” foods is the wrong attitude to take.

            1. MegaMoose, Esq*

              The willpower thing is so obnoxious. I’m overweight but also don’t really like sweet foods, so will occasionally get “compliments” on my “willpower”. I just joke that they should see me with a bag of popcorn.

            2. Mae*

              This is painful.

              Having gone through the same exact thing (years ago, but still scarred), I will say this: you can’t control people or expect them to change their own perceptions. They don’t know their comments (such as “willpower” are triggers because they have no clue about your medical history, nor is it their business). I once broke into tears over a packet of oatmeal (“You’re eating AGAIN?”), a comment that I crunch too loud, and ended up escalating the drama, unfortunately. (Why? Because the thought that went straight to my head was: “This person thinks I’m fat, therefore I am. I’m a piece of garbage and don’t deserve to eat.”

              But really, I went down the destructive path, and that person didn’t. So what can be done? Seeing as they shouldn’t need to know your personal situation, you have to make the ability to disengage part of your personal recovery. It was really hard, but the only way. You can’t fix stupid, you can’t stop the comments, even if you ask sometimes, and above all, you can only control you. I used to resent when my therapist said, “You can’t change others, so YOU have to change.” But she’s right. It’s not about you personally being flawed, but rather, looking within yourself to find ways to disengage and stay “in your own business.” Let assholes be assholes. Hope that helps.

  33. Barney Barnaby*

    “Fergus, you’re not a nutritionist, and even if you were, you aren’t MY nutritionist; ergo, you have absolutely no business commenting on my food” might be effective.

    1. Barney Barnaby*

      (Wish there were an edit function)

      I used to work for someone who made armchair psychological diagnoses. This person was in no way qualified to do so, but did it anyway. One of my dear friends, who is a psychologist, had choice words about the matter: she hates when people use mental health as a shaming tool; thinks that lay people aren’t qualified to make those kind of diagnoses; and even if the person were trained (and licensed), there’s also the issue of us not being his patients. Even if you are a trained professional, you just don’t pop off with a diagnosis to everyone you encounter (in fact, your training teaches you that you can’t do that).

  34. animaniactoo*

    My preferred method of shutting stuff like this down is to ask if I get to nitpick the things they’re doing wrong.

    Do I get to openly pass judgment on the way they dress, and give advice about where they live or their dating lives?

    Because imo we are all entitled to go to hell in our own way. This is mine. Sometimes it’s my struggle, sometimes it’s my option, but it’s MINE. And unless I want your opinion – visual or verbal – I want you to respect that it’s mine, the same way that I respect yours by not commenting on your [insert bad fashion choice/bad tech purchase/other relatively subjective and innocuous issue].

    Once in awhile you run into somebody who says “yes!” and then you have 2 options. You can say that while you appreciate their willingness, it’s really not something you’d like to do and can we please not talk about either unless specifically asked for. Or – because I am mean and evil enough that this is always fun to me – you can start picking on all the little things about them. Most don’t last 2 weeks before they give in and agree to a ceasefire on both sides.

  35. Red lines with wine*

    OMG, yes! I hate this so much. I’m pregnant and a male coworker has commented on my coffee drinking several times. I monitor my caffeine intake, but more importantly, he’s NOT my doctor! I’ve said to him – “OK, food cop, would you stop? I know what I’m doing.”

    Next time he does it things are going to get real.

    1. Is it Friday Yet?*

      This is so rude! If it were me, I would say “I’m just going to give you a little tip, but people really don’t like it when you share your opinion about what they are eating or drinking.” Pregnant or not, it’s rude.

    2. AMG*

      Yep—when I was pregnant my coworker told me that I shouldn’t have caffeine or sugar. I asked him if he was a doctor, and he told me that he knew since he had 3 kids. I told him that he is NOT a doctor, he’s not my doctor, and I know this because I met with my doctor who told me that my eating habits are just. Fine. Firm voice and eye contact = never spoke to that jerk again about food, pregnancy, or anything else.

  36. Anon 12*

    What about secretly leaving something like stale chips covered with congealing nacho cheese on his desk every morning? tee hee

  37. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I only talk about food at work to ask where someone got something (there is a restaurant with a cheap lunch special that varies, so I may ask “oh, is that the $6 special today? Maybe I will get it,” to say something looks good, or to share my own food.

    I’m overweight and short; it shows. But, I also have a history of subclincal anorexia (I met all the markers except weight, because I started out fat, and at my lowest was skirting the normal/underweight line).

    Long story short, I got better, my wife moved in and started cooking in her Southern way, I started eating for comfort again, and I took steroid meds for allergic reactions and asthma. So now people think they can police me again re: food because guess what, fat again.

    But policing still really bothers me. I don’t think I would be believed if I were to explain to anyone my history and why I don’t like food comments as a result, so the least I can do is not make those comments myself.

  38. Intrepid*

    Ugh, I (a woman) have a housemate who does a version of this. I had bronchitis for a month, coughing so badly that I choked on most vegetables and barely ate anything all day. So I ate pizza 2-3 times per week– I could choke it down, it was easy, and by 7 PM I was HUNGRY.

    At 11 PM one night, Housemate decided to bellow at me from another floor that he was going to clean the oven now, unless I needed it to make another pizza. I may have yelled back that he should do something useful for once because the stove was already quite clean. Months later, he still makes a point of coming up on tiptoes and bending towards me so he can better see my plate every time we’re in the kitchen together.

    But he still hasn’t done anything useful.

  39. EmilyAnn*

    We have a person very similar to that in our office. Couple of things make it different. First we’re a mixed military/civilian/contractor workplace in the Federal Government. The military people have to weigh-in twice a year so they’re extremely worried about their weight and trying to lose quickly two times a year. Second, the person doing this to the entire staff no-matter what our status, is a “Fitness Coordinator” in an official capacity. Technically, she’s just supposed to be promoting health among the military members, but that turns into food lectures, judgment, and shaming often. I think she often looks ridiculous making comments at the office potluck or whatever. Thankfully she’s well-liked for other reasons, so we just try to ignore the food shaming or laugh it off.

    1. KellyK*

      Wow, that has to be really annoying! I think my response would be, “Jane, I’m a contractor. Until Defense Teapots, Inc. starts doing weigh-ins, I’m eating the cupcake.” If it gets really uncomfortable or if it’s triggering food issues for you, it might be worth taking her aside and asking her privately to dial it back. It’s kind of hard, because it might be totally within her responsibilities to remind the military folks to watch what they eat at the potluck because they have a weigh-in coming up. But lecturing and shaming everybody in the office isn’t appropriate (and probably isn’t helpful to anybody).

      1. EmilyAnn*

        Sometimes you determine that someone’s issue is harming their own life more than it could ever harm yours. She has an obsession with weight and food. She is obsessed with “health”. The way she speaks about her relationship with her daughter makes me think her kid will have issues with food her whole life. My mom was also obsessed with being fat and food, tried to make me feel bad for eating and her net result is an obese daughter with an unhealthy relationship with food. I’m on a better path now, but I honestly look at my food police co-worker and feel sorry for her. Proper eating and working out is her religion and that’s not a good way to live.

    2. Michele*

      The fitness coordinator and I would butt heads. I do endurance sports (triathlons, ultra running) but am overweight. I have spent most of my life feeling that I needed to apologize for my weight and have finally got past that. If she told me to put down that Kit Kat and go for a run, we would have a problem.

      1. James*

        That’s the thing–you can’t tell how healthy someone is merely by how big they are. I’m a tall, lanky fellow, and my cousin is a big beefy guy. I know he can outrun me, and these days he may be able to out-wrestle me (I’m out of practice, while he is a police officer). I also know a guy that weighs 300 lbs. when he’s in his “fighting weight”–and who can fight continuously, wearing 100 lbs. of steel armor, for eight hours. I’ve seen him do it. That takes an unimaginable amount of strength and stamina–not the least because his weapon weighs like ten pounds (doesn’t sound like much, but it’s on the FAR upper end of Medieval weapon weights).

        My point is, if you put the three of us side-by-side, the Food Police would ream the other two about being fat, despite the fact that in a lot of ways they’re healthier than I am!

        Those people don’t base their views on reality. They base them on a fantasy that they’ve bought into.

  40. Lovemyjob...truly!*

    OOOOOOOH I hate when people comment on my food. I used to work with a woman who was physically fit and decided that I would be her “project”. She never asked my thoughts on the matter. She just decided one day that I needed to work out and eat better. I used to go walking with a group of women at lunch (she was one of the women) and she’d suddenly try shoving weights into my hands before we’d head out or pushing me to walk faster. I stopped walking with the group just to get away from her. She used to comment on stuff I’d eat at lunch “That has a ton of sodium in it.” or “A sandwich? That’s unnecessary carbs.” The kicker was at a holiday lunch though. Our manager had bought the team a meal and three of us ordered one decadent dessert to share. Others had ordered their own desserts as well, including my manager. The other two women were both similarly sized to me but this woman called me out on the dessert in front of the 30 person team. It takes a lot to push me to confrontation. That did it. I advised her that when I needed her opinion on what I was eating I would ask for it but until then to keep her mouth shut. There was this awful, awkward moment of silence in the room. I was so steamed that I was doing everything I could to keep from crying angry tears and I felt my face go red but I refused to look away. She got up, left the room and my boss made some joke about awkward moments that made everyone laugh. I think that the woman was talked to after the fact because she never ate lunch or walked with anyone again and when asked she said she wasn’t allowed to.

  41. Allison*

    The other day I was in the kitchen, toasting my morning bagel (which people used to comment on but eventually stopped), and a young female coworker I’d never seen before was in there getting tea. Next thing I know, a middle aged guy comes into the kitchen, spies her looking through the snack basket and goes “chips this early in the morning?!?” and she defended herself somehow, I forget what she said. It seemed like a playful back and forth, and maybe it didn’t bother her, but I thought it was interesting how this guy, with his beer gut, was giving a skinny young woman a hard time just for looking at chips.

    Food politics in the office are weird. I just wish people would stop talking about food at work, unless it’s to say something is delicious. Stop giving people a hard time for eating food you don’t approve of, stop telling people they’re “so good” for eating healthy, stop talking about what you can’t eat because you’re watching your weight. Just stop.

  42. Bwooster*

    Many a time I read advice in these pages on how to stand up for yourself and wish I’d dare, but this is one thing I’ve actually done. I put up with only so much diet talk around me and then I turn to the worst offender and just say “Right. Eyes on your own plate.”

    For some reason, unless I am sharing a table with god him/herself, I don’t feel uncomfortable saying this to anyone.

  43. KimberlyR*

    OP-congratulations on continuing to see a nutritionist for 3 years and counting!

    I have personally stopped trying to make any comments about weight, food, or dieting because I have 2 daughters and I grew up with a stick thin mother who always called herself fat. Since I have always weighed more than my mother, you can imagine how this made me feel! I will talk about food and exercise in terms of health, as well as sleep, drinking water, etc. But I NEVER say the words fat, diet, fattening, etc. My daughters will be exposed to all of that, but not at home. I think this is a great rule to bring to the office. We can talk about becoming more active or more healthy, but certain words really should be dropped from the conversation entirely.

  44. Anonymous for this.*

    Making my first ever comment here, hope it’s not totally redundant: OP, I totally sympathize with what you (and the people you work with) are going through with this guy. As a nanny, I had to deal with my boss’ mother coming over frequently and making endless comments about my food and weight. As a recovering bulimic, it was torture and sometimes nearly impossible to deal with.

    She would comment on every bite or sip with ‘wisdom’ she picked up from Dr. Oz like, “You know what is the worst thing to drink if you want to lose weight? Diet soda!” (Not trying to lose weight, just caffeinate.) or “You’re eating peanut butter?! But it has so much cholesterol!” (Wrong, btw.) I would always try to just smile and say, “I hadn’t heard that.” or thank her politely and then go hide in the laundry room and beat myself up for being such a gross, hideous person. The final straw came after I took her and the baby to the pool… the next time she was over she came to me all somber faced and said, “You know, I was watching you at the pool the other day… you really need to lose weight! Let me help you.” The idea that someone was watching me in my bathing suit and thinking how fat I was was like every bad dream I’d ever had come true! I immediately called my boss at her job, told her what happened and was like, “This has to stop.” She must have said something to her mother because it was dialed back a bit (more sideways looks and less comments), but never really stopped until the day I finished working there years later. I love my old bosses and the kids and visit them regularly, but will never willingly see that woman again.

    I wish I had some kind of advice on how to stop this guy, but I think Allison and everyone else have already said it better than I can. I hope you are doing well and that you have a lot of support. Recovery didn’t happen overnight, but the days those ugly voices show up are few and far between now… and I finally understand that this is how life was supposed to be and what I missed all those years I was consumed by guilt and hating myself. Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.

    1. Intrepid*

      What on earth. How does she think it’s remotely OK to comment on people’s bodies in bathing suits?!

      1. Anonymous for this.*

        Apparently she’s just one of those people with no filter. When I called my boss that day she just sighed and said, “This is why her all daughter-in-laws can’t stand her.” So in my mind she’s filled my awful mother-in-law quota for life!

    2. Venus Supreme*

      Ugh, bathing suit season. I’m most definitely Not Skinny and after years of extreme dieting and bulimia I’ve accepted myself enough to wear cute bathing suits and enjoy the beach (which is honestly my favorite place in the world). My sister in law is thin as hell (even after having two children, kudos!) and has a twisted view on food which she’s passed down to her 6-year-old son.

      I was at the oceanfront with my nephew when he started poking my thighs and belly going, “You have a lot of fat!” to which I replied, “Yeah, I like it that way.” He was so confused as to someone who was content with their body that he’s never commented again! At the same time I’m horrified thinking about what my sister in law has said behind closed doors…

      1. Anonymous for this.*

        That is so sad. When I see parents like that I just pray that their children will grow up thin so that they don’t torture them.

        1. Zombii*

          They’ll still torture them, just in different ways. The proof is all throughout this thread, unfortunately.

    3. so much nope*

      I admire your restraint for not giving that woman the telling-off of her life after the pool incident! Not that one would be likely to have an effect on someone who thought that was even remotely OK. It seems like you handled that about as well as anyone could have, and I’m glad to hear your recovery has gone well!

    4. Turtle Candle*

      Oh wow, that pool incident. Holy crap.

      In my imaginary universe in which I am a badass, I would have said, “You were watching me in the pool? Wow. That’s creepy,” and then just given her a long, wide-eyed stare. (In the real world in which we live I would have been too afraid for my job… but it’s nice to think about.)

      1. Anonymous for this.*

        Oh, I had many a fantasy of telling her off! Lol, but luckily I could just commiserate with everyone else who couldn’t stand her.

        And in my imaginary universe in which I’m a badass… I wouldn’t have waited two years after that to wear a bathing suit in public again! So silly of me…

  45. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Somewhat related: I have a funny food/exercise police story! My mom is a thin athlete…I’m…not, even though I work out. Over Thanksgiving weekend with them, she asked daily, “you went to the gym with dad, did you get a lot done? Burn off those calories?”

    I got frustrated and decided to punch down. I showered and brought my clothes to the wash off the kitchen; my mom was nearby. I held up my shirt (synthetic material worn for 20+ miles of hilly virtual indoor biking over 2 days), and snapped, “yes, I got a lot done. Here, you can smell that if you don’t think I do enough!”

  46. Viola Dace*

    People love to judge. I was once eating some Goldfish at my desk. A super fit type said, “Is that your lunch? No wonder you got cancer.”
    And that isn’t even the worst food/nutrition/cancer BS I’ve heard from people.

    1. Venus Supreme*

      Literally spat out all the Goldfish I was eating. These people actually exist?!?! I’m so sorry.

    2. Joan Callamezzo*

      Good lord. I got a lot of “You’re still eating meat, really?”

      Yes, really. I was not diagnosed with Meat Cancer, and my oncologist seems perfectly happy with what I eat.

      1. Moonsaults*

        My father has to eat meat because his cancer stole a giant chunk of his intestines that requires him to not eat a lot of things that are alternative sources of protein. If I keep scowling this hard my face might stick…these morons make me so angry.

      2. OP*

        I know this is a very serious topic and I am horrified by what people have said to you, but I loled at “I was not diagnosed with Meat Cancer.”

      3. Viola Dace*

        Yeah, the whole “what did you eat, and what are you eating now” cancer thing is really BS. My dentist (!) is one of the worst offenders. He can’t believe that one of his vegan patients got breast cancer, blah, blah. I think it basically comes from fear. People desperately want to believe they can control whether or not they get cancer. Sure, there are some lifestyle choices involved, but genes rule.

        1. Candi*

          You can control smoking, sun exposure (sorta) and exposure to certain chemicals. Other then that, it’s a roll of the twenty-sided dice.

        2. Michelle*

          This is behind so much judgment in the world. Something bad happened to you? I don’t want to believe it can happen to me, so instead I choose to believe you could have avoided it if only you had done X.

  47. Is it Friday Yet?*

    There’s a really funny meme that comes to mind that says “Eat whatever you want, and if anyone tries to lecture you about it, eat them too.” Hang in there OP!

    1. Turtle Candle*

      One of my friends used to say “My diet is Casserole au People Who Comment On My Diet, en Croute.”

  48. Cristina in England*

    I am normally a people pleaser but the food police bring out pretty snippy responses in me. That stuff is so toxic to me and I just can’t let it in so I try to shut it down immediately. Chocolate is not a moral problem, eat it or don’t, it is none of my business!

  49. James*

    I’ve had people comment on my food. Usually vegitarians/vegans (not trying to say anything about them, just pointing out the fact). They stopped when they realized that 1) I genuinely don’t care what they think (I’m not aggressive or mean about it–it literally means nothing to me); 2) if they push it I’m perfectly comfortable discussing where food comes from; and 3) I’ve got a lot of background knowledge, thanks to my profession, so if they really want to push it I’ll push back (again, not aggressively–I just don’t back down).

    What I’ve found is that people like this are bullies. They may not be physically tormenting you, but they ARE harassing you. And most do it because they either want power over others, or think they have it and want to exercise it. Manager Tools refers to it as expertise power: you have power because you know something someone else needs to know. It’s legitimate–I’m an expert in certain things, and can therefore say “This is the way it is” even to people much higher-ranking than me! But this is a gross misapplication of the concept. The company pays me to be an expert in certain things–and to accept the liability that comes with it. The Food Police have no such standing.

    What you eat is, outside very special circumstances (see the military example above), none of your coworkers’ business. They have no more right to harass you about it than they do about your weight, sex, sexual orientation, or other non-relevant attribute. I’m not terribly interested in the law, except in as far as it affects the tactics used; this is about what’s right, and any company worth working for will take that stance. If they can’t fire the bully harassing you, they can put policies in place to stop it. At the point where people are hiding what they are eating you have created a hostile work environment by any reasonable definition, and that’s bad business.

  50. Nerdling*

    Channel Joan Jett and sing, “I don’t give a damn ’bout your stupid opinions!” In all seriousness, you’ve gotten a lot of good advice. Congrats on your progress and keep kicking butt!

  51. Kay J*

    ALL of my sympathies LW. Diet talk at lunch is the worst. How do people not realize how rude and inappropriate they are when they talk about this stuff?

    Story time. I had a meeting to do a recording with a male co-worker, headed by two important members of the local government. They told us in the email planning the recording that they’d take us to lunch at the cafe nearby. Co-worker shows up with a container of salmon and rice to eat AT the cafe, not because of food restrictions or anything but because he’s (in his own words) trying to get washboard abs. One of the government members was a woman who’d recently lost a lot of weight, and we’re in a country where weight talk is SUPER normalized and most people are rail thin, so they proceeded to talk for the next hour about diet shit while me (fat) and the other guy (offended that my co-worker brought his own lunch when he said he would treat him, he told me privately) sat there and stewed. Worst work lunch ever.

    1. Candi*

      Besides the rudeness of basically saying ‘what you chose is not good enough for me’, the guy does not understand how ‘washboard abs’ work.

      The ‘cut’ look, as discussed some time ago on a post about a worker who got sick due to what they put themselves through just before a bodybuilding competition, is a combination of ridiculous amounts of exercise and dehydration.

      The other side of it I learned when the doctors were discussing my infant son’s very poochy tummy. There’s a big band of connective tissue that goes straight up the center of the abdomen. If it is wide or soft, and especially if it’s both, the area between ribs and pelvis pooched, no matter how good of shape you’re in, and the chances of a visible six-pack goes to virtual nil.


  52. Marisol*

    I found Allison’s suggestions to be good of course, but I think I personally would be a little more forceful stating my objections. Something like, “Joe. What I eat is my own business, and I am not interesting in hearing your criticisms. And for that matter, neither is anyone else. You are violating our boundaries. Stop making inappropriate remarks about our food.” There’s no harm in starting out with softer language like, “hey, do you realize how often you comment about our food?” but I think in this case I’d lean into the confrontation, unless there were serious political downsides to doing so.

  53. Zona the Great*

    George, why on earth do you think you are welcome to make unsolicited comments on people’s food? When he flounders, you simply say, “because I think you should know that you are not”.

    1. Marisol*

      challenging the other person to explain himself is often a great strategy. their ability to bully depends on not being questioned and putting them on the spot like that just puts the power back in your hands. and it doesn’t have to be super aggressive either–your wording is pleasantly confrontational. this is a great suggestion.

  54. Hrovitnir*

    Hey OP, I thought I should contribute to the main feed rather than just replying, though it will be pretty redundant. I just want to say you sound really cool and onto it. I’m sorry you have to live with the effects of an eating disorder; from what my friends say it sounds a lot like my chronic depression in that it gets better but never really goes away.

    Food and weight policing make me angry on so many levels. It’s rude, it’s annoying, it’s triggering to people with eating disorders, it’s actively counter-productive for learning to eat well if that’s your goal, and it contributes to a culture that produces eating disorders – you can’t constantly praise weight loss/eating less, always less, regardless of size or cause then be surprised people develop pathological obsessions with losing weight!

    Good luck with making him stop.

    1. OP*

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful response! It can be chronic – it’s a coping mechanism after all, so the TENDENCY to used disordered behavior may always be there just like the TENDENCY for people with any addiction is to wander back to what they’re addicted to. But I’m working toward getting to a place where those things fade and I can be functional again because, man, this is exhausting. I don’t know if people realize just how exhausting it is.

      Best of luck with your depression stuff! I’ve gone through periods of severe depression before, and it’s frightening and awful, so I imagine it’s very hard.

  55. Cat steals keyboard*

    My old line manager would give me her share of any cake going round because she was ‘being good’. I felt like she was calling me fat.

    As for this guy, this is one of those times when “that’s not appropriate” is an excellent thing to say.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Why would she give it to you??? Whatever happened to just skipping her turn with the cake and not broadcasting it to everyone!! Was the ratio of people to the cake too big? I’m steaming on your behalf here!

  56. He who walks behind the rows*

    People like this just piss me off. I’m not very diplomatic in these situations. I won’t be afraid to use a certain f-word followed by “off”.

    Don’t follow my advice. I’m often wrong

  57. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I worked with one person who used to always lean over the counter in front of my desk to take in what I was eating every time she saw that I was eating something (it took some effort to lean over that counter too, it was pretty high). I was pretty non-confrontational back in the day so I used to try to hide my food too, or pretend I wasn’t eating. She never commented positively or negatively – she just wanted to see what I was eating – but it drove me insane. You should talk to him – it likely is bothering everyone!

  58. triple anon for this*

    I dated someone like that for two years! Great guy otherwise, I still miss him (with the exception of his being the food police, of course). He’d comment on everyone’s eating habits all of the damn time. I stopped him when he’d start carrying on about his adult children in that manner, but I confess that I kind of nodded and “uh-uh”-ed when he talked about everyone else. Then one day, it was my turn! He made a comment on something (a pretty healthy food item, actually) that I was about to snack on between meals. It was the last weekend we spent together. He ended things first, but I had started preparing the talk myself, the number one reason for it being that I wanted to be in a relationship without having to sneak my food into the bathroom anytime I needed a snack to hold me up. Now I’m single and have a new pet peeve! If I heard a coworker commenting on anyone’s food choices now, I’m afraid I’d rip into him before I could control myself, which would not bode well for my job! Why do people do that?!?!? Keep your food insecurities to yourself – by all means, get help for your food-related hangups, but other than that, keep that stuff to yourself. Nobody needs to hear it. We are all adults and can decide what to put in our mouth without a random coworker’s input, thank you very much.

  59. Healthy Contrarian Dude*

    Just to play the jerk advocate here, can we at least acknowledge that this can be an extremely frustrating situation for healthy people as well? I work in a small office (about 8 people) in which I’m literally the only person at a healthy weight. Over half are morbidly obese (i.e. under 6 feet and over 300 pounds). I like my co-workers a lot, but every time one of them brings in donuts or cookies for the group (which happens a lot) I really want to say something. I never do, because I don’t want to shame anybody or hurt their feelings. At the same time, this really does affect me. They are sick much more frequently due to their assorted health conditions, and since we have a pooled health insurance policy, it really does affect my wallet.

    Is there no way to suggest that people stop bringing in sugar bombs without being a self righteous jerk? Just smiling politely while they kill themselves doesn’t seem terribly noble.

    1. Lynne*

      No. There is no way to do that. You’re thinking about this wrong.

      You think somehow they don’t *know* donuts are unhealthy? They do. There is no way they haven’t gotten cruel comments (and sideways looks, etc etc) about their bodies and food choices (healthy or not!), a million times in their lives, in our weight-obsessed culture. You piling on to that is clearly not going to help. It will, however, harm.

      Speaking as someone who’s worked pretty hard on getting to a place where I have a healthier relationship with food. It would have been so much easier to do this if people (starting with my mother when I was young) would just stop with the incredible moralizing and pressuring around food and *leave me alone* to make my own decisions. Turns out, once I manage to detox enough from other people’s attitudes and feeling judged all the time, I actually make really good choices. If I were eating a donut at work though, and a coworker came up to me and suggested I not do that, no matter how softly they phrased it – the inevitable implication being that I’m too fat for their liking and I’d better shape up…It would, first of all, cause me to lose all trust in them as a person it is emotionally safe to be around. Secondly, I would have such a hard time not backsliding into some very unhealthy patterns for a while – I certainly would backslide for at least a week, I bet. It would be very harmful.

      The way you can be supportive is to be completely non-judgmental, including *in your thoughts*, and remind yourself that you do not have the backstory to explain why anyone makes the food choices they do, nor the right to judge them. *That* is the kind of behaviour that makes for an atmosphere where people are more able to have a balanced, healthy relationship with food. That is the thing you can do if you want to actually be constructive instead of counterproductive.

      1. EmilyAnn*

        +100 also I have questions about what people eat around you affecting you. I have no recollection of what anybody eats and I don’t care about food left out for everyone. If I want to partake I do and if I don’t I don’t.

    2. OP*

      Unless they have come to you for advice on this specific topic, it’s TRULY none of your business. I cannot stress enough how much this isn’t your business. You have no idea what their overall diets look like, what other things they have going on, if they subscribe to intuitive eating which DOES allow for all foods in moderation and allowing your metabolism to sort itself out, or if any of them have eating disorders. Believe it or not, eating disorders affect people at ALL weights and of ALL body types, and saying something like that would be triggering as hell. And unbelievably rude.

      I am curious: if your office was full of thin people with high metabolisms who ate the same way, would you want to talk to them about it? If not, then this isn’t about health at ALL.

      Frankly, you cannot possibly know that all of their health problems stem from their diets. Period. I assume you don’t know what all of their health problems even ARE much less what the individual causes are. Sure, some could be weight or diet related, but heck, some people (myself included) have health problems that affect our weight, not the other way around.

      As far as them bringing stuff into work…also not really your business unless you like have an airborn allergy to something that’s brought in. I mean, I can’t eat gluten which means I can’t partake in about 95% of the stuff that’s brought into my office and I just…don’t eat it. I realize having a food sensitivity is a bit different than what you’re talking about, but, it’s still a choice I have to make for my own health – which is the only health I’m in charge of.

      (As a partially related aside: I work in a physician’s office. We are sent baked goods constantly and have employees bring in donuts and cake and cookies all the time. Most of our staff is of average weight. Once again, overall diet is of big importance – and diet isn’t the only thing in control of weight. Genetics and medical conditions play a part, too. There can be health at any size and sickness at any size.)

  60. EmilyAnn*

    As a person who’s on a healthier path, no yes u really can’t. Just because it’s indirectly affecting you doesn’t give you standing. Unless you’re willing to chase down every person on the insurance company’s plan, your justification is slim. Are you planning on going after the smokers? More importantly, fat people know they are fat and should eat better. Or they eat just fine and are fat anyway. You don’t know every health condition that they have that may cause weight gain so who’s to say the health issues are lifestyle related?
    Every day I spent eating exactly what I wanted I knew better. It didn’t affect my behavior though. Some jerk at work saying anything would have probably made me eat worse (I’m a “go your own direction” type). Stay in your lane and mind your business.

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