I couldn’t participate in team-building, coworker with an eating disorder, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss planned team-building activities that I couldn’t fully participate in

I work for a very small company with no HR (I know). We don’t regularly go into the office, only a few times a year for meetings.

My boss planned a (non mandatory, but important) meeting the other day that turned out to involve a lot physical stuff (team-building exercises, etc). I’m disabled and a lot of the exercises involved things that were physically taxing / dangerous for me. I didn’t know what the meeting would entail, and in the meeting itself I panicked and just did the excercises because I really didn’t want to explain my medical issues in front of everyone. I tried to get out of one thing by playing it off as “oh, you guys are the experts at that and I’m a newbie,” but my coworkers thought I was being shy and encouraged me to do it anyway, and I just embarrassed myself by coming across as underconfident and green.

I’ve got a great relationship with my manager, and she’s told me she’ll talk to our boss about making our workplace more accessible for both employees and clients — but I feel like I still need to notify our boss about my disability so I’m not in this position again, especially since my disability isn’t common and my boss may still not take certain necessary measures when he thinks about accessibility.

How do I do this without sounding like I’m saying “hey, your meeting was really bad and made me sick!” (especially since I’m sure I seemed fine even though I wasn’t). How do I ask for accomodations like this? Meaning, how do I say “don’t ask me to do x, y, or z as they’re detrimental to my health” as opposed to “I need a, b, and c to do my job.” Can I even ask for accomodations if the meeting isn’t *technically* mandatory? Or should I just avoid asking for accommodations altogether and leave it up to my manager (since I wouldn’t need accomodations for the essential functions of my job or — I think — anything I’m contractually bound to do, I’d need them for stuff like this)?

You don’t necessarily need to ask for formal accommodations, since if your boss is at all reasonable, simply alerting her to the situation will take care of the issue in the future. If for some reason it doesn’t, then yes, at that point you’d need to, but it’s pretty likely that just an informal heads-up will take care of the problem. (But you can indeed ask for accommodations even if the meeting isn’t mandatory or essential to your job.)

I’d start by saying something like, “I wasn’t prepared to explain this in front of the group at the meeting last week, but I have a medical condition that means I can’t do a lot of physical activities like X and Y. I should have spoken up at the time rather than trying to participate, but I realized afterwards that I should give you a heads-up about this for the future since I shouldn’t participate in things like that. If you’re planning anything physical like that again, can we touch base first to see if there’s a way to modify it so I can participate or for me to plan to sit it out if I can’t?” You could add, “Of course, my preference would be not to have to sit out team activities, so if there’s a way to plan things I can be part of, that would be a better option.”

This doesn’t say “your meeting sucks.” It’s just matter-of-fact delivery of important information that your manager will probably want to have.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. I think my coworker has an eating disorder

I am not a manager, but I am a mid-level employee at a company. One of the younger, more junior employees has been looking increasingly thin, frail to the point of skeletal. This has been happening over the course of several months and I suspect she has anorexia — I have never seen her eat. I am seriously concerned about this girl, who I work with occasionally but not closely. Is there any way to help her? Would it be inappropriate to go to her manager to say I’m concerned? (For the record, her manager is a very kind woman who I don’t think would fire her/do anything to harm her. If anything, she is probably concerned as well.)

I suspect I should just stay out if it, but let me know if there is something I can do to help.

It’s kind of you to be concerned, but I don’t think there’s much you can do here. Eating disorders are notoriously difficult to resolve, and people who aren’t close to the person generally aren’t in a position to do much to help (in fact, even close friends and family of people with eating disorders often aren’t able to do much to help). And of course, it’s possible that this isn’t an eating disorder at all; the weight loss could be a symptom of a different medical condition. The best thing you can do is to be kind to her, and make sure that you don’t comment on her eating or her body (a good rule with any coworker, but especially with someone who may have disordered eating, since it can make the problem worse).

3. I have to come up with a monthly goal for a job that doesn’t change much

I recently started a new job at a smallish office, about 20 people. The job is me basically doing two things all day (completing requests sent in and answering phones). My concern is that every month my manager does one-on-one meetings and ends the meeting by asking me what goal I want to obtain. The first two times I talked about my future goals and where I would like to head career-wise. Now I’m at a loss. What can I say other than my goal is to “keep doing my job to the best of my ability”?

There are already clear guidelines in place for productivity goals, and since my job is pretty much just completing two tasks throughout the day, I’m not sure what else to add for goals. Everyone else in the company all does the same thing as me, so it’s hard to even say I would like to take on new responsibilities. This is literally the only job the company performs. I really love my job and the tasks might be tedious to some, but they are worthwhile to do for me personally, so I don’t want to say something wrong and have them let me go after the standard probationary period because I can’t come up with goals.

Do you have coworkers who do the same work as you but better, faster, or with more accuracy or skill? If so, you might think about what it would take to close that gap, and create goals around those things. Or you could just have goals around what it looks like to do your job really, really well — and so have goals like “ensure that callers feel welcomed and that their questions are handled efficiently and accurately” and “process all requests accurately and within 24 hours of receipt” (even if you’re already doing those things).

You can also ask your boss about this! You could say, “Can you give me some guidance about what type of goals you’d like to see from me / what type of goals make sense for my position?” That’s something your boss should be happy to talk to you about.

Read an update to this letter here.

4. Confidentiality when using a therapist through work

The company I work for has started to offer work counseling by phone. I believe this is outsourced to an actual therapist, but I’m skeptical of their ability to stay HIPAA compliant if I discuss work. What are your thoughts on such an issue?

They should still be bound by the same confidentiality rules that would apply to any therapist; the fact that you’re being connected through work doesn’t change that. But you can also ask the therapist directly about this; professional ethics require them to give you a complete and honest answer.

5. Is it weird to hear about major changes in a department-wide email?

Is it normal to hear that your current manager is being promoted (and one of your colleagues is stepping into your direct manager role) via a department-wide email? I had no idea the restructuring was even happening, much less that they were interviewing for managers in my team.

I admit I’m pretty gutted about it, but it’s hard for me to assess if that’s because this is objectively a very strange way of finding out about a major workplace change, or if it’s because of my disappointment at a) not having been considered for the role and b) my manager changing. If the former (or if both are legitimate feelings), is there a way for me to address my surprise and disappointment professionally, with the understanding that I don’t want to change anyone’s mind?

It’s not abnormal. Often this kind of news is delivered in-person at a department-wide meeting, but it’s not unusual to do it by email instead.

It’s pretty common for restructures and promotions not to be discussed while they’re still tentative or in the planning process, so the fact that you didn’t know this was coming isn’t outrageous. I think you’re feeling like if you’d known it was being considered, you would have wanted to have thrown your hat in the ring, but it’s possible that that wouldn’t have been an option — that they were already sure that your coworker was the strongest or only internal candidate, or even that they’d planned the restructure around her.

That said, you can certainly be direct that you’re very interested in this type of position and ask about what you need to do to be considered for similar roles in the future.

{ 155 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, tread very carefully, and do not raise your concerns with your coworker or her manager (or anyone else at work). As Alison notes, it’s unclear this is an eating disorder—it could easily be a different medical issue. Regardless, your coworker is aware of her health and her body. It’s boundary-crossing to bring this up with her or with her manager (!!).

    It’s kind of you to be concerned, but raising this isn’t about addressing your coworker’s (possible) health issue. It’s about you finding a way to feel less anxiety/concern by feeling like you did something. As difficult as it’s going to be, I think all you can do is let go, and try to remain open-hearted and empathetic in case your junior coworker one day decides to confide in you (and be ok if she doesn’t!). But try not to pre-judge what’s going on with her, and try very hard not to insert yourself in her health management.

    1. Joy*

      To add to Alison’s good advice about not commenting on her body or eating habits, another good practice is to avoid talking about anyone’s weight, diets, calorie counts, etc. and try to avoid talking about foods as if they’re bad, or someone is “being bad” by eating them.

      Regardless of whether the co-worker you’re concerned about has an eating disorder, this would be a huge favor to anyone in your workplace with eating disorders or body image issues, which aren’t always obvious or visible.

      1. Allison*

        Agreed, thank you! I don’t have an eating disorder, but my relationship with my body is kinda wonky these days and overhearing people talk about that stuff – anything about cleanses, diets, what they can’t have, how they were “soooo bad” for eating a cookie or skipping the gym – can absolutely trigger a period of disordered eating.

        I can’t control what people say, but I wish people would think about the impact their words have on others before they speak.

        1. GG Two shoes*

          Thank you for this reminder. Two of us in the department are calorie counters and the other two are not. I need to remember that out shop talk about food needs to be very careful and not triggering! I can be guilty talking about food so I need to remember that not everyone has the same goals as I do.


          1. Allison*

            I’ve been in meetings and team lunches that spiral into diet talk, because two people are trying to completely cut out carbs, and holding each other accountable, and since everyone knows it sometimes they’ll ask one of them if they’re really sticking to that. I admire anyone who can stick to a rigorous diet like that, it takes a lot of discipline, but when the whole room starts talking about their diets and how each person is trying to lose weight, it’s awful for me.

            1. Julia the Survivor*

              I find it annoying when everyone starts obsessing over diet and buying into fads. I once worked in an office where everyone except me was doing that. Well, maybe one or two others.
              Fads are detrimental. Supplement fads can do serious harm when people take much too much of something. Diet fads (like no-carb) can damage people’s health!
              People need to have common sense and eat a balanced diet, and find a more constructive focus for their obsessions! :/

            2. Ejane*

              I’m a young EA who worked under another EA 20 years my senior, and she was obsessed with her weight. The work relationship was very toxic for several reasons, but as someone with disordered eating and a very complicated relationship with food, hearing a petite older woman constantly complain about how fat she was was incredibly, incredibly difficult. Shutting down that conversation, as someone who struggles with these things, is also very difficult; there are few things more invalidating than trying to steer the conversation away from something that’s emotionally fraught and hearing “you’re fine!” or “you’re so skinny, don’t be ridiculous” in response. I’m grateful to anyone who curtails diet or body talk in the workplace.

              1. Julia the Survivor*

                That reminds me of a very toxic woman I worked for long ago in a restaurant owned by an ethnic family who was also rather toxic. She literally starved herself trying to keep her stomach flat. She was very jealous and would go into a rage whenever anyone – me or any other young woman – showed signs of being happy, having friends, or having fun. Now I would feel sorry for her, but then I thought she was a monster and the whole situation inspired me to find something more stable and respectful than restaurant work.
                Also I agree with you about “you’re so skinny” comments. I have a skinny body type and as a teen it was always “you’re so skinny, are you all right?” or “how do you do it?”
                Just leave me alone please!

    2. Sami*

      I freely admit I don’t know much about eating disorders. I do wonder though if signs in the restrooms could be put up (much like for DV) for the company’s EAP (if they have one).

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Speaking from my limited experience, I think it would be much worse to put signs in the restrooms. For folks who do have body image disorders, it could be extremely triggering, and for anyone with other medical issues who may be experiencing weight loss/gain, it could be extremely insulting. Eating disorders aren’t really analogous to DV, although both can have severe health impacts.

        I’m with Gadfly—if the answer could equally be cancer or an eating disorder, it’s probably better not to try to intervene. I think of my two friends with lifelong immune disorders, and they’re constantly on the receiving end of “well-intentioned” comments about their weight, questions about why they “don’t eat” (they do), and “wellness” campaigns where people put up signs about eating disorders. It’s awful, and I don’t even experience it first-hand.

        1. Zweisatz*

          +1 to insulting. I have a condition that means my coworkers never see me eat when they eat and I visibly lost weight due to it (before I gained it back).

          Also OP, rest assured, whatever is up: Your colleague and the people around her (and likely also her medical team) will be aware of it. And if none of them can change it, it’s not in your power to do so. Which in turn means you are not being neglectful by keeping a respectful distance.

          1. VerySleepyPregnantLady*

            This was me in the first three months of my pregnancy. I couldn’t eat and rapidly became skeletal, loosing over 10% of my body weight in just a few weeks (and I was quite thin to begin with). I was lucky in that I could work from home and hide from the world, but I would have been mortified if someone thought I had an eating disorder. At the same time, I wouldn’t have wanted to explain that I was pregnant that early on to people I didn’t know well.

            1. Jamie*

              I’m normally pretty slim and about a year ago after I separated from my soon to be ex husband I lost almost every shred of appetite for weeks. I wanted to be able to eat but every time I tried I felt like I was going to be ill. My hunger came back eventually, but I dropped a good 15 or so pounds off my already slim frame.

              It’s not always an eating disorder.

            2. 2 Cents*

              Pregnant lady here too! I lost 10% of my body weight during the first 4 months (thanks to baby rejecting just about everything). People were commenting how great I looked, even though I was sick every hour of the day. (Thanks?) When I announced officially at work, people were like “why are you trying to lose weight then?” Um, I’m not. It’s called morning sickness.

      2. Sylvan*

        In my experience with anorexia and with a relative with bulimia, this could unfortunately backfire by drawing attention to eating disorders when someone who has one is already… paying quite a bit of attention. I wouldn’t say that it’s triggering necessarily so much as putting a magnifying lens on the issue. But I could be in the minority here and it could be something that would be very helpful.

        1. Annabelle*

          I’ve struggled with bulimia and have been in and out of recovery for over a decade. This would definitely be triggering. There are certain places where you expect to see mentions of ED, but the workplace isn’t generally one (unless you work in the mental health or medical field). I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but I really don’t think this approach would be helpful.

          1. Soon to be former fed*

            None of the EAP materials I have seen specifically mention eating disorders. EAPs cover a wide range of things and are one of the less well known employee benefits. It cannot hurt to publicize the EAP in general if there is one.

            Otherwise I agree with the others saying to MYOB.

          2. Elizabeth H.*

            I wouldn’t expect to see this in my workplace, but I have also been in/out of eating disorder having for a long time and when I was having more issues with it I really appreciated seeing posters and fliers and stuff for possible places to get support and I even acted on the information about resources off of one of these once!! I think it would seem jarring if, say, your office bathroom NEVER has anything posted in it and all of a sudden it had a flyer about eating disorder resources. But things like domestic violence, sexual health, eating disorder resources, to me, are all subjects I wouldn’t be really surprised to see fliers for in bathrooms (anywhere – work, school, etc.)

          3. FD*

            In your opinion, would it be helpful to have a more general sign that said something like:

            “Do you know everything your EAP can help with?
            – Depression
            – Anxiety
            – Eating disorders
            – Legal assistance (family, landlord)
            – Stress management

            I think a lot of people genuinely don’t know all the things they can get help with, so could something like that help more widely?

            1. JessaB*

              This would be better, because a lot of people don’t know ANY of it, or even if there is an EAP. A lot of personnel onboarding goes in one ear and out the other when you have five million forms to fill out and password accesses and emails to set up. A list of what it does and how to contact them and whether they include your spouse or family, would be a good thing, and yes I’d stick eating disorders in the middle, simply because I wouldn’t want the person in question if they HAD one, to think this was about THEM specifically.

              1. FD*

                And if it was posted in a public place (bathrooms, employee break rooms), I would think maybe people would both feel less singled out and also it could help other people with invisible challenges.

            2. Annabelle*

              I definitely think this would be more helpful. My issue with naming only eating disorders is that I think a lot of people with them would feel either singled out, like the needed to hide it better, or like their disorder is “working”, so to speak, because people were noticing their thinness.

        2. Let's Sidebar*

          Same. If it is ED related, my personal experience of people expressing concern for how thin I was translated internally to “Yaaaaas! It’s WORKING! I am in control!”, especially if concern came from somebody I was not close with because it meant my “results” were obvious. It really fed my commitment to continue my disordered eating. This wouldn’t be the case for everyone, of course, but a well-meaning interaction can really have the opposite effect for somebody struggling with these issues (if that is even the case in this scenario). It’s tough.
          OP, I wish you (and your coworker!) the best, but I would agree you don’t have much of an opportunity to be helpful here, unfortunately.

          1. Annabelle*

            This is basically what I was trying to say above. Eating disorders really warp your thinking and I viewed most people’s concern as either like, a compliment or a challenge when I was at my worst.

      3. Wednesday Mouse*

        I think Sami was suggesting generic posters for the EAP to be placed in the restroom, rather than specific ED posters – and I think generic posters/an all-staff email to remind people that the EAP exists and should be used is never a bad thing.

      4. Mabel*

        When I read the suggestion about putting signs in the restrooms, I assumed Sami meant general signs letting employees know about the EAP, rather than signs specifically mentioning eating disorders (although those could go anywhere, not just in the restrooms).

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Right – agree with general EAP signs. This of course assumes that the company does have a good EAP that could include support with eating disorder resources.

      5. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Conversely, though. If you saw morbidly obese people in your workplace, would you advocate to put up diet and exercise information?
        Or do you just me, general EAP information, along the lines of “Dear Employee, Please be aware that part of your compensation package includes EAP services that may be accessed by….”

        1. fposte*

          I think she just meant posters about the EAP. I think a lot of workplaces have such posters available–they just get buried by other stuff.

    3. Gadfly*

      It has been my experience that any time the answer could equally well be either an eating disorder or a cancer, the best rule of thumb is simply to MYOB and try to be a decent human being regardless of whatever unknown stuff is happening to that (or any other less dramatically symptomed) coworker.

      1. many bells down*

        My daughter has a physical digestive disorder. You can see where the problem is on an x-ray. But as a teenage girl who was seriously underweight, people consistently assumed she had an eating disorder. Which was very hurtful to her. In fact, it was so pervasive that despite the gastroenterologist having clear physical evidence of the problem, THREE other doctors had to affirm that she didn’t have an eating disorder before she could get treatment.

        People commenting on it would bring her home in tears of frustration because she didn’t WANT to be so thin. She didn’t WANT to throw up regularly. Commenting on an eating disorder is bad. Commenting on a problem that might be beyond her control is just as bad.

    4. Alldogsarepupppies*

      In my experience battling anorexia, people talking to me about my body or eating habits made it worse. It made me feel like I was failing, because I couldn’t hide it. And that meant I had to be more sneaky and creative about how I acted around people. But mainly it made me avoid people. I was in college and I stopped going to classes I had with friends, or would be purposefully late and sit by the door so I could get in and out without anyone talking to me. I don’t know how this would translate to me in a work environment where there are more consequences for that kind of action – but it might lead to more self destructive behavior.

      Ultimately, what saved me was someone stepping up and naming my problem and forcing me to do the same. But it was my best friend who was also my roommate and she walked me into the counseling center and helped me fill out the forms. She was probably the only one I could trust that wasn’t going to judge me or think less of me, and the only person I couldn’t hide from.

      Things that may or may not help (be in an eating disorder) is that if you have team events that are usually food centric – find something else. Don’t make office culture revolve around food, because that won’t make her eat anymore but might make her feel bad. Treat her like a human and a friend you care about as a person in general and talk to her about her life and things that bring her joy – when and where approriate (any fun plans this weekend, have you seen the new star wars, etc). Compliment her on things that don’t have to do with her body (“It was clever how you came up with a solution for x problem”, “I noticed you doodling in the meeting.Your characters are great – it looks just like what Fergus would look like as a teapot!,”) Feeling like you aren’t alienated can go along way to build back the confidence I needed to fight back.

      1. Video Game Lurker*

        This! All of this!

        I don’t have an eating disorder, but I grew up where my mother has a medical condition that had dietary components (okay, food was pretty much the main way to manage the condition), and she struggled/es with anorexia using her medical condition to assist or not assist her. I have also noticed that if anyone, for any reason – benign or not – day anything about my food, I would cease to eat and lose my appetite for that meal.
        I also eat less when I’m visiting my family since my mother likes certain foods that I used to just eat quickly to not keep eating it, but now I just eat less of it since I can dish myself. It took me a few Thanksgiving, Christmases, and birthdays before I had clearly demonstrated enough to them that I am not on some diet or eating issue.
        It is very kind of OP2 to be concerned for the co-worker, but any food commentary can easily backfire. Commentary (positive) on anything not food, appearance, or weight related would be the best bet.

    5. Gen*

      There are a ton of conditions that can cause massive weight loss. Someone I know nearly died and lost most of her bowel but her situation was made so much worst by coworkers constant gossiping and food pressure. She was desperate to eat, would have done anything to accept the food they offered by her body literally couldn’t handle it. She lost a high level management job in the end because people just couldn’t concentrate working with her when her BMI was it’s lowest (about 13). She still has to eat like she has disordered eating- rarely in public, in strange combinations and with frequent bathroom breaks- but all that is doctor approved. I know your concerned OP but you’re not nearly close enough to this person to have sensitive medical discussions.

      1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

        I came to say exactly the same thing. A former coworker was skeletally thin despite eating a very good diet. Unfortunately she had been living with an (initially undiagnosed) severe bowel condition which was almost fatal and she only survived due to our wonderful NHS. She’d would have been mortified if people had started questioning if she had an eating disorder and it would have added to her distress if people had put notices in the toilets about anorexia help and suchlike.

        You mean well, OP, but please MYOB on this occasion.

    6. Kate*

      One example: a family friend has had multiple surgeries resulting in basically removal of her gut. She can’t eat normally and has to rely on IV nutrients and teeny, tiny meals (of concentrated nutrients) in liquid form. She looks like a skeleton. I wouldn’t fault anyone for assuming she had an eating disorder, but fact is, she would *love* to eat. She just can’t.

      This particular person is up front with her condition, but I’m sure there are people with conditions of all kinds that don’t broadcast.

      Be kind, be aupportive, and don’t focus on food (eg don’t just befriend her then only invite her to lunch).

    7. Elizabeth H.*

      There have been so many suggestions and examples for alternate medical conditions that cause significant weight loss. I feel like the point has been made, and this bothers me a little bit because anorexia/eating disorders in general is also a medical condition that results in significant weight loss. I feel like it can be inadvertently diminishing in that it can imply that an eating disorder explanation is the “worst” option/insulting to presume/important to rule out all other more “legitimate” explanations. I don’t think people are intending to do this at all, but to me it contributes to stigmatization of eating disorders and other psychological disorders. Plus after the point has been made it’s not really relevant to advice for the letter writer. And even though it’s not the only possible explanation, it’s certainly not unlikely that a young woman who has lost a noticeable amount of weight to the point of being extremely thin is in fact suffering from an eating disorder.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        I think the point is just not to assume you can know what the cause is as there are so many possible explanations, not that an ED isn’t a valid medical problem.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m so sorry—that definitely wasn’t my intent. I thought Alison fully covered the ED angle, so I wanted to emphasize that there are also other health conditions that can impact weight. Of course, EDs are widespread and merit awareness and resources. But their treatment is often deeply personal and individualized, and outside questioning is more likely to be hurtful than helpful. As Joy noted upthread, in general it’s not helpful / ok for people to comment about others’ bodies and food/diet.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          No need to apologize! Like I said, I don’t think anyone here would consciously take the attitude “eating disorders are less legitimate than other medical reasons for extreme thinness” but it’s the accumulation of so many comments giving examples (understandable because it’s in human nature to love sharing our own relevant anecdotes) of alternate explanations that I think can sometimes create that impression.

    8. Bea*

      Thank you. To add my story to the mix, the only time I want to talk about my ED is on my terms. We have billboards in town about treatment options, I do not want to deal with that at work as well.

    9. Anon for this*

      I have an eating disorder history and know firsthand that concerned comments from people at work was really upsetting. The worst was when I was a few years into my recovery. I had been going through serious depression and family chaos in my personal life and so was actually accidentally losing weight due to stress. I was desperately trying to bolster my recovery efforts because I didn’t want to relapse, and comments from people at work during that time were really diacouraging and triggering. I would go back to my desk and cry, too anxious to eat my lunch because someone had just made a comment on my weight and it brought all those complicated feelings up again. The best thing a coworker did for me during that time was simply be a really supportive and kind friend, who never made any comments on my body or weight at all.

  2. MilkMoon (UK)*

    LW2: It’s very kind of you to be concerned for your coworker, but Alison is right. I too have a painfully thin coworker with whom it would be easy to draw the same conclusion you have, but she actually has a stomach problem. Even if she didn’t, I wouldn’t dream of commenting on her figure as that could well make the situation far, far worse (having a thankfully recovered anorexic friend).

    1. Observer*

      Yeah, stomach problems can do an “interesting” job on people’s weight. It’s not for nothing that a lot of doctors consider being underweight an indicator for celiac disease.

      1. Arielle*

        I know someone with celiac and multiple food allergies and she really struggles to keep weight on, and works closely with her doctor to monitor her weight. You might think she had an eating disorder because she doesn’t really eat in public since there’s usually nothing she CAN eat.

        1. Observer*

          Oh dear! Either one can put a real crimp in what you can eat, especially in public types of situations. A combination REALLY is rough.

        2. Anon anon anon*

          Exactly. Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, and all kinds of other things can cause symptoms that look like an eating disorder. It’s really unfortunate, too, that when a young woman looks thin and not in the best of health, people tend to think of eating disorders. I’ve seen so many people with serious illnesses get bullied and gossipped about because of that. Actually, it’s happened to me too. I’ve lost weight due to health issues and dealt with people getting weird and confrontational about it.

    2. always in email jail*

      Yes this. I have ulcerative colitis and sometimes during a flare I don’t eat during the day to avoid the consequences, and may suddenly drop a bunch of weight

  3. Sylvan*

    OP 1: I agree with Alison’s advice, but depending on the disability and what you’ve experienced disclosing it before, your best bet may be to disclose the disability and describe what you need. Nobody else is able to know your limits as well as you do, so let your manager take advice on accommodating you from someone who’s an expert on accommodating you (you).

    OP 2: It’s kind of you to think of your coworker. Alison’s advice is spot on. If you are noticing this and becoming concerned, others who are in a better position to help probably are, too. Eating disorders are very serious and they need trained professional help; there isn’t much a bystander can do. The same goes for other medical conditions that might be causing what you’ve noticed. Be kind to her (like any coworker) and be thoughtful about food or weight talk at work.

    OP 5: That’s normal in my experience, although I’ve worked in odd places. It does feel strange when you feel like you’re close enough to someone to expect them to tell you before the general announcement comes out, but that’s how it’s done in some places.

    1. Daisy*

      Re 1: I think though that you, and the OP, are being a little previous talking about ‘disclosing the disability’ and ‘accommodations’ in a very formal way, when it sounds like the OP hasn’t brought it up in any way at all. She could have said, without getting into details, ‘Sorry, I have a medical thing, so I can’t roll around on the floor pretending to be the flow of work into the team’. If she didn’t want to be even that vague in front of coworkers, or was too taken aback in the moment, she can just go to the manager and say the same thing. It doesn’t sound like this is a super-frequent activity that requires a big plan to deal with it.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        I can’t roll around on the floor pretending to be the flow of work into the team.

        Oh no, don’t give them any ideas for new team-building exercises!

      2. OP #1*

        You’re right, my boss is new and he has no idea I have any medical problems. It’s a good point that I don’t need to start out this formally.

        I didn’t make this clear in the initial letter, but my regular work is physically demanding. I can meet those demands because I can plan in advance, avoid things that trigger my symptoms, and take a break if I need to. I’m worried about my ability to perform my regular job being called into question because this meeting is ostensibly “easier.”

        1. k.k*

          I think the way you explained it here is a perfect way to word it, you could just pop that into the wording AAM suggested:
          “I wasn’t prepared to explain this in front of the group at the meeting last week, but I have a medical condition that means I can’t do a lot of physical activities like X and Y. I should have spoken up at the time rather than trying to participate, but I realized afterwards that I should give you a heads-up about this for the future since I shouldn’t participate in things like that. I can meet the demands of my regular work because I can plan in advance, avoid things that trigger my symptoms, and take a break if I need to. If you’re planning anything physical like that again, can we touch base first to see if there’s a way to modify it so I can participate or for me to plan to sit it out if I can’t?”

        2. Decima Dewey*

          In a perfect world, the assumption won’t be that all employees are capable of strenuous exercise. And teambuilding exercises wouldn’t be sports or exercise by default. What if teambuilders considered the strong possibility that employees have bad knees, bad backs, etc. before deciding that morale will be improved if only everyone did some physical activity.

          Signed, bad knees, a klutz, and with minimal depth perception. If I want to make someone laugh, all I have to do is ask them to toss something to me!

          1. JessaB*

            This. We had a trainer that suddenly decided to grab everyone and go outside to do things. I don’t DO outside, especially in warmer months, I can’t take heat, I am allergic to half the grounds, I am allergic to bees, and I can’t stand up for more than a few minutes without someplace to either lean on or sit. There was none of that and everyone got peeved that I had a problem with this. There’s this baseline assumption that everyone can do anything, and nobody ever asks “is it okay if we x?” because they’re not trained to think that way. I learnt NOTHING in that training module because I was way too worried keeping an eye out for something that could kill me, and all it did was give me a rep as a troublemaker because I didn’t want to DO this thing. This was pre ADA of course.

      3. Sylvan*

        That makes a lot of sense, you’re right. :)

        Take my post as a lesson on the dangers of insomnia-commenting? I think I was trying to mirror OP’s language about their issue.

  4. Janey Jane*

    OP#2 – Nononono please don’t say anything! The above commenters are correct that if she has an ED it may make it worse and if she has another health issue going on it will make her feel crappy and on-the-spot.

    When I was a teenager I was very, very thin – I ate properly, participated in sports, and was frequently reassured by my doctor that I was fine. However, the constant barrage of “well-meaning” comments from classmates, teachers, school admins, and complete strangers was extremely upsetting and at times even traumatizing. To have a constant stream of people tell me there was something wrong with me when I KNEW there wasn’t was very invalidating and messed me up a lot. In this context, having yet another person ask about my weight — No matter how well-said or well-intended — just further added to the pile.

    The kindest thing you can do for your coworker right now, no matter what is going on in her life/health, is to treat her normally, show that you value her work ethic and contributions, and give her a break from the constant comments she is most assuredly getting from people in other areas of her life. That alone would be considered a godsend, if it were me in her shoes.

    1. A.N. O'Nyme*

      I had the same problem but in reverse (Rubens would probably have loved to have me as a model). While my doctor has told me it wouldn’t hurt if I lost a few kilos and is keeping an eye on my blood pressure and sugar levels (which they would do anyway as I have a family history of high blood pressure and diabetes) my weight isn’t medically too concerning. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people saying I have an obesity problem and the weird diets people tried to push on me.
      How I long for a world where we would stop being obsessed with people’s bodies.

    2. Health Insurance Nerd*

      Same. Eating is one of my very favorite things, and up until my 30’s I had a lightning fast metabolism. From elementary school on I was constantly teased for being so thin, and classmates thought it was funny to refer to me as the “Ethopian” (such awesome people I went to school with…). Now my daughter is built the same way I was, and her doctor refuses to accept that there is nothing wrong with her- she eats, she’s active, she’s just really thin.

      1. Observer*

        Find another doctor. It’s one thing for the doctor to make really sure that there isn’t something going on that you don’t know about. But at some point, he’s got to accept that it’s ok. Refusing to do so is generally a pretty bad sign. What else is he not going to believe you about?

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed. My sister is built this way, and her pediatrician threatened to call CPS because he refused to believe she was just naturally underweight. She eats well and all the time—she’s just super active and built slim. She ultimately had to change her doctor when she was a tween because he generally discounted or disbelieved her, often with serious side effects (like the time she had undiagnosed mono because he thought she was just a night owl).

  5. Not Myself Today*

    Regarding #5, I once heard that my manager was changing when her boss shared the new org charts in a very large public meeting. There is nothing like sitting in such a meeting and seeing your name up on the screen in an unexpected place.

    I wasn’t going after her job, but she had assured me that I would continue to report to her post reorganization. To add insult to injury, we were immediately breaking up into smaller groups after the announcement so that we (managers) could address questions from our employees – meaning I had to pretend I knew and answer questions with no actual information. It was not fun, and not how these things are typically done where I work.

    Because this was so clearly contrary to our culture, I did raise it with my new boss, along the lines of “I’m very happy to be working for you, but admit I was surprised to find out during the meeting. Just as a process note – and I realize it may not have had anything to do with you – it would have been a bit easier for me to handle my meeting with my staff if I had known about the change ahead of time.” This went fine – I think everyone was shocked that my former boss hadn’t taken care of it as part of her transition – and the result included both apologies and credible efforts to ensure this didn’t happen again.

    But some companies do handle reorgs differently, and the OP appears to be looking for opportunities to be considered for promotion (rather than just a little notice of changes impacting her job) – which may not happen for these kinds of shuffles in some companies.

    OP, assess your culture and what you want to achieve. You may be better served by having the “How can I make myself a good candidate for X role?” conversation rather than the “Why was I left out of your secret discussions that resulted in org changes and how can I be included next time?” discussion.

    The former may result in useful information and cause someone to make a mental note to consider you. The latter may result in defensiveness and a mental note reinforcing you as an outsider who doesn’t understand that you don’t get to declare yourself ready for a job (the powers that be have to do it).

    I’m not saying that’s a good system – I’m saying find out how things work in your company, and be sensitive to making people you need to support you feel defensive.

    Good luck

  6. GM*

    I like your response for OP #3. My only concern is that it sometimes opens up the field for unreasonable goals/targets, in which case they would have to push back and trim it down to something reasonable. I mention this as I’ve had such conversations that didn’t go as expected, but let’s hope the manager is more sensible than the ones I’ve had in the past.

    1. Artemesia*

      This sounds like management that is on autopilot and hasn’t thought much about meaningful feedback for workers whose jobs are routine. I would not waste a lot of time worrying about it, but just identify anodyne goals like ‘serve customers efficiently and pleasantly’ ‘respond to any customer concern with appropriate solution or by bringing the problem to my manager’, continue to produce high quality widgets (whatever the output of the job is). If this isn’t right then let the boss tell you what she expects. Don’t lose any sleep or time trying to come up with something.

      1. JessaB*

        Yes I’ve had this happen in fairly set jobs, early on with things like data entry or file clerking things. Someone told management that you’re supposed to make goals. This is how you grow employees. But nobody told them that not all jobs have goals beyond “try like heck not to leave any filing over to the next day unless you’re obviously swamped.” There are jobs that are just jobs, or just have certain things to do, and if you’re doing them, there’s a limit to anyone’s typing speed, there are tricks to get a little faster, but there’s a hard limit on everyone. You can only take calls you get. You can only file files you are given to file. Not every job needs to have goals unless those goals are to add skills to get a higher level job.

        But some employment expert not named Alison made a rule about doing reviews and that rule is “must have goals.” Even if that makes no sense at all.

  7. Junior Dev*

    It’s unclear to me whether OP 1 forced themselves to do the activities at the expense of their health or sat them out (or some combination). If it’s the first, I can see a situation where phrasing it as “I can’t do X” will get the response “but I saw you do X!” and potentially put the OP in an awkward position of feeling pressured to disclose how their health is affected by doing X.

    This is a common dynamic with disabilities that prevent someone from doing something as often as non-disabled people do, but where they are not totally unable to do the thing. So if you can walk for, say, 30 minutes a day on a good day, some people will accuse you of “faking” needing a wheelchair, and even people who are more respectful than that may have a hard time understanding the situation.

    I’m wondering how the advice changes if they were able to force themselves to do the activities even though it was not healthy for them, as opposed to being totally unable to do them.

    1. Myrin*

      OP did participate in the exercises; she says “and in the meeting itself I panicked and just did the excercises because I really didn’t want to explain my medical issues”.

    2. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

      LW #1 did mention she participated in the activities.

      The only thing I could see changing is she might “need” to explain that while she was able to perform the activities, they had a significantly negative impact on her. (I put quotation marks around “need” because like you said, some people might think she’s faking if she was able to do them, even if it was definitely more detrimental to her health vs. an able-bodied person doing them.) It’ll depend on how considerate the manager is, but hopefully Alison’s script and maybe also saying something like “I know I participated but I can’t repeatedly do those type of activities because of my medical condition” should suffice.

    3. Knitting Cat Lady*

      I’m in recovery of a very severe episode of depression.

      I’m on the autism spectrum as well.

      And I have developed hyperacusis.

      Socializing is a small doses thing for me and requires ear protectors.

      I spent four hours in a restaurant with extended family. Including three small children.

      Afterwards I didn’t go to my grandma’s house like everyone else because I was knackered.

      Went to bed at six and slept for thirteen hours.

      Still not fully recovered two days later.

      Invisible disabilities can suck like that.

    4. Ramona Flowers*

      She could say forcing herself made her realise she definitely couldn’t do those.

      OP, it’s important to tell your employer because then they are potentially legally obliged to make accommodations (though I am not a lawyer this would be the case in my country) whereas they can’t be expected to make accommodations for something they couldn’t have known about.

    5. LS*

      It is a common dynamic, but it’s also one that is legally covered as any other disability, and the more you explain it, the more comfortable you get saying “No”. I have chronic vertigo, which means that flashing lights, having to look up or pick something up from the floor, sudden or spinning movement where I can see it, or hot weather can cause problems. But when I’m not in a flare-up, I can cope with most things as long as I can do them slowly and carefully. That doesn’t mean it’s ok to ask me to review a video of flashing lights!

    6. OP #1*

      I did do all of the activities, including one thing that a doctor has explicitly told me not to do. I had no idea the meeting would involve those types of activities and couldn’t find a way to get out of the activities without letting everyone at the meeting know about my disability.

      As you guessed, my disability is invisible and I’ve also been accused of faking it (though obviously not by this boss, who doesn’t have any idea that I have any health problems), both the explicit “it’s all in your head” and the more common implicit “are you SURE you can’t do that?”

  8. GiantPanda*

    Please don’t say anything directly to or about the coworker and her eating.
    Maybe you could take a more general look at working conditions: Do people at your company have time to take lunch breaks? Is the break room clean and hospitable? Something you could do in that direction?

    1. Not That Jane*

      This is a good idea, and what I like best about it is that it can almost certainly benefit more people than just the very thin coworker. It’s always nice when a solution that was originally conceived to help a particular person ends up benefiting everyone :)

  9. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 ‘Your meeting sucks’ would be subjective. You don’t need to have their feelings for them – you can stick to the facts.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Also, I have an invisible disability and I will say that it’s hard, but important, to practise saying no. It gets easier the more you do it.

  10. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 Phone lines like this tend to read you their confidentiality policy before you talk to the therapist. And if they don’t, you can ask them.

    I’m curious about why you think they’ll struggle to stay HIPAA compliant? Is it because your work is paying for them? I’m guessing it’s an EAP line rather than them hiring a few therapists themselves but, either way, confidentiality is a basic competency for therapists and is taken VERY seriously indeed, because it’s a fundamental part of the profession and because failing to adhere to it is an ethical violation.

    Even when a therapist comes in directly to your workplace (we have this for reflective supervision) they still need to adhere to confidentiality. The only exception would be if you expressed active intention to harm yourself or someone else.

    I hope that helps put your mind at rest.

    1. fposte*

      Our EAP equivalent does in fact have therapists staffed by my employer, and I’ve never heard the slightest whiff of breach of confidentiality, and it explicitly has no connection with personnel files. Not saying that has to be true everywhere, but just because they’re paid by the employer doesn’t mean they share info with them.

      1. LBK*

        FWIW, I think companies that do that should put serious effort into dissuading the appearance of any kind of connection. I know that growing up I withheld things from my therapist because I felt like she was too close to my mom and I didn’t trust that she wouldn’t inadvertently say something to her that she didn’t realize my mom wasn’t aware of. That perception made the therapy kind of useless, even if in reality she would never have breached confidentiality (although I’m not even sure if those laws apply equally to minors).

        It’s worth thinking about things like putting them in a secluded part of the building (if they’re going to be in the office), making sure the phone number doesn’t use the same beginning extension as your company’s work phone numbers, etc. You want people to feel as comfortable as possible that this really is a completely separate entity and the sole connection to your employer is that your employer puts you in contact with them and then is completely out of it.

        1. Kuododi*

          Actually, I can’t speak for all jurisdictions but some provide even more protection for minors than adults. I’m thinking about one area in particular where I practiced. As an example, they gave adolescent minors in drug treatment ability to refuse parentalccess to medical information and records. I qualify that statement always with the information that this is only my experience and in no way a comprehensive summary of mental health care rules in the US. Best regards.

          1. LBK*

            I did some brief googling and it seems to vary pretty widely depending on where you are; in fact, in some places a doctor/therapist can disclose information to a parent even if the minor has explicitly requested not to.

    2. Anion*

      The Bad credit card company I worked for offered therapy/counseling if needed; they didn’t employ therapists but paid for it.

      I availed myself of this once because of a temporary personal issue that I was having a very hard time with. My therapist informed me at my second appointment, in a very pissed-off and scandalized manner, that after my first appt. someone from my work had called her to ask what we discussed.

      She of course refused to tell them, and was really annoyed that they had even asked (and recommended I report it). So my instinct is to say that even if your work tries to be nosy and unprofessional, the actual person with whom you speak will know better, OP.

  11. Mookie*

    This has been happening over the course of several months and I suspect she has anorexia — I have never seen her eat.

    LW2, there is no reason you need to personally witness or verify that your co-workers eat food (or, indeed, what they eat, how much of it, and how often).

    Setting aside for the moment the many reasons why it’s not a good idea to speculate about eating disorders or assume etiology when observing and judging individual people’s bodies and wondering why they look the way they do, it sounds like you understand that anorexia is a medical and health condition. Like other conditions and diseases, it is not up to you to manage your co-workers’s health, diagnose their problems for them (they know), offer them medical assistance, or inform their managers that they are ill (or “ill,” because this is all a theory). That’s beyond your brief. You wouldn’t do this with cancer, so please don’t do this with anything else. I mean this kindly, LW2, please leave this woman alone and don’t do things like this at work. It’s not a fruitful use of anyone’s time and your help is not required nor will it actually help.

    1. Allison*

      I once had someone ask why I had such an unhealthy diet, and I was extremely taken aback because this guy had seen me at a meal once a week for a few weeks, and it wasn’t exactly a kale salad but it wasn’t a triple cheeseburger either, coupled with me saying that I like pop tarts, that was not nearly enough information for him to know whether my diet was generally healthy or unhealthy. He didn’t know what I ate at home, or at work, so the fact that he concluded my diet was unhealthy was super unfair, and the fact that he asked about it was also way over the line.

    2. fposte*

      I do understand where the OP’s coming from, though, and we get so many messages about the terrible cost of indifference to people who are suffering. OP, maybe it would help if you were clear in your head that this isn’t indifference; this is granting privacy to somebody you don’t have the skills to help, no matter what is wrong with her.

      1. LBK*

        Right – this isn’t doing nothing, this is an active choice to do the thing that will be most helpful in your position, which in this case is staying out of it.

      2. Snark*

        This is a very useful reframing for people for whom being The Person Who Helps is a major plank of their personality platform.

      3. Mookie*

        this is granting privacy to somebody you don’t have the skills to help

        I think the point about skills is very good, particularly when it comes to eating disorders. People who have never suffered from them or don’t know anyone who has often believe they’re quick fixes, not a real illness, and easy to detect (all you have to do is look at a person). None of those things are true. It’s like a mass outbreak of Dunning-Krugerism, where tackling the problem requires neither expertise nor permission from the person you’re trying to “heal.” Everyone means well, but it’s very difficult to try to convince them both of their own ignorance and why that ignorance can be dangerous if they choose to foist it upon some unsuspecting person.

  12. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 It’s tempting to look to Occam’s razor, but it might not be as simple as you think – and even if it is, you most likely can’t do much or anything to help as others have said.

    Perhaps the alternative explanations are the exception rather than the rule, but here’s mine: I avoid eating in front of people due to anxiety and I lost a lot of weight at one point due to medication side effects.

    I have struggled with disordered eating at points, but nobody noticed because I’m not skinny – generally I seem to have a BMI at the top of what is considered ‘normal’. People only noticed when I lost a lot of weight suddenly.

    You can’t necessarily tell who is struggling with food, or why. You can only see people’s body shapes and any eating habits you are able to witness, which don’t tell the full story or sometimes even a full chapter.

    It’s hard seeing someone seemingly struggle but this is a double bind. Ignoring it feels unhelpful. Drawing attention to it feels unhelpful. Be kind to her, treat her like a human and don’t comment on her eating and her body, and you will be doing all you can.

    1. Observer*

      Actually, the alternative explanations are not as exceptional as many people seem to assume. Sure, if you look at each particular issue by itself, the likelihood of someone having *A* particular condition is not that high. But, when you add all of the possibilities together, that’s a different thing.

  13. Not Today Satan*

    #5–my employer does this all the time, and it’s the worst. Last year there was a whole restructure and I found out that I was getting a demoted (with a chance of getting promoted) to an entirely new department/manager via an emailed organization chart. It’s happening again this year, but thankfully I’m getting promoted without the demotion rigmarole (supposedly). I supervise people now, and I want to make sure they get a heads up before everything is announced, but I also don’t want to spread the word before it’s official. It’s a mess.

  14. Traffic_Spiral*

    For #1, it’s often reasonably easy to have a laid-back discussion about physical disabilities that preclude active stuff. Workplaces are full of adults, and adults have lots of little issues that might preclude certain physical activities. There’s lots of “I hurt my back/have a bad knee/popped a shoulder out as a kid and don’t like to tax it/pulled something last weekend at basketball”/other stuff out there that people will bring up for physical activities. So if you don’t want to go into your disability at length, it can often be easier to just say “hey, I have bad knees/joints/neck/whatever and I really shouldn’t be doing X.” Brought up like that, it’s usually* a pretty easy conversation.

    * -Usually, that is. People can always surprise you with their stupidity.

    1. JessaB*

      In this case the OP has a different worry I’d think, because their job includes elements they have to be medically careful about, they’re worried that their bosses are going to go “oh OP can’t x, so we’d better change their job and oops on that promotion because they’d have to do x, so we better promote Sal. Even though they can do the job.” And not outright, but subconsciously even. There’s an element of “is this going to screw up my current job and advancement,” in having an invisible off and on disability.

  15. Kate*

    #5- My good managers have always given me a heads up before The Big Announcement when it was something that would impact our department. Usually a team-wide call the morning before the big email/all hands meeting.

    When I’ve been an active part of the reorg (taking on a new team, for ex- not just getting a new boss!), I’ve known in advance.

  16. Raven_144*

    OP5 – our announcements used to be in person when our team was smaller (150) and many employees are remote. The managers do make an effort to reach out to their directs if there is a substantial reorg that directly impacts them (their manager is no longer their manager, a manager is being moved to a different role, etc.), but sometimes people find out when the next slide appears in the presentation. It’s not ideal for sure, but they do try to handle it well.

    1. Mabel*

      This is how it is at my job, too. I work remotely from the rest of my team, so my manager gives me as much information as she can, as early as she can. In fact, she was told not to tell me that I’m being laid off in several months due to restructuring, but she couldn’t keep that kind of information from me, giving me only a few weeks’ notice. I really appreciate it! (I’ve had some really good managers over the years at this company.)

  17. eplawyer*

    Physical activities are not required to build a team. Physical activities are not required to build a team. Physical activities are not required to build a team.

    Do not comment on food choices. Do not comment on food choices. Do not comment on food choices.

    I think I have invoked the necessary deities/demons on this.

  18. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Also, re: LW2: avoid complimenting how thin she is or how she resists treats at the office! Try to just set the example that you don’t comment on food or weight, in a good or bad way.

    When I was 21/22, I had subclinical anorexia (everything except the weight criteria, because I started out overweight and dropped to the low end of normal). And having people compliment my new looks or my body or my self-restraint kind of just spurred me to keep going. Even though I wasn’t healthy- I was anemic and dehydrated and losing muscle, (since my workout program had involved weights from the start, I was more powerfully built than someone who just dieted).

    1. fposte*

      Avoid doing that with anybody, I’d say. You don’t know who may have problems with food and eating by looking, and even if everybody has a perfectly delightful relationship with food there’s no reason to underscore weird food messages.

  19. o.b.*

    OP2, take it from someone who had one: unlike the coworker who was unaware of their potentially immediately life-threatening condition (diabetes??), if your coworker does have an eating disorder, she knows she does. There’s a lot of secrecy and shame associated with EDs, and besides which, apart from forcible hospitalization, there is nothing anyone else can do — she would need to decide to get treatment herself. If one of my coworkers had brought this up, I would have no longer trusted them, to the point that it would have compromised our working relationship. However compassionate your intentions are, saying anything will do more harm than good.

    1. fposte*

      She may currently be getting treatment, too. It’s not like it magically cures you and puts the weight back.

      1. o.b.*

        Right. Absolutely.

        And if I didn’t have an eating disorder and a coworker met with my manager to suggest I did, that would also seriously damage our working relationship.

        Totally agree with PCBH that—again, compassionate as your intentions may be—this urge is most likely about your own anxiety & desire to take actions that will make you feel better. It is totally OK to feel that way, but best not to act on.

        1. Specialk9*

          “this urge is most likely about your own anxiety & desire to take actions that will make you feel better. It is totally OK to feel that way, but best not to act on.”

          Wow yes. This.

          It’s a parallel to the process I go through with my toddler – I want to fix whatever makes him unhappy, but it’s not my role and he needs to learn to emotionally regulate and problem solve on his own. But it’s hard for me, emotionally, to watch and not fix! Which is teaching me lessons I need to learn too. :D

      2. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

        This. Nearly everyone I know with an ED is in some sort of treatment — mostly outpatient. That doesn’t stop relapses or magically make everything better. I’ve personally been going to my dietitian for about four years, my therapist for over three, and I had a relapse last year that ended up sending me into IOP while I was still working. The only people who knew were the ones who had to approve my leaving early for my program several days per week. I wasn’t ever underweight, but even if I had been and my coworkers had started to speculate or whatever, very few would have KNOWN I was in treatment.

        Eating disorders don’t follow much of a formula and they often take for-freaking-ever to work through. They’re coping mechanisms and sort of addictive…but unlike with other addictions, just abstaining from and avoiding food isn’t an option. It’s really complicated stuff and you definitely wouldn’t be able to tell if someone was in treatment just by looking at them. (Or actually if someone has an ED just by looking at them…but that’s a whole other topic…)

  20. Manager-at-Large*

    Reorgs can be tough to handle and you can’t always give a heads-up. Often, there isn’t a formal process to apply for a new position when a new role is needed. I’ve been involved in a restructure where I gained new people creating what would be a very flat and wide organization and was told to figure out the org chart I wanted so that I ended up with only 4-6 directs – with team leads and directs under those leads. There was no “who wants to be a team lead” announcement and no open position to apply for. It was a case of just knowing the people and their skills and their interests. So – if you want to move in that direction, make sure your manager knows of your interest and do what you can to demonstrate leadership and mentoring skills – just in case.

  21. Allison*

    I don’t think I’ve ever been given a heads-up about reorgs in advance, but I’m used to hearing about it from my boss before an email goes out or a team meeting happens, at least when the reorg impacts someone I work closely with, so I might be surprised if that conversation doesn’t happen before the whole team finds out.

  22. Observer*

    OP 2, I want to highlight one aspect of your letter. You mention the idea of going to her supervisor. Why? Would you consider approaching her parents? I hope not! Even assuming a relatively healthy and normal relationship. Well, going to her supervisor is an even greater over step of boundaries.

    The ONLY time it would be appropriate to go to her supervisor would be if there is a specifically work related issue – eg you think the employee is unhappy about x in the workplace, someone is harassing her, you think that it might be a good idea for her to have training x so that there is someone on staff who can do Y, etc.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah—that part is the most troubling to me. I can think of only a few, narrow circumstances when it might make sense to talk to a coworker’s manager about the coworker’s health, and this is not one of them. Her manager is not her mom. Hell, her mom shouldn’t be told about something like this, either. Why would it be ok, here?

  23. Dust Bunny*

    LW3: I hear ya. My job is basically dependent on me not advancing. I can’t move up without a Master’s degree (and my employer doesn’t have a position for me even if I got one; I’d have to change jobs to use it), and there are only so many extra duties I can take on otherwise. But I still have to come up with goals every year. It drives me nuts, and my immediate supervisor is sympathetic and helpful but can’t change the policy. I really wish there were another way to acknowledge ongoing performance, though, without pressuring people whose jobs have a rather low advancement ceiling to basically invent goals.

  24. Matilda Jefferies*

    #4, I once ran into a colleague in the reception area when I was seeing the therapist that was affiliated with our EAP. I mentioned it offhandedly to the therapist, and she was *horrified,* and extremely apologetic. She said that should never have happened, as it was considered a breach of confidentiality in itself, and she would talk to the scheduling people to make sure something like that didn’t happen again.

    Obviously there are too many variables to draw an exact parallel to your situation, but I hope the takeaway is that a good therapist will take your confidentiality seriously, even when you’re discussing work situations. Good luck.

  25. Manager-at-Large*

    OP3 (goals) I agree with the other writers and AAM that you could ask your manager what he is looking for when asking that question, that is, what would suitable monthly goals be for your position and experience. I presume this is a request for short-term performance goals as compared to career/annual goals. You could also ask a co-worker with the same manager about this – does he always ask for goals, what kinds of answers does she give when she is asked, etc.

  26. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

    OP1, I’m reminded of the oft-quoted statistic that public speaking is a more common fear than the fear of death. However, as a fellow disabled person, I would like to respectfully suggest that we stop physically harming ourselves in order to avoid a slightly uncomfortable conversation. Maybe that could be a New Year’s resolution?

  27. Elizabeth H.*

    To the advice for letter #2, I would add on to something others have already suggested: besides not commenting on your coworker or anyone else’s eating habits in terms of the amount, calorie content, healthfulness/unhealthfulness/good/bad qualifications, I would strongly encourage you not to comment on anyone else’s food at all even including comments like: “That smells good”/”That looks good,” “what is that?” “Oh wow, did you make that?” and so forth.

    I know these comments seem totally neutral or even positive to many people. But having an eating disorder, when I was having more issues with it, I absolutely hated when anyone commented on my food, and somehow especially when it was something like “That smells good.” I hated eating in front of other people or having people notice what I was eating even when it was something “normal,” I just wanted all my eating behavior to be completely invisible to others.

    I’m not having issues with eating now and I even tend to talk about food a lot with my manager these days (like recommendations for things we like at Whole Foods, what our favorite salads are at Sweetgreen, stuff like that). But when I was struggling with eating I would never have wanted to engage in this sort of topic. And consequently I always avoid making any type of comment, even a “neutral” comment on other people’s food in the office. (It’s different with my manager because she and I have a great rapport and we clearly are both interested in the subject, we pick up lunch together or for the other person sometimes, etc.)

    1. H.C.*

      >>I would strongly encourage you not to comment on anyone else’s food at all even including comments like: “That smells good”/”That looks good,” “what is that?” “Oh wow, did you make that?” and so forth.

      Perhaps, in the context of actually knowing a colleague has an ED (which may or may not be the case for LW 2’s coworker); but in a general workplace context, these are fairly neutral statements and it would seem weird to shut down any commentary of anyone’s food, esp when meant as a compliment.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        That’s why I said explicitly in my post “I know these comments seem totally neutral or even positive to many people” – my point is that I, personally, really hated this type of comment. You don’t know who hates them – I’ve posted this sentiment in AAM comments a few times before and there are others who feel the same way. I wouldn’t shut down a coworker for commenting on food or request that others refrain from discussing food in any way, just sharing something that many people have no idea could or would bother someone.

    1. Snark*

      And here’s the thing I never get: why does it even occur to people to do so? There has NEVER been a workplace conversation about one party’s body type – or diet, or caloric intake, or choice of lunches, or weight – that wasn’t fraught and didn’t leave someone feeling anxious at best, triggered at worst, or shitty usually.

      1. fposte*

        Because there are cultural groups where it’s absolutely de rigueur to do so, so it’s easy to be unaware that that’s not actually broadly desirable.

        1. Annabelle*

          Idk if there are any cultural groups where it’s okay or normal to comment about people’s shape or size in the workplace. I understand that it may be difficult not to discuss food-related things, but there’s no office where speculating about someone’s thinness or fatness is appropriate.

      2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        Because not everybody is actually bothered by those topics? And because some of the people who aren’t bothered lack the wisdom or experience to realize that others are?

        Some people would be delighted to have a nice gab about their latest diet, or to get a complement on their hard-won weight loss. Some people don’t really care and would forget about any conversation on such topics two minutes later. So it doesn’t occur to them that other people aren’t the same way.

        And of course, some people do it because they do know others are hurt.

  28. S*

    #5 – I think it’s weird to be notified in a department wide email that your direct manager is changing! When my old manager left the company, he told me in a brief one-on-one convo he was leaving, and then just before he left my one-over (his manager) told me one-on-one who would be my new manager. When my one-over manager has changed, my direct manager always gave me a quick call to let me know before the department wide email went out.

    1. Kyrielle*

      If they’re just leaving or being promoted, it is. But if it’s a re-org, it’s not as unusual – companies tend to keep those close to the vest, to keep employees from wasting a lot of energy worrying about what it will be. A re-org that involves letting some people go is even more likely to be played close. And if they told everyone whose manager was about to change, putting together the picture of “re-org coming” isn’t hard. So they just…don’t. (In some cases, the manager may not know their role is about to change. Fun times….)

  29. NW Mossy*

    OP5, to get yourself on the “secret list” of people who get the most desirable opportunities, perhaps the most important ingredient (after the obvious “perform well in current role”) is simply to speak up with your boss about your ambitions. Even if you aren’t totally sure where you want to go next, just starting the conversation makes a huge difference in how much ends up coming your way.

    From a manager’s point of view, it’s wonderful when employees are candid about what they want next in their careers because it makes my job of developing them much easier. It makes it easy for me to put the right kinds of opportunities in front of them to help build out their skills, and it also helps me see where that employee should focus to shore up any weaknesses that might hold them back.

    Most bosses really like this part of their jobs, because it’s fun to see people grow and achieve. It’s not grasping or entitled to want to grow – it’s normal and actually very desirable in organizations where things change fast. Take this opportunity with your new boss to have these conversations – it’s amazing how much it will help you clarify what you want and how to get it.

  30. Louise*

    OP2—something you could do that would be a kindness is to make sure you shut down any body/food talk from your coworkers, whether directed to her or about her (eg, “oh my gosh you should eat something!” or “wow coworker looks so skinny these days!”). Regardless of the cause of her perceived weight loss, this would be a good thing to do.

  31. OP #1*

    I emailed my boss with a slightly tweaked version of Allison + k.k’s script (mainly to make the phrasing more specific to our job). Thanks for all of the really supportive and helpful advice.

    1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      Please update us on the response. I hope it is an all is well that ends well situation

  32. Laoise*

    #5: I once found out my peer had been promoted to MY manager when she asked me to proof an email for tone — and I saw the new position in her signature line!

    It had been over a month and no one thought to tell me I had a new manager.

  33. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

    #2: as someone who actually went through an eating disorder recovery program while working full-time…please don’t make the first move on this. If she decides to confide in you, by all means offer support and resources. But at the moment (if she actually has an ED)…she could be in denial, she could be fully aware and refuszing treatment, or she could actually be working on recovery and you may not know. Eating disorders are often a long-haul type situation, and it’s not uncommon for someone to be in outpatient treatment for years. Some people have momentary relapses even while in outpatient therapy.

    I know that’s ANY focus on my body while I was in relapse was triggering. I both did and didn’t want people to notice my weight loss, and any mention of it simultaneously made me feel uncomfortable and inspired more restricting. Focusing on what people/you are eating (aside from maybe a “This tastes so good!” type comment) can be triggering in a huge way when you’re in the depths of an ED as well.

    All that to say…right now, all you can really do is be mindful of your own behavior/speech. The only other thing I can think of is, if your company has an EAP, maybe someone could send out a reminder of the benefits offered to everyone. Otherwise, as everyone’s said, the best thing to do is to stay out of it for now (even though I know you mean well).

    1. BarkusOrlyus*

      Your second paragraph here is so relatable. I just wanted to hide most of the time when I was sick. I actually started freelancing at this point in my life in part because I was so sick of the daily torment of coworkers commenting on my behavior. I knew better than anyone what my problem was. The “helpful” commentary just made me feel more ashamed and exposed.

  34. Bitey Gobstopper Psycho*

    OP#2, I’ve had the same struggle, especially because my position revolves around a quota, which I easily exceed all the time. Alison’s advice has given me some ideas for things I can ask my manager about to work on those shorter-term goals – thanks Alison!

  35. Aisling*

    OP#5: My org actually forbade the last reorganization news to be spread via email. Managers were specifically told to “tell” people about the changes. No one could figure out why and it put a strange tone on the whole thing that unsettled people.

  36. Julia the Survivor*

    OP#2, I have a skinny body type and had a sudden weight loss from stress in 2013. I had to go to therapy and have a lot of medical tests. I’ve only gained back 5 pounds even though I eat all the time. So I still look thin but luckily not unhealthy.
    One of my friends is even thinner and has been since I’ve known her, more than 10 years. She filled out a little after she met her husband. People assume she has an eating disorder all the time, and it offends her. As far as I can tell she doesn’t – she eats smaller portions than most but she does eat. She has other life issues that might affect the regularity of her meals, but she is not anorexic.
    The only trouble I’ve had is with the type of women who kill themselves to be thin and make jealous comments. I enjoy setting them straight. :D

  37. Julia the Survivor*

    OP#4, in my experience it’s good to be cautious with a new therapist.
    I once went to a PhD in psychology who had a lot of training, and I thought she would be pretty good. I was wrong. Among other bad things, she got annoyed because I wouldn’t tell her who my previous therapist was and asked why I was so secretive. (why did she want to know? I had not given her permission to discuss me with him).
    She also noticed my office number when I called her from work and commented “Oh, I see you work at _____” when I hadn’t intended to tell her that either.
    Even though she went through the motions with the HIPAA form, she didn’t actually respect boundaries or me.
    My next and current therapist is an angel in human form who respects my boundaries and waited till I was ready to trust her with such things.
    So it might be good to be cautious until you know you can trust them. Maybe even do a test – mention something small at work and see if it gets back to your workplace.
    Good luck! :)

  38. Bee Eye LL*

    Op #2 – I have a co-worker who weighs @ 500 pounds. That is no exaggeration. He’s had the lap band surgery and is on a variety of medications yet I see him eating lunch from the vending machine all the time. He’s his own worst enemy when it comes to food. There’s really nothing you can do about it and probably not much you can say that they don’t already know. Basically, it’s a mental health issue.

  39. Changeling*

    OP#2 I have what looks, on the outside, to be an eating disorder, but is a weird GI issue. I can’t eat without getting nauseous, and about half of my co-workers are aware of most of my problems, but some don’t. I’m sure to them watching me eat half an orange or a cup of rice and veggies look like a starvation diet.
    I’ve had some concerned questions, from close coworkers, jokes about pregnancy, which generally got shot down with profanity (including my supervisors, they took it well), but if someone had gone to my boss “concerned ” about an eating disorder, rather than talking to me or keeping their mouth shut, I’d have been beyond upset. I had enough to deal with trying to figure out why I was suddenly getting sick, trying to fit Drs appointments in around the busiest time of year, and still do my job. Without the stigma of an eating disorder.

  40. BarkusOrlyus*

    As a person who’s suffered from eating disorders that visibly took me on a dramatic body size rollercoaster over the course of a few years…MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS ABOUT PEOPLE’S WEIGHT. You know what my nightmare was at that point in my life? Being reminded of how obvious it was that I was sick.

    General etiquette, to me, dictates that we do not discuss matters of health with anyone but our closest loved ones (and still, it’s vital to tread lightly). Even when you mean it as a compliment. Even when you’re ‘just making an observation.’ Even when you think you’re being helpful. Keep thoughts and opinions about other people’s bodies to yourself.

  41. Anon anon anon*

    LW1 could be me. I also have a not-that-obvious disability that means I can’t do a lot of physical stuff. At the job before last, I disclosed it and my boss was great. At my last job, I didn’t feel comfortable disclosing it because of some of the dynamics in that office . . . Next job, I’m going to be upfront about it from the start, maybe even during the hiring process, so that anyone who takes issue with it can weed themselves out.

  42. Hopper*

    #2 – don’t say anything. I once lost 30 lbs in short order due to a medication change. Thankfully (?) I started at a high enough weight that people perceived it as a healthy weight loss, but it was noticeable enough that I would get comments from (mostly women) to the effect of “how did you lose all that weight?! what’s your secret??” or “you look fantastic, how did you do it??” It was all with good intentions but I would honestly make up stuff because I didn’t want to respond “I changed my antidepressants”. Your colleague could be undergoing treatment for a variety of medical conditions she doesn’t want to discuss it. Or you could make her more self conscious about her appearance. It would be different if you were closer but this one isn’t for you to get involved.

    #4 – Even if the therapist is employed by the company, they are bound by the ethical guidelines of their profession (and any decent company is aware there would be no point in offering EAP services if they could be used against the employee). I went to our EAP once, and while I found the quality was not great and ended up going external, she was very up front about confidentiality and even made clear that if she encountered me in a work environment (in passing – the counselors don’t go to work events but sometimes provide appointments at accessible locations where they might see you), she would not acknowledge me.

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