how can I tell my boss to stop commenting on my food and my weight?

A reader writes:

I recently got a new job in a new city and I love what I do.

Recently I have lost a bit of weight. My boss has made several comments about how I’m so skinny and how she wishes she could diet like me. Really all I have done is started running again, because my schedule finally affords it. We ran into each other one morning while I had a coffee in one hand and a brownie in the other, and it was, “Look at you and your diet!”

Long ago I had some serious body issues and never really felt comfortable in my skin until a few years ago. These comments, whether about my weight or diet, have really started to affect me. I’m tracking my weight and I’m constantly thinking about how to cut calories. Luckily, I can recognize the slippery slope I’m headed towards, but I don’t know how to address it with her. I’m uncomfortable going directly to her, but our office is so small, we have no HR person and the next higher up is our executive director.

How do I go about asking her to please keep comments about my weight to herself without admitting to serious problems in my past AND keeping our relationship professional? Our one office space is entirely women, and it is becoming apparent that it is a frequent conversation.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • How to follow up up on a promised raise
  • Shouldn’t this recruiter be … recruiting me?
  • Managing someone who doesn’t want to move up
  • I’m getting conflicting instructions at work

{ 309 comments… read them below }

  1. Jennifer*

    Ugh, I would hate this so much. Whether I’ve gained weight, lost weight, or stayed the same, please don’t comment on my size. I hope the advice helped.

    1. Antilles*

      Agreed. To me, the only appropriate time to comment on someone’s weight is if you’re close enough to them that you already know from previous conversations they’re intentionally trying to lose weight or trying to bulk up by hitting the gym or whatever. In that case, you can toss out a quick compliment here and there as a pick-me-up to make them feel like their efforts are working.
      In every other situation, nope, just don’t mention someone’s weight change.

      1. merp*

        Agreed! And honestly? Ideally not at work. Those circumstances make sense but it still feels like work is the wrong place. If only because those conversations are public and might bring other people in or something.

      2. Jennifer*

        Agreed. And honestly sometimes then I don’t want to hear it. I just don’t like feeling watched. I guess it’s hard to explain. Then if I backslide and gain a bit I know everyone has noticed.

      3. Allison*

        Right. I am actively losing weight, although I only talk about that with some people (and NO ONE FROM WORK) so I’d really only want those people to comment if they noticed significant weight loss. I do not need people I barely know, or anyone at work, approaching me and telling me they’ve noticed my weight change. I don’t mind talking about fitness with some people at work, but even then, I don’t want them commenting on whether they think those SoulCycle classes have had any impact on my waistline.

      4. on Anon*

        Even if you know it’s deliberate, don’t mention it unless you know they welcome it (eg. by talking about it themselves). A while back I lost significant weight, and absolutely loathed that some of the other women at work kept bringing it up. It felt very intrusive and took the focus away from my work. And later I gained it back, and while they didn’t comment on that it was clear my weight had been something they thought about and had been ok making a topic of conversation. Even when I’d asked them not to.

        Let your coworkers decide for themselves what personal issues they want to be a topic of conversation, and trust that they have friends who can give them affirmation if it’s needed.

    2. Jessen*

      Yup. I have some ongoing health issues that mean it’s very easy for me to lose weight and hard to gain it. Complimenting me on my weight loss is likely to lead to an awkward “uh thanks” and a fantasy of describing the effects of my digestive woes in detail while they eat lunch.

      1. Jessen*

        I have occasionally done the latter, actually. Not in detail, but if I’m feeling annoyed you might get a cheery “thanks, not being able to keep anything down for a few days really helps!”

      2. E*

        This. I spent the first 3 months of this year fighting a sinus infection. Three different antibiotics and several pounds lost, plus not nice bathroom details. Someone mentioned the other day that I looked trimmer, and I immediately said that a sinus infection wasn’t the ideal way to lose weight. They completely understood.

        1. Wing Leader*

          That’s the thing, everyone assumes they are complimenting you when they point out that you’re smaller. But it’s not always a good thing.

          A girl I know lost quite a bit of weight because she contracted a serious illness that left her bedridden and barely able to eat for several weeks. I remember being around her after she recovered and hearing people praise her for “slimming down.” Ugh, cue the cringe. She was polite so she didn’t correct them, but I sure wanted to sometimes.

          1. pope suburban*

            A friend of mine had a benign brain tumor that caused her to lose a substantial amount of weight. She had surgery and has been doing much better for years, but at the time she was often frustrated with well-meaning people who praised her for losing so much weight. She got to a point where she was not shy about telling people, “Well, I feel like death and they’ll need to cut open my skull, but at least I look pretty!” in a very sarcastic way. I was horrified on her behalf. I care about my friends’ well-being, not how they look on the outside, and it was distressing to hear the way people expected her to be happy about being in ill health and miserable. I wasn’t one for weight talk before, but lending her an ear through that process made absolutely goddamn sure that I would never, ever say something about someone’s weight like that. I happily compliment my friends on improving their lifestyle or achieving their goals (with regards to goals they have stated, like starting to lift weights or learning to cook or whatnot), but I won’t go anywhere near weight or other related numbers.

      3. PersephoneUnderground*

        Yeah, I’m also trying very hard to keep my weight up, so it’s a little weird when I get a compliment or observation that I’m a bit skinny/thin. Yes, I know, and I miss not having to keep my meals on a strict schedule to remember to eat. *Sigh*

    3. MommyMD*

      Why do people do this? Just don’t comment at all on size or food choices. It’s not that difficult. If I were OP I’d just answer “I’m not comfortable talking about this” each and every time. Rinse and repeat til she gets her head out of her a/as.

      1. Gerry*

        I had a colleague that loved it when people would comment on her weight loss. I never did and she hated me for it. I always think it’s a private matter for the individual.

      2. clockworkpurple*

        Having lost about 45lb (on purpose, and thanks to changing my eating habits and my activity levels) I have been amazed at how many people say, “you’ve lost weight!” as a compliment. It’s made me really aware that I’ve probably done the same thing in the past, and so now I always aim for something like, “you’re looking really healthy/happy” instead.

        Of course some people will respond with, “thanks, I’ve lost weight!”. I guess that’s the society we live in that values losing weight above happiness…

        My personal response to, “you’ve lost weight!” became simply, “yes I have”. It seemed to make people think about more about their assumptions, and whether they were correct. YMMV…

  2. TootsNYC*

    I so much want to bolster the confidence of people like OP so that they DO feel comfortable saying, “Oh, I really don’t like talking about my diet or my weight.”

    Sometimes I think what people most need is just the shortest, least judgy or vulnerable way to say, “I don’t like this, actually.”

    and maybe framing it is “simply expressing a preference, which you are entitled to do, and nice people would be willing to comply” would help.

    Come up with a phrase and say it each and every time, exactly the same way (even in response to them saying, “Oh, I was trying to compliment you!” you say “I really don’t like talking about my diet or my weight”). Hopefully the repetition will make them realize how often they say it, and that you don’t like it, and they’ll stop.

    1. Oxford Comma*

      I think this is the way to go. So many other responses open you up to further inquiry into your personal life and health and diet choices and then everyone feels free to give you advice.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I have gone with, “Oh, work is my time out from thinking and talking about that stuff. I know you will understand what I mean.” Fortunately, I had other times where I said that work was my excuse/ time out for not thinking about or working on Major Life Thing, so I could go back to those conversations.

      Privately, I would ask myself, “How small would my world have to be in order for me to keep commenting on someone’s weight loss/gain?” Time and time again I came back to this answer of, “[My Person] doesn’t have that much else going on in her life. Or for some strange reason she thinks this is how to show caring.”

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Along with when are you getting married/when are you having children…unless you’re close enough to someone to ask those kinds of questions, people need to mind their own business. It’s so obnoxious.

      2. Name Required*

        I don’t know that it’s necessarily fair to characterize someone who comments on weight as having a “small world” — commenting on weight is an incredibly common aspect of US society, at least. It’s not good and it needs to change, but we’re not yet at a point where people aren’t commonly using weight and weight loss as a way to relate it each other.

        I think we can help people realize that their comments are unwelcome without privately insulting them.

        1. PhyllisB*

          I understand the ones not wanting weight comments (especially at work) but then there’s the one who will say “I’ve worked so hard and lost ____pounds and NO ONE’S EVEN NOTICED!!!!!!!!!!!” Sometimes you just can’t win. Having said that, I will err on the side of not commenting.

    3. Suzy Q*

      The statement can even be taken a step further: “I really don’t like talking about anyone’s diet or weight, including mine.”

      1. Gail Davidson-Durst*

        I LOVE this, as many people will talk incessantly about their own food rules / exercise / calories / moral judgments on food when given the chance. I also don’t want to hear that stuff, as it’s both implicitly shaming and fatphobic, and I personally have issues that make it unhealthy for me to marinate in Diet Culture all day.

        1. EH*


          A bunch of my (male) coworkers are obsessed with the keto diet right now, and they ALWAYS want to talk about it to anybody who will hold still long enough. They complain about what they can’t eat, and try to talk numbers with me. I’ve gone the route of “oh my god I have heard everything about every diet and it is so boring, let’s talk about something else” to shut it down. Then when the same people try again, I’m like, “bup bup bup, no thanks, man. No diet talk” plus a subject change. It’s been working pretty well so far.

        2. Allison*

          Right, I don’t want to hear that stuff either. I’m so done with people saying they’re “being bad” for having a donut, or they’re “trying to be good” when pizza is present, or they “were so good” for going to the gym or “sooo bad” for skipping it. I am especially done overhearing coworkers holding each other accountable for each other’s diet and exercise rules. You want an accountabilibuddy at work? Fine, but please be discrete, I don’t need a daily rundown of what you’re eating and why it’s healthy (nor do I need to hear people “playfully” scolding each other when their lunch isn’t healthy enough).

          There’s nothing wrong with healthy eating, fitness, or weight loss, I’m all about that stuff too, but that’s very personal stuff, and hearing about other people’s rules, habits, feelings, successes, and failures when you don’t really want to can really mess up your feelings about your own body and lifestyle.

          1. It's not broken it's just a sprain*

            Yep. Usually the only thing I say is “Mmm, that looks good,” if someone has a tasty-looking snack or lunch. I don’t care what diet they’re on. As for doughnuts, as long as I get my favorite (the cinnamon/sugar cake one), that’s all I care about.

        3. JulieCanCan*

          Oy. I had a friend who talked non-stop about POINTS. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS. Literally she’d talk about her weekly points from Sunday morning through Saturday evening, every.single.point.consumed.

          Kill me now.

        4. CastIrony*

          I used to sit with co-workers who loved to be “tempted” by the desserts I got and loved to eat healthier. It was not nice.

          I think we should only mention diets when it comes to religious, allergies, or health conditions, like “I can’t have tomatoes because I’m allergic to it”, or “I can’t eat prime rib. I’m observing Lent.”

    4. Oh So Anon*

      I feel like I can’t do this because someone would clap back with “but don’t be so sensitive!”. I’m curious as to how people can live in a world where that’s not a response they would expect to navigate around.

      1. JamieG*

        It’s definitely possible that someone will call you sensitive for it, but you don’t need to let that control what you do. Try something like “haha, I am kind of sensitive about diet/ weight talk, thank you for understanding”, or “I just don’t really like it!”

  3. HeyAnonanonnie*

    My anecdotal experience is that some people seem to have this idea that it’s okay to comment on someone’s weight as long as the person is thin or has lost weight. But those comments are just as inappropriate as commenting on weight gain. Just don’t do it!

    1. The Original K.*

      Yep. There have been letters here from thin people who don’t appreciate having their sizes commented on, for various reasons. I once heard someone comment on someone else’s weight loss and ask what the secret was, and the “secret” was that the other person was running herself ragged trying to do her job, run her household, and figure out how to care for a sick aging parent.

      1. Amber Rose*

        I was reading a twitter post from a dude who said he was once getting tons of compliments on his weight loss and how healthy he looked, but he was actually addicted to heroin at the time.

        Aside from that, imagine struggling with an eating disorder and being told about how much weight you’re losing and how great you look starving yourself or purging. Horrible.

        1. Kat in VA*

          I was anorexic for a while and when that became too much trouble to hide, switched over to bulimia instead (“See? I’m eating!”)

          People commenting on how thin / fit / slender / whatever I was only served as positive reinforcement that what I was doing to myself was a good thing.

          Nowadays when someone pops off with the BUT YOU’RE SO SKINNY comment, I shoot back that I survive on Red Bull and nicotine (with occasional bouts of being the office garbage dumpster for unwanted food). That usually shuts them down.

          1. Kat in VA*

            I should note that I’m aware I still have very disordered eating and I’m trying to work on it.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Several years ago my partner and I separated for about a year. It was not my choice, and I was utterly distraught – my appetite completely vanished. I barely ate one very small meal a day, only because I sort of vaguely, intellectually, knew I needed to eat something. Over the course of the summer, I probably lost about 20-30 pounds – and if someone had commented, or complimented me on it, I’m not sure if my response would’ve involved loud ugly sobbing or punching them (or maybe both).

        Not all weight loss is deliberate. Just…don’t comment on it.

        1. PB*

          I lost a significant amount of weight a few years ago due to a then-undiagnosed thyroid condition. It took a good eight months to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. When I tried to tell my mom about this, all she heard was “20 pounds weight loss” and responded with “good for you!” No, not good for me! Literally, it was bad for me.

          1. designbot*

            yep. My boss and MIL both commented on my weight loss, when they knew I had pancreatitis and my doctor was literally threatening to hospitalize me if I didn’t manage to keep at least 1000 calories a day down. What’s my secret? Being near death. Awesome.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I dropped a ton of weight due to a clinical depression.
          My husband dropped a shitload in a hurry because of a serious gastrointestinal reason.

        3. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Agreed, Jadelyn. When I began divorce proceedings, I had no appetite for anything besides coffee. Someone at work kept commenting on how much weight I’d lost, that I never looked better, and so on, and my monotone answers didn’t stop her interest. One day she what my secret was. I told her to find the love of her life and have him or her break her heart repeatedly and kill her ability to ever forgive or trust herself. Yeah, I was snarky, but she never commented on my weight again.

          1. Jadelyn*

            How awful! Snark seems entirely justified in that sort of situation. I hope she felt terrible for pushing to that point and maybe it got her to think twice before doing that to anyone else.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              I felt like sobbing and punching people a lot, but I’ve been told I was pretty even-keeled during those days. This one person, though…glad you were able to keep things together, you were more diplomatic than I was!

            2. Pommette!*

              Snark is indeed justified.
              It may be an awkward way to learn a lesson, but it has the advantage of being memorable – and it’s a good lesson for the coworker to have learned.

        4. HeyAnonanonnie*

          People can also be really mean about weight loss. I got criticized for losing the baby weight. Nursing can do that to you.

        5. Liz*

          no its not. A good friend, and CW lost her husband about a year ago, very young and very suddenly. She is still, understandably, struggling with it. And has lost about 20 lbs even though she does eat, but like you, she does knowing she has to, but that’s about it. Her brother has harped on her about it, and she’s like well, what do you want me to do???? She can’t help it.

        6. Anonorama*

          Anonymous for this. I went through something similar many years ago – learned my husband had had an inappropriate relationship with another woman a few years prior. We worked through it, but for many months I only ate the bare minimum to continue functioning b/c I was so upset. I got down to not much more than I’d weighed in high school, and people noticed. They meant to be complimentary, but sometimes it was hard not to burst into tears when they asked me for weight loss advice. Try the get-your-heart-ripped-out-and-stomped-on diet. Not healthy physically or mentally – but very effective.

      3. Blue_eyes*

        My MIL once lost about 15 lbs and everyone was complementing her. She was average to slim to begin with, and her “secret” was that she had had swine flu! (Literally the H1N1 flu during that outbreak, followed by secondary pneumonia). She was not healthy or looking good, she looked sick and skeletal, but people always assumed the weight loss was a good thing.

      4. Burned Out Supervisor*

        Yeah, what if her secret was chemo? Ugh. People should learn to compliment the person, not their body. “Hey Karen, you did aweome on that report yesterday!” Or, “Karen, you did great at facilitating the meeting the other day! You really have a knack for public speaking!.” Or, if you must compliment their appearance, a simple, “I really like that color on you!” or “I love your shoes!” These are not hard.

    2. NerdyWordyBirdy*

      Agreed – I’m very thin and I’m in an industry where I used to “float” at different offices for a week or two at a time, and I have gotten multiple comments on my weight at every single office I’ve been at, even across two different companies in this industry. I’m young and young-looking anyway, and hearing those comments all the time have made me wonder whether my coworkers take me seriously. I think they do at this point, since I’ve moved up a bit and don’t float anymore, but it surprises me how many people feel okay commenting on your weight if you’re skinny. It’s more of an annoyance for me personally, but you never know what kind of underlying issues there could be. Hopefully the polite advice here will make the manager rethink what she says to anyone about weight.

    3. iglwif*

      Yeah. I’ve been very skinny twice in my life, and once was because I was nursing and carrying around a baby and getting a ton of exercise and eating a lot and was really happy … and the other time was because I was really, really, really, really sick.

      I got a TON of positive comments on my weight loss when I was sick. And I’ve seen photos, so I know I did not objectively look good–I just looked extremely skinny, and somehow people read that as A Good Thing.

      You’re right, JUST DON’T DO IT.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      Agreed. I’ve had a lot of comments on my weight over the years, often the “I don’t know how you eat like that and stay so skinny!” type of thing, and sometimes I wish I’d just cheerily said “anorexia!” because yep, that was the answer and the comments made it worse. These days I like to very seriously say “it’s the tapeworm”.

        1. pope suburban*

          I find this especially fitting, as these folks seem to cheerfully live with their diarrhea of the mouth.

      1. Miss Petty and Vindictive*

        I love the tapeworm response. I may have to use that in future!

        I did once have a doctor/GP ask me “What happened?!” rather incredulous when I went into clinic and was 20kg more than I had been a couple years prior. Turns out that answering “oh, I stopped throwing my food up after I ate it” was not the answer she was expecting.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      “Wow, you’ve lost weight! You look great!”

      “Oh. Yeah, I was violently ill for the last three weeks.”

      1. Sabina*

        Or, as in my case during one period of my life….”Oh. Yeah, it’s the radiation treatment!”

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I know one person who responded with “yeah, it’s the chemo.” She wasn’t undergoing chemo, she just got tired of people commenting on her weight loss.

      2. PlainJane*

        I wish more people would respond like this. Then maybe some people would finally learn that thin does not automatically equal healthy, and thin is not an automatic good.

        1. MatKnifeNinja*

          My internist said, “Wow you look great! What’s your secret?” after dropping about 40 lbs in two months. This was before he even asked my why I was there.

          My disordered eating came roaring back in full force and was living off of 500 calories per day.

          Health care workers are the worse for the skinny/thin=amazing, healthy human.

          Until my labs showed I was almost in renal failure. #GoodTimes

          1. selena81*

            The prevalence of that attitude amongst doctors keeps fat people from getting proper medical care.
            Remember that time when doctors would try to tie every disease to ‘you have a vagina’ (broken leg? must be because of all that hysteria)
            That whole ‘you have ONE problem’ attitude shifted to the overweight.

    6. Lizzy May*

      I once lost a great deal of weight and every day at work someone would comment on it. It was awful and I ended up gaining the weight back because I hated the attention and the pressure it put me under. If I didn’t lose weight on any given week (because that’s just how human bodies are sometimes) I felt like a failure. Plus it really did suck to have the only compliments my boss ever made about me be about my body. I know she thought it was a compliment and encouraging but I could never just “be” at work. It was awful.

    7. DAMitsDevon*

      Ugghh yeah, I lost quite a bit of weight last year from a stomach virus, then anxiety ruining my appetite, and my coworkers kept complimenting me and saying I looked so healthy. Yes, so healthy while not being able to eat enough…. I had an even more serious illness this winter and might lose even more weight as I taper off the steroids I have to take, and if people compliment again, I swear… I’d much rather have not gotten sick and weigh more.

      1. Miss Petty and Vindictive*

        I was in this camp at one stage. I had a version of the cold-sore/herpes virus where I ended up with about 100 ulcers in my mouth. Couldn’t eat or drink properly for a week. Was very close to being put in hospital as I’d reached the point where I couldn’t force myself to drink soup.
        Met up with a friend a week later, and she said how much thinner I was looking, and she really, REALLY didn’t appreciate the photos my husband (then boyfriend) had taken of the inside of my mouth!

    8. CheeryO*

      Yeah, I’m thin and a fairly serious runner, and asking polite questions about my hobby very often segues into commentary on my body or diet. I think it’s a little thin priviledge-y to act like it’s super hurtful (as long as you don’t call me a stick insect or prepubescent boy), but it’s annoying and unnecessary. It’s true that you never know what someone is going through. I worked hard to get to a place where I don’t obsessively count calories and exercise like a maniac to offset my food intake. I have to eat intuitively, and sometimes that means salads and sometimes it means cake for breakfast. There aren’t any lessons to be learned there.

      1. Anonybus*

        I am also a relatively thin runner. I have gotten invasive inquiries about what I eat/how many miles/how frequently/how fast I run, for years.
        (And disturbingly, a few people also seem to have been pleased to learn about any minor injury that I may be dealing with- so odd)

        I am very against body-shaming and exercise/food type evangelism, so I have successfully managed to cut this line of questioning short when it threatens to lead in that direction.

        However, that has not put a dent in the weird body-monitoring that people do here. I hate it.

  4. Jamie*

    Thanks for again coming down on the side of boundaries and manners.

    I bridle at compliments on weight loss or what I am or am not eating because for some of us “recovery” from ED is a lifelong process.

    Not to mention that even when complimentary, I don’t appreciate being told my co-workers assessed my body and felt the need to comment.

    1. Sabina*

      So much this. Our culture has decided that’s it’s OK to assess and comment on weight and that thin is “good” and not thin is “bad”. Just stop. Most people would never make a comment like “your eyes are looking less small these days” or “you are walking less weird”, but it’s THE SAME THING.

      1. Liz*

        so true! not only that, but not everyone, even at their “healthiest” weight will be a tiny, single digit size. Bone structure, genetics etc. ALL come into play. I’m like that. Granted I’m now overweight, but even at my lowest adult weight, i was still a double digit size. I’m big boned and not at all petite and curvy. And take after my dad who was the same.

    2. PlainJane*

      “I don’t appreciate being told my co-workers assessed my body and felt the need to comment” – THIS. Let me maintain the polite fiction that people at work don’t notice my body or appearance. It isn’t middle school, and I have no desire to feel like I’m being watched or evaluated in that way.

    3. Armchair Expert*

      Yes! I lost a noticeable amount of weight last year, deliberately, through diet – so not chemo, or an ED, or swine flu – meaning that my circumstance would be the “acceptable” time to comment on weight loss. But I still hate it when people do. I thought we were all maintaining a polite fiction that we were just brains floating around in phantasma, occasionally wearing a jaunty scarf or great shoes! And now I learn that you can actually SEE me?

      1. selena81*

        ..I thought we were all maintaining a polite fiction that we were just brains floating around in phantasma, occasionally wearing a jaunty scarf or great shoes! And now I learn that you can actually SEE me?..

        Lol. This very much.

        Apart from the obvious (please don’t make a big show of flaunting the dress code) it should be completely irrelevant how you look: you are supposedly hired for your brain after all.

  5. Crivens!*

    Ugh, food and diet talk at work is one of my top pet peeves.

    – I don’t want to hear any comments about my food aside from maybe “that looks good, where did you get it?” or “could I have the recipe?”
    – I don’t want to hear ANYONE’S diet talk. I don’t care about your diet. I will never care about your diet. I will never go on a diet with you. Just stop talking about it.
    – I don’t want to hear society’s orthorexia at work, either. I won’t join in talk about how “bad” you are for eating something you enjoy. I won’t agree with you that I’m being “good” for eating a salad. Mood has no moral value, and I’m not gonna pretend it does.

    1. Works in IT*

      Yeah, my coworker and I talk about food a lot… because we both like to bake. And our conversations about food revolve around “so I’m making this recipe, what type of buttercream do you think would go best with this?”

      Apparently if you make cookies with old butter they will collapse and turn into thin cracker shapes with massive chunks of whatever was in them sticking out.

    2. Adalind*

      Agreed. I have a couple coworkers who constantly complain about their weight – one of which is a stick. Yes, I know she has body issues from her ex husband, but please just stop. I’ve told them before I’d rather not hear it, but it never ends. My department (as most in the US are) heavily food motivated so whenever you’re eating anything everyone has to question it. I just want to eat my lunch in peace… sigh. lol

    3. Amber Rose*

      It’s interesting because I’ve been doing a lot of reading on this lately and there was this dude who posted a “real, final list of five foods you should never eat.” It looked sorta like this:

      1. Food
      2. That
      3. You
      4. Don’t
      5. Like

      Because every other list (there are so many) is utter BS. Eat what you want.

      1. Liz*

        I love this and am stealing it for future use! liver? not happening. Cheese, bring it on! Cake? ABSOLUTELY! hahahahaaha and woe to anyone who tries to tell me i “shouldn’t” eat this or that as it “bad” for me.

    4. Jadelyn*

      this x infinity

      People always “compliment” me on my “ability to resist” sweets. Nobody ever listens when I explain that it’s because to me, there’s no “resisting” going on. Food isn’t good or bad. I don’t “allow” myself things or not allow myself things. The only question that matters to me in deciding to eat something is, do I want it right now? And it’s amazing, when you remove the feeling of scarcity and the moral imperative factor, most people aren’t actually *in the mood* for candy literally all the time. Sometimes I am, and then I will have some. But if I’m not in the mood, I don’t feel any artificial pressure to eat it anyway because I don’t know when the next time I’ll be “allowed” to have it is.

      When diet talk starts in the break room, I won’t be rude and try to interject my opinions on the subject – but I won’t participate, either. Not in any way. And I hate that one of the primary bonding subjects at work is always diets – who’s on what new diet, who’s lost weight, are you joining our diet next week? Ugh, no, shut up. This is why I eat in my office.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Same! It’s been a work in progress, but I’m nearly there. And wouldn’t you know, the science backs it up as well — all that junk about rats being addicted to sugar? Those hoarding/bingeing behaviors only occurred when sugar was restricted. When they had free access to it all the time, they didn’t binge.

      2. Gail Davidson-Durst*

        This is beautifully put. I wish I had learned this at 15 instead of in my 40s! Sometimes I still marvel at my newfound superpower of usually not being in the mood for donuts or throwing out half a brownie when I’ve had enough!

        (And to eat donuts and brownies when I feel like it, since there’s nothing wrong with them. It’s just that sweets are what sends everyone in the office into loud cycles of moralizing, extolling, and self-flagellating when they succumb. Meanwhile I’m over here not stressing about it.)

      1. SigneL*

        and I don’t want people explaining to me that if I only did….X….my knees would feel so much better! Or whatever! I finally started asking people, “Oh, are you an M. D.? Because my doctor told me to….”

        1. Liz*

          Oh this. so much. So many Captain Know-it-All’s out there! who seem to think they know what’s best for EVERYONE. you’re much nicer than I would be. I have been tempted to say, rather snarkily “oh, and you got your MD from WHERE?”

      2. Nic*

        Or someone’s FitBit readout. There are a couple of friends that I love dearly, but I get very frustrated (as a person with long-term mobility problems and weight-related body dysphoria) listening to them compare notes about how many steps they’ve done today, and if they’ve exceeded their goals or need to jump up and down in the middle of the conversation to placate the little compute on their wrist.

        1. The Original K.*

          I was once in a meeting with someone who was walking around her office in order to “get [her] steps in.” It was kind of disconcerting. There were only three of us in the meeting (I don’t think she’d have done it in a larger meeting) but still.

          1. Allison*

            Eesh! I’m all for getting up and walking around once per hour, but I’m able to take a lap around the entire office, which takes up the whole floor of the building and has so many cubicles and small room offices that it’s not super obvious I’m “getting my steps in.” Taking laps around a small room, walking in place, or power walking the perimeter of a big, open office is taking things a bit too far.

        2. Feline*

          I’m not shy about telling people I am not part of the cult of the FitBit. That usually makes them go do their walking in place somewhere else.

      3. AMT*

        Agreed, especially since there seems to be an inverse correlation between how much someone talks about an activity and how much experience and skill they have in that activity. I’m a fairly serious runner and when people find out, the flood of bad nutrition and fitness lecturing begins. I’ve gotten good at nodding and making interested noises because I’m not about to be the office jerk who flings his coffee into the air and shouts, “You ran a 5K last weekend and now you’re Roger Bannister! Show me your race results and *then* I’ll see if I want to take your advice!”

    5. Ra94*

      Yeah, my current (toxic in every way, but not here for long, thank god, etc) job is really bad for all of these. There’s:

      – My boss, who used to be a pro figure skater, a community with a loooot of messed up food ideas. She gained a lot of weight after having a baby, and is constantly commenting about how it’s time for her to start a serious diet, and how ‘us young girls’ never eat anything and are so skinny;
      – Coworker 1 (who just left), who seemed to have a really tricky relationship with food. She’d complain about how she was trying to gain weight because she was too thin, but then echo a lot of boss’s ‘oh I’ve been so naughty’ language whenever she had a piece of chocolate or anything, and talk about how she had to go to the gym to ‘earn’ a bagel that morning.
      – Coworker 2, who is constantly trying fad diets and always detailing them to everyone else. She frequently walks by my desk and says ‘You’re constantly eating and you’re still so thin! You just never stop shoveling food in!’ or the like. It’s awkward and I sometimes reply something like, oh, I go to the gym so I need fuel (to make it less image-based), but then she’ll go on a rant about how she’s too busy with her kids to ever go to the gym and I don’t know her struggles.

      So…it’s a LOT. Thankfully, I’m in a really good eating/body/exercise headspace and I’m chilled out enough about it all that I can just watch with amazement rather than take any of it to heart. It’s also the least crazy part of this crazypants office. But I’m horrified to think what this environment could do to someone with even the slightest body issues.

    6. Yvonne*

      I have a coworker who, while she’s otherwise a lovely person, always feels the need to comment on whatever I’m eating. Not even in a judgy way, just like, “oh you got yourself a muffin today!” ….yes, how observant of you. It bugs me so much, but I let it go because as I say, otherwise she’s lovely.

      1. boop the first*

        Oh this would be annoying, even though it’s so benign. I have a bad relationship with food; Throughout teenhood, I was always lectured at home whenever I was caught eating food I wasn’t directly given. And then with roommates, who would lecture me about how carby pasta is, or how unethical meat is, or how evil sugar is, or how white bread will LITERALLY KILL ME. I can’t even eat food in public anymore because I can’t handle the constant commentary. My boss tries to control my diet at work, but when I decline his offer of pizza (everyday), he gets moody and then inspects what I’m eating. I really wish I could just crawl into a hole and stay there, but I feel obligated to go to work for my dang spouse and cat. Ugh!

        The weird part is, I tend to get random comments from coworkers about how I’m losing weight, but …. I’m not. I never have. I don’t know where this comment is coming from. At first I thought it was a form of flirtation, but women say it too. I’m puzzled.

      2. Oh So Anon*

        I just feel kinda bad for people whose social skills aren’t good enough to have things other than bland observations for small talk. I have a colleague who does this a lot too, which in and of itself isn’t bad, but she also talks a lot about needing her food to be healthy and whatnot, so…yeah, not entirely sure where her comments on my afternoon snacks are coming from.

    7. Washi*

      YES. Same with the folks who read a couple headlines on their MSN homepage and now are apparently nutrition experts. I don’t care what you think about the nutrition content of my food, and please stop telling me that my carrot sticks are unhealthy because a study in mice found that if they eat their bodyweight in carrots there are some ill effects.

      1. TexasRose*

        “Yes, I do know that if I eat too many carrots I will turn orange.” (which is true, BTW)

      2. JustaTech*

        There’s a fantastic new Twitter account that finds all those articles where they take studies in mice and project them onto people and re-tweets them with “IN MICE”.

    8. Allison*


      I’m also never sure if someone’s “positive” comment about my food may be a thinly veiled way to say “there’s no way that’s healthy, you naughty little girl!” Like, does my food really just smell good? Or does it smell too strongly? Or does it smell so yummy that it must be unhealthy and I’m being bad?

  6. AnonyMouse*

    My cubicle neighbor comments on everything: what I’m eating, how fast I type, things on my screen… I think he’s trying to be friendly, but it makes me feel really self conscious and like he’s watching everything I do.

  7. so many resumes, so little time*

    A number of years ago, when I was on WW, someone who hadn’t seen me in several months came up to me to say that they had noticed I’d lost of a lot of weight since they’d last seen me (true) and very gently asked if I was sick! (implying that I had cancer)

    I was rather taken aback!

    I don’t remember what I said in response, but I remain flabbergasted by this to this day.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      omg. I lost a bunch of weight because of a job I was at. Family insisted I should get checked for cancer. Another family member “knew for a fact” that I was bulimic. (If she had paid attention to how life went for me, she would have known that would not be the case.)

      The sad fact is, if these people had just said, “I see you are losing some weight there, I am concerned, is everything okay?”, we would have had a longer and more productive conversation.

      I quit the very physical job, got away from the toxic chemicals and I gained the weight back.

    2. Susan*

      I lost weight with WW as well. I know that some people asked my very good friend if it was deliberate, so that they wouldn’t make the same mistake by asking me.

  8. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    And if you’re the person who is sitting there thinking, “Gee, I am quite likely to say ‘Look at you and your diet!’ — what the heck can I do differently?”

    How about something like “Brownies and coffee sure can hit the spot” or “Hey, what a good idea, I think I’ll get a cup of tea myself” or even “How was your weekend?”

    Most times, people just aren’t all that interested in having their personal choices examined — even if you think you’re paying them a compliment.

    1. PB*

      or even “How was your weekend?”

      Yes! This is my favorite. To anyone out there tempted to comment on someone’s food choice, consider …. not. Say anything else.

      1. SigneL*

        or, the all-time favorite in Dallas, “How about those Cowboys???” I really do not know why anyone bothers to talk about anything else.

      2. fposte*

        It’s funny how strong the impulse is to comment on the food and how awkward it can feel not to do that when you first start breaking the habit. But really, nobody’s going to be mad that their brownie went uncommented on.

      1. fposte*

        Yes! One of the acceptable exceptions to “don’t comment on people’s food” is “Is there more in the breakroom?”

    2. Lucille B.*

      “Most times, people just aren’t all that interested in having their personal choices examined — even if you think you’re paying them a compliment.”

      THANK YOU.

    3. LunaLena*

      “Most times, people just aren’t all that interested in having their personal choices examined — even if you think you’re paying them a compliment.”

      I would add, “or have good intentions.” I am a type 2 diabetic so I am very very aware of every bit of food I put in my mouth, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the occasional sugar-laden carb at all as long as I’m careful about it. Occasionally people feel the need to say “should you be eating that?” when someone brings in a box of donuts for everyone and I take one. Really, I get that they have good intentions, but I already work hard at keeping my blood-sugar levels under control, and the extra policing just makes me feel excluded and like I’m a little kid who can’t help herself. The worst was when a co-worker actually took a cupcake out of my hand and put it back in the box while saying “that’s not good for you!” Uh, I’ll be the judge of that, thanks.

      I went back a little later and got a cupcake anyways, and it was delicious.

      1. une autre Cassandra*

        I think you’re being very generous assuming the “are you sure you oughta be eating that?” crowd have benign intentions.

        1. WellRed*

          Eh, I have type 1 and have a coworker who asks “can you eat that?” I do think it’s benign in her case, but it can be tiresome.

        2. LunaLena*

          Nah, I know they meant well. They were really nice people in other respects. I think the big issue is that most people simply don’t understand diabetes beyond “sugar = bad,” so they tend to assume that sugar is like kryptonite to me and I’ll drop dead if I’m allowed to get too close to it. A lot of people also have the misconception that diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar, so they assume that I must have been a sugar addict (I know this because this is usually one of the first things people ask me about when I mention it) and will go on some kind of binge if I get a taste of delicious sugary goodness, and therefore they need to prevent it from happening.

          I honestly do think they thought they were just watching out for me, but as WellRed said, it can be tiresome.

      2. Jadelyn*

        …what the hell kind of person literally *takes food from another adult’s hands* to scold them about eating something that the bystander has decided isn’t good for them?

        I have to ask – how did you respond?

        1. LunaLena*

          I was honestly so dumbfounded that I didn’t! She went back to her desk, and a moment or two later, I went back to mine, where I plotted (and eventually carried out) my plan to obtain a cupcake.

    4. Lynn Whitehat*

      YES. I really wish I had an invisibility field around me at lunchtime. I am SO SO TIRED of hearing how healthy/fattening/big/small/tasty/revolting my food is. Yes, someone once told me my food looked revolting. Even if it’s basically positive, like “eating healthy today!”, please just don’t.

  9. Clorinda*

    You are not weird or rude for setting this very reasonable boundary, and don’t let anyone’s hurt reaction push you away from it! People often do react to a manners correction (or a basic human decency correction) by explaining how they were right to say what they did. That’s just embarrassment talking and you don’t have to get into an argument with someone else’s embarrassment. Just “Thanks for understanding” and set the boundary again as often as you need to.

  10. SigneL*

    Years ago, my husband had a colleague “John” who was very heavy. Then, one year, he lost a lot of weight. At the Xmas party, many people told John how great he looked!

    John had liver cancer and died 6 weeks later. It was AWFUL. I understand that you can’t help but notice a significant change in weight, but you don’t have to comment on it.

    1. BelleMorte*

      This! I lost 60 pounds in a little over a month due to medication for a brain tumor and I was extremely sick, vomiting daily, not sleeping, my hair was coming out in clumps and my under eye circles were impossible to hide. People would crow about how GREAT! I looked, when in fact I looked like death warmed over. Some people only see the weight loss, and not the illness.

      After I got healthier, I regained the weight and it brought some friends, and people commented how unfortunate it was, when in fact, I was thrilled to even be alive.

    2. Kat in VA*

      A few months back, my husband’s coworker who worked at a remote office complimented how much weight he appeared to have lost.

      He’d just spent three days in the CCU with diabetic ketoacidosis. His reaction was…not good.

      Flipside – now that he’s eating regularly and on a regimen on insulin, someone ELSE he hadn’t seen in a while said straight up, “Dude, you have put on some WEIGHT!”


  11. iglwif*

    If I’m going to comment on someone else’s food, it will be something like:
    – That smells/looks delicious!
    – Ooo, can I have the recipe?
    – Oh, is that from that [cuisine] place that just opened in [location]? I’ve been meaning to try it

    Or sometimes, “Thanks, I wish I could try that but I can see it has [meat, or one of my many food allergens] in it so I’m gonna pass!”

    Those all feel like OK food comments to me but I can definitely see how just not commenting at all might be better…

    1. Parenthetically*

      I say stuff like that a lot (or I did when I worked in a place with other adults rather than at home with one very fussy not-quite-two-year-old boss), and I think comments like that are almost always fine.

    2. Amber Rose*

      It depends. My lunch has apparently become the thing everyone waits for every day, which makes me feel kind of self conscious when I decide to go buy lunch or not eat any. Once or twice a comment is nice. Every day is a bit exhausting.

      1. iglwif*

        Yeah, I would definitely not comment on someone’s *anything* every single day :P That would be exhausting!

    3. it's me*

      I get a little annoyed sometimes with “That smells good!” because I’m not sure what you want me to say or do in response. “Yes, it does”?

      1. fposte*

        I don’t think it requires an answer–it’s the food equivalent of “Wow, is it nice out!” “Sure does” would be fine if you wanted to respond, as is “I just love [this dish].” It would be slightly too mischievous to absently say, “Thanks, you too!” but you could privately contemplate it.

          1. CMart*

            I cycle through variations of the same response for any kind of statement-compliment.

            “Your scarf is so colorful” – Thanks! I picked it out myself!
            “Your car is so clean!” – Thanks! I ran it through the wash myself!
            “Your lunch looks so good!” – Thanks! I bought it myself!
            “You got new glasses!” – Thanks! I picked them out myself!
            “That smells so good” – Thanks! I made it myself!

            Often gets chuckles. Closes the loop. Camaraderie has lived on for another day.

            1. KayEss*

              I had my hair bleached nearly white recently, and at one point the stylist checked on it and reassuringly said, “The color is lifting out of your hair beautifully!”

              I seriously considered responding with, “Thanks, I grew it myself!”

              1. Alex the Alchemist*

                I have teal hair (which I do myself) and I almost always respond with that when I get compliments; both parties get a good laugh, and I occasionally get asked about hair care tips.

        1. iglwif*

          I agree.

          If it’s something I made, I treat it as a compliment (“Thanks! It’s a new recipe and it turned out really well” or similar). If it’s something I bought, my response would be more like “Right? It’s from [place].”

      2. it's me*

        I’m just saying I get annoyed. I’d rather not have to come up with some sort of response.

        1. Eukomos*

          People are generally just trying to make conversation when they say things like that. They’re trying to build and maintain social bonds with you, just say something vaguely polite back. It’s like when someone gives you a gift you don’t care about, the best response is often to say “thanks for the gift” and then to quietly give it away, because the important thing is not the content, it’s the social meaning of the action.

    4. Triplestep*

      Meh, it’s not a big deal but I don’t really like when people comment that my food smells good either. I just don’t want what I’m eating to be a subject of conversation at all.

    5. Budgie Lover*

      When people comment on smell my brain always translates it to “FYI literally the entire office can smell your lunch and you may want to be aware of it.” The only way to be safe is to never bring that dish again.

  12. LaDeeDa*

    #4 The way the 2 employees get developed is very different. One employee, you are focusing on building the skills and experience they need to for their future role. And for the other employee, you focus on the skills and behaviors they need to continue to thrive in their current role. That can be a lot of different things- Is it the kind of job that has new technologies and trends that an employee should stay current on? If so, I would focus on that. Would they benefit from soft skill training?
    Also, you should be clear on what “happy in their role means” does this mean they do not want to be a people manager but would like to rise in level? Does that mean why they don’t want to be a people manager they are interested in project management?
    The solid performers often get looked over, when those are the employees that keep things going and are less likely to leave- which means a company/leader should invest in making sure their skills stay current and they are engaged. Otherwise you end up with those people who have been doing the same job for 20 yrs, and while they do fine work, they aren’t innovators or all that engaged in their job, their company, or their team.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Can they learn more about your company or your department to make themselves ever more valuable?

      Can they be given control over some process that will create a sense of ownership in them and also capitalize on their expertise?

    2. Blue*

      I came here to say something similar. Just because someone is good in their role and doesn’t want to move up doesn’t mean they don’t want to get better or that there aren’t any other kinds of projects/areas they’d be interesting in taking on. Thinking about the needs of the position is good (e.g. training on new technology), but I’d also just ask the employee if there are particular skills she’d like to develop or training she thinks would be valuable in her current role, or if there are new things she’d like to try. I think it’s totally possible to encourage some development and engagement within her current role.

      At my previous job, a lot of the llama groomers weren’t interested in moving up into anything more administrative or managerial, but any time I had to put together a team to work on a short-term, special project, a number of them volunteered enthusiastically, even when it was clearly outside their normal duties. They were happy in their roles long-term, but that group clearly had a desire for new challenges and opportunities to keep them engaged.

    3. Mr. Shark*

      Exactly. I’m in that role–I don’t want to manage, but there are several training courses I would like to go to that would increase my efficiency in my current role, or give me a chance to innovate in my current role. I would look for opportunities for that employee (and encourage her to look for opportunities) for training to improve her performance or keep up on changing trends.

      I find that sometimes because you’re not looking to move up the ladder, managers just ignore your request for training, and it shouldn’t be that way.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        It is true…. In the management conversations classes I teach I have an entire section on how to have development conversations with people who aren’t likely to move into leadership roles. I think for many leaders they just don’t know what to do– like the LW. Most of them get it once someone tells me, but for some reason, it seems to be a foreign idea that some people are perfectly suited for and happy in their level and role.

        1. Triplestep*

          Or perhaps – like me – they are “downwardly mobile”. I am about ten years from retirement and was burnt out from a series of stressful jobs and wearing too many hats. I picked one thing I do that I like – the thing that I considered the least stressful – and sought out a job doing just that. I now have less responsibility, no commute and only a little less money in my paycheck.

          I am lucky because I have a good rapport with my new manager (who is younger than I am, not surprisingly). She regards me as an SME, gives me plenty of autonomy, and pretty much free reign to improve processes. I really don’t require development. I bring plenty to the table and I’m happy that that is being acknowledged.

    4. it's-a-me*

      On the flip side, maybe they just want to stay in their current role.

      I can’t count the number of times my Team leader has asked me how I want to improve or what I’d like to do next and just NOT LISTENED when I say ‘I’m fine’. And then 3 months later, same questions again. (For the record, I have good or great performance reviews, so I do not need to improve anything)

      I’ve tried the sideways role – a secondment to another department – and may I say HELL NO to ever doing that again – I got sick of getting the stink eye and the snide comments because I refused to work hours and hours of unpaid overtime which I had clearly discussed and refused at the time of the interview for the role.

  13. Ann Nonymous*

    I’d like to say to the manager of the happy-where-she-is employee to find ways to make that woman’s job even more satisfying. There’s nothing like a great worker who knows where she fits best and brings a great deal of experience and positivity to the job. Make sure she gets regular raises, bonuses and other perqs. Periodically check if there’s any way she’d like to “upgrade” her skills in her position. And do let her know that you’d support her in moving up if she ever changes her mind.

    1. TootsNYC*

      also, I think there’s a bit of an obligation to help people become valuable enough to the company that they can make a case for retaining them in the face of layoffs.

      Or to open doors to add-on skills so that, if they get tagged in a layoff anyway, they have value to OTHER employers.

      1. EH*

        I was coming here to say much of the same! I’m one of those people who is fine in my job and doesn’t want to be promoted. I’d like to get “Senior” added to my title at some point (in my position, there isn’t much functional difference, but it looks good and the only thing it includes is helping other folks in my same role, which I already do), but that’s it.

        Raises, etc, making sure it’s clear to higher-ups how valuable I am, those are the things I need. Also, approval to attend professional conferences when possible, to keep up with the industry in general.

        1. Yup.*

          Are you me? I could’ve written this comment last year.

          I got “Senior” added to my title after much cajoling

  14. HeyAnonanonnie*

    For the mentor, “moving up” often means “managing” which can be a radical departure from your base job. I have managed and I much prefer to not chase the ladder because I prefer the independence and flexibility I have when not managing. Respecting her desire to stay away from the ladder is very important.

    1. Tin Cormorant*

      I quit a job once because of this. Was very happy doing individual contributor stuff where I could really hunker down and focus on the quality of my work.

      My manager kept promising me more responsibilities in that area and more types of tasks that I could branch out into, but these things never materialized, and I was increasingly asked to “help” manage other people who were doing the work I wanted to be doing myself.

      I later got a new manager who was honest with me about it and said “we’re going to need you to develop your leadership skills in order to be a better manager” and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I submitted my two week notice the next day.

  15. Sovereign HR*

    This question has made me feel like a tool.

    If I see a someone in a nice tie, hairstyle, earrings, suit, etc. I will ALWAYS compliment them. I mean nothing sexual about it whatsoever. My other half works in fashion and I have always been of the mindset that complimenting someone on even the smallest thing could not hurt, and may give them a little lift, not because of my amazing words, but just because a kind word “usually” never hurts.

    Do I analyze everything everyone wears because of the fashion connection? Absolutely not. But a color, a shoe, etc. Am I being some inappropriate person complimenting one’s color? Should I not tell someone they have a nice smile?

    I’m serious. I’m 100% respectful of OP’s situation, as I deal with body image issues every day.

    Isn’t “that’s a great color” different from “you look hot in that”?

    1. winifred*

      You could think about it as people are in the workplace to work, not have their smile, hairstyle, tie, etc. commented upon. Compliment them upon what they’re there to do — work.

    2. Kelly L.*

      Clothes are usually considered safer to compliment, because the person actively chose them, while we don’t choose a lot of the inherent traits of our bodies.

    3. fposte*

      Alison has a good list–bodies, weight loss, and food. Color is not bodies, weight loss, or food. However, I would lay off the “nice smile,” which is too close to bodies–“Cool haircut” is about as physically connected as you could get, and “Your hair looks nice today” is probably on the unacceptable side of the line unless you and the recipient have been comparing notes on hairstyles on the regular.

      And I’d also check my own behavior and be honest about my gender approach. I don’t think you should tell anybody at work they have a nice smile, but if you’ve never said it to men, that’s a big flag of a need for change. (I’d say it’s true of all of it, but the “nice smile” is so especially prone to gendering that it’s a good place to start.)

      1. KayEss*

        Yeah, the only time I’d greet “you have a great smile” with anything other than an eyebrow raise of chilly incredulity is if you’re a photographer who is literally in the process of taking my picture at that exact moment, or possibly are my grandmother.

        I’m going to disagree with some of the other commenters and say that I think “I love that shirt” or “that’s a nice necklace” are fine if you then move on—don’t get into a whole long thing about how it’s a great color that really brings out their eyes. Also keep the frequency of the comments on the low side—I’d say definitely not more than one per person, per week, and that’s still kind of a lot. More than that and you risk looking obsessed with either the person or with fashion/appearances in general, neither of which are a great look for non-fashion industries.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, I agree with this; I’ll add a third risk of devaluing the compliments if they’re just the things you say as often as other people say “Good morning, nice day out.”

        2. Someone Else*

          Or a dentist. Smile quality commentary is appropriate from a dentist. That’s pretty much the only time it wouldn’t squick me out.

      2. HMMMMM*

        I find it interesting that it was mostly figured this person never said “nice smile” to men. The assumption that this person ONLY says it to women says a ton, whether you believe he/she/they says it or not to others.

        1. fposte*

          I’m not sure if you meant to respond to my comment, but there’s no assumption in that comment at all. There is, however, an encouragement to be aware that it *can* be gendered and to check your own behavior to make sure it isn’t with you. It’s not just okay but good to be aware that some behavior can be gendered.

      3. AMT*

        The “would I say it to a man?” test is a great barometer for these things, and you can adapt it to pretty much any dominant/non-dominant group. I train and consult on trans issues in mental healthcare and one of the questions I tell people to ask themselves is, “Would I say this to someone who isn’t trans?”, usually in relation to questions someone’s body or advice about their appearance. Pretty much any group has its own version (e.g. would I compliment a non-disabled person on their ability to do an everyday task, or ask a thin person if they should be eating a second muffin?). It’s a good way to check on my own thought processes when I’m thinking of saying something that sounds innocuous on its face, but might unnecessarily single someone out for something they can’t control.

    4. Roja*

      “Nice earrings” is really, really different from “You’re going to get fat if you eat that brownie.” It’s probably okay as long as you’re reading the situation appropriately before you say something and not being weird about it*. I’d probably stay away from the smile comments though…

      *Though I have to say that if you really are in HR and commenting like that that’s probably not great at work. HR to random person is a bit different than collegial coworkers.

    5. EventPlannerGal*

      I think there can be a big difference between commenting on things like an outfit or jewellery, and commenting on someone’s weight. Weight is something hugely personal that many, many people have a difficult relationship with (particularly but certainly not only women), and can be tied up with things like illness, difficult personal circumstances, eating disorders, poverty and so on. Clothing, jewellery, accessories and so on – while still personal – are somewhat safer ground, although I’m sure there are people who would rather you didn’t comment on either.

    6. Princess prissypants*


      In addition to what others have said – especially using the “would you say this to a man?” metric – Consider WHY you feel the need to give this compliment. Is it because you want to know where the earrings came from so you can purchase for yourself? Valid! Is it because you want to see the person smile (more) for your own pleasure? NO. Is it because you saw a TV show where Character was wearing a similar dress, and you’re looking for people to talk to show about? Maybe ok, but pay attention to how she responds to your compliment. Is it because you want a pleasant interaction with another human and think giving a compliment is a way to get that? NO. (no one owes you pleasant conversation)

      Consider that your impact on others matters more than your intent.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        What about if I just happen to really do think those are extremely cool earrings and feel the urge to say so. Would that be okay or not?

        1. fposte*

          Probably, but that’s still dependent on a broader context. (It also helps to remember people can’t usually see their own earrings and might not remember what they’re wearing.) If you’re male and the only time you comment on people’s cool accessories is when they’re women’s cool things, it suggests a disproportionate focus on the decorative aspects of women.

          I think I leave more latitude than Princess Prissypants; my workplace does enjoy complimenting and talking clothes, with both our male and female employees, and I think it’s okay to give a compliment out of enthusiasm for the dress or whatever as long as you stay aware of your own compliment patterns.

      2. Mr. Shark*

        Well, hopefully with these compliments, you are approaching someone you already know and have a developed professional relationship with. I think noticing someone’s blouse/shirt, earrings, etc. should be okay. It should be sparingly, of course, and should definitely not involve body parts (I think hair style may be okay, given the person is choosing the hair style).

        I have given compliments to men on “nice haircut” but most likely never on a man’s clothes. I realize we are professionals, but that doesn’t mean there’s absolutely no male/female dynamic. There has to be a reasonable amount of non-creepyness applied (like, “your dress is much nicer than the one you worn the last three Thursdays).

        With issues like this, I think people can take things way too far. I know it’s better to stay on the safe side and say nothing, but I don’t feel that if you are casual about it and are not staring down anyone, and have a friendly relationship with that person, a small compliment every once in awhile is harmless.

        1. A Steampunk Kinda Gal*

          Hmmm. I just randomly compliment people in line, while walking past, whatever — I notice their shoes, or their coat, or necklace, or tattoos, or whatever, and just tell them that it’s cool and 98% of the time, while startled at first, people seem to take it as it’s meant, a shout-out to the fact that I’m finding that something about them is cool. Often we’ll have a short conversation about it. Now, it could be that it’s not taken badly because I’m a fat non-stylish grandmother, so very few people will think I’m hitting on them/am being creepy. I do pretty equally compliment men and women, and I do it at work, too, including our office managers and executive directors (all male, btw). “Nice shirt, Bob!” “Get your hair cut, Jim?” “Oooh, Marcia, that is a nice dress!” “You always manage to look so put together, Natasha.”

    7. Not So NewReader*

      If you are going to use a compliment strategy, be deliberate about it. Keep the compliments about their work or the way they handled a particular matter. Use your compliments to encourage people along in ways that will be meaningful for their jobs.

      I get that you mean well. I really see that. But you could be known as the “person who always notices what I am wearing”. And you don’t even realize that is what you are known for. That’s probably not the professional reputation you were striving for.

      There are so many ways to brighten people’s day. Never underestimate the power of saying “thank you”. Compliments don’t have to be blatant, they can be a bit hidden. “Oh, I see you have this part all covered, so I will move on to the next part.” I would check my group’s work and say something like, “I see you don’t need ME here, you are fine on your own.” (I was required to do checks.) My boss will say things like, “Oh, I am so glad you are here. We have problem X and I KNEW you would know how to fix it.”

      Dig a little deeper in finding something to compliment about and use the compliment to do something pro-active such as encourage similar behaviors. Yes, this will result in giving out less compliments. You can still be a very nice person, do a great job and be well-liked even though you are giving out less compliments.

    8. Parenthetically*

      My two cents: I love complimenting people’s clothes — yesterday was Easter, obviously, and so there were lots of women out and about in cute new dresses, and I said, “Oh my gosh, what a great dress” to a gal in the grocery store. I think stuff like that between women/female presenting people is pretty much always fine. My boss saying, “Oh hey, great color, is that a new sweater?” as he passed me on the way to the copier wouldn’t be weird at all, but a strange man complimenting my clothes is going to feel leering in a way that someone I know and like complimenting them wouldn’t.

      I think saying someone has a nice smile is too intimate and gendered, though, but that’s just my opinion, others might think differently.

      1. Complimenting Strangers*

        “What a great dress” to a total stranger is different from continually commenting on colleagues’ clothing.

        In fact it’s something I have given myself permission to say aloud instead of just thinking it. I am a very non threatening person though (small, plain, plump) and I think the dynamic is relevant. And it is only legitimate if it’s something genuinely eye catching or otherwise unusual.

        It’s uplifting to see how often you see the person walk away half an inch taller, maybe stroking their lovely scarf/skirt a bit.

        1. Anonybus*

          I’m genuinely curious; what would your response be if the receiver of the compliment did not respond like this?

          Would you continue offering compliments in order to get that sort of pleased response, or would you not keep doing it?

      2. Jessen*

        I also do want to be conscious that there is a gendered dynamic. As a very feminine-presenting person, I have to be pretty aware that there are some stereotypes about people who like clothes and fashion that are plain old rooted in sexism – especially disproportionately stereotyping traditionally feminine interests as shallow or frivolous. I don’t see why me and a colleague having a 10min conversation about clothing should be any more of an issue than some of my other colleagues having a discussion about last night’s ball game. But I’m aware that the first one often is seen as being shallow or wasting time in a way the second is not.

        Obviously none of that excuses making people uncomfortable. But it’s worth considering.

    9. Falling Diphthong*

      The nice smile one, especially aimed at women, can be tricky. First, because it’s one of those things that the person probably didn’t practice, so more akin to “what lovely eyes” or a similar comment on how well you’ve done at appearing pleasing to the eye merely by existing and not catching any disfiguring diseases–which is often not something we want to hear at work. Second because it may carry harbingers of the last time someone told her to smile. (Mine, I was literally on my way to a funeral.) And those comments on smile and eyes and hair color can, in the right circumstances, land as intended–but it’s either luck or being very good at reading your audience and the context.

      Whereas if you comment on my clothing or jewelry I will either say “thanks” or share a one-sentence anecdote about the piece.

        1. KayEss*

          Bonus if that’s the response to every compliment (or “compliment”) you receive:

          “I love your necklace!”
          “Thanks, it has pockets!”

          “Those shoes are awesome!”
          “Thanks, they have pockets!”

          “Nice tits, sweet cheeks!”

          1. PersephoneUnderground*

            *snort* This is great.

            IMHO though, I am totally justified in being excited about pockets! Men whose clothing includes them as a rule may never understand how annoying it is to have them missing on half your clothes- even on some dress pants. (Yes, I’m playing a tiny violin for myself, but there’s a reason they’re so exciting. You just don’t understand until you’ve lived without them!)

            1. MassMatt*

              I didn’t know so many women’s clothes lacked pockets until reading this blog! What a PITA!

    10. Jaguar*

      You should also consider that, if this is something you’re doing a lot, you already have a lot of data about how this goes over with people. If it’s never been a problem, that’s a strong indicator that it isn’t a problem. The advice you’re getting on here is either theoretical or anecdotal. You could certainly take it into account, but I would also encourage you to really think about whether you want to second-guess a behaviour that hasn’t been a problem because some people on the Internet have opinions on it.

        1. fposte*

          No, really not, especially if you’re really in HR. Do you really want to tell somebody they must have been okay with sexual harassment if they didn’t say anything to the harasser?

          Basically, I’m opposed to this for two reasons. First, it’s incorrect. Alison has a whole column on “Don’t assume something you do is okay just because nobody complained to you,” and listening to any human on line or in person should make it clear how often people are offended, annoyed, and hurt without saying something at the time. Second, because it makes it the job of other people to make sure we’re kind and thoughtful, and it’s not fair for us to require them to do that job for us.

      1. Bookartist*

        But that solution excludes those who might have a problem with it but who won’t say anything because someone in HR is saying these things.

        1. Jaguar*

          So? Being a member of society isn’t completely passive. You can ask someone to stop doing something, even if they work in HR. A compliment you don’t like is incredibly low stakes. Stopping pleasant interactions with people because someone might possibly not like it and be too meek to just say something about it strikes me as a massive over-correction and gets well into the territory of paranoid thinking.

          1. fposte*

            It can be simultaneously true that other people could benefit from speaking up more often than they do and that you can’t take people’s silence as proof that what you’re doing is cool with them.

            In a workplace, “pleasant” means “pleasant for everybody,” and you really can’t assume that “pleasant for you” is the same thing. The CEO may love hugging people, but that doesn’t mean it’s a pleasant interaction for anybody but the CEO, and that’s true whether anybody complains or not.

            And these areas of unpleasantness really aren’t randomly placed. Sure, the occasional person will be horrified that you mentioned otters to them or have traveled to Guelph, but we’re talking about basic, broadly recognized guidelines to minimize friction in the workplace. People who choose to ignore them because they find it more pleasant not to have a high chance of impairing their utility. (And Sovereign HR explicitly *asked*, so presumably was already considering the question; it’s not like commenters jumped on the comment uninvited.)

            1. Jaguar*

              I don’t think complementing people on their appearance is “broadly recognized” as unacceptable in American society. In AAM society it is, but I think there’s a massive selection bias at play here.

              There’s also an issue of degrees of discomfort that isn’t being addressed here. To use your hugging example, when coworkers have initiated hugs with me in the past, I wouldn’t describe them as “pleasant interactions” since I’m not the hugging type, but it’s very much in the “well, this is their thing, so whatever” low level of unpleasantness. On the other end, you would have someone with severe germophobia or something else that would make a hug a terrifying prospect. Clearly those aren’t the same thing and I would say that in my case, if I really didn’t want the hug, I don’t have the expectation that the hugging CEO should change her behaviour to accommodate my mild annoyance without any input from me whereas the responsibility should land with the CEO in the more serious case. But, treating everyone as if they’re the serious case just to be sure strikes me as pretty obvious catastrophizing. To borrow a Twain quote, it’s telling adults they can’t eat steak because a baby might choke on it. I’m fine not shaking a woman’s hand if her religion says she can’t shake the hand of a man that’s not her husband (even if I think it’s gross) – I’m not fine avoiding all handshakes because “what if this woman has a religious issue and I’m putting her in the uncomfortable position of either having to shake my hand or speak up about it?” At some point, the recipient has to take responsibility for their own issues, whether that’s objecting or just living with it, and receiving compliments they don’t like seems to fall well into that category.

              And again, given that this is a minor issue, Sovereign HR seems to get no objections, and in the hypothetical case where someone doesn’t want the compliments, that objection could range from the mildest of irritation to serious discomfort, the cases where someone has a serious problem with the complements and is unwilling to speak up seem exceedingly rare – like, approaching zero limit / this person probably doesn’t exist rare. Why treat people worse by default because of some rare, hypothetical person? And I say this as someone who couldn’t care less about being complemented on how I look.

              1. there's just no way to please everyone*

                I think it’s best to just not compliment anyone on anything. Ever. Don’t compliment and don’t say anything that could be construed as negative. Let’s just not speak to each other.
                Then no one misunderstands and no one gets their feelings hurt.

    11. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      My rule of thumb is that you can compliment people on things they can actively choose. So clothing, hairstyle, jewelry, desk accessories, pens, computer monitor backgrounds are all fair games. Hair color is borderline. I lean on the side of only the first time you see the person after they have changed their hair color. The shape of someone’s smile is not something people have control over (and the same goes double for dimples), and commenting on the frequency (or lack there of) has unpleasantly gendered overtones. That part gets covered by “Am I equally likely to make this type of comment to a man as to a woman?” If the answer is yes, and the person can actively chose the thing you’re complimenting, you’re probably safe.

      (OK, yes, food can be actively chosen. But that wasn’t Sovereign HR’s question, and it’s been pretty exhaustively covered elsewhere on this page.)

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        This is pretty similar to my rule of thumb for compliments: compliment what people do, not what they are.

    12. iglwif*

      I’ve often been told to keep compliments to things that people do on purpose, which I think of as including clothes and shoes, haircuts, jewellery, and accessories but excluding faces, teeth, eyes, body type, weight, “hotness”, etc. But then at the same time there definitely IS a difference between “that’s a great dress” and “you look hot in that dress”!

      I think for me personally, “you have a nice smile” skirts a line because women, in particular, are so often told things like “give us a smile!” and “you look so pretty when you smile” and “you should smile more”.

    13. PlatypusOo*

      There have been so many excellent, articulate comments on this. I work in a blue collar type of job and have heard every sort of inappropriate remark about the way I look. At this point if anyone makes a comment on my appearance I politely but unsmilingly say “please never comment about my appearance or the appearance of any other woman while at work again.” Which usually results in angry/whiney protests about how I’m not allowed to censor them but who cares at this point.

      1. Just wondering*

        I’m curious — has your boss or others in charge heard you respond this way, and what did they think? I’m not sure if your job is a customer service one, but I know often people in those roles (and other roles) get in trouble for pushing back against stuff like this.

    14. Akcipitrokulo*

      Generally – assuming no othet factors and it’s occasional –

      Something – note “thing” ;) – someone has chosen is fine. Nice earings, that colour suits you… generally ok.

      A personal comment about a *personal trait* like weight, eyes or smile… generally not ok.

      “You look nice!’ is OK once a year at the company black tie party.

  16. Eleanor*

    I used to have a super skinny coworker who would go to the salad bar at our work cafe at the same time as me. I’m not super skinny but also am not obese. When I would put croutons or salad dressing on my salad, she’d peer over at my plate & say “ooh, so many carbs there, better watch it!” Or “I could never put that kind of stuff on my salad, I’d blow up to a blimp!” Any remarks like this are unwarranted & stupid, keep them to yourself.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I want to hire a pilot to fly around the world with a banner that says CARBS ARE NOT BAD.

      Carbs have little to nothing to do with weight loss or gain. And you need them to live. :/

      1. Refinnej*

        I think I’d honestly just prefer a blanket ‘no uninvited commentary’. While it’s obviously MORE likely that a plate very heavy in carbs will summon the busy bodies than a plate very low in carbs…I’d still just like to quietly eat what works for me personally without it becoming A Major Discussion Point.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Show that banner to my diabetic father and you’re going to get a much-needed lecture on how carbs really and truly are bad for some people. Saying that X Food is always good is just as wrong as saying X Food is always bad. Please don’t do it.

        1. Refinnej*

          This. I eat a low carb diet to better manage absence seizures and my migraine threshold.

          My husband’s diabetes is under control for the first time in a decade and a half due to his adopting a low carb diet.

          My dietary choices are no more other’s business than theirs are mine, so probably best to just to leave it be either way.

        2. fposte*

          But they’re not inherently bad food. Peanuts are also bad for a lot of people, yet somehow they’ve escaped the moral opprobrium of carbs.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            They’re not inherently bad *or* good. Carbs have no moral value. But running around saying “you should eat all the carbs, you need them!” is just as incorrect/inappropriate/unnecessary as saying “you shouldn’t be eating those carbs!”

            1. fposte*

              But nobody said that. The banner was just “Carbs are not bad,” which you yourself have just agreed with. That doesn’t mean they’re good or purple or left-handed.

        3. Amber Rose*

          They’re not inherently bad. Just because some people can’t tolerate them doesn’t mean nobody can. But the attitude in society right now is very much “all carbs are inherently evil all the time” which is crap. If you can eat carbs safely, feel free.

          Keto is not some magic thing.

    2. Roja*

      Oh ew, I don’t know if I could restrain myself from saying something really nasty back. That’s just so rude.

    3. blink14*

      There was a strict lunch “diet” the popular (aka horrendous) girls at my high school ate every day lunch: a cupful of croutons with ranch dressing. We had a full salad bar, sandwich bar, and hot meal every day, and that’s what they chose as a diet food. I laughed every day at their stupidity.

      1. Gabriela*

        This reminds me of my high school, only the diet was two cafeteria rolls (so buttery and only 10cents) and frozen yogurt.

        1. blink14*

          Such a low carb diet! haha!

          They switched from bagels to the croutons midway through high school. My friend, who so badly wanted to be part of that crowd, tried desperately to lose weight on the crouton diet, but failed. Not so much from the bread with fat laden dressing (and I mean in a good way, Ranch is a supreme dressing), but because she was so hungry all the time she made bad food choices later in the day.

    4. Anax*

      As usual, in addition to personal choice, there may well be medical reasons for people’s food choices. I need complex carbohydrates with every meal or I get too dizzy to walk, so the low-carb thing doesn’t work for me, personally.

    5. Fiona*

      I’m not sure where I heard this (Captain Awkward?) but it was something along the lines of: Other People’s Plates Should Be Boring. Meaning, there is really never a reason to comment on someone’s plate o’ food. Really ever. I think about this a lot even when I’m about to say something vaguely positive – it just doesn’t require comment.

  17. ANAmoly*

    I’m so glad this came up today. I had a very serious ED and was known as the “healthy” person at my work – I got comments galore about how healthy I ate, how disciplined my workouts were, and how great i looked, etc. despite being the sickest I ever was in my life. I decided to recover from my ED and changed companies around the same time. I gained about 80 lbs in recovery and am now on the small end of plus size. My new job is at a much smaller and much less corporate office and the women and men here assume that everyone who is bigger wants to try to lose weight. I’m having a hard time being around so much talk about calories and “healthy food” and working out. So I really needed the reminder that it is okay to push back against having to talk about that so much without even having to reveal that I am in recovery.

    1. Dr. Cubicle Farm*

      I came to the comments because I’m also an ED survivor and part of my recovery process has involved completely separating myself from diet/food/size/weight-loss talk. It’s *hard* to put a stop to this in the workplace! OP #1 and ANAmoly, I feel for you. You both deserve to feel comfortable with your bodies, food choices, and movement choices at work and everywhere.

      Despite being a private person, I’m weirdly very comfortable bringing up my anorexia diagnosis as a way to shut that crap down, but not everyone is, and I certainly have days or situations when I don’t want to explain my whole history. Alison’s suggestions are great! Here are a few other options I’ve found helpful:
      1. “I don’t put food in moral categories like ‘healthy and unhealthy.'” (or bad/good)
      2. “I’d rather talk about [X].”
      3. (Said in complete innocence) “Why are you talking about my food choices?”
      4. “I like to focus on how food tastes and how it makes me feel. Counting calories is boring.”
      5. (If you’re feeling snotty) “Have you read _Health at Every Size_? You should!”

      And OP #1, if you’re finding yourself in a place where you’re feeling compelled to count calories and are getting more focused on your food/exercise, talk to your doctor (and make sure your doctor understands how serious disordered eating and eating disorders are). An appointment with a counselor with eating disorder experience can also be really helpful. I’m in no way saying you have an eating disorder, but consulting with a professional who understands how messed up we are around food and exercise can be very helpful.

      1. ANAmoly*

        It is really hard! Part of what makes it so hard is that it is so normal, especially among people who consider it to be a “safe” topic like the weather. I worked really hard to not see carbs/desserts as EVIL foods you should never touch and to hear certain foods being universally demonized at work makes that part of my brain that thinks that is truth perk up. Thank you for collecting these other options in one place – I will really give them a try over the next few weeks.

      2. PersephoneUnderground*

        If it helps, you might try “Oh, I don’t own a scale/read those magazines/worry about dieting stuff (possibly adding: because I don’t want to waste time obsessing about that stuff.).” To brush off a conversation on those topics just like you might a show you’re just not interested in. I suggest this because it is something I myself have said as someone who has never had an ED, so I doubt saying it would “out” you, but it might work as a redirect for a conversation that’s making you uncomfortable. (If it’s not helpful please disregard of course.)

  18. Michelle*

    I’m pasting part of Alison’s answer here because people really need to hear and understand it. I’m considering printing it on 11 x 17 paper and posting it various locations throughout the office:

    And this is a public service announcement out there to everyone who works in an office with other people: Don’t comment on your colleagues’ bodies, weight loss, or food choices. Even if you think you’re complimenting someone, they may not take it that way (and people lose weight for all kinds of reasons, not all of which are positive), and you never know what issues someone might be dealing with around food and weight.

    People at my office don’t comment so much on weight as they analyze and comment on food choices, which are NONE of their business. I’m going eat a piece of birthday cake Karen so take your looks elsewhere.

    1. VictorianCowgirl*

      Your last sentence made me laugh, not just because I worked with that type of person who was actually named Karen.

      This is one of my least favorite ways some can be a uniquely female kind of mysogynist and it is so harmful.

    2. Argh!*

      I used to work with a food nazi who was determined to save me from myself. I finally couldn’t take it one day and yelled at her. She shut up after that.

  19. Princess prissypants*

    Whenever anyone tries to pull me into the diet/weight conversations, especially when they go on about good vs bad, my line is, “I don’t ascribe morality to food choices.” Then they’ll go on about someone *else’s* diet/weight. I repeat, and that generally tells them that I’m not interesting in participating in this particular form of office convention.

  20. TooSkinny*

    Back in my consultant days I had a short 6 month contract with a company. During the last 2 months of the contract my BF was killed in an accident, and 2 weeks later I had a miscarriage. This isn’t something I told the company I was consulting for, most of my work for them was done remotely, and I didn’t really know anyone. I lost a lot of weight during that time because I couldn’t eat anything more solid than yogurt without throwing up. The last 3 weeks of the contract I was in their offices almost daily, and the comments people made about how thin I was–ugh. I was thin before- a size 4, by then size zeros were baggy– I was dangerously skinny, my hair was even falling out– But for so many people being that thin is what they strive for and is the epitome of beauty. Health doesn’t seem to matter.

    So the moral of this is, just don’t. You have no idea if the person is sick, struggling with mental health, or an eating disorder.

  21. Utoh!*

    The thinnest woman in my office, who works part-time so she can work out before and after work, who is never seen eating anything has been heard to comment on more than one occasion when she’s eaten more than a protein bar or yogurt that “I (she) ate like a fat-chick this weekend..” I mean, WTF…I’ve never heard such a gross comment from someone relating to weight in my life.

    I really just try to tune them all out, as it’s not just her, but other women who talk about weight all the time, and it’s even worse now that the Win to Lose contest is going on in our company.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Some people can be thin or they can be kind but not both at the same time. Just my opinion, but she sounds like a very unhappy person.

    2. LaDeeDa*

      I would assume (I know I shouldn’t) she has an eating disorder. Someone who works out that much, is so controlled with their food, and then in one breath shames fat people and herself– yeah, it doesn’t sound like she has a healthy relationship with food.
      I often take that approach when people are being critical of me in some way or hyper-focused on something I am doing, I usually try to attribute to something going on with them. Because really, things like that say more about the person saying them than the person they are saying them to.

    3. LaDeeDa*

      Based on her ability to fat shame and shame herself in one breath, I am going to assume she doesn’t have a healthy relationship with food. I wouldn’t engage with her because I wouldn’t want to contribute to that unhealthy relationship.

  22. Alanna*

    Ugh, yes, commenting on weight is the worst! I am very overweight, which is fine, but my first job out of college i was working really hard to lose it – just counting calories and working out, nothing weird, and the weight came off very visibly over a couple years, and the comments were CONSTANT, along with “how are you doing it? what are you doing?” and it was such a pain! like omg, please stop, i’m doing exactly what your doctor would tell you to do.

    Then I got really sick and over the years gained it back. I have too much going on to care anymore but sometimes i get really sick and lose 20-30 lbs very quickly and someone will comment – which i also hate, because it’s not a good thing, it means i was really really sick for a while!

    If someone wants to talk about their diet and weight loss, they will – we all know those people – so just never mention it. Please!

    1. Mr. Tyzik*

      I lost 80 lbs over the course of a year. My secret was debilitating migraines in crisis, with as many as 8 in one month. I was so nauseated and tired and didn’t want to eat. I got so many compliments when I was sick for losing weight that I was paranoid at how disgusting I must have been while fat.

      I wound up gaining a bunch of it back once I changed meds and got better. I feel so much better.

    2. Mr. Shark*

      [i]If someone wants to talk about their diet and weight loss, they will – we all know those people – so just never mention it. Please![/i]

      Yes! I think that’s the key. If a person is talking about their weight or diet, then a reasonable comment in response is okay. If someone isn’t talking about it, they don’t want to talk about it and you shouldn’t comment on it.

      One of my co-workers jokes about his weight a lot, and others engage him and talk about his weight and diet. I don’t do that, and those same people, thankfully, don’t talk about my weight or diet.

    3. Batgirl*

      I love this comment that “I’m doing exactly what your doctor would tell you to do”. Because even if you’re not being horribly inappropriate to a sick person and you’ve found someone actually trying to lose weight, what are they expecting “Why yes, I use a magic wand- want to borrow it?”

      Ugh and it sucks that you feel so surveilled when you have more important stuff going on.

  23. Eating Disordered*

    Hoo boy!

    I don’t think people with a healthy relationship with food understand how triggering this kind of talk can be. Like even just reading about that conversation makes me hate myself and want to put my fingers down my throat.

    In a bad phase I lost around 40lbs and had to deal with this kind of unwitting reinforcement almost daily. Eventually I started replying with “I pretty much starve myself. I wouldn’t recommend it.” That was … awkward but hopefully in a CA “return to sender” way.

    I feel like we all need to be careful about how we comment on people’s appearance because there are many upsetting or personal reasons for losing or gaining weight (even if it were any of our business in the first place). Some of us will always take a comment the worst way and that’s not the commenter’s fault, but can we restrict comments to unequivocal compliments (“your hair is so shiny” / “I love your smile”) rather than observations on mass?

    1. fposte*

      I’m actually a hard no on “Your hair is so shiny” and “I love your smile” in the workplace, though. They may be unequivocal, but they’re not uninflected.

      1. Eating Disordered*

        I guess they are pretty personal – I was thinking of the dynamic of colleague-friends who like to talk about their family and dates or whatever.

        In a purely professional relationship the kind of unequivocal compliment we’d be looking for would be “great job on the new teapot handles!” or “I enjoyed your presentation on knots in llama hair”.

        1. fposte*

          Yup, those are always acceptable. Though puzzling if you forget to change the fake task terms to the real work :-).

        1. fposte*

          I really wouldn’t use either. It’s just not a good work direction to have your face commented on, especially for something where choice plays such a small role.

    2. Dr. Cubicle Farm*


      Absolutely, this stuff is triggering for people. I don’t think people realize how many people in the US have eating disorders (more than have Alzheimer’s disease) and how deadly eating disorders are. It’s not that hard to not talk about food.

  24. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

    You can comment on someone’s weight if (a) you’re their doctor and (b) they have gained or lost a lot of weight quickly and you don’t already know why. There are very few situations that applies in, and none of them are chat/small talk, even if you are a medical professional. “Gollux, you’ve lost twelve pounds since your previous appointment a week ago” should be mentioned even if I’m there for something unrelated, and a similar “are you okay?” is reasonable from my partner or a good friend.

    But if you’re thinking of following that up with anything like “what’s your secret?” or “I wish I could do that,” let’s talk about sportsball or the MBTA.

    1. Argh!*

      A coworker recently said to me, “You’ve lost weight recently! I hope it was intentional and not from being sick.” Fortunately this is someone I really like, so I told her more than I’d tell other people. But still… I appreciate the “out.” When someone says something like that, you can answer “I’d rather not discuss it” and you’re covered.

  25. Mouse Princess*

    I’m recovering from an eating disorder (it went 10 years untreated and after finally realizing I may never hit rock bottom but I was incredibly unhealthy I finally got help). I have found that when people ask if you lost weight, you can say “Not on purpose.” Leave them to figure out what you mean. They will probably stop asking.

  26. Flash Bristow*

    oh dear. Over the last few years I’ve lost weight – as in, gone from a UK 18/20 to a UK 8/10. People notice and I say thank you to their compliments, but when they say “what’s your secret? No REALLY! What is your secret?” all I can really say is “um… months of illness, not being able to keep food down, y’know? I wouldn’t recommend it!”

    I don’t mean to pass the awkward back to them, and if it’s someone I know and like (say, a friendly neighbour) then I might precede it with a “oh you don’t wanna know!” to offer them a get out, but if they push it then they just get the honest truth, delivered as lightly as I can. And then I change the subject.

    Seriously, I haven’t wanted to lose that much weight because I haven’t wanted to be that ill.

    I suppose if their size fits you could try saying “oh why, would you like to buy some of my larger clothes” and actually this is what a couple of friends were driving at(!) but you do have to be careful, obviously!

    In any case, people shouldn’t mention weight gain, loss, diet tricks, or any such – unless the subject in question starts the conversation and asks for your advice. Does that really need saying?!

    1. Flash Bristow*

      Oh – also one lass who lost a lot of weight and thought I might like some of her old clothes (she was right!) was open about how she lost it. Liposuction. Unusual in the UK. But imagine if she hadn’t wanted to volunteer her story and I (or another) had asked her secret?!!

    2. Zephy*

      Oh, no, absolutely return awkward to sender. They’re the ones making it weird. If it happens to them enough times, maybe they’ll stop asking awkward and invasive questions.

  27. Orange You Glad*

    I have the opposite problem where I’m trying to eat healthy and currently on a diet program (first diet that has actually worked for me in 10 years, yay!). Part of me sticking to my diet involves me eating roughly the same thing every day. This is easy for me since I’m a routine M-F, bringing my breakfast and lunch from home to the office. My boss though is always trying to force extra food on me. It’s hard enough to say “no” to the company pizza party, it’s even harder when boss randomly decides he’s taking my dept out to lunch today or he brought in a cake for a coworker’s birthday. I have no problem participating in the group activity, but I decline the food each time, only to be berated for not accepting his generosity or even worse, side comments like “well everyone needs a cheat day” (yes, but I’m not gonna waste my cheat day on a work event when I can go out with my family to my favorite restaurant on the weekend). Why does food at work always have to be such a big deal?

    1. Just wondering*

      Sounds to me like the same problem — unwelcome comments and pressure about food intake.

      I’m grateful for Alison’s support and advice whenever this questions comes up here.

  28. Luna*

    “[Boss], kindly don’t comment on my weight or my diet (at work).” and since this will inevitably be followed up with a ‘but I am complimenting you’, add, “It still makes me feel very uncomfortable and awkward. As said, please do not comment about this anymore.”

  29. JM in England*

    I use a military maxim when getting conflicting instructions from two different bosses in that the senior officer’s orders always take precedence, like it would in the chain of command…

  30. LaDeeDa*

    Conflicting instructions- yeah they need to get on the same page, and your direct boss needs to handle this. No way would I feel comfortable going against what big-boss said without having that conversation.

  31. coffee cup*

    Oh this is such an annoying thing. Even outside work with friends! Yesterday I mentioned to my friend I was trying to find a skirt for work and commented that X size didn’t fit me when it used to, so I had to go to Y [smaller] size, and she said something like ‘that’s because you’ve lost weight’ or ‘that’s because you’re so skinny’ (I think the first, a very similar take on these anyway, can’t remember exactly). I was taken aback because I have never commented on her weight or body, and never would. But people seem to think it’s OK to mention it. And luckily I don’t have major body issues so I just waved it off (I’m the size I am purely because I go running sometimes), but it’s the way people don’t even think before they say it.

    I feel it might be even more awkward to address this with a close friend… I mean, I am useless at confrontation, so I never usually speak up, but I feel I should next time. I just wouldn’t want it to become awkward between us.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I don’t know… I think when you say “I used to wear a 10, but I had to go down to an 8,” you’re definitely opening up the “you’ve lost weight” conversation.

      1. coffee cup*

        The point I’d been making was that sizing in clothes shops is never consistent, and that a place I’d been sure of my size in was now suddenly not reliable. I haven’t actually lost any weight, so that hadn’t been what I was saying to her. And also I’m not sure why we always think people want to be complimented when they have to wear a smaller size. I was complaining, not celebrating.

      1. nnn*

        Seconded. I literally own an XS that’s a tinch too big and an XL that’s a tinch too small in the same brand!

  32. Rusty Shackelford*

    I’m that doesn’t-want-to-move-up employee in #4, because I like doing the thing, not managing the people who do the thing. So what you can offer me is training and opportunities to get better at doing the thing. Pay for me to join professional organizations and attend conferences. Help me become an expert at doing the thing.

    1. irene adler*

      Me too!
      Maybe let me take some classes to expand my skill set so I can continue to do more things.

  33. pentamom*

    I was under the impression that it was generally understood that recruiters aren’t just trying to get you to take the job, they’re trying to match people to jobs, and usually on behalf of the employer, not the candidate. Am I incorrect in this, or am I correct that OP 3 has the wrong end of the stick to begin with? Military recruiters are usually in the business of trying to persuade people to join up as soon as they’re identified as suitable candidates; every other use of the word I’m familiar with involves more of a give and take where the candidate is as much on trial as the entity being recruited for. Is this an accurate understanding?

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      Yep. Also often they do the initial screening, so it’s effectively your first interview.

  34. Argh!*

    Hear hear about not commenting on food & weight! I’ve lost and gained weight, and I really don’t mind ONE comment per coworker on weight loss… if it’s significant weight loss. But it’s NEVER okay to comment on someone’s choices in foods, good or bad. I don’t need the approval or reprimand of a coworker or boss or subordinate to make my choices, and I REALLY don’t need to have my train of thought interrupted in a work scenario.

    One of my coworkers recently complimented me on my weight loss, which was fine, and then continued with “One time I tried to lose five pounds.” I cut her off. She continued, “what I *meant to say* is” … I cut her off… and she continued “I tried really hard to lose that five pounds but I didn’t lose any weight at all! It must be really hard for you.”

    Praising by faint damn?

  35. Member of the Dead Moms Club (which no one wants to join)*

    Throwing my vote into the “please don’t bring up other people’s weight loss/gain” category.
    When my mother was dying, I didn’t mention it to many people at work because I needed to have a place where I wouldn’t be forced to talk about her impending death all the time. What my colleagues saw was that I had practically stopped eating and that my weight was cratering. They decided I’d developed some kind of eating disorder and started hounding me. In reality, I was so upset that I’d largely lost my appetite, and going to the grocery store ranked far below spending every possible moment at the hospital.

    You’d think it would have been obvious from many other signs that something was very wrong in my life that I didn’t want to discuss, but they would not let up with the snide comments about my lunch and my weight. It was (shockingly) also the kind of place where people spent most of many lunches talking about how fat they thought they were, which was also incredibly uncomfortable… I eventually had to stop going to the break room completely.

  36. StaceyIzMe*

    For the letter writer who is receiving conflicting instructions- who owns the project (not just in terms of authority, but expertise)? Once you’ve established that, you’ll know which one to tap when you receive conflicting instructions. (For example, if your boss has the technical expertise and her boss has the big picture vision but not the necessary implementation skills, then your boss should “carry the water” by communicating to her boss about needed changes.) If it’s all about style as opposed to substantive differences, your task should become much easier because one of them will back off once the pattern of conflict is pointed out (hopefully).

  37. Freelance Everything*

    I’m female and I had an older male colleague start commenting on my weight and eating habits. I was in my 20s, he was late 50s at least.
    I worked nights and got two breaks. I had ‘lunch’ for one and usually a chocolate bar for the second. He was terrible with personal space too so would always take a seat *very* near me and then make a comment about the chocolate bar. Every night for weeks. It really got under my skin and I started dreading eating in front of him at all, and once decided to not have chocolate… he commented on that too.
    I eventually worked up the nerve to report him to management (I just couldn’t bring myself to say something to his face and I doubted it would do anything). Thankfully my (also male) manager took it really seriously, wrote up an informal complaint and had a word.
    Colleague then ‘apologized’ with a hefty dose of attempted guilt tripping and blaming. But he did stop thankfully.

  38. L. S. Cooper*

    I really never find it appropriate to discuss weight or food choices in the workplace. Or in most places, honestly. I try to subtly encourage coworkers who start moralizing by saying things like “Well, I think it’s important to maintain balance!” when someone, say, brings in donuts, and people are being down on themselves about being so “bad” for eating one. Truthfully, I think that people look to me– as a fat person– as a sort of metric for it to be okay. Like, if I’m eating more than they are, they feel okay eating what they have, because at least it’s less than me.

    Also, my policy on compliments is to compliment people only on things they choose to do, unless you know them well enough to compliment them on immutable characteristics. (I might, for example, compliment my best friend since middle school if her boobs looked really good in a certain shirt, but that’s because of the nature of our relationship.) So, haircuts and colors, makeup, clothes, all of those I find acceptable compliment material, because the person chose to do that thing. Same goes for intelligence, in my opinion. Complimenting someone on being smart is useless; telling them they completed a llama-sorting spreadsheet more quickly and accurately than anyone before them is nice.

    1. Michelle*

      The donut thing happens in my office as well. People will get one and then say ” I was so bad” or they will cut one in half and eat it but still say “I was so bad”. It’s 1 donut. Eat it or don’t but don’t eat it then act like you committed a sin. You can take a brisk walk around the grounds to make you feel better about it.

      My company hired a wellness company because it gives us a break on health insurance premiums. Now a lot of the food police will use “I’m just thinking about your health” as an excuse to say something.

      1. L. S. Cooper*

        Ugh. Exhausting. I would probably get fired about 20 minutes after someone said anything along those lines to me, because I would find a very rude and workplace inappropriate way to tell that person off. So far, people at my office haven’t really commented on what *I’m* eating, which I’m quite thankful for.

  39. Two Tin Cans and a String*

    I lost a ton of weight after my husband died and the “compliments” never stopped coming.

    I find that saying “Thanks! It’s the grief!” does wonders.

  40. Ugh Ne Darno We Ne*

    I don’t believe in HAES or the modern idea that excess weight isn’t a problem.

    But, nobody’s place to comment! You never know where someone started from. Personally I have kept off about 25% of my weight now and trying for more, but when I was 16/17, I also lost a good bit of weight…because I had an enormous problem with self-harm and was either not eating to hide from people, or, after people found out, because I was too anxious and shell-shocked, having lost a major coping mechanism, to eat much. The fact that I was crying all the time should surely have tipped people off that it wasn’t a new diet?

    1. Two Tin Cans and a String*

      You know, I’m pretty much of the exact opposite opinion of you. This has been a much needed reminder for me that people can have different beliefs on important topics and still be civil, kind and thoughtful. Thanks for this comment, I needed it.

      1. Ugh Ne Darno We Ne*

        Thanks for your kindness! I just try to be an example more than bother strangers with my stuff. Like if there’s a potluck I am the one bringing the veggies and hummus. And for things like airlines, if I have someone large next to me, I explain it’s my anxiety that has me uncomfortable or needing to change, not them. Berating someone now won’t make the weight instantly fall off!

        1. Zephy*

          > Berating someone now won’t make the weight instantly fall off!

          Louder for the folks in the back. Why do people do this??

        2. Eirene*

          But has anyone asked you to be an example? Fat people eat veggies and hummus too. And I’m fairly sure that the person next to you on an airplane knows exactly what you’re doing and your excuse doesn’t really make them feel any better, even if you’re trying to be nice.

          1. L. S. Cooper*

            Can confirm, I eat lots of veggies, and I love hummus. If you leave me next to a bowl of cherry tomatoes at a party, the tomatoes will vanish. Guess what? I’m still fat! And not by a small amount, either. I am capital-F F-A-T.
            And, also, I’m still healthy, and that’s the nice thing about HAES, is it doesn’t matter one bit if you believe in it, because it’s heavily backed by science. Berating anyone for their weight ever won’t make the weight fall off instantly, or ever, at all, because shame is terrible for a person’s health, so I’m glad that, at least, you won’t do that. Congratulations on doing the bare minimum on treating fat people with basic decency.

  41. CastIrony*

    Conflicting instructions: I like Alison’s advice, but at my job, they told me to follow the person who’s higher on the chain of command when I was interviewing to do what I love full-time.

    1. Zephy*

      It’s still a good idea to loop in your immediate boss if your grandboss is giving you conflicting instructions, to be sure everyone’s on the same page.

  42. nnn*

    For #4, I’m a very competent employee who is not interested in advancing, is good at my job, and doesn’t ever want to leave.

    A way my manager could provide me with mentorship and direction is help me develop in a way that will let me continue being valuable to the organization. As a manager, they can see the organization’s broader challenges and future strategic directions better than I can. What can I do to make sure I meet the organization’s needs in 5/10/20 years?

    For example, perhaps our samovar expert is scheduled to retire in 5 years and there’s no one else with samovar expertise. Maybe I could train on samovar quality control in addition to the teapot quality control work I usually do, so we’ll have an experienced samovar expert in place.

    From my little teapot quality control desk, I can’t see that the samovar expert is due for retirement or that there’s no one in line to replace her, and, even if I knew these things, I can’t see whether I’m one of the better candidates to replace her. But my manager is better placed to see this, so that’s the sort of thing I’d appreciate if they could point me towards.

    1. Jean (just Jean)*

      How about you change the subject by replying completely, but politely, off-topic?
      Tactless coworker: “Omigawd you’ve lost weight/gained weight/should or should not be eating or doing blah blah blah.”
      You: “Yeah, it’s been a wonderful year for azaleas!” or “How about the [name of local sports team]?” or “I agree that [insert currently talked-about singer, writer, movie, or TV show] is just wonderful right now.”
      Bonus points depending on how long you can this going without falling into either snark or laughter.

      No, I have never had the guts to do this. Someday…

    2. nnn*

      Historically, I’ve found that asking people to please stop commenting on something results in them mocking me for not wanting them to comment on it.

      1. L. S. Cooper*

        Thiiiiiiis. 10000000% this. You call them on it directly, you open a can of worms where they decide that you’re the one who’s irrational and sensitive and no fun, even though they were resoundingly in the wrong.

  43. gsa*

    To this day, hesitate to comment on how someone looks…

    “You look great”. So yesterday, I looked like [noun]…

    “You’re in a good mood today”. So yesterday, my mood was so bad you thought I was ready to [verb] everybody in the room…

    Don’t forget your MadLibs… :D

    Ad nausea…

    Take away, if you’re not close enough to know, STFU and [verb] away and [physical gesture] … :D

  44. Budgie Lover*

    Question 5 is literally Emma Stone trying to figure out whether or not to offer the Queen hot chocolate.

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