update: my office does “Fat Friday” – and I have an eating disorder

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who was in recovery from an eating disorder and whose office had a weekly event called “Fat Friday” where people were encouraged to bring in staggering amounts of food (with themes like “meat feast”)? Here’s the update.

I have to say that your advice was very helpful and it was also so reassuring to see people’s reaction to the idea of “Fat Friday.” I felt reassured that it wasn’t just me overreacting. Most of all, everyone was so supportive and thoughtful, thank you to all of you.

Following your response, I decided to talk to a senior member of my team, who was not my direct manager but did act as a sort of mentor figure to me. I confided that I found Fat Fridays difficult and distracting because I was in recovery from an eating disorder and she immediately agreed with me that the situation wasn’t ideal. She said she hated the constant smell of food lingering. We talked it through and she very kindly asked the Fat Friday organisers to make sure food was only put out in the kitchen, away from people’s desks – without mentioning my name. It helps that around the same time I started a new anti-depressant medication that really helps manage my anxiety and obsessive thoughts.

However, ultimately I did end up telling more people about my history with eating disorders after a colleague in a different department tried to sell me diet products! Think dodgy pyramid-scheme diet shakes that probably make you very ill. In the past, this kind of incident would have sent me into a real spiral and could have triggered a relapse, but I actually ended up laughing about it with my work friends and realising how far I’d come in my personal recovery. Sometimes it really is better to be open, rather than suffer in silence!

Thank you again for all your help and advice. It gave me the confidence to speak up.

{ 74 comments… read them below }

  1. Peaches*

    LW, I am so happy for you. I am so sorry that someone tried to sell you diet products (!!!), but happy you were able to see how far you have come. I’m glad you felt supported by the senior member of the team, and that she was able to act upon your concerns.

  2. merp*

    This is so great to hear, every part of it! Way to go for getting this situation changed and for your progress!

  3. Jedi Squirrel*

    I’m so glad this worked out well for you! And I’m really glad that you have a mentor there who sounds like a wonderful person.

    I’m also really glad that you’re feeling better. Here’s to a wonderful 2020 for everybody!

  4. Pebbles*

    I’m really glad that you are doing better with your recovery and that you have some people who you can talk with.

    I am a little disappointed that the organizers are still calling these potlucks “Fat Friday” though.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Calling it “Fat Friday” or bringing in food?

        Calling it “Food Friday” could be an adequate substitute. But if it is the idea bringing in food on Fridays I disagree. If other people enjoy it and are happy to participate it should not be taken away from them. I think making sure that all the food is only in the kitchen, and the coworkers don’t push food onto other is reasonable compromise. OP and others know there will be food in the kitchen and they can choose to avoid it on that day if they so wish and people who enjoy “Food Fridays” can go to the kitchen to enjoy it.

        1. Fikly*

          I think the issue is the theme of bringing in excessive amounts of food, or deliberately unbalanced foods selections leaning toward the less nutritious end of the spectrum.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            But an excessive amount of food is somewhat subjective. In the original letter OP said the food can often feed them twice over, that does not seem like an excessive amount to me. When I cook I often will make enough to get at least 2/3 portions for my spouse and myself. When we have work potlucks we often have left overs and we will eat the leftovers the next day or two.

            Just last week we had a thanksgiving potluck on Monday, and I ate leftovers Tuesday and Wednesday. I have eaten plenty of Friday leftovers (properly stored/refrigerated of course) on the following Monday or Tuesday. I will actually eat most leftovers up to 7 days later.

            1. Fikly*

              We don’t even know if there’s the ability to safely store the excess food in the OP’s office, though.

    1. Eukomos*

      Sounds like a spin on Mardi Gras. Probably would be better to at least leave it in French, though. It is also notable that Mardi Gras only occurs once a YEAR.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Fat Tuesday occurs on a different date each year, but it is always on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

          1. Filosofickle*

            Pebbles was noting a second way Fat Friday diverged from Fat Tuesday — it’s a different day of the week (Friday instead of Tues), not that FT falls on different days of the week.

            1. Pebbles*

              Thank you Filosofickle, this was what I was getting at. I could have been more clear.

              This potluck may have once upon a time originated with some tie-in to Mardi Gras, but it’s shown to be hurtful to at least one person. Time to change the name IMO.

    2. Observer*

      I’m not thrilled with that, but I honestly don’t see that as something to fight, as long as it’s kept TRULY voluntary and out of people’s faces.

  5. knitcrazybooknut*

    Great job, OP! I’m so glad that this turned out well for you. This is a difficult situation for a lot of reasons, and you handled it very well.

  6. phira*

    Yessss, great update!! OP, it’s really wonderful to hear that you’ve made so much progress and that you’re able to see how far you’ve come. And that you were successful in getting the (absolutely patently absurd and horrifically named) Fat Fridays moved out of your face.

  7. Brogrammer*

    Great job, OP! You handled the immediate situation great and congratulations on your recovery progress!

  8. Warm Weighty Wrists*

    Such a wonderful update! I’m so glad you’re doing well in your recovery, OP, and that your new medication is helping.

  9. Louise*

    Oh LW I’m so so happy that this is the outcome, and from a fellow person in recovery, huge congratulations on the incredible growth and healing you’ve accomplished.

  10. Food Lover*

    So glad to hear this has worked out for you. I would have had a hard time working in an environment like that also. I once had a job in a health clinic where pharmacutical reps would bring in catered lunches several times a week from all kinds of yummy places. I love food and was always overeating (I had no control back then). I could never have afforded to eat at those places myself. In one year I gained about 30 pounds which I am sure contributed to the Type 2 diabetes I have today (I was overweight to start with) I read the nutritonal info of those foods today and just cringe. I can’t believe how I risked my health. Now I always carry my lunch to work and believe it or not, I can easily turn down all kinds of yummy food today.

  11. Ginger*

    OP – you’re a rock star and handled that coworker like a boss!!!

    Sounds like your workplace has a few issues – MLM pushers are the WORST.

  12. Third or Nothing!*

    Super awesome update!!!!! I’m so glad to hear recovery is going well for you and how far you’ve come.

    I hate those diet and exercise MLMs with a fiery passion.

    1. AnnaBananna*

      Also: I’m curious what the medication change was? I am clinically depressed but mine shows itself as high anxiety most days (so uncomfortable). My doctor has kept me on lexapro because it’s “supposed” to help anxiety. It hasn’t done anything, however, so I would love to learn about yours, if you don’t mind?

      1. Allypopx*

        Not OP but “My doctor has kept me on lexapro because it’s “supposed” to help anxiety” just sent me through the roof. Find a new doctor, please.

        Most people who go the SSRI route need to try a few different medications before they find one that works with their body chemistry. That is 100% normal and expected. Lexapro did nothing for me, neither did Celexa. Zoloft made me dangerously depressed. Ultimately I tried an SNRI instead, effexor, and it has been life changing. It’s a HARD drug to adjust to and I’m not specifically recommending it, particularly as I am not your physician, but I’m just illustrating that most people need to try a variety of different things.

        I also have klonopin as needed which has really helped me through med changes, and I use recreational marijuana to relax at home and sleep. I also drink alcohol a bit to help with my anxiety after a long day, think a night cap, but I have discussed that thoroughly with my doctor and my therapist to make sure I am not becoming dependant on it as an option. Again, not recommendations, not a doctor. Just giving a range of options.

        1. Socrates Johnson*

          This. I finally got a doctor who just tried a whole bunch of stuff for me. I’m on Wellbutrin, but I take it with some epilepsy medications (!) that actually improve mood and have helped with my anxiety. Took a while to get there, but she was willing (as was I) to keep trying until I felt better.

          1. Allypopx*

            That’s great! I’m glad you found something that worked well. I’m considering asking about a beta blocker. Whoot whoot off-label drug use.

        2. many bells down*

          So true. I tried Wellbutrin once and my anxiety went off the charts. I’d never actually HAD a full-blown panic attack before that.

          1. Allypopx*

            Same I’m on Wellbutrin right now and my anxiety is REALLY amped up, I don’t think I can be on it long term. Which really sucks because I was hoping it might be an ADHD med that I could tolerate, but I just don’t think my anxiety is going to play well with any kind of stimulant.

            1. Triumphant Fox*

              Actually, my doctor gave me Wellbutrin because it’s known to “kickstart” things. I was sleeping all the time and just so lethargic. She said if I had the more typical anxious thoughts and insomnia of depression, she’d do something else.

              1. Allypopx*

                Yes! That’s why it’s commonly prescribed off-label for ADHD. It has a stimulant component to it, though I don’t know the specific chemistry, but it’s not as intense as say adderall. Still too intense for me though, it seems. The brain likes it, but it increases my heart rate and that creates a physiological anxiety reaction. Sigh.

        3. Observer*

          Not OP but “My doctor has kept me on lexapro because it’s “supposed” to help anxiety” just sent me through the roof. Find a new doctor, please.

          This, 1,000 times over!

          Your doctor is either incompetent or lazy. A lot of drugs are “supposed to” do a lot of things. None work 100% of the time. And psychotropics are especially tricky this way. Yes, it was a reasonable place to start, but if it’s not working it needs to be changed

          1. Allypopx*

            EXACTLY. And if the doctor is just not familiar enough with this medication to understand that it’s super hit or miss, he should NOT be prescribing it, he should be admitting he’s not familiar enough and referring you to a psychiatrist.

            (And then getting familiar, because jfc what crazy percentage of the population has anxiety these days????)

      2. tinybutfierce*

        Also not the OP, but as a clinically depressed person who also has co-occurring hiiiiigh anxiety, a combo of Escitalopram (which is apparently the generic of Lexapro) and Buspirone has done wonders for helping manage both my illnesses. My doctor initially wanted to prescribe me Klonopin for my anxiety, but as I have a past history with substance abuse, I specifically requested something non-benzodiazepine like Klonopin, and it’s been so far so good for the last few years. I especially like Buspirone because aside from my anxiety being DRASTICALLY reduced, I’ve never noticed any other side effects, aside from sleeping a LOT the first weekend I started it (standard disclaimer: everyone’s body & brain are different and will react to medication differently, of course!).

        And hardcore seconding Allypopx when it comes to often taking some experimenting with SSRIs to find the right one/s. I was initially on a generic of Zoloft which worked great for about two years, and then some intense life stressors plunged me back into a major depressive episode and the Zoloft just… stopped working for me at all. Brains, man, they’re weird.

        I hope you’re able to talk to your doctor and find something that works well for you! Sending you all the good brain vibes across the internet.

  13. HappySnoopy*

    It sounds like other(s) were finding fat fridays getting out of hand too, but your medical concern finally got the ball rolling for people to speak up and stop/minimize it.

    Glad your coworkers stepped up and hope you gave continued good health!

  14. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Finding that voice can be so empowering. I’m glad that you found yours and it’s turned out to be a healing mechanism for you. It’s hard to break that silence and it’s a personal decision each one of us has to make at some point if we want to or not. But once you do and have those positive responses it’s truly magical.

    I cannot deal with MLM at work, people have no shame.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Oh I do too LOL but more so at work because you’re a captive audience and most people feel more pressure to be “nice” at work. I’m lucky, I can just laugh at someone and tell them to leave me alone if it was really a thing here but in an office where you have a code of conduct that’s actually followed, it’s harder to say “Take your shakes and stuff them in your ear hole, Shirley.”

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          All of the places I have worked where there was an explicit code of conduct, there were rules that said you can’t work your side hussle (a) while on the premises, or (b) in any way that involves your co-workers. No, Karen, you can’t put your Avon catalogs in the women’s restroom; No, Kevin you can’t email your co-workers at their home email address to tell them how awesome your MLM supplements are.

          I distinctly remember some places that wouldn’t even allow Girl Scout cookie sales.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Thankfully you can track down Girl Scout cookies so much easier, there’s even a tracker! So less suffering than the years when if you didn’t know a Girl Scout or go grocery shopping on very specific weekends in the right place, NO COOKIES FOR YOU!

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            These policies are brilliant and I love them. Sadly so many places don’t have them because they aren’t important enough to whomever is making up their policies.

            Lots of places allow for you to lay out catalogs or a cookie ordering sheet. Many frown on actively hustling but that side step to passively laying out ordering stuff to browse is shrugged at.

            I work with mostly people without any kind of MLM influence, thank God. But the horror stories, from here and otherwise, yucky.

            My mom has had to deal with it even more so, in her line of work where everyone has to piece together incomes so they’re more likely to get trapped in the scam. And then prior as a stay at home/young mother with friends in the same boat [only she was like “LOL sales, ew. If I need side money, I’ll clean houses, ef your whatever products.”]

          2. mrs__peel*

            I used to work in a federal office, and it was great because any kind of commercial activity (e.g., trying to sell MLMs or even your kid’s wrapping paper, Girl Scout cookies, etc.) was considered a potential Hatch Act violation and therefore banned from the premises with extreme prejudice.

        2. Third or Nothing!*

          I am so glad all my coworkers have enough sense to avoid that nonsense, but I have definitely had to shut down acquaintances with a blanket “I don’t support MLMs.”

          You know what’s the worst? The people who only contact you to invite you to a “party.”

          1. Amy Sly*

            I caught a wonderful episode of the Moth Radio Hour where a woman was recounting her experiences being on her church’s evangelism committee and selling Mary Kay, to the point where she was in Target and found herself debating whether the other shopper on the aisle she was going to approach cold needed Jesus or Mary Kay. She eventually changed lifestyles completely and moved to Brooklyn where she started getting pressure to join the farmer’s market coop. Her refusal: “I’ve given up on organized religion.”

          2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I’m all in for fundraisers, so hit me up but yeah, my response to MLM stuff is “I don’t buy snake oil.” because I’m kind of a dick.

  15. yala*

    What a wonderful update! I’m so glad your coworker was understanding and encouraged them to make reasonable changes without even having to bring your name or health concerns up. Glad to hear your recovery is going well and you feel at a better place now!

  16. TJ*

    What a great update! Kudos to you for having the courage to stand up and say something. Kudos as well to your mentor for her kind and compassionate reaction. Also *golf clap* for your company for making the changes, seemingly with no pushback or issue. A+ all around!

  17. Kimmy Schmidt*

    Your update made me choke up, just a lil bit.

    So proud of you and I wish you continued success in your recovery.

  18. ursula*

    Thank you so much for this update, OP! I’m so so glad that you are seeing a change in yourself and I wish you so much more success to come!

  19. Ardis Paramount*

    Seems like anymore the thing I find myself admiring in others is The Setting Of Boundaries, And Maintaining Them.

    That’s great adulting, right there. Good job, OP.

  20. Jennifer Juniper*

    I wonder what the policy is about selling stuff at the office. It there is a “no solicitation” policy written down, those diet product peddlers could have gotten written up. Not to mention it’s EXTREMELY impolite to try to sell diet products to your coworkers. If I were a boss, those people would have gotten a stern talking-to about eating disorders, pyramid schemes, and the ethics about pushing diet products on coworkers. Then they would have been written up. Next step would be a PIP.

    1. Michael Allen*

      Hadn’t seen your comment before commenting below. Hadn’t thought about official workplace policies, but of course they should exist. If someone at work mentioned Amway or anything like that to me I would be tempted to say something about pyramid schemes and be even more on their shit list. This is why an actual policy is the way to go.

  21. Michael Allen*

    “….a colleague in a different department tried to sell me diet products! Think dodgy pyramid-scheme diet shakes that probably make you very ill.”

    Co-workers should not be trying to sell others anything in the workplace, or before or after work. Including in my opinion chocolate from their kid’s school or Girl Scout cookies. It puts you in a position of saying “no” and then possibly being on that seller employee’s shit list. It’s employment related coercion.

    1. Alexandra Lynch*

      Yeah, I think the Girl Scout Cookie form and the kids’ chocolate form should be on a bulletin board somewhere like the break room. Neutral territory, you can sign up if you want or not.

    2. Annie*

      This is such a great update! I’m so glad that your office has been understanding and accomodating and that you’re doing so well in your recovery.

  22. Siege*

    I remember this letter! I’m glad you have people in your corner at work, and that you’re healing. Thanks for updating us!

  23. Liza*

    As a fat person, can I also point out that it’s extremely offensive to equate lots of food with fat? Body weight is such a complex thing and the amount we eat only plays a small role in it. Like, holy crap, this should not even be a thing.

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