my coworker has overstepped with my eating disorder

A reader writes:

I’ve battled an eating disorder my whole life and it tends to come on when I am experiencing stress in situations that are out of my control. I recently ended my relationship with my fiancé of nine years which, as a result, triggered me to lapse back into old behavior. I thankfully saw the signs and took measures to try to alleviate the situation (not going to the gym, increasing my visits to my therapist, reaching out to friends and family for support, etc.).

I have always kept my personal life very private and because I didn’t wear my engagement ring at work, very few of my coworkers know that I recently went through a separation. Unfortunately, despite my efforts, I have still lost a noticeable amount of weight and am working on slowly gaining it back. Coworkers have started commenting on my weight and my eating habits. For the most part, I can manage these comments and have responses in place to shut them down politely.

My issue is that I have one coworker who seems to have taken a particular interest in my weight. It started small, with her leaving snacks on my desk, asking me if I was sick, or watching me when I eat lunch. Today she pulled me aside to let me know that she is concerned about my weight and offered me a list of support groups for eating disorders along with therapist recommendations. She said everyone in the office is talking about my recent weight loss and that if I need time to “battle my demons” she is sure my manager would understand. She went on to say that if she doesn’t see me start putting on weight she, along with a few other unnamed coworkers, would be going to my manger about forcing me to take time off. I was so taken aback that all I could say was “thank you for your concern” before getting away from her as quickly as possible.

I’ve put a lot of effort into keeping myself together the past couple of months and not letting my personal life interfere with my work life. I have not taken any days off, have maintained my productivity level along with a positive attitude when I am at work, and have had nothing but glowing feedback from my manager. I feel like my coworker is grossly overstepping and I am not sure how to handle this situation. Do you have any advice on how I should respond to shut this down?

Your coworker is indeed grossly overstepping.

It’s one thing — if you were very close — to discreetly ask if you’re doing okay and if there’s anything she can help with. But even then she’d need to be okay with you saying everything’s fine and not wanting any help.

It’s absolutely not okay to push food on you, nose around about your health, scrutinize your lunch, tell you everyone is talking about you (!), tell you you’re “battling demons” (WTF?), threaten to speculate on your health to your boss, or try to force you to take time off. Every one of those is an overstep, and combining them takes this to the level of extreme violation.

In most situations where someone is overstepping like this, I’d say to wait until they bring it up again and then shut them down decisively. In this case, though, it might be worth raising it with her yourself rather than waiting to see if she comes back to you — because who knows what she’s saying to colleagues or your boss.

I suggest saying this: “I was too taken aback the other day to respond on the spot, but I need to tell you more clearly to stop discussing my health with me or others in the office. While I appreciate that you may be coming from a place of concern, my health is my private business and not something I discuss other than with close friends and family or with my doctor. Please do not bring it up again.” (If you want, you can skip the softening language about coming from a place of concern. In a work context, it’s often helpful to give the other person a way to save face, but she’s so far over the line that you’re entitled to skip it if you want.)

If you get a response that indicates anything other than that she’ll stop immediately, say this: “I must need to be more clear. What you are doing is harassment and if it continues I will need to report it that way. Obviously I hope this was just a misunderstanding and that it won’t come to that.”

If you want, you could also note that people lose weight for all sorts of medical reasons, none of which are her business, and that’s it’s weird that she’s assuming she knows what’s going on (or that it would be her business if she did).

I’d also consider looping your manager in on the conversation so she has context if your coworker does bring it up with her. In fact, you don’t need to wait for your coworker to violate your boundaries again; if you want, you can go to your manager now and tell her to shut down your coworker. In doing that, you can tell your manager as much or as little as you want. One middle ground option would be to say, “I’ve lost some weight recently because of a health condition — it’s nothing to worry about and I’m working with my doctor. Jane is being incredibly intrusive about it — pushing food on me, speculating on my health, watching me while I eat, and most recently confronting me with a list of eating disorder support groups and telling me that if she doesn’t see me gain weight, she will insist to you that I take time off. Obviously this is incredibly inappropriate, and I shouldn’t be harassed about a private medical situation. Can you speak with her and get this shut down?”

You don’t need to do that now if you don’t want to, but know it’s an option if you want it.

Your coworker is horrible.

{ 537 comments… read them below }

  1. Yvette*

    “I’d also consider looping your manager in on the conversation so she has context if your coworker does bring it up with her….”

    Alison would you recommend doing this in the form of an email so there is a virtual paper trail? Is there any downside to that? CC’ing anyone?

    1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

      I would suggest starting with an in-person conversation to properly convey tone, but to follow up with an email to the manager thanking them for taking their concerns about x,y ,z, seriously or something similar.

        1. Veronica Mars*

          Definitely this. I’ve had the misfortune of my boss forwarding my email to the person in question / HR / the whole world more than once. So now I opt for a more open/honest conversation in person, and a very bland email follow up.

          1. Maria Lopez*

            You need to have IT show you how to set the e-mail so that it cannot be forwarded. Sure, you can screen shot it and save it to Word, but most people don’t think of that or even know it’s something they can do.

      1. ampersand*

        Which tone would you want to convey? I’m not sure if it’s a kind, firm tone or a serious, you-have-crossed-a-line tone. I would tend towards the latter given how egregiously egregious the coworker’s behavior has been.

        My first thought was to also send an email so there’s a paper trail.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          This is an email to the manager we’re talking about, so the tone of the in-person conversation should be, “I have a serious concern I need you to address.” The tone of the email that follows can be bland/professional/vague, along the lines of “Thank you for taking the time to discuss the matter re: Jane. Please let me know if there’s any more information you need from me.”

          1. ampersand*

            Oh, I missed that this was to/with the manager and not the boundary-stomping coworker. Thanks!

      2. Lana Del Slay Loves Rafael Barba*

        I second this. I think if it were me, I would want my manager to hear “rather appalled at the breach in etiquette, to say nothing of the utter WTF” in my voice — and from that point on, manager would have a reasonable idea of my frame of mind about all this. We lose a lot of important nonverbal cues in written communication.

    2. Jack Be Nimble*

      I wouldn’t initiate the conversation via email, but I wouldn’t see any problem with sending your manager a follow-up email after the fact, as long as it weren’t wildly out of step with your company culture.

      “Thanks for taking the time to meet with me, Manager. I appreciate your discretion/sensitivity/attention in this matter, and I’ll touch base next week if I hear anything else from Horrible Coworker.”

    3. AnonANon*

      As someone who has been through similar trauma, I immediately though of doing an email for a couple of reasons.
      1) Paper trail (just because this situation is so over the top and if HR had to get involved, they would know I tried to shut it down)
      2) I think I would emotionally fall apart if I had to speak to it, hence the email.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Agree. Document, document, document. It is the only way you will have evidence if your coworker denies everything.

      2. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

        I think that makes sense, and if OP were to go that route for her own comfort, I think it’s advisable that the email explain that. In other words, OP should say “I’m emailing because this is difficult to talk about in person and I want to be sure to convey all of the relevant information to you.” or something else that will help to explain this communication is intended to be informative and seeking help, not as accusatory or adverse to the employer. The trouble with introducing a subject like this in email is that the manager may not understand what the OP is asking for or why she is bringing it up, unless that information is clear from the text of the email. The manager misinterpreting the message as adversarial might be less inclined to address this quickly and at a low level out of fear or a sense that this issue has been escalated in a way that OP hasn’t indicated she is yet looking to do.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          Agreed. Email is very tricky. Many, many people don’t read tone well even when it is conveyed strongly, and for something so delicate, you want to be able to correct misapprehensions in real time. I personally think it would be better to have the initial conversation in person even if you get a little choked up (which can be smoothed over with a calm, professional email afterwards) than to have the initial convo via email and have the boss think OP is saying something (or asking for something) that she’s not.

      3. VioletEMT*

        “I think I would emotionally fall apart if I had to speak to it, hence the email.”

        I often take the Best of Both Worlds approach.
        1) Draft the email, using the process to collect my thoughts. This allows me to analyze the phrasing in painstaking detail, and practice saying the words out loud so I don’t break down.
        2) Have the conversation with the manager in person.
        3) Return to the email draft, editing it for clarity and adding follow-ups that were agreed to during the conversation, and then send the email as a “Follow-up on our conversation.”

      4. Arts Akimbo*

        Likewise, I would skip the preliminary face-to-face conversation and send this as an email with a stern tone (ymmv), cc the manager, cc HR, and use the wording “I will report any continued comments about my body or interference in my health as harassment” right off the bat. But then I am all out of fucks to give with nosy coworkers and intrusive concern trolls using me for entertainment. Why give coworker the opportunity to steamroll you or trigger you again?

    4. AKchic*

      Absolutely a follow-up email to an in-person conversation with the boss. Because you definitely want that paper trail for when the nosy co-irker does this again. And she will. She is definitely watching.

      Co-irker has lost any and all chance for charity or kindness in this matter. Not only has she overstepped, but she is troll-concerning someone that has given absolutely no indication that they are anything but colleagues. Imagine the co-irker’s surprise if the LW were going through a medical issue that caused weight loss (i.e.; chemo, or elimination diet to figure out a new allergy) and took off the engagement ring because it kept falling off (or it *did* fall off and got lost, or was broken and hadn’t been replaced yet)? The rumor-mongering is absolutely ridiculous.

      It’s best to just take it to the manager, and possibly HR if there is one, and have them deal with it immediately. I would bet dollars to warm fuzzy slippers that there aren’t actually any others who are speculating and she is the only one who keeps bringing it up, much to other listeners’ dismay.

      1. Maggie*

        Yes, this. Coworker has overstepped so very far that I wouldn’t even start with her. Straight to manager.

      2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Agreed, this sort of person will twist the narrative to benefit them, when they are in the wrong.

      3. Essess*

        Agreed. Coworker has already stated that she plans to go over the OPs head to the boss if the coworkers demands/expectations are not met. This needs to be escalated to boss now to shut this down.

      4. Maria Lopez*

        Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if the co-worker is bulimic and is projecting. I might reply to the next “concerned” encounter (and there WILL be one), “B, you are abnormally concerned with my personal business. Is there something going on with YOU that has triggered this? I know some people recovering from bulimia specifically who tend to see their problems in other people when there are none.”

        1. SeluciaMD*

          This feels dangerous to me. You might be correct (I have no experience in this area so I’m clueless) but the OP speculating on her coworker’s motives is basically a tit-for-tat move which only weakens her position because she’s mirroring the inappropriate behavior. Her goal is to shut the coworker down on this subject and my fear is that this language instead draws her deeper into it. It doesn’t really matter why the coworker is doing this. What matters is that she understands it isn’t OK and stops.

          1. Maria Lopez*

            No, it is not dangerous at all, and since this co-worker is so over the top it may be the only way to shut her down. It is not mirroring inappropriate behavior when that behavior is being called out. OP can only be drawn deeper in if she engages with the co-worker.

        2. AKchic*

          I wouldn’t try to one-up the faux concern. This isn’t potential share and commiserate and group therapy time. This is “you need to stop because you are way out of line” time. This is the kind of thing that could very well be protected under the ADA, and the company needs to step in and stop the problem immediately before it can be held liable.

            1. CrookedLily*

              HIPAA, the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, applies only to healthcare providers.

          1. Berkeleyfarm*


            Boss/HR should also make it clear that there is to be no gossiping/back talk, as coworker seems the type to make passive-aggressive “I was JUST concerned” type remarks to all and sundry.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          It makes no difference. None whatsoever. Cow-irker’s personal shit does not make this behavior any less egregious.

      5. JoJo*

        I am with you on everything except your final comment. Other people she is talking to might not be speculating, but she without question is talking and talking and talking about this.

  2. OrigCassandra*

    Wishing you the best, in resolving the immediate problem your coworker is causing and in everything, OP.

  3. Skeezix*

    Don’t wait. Go to your manager NOW. Alison has provided you with the perfect script. Please don’t delay.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      THIS. That one conversation was plenty to take it to a managerial level. There’s no reason to wait, and a good manager will be grateful to get looped in on the situation ASAP.

      1. Elise*

        Just said this down below. Please don’t wait to work this out on your own. Your manager needs to know it’s going on.

        1. Veronica Mars*

          Exactly – you don’t need to deal with this on your own. Managers exist precisely so that they can handle this kind of thing.

          1. JessaB*

            This. OP I am amazed at how you’re handling this, if your co-irker had done this to someone less strong, than the OP they could have sent someone into a terrible spiral (presuming it’s an eating disorder, and not something medical like cancer or IBS or Crohns or something,) but OMG yes, OP don’t deal with this on your own. You may not be the only victim, and besides, you have enough health stuff to deal with, back up is your friend.

    2. ursula*

      I agree fully – take this opportunity to frame the issue for your manager before Coworker gets in there and sets the tone.

    3. Sara without an H*

      Yes, please. I agree that Alison’s script is excellent, and your Awful Coworker’s behavior is so bad that you’re justified in reporting her now.

      I’ve been a manager for over 30 years. If anybody on my team did something this awful, I would want to be informed yesterday, if not sooner.

      1. NW Mossy*

        YES. As a manager, it’s literally my major job function to establish and maintain an environment where my staff can do their best work and thrive. If anything’s happening that’s undermining that (and co-worker’s behavior absolutely qualifies here), it’s on me to make sure it stops right away. I can’t afford to lose a good employee because their colleague is a boundary-stomping buttinski.

        I know that health topics can be scary to talk about for a whole host of reasons, and it takes a lot of emotional strength to fight through that fear and be heard. But any decent boss will preserve your privacy and act decisively to shield you from harassment.

        1. Smiles*

          Agree. Also, NW Mossy, I wish my boss (and all bosses) viewed being a manager as you do – sounds just right.

    4. Jadelyn*

      Yeah, this one is egregious enough that I’d suggest skipping straight past the “use your words” phase and going right to “get management involved” – and, if the manager won’t help, get HR involved. Alison’s script is excellent.

      1. Tupac Coachella*

        I agree. I’m generally all in favor of having a conversation first, but this isn’t a personality conflict or minor slight. There is absolutely no way that a halfway decent manager would respond to this with “have you talked with Jane directly about this?” No. This is full stop harassment that could potentially expose the company to legal issues, I would want to know immediately.

          1. Former Employee*

            I’m guessing that the legal issue is that the co-worker is threatening to tell the manager some story that would get the LW put on leave.

            If the co-worker lies to management and management takes action against the LW, there could be legal repercussions.

    5. Anna*

      Here to say the same thing… if not your manager, then HR. Better yet, talk to both of them, NOW! I am so sorry for your difficult situation. I would love to hear a follow up in a few months time to see how your manager handled that coworker. Best of success, and hang in there!

  4. Observer*

    She actually told you that she’s going to try to force you to take time off if you don’t meet her arbitrary standards for proper weight gain?! Has she totally lost her mind?

    I think that letting your manager / HR know about this is a good idea if they are reasonable and competent. Because this is SUCH a bad judgement call that I’d be worrying about what other boundaries they are trampling on.

      1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

        As if people with eating disorders were just *deciding* not to eat…. double facepalm.

        1. JessaB*

          And what if the coworker was wrong and it wasn’t an eating disorder, people with cancer, IBS, Crohns, allergies, ulcers, dozens of other problems lose weight, not to mention, heck of a way to trigger someone who DOES have an eating disorder into doing something dangerous, if their mind works that way.

          1. Sleve McDichael*

            You’re right. This would be a great way to trigger people with certain types of bulimia (and who knows probably other things too) into some really dangerous behaviour.

          2. Vemasi*

            OP’s coworker sounds to me like a textbook example of the kind of person for whom “a little learning is a dangerous thing.” She thinks she’s an expert on eating disorders because she’s taken the first step and become aware of them, without learning the best ways to actually handle someone with a suspected eating disorder, especially at work. Similar to the workplace in a past letter where a person with OCD was being enabled hardcore, to the point that their coworkers were asked to stand in a gender-alternating line for the bus outside the office (if I recall correctly), don’t assume you can intuit the best way to handle someone’s disability or medical condition.

          3. Oranges*

            Right now my medical condition is causing me to lose weight. It’s not “scary” for others (it is for me!) because I’m curvy but it totally could go to that extreme.

          4. Dragon Toad*

            “Not to mention, heck of a way to trigger someone who DOES have an eating disorder into doing something dangerous, if their mind works that way”

            I’ve had an eating disorder. I can tell you now, confrontations and threats DO NOT HELP. Neither does pushing food constantly.

            If the OP wasn’t in “I recognise this is a problem and am trying to get better” stage, I can say some of these, if not all, would’ve been the response to this absurdity:
            – Feeling secretly pleased that they’ve lost enough weight for colleagues to recognise
            – PANIC and MASSIVE STRESS (breakdown time – if there’s a self harm or binge and purge habit, this is when the urge will strike)
            – Feeling defiant and feeling pushed to go further
            – Terrified
            – Feeling like they’re losing a “safe space” (maybe even to the point of staying away – a sudden holiday or unpaid leave in the OP’s case wouldn’t be surprising)
            – Feeling like they’re alone, because clearly people around them aren’t on their side if they’re going with threats
            – If thinking the threat is real, deciding that one must go as far as possible and lose as much as possible before they carry out their threat and “ruin everything”
            – Plus a sudden overwhelming feeling of panic and wanting to cry at having food you REALLY REALLY want to eat shoved at you constantly whilst simultaneously knowing that you can’t

            I know, because I had my own “intervention” that included threats. I say intervention, more like a group cornering me and being stern.

            In other words, the coworker is an idiot beyond compare and has ZERO idea of what they’re dealing with, and clearly does not actually care and just wants to pat themselves on the back for a “good deed”. And also deserves to have a Lego enema. Well done to the OP for staying professional, and I think I speak on behalf of all the AMA crowd when I wish you the swiftest and easiest recovery.

    1. Happy Pineapple*

      It’s exactly the same as if coworker were scrutinizing OP for gaining weight, and demanding that she lose it “or else.” Coworker has no idea what’s going on in OP’s life, and more importantly it’s none of her business!! I would go nuclear if someone threatened to get management involved over their “concern” for my fat body.

      This is harassment and worth going straight to a manager.

      1. SeluciaMD*

        This times 1,000,000 @Happy Pineapple. What the heck was her coworker thinking?!?! So unhelpful on so many levels for an overture that I’m sure she believes was/is totally helpful.

    2. Coffee Bean*

      What is really unfortunate is that the co-worker has set the stage for a perpetually uncomfortable work environment. The OP will always feel as if they are under a microscope.

  5. WellRed*

    Your coworker is awful. Don’t wait until she drags in a scale for forced weigh-ins to address this.

  6. Threeve*

    The “demon” I can identify in this situation is a coworker who is so far over the line that she’s in another plane of reality.

      1. MtnLaurel*

        Ah, that would be perfect. Or something like, “I really don’t think of you as a demon…. ” LOL

      2. JessaB*

        For some reason I got a vision of one of those old time tent evangelists or Max von Sydow in the Exorcist doing the “Daemon Be Gone!” routine.

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      I am battling demons….I’M POSSESSED then spew pea soup all over the office*

      *Don’t actually do this.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        OK, I think an Exorcist joke in response to “but demons” is always hilarious but maybe not here. Alison, please delete.

        1. JessaB*

          Oy vey, sorry, very, very sorry, I didn’t read down far enough before I got on the exorcist bandwagon, I apologise to you for completely missing your request to desist. Please forgive me. But there’s no delete key here or I’d use it.

      2. JessaB*

        I just mentioned Max as the Exorcist, above this, and of course I scroll down two comments and someone else got there before me. Applause.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        But you could borrow my ringtone just for her – Tubular Bells (the theme from the Exorcist)

        I only sort of joke…

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Agreed. Don’t tell me I’m battling demons unless you actually witness me in the middle of full combat with a representative of Wolfram and Hart.

  7. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I’m in no way excusing the coworker’s actions here and agree 100% with Alison’s advice on how to handle it, but I will say that it’s possible coworker has either gone through herself or watched a loved one go through something similar in the past. It doesn’t change how LW should respond, of course, but it sounds like coworker is coming from a place of genuine caring and concern and not maliciousness. Misplaced caring and concern, for sure.

    LW – good luck with your treatment.

      1. Ellen*

        Yeah. I have a very different stress triggered eating disorder, and let me tell you about my reaction to being informed that not only was co worker WATCHING ME, but that my eating habits are now a matter of general conversation in my department. It wasnt good, wasnt handled well, and if there is even one tiny little misstep further taken, I’m calling a lawyer and putting in notice.

        1. Anax*

          Yeahhhh. I also have very different stress-triggered disordered eating, and this coworker’s actions … god, they would make things so much worse. Sorry you’re dealing with this, LW and Ellen.

          (I’m autistic, and too much sensory information overwhelms me. So eating is already hard – what if the milk is sour? what if this new food has a weird texture? – and it’s almost impossible when I’m overwhelmed. Say, by stress, or unexpected conversations, or seeing/smelling unfamiliar foods in my cube…)

      2. Starfish*

        Agreed. I can understand her rationale but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

        When I was in college, some of my friends were convinced I had an eating disorder and did exactly the kinds of things this coworker is doing. Then they reported me to the college authorities.

        Thing is, I didn’t have an eating disorder — I had a different medical condition that was making my life very difficult already. The whole thing was a nightmare. It destroyed our relationship and it did lasting damage to my mental health / sense of trust.

        Even if this coworker is trying to help, she really needs to consider the consequences of her actions.

      3. CatMom*

        Seriously. If someone had this conversation with me, my ED brain would go into overdrive because it interprets people noticing my weight loss as flattering. Would NOT help me getting things back under control.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I actually thought the opposite. I got the impression everything the coworker knew about eating disorders was learned in a late 1980s health class video. My close cousin has been living with anorexia for 40 years, which is why I would know it’s not my business or a quick fix.

            1. JessaB*

              After school specials. Wasn’t that what they were called back in the day? Those sappy things with really heavy handed slap you in the face morals and stuff?

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        +1 That’s my thought too, she’s watched some Oprah or Dr. Phil episode and thinks she gets it.

        Spoiler: She does not get it at all.

        1. Accalia*

          I’ve seen Doctor Phil episodes that make me think the same thing about him, so the fact that horrible coworker would hold the same views isn’t…. surprising.

          Sad, and horrible, yes. but not surprising.

          1. First Star on the Right*

            Hearing Dr Phil’s name gives me an eye twitch by now. So, so much problematic stuff- too much to mention in a single comment but the issue that burns me is the fact he treats any pain patient (not even just the ones on just show) that needs opioid medication as an addict. So many people ignore the fact that pain patients are being forced down or entirely off their medication, becoming bedbound, turning to illegal drugs or taking their own lives- or a combination of all those- or just don’t care if horrifying enough. An influential “doctor” reinforcing that anyone in opioid medications is supposedly an addict (terminal cancer patients are even being denied medication. Terminal.) is… I’m not sure I can even find words for how sick that is.

            And just as a bonus, the fact he keeps perpetuating the myth that lie detectors actually detect lies makes me want to repeatedly headdesk. Really, really hard.

            1. It's a Yes From Me*

              I agree 1000%. I have an illness which requires me to take a number of medications including pain pills. My doctor and I have discussed this and the fact that he is under tremendous pressure not to prescribe pain medication. He says it is well known that perhaps 1% of opioid deaths are due to prescription painkillers, and the vast majority are due to people NOT being able to get the prescription painkillers that would alleviate their pain, so turning to the streets for medicine that turns out to be laced with poisonous amounts of fentanyl.

              1. First Star on the Right*

                And it’s not fentanyl from actual pain patches, it’s much stronger stuff smuggled in from China! People either don’t know it’s laced in their or don’t know how much so it’s easy to O.D. But is that point emphasized, especially in news stories? Not very often. Others cases not always involving fentanyl, the fatal ones, happen because of opioid interaction with other drugs, such as benzodiazepines, or other, illegal drugs (or illegally obtained medications). They don’t often mention that part either.

                My PCP has his hands tied legally. When the 2018 CDC voluntary recommendations came out, many states enshrined it law and mine was one of them. So he was forced to cut me from 8 pills a day down to 3, which has been extra life ruining because my pain wasn’t even under control then (I’m on pain medication for one thing but have another, just as bad pain, but am still searching for a diagnosis for it. Because that pain is unknown, pain clinics refuse to accept me as a patient to treat the known pain! It makes no sense). He’s ok with prescribing that and my pain patches but I’m so very afraid they’ll legally go after that next. He has a few other pain patients as well- the clinic won’t let him take on new ones anymore, unfortunately- and it kills him to see us suffer. He gets angrier and angrier at the laws and guidelines ever appointment and I’m genuinely worried for him, too.

                There absolutely is an epidemic, but it’s not being caused by pain patients. This also isn’t helping addicts, either, and they do deserve it. Few of the addiction centers out there offer treatments that actually work at all, even though they absolutely exist. Hell, those places don’t even have to prove any treatment they offer help in ANY way. But they cycles addicts through over and over and over, until patients die or somehow manage to get and stay sober all on their own. (I don’t know if I can post links, but around 5 years ago the Huffington Post published an extensive piece called “Dying to be Free” about this, which I highly recommend.) All while making money hand over fist. I really wonder if people actually think every country is having problems with this or if they just don’t even care.

      2. Goliath Corp.*

        Yeah this seems spot on. As someone who has also had an ED for most of my life, I cannot imagine how anyone with the same knowledge/experience would think that this behaviour is remotely okay.

      3. Mia*

        Yeah, this is what I figured as well. Anyone who knew even the absolute basics of EDs would realize that bombarding someone like this would more than likely exacerbate the anxiety and control issues at the root of their behaviors.

      4. SimplyTheBest*

        I think that’s probably more likely. And to be honest, makes me feel a little bit for the coworker, because I remember seeing those videos in high school and being told the thing to do is make sure the person got help. Tell a teacher, tell a parent, tell a trusted adult. Unfortunately, once you become those adults, you don’t magically know the correct way to respond to such a situation (which accounts for the wild overstepping of the coworker).

    2. Kaitlyn*

      There’s caring and then there’s crossing boundaries, and once we get into crossing boundaries, it doesn’t matter what the “why” is – the impact becomes too damaging.

    3. Mr. Tyzik*

      Intent doesn’t excuse behavior. My mom comes from a place of caring and concern but still oversteps my boundaries.

      Coworker has stomped all over OP’s boundaries here. Alison provided an excellent script for engaging the coworker, and another one for engaging the manager. Time to use those scripts to set the coworker back in line.

      1. Mimi Me*

        Intent doesn’t excuse behavior. This is something that I say all the time. LW, your coworker overstepped (great, big, hurdling leaps over that boundary!!!) You don’t have to care what their intentions were. They need to knock it off immediately.

    4. WellActually*

      If this coworker went through this before, she would know enough to know that her strategy here is a really horrible and damaging way to help someone with and eating disorder. This strikes me as so tone deaf that it’s hard to believe the coworker has any intimate knowledge with the subject.

    5. Third or Nothing!*

      Yeah I was thinking that since Intrusive Coworker sees the weight loss as alarming (especially considering the vast majority of people would be congratulating OP on her weight loss…ugh) she probably has a deeply personal reason behind her shenanigans.

      Good luck in shutting this down.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        That was part of my thought process too. A lot of people in society would see the weight loss as something desirable so the fact that it alarmed the coworker makes me wonder.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          I’d be alarmed because of personal reasons. I wouldn’t have done this though. Wow. No good!

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          It depends on how extreme the weight loss in question was or what the OP’s starting weight was. There is absolutely a point where even people who view weight loss positively start getting alarmed, even if they have no first-hand experience of eating disorders.

        3. Mia*

          Idk, I think most people find sudden weight loss in folks who aren’t considered fat or chubby by societal standards to be cause for alarm. Especially people whose only knowledge of EDs is of the after-school special variety.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Less so than you might think, in my experience? I mean, I’ve never had an ED, so that might have contributed to the lack of alarm when I started rapidly losing weight, but I got nothing but compliments- and I was already underweight to begin with!

    6. Observer*

      While I could see her coming from a place of concern, I find it harder to believe that it’s something she has any experience with. Because if she did have that experience she would know how destructive her behavior is.

      1. ACDC*

        I know a lot of people who operate in this way. They think they are helping and, quite honestly, are really pushy and verge into harassment. They don’t see it as a problem though because they are “helping.”

        1. 3DogNight*

          It’s the whole “tough love” thing, and makes the pushy coworker feel like she is SAVING the OP.

          1. New Job So Much Better*

            She might even be jealous of how OP looks now. That would explain a lot– she wants OP to put the weight back on.

            1. TechWorker*

              Yeah, I think this is a reach. I totally agree coworker overstepped massively but I really expect she *thinks* she is doing the best thing to help, I doubt jealously comes into it.

        2. Avi*

          People like this don’t want to help so much as they want to see themselves as being ‘helpful’.

          There’s a world of difference between the two.

      2. Anonymous Poster*

        If she did, she might think that her behavior would have been helpful to her at some point. I think sometimes people get caught up in doing what they wish someone had done for them.

        Not, of course, that it’s an excuse.

        1. Observer*

          I highly doubt it. I just don’t believe she wished someone had done this to her. It’s just so out of the range of what people do and how they react.

          1. Anonymous Poster*

            OK. Oddly, her behavior being so out of the norm is giving me the impression that she has a personal connection to the issue. I doubt someone without ED experience would get that invested.

            Luckily, Alison’s advice should work well in either scenario. I guess my only addition would be to not be surprised if this person explains their behavior by oversharing.

            1. Observer*

              I meant it’s so out of the range of how people with ED react.

              There are a lot of reasons that someone could be acting like this that are not “I wish someone had done this for me.” And most of them are far more likely.

              1. SimplyTheBest*

                Perhaps not “I wish someone had done this for me” but “I wish someone had done this for my sister/friend/mother.” I can see someone who didn’t take signs seriously enough before, going overboard now.

          2. rldk*

            I actually can completely believe that she could have wished for this – but likely from a close friend or family member, not a coworker. But the idea of “if only someone had noticed and told me I really needed to work on it! If only someone had shown me the tough love that would have pushed me into taking it seriously!” doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable. Just, you know. From your best friend, not a coworker with whom you have no close relationship

    7. Threeve*

      The coworker might think she’s coming from a place of sympathy, and may even have firsthand experience with similar struggles (which I sort of doubt, because she would probably know better than to claw at an exposed nerve the way she’s going), but still–at the root this about dominance and control, not caring. This isn’t a kind person.

      1. AKchic*

        troll-concern is not concern. It’s nosiness. She is guessing at an eating disorder hoping to elicit a confession of one, or at the very least, a denial of it and the “real” reason for the weight loss (and maybe to confirm another theory the nosy co-irker has).

        So yes, control and dominance, but also nosiness. There is no caring here. There is no compassion here.

      2. Blueberry*

        +1 You said this more clearly and concisely than I would have managed to (I am holding back a rant).

      3. Sharrbe*

        Agree. She isn’t a kind person, she seems like someone who wants to be the hero in this situation. Plus she wants more medical info to gossip about, I’m sure. How do people like this even get their work done????

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Yes. She wants to have the story in her head about how she swooped in and rescued poor, sad little LW from herself. It’s ultimately about making herself feel good, even if she is still able to kid herself into thinking that it’s real concern.

      4. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        I said it below I think, and definitely under other letters, but lord save me from the nice guys and sweet women who only want to help.
        No, they don’t.

    8. Nancy*

      I agree with you, both that her intentions seem good, but that it doesn’t make it okay. It also makes me think that educating her on the inappropriateness of her actions will spare someone else from what she may think is an appropriate intervention in the future. I have a friend who regretted not intervening in a situation that had dire consequences, and then she overcompensated by overstepping her bounds with people when she thought she saw warning signs of the same issue with others…her heart was in the right place but thanks to her good manager she was trained on proper workplace communication and redirected to better deal with her own personal trauma and regret. If that dynamic is at play here, I hope for the same outcome. LW, I wish you the best in managing your health and applaud you for recognizing what was happening and taking good care of yourself.

    9. ThatGirl*

      *Extremely* misplaced.

      I mean, I think you’re right that her intentions are good, but… no. As a personal example, I have a coworker who has openly referenced her own past struggles with an eating disorder. She’s currently following a fad diet that, in my opinion, is somewhat dangerous and ineffective and could lead her back down the path of disordered eating. But you know what? It’s not my business! So I’m not saying a word!

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think her intentions are positive combined with arrogance.
        “The OP has lost a lot of weight. That’s not good for her.”

        That’s the good part. Here comes the arrogance:
        “I am going to fix her.”

        And it continues.
        “I will order her to take care of herself and threaten her with an intervention, because I have the power to do this.”

      2. JustaTech*

        What’s that saying about “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”?

        Honestly, I think the most “forceful” thing I’ve ever said to a coworker about their health (a very close coworker who was telling me all about what was going on) was “you should really see a specialist rather than try to figure this out yourself”. But that was only because she had brought it up so many times and asked me for my advice.

    10. Anonymous Poster*

      Yes, I read her behavior the same way. She’s too invested for somebody who doesn’t have a personal connection to disordered eating. Alison’s advice applies just the same, and setting boundaries is just as important.

      1. Mel_05*

        Yes. I have a friend who is like this, She knows someone who went through X and so she comes on super strong about it to other people going through X – even though she actually doesn’t know a lot about it.

        We have a mutual friend who has struggled with disordered eating for years and I can absolutely see her doing something like this because of it. Even though none of those things would have worked with our friend.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          Does OP’s coworker have any confirmation it is an eating disorder? I think coworker thinks it is and when you have a hammer, everything is a nail. Oh, losing weight, it must be and eating disorder. There’s no other possibility.

          1. Weighted Owl*

            Totally +1 about the coworker not knowing it’s an eating disorder. Just anecdotally, I have a very close friend who I long suspected might have some disordered eating. I voiced blanket support but never pried and he didn’t go into details. Flash forward several years and he told me he’d been dealing with severe digestive issues he’d finally found the right treatment for. So you really never know.

            Also, I don’t have an eating disorder but I do find it difficult to eat when I’m really upset to the point that I’ve noticeably lost weight at times (think sudden death of a family member, near divorce, etc).

            For these reasons, I have a hard time believing that someone who is gossiping about a coworker and threatening to go to management about them has ANY good intentions, even misguided ones. I think because the LW disclosed she has an eating disorder, there appears to be deniability for the coworker’s intentions. But if you consider the situations above or as Alison pointed out, the many reasons that someone might lose weight that are not an eating disorder, it really illuminates how bizarre and aggressive the coworker’s behavior is.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              You did totally the right thing. We never know what health issues people are dealing with. I had a boss once who was losing weight completely out of control, none of his doctors knew why, and it turns out he had an atypical Crohn’s presentation that wasn’t showing up on the regular Crohn’s tests of the time. It was so upsetting and awful for him, and I can’t imagine how much more stress and anguish it would have caused if someone had acted the way the LW’s coworker is acting.

    11. Reality.Bites*

      Every day I see people engaging in behaviour that is a legitimate cause for concern.

      And then I remember “Hey, I have no relationship with these people and should mind my own business.”

        1. Jadelyn*

          When you follow “It doesn’t excuse their behavior” with “but”, it sort of undermines the not excusing behavior part of the whole thing. I don’t disagree with any part of what you’ve actually said, but the way it comes off is…not great.

          1. 8675309*

            I understand your intent, but I thought Detective Amy Santiago made it quite clear that she wasn’t excusing it, she agreed with Allison’s advice, and she didn’t think that the “but” changed anything about how she thought the LW should handle it. She agrees that the coworker overstepped and it needs to be handled, saying “her intent might not be malicious” does not mean “and because it might not be malicious, you should let it go” or anything similar, since Det. Santiago states otherwise.

            I agree with your point generally but I don’t think that this post crosses that boundary.

          2. Angwyshaunce*

            There’s a difference between excusing behavior and trying to understand it. Many people conflate these things, which is unfortunate because understanding bad behavior can often be helpful.

            1. Oranges*

              Yes, as if empathy was a get out of jail free card. Nope. I can understand how you got to where you are but you’re still responsible for the damage you do.

              My test is after you’ve learned that you’re causing damage what do you do? Double down? Buh-bye. You have just told me that your ego is more important than other’s pain. Stop doing the thing? Hello new friend.

      1. Anonymous Poster*

        Understanding someone’s behavior helps you respond to it in a way that gets the results you want. “Know thy enemy.”

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          It also can help with how you deal with it internally. Sometimes it’s helpful just for your own sake to know that the idiotic person isn’t evil, just terribly terribly misguided.

          1. Blueberry*

            ! As I said below, I think it makes it harder to push back if one has to consider that they mean well.

      2. Threeve*

        The Detective’s comment wasn’t about making excuses. Unacceptable is unacceptable, and needs to be addressed as such, but that doesn’t mean it’s pointless to consider the context of someone’s behavior.

        For one thing, figuring out someone’s motivation determines whether or not you can/want to communicate in broader terms. No matter what, the response is: “don’t do this to me.” But the situation might warrant “don’t do this to me or anyone, and here’s why” if you’re comfortable saying it and think the person might actually listen.

        Or it could mean telling the boss “This is really serious, and I’m concerned that I won’t be the only one on the receiving end of intrusive behavior like this.”

        1. SimplyTheBest*

          Exactly. It’s that whole, “if you’re standing on my foot, you need to get off my foot thing.” If you’re standing on my foot because you want to hurt me, you need to get off my foot. If you’re standing on my foot by accident, you need to get off my foot. But if it’s an accident, I’m going to be nice about letting you know to get off. If you’re trying to hurt me, I’m going to push you off. Intent might not change what needs to happen, but it sure can change how you make it happen.

    12. Claire*

      The thing is that anyone with extensive experience with eating disorders ought to know that telling someone that everyone is talking about their weight is not going to be helpful and quite likely going to be harmful. It’s possible that the coworker has some experience around eating disorders, but I’d be surprised if it was significant considering that she thought that was a good move.

      1. JustaTech*

        Not an excuse, agree, but maybe an explanation that will help the OP choose the best path to shut this person down?
        If the coworker’s reason for saying this is because they’re a class-A jerk who likes to hurt people, then you take one approach (don’t use any softening language, loop the boss in now).
        If the coworker’s reason for saying this is because they honestly think they’re being helpful (and they’re not!), then you might choose a different approach.
        The end result is the same, firmly establishing boundaries and shutting this talk down, but the way you get there might (might!) be different.

    13. palomar*

      Threatening someone with a plan to interfere in their employment if they don’t meet an arbitrarily assigned goal in an unspecified amount of time, and letting them know that they’re being monitored by an unseen army of informants, is emphatically NOT something that comes from a place of genuine concern or care.

    14. ElizabethJane*

      As someone who lost a coworker (close work friend co-worker though not a super close friend outside of work) to body dysmorphia and suicide I’m also inclined to cut the coworker some slack. This was years ago and I am still struggling with “I should have said something”. “I should have stepped in”.

      I don’t know this coworkers history but I’d be inclined to shut it down with her in person or via email without getting management involved or otherwise raising it to the level of formal complaint.

      All that being said the coworker gets exactly one chance. The only thing she is allowed to say in response is an apology for overstepping, and then she has to back down. If it comes up again I’m all for going to the manager.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        Sorry for your loss :(

        There is a wealth of difference between “is everything OK? I’m worried about you. If you ever need to talk, I’m here”/if you know that the underlying issue is an eating disorder/body dysmorphia, and you also know the person has a decent relationship with their parents/other family member whose contact details you don’t have but who is likely to be their official next of kin, potentially reaching out to HR/their manager and explaining the situation and asking if a delicate word can be had with them so that they can “just drop by”/arrange a visit and hopefully get the person the help they need ASAP – and sparking the person’s anxiety, completely disenfranchising them at work, etc, in the manner of this coworker.

        It can be difficult – I had a friend at school who had body dysmorphia/possibly anorexia; I would make rounds of peanut butter sandwiches and a big flask of mocha coffee for all my friends at least partially because if food was there on offer in front of her and she was hungry, she would eat it (but if it was up to her to purchase food unless her mum had given her money specifically for school lunches in which case she’d feel guilty and dishonest if she didn’t buy food with it, she wouldn’t)… Because it was a social free for all type thing, it was also very low pressure, rather than “I made food for you because I worry about you not eating, so you have to eat it. Now. With an audience.” – I think the friend group all knew why I did it, but I don’t believe I ever stated it outright or anybody ever asked… And honestly if they had I would probably have laughed it off as my inner Jewish mother surfacing because making somebody who already had a painful relationship with food and their body feel worse about those things would have been horrible.

    15. mike without ike*

      Yep–though I’m imagining the intrusive coworker (say, Jordan [gender neutral]) is trying to be a “fixer” because they see OP as a proxy for another eating disordered person that the OP doesn’t even know (say, Adrian [gender neutral]). Jordan hasn’t been able to “fix” Adrian for whatever reason, but Jordan thinks they know so much about the problem and how to “fix” it that they have targeted OP.

      If this is in any way true, and OP in any way humors Jordan or softens the reply, then Adrian would just be on the receiving end of “why can’t you be more like my coworker OP who wants me to fix them??” Obviously this is a bit of a fanfic scenario, but it’s something to consider. Jordan needs to be told in no uncertain terms that OP’s body is not a group project and no one else’s input is accepted.

      1. Observer*

        No, this is totally NOT something the OP needs to consider. The OP has no responsibility to any theoretical person that Jane may know. If she is overstepping her bounds this badly with someone else in her life, there is nothing that the OP can say or do to change that, and it’s not their responsibility to even THINK about it.

        1. mike without ike*

          My mistake–I meant something to consider for any commenters here who want to see the coworker’s concern/compassion as a mitigating factor (not for the OP to consider–OP owes no one anything!)

      2. Mel_05*

        Yes, I think this is super likely to be the scenario. Although, I imagine that the person they most want to fix is probably out of reach for them to be even trying to fix them, that’s why they’ve latched onto OP.

        1. mike without ike*

          Agreed! I didn’t mean OP owes anyone else, but it could be a more complex situation than any of us can see. Holding their own boundaries will definitely be best for OP, and it’s a lesson their coworker *may* need in multiple relationships in their life.

    16. Blueberry*

      If the coworker is “coming from a place of genuine caring and concern” that doesn’t help and maybe makes it worse to deal with. When people have hurt me out of genuine caring I have struggled with feeling like I needed to let them (when I was younger I *did* let them), that I had no right to complain or ask them to stop because they “meant it well”. In addition to dealing with the harm they were causing me it ALSO made me responsible for not hurting them by rejecting their harmful attempts at caring. And I know that I’m not the only person who has reacted this way.

      So I don’t actually think telling the OP the coworker is doing this out of misguided kindness it helpful. I think it can make things much worse by suggesting to the LW and others in such a situation to just put up with being hurt rather than to reject the ‘help’ and thus hurt someone who’s “just trying to be kind”.

      Besides…. a wiser person than I pointed out that cruelty can be glutted but people will continue on endlessly and tirelessly in their efforts if they think they are ‘helping,’ no matter how destructive or unhelpful those efforts actually are. So, doing the wrong thing out of kindness can be even worse than out of cruelty, in many ways.

      1. Oranges*

        As an intellectual excersise, it’s fun. But in real life saying that they come from a good place does make it harder for me.

        I think it depends upon your inner motivations and what would help you. Some people would find it helpful to frame it as “she’s being a clueless but kind idiot” others that framing would harm.

    17. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Her intentions don’t matter, though. I think that clouds the issue. It would also cloud the issue if OP thought that nosy coworker WAS malicious and wasted energy trying to figure our WHY IS SHE TRYING TO HURT ME. So yes, you make a good point there. OP, don’t waste energy thinking she’s a bad person.
      Or a good person. She is neutral. She is not the issue. Her words and actions are. They need to stop.
      Where I work there is one dude who is really nice, a really good employee, a team player. He has two kids under ten. He smokes. He goes out to smoke 4 times a day. He could freaking die. He needs to stop standing outside in 26 degree weather smoking. I want to tell him he needs to quit. I don’t. I don’t tell him how I quit. I don’t offer to help him quit.
      Just not a coworker’s place.

      1. Mel_05*

        It matters to get more effective results. If a person thinks they’re being nice, they won’t get it if you react like they’re being malicious. But if you say, “I know you mean this to be helpful, but it’s actually awful” that may get through to them.

        1. Caliente*

          Total disagreement. Why is it on the victim to “make it ok” for the offender?!
          I like what Hey Karma said – don’t personalize it or characterize it. Its unacceptable and that’s it – whatever the reason.

          1. tangerineRose*

            I think the idea is to make it easier for the offender to save face and might make it more likely that the offender stops offending.

          2. Mel_05*

            It’s not about making it ok for the offender. It’s about getting the results you want for yourself.

        2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          This letter reminded me, in spirit of the woman who wrote in asking how to make her young male coworker stop calling her her “mom.”
          She told him to stop.
          “but I mean it as a compliment”
          Stop calling me mom.
          “But I feel”
          He refused to listen to her words. He focused on his own feelings and wants. She had to drag in someone else because he wouldn’t listen.
          This boundary crossing coworker may respond to “stop” with “but I think/feel/mean”
          That is not the issue and OP can’t let it become the conversation.
          I feel that any acknowledgement that coworker means well will allow room for interpretation. This is not a situation where coworker can do A but not B. This is time for Alison’s highly recommended straight talk. “Stop asking me about my health and diet. Stop [insert action here].”

          1. AKchic*

            It doesn’t matter what Jane feels. It doesn’t matter what Jane intended to do. All that matters is what she *did* do and what the end result was/is. Jane was intrusive. Jane stomped on the LW’s boundaries and attempted to pry into LW’s medical information. Jane harassed LW about their weight loss. Jane has been monitoring LW’s eating habits. Jane has verbally made the admission of discussing LW’s weight and gossiping/speculating about LW’s medical / health. Jane has threatened LW’s employment if LW does not comply with Jane’s arbitrary non-medical demands.

            At the end of the day, Jane’s feelings Do Not Matter. She needs to stop. She can sort her own feelings / emotions out on her own time.

    18. Butterfly Counter*

      While I agree with the sentiment that this coworker is truly coming from a place of concern, I would not think that she or someone she loves has ever been through ED to any degree based on her actions.

      This email made me wince so hard because my sister (who is very open about sharing her experience) has struggled with ED to the point of multiple hospitalizations, therapy, and even in-patient treatment. I’ve almost had to watch her slowly die twice in her life. It is absolute hell and agonizing to watch and know there is nothing you can do about it but try to love them through it.

      So I truly get the coworker’s perspective of concern. But also being intimately involved, I know that the things the coworker is doing can actively make an eating disorder worse. Maybe this knowledge, along with what Allison suggested, might break through to the coworker. “I know you mean well with what you’re doing, but your actions are more harmful than helpful to me right now and you need to stop.”

      1. Snuck*

        I feel like it’s coming from ill informed concern.

        If this was Domestic Violence, or workplace bullying this show of support might be appreciated (to a point! I do agree Jane has oversteppped!), and this is that over involved sort of concern that can happen.

        I also wonder if Jane is processing something herself – either a brush with EDs in her own life circles somewhere, or some other intrusion of a different kind, but one that could do with support, and she’s playing it out.

        Either way… she has over stepped, and I don’t disagree with the advice here, but rather than think ill of her, I’d be inclined to think she’s misguided rather than intentionally difficult, unless evidence of another kind shows up.

    19. Diane Remains the Same*

      I do not like Jane and don’t care if she is trying to be kind or helpful. Her actions smack of concern trolling. She is inserting herself into a situation that has nothing to do with her under the guise that she is concerned. It is not her responsibility to fix this situation. Regardless of whether Jane has experience with an eating disorder or not, it is so far from her authority or agency to recommend a course of action, that however well-intentioned she may believe herself to be, her actions indicate that she wants to be seen as some kind of a hero… the results are just the opposite, she comes across as attention-seeking, unsympathetic, intrusive, and actually quite mean.

    20. EventPlannerGal*

      Having suffered from an eating disorder myself, one of the most difficult convictions for me to shake was the idea that everyone around me was critically observing my body, my weight and what I was eating. It’s a horrible, horrible, pervasive thought that I still have not really moved past today. If I discovered that this was actually TRUE and my coworkers were not only observing and judging my weight but gossiping about it amongst themselves… yeah, I would not be as far in recovery as I am. Caring and concern does not excuse this type of behaviour, and to me this speaks of ignorance rather than familiarity with eating disorders.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Coming back in to expand on this for people who are wondering why the coworker’s actions are so bad. (For context I am not a doctor or ED specialist but I have had one since the age of about 12 and am pretty familiar with the thought processes around anorexia/orthorexia in particular. The below is my experience of my own disorder which I believe is pretty common, but I’m not as familiar with other EDs such as compulsive eating or bulimia. Massive TW for disordered eating, obviously.)

        What this person is doing is very damaging in way that goes beyond usual boundary-crossing on personal matters, because it is pretty likely to actively provoke an ED sufferer in a way likely to result in physical harm. Firstly and most obviously, when you suffer from an ED you frequently simply do not believe other people if they tell you you are losing weight. In fact, someone telling you this cannot be trusted because YOU know that you are not and they are therefore lying to you, maybe even to make you feel better about how fat you really are. So simply approaching a coworker who has no particular reason to trust you on these matters to tell them they’re ‘too thin’ will probably simply make them trust you LESS.

        Secondly, if you do believe them it’s also possible you will take this as a compliment. This is what happened to me. You ignore or minimise the parts about health or concern and simply focus on the fact that what you are doing is ‘working’, and feel driven to reduce even further. For me, if this concern was coming from someone I perceived to be overweight I would dismiss it as jealousy of my self-control and an attempt to sabotage me. (In this case the coworkers demand that the OP gain a specific amount of weight or face consequences would have 100% played into this.)

        Thirdly, as I mentioned above the sense of being observed by others around you is itself damaging as it can simply increase the drive to be ever more ‘perfect’ and controlled because you know that other people are watching you. (Control is a huge, huge factor.) It can also drive the behaviours underground – you might eat in front of other people and starve ever harder at home, or purge in secret or compulsively exercise to burn off what you consumed earlier.

        Basically, everything about what this person is doing is pretty much a What Not To Do of dealing with someone with an ED and I sincerely doubt that they have first-hand experience of one. It’s not that nobody can ever try to help someone with an ED, but this is the worst possible way to go about it and a random unqualified colleague is not the person to do it.

    21. Not Me*

      I’m not sure it matters. What’s she’s doing is wrong, the reason she’s doing it is irrelevant, she needs to stop. LW has no obligation to care about the feelings of someone who is clearly overstepping their bounds.

    22. Not Me*

      I don’t know much about eating disorders, but I do know that threatening people with taking away their ability to make decisions for themselves is not a way to help. That’s pretty basic knowledge of EDs

    23. Socrates Johnson*

      I don’t know. I have an ED and so I would know how harmful and inappropriate this behavior would be. It would be one thing if she was approached quietly with resources (although still inappropriate, I feel like that is more in line with what a caring person might do), but what she is doing is simply awful and not helpful. If anything, I think this would make things worse.

  8. E*

    I agree with letting your manager know that you are handling your health issues and that your coworker is being intrusive. Even perhaps that you plan to address the issue with the coworker but give the manager a heads up in case they need to intervene later. I lost a noticeable amount of weight last year in a few months due to health issues and stress, my coworkers expressed concern but they just wanted to be sure I was seeing a doctor. No snacks left on my desk, no policing what I eat. Normal coworkers don’t insert themselves into personal matters unless invited, this coworker is severely overstepping.

  9. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    This is disability discrimination under the ADA (or could easily escalate to that). Co-worker is squarely in “regarded as” disabled territory in her statements and conduct here.

    1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      I don’t want to derail, but am curious- what’s wrong with Hudson University?

      1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

        It’s the go-to fictional university in Law & Order SVU and some other TV shows. They are often portrayed in ways that reflect the worst public sentiments about higher ed administration.

      2. Kimmybear*

        As the fictional university in many New York-based police shows, students, professors and staff tend to get murdered at Hudson University. Not even a towel can protect them ;)

          1. An Americanish Werewolf in London*

            Or Midsommer, for the British among us. I always thought if you wanted someone dead, you’d hold a dinner party in Midsommer, inviting Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Columbo, Rosemary and Thyme, Dr Sloan (Diagnosis Murder) and your intended victim. He or she would be dead in no time, and you wouldn’t have to lift a finger (just don’t go to the party yourself).

            1. Vicky Austin*

              Rosemary and Thyme are names of actual characters? What about Sage? Let’s not forget Salt-N-Pepa or the Spice Girls!

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        The user name/ question / explanation drove me to google it. It’s been used in TV as far back as Murder, She Wrote (early 90s), and was first mentioned in Batman comics in the late 40s. How did I not know this?

        1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

          Hearing it in a Murder, She Wrote rerun is what has solidified it as my favorite pop culture reference (that and a co-worker in higher ed who started the practice of asking what would Hudson University do, and then vowing to do the opposite).

        2. Clorinda*

          I always kind of thought it was a real place, like Central Park, Times Square, and other frequently appearing places. Mind … blown.

      4. hey anony*

        Also, HU is the poster child for “how not to handle campus rape,” which is pretty spectacular given how much time the SVU folks end up spending there. And yet they always seem to have plenty of students around, so their PR department must do some great spin work.

  10. soon to be former fed really*

    Tell this obnoxious coworker that she is grossly overstepping and she must stop. Plain, few words, as boundary crashers don’t hear long objections. I will never understand people who think this instrusion into other people’s lives is OK, but they depend on politeness on the part of their victims. You do not have to worry about being polite or her reaction. This is really over the top behavior and she would have got cussed out by me, but these nosy busybodies select their targets carefully.

    Sorry for all you have been going through and best wishes.

    1. EPLawyer*

      I would not go into a long speech either. I love Alison but sometimes her suggested scripts are a bit too long. I would tune out after about the third sentence.

      Simply put: Wow, I was really suprised that you decided to discuss my weight with me. My private life is just that, private. Please do not comment again.

      Although given how severely this person acted, I wouldn’t even bother talking to them. I would go straight to the manager.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’ve always regarded Alison’s long scripts as covering all the variations for details that the LW didn’t include, and the LW can pick & choose & rewrite as appropriate.

    3. Mellow*

      I love your post, soon to be former fed really. SPOT ON in every way, especially “they depend on politeness on the part of their victims” and “these nosy busybodies select their targets carefully.”

      OMG yes!

    4. Avi*

      Honestly, coworker’s intrusiveness is enough to cause the forfeiture of any pretense of politeness and earn her a good old-fashioned “Who the hell do you think you are?” Don’t give her the slightest bit of leeway, here.

  11. WellActually*

    This is awful, I’m so sorry LW. The way this coworker handled this it’s like she wants to make your eating disorder worse. I can’t with the overbearingness and belittling of her plan of action (aka her threats). The way people think they have control over other people’s bodyweight is just mindbending sometimes.

    As someone with family members with eating disorders, I can empathize with wanting to do something to help when you see signs of someone you love struggling. It’s so hard because bringing it up draws attention to their body, a surefire way to fuel the shame spiral of disordered eating. My empathy stops when it’s a coworker and not someone you love. So. far. out. of. line.

  12. Just Visiting*

    I think Amy Santiago is right that it is likely coming from a place of concern, but the impact it has on you ultimately doesn’t make her good intentions okay. Please use the script Alison provided and talk to your manager right away. Personally, I wouldn’t bother addressing the coworker proactively, I’d be too nervous about getting emotional and losing the thread, but if you are feeling up to it, go for it. I’ve dealt with non-ED related health weight loss on and off for the last couple of years and I was really grateful that none of my coworkers referenced or treated me differently it, even if they did have private concerns.

  13. Elise*

    As a manager, I agree with looping your manager in. This is such a gross overstep that I would want to know even if you decided to deal with it on your own. In most coworker situations, I really prefer that there is an attempt to resolve it on their own before coming to me, but I wanted to note that I would not expect that in this situation if you felt reticent to do so. It is such an inappropriate overstep to threaten to go to your boss, watch you eat, etc. I can’t even.

    1. Observer*

      Especially as she is talking about telling the manager how to manage their staff in an area that is totally non of her business.

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        Well, and especially as her coworker is escalating harassment that the company is legally liable for. If I were their manager, I’d want to know ASAP.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Yes, even if the OP decides to try to shut Awful Coworker down herself, I’d still recommend talking to her manager: “I can handle this, but I wanted you to know about it.” I think that, as in most harassment situations, the sooner you throw the flag, the better.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Yep. Get ahead of the narrative. It’s a lot easier to set the initial framing than to try to change the framing someone else has given the situation.

  14. StellaBella*

    Wishing you all the best, OP. Nothing to add to the script and existing comments, just sending you a lot of good vibes for everything you are managing.

    1. emmelemm*

      Same. I don’t have an eating disorder, but just reading about this makes me anxious. If a co-worker said to me, “We’ve all been watching you and…” with ANYTHING, I would Freak Out.

  15. Jean*

    OP I am so sorry to hear you have been dealing with this. Breakups and dealing with a flare-up of a health issue are both bad enough on their own without having your co-worker piling additional stress on top. I admire your restraint and maturity in not telling her to go straight to hell or something. I know that’s what I would be tempted to do.

    She may be coming from a place of care for your well-being, but it’s totally inappropriate. Best of luck in getting this resolved asap. I love Alison’s scripts and tips.

  16. Adlib*

    I’d just go straight to the manager. Alison’s language is perfect, and who knows what she’s already telling people. It needs to come from a place of authority. Of course, if LW is comfortable confronting her again, that’s fine, too.

  17. Sami*

    OP— This is just plain awful. I admire your restraint.
    How you haven’t had a screaming fit on her is amazing. (only slight sarcasm)

  18. Jennifer*

    Question – what should someone do when the notice someone at work appears to be struggling with a personal matter? I know this coworker is grossly overstepping and don’t agree with her actions at all – to be clear. I know some will say don’t do anything unless they ask, but not everyone is going to do that. If they don’t have a personal support system their workmates may be all they have.

    1. ThatGirl*

      If you’re close with someone, or their manager, it’s fine to say “hey, I hope you’re doing OK, please let me know if I can help” or suggest they use an EAP. But do it once, don’t be pushy, and see how they respond. And if they say they’re OK, let it go.

    2. Yorick*

      I think privately asking if everything’s ok and if there’s anything you can do is fine, even if you’re not that close. Definitely don’t speculate about what the problem might be though. And if they don’t want to talk or don’t want any help, don’t bring it up again.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        ^This! A, “Hey, I noticed you seem a little out of sorts lately. Are you OK?” Then drop it if they say, “I’m fine” or something along the lines of “Eh, just tired lately”. If they tell you something, then say, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help at work or otherwise” and leave the ball in their court.

    3. WellActually*

      It’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where a coworker intervenes in an eating disorder she notices and it does more good than harm for the target of her attention.

      Other personal matters, maybe a careful suggestion of resources will help. But for an eating disorder, coming at it as an acquaintance based on symptoms you happened to notice can be pretty triggering, no matter what you say.

      1. Claire*

        Yeah, as someone with issues with disordered eating, it makes me deeply uncomfortable whenever anyone comments on what I’m eating, even if it’s just “that looks good” or something, so definitely tread carefully there. Maybe just ask if the other person is doing okay and leave it at that.

      2. Jennifer*

        Yeah, I agree, I’d never diagnose someone because I don’t have the expertise to do that. Because of my own experiences my first thought when someone loses a ton of weight is depression – thought I wouldn’t suggest that either. I don’t have any experience with anyone who has ED so it wouldn’t really come to mind.

    4. UKDancer*

      Agreed you ask if they’re ok. If it’s someone I know reasonably well if see if they wanted to have a coffee either to talk about this or just to give them a break. The latter particularly if it looks like a work related stress situation.

      The key thing is not to press or seek to intervene too hard. It’s still their business.

    5. Mari4212*

      I’d say a step would be pulling them aside on a one-on-one, reference a the behavior you’ve noticed that makes you think they’re struggling, and offering something small to start with – and then follow their lead. Definitely focus on behaviors over anything else.

      So something like “Hey, can you spare a minute? I noticed you seemed really upset the past few days, and yesterday you looked like you were in tears at your desk. It may be none of my business, but I’m here if you want to talk.”

      If they need someone, that gives them a chance to say yes, and also a chance to gracefully shut you down if they need work to be the space where they don’t talk more about it. And of course, if they shut you down, you don’t mention anything again to them unless they bring it up to you.

      1. Jennifer*

        I just know from experience a lot of people are going to say “no, it’s fine” when that’s not really true. I’ve done it myself.

        1. Observer*

          So? If someone is not close enough to you to actually know what is going on, then they are NOT close enough to insist on helping you. There simply is no way to do so in a way that is actually helpful rather than harmful. It’s not just myob, it’s that you simply don’t have the ability.

          Yeah, there are some exceptions, but in those (very few) cases, your knowledge would be based on a lot more than signs that someone “appears to be struggling with a personal matter”.

          1. Jennifer*

            Again – I realize that. I’m not recommending people overstep people’s boundaries. As I said earlier, it’s tough to watch someone struggle and not do anything.

        2. Grapey*

          Still helps to be asked, especially from a person that won’t push.

          I’ve never offered any information during the few times coworkers have seen me upset, but I’ve still honestly said “thanks for asking”.

        3. DyneinWalking*

          But some people will mean it. And someone not close enough to have an idea what the problem is is most likely not close enough to help, especially with anything regarding mental health. Mental health is hard to fix even if you are really, really close to the person (even for the affected person themselves), there’s no way an acquaintance can make much of a difference.
          The only ways a coworker/acquaintance could be helpful with that is to cut the person a bit of slack, be friendly and give space if needed. Which would probably be helpful with any personal problem, actually…

          What this coworker is doing far, far from what anything helpful look like. Prying for information and telling someone that everybody is talking and speculating about their problem is never, ever an appropriate way to “help”. It will only ever make everything worse.

          1. 'Tis Me*

            You cannot fix other people’s mental health issues, no matter how much you love them or how well you know them, or how hard you try. You can support them, be there for them, cut them some slack if they take it out on you because you’re close enough for them to know they won’t push you away (NB there is only so long you can accept this before it takes its toll on your own health)… You can’t make them better.

            Trying may well be one of the best ways to destroy your own mental health. (I tried when I was a teenager. Turns out that this is a good way to turn your own functional depression into suicidal depression and a conviction that you are utterly useless.)

            I also say this as somebody whose husband has bipolar II. When he went through a depression phase when our eldest (then only child) was 15 months, I genuinely didn’t know, every time he left the house, if he’d be coming back or if I’d be getting a knock on the door from two sympathetic policemen instead. (He was reaching out and asking for help from medical professionals and well aware of what the issue was but it took him ending up on a bridge over a dual carriageway and a concerned bystander intervening and calling the police before he actually got it.)

            I listened to him, kept his mum in the loop, reminded him how loved and special he is, and let him know that if I could do anything to support him he just had to let me know. There was nothing else I could do.

            You cannot take responsibility for somebody else’s mental health (beyond things like advocating for them if they can’t, making sure they know what resources are available, and e.g. In cases where they are unable to consent to medical treatment if you’re next of kin doing so on their behalf). They still shoulder 100% of the burden but if you do a bad enough job, they then also feel responsible for your burning out doing nothing to help and make it that much harder for them to talk to you about anything that matters, and destabilise your own mental health. (Hell, being somebody’s “person who won’t let them push me away so if I have no kindness left to give I can be vile to them” is functionally the same as being in an emotionally abusive relationship – I am very clear about the fact that if the husband ever ends up in the head space where he was doing that again we will need to temporarily separate because I am not letting the children encode that treatment as normal. It’s been a little over 6 years since I hit the point that I told him if he didn’t stop it I would need to leave for my own well-being; the mental scars have mostly nearly healed. If I didn’t know that the man I married and loved would not treat me like that, and it was his illness talking, it would have broken our relationship and possibly me to boot.)

      2. Parenthetically*

        Yep. Good advice all around — if there’s anything to do or say (and in many cases, there isn’t, because it’s just flat out not your business), focus on behavior, not bodies.

      3. HQetc*

        I like this approach, with the caveat that even some *behaviors* are off-limits. Like, of course don’t reference consequences like weight change, but also no mentioning eating habit changes or frequency of bathroom visits (I’m sure there are others, but those are the two I can think of). I think you could maybe still go with a general “you’ve seemed stressed,” while still following all the v important “back off if they shut you down or dodge at all.

      4. Lontra Canadensis*

        Co-workers did something like this for me a few years ago. Newer co-worker A saw me in tears, and privately mentioned it to B, who I’ve worked with for years. B checked if I was OK – even though I’m sure it was clear *something* was wrong as soon as she saw my face, she gave me space to say no. Compassionate and discreet for the win.

        (I was feeling like Cassandra about a non-work thing that had just imploded)

        1. Lontra Canadensis*

          Oops, a bit garbled – B gave me the space so I could have said nothing was wrong, even though she could see I was upset.

    6. Anonymous Poster*

      I’ve wondered that about a coworker, too. I’m going with being a nice coworker, assuming they’re taking care of themselves, and trusting their manager to help them if they need it. Can’t imagine how to bring it up without being inappropriate.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah it’s tough. I want to respect people’s privacy but at the same time I don’t want to be the kind of person that sees someone is hurting and just looks the other way.

    7. Sara without an H*

      That happens, but you need to be very, very careful. Unlike a social situation, co-workers have less space to avoid each other. At the most, you might say something like, “You don’t seem quite yourself lately. Is there anything going on?”

      Then listen carefully to the person’s response and follow their lead. If they say, “Everything’s fine” — that is your cue to drop the subject.

    8. Port*

      I’ve found that keeping an eye out for opportunities to be kind to coworkers who seem to be going through private problems can be good. Things like getting them coffee, sharing a sweet snack, telling a joke, volunteering to do a minor work task you know they dislike (that’s also in your purview), that sort of thing. It lets you show support and care without being intrusive. (Obv use best judgment with food.)

      1. Jennifer*

        That’s the best suggestion so far, imo. Be a friend. Invite them to lunch or coffee. Make small talk about that tv show you both like or some other shared interest. Even if whatever their issue is never comes up, at least they know they are not alone. Or they may feel comfortable enough to open up if you finally do decide to ask if everything is okay.

      2. Threeve*

        It can also sometimes be appropriate to show that you trust them. If I’m asked how my holiday weekend was, there are coworkers who I’ll tell “fine!” and coworkers who I might honestly answer “long. I visited with family, and they decided to be a soap opera again.”

        And those are the people who are more likely to later feel okay unburdening to me a little if they need someone to talk to.

    9. Needsanap*

      I found myself struggling at work when husband was incredibly sick and I was taking on fulltime caregiver duties at home. It made work difficult and people noticed. The most helpful conversations for me at the time where with people who offered specific help. “Let me know if there is anything I can do,” is nice, but I’m not going to take you up on it. From a co-worker, “Let me know if I can help with project X.” And from my boss, “Let me know if we need to work out a more flexible schedule or more work from home.” These were things they could do + made it easy to say yes.

      1. Jennifer*

        Great suggestion! Yes, sometimes “let me know if there’s anything I can do” is much too vague and can feel like an overwhelming question to answer if you’re already struggling. And my reflexive answer to “are you ok?” is “yes.” But actually offering to take something off someone’s plate or stepping up to offer coverage or something is a real offer of help. Thanks!

      2. I edit everything*

        Yeah, this “be specific with your offer” advice is good in lots of situations: work, social, church, etc. We have an elderly neighbor, and we’ve offered rides, groceries, etc., especially when the weather is bad. And she sometimes accepts, sometimes doesn’t, but if we said, “let us know if you need anything,” I’m sure she’d just muddle along on her own. I even do this with my own (stubborn) parents.

    10. Mel_05*

      You can ask if they’re ok?

      I’ve done that once. Other people did too and it turned out that some of them were able to help.

    11. EventPlannerGal*

      I think part of the issue with this situation is that EDs are sort of unusual, in that people noticing or commenting on them are pretty likely to actively make them worse in a way that will result in physical harm. That’s not the case with most personal matters. Having people comment on your weight even in a well-meaning, kind, concerned way often provokes a few reactions:

      – you feel that your weight is being noticed and discussed and therefore you must be even more “perfect” and controlled because you’re being observed
      – you feel that they’re lying to you because they’re saying you’re thin and you know that actually you’re horribly fat, and therefore nothing they say about your weight can be trusted
      – you feel proud that you’ve lost so much weight that people are noticing and feel driven to reduce further

      All of these are really, really damaging. If I could see that a coworker seemed to be exhibiting ED-like behaviours, I would focus on just trying to be kind and supportive to them – something is usually triggering the behaviour (eg the breakup in this situation) and supporting them through whatever that thing is is probably the most helpful thing a non-close-friend/family-member or non-ED-specialist can do.

    12. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think it would have been a bit intrusive but not entirely unacceptable if she had just stopped at “I have been noticing you and I just wanted to give you this list of resources in case you need them.”

      But don’t say that you’ve been talking about them behind their back with everyone, and don’t insist that you definitely know what’s going on (because there could be plenty of other things happening), and definitely don’t threaten to go to the manager and talk about a coworker’s potential health issue and decide that you know the best thing for them is to take time off and then force them to do so.

      I do think there’s room to tell a coworker you are available if there’s anything they might want to ask for help with. But you can’t and shouldn’t force help on them, especially when you don’t really know what they’re going through and don’t know if they’re already dealing with it themselves.

      1. Sadie*

        No I don’t think you give someone an un-asked for list of ED resources, period. What if the lack of appetite and weight loss were because of, say, cancer treatments, and you just handed her ED resources? How terribly rude.
        “hey seems like you’re going through something and I am here if I can help” is where you stop.

        1. Mouch*

          This. I lost 80 pounds and went from a size 14 to a size 8 in less than a year…because I finally got on a thyroid medication that worked…and then started having severe symptoms of then-undiagnosed Celiac, and I stopped eating as much due to constant intractable digestive pain. When I got diagnosed with Celiac and started eating really healthy GF, lots of weight came off and coworkers started talking about my weight and questioning my eating habits. Coworkers STILL comment on my body.

          If any of them had handed me ED pamphlets, or tried to shovel “I can’t ignore your suffering!” BS at me about hypothesized mental health issues, my response would have been less than polite and included aggressively creative forms of a word that rhymes with “duck.” MYOFB.

    13. Save the Bees*

      As someone who has experienced rapid, extreme weight loss due to anxiety, I have had co-workers overstep with their comments/concerns.
      Dealing with any condition that causes weight loss like this is hard enough to deal with without having to reassure coworkers. Intruding into someone’s health struggles just adds more emotional labor for the person suffering.
      Co-workers are just that. They are not my friends, family or doctor.
      If I want help from you I will ask for it.

    14. Koala dreams*

      Because many people wouldn’t ask, it can be good to offer something specific. Pick up some food or medicine for them, be a listening ear, offer to find phone numbers to helplines. Then you have to respect their answer. Some people don’t want help from co-workers.

  19. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    Over the past year, I’ve lost weight due to a health issue and changing my diet. When people comment and ask how I lost the weight, I just say that I got sick (true) and now I’m better. No one has pushed back asking what exactly was wrong because I think they might be afraid of the answer. (Thank you undiagnosed genetic disorder!)

    1. Ama*

      I had a health issue that also caused me to lose a lot of weight very quickly until the issue was fixed (upon which I gained it all back and then some on my doctor’s advice), and I have never been so grateful to work at an organization that is used to dealing with people with serious medical situations (nonprofit focused on a life-threatening disease) because everyone here knew better than to comment at all, even though I know it must have been obvious that something was seriously wrong. (My boss and a couple coworkers knew the basics of what was going on, partly because at one point it looked like my treatment and recovery could be extremely lengthy, but also because I could trust them to not offer any advice.)

    2. blackcat*

      Yeah, I had a couple people comment out of concern (asking if I was sick) early during my pregnancy. I was out a lot and dropped a lot of weight very quickly. I was very obviously an unhealthy weight–I started out at the low-end of a healthy weight and lost about 15% of my body mass in just a few weeks.
      I did not appreciate people’s concern. I said something like “My doctor and I are working on it” (true). Then I’d somewhat aggressively change the subject to make it clear I didn’t want to talk about it further.
      Somehow, the same people who expressed the concern did not (publicly) connect the dots when I announced my pregnancy about a month later. Maybe I just scared them off of commenting on my health.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        I ended up unofficially telling my manager I was pregnant quite a bit earlier than I had planned on with my first because I had HG. Apparently I am still the only person who has suddenly got up in a one-to-one meeting with him and said “really sorry, about to be sick” and scarpered… Until I was put on an anti-emetic that helped, my weight was falling so rapidly and I was being sick so much I suspect people who didn’t know the reason would have thought I was suffering from an ED.

        I was sick all the way through my first two pregnancies. The anti-emetic I’ve been put on at 7 months with my third seems to be doing pretty well – some days I actually eat and digest 3 meals plus snacks! But yeah… I had to stop wearing some jeggings in my first trimester because the pressure on my bloated stomach was painful. I’m wearing them again. I am very visibly pregnant unless completely swamped in loose clothing… I’m about the same weight I started, possibly slightly lighter… It still doesn’t compare to my first pregnancy (although I do not recommend PGP/SPD with a toddler).

    3. Goliath Corp.*

      Ugh, when I lost a lot of weight due to a serious health issue (which also triggered my ED), people just told me how “healthy” I looked. Our culture is so fucked up.

  20. Was in the same boat*

    As someone who’s had an eating disorder, this is WAY overstepping the mark. I had one when I was in my late teens and it was pretty obvious to everyone in the college I was attending that I had an eating disorder. Despite skipping meals etc., no one confronted me about my behaviour because they didn’t see it as their business. They’d be happy if I tried to participate and eat lunch, but not in a triggering way. And whilst the head of the college knew, she would always be careful when catching up with me, but she had an official duty of care as I was a minor in the school’s care for most of the day, so it was fair that she wanted to know if I was okay/what progress I was making. But my peers absolutely did not comment.

    What your colleague has done is so intrusive and triggering. Stuff like what Jane has done could actually make someone’s eating disorder worse, not better. And how does she know what’s an appropriate amount of weight to put on? Is she a qualified ED expert or dietician? Didn’t think so.

  21. ED parent*

    As a parent of a kid with an Ed, I struggle with this. Many people with an eating disorder only recover because their family stepped in and started therapy without their consent. I promise you my child wouldn’t be eating meals if she had a choice! I recognize that this is a competent different situation and the coworker is completely wrong here. But what if OP wasn’t in treatment? What if she was suffering and couldn’t pull herself out? What is the best way to go about this? (This is not a rhetorical question but one I struggle with). People can have dramatic weight loss for many reasons. However, when people have an Ed, the malnourished brain makes rational thought about food harder and the only way to get rational thought about food back is to nourish the brain. This is a hard one.

    1. Jennifer*

      I understand where you’re coming from and I’m sorry about your child.

      Yes, this OP has a plan in place to get healthy and a good support system, but not everyone does. Not everyone that needs help has the wherewithal to go up to someone and ask for it. It’s tough.

    2. anonymous 5*

      The advice would be the same. The threshold for forcing adults into any kind of treatment/therapy without their consent is, justifiably, very very high.

      No matter how much it hurts to watch someone you love suffer, it is worse for them to be going through whatever they’re going through. And even if, as Jennifer mentioned in a previous comment, you suspect that you might be the only source of help/support…you don’t get to do more than offer unless they’re in a position of legally-implied consent.

    3. Hornswoggler*

      But OP isn’t a child, and this co-worker isn’t her family.

      If OP had no family, friends or doctor to go to, then just *maybe* a concerned word from her manager might be the way to go. But a co-worker leaving snacks and telling her off about it definitely isn’t.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        And threatening to force her to take time off work!

        The two things that were just over the line for me were ‘we’re all talking about it’ (aka: *she’s* talking about it to everyone) and ‘we will go as a group to the manager to ask him to force you to take time off’. No no no no no.

        1. Faith the Twilight Slayer*

          THIS. I am honestly trying to see how a decent human being can think that this is acceptable, and I come up with… nothing. Who knows what kind of telephone-game level things this coworker is saying about OP. That’s why I recommended going to management and HR immediately, before she has a chance to spread even more poison all over this shitshow she’s created.

    4. fposte*

      The eating disorder is a hard problem, but it’s never going to be appropriate for a co-worker to leave snacks and talk about battling demons, whether the person dealing with the disorder has it under control or not. That doesn’t change with the magnitude of the problem.

    5. WellActually*

      “the only way to get rational thought about food back is to nourish the brain” necessary but not sufficient. Forcing calories into someone isn’t going to cure their eating disorder. And the “forcing” part of that on another adult is very likely going to make the disordered eating worse.

    6. Observer*

      Your situation is totally different. You have both standing and the knowledge needed to make appropriate decisions here.

      No coworker (who does not have any other relationship with the person) has that. In this case, it’s even worse – what she’s doing is going to be harmful to pretty much anyone with ED, even (maybe even especially) someone who is not in treatment.

    7. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      It is appropriate for a parent, close relative, close friend, or a health-care professional to step in and “force” the person with a disorder to take a hard look at themselves. However, it is never appropriate for a co-worker (unless the co-worker fits one of the previous categories).

    8. ED parent*

      My question is this: What is the best way to deal with it if you are concerned a coworker has an eating disorder and needs help? It’s not an infection where people are able to think rationally about eating. The disorder is that they CAN’T think rationally about eating. One symptom of the disorder is that people don’t think they have a problem. I suspect the OP has the insight she does from years of therapy and treatment. (Please note that I am not standing up for what her coworker did. That was wrong on many levels.)

      1. Anal-yst*

        I think that hang up responses are having with your question is in how you’re speaking about the “malnourished brain” and making decisions specifically about and around food.

        It isn’t our place to try and “fix” a colleague or friend’s mental illness. We can support them with check ins and determine if there is an immediate risk but we can’t and should not needle them. That being said, part of your comment did ring very familiar with me. A family member had a colleague who was so severely impacted by her illness that the coworker was making irrational decisions at work and was not making any rational sense. In this case, treat it like any other crisis. You can engage them, but next steps will depend on if it’s an emergency situation (this was) or contacting other appropriate crisis management support systems so they can guide you on next steps (acting as a consultant) or intervene directly (in the case of an emergency). That’s just general handling for crisis even, I think we’re getting a bit hung up on EDs when it doesn’t have to and shouldn’t be “how do you make someone eat”.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        See the advice in Jennifer’s question. You can ask how people are doing, and even edge into ‘are you ok’ if you are close, but then you have to follow their lead.

        Co-workers do not have standing to coerce each other for non-work behavior, even if it’s for someone’s own good. We can not be the judge of what’s going on inside of other adults’ heads, we don’t have the needed training (psych professionals excepted, of course). We can be *supportive* but not *intrusive*.

      3. Talia*

        You don’t. You’re not close enough as a co-worker. If they don’t respond to a “want to talk” type overture, you leave it alone. You don’t have standing, and you’re just going to be intrusive.

      4. Naomi*

        You can ask if they’re okay, and offer help in a general way. If you’re comfortable with it, you might mention that you have experience with a loved one with an eating disorder and that’s why you’re concerned. But sadly you can’t force another adult to accept help they don’t want.

        I’ll add that, though in this case the coworker guessed correctly that OP has an eating disorder, that was based on speculation; OP could have been losing weight for any number of medical reasons. You might suspect someone has an eating disorder, but you also have to keep in mind that you don’t know their medical situation and there could be another cause.

        1. Another worker bee*

          +1 to this. I just went through a round of hyperthyroidism and the comments/speculation from “concerned” people were at BEST unhelpful. I finally went to the doctor because I went on a week long work trip and clothes that mostly fit me on Monday were hanging off me on Friday (lots of coworkers telling me I needed to eat because I looked like death and I was like thanks, I feel like death so its nice to know the outside matches the inside, aholes) and even the first medical professional I interacted with was like “well, I know you young girls are always trying to lose weight, are you sure it wasn’t intentional?”

          1. 'Tis Me*

            I have a work friend who’s got a high metabolism, has a very slight build, enjoys exercising, etc. She also really enjoys food (both cooking and eating) and is a healthy weight etc for her (rarely gets ill, has oodles of energy…). There have been one or two times when I’ve found myself shutting down speculation about her weight with other people based solely on her natural build.

            Societal attitudes towards young women about their weight are frequently pretty messed up.

          2. WellActually*

            Many doctors are awful when it comes to ED. It can take years of disordered eating for them to diagnose due to weight loss (which has long-lasting impacts on your physical, not just mental, health) but they are quick to address weight gain. Awful.

      5. once a child*

        I think this is a very valid question – but sadly in from my personal experience as someone who had an ED, there is nothing you can do in that instance. A major part of an ED is a little voice in your head that tells you everyone around you are lying. That is what makes an ED so incredibly difficult and it is mostly what the mainstream media fails to understand when it comes to depictions. Someone on the outside showing concern is not going to fix a person with an ED. That drive needs to come from within – and yes often the person with ED is in denial which is what makes this so tricky. Close family/friends can sometimes help by proactively driving the issue and forcing assistance – but that assistance will only go so far unless the person with ED wants to work on the issue themselves. From my own experience – when a person outside an immediate trusted circle brought up concern – I spiraled. I was angry and annoyed and wanted nothing to do with that person. It made my ED incredibly worst in the immediate window because the little voice told me to “show them”. Even now – years after I have worked on my personal issues and triggers I will still encounter people from the outside with what I am sure are good intentions saying things that trigger me. It is a lot of work on my end to not let that affect me – and I am sure these people do not know how harmful their words are to me. So as hard as this is – if you see someone who you are not their immediate support circle (parent, sibling, best friend) there is not much you can do. If you know that person’s immediate circle you could flag your concern to someone in that group. If you do not, all you can do is be a kind person to the ED individual and focus on not becoming a source of stress. I wish you the best with your child – I can honestly say you can get to a point with an ED where you are healthy and it no longer controls your life. Just be patient with your child and understand that the final push needs to come from within him/her.

      6. Lawyer*

        I’m a recovered anorexic. I was sick for a LONG time. For what it’s worth, for many people there is very much a phase of the disease where you aren’t in denial about having a problem, but you may still be actively ill. My decision to seek treatment was just that – my decision. It wasn’t forced on me by anyone. By the grace of God and great medical care, I’m finally, at 39, at the point where I have more “well years” than “sick years” under my belt.

        Family members are differently positioned than coworkers. For coworkers, expressing concern about someone with a potential ED shouldn’t be different than expressing concern for anyone else you think is sick – and people have good suggestions above about how to do that in a sensitive way that respects boundaries. I do want to point out that any action by a coworker that suggests exposing the ED to a manager or otherwise threatening the patient’s privacy or job security will only drive behavior underground and destroy any possibility the sick person will actually turn to a coworker for help.

        Unless a coworker is also a friend, it’s unlikely that she’ll be the person who delivers a wake up call or otherwise makes a difference here. Appropriately expressing concern and then leaving it alone is the best approach.

      7. Observer*

        The answer remains the same – as long as you are not a person with the standing and the knowledge to KNOW what is actually going on, you simply CANNOT try to force the issue. You can only offer help and support with a very light touch and THAT IS IT.

      8. JustaTech*

        From a bioethics/medical ethics perspective, you can’t force any competent adult to accept treatment for any condition, even a potentially fatal one, be it an ED or cancer.

        The most you can do is offer support, but as a coworker even that is pretty limited.

      9. Jennifer*

        There are some good suggestions near the end of the thread I started. I asked a similar question. I don’t think “are you ok?” is enough. It’s the same as asking “how are you doing?” Trying to just be a friend, having conversation, asking them to coffee, telling them about your life or offering to help with their work projects or take some things off their plate if they seem stressed were my favorite suggestions.

      10. Mia*

        As OP herself has clearly demonstrated, plenty of people with EDs can recognize when they’re relapsing, especially if they’ve had treatment before. I don’t mean this in a rude way or anything, but it sounds like you’re assuming all EDs manifest the same way, and they definitely don’t. A lot of mentally ill folks very much have insight into their self-destructive behavior.

      11. Kaaaaaren*

        At most, you can say “Hey, I’ve noticed you seem a little unwell lately. Is everything okay?” And then, if your coworker says, “Yep, I’m fine!” … That has to be that. It’s not your job to fix your colleagues’ mental health (or physical health) issues.

      12. DarnTheMan*

        I think some people are getting hung up on the ‘ED’ part of the letter, so I’ll offer a counter-example. I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder and one of my former co-workers knew about it. She was great about checking in with me when our boss had been on another tear because she knew it could set my anxiety off and send me into panic spirals. However had she ever done anything to the level that “Jane” did, it still would have been an insane overreach, even if she’d done it with good intentions. Because at the end of the day, she was still my co-worker so it wasn’t her place to try to fix me or really help out with my personal problems besides occasionally being a sympathetic ear.

    9. Parenthetically*

      If I saw a coworker losing weight rapidly, I a) wouldn’t assume they had an eating disorder, and b) wouldn’t assume that I had the right to confront them with a fkn ultimatum about getting help. I would probably be concerned, but at most I would discreetly ask if they were okay and let them know I’d be happy to help if I could. If I had reason to suspect they had an eating disorder, I might think about putting up a NEDA poster in the bathroom — maybe with some other resources that might be relevant to women’s health. But that’s it.

      Eating disorders are absolute monsters. They’re just 0% within the purview of a casual work acquaintance to address.

          1. Parenthetically*

            Why would it be a bad idea? I think a list of resources for women’s health — abuse hotlines/shelters/resources, NEDA, mental health, reproductive health, etc. — should be posted in workplaces anyway.

            1. Mira*

              Yes, it could be helpful as a long-term thing, if it was done when there was no indication it was aimed at an individual. But if it’s done in response to concerns about someone it’s likely to trigger more paranoia/feelings that everyone else is watching and judging. As discussed above, making it known that others are monitoring your behaviour can make mental illness a lot worse.

              1. Parenthetically*

                Absolutely agreed. I was just saying, in context, that’s the MOST I would do. If I felt like it would be perceived as targeting, I wouldn’t do it, but if there was a way to put out a display in the ladies’ room of pamphlets on a variety of relevant topics that didn’t seem like it was directed at anyone — as part of an “Employee Benefits Focus Week!” where we encourage people to use the EAP and their FMLA if needed! or whatever! — it might be a good idea anyway.

    10. Naomi*

      Big differences between your situation and OP’s:

      1) Your child is a minor; OP is not.
      2) You are her parent and have a duty to care for her health; OP’s coworker does not have that kind of responsibility for OP.
      3) You have full information about your child’s condition and diagnosis; OP’s coworker does not (and should not) have OP’s private medical information.

      Even if OP wasn’t in treatment, the coworker would have no way of knowing that. At most, she could have asked if OP was okay and expressed concern for her health. If it had been, say, a close family member, they would have had more standing to proceed to “look, I really think you should see a therapist”, but a coworker shouldn’t be prying that closely into OP’s medical situation.

    11. Ophelia*

      The best way to go about it would be for concerned people to privately say they are available if she needs. Not threaten to gossip and out her for a medical condition.

      1. Parenthetically*

        A medical condition she doesn’t even know OP has! OP could have cancer, or hyperemesis gravidarum, or Crohn’s, or food allergies/intolerances, or depression/anxiety, or any number of other health issues that can cause weight loss!

    12. Former Camp Counselor*

      I made this error with a child under my care once. I was a camp counselor and maybe 18. I wasn’t sure how to approach the problem, and the camp nurses weren’t listening to me. I asked her to eat a mouthful at each meal.

      Frankly, my conversation with her made things worse for the remainder of her time at camp. She went from cutting things up tiny and pushing them around her plate or just not even pretending to eat to loudly talking about how much she was eating (and eating A LOT) and then… forcing herself to vomit.

      I had effectively no experience with eating disorders. I was not close enough to her to be helpful. She certainly didn’t trust me with that part of her life, and what reason did she really have to do so?

      What I wish I would have done in retrospect is just flagged it for the nurses and my supervisors (and of course for the parents if they weren’t already aware – I’m still not sure that was done), modeled positive body talk, and shut down the other concerned campers who were also voicing concerns to her – because four or five other campers had either said something to her in my presence or talked to me as her cabin counselor in concern, and I’m sure that didn’t help either.

    13. NW Mossy*

      One of the painful truths about adulthood is that there are some things we simply can’t fix on another person’s behalf, no matter how much we care and no matter the depth of the other person’s suffering. Sometimes, all we can do is remember that our kindness and compassion may need to manifest as restraint, not intervention.

      It’s of course difficult to watch someone suffer – that’s part and parcel of the human capacity for empathy. But our social contract with other adults requires that we also allow them their autonomy, even when that autonomy is exercised with decisions that are objectively damaging ones. If we take autonomy away, we remove a piece of someone’s humanity with it.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        We’re going through that with my in-laws. My brother-in-law has something going on with his mental health but refuses treatment in any form. He lives with his parents and is fully supported by them. They are rapidly draining their life savings with all the things they do for him, plus they’re super stressed all the time worrying about what’s going to happen when they can’t support him any more. My husband and I worry about them, but ultimately it’s their money and their life to do with as they wish.

    14. The German Chick*

      I think if it were a coworker that I generally had a good rapport with, I could tell them once: “Hey coworker, I may be totally off base here, but these last couple of months I’ve been worried about you. I won’t bring it up again, but please know that if you ever need an open, confidential ear or anything I can do to help, I am in your corner.”
      How does this sound to those who have had been in such situations?

      1. The German Chick*

        This being said, I don’t think there is anything a coworker or anyone really can do to help with a severe ED, and thinking about it, I would actually advise not to say anything apart from making clear that you care about the other person.

    15. Fikly*

      Well, one, coworker is not family.

      Two, LW is an adult, with the capacity to consent.

      Three, if LW lost the capacity to consent, there are mechanisms in place with extremely high standards that must be met to override LW’s consent to treatment.

      Coworker and boss have no place in this situation. The best way to go about this situation is to leave it alone, and push comes to shove, if LW’s health becomes so bad that LW, say, passes out at work, call for emergencies services, and at that point, capacity to consent would be evaluated.

      Your desire for someone to recover is not more important than their consent over what happens to their body. There’s a reason we allow people to have DNRs, after all.

    16. Mia*

      The OP is an adult though. And frankly, forcing treatment is a tricky situation that only works for some people. A lot of people with EDs (self included) just end up developing new behaviors that aren’t as easy for loved ones to notice if they’re strong-armed into treatment. It’s a complex situation even with people who have some standing to intervene (parents, partners, etc.), let alone someone as distant from the situation as a random coworker.

    17. The Other Katie*

      Adults engage in irrational acts with the potential for self-harm every day. We smoke, drink, do drugs, procrastinate, don’t finish our courses of antibiotics, eat too much, watch TV instead of exercise, and ignore health problems. It isn’t for our co-workers to force us into acting the way they would prefer us to act, because we’re adults. That means we get to make decisions for our own reasons. The situation is different with a child.

    18. Kaaaaaren*

      I see what you’re saying, but it’s still profoundly not a coworker’s role to try to force someone to do anything as personal as seek treatment for a suspected ED. At most, the coworker could maybe take the object of their concern aside and say “Hey, I don’t want to pry, but I’ve noticed you seem a little unwell lately. Are you doing okay?” And then, if the possibly ill/struggling coworker says “Yep, I’m fine!” that would need to be the end of it. I know not everyone has family and friends, but intervening in something like this is the job of family and friends, not coworkers.

    19. Socrates Johnson*

      I think it’s different when it’s a child too. Adults have a duty to care for children. Not that people shouldn’t be concerned about others, but adults can make their own choices, and while friends and family should absolutely step forward – the work place is VERY different.

  22. Important Moi*

    LW should not concern herself with whether or not this is misplaced concern. Who cares if it is? It reminds me of every perfectionist I’ve worked with who dragged out a project or made convoluted contributions. They ended up extended the deadline and increasing the budget. Then they trotted out “I’m a perfectionist” as explanation. Like that should justify their behavior? I don’t care why you did it. Just stop.

    Further “She went on to say that if she doesn’t see me start putting on weight she, along with a few other unnamed coworkers, would be going to my manger about forcing me to take time off. ” ~ I highly doubt this is true, but that’s neither here nor there.

    1. Ophelia*

      The only reason it is a concern is because of the response she can expect. I don’t see OP being able to tell co-worker to stop. Allison’s script is amazing, but I think co-worker’s language in the confrontation was so aggressive that she will only see OP as making excuses and divert attention away from the real issue. So does it matter if it is misplaced concern? Yes – but only because co-worker wouldn’t be receptive to correction.

      1. Observer*

        Still doesn’t matter – the coworker is not going to be open to correct regardless of where it’s coming from. MAYBE they will stop when essentially confronted, not by common sense, but by being told to butt out.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yes, this.

      “Misplaced concern” is a red herring. Especially when it comes to things like eating and weight, and especially when it comes to women, eating, and weight (contextually, I think OP is likely female), there is so much harm done in the name of “oh, I’m just concerned for your health” that I’m not willing to regard it as a mitigating factor anymore.

      1. Parenthetically*

        there is so much harm done in the name of “oh, I’m just concerned for your health” that I’m not willing to regard it as a mitigating factor anymore.

        HELL YES.

    3. Observer*

      What makes you think it’s not true? This person has left reasonable boundaries so far behind that I have no doubt that she is capable of going to the manager – and trying to drag others with her or claim to the manager that “we” are concerned.

        1. Observer*

          I hear. I’d bet that it’s not. Not that it’s actually accurate, but in HER mind “people are talking about it” and they “all think the boss should do something about it.”

          Like SHE said to someone “Hasn’t OP lost a lot of weight?”
          Other Coworker (OC) “Yeah.”
          Jane “Isn’t it strange?”
          OC “Yeah, I hope she’s OK.”
          Jane “Don’t you think the company should DO something about it!?”
          OC “I guess it would be nice if the company helped out.”

        2. Arctic*

          I don’t know. Sometimes very pushy boundary violating people can force other people to join them in their campaigns.

          1. Happily self employed*

            We have had problems with that in my current and previous apartment complexes. A tenant will stand up and say they want to organize the tenants against management, but what they really want to do is recruit allies to pick on someone in the name of helping.

  23. blink14*

    OP, I’m sorry to hear this. I think there is probably genuine concern from some of your co-workers, but commenting on your weight and eating habits is counterproductive to that concern. This co-worker in particular is a bigger problem, and you should absolutely talk to your manager about it, and if you are comfortable, maybe confide in your manager a bit. I also wonder if this co-worker would be making the same comments if you were gaining an unusual amount of weight – would she try to put you on a diet? Way overstepping boundaries in either case.

    It’s really hard to come into a workplace environment, where you spend a significant amount of time with the same people every day, and have the stress and pressure of a personal situation and medical concerns going on. I’ve been through this and I am always going to be in it – I have multiple chronic illnesses that require life long treatment. I’ve been told “you look tired”, “you look so pale, are you ok?” “you should make healthier eating choices”, etc. And that’s just comments made to me directly, I don’t know what people are saying to each other about me. I’ve never felt attacked, it all seems to be more misguided concern, which is ok with me as long as the comments particularly about weight and eating don’t continue, it’s such a touchy subject for most people. What I have found is that confiding in my manager and in a few trusted co-workers has helped immensely. They know when I’m having a bad day it is likely related to a health issue, and my manager knows when I have to take time off for my 20+ doctor appointments each year, that I’m really taking time off for an appointment. (I’ve hit over 30 in the past few years, crossing my fingers a new treatment will be knocking that number down!). Having someone know some level of what’s going on personally makes me feel like I don’t have to fake it till I make it all the time.

    Your co-worker does have one point though that might be worth considering – maybe it would be good for you to take a day or two off, but that’s only something you know and your choice alone. Sometimes just getting out into a different space can be hugely helpful in finding perspective – take a day trip to a different town, see a movie, go to a museum, etc.

    1. fposte*

      “I think there is probably genuine concern from some of your co-workers,”

      Maybe, but I wouldn’t assume that this one co-worker was telling the truth about other co-workers paying attention to this. It’s quite possible that either there were no conversations or the conversations were this particular co-worker saying “Don’t you think OP has lost weight?” and the others saying “Um, I guess.”

      1. blink14*

        From the way I read the letter, it sounds like the OP’s other co-workers have made direct comments, and the particular co-worker in question is making their own direct comments.

        1. blink14*

          *In addition to the co-worker talking to the other co-workers. So it sounds like the co-worker in question is stirring up gossip and trouble, but the other co-workers have made their own comments directly to the OP.

      2. Parenthetically*

        I had exactly the same thought. The tone of Coworker’s concern-trolling reads pretty precisely to me as Head of Drama Recruitment — the sort of person who gets a wild hair and then goes around trying to give everyone else the same wild hair, regardless of their receptivity, as a way to validate their nosiness and busybodying. “We’re all so worried about you” = “I’ve mentioned your weight loss to two people and gotten lukewarm agreement, and I’ve been over-interpreting everyone else’s body language while you eat, assuming everyone’s as much of a drama queen as I am.” I’d be willing to lay a hefty bet that Coworker is exaggerating other people’s concern as much as she’s exaggerating her role in OP’s life.

        1. Berkeleyfarm*

          I agree. I have met a lot of people like her. Always micromanaging other people and trying to generate drama. I got forced out of my old church (where I was very active) by one of them.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Taking time off is a death sentence to some of us.

      Keep that in mind when people want to start throwing that idea around. It gives you more time alone in your head and that’s dangerous when you’re on the edge. I really wish people would stop acting like a “mental health day” is the answer to serious mental illnesses.

      1. Observer*

        For SOME people it is. For others? It’s the reverse.

        Which is a perfect example of why trying to push solutions on people whose condition(s) you don’t know about is dangerous.

      2. blink14*

        I don’ t think it’s the answer at all – I got the sense that the OP felt like she had to hold it together at work, and seem perfectly fine, when maybe a day off would actually be beneficial. And for many people it is. Combined with other potential problems going on in the workplace, many times taking a day off is the break people need to disengage from work drama and focus on themselves.

          1. 'Tis Me*

            But there is a wealth of difference between “are you OK? You’ve not seemed quite yourself recently. Do you maybe need to take some time off to recharge your batteries?” – reminding somebody that this is a valid option available to them, and will in no way affect other people’s opinions of them – and threatening them with an intervention like the OP’s coworker.

  24. Ophelia*

    OP, definitely loop your manager in right now. Frankly, I can see your co-worker deciding that you are being defensive if you tell her to knock it off, and she might just step it up. Her language was so confrontational that she will not see her actions as malicious as they really are and will only assume you are trying to displace the attention. But if your manager steps in, she may realize she bit off more than she can chew.

    1. Faith the Twilight Slayer*

      Tru fax. I’d skip even talking to coworker. Someone like this is going to bulldoze right over “my health is my issue, and you need to butt out” and go straight to “OMG we need to get her committed and into treatment because OBVIOUSLY she cannot take care of herself and I know better”.

  25. ENFP in Texas*

    I would definitely get your manager in the loop, even just on an FYI level, because Jane has already demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of appropriate behaviors and boundaries.

  26. Ginger Baker*

    This is shocking on so many MANY levels, but as someone who watched her mother lose close to 100 pounds in a very short time…due to chemotherapy treatments for cancer…it is top of my mind that there are MANY MULTIPLE REASONS someone might lose a significant amount of weight in a short time that are not eating disorders so that leap to conclusion alone is appalling to me. (And ANY reason for weight loss – or gain – has ZERO place being commented on by your coworker without your *explicit* invitation wtaf.)

    1. Observer*

      I was thinking about that. SO many things could be going on here that it just makes Jane’s behavior even worse.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Yup. I see this as control, domination, and virtue signaling.

        Coworker doesn’t actually care, she wants to dominate but to *look* like she cares while doing so.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Also depression and grief can lead to massive weight loss as well.

      Even with an eating disorder if I see someone lose a lot of weight my mind goes to “omg they’re sick! How can I make their life easier…” Not “it’s ED and lets act like I’ve got the efing cure via ~tough love~”

      1. Parenthetically*

        Yes. OP, your coworker took a wild guess at the issue. She happened to get some of the details right. That does NOT mean you owe her the truth.

    3. Annony*

      Yep. I lost over 30 pounds when I suddenly developed celiac. It probably looked like I had an eating disorder because every time I ate I was in intense pain so I avoided eating at work. Often when I did eat, I would end up throwing up. If a coworker accosted me the way the one in this letter did, I don’t t think I could have handled it.

    4. Relentlessly Socratic*

      This. Given how private OP is, it’s not like the coworker knows anything about her past health history. Unfortunately I’m at an age where I see rapid weight loss and my first thought is, right or wrong, oh dear lord cancer.* Note I NEVER voice that to anyone. Leaping immediately to an eating disorder and demanding weight regain is so frankly odd that I would absolutely be flummoxed in the moment.

      OP: your coworker is a complete ass, I hope you can shut her down. Agree with advice to loop in your manager and then follow up with a paper trail.

      *note: lost dad, at least one colleague, and a good friend to cancer, and another is currently in treatment, soo…I guess experience is coloring my opinion

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Exactly where my mind went – I thought of a distant (but local to me) relative who, 11 years ago, had suddenly started losing a lot of weight rapidly, and it turned out to be cancer and he died of it ten years ago. Can you imagine if Nosy Jane had approached a coworker with a handful of eating-disorder brochures and a threat to take it to the manager, and then *that* was the reason behind the coworker’s weight loss?

      1. Ginger Baker*

        Yeah…my grandmother had gone to the doctor (this was in the early 1990s? not that I expect it would be better now…) concerned because she had suddenly and without any change in her life lost 40 pounds. The IDIOT doctor brushed her off because after all, as a woman, shouldn’t she be happy she was losing weight? (Luckily she quickly found another doctor who correctly diagnoses her with colon cancer and she lives another 30 years after that…)

    6. Apocalypse How*

      My friend lost a lot of weight when her abusive marriage was at its worst, then gained it back after she left and was in a more secure place. She couldn’t stand it when people–including doctors–complimented her on her weight loss and made concerned comments when she gained weight again. “I was too stressed and scared to eat! My hair was falling out! Why would people want that to continue?”

  27. Arctic*

    I would definitely leave out the softening language on this one. And I’m all about softening, usually. I work with a lot of mother hens (of various ages and genders so I guess parental figure hens) who are on top of you in concern as soon as you have a sniffle or lose or gain a few pounds. It’s annoying but also bearable. And they accept “thanks for your concern but X.” Whatever they mean well and I’m happy to acknowledge that even if annoyed.

    This goes so far beyond that. Forcing you to take time off? Who does she think she is? Confronting someone like this is more likely to be triggering than helpful (which if she was as concerned and knowledgeable as she thinks she would know.) There is a reason that interventions are planned out in a very specific and supportive way by people who know and love you.

    She is so out of line and has put you in the position of having to go to your manager, confront her or tolerate this BS when it should be the least of your concerns.

    I’m so sorry. I’m glad you are taking steps to get back on a healthy road. Please know you don’t have to take this.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      “parental figure hens”

      *SNORT* thank you, I’m going to put this one to good use!

  28. Dust Bunny*

    Assuming your manager is trustworthy, of course, go to her and explain you’ve been having some health issues but that you’re handling it and you don’t want to be the topic of office gossip or misguided interventions, and that Coworker is getting too personal and you may need Manager’s help shutting her down.

    I had a Health Thing a couple of years ago that was not outwardly visible but necessitated a series of visits to a physical therapist, which meant I was taking sick time during the work day. I am very rarely out sick so I’m sure it was noticeable, though I’m fortunate that my coworkers aren’t a bunch of nosy-parkers. I preemptively went to my supervisor and explained that I had A Thing but I was under a doctor’s care and would be fine; I just needed to deal with it for awhile. He assured me that I didn’t need to tell him even that much, really, but definitely not more than that. My department is small and, while we’re not exactly friends we do tend to keep a discreet eye on one another, so in the off chance one of them said something to him I wanted to end any concern before it took on a life of its own.

  29. Parenthetically*

    “I’ve put a lot of effort into keeping myself together the past couple of months and not letting my personal life interfere with my work life. I have not taken any days off, have maintained my productivity level along with a positive attitude when I am at work, and have had nothing but glowing feedback from my manager.”

    I just want to say, even if you HAD taken a bunch of time off, even if your productivity HAD dropped, even if your attitude HAD suffered, she’s still so far over the line that the line is now a dot on the horizon. Your health issues are absolutely not her business, and she’s being wildly, wildly inappropriate. Hang in there.

  30. MistOrMister*

    This is so nuts I don’t know how Alison even managed to put together a response that is more than just a gigantic WHAAAAAT?!?! I am flabbergasted by this. I like Alison’s script for talking to both the manager and the coworker, and would definitely vote for letting the manager know. This is so far beyond the pale I don’t know what to say! For some reason I am hung up on the snack part, even though it’s all crazy. I’m picturing the coworker following OP around and throwing food at her face every time she speaks in the hopes of forcing some down. Yeesh.

    OP, I am glad you were able to recognize what was happening and take steps to get back on the right track. Wishing you all the best!!

  31. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Wtf wtf wtf what she’s doing is actually something that can increase someone’s distress and push you deeper onto disordered eating.

    What’s your boss really going to do? Besides make things worse. You can’t force anyone into treatment. You cannot get a hold on someone for this behavior. I’m so disgusted and honestly triggered in my own ED.

  32. LMT*

    Coworker IS way out of line. And OP definitely should tell her so. But coworker may be acting out of genuine concern, and the over-the-top delivery/behavior may just have been a misguided attempt to drive the point home. Is it her business? Absolutely not. But I hate to see people demonized for caring.

    I do realize that this may not be the case AT ALL, but I do (naively) try to assume positive intent until proven otherwise.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Dude. This kind of OTT reaction causes people with eating disorders to DIE. Just keep that in mind. That’s the outrage here. She’s causing actual harm with her “Caring” and concern trolling.

    2. Observer*

      No one is being demonized for CARING. To the extent that “demonizing” is happening it is PURELY because of the grossly inappropriate and seriously harmful ACTIONS she is taking.

      As so many commenters have pointed out, intent is not magic, nor does it justify or excuse harmful behavior.

      1. Never Been There, Never Done That*

        I’m ready to demonize the co-worker….and do a few other things while I’m at it. But my intent is from a place of genuine concern so I’m not going to worry about liability.

    3. Never Been There, Never Done That*

      The second someone starts threatening “if she doesn’t see me start putting on weight she…..would be going to my manger about forcing me to take time off” is the second I stop giving a rat’s ass about someone’s intent.


      This woman is a BULLY and needs to be shut down ASAP. Focusing on the intent diminishes the hell that LW is going through right now.

      1. Mr. Tyzik*

        Hear, hear!

        Coworker is clearly a bully here and is pushing herself onto OP as a result. It’s not concern. It’s *control*. Coworker wants control of OP’s life so it is suitable to *her* liking.

        Coworker doesn’t care about the OP at all. Coworker cares about dominating her.

    4. tinybutfierce*

      The coworker’s possible good intentions doesn’t trump the actual affect of her actions, which have obviously been more than a bit distressing to the OP.

    5. Jules the 3rd*

      The co-worker is not being demonized for caring. The co-worker is being chastised because her behavior does not express caring, whatever her motivation.

      Caring does not tell you they’ve been gossiping about you, then threaten to go to your manager.

    6. Blueberry*

      “demonized for caring”, omg. Do you know how many horrors people excuse with “I did it because I care?” Caring is not an all purpose, get out of jail free, only intent and not effects matter excuse.

    7. Fikly*

      She’s not being demonized for caring. She’s being demonized for being abusive.

      Intent doesn’t matter. If you kill someone, intent only gets you a shorter sentence, and then only sometimes.

    8. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      Co-worker is the one who brought the demons into the conversation in the first place.

      We don’t know, and I don’t care, what her intent was. What she is *doing* is attacking the LW and expecting her to be compliant and grateful for the bullying.

      Co-worker can fight her demons in an MMORPG, or a therapist’s office, as she likes–she shouldn’t bring them into the office and let them try to drive other people out.

    9. Melane*

      To say she’s being “demonized for caring” you have to ignore her actions. It’s part of the whole package, and bullying someone into time off and telling them they’re being gossiped about – what part of that is caring? You’re giving co-worker a pass they don’t deserve. “Means well” is no defen for anything.

    10. Berkeleyfarm*

      Even if her intentions are actually good, her delivery is bad, bad, bad.

      All we have is what we see here. What’s there isn’t good.

  33. Q*

    I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I had a coworker start a rumor I had an eating disorder when I had a chrohn’s flare and lost a lot of weight in a short period of time. It’s no one’s business why you lost weight or what’s going on with you, if she doesn’t stop go to HR.

    1. Observer*

      Well, technically it was an eating disorder, except it wasn’t about your relationship with food, but your gut’s “relationship” with food. As in almost anything you ate caused you physical problems >rolling eyes<

      What this is, really, is just another example of how this person is jumping to ridiculous conclusions.

      1. zaracat*

        This is a really unhelpful comment. Crohn’s is NOT “technically an eating disorder”. At best you might call it a digestive disorder, and using technicalities to try and excuse any aspect of behaviour like co-workers is simply enabling abuse.

        1. Observer*

          I wasn’t trying to excuse the behavior – I was being sarcastic. I thought that was indicated by the “rolling eyes”.

          Since that wasn’t clear, I would like to unequivocally state that THIS WAS MEANT TO BE SARCASTIC.

  34. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I’m surprised she isn’t also tracking when, how often, and for how long you visit the bathroom… This woman is a bully who’s trying to wrap her bullying in a very thin gauze of “thoughtfulness” and “concern” She’s not just overstepping. Seize control of this situation and shut her down, hard.

    1. Annony*

      She may be tracking that too but didn’t mention it because she found nothing unusual. I really wouldn’t put it past her.

  35. Sara without an H*

    The older I get, the less slack I’m willing to cut people for good intentions. I’ve known too many “caring, compassionate” people who were just busybodies. If your ego is built up around the idea that you are a “helpful” person, then you will need a steady supply of helpless people. And you’ll make them helpless, if necessary.

    OP, please don’t let your “caring” colleague harass you just because she’s a “kind” person. If she brings this up again, tell her firmly that her comments are unwelcome, and shift the conversation back to work. Document any interactions with her that aren’t strictly professional. Loop in your manager ASAP. (Hell, you might even want to talk with HR.) Because this is harassment. Don’t let anybody convince you otherwise.

    Jedi hugs, and here’s to a happier future for you.

    1. Ruffingit*

      The older I get, the less slack I’m willing to cut people for good intentions. I’ve known too many “caring, compassionate” people who were just busybodies. If your ego is built up around the idea that you are a “helpful” person, then you will need a steady supply of helpless people. And you’ll make them helpless, if necessary.

      YES!!! This. So well said. This is a huge problem with a lot of people.

    2. Kaaaaaren*

      The older I get, the less slack I’m willing to cut people for good intentions. I’ve known too many “caring, compassionate” people who were just busybodies. If your ego is built up around the idea that you are a “helpful” person, then you will need a steady supply of helpless people. And you’ll make them helpless, if necessary.

      Absolutely. Also, since the internet has given us a name for the concept of “concern trolling,” I’ve found that so much “concern” expressed by people really does fall into that category — they’re either trying to assert some kind of authority or superiority over the object of their concern, or they’re busybodies looking for juicy details.

      This isn’t to say that no one ever acts with genuine concern for others, but when it’s genuine it… feels… genuine. It’s not boundary-violating or friendship level-jumping, and it’s respectful of the person’s right to decline help. Also, it doesn’t usually come along with threats, like “I’m going to go to our boss unless you obey me…”

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      If your ego is built up around the idea that you are a “helpful” person, then you will need a steady supply of helpless people. And you’ll make them helpless, if necessary.

      Ooohhhh, I really like this.

    4. Scarlet2*


      So, so, tired of people trying to excuse concern-trolling. Why do some people seem to believe that you need to make 100% sure someone is totally, willfully, unredeemably evil before you can push back on problematic behaviour?

    5. Poppy the Flower*

      Yesssss. I experienced this so much as a child with a disability/illness, that I didn’t even have to get that old to have no patience for it ;) Truly, intent doesn’t matter when you’re being this rude. OP, you don’t have to put up with this and I agree with at least looping your boss in with an FYI level (if not asking them to help shut it down which is also 100% appropriate).

  36. Ruffingit*

    This happened to me at work last year. It wasn’t an eating disorder, but rather a chronic bronchial virus that was exacerbated because of the stress I was under. I work in mental health care and the nurse at the facility I worked at kept insisting it was pneumonia and I needed a chest X-Ray. I have a doctor who I trust implicitly and whose advice and prescriptions I was following. I had to shut this woman done and it just wouldn’t stop. She wanted to know why I was “being defensive.” Seriously lady?? Anyway, I went to the manager and she took care of the problem, but it was SO offensive and annoying. I completely understand where the OP is coming from. I’d honestly recommend going to the manager in person now. Get it shut down, you don’t deserve to deal with this BS at work while you’re trying to heal.

    1. Maria Lopez*

      You should have asked her why her RN and work in mental health trumped your doctor’s MD and work in primary care. I could see maybe listening to her if she were a pulmonary or ER RN, but she has zero cred to be giving advice to you.

  37. DuskPunkZebra*

    It’s great that your coworker is empathetic enough to be concerned about disordered eating behaviors, but it should also probably be pointed out to her that the way she’s addressing it is the opposite of helpful. Depending on the person, this could either be encouraging because people are noticing the weight loss or drive the shame spiral, both making the situation worse!

    I imagine she’d be horrified to know that her tactic is working against her concern and is actively harmful.

    But yeah, she’s being nosy and awful about it. (Anxiety makes me unable to eat, sometimes to the point of being physically unable to hold down food. So while not the same problem, I sympathize. Good vibes your way, OP, I’ve been there.)

  38. La Triviata*

    OP, I’m sorry you’re going through this. Your co-worker has gone too far and should be stopped. I’d question whether she really cares.

    I went through something similar a few months ago. I was sick – nasty respiratory infection – but tried to keep working. The first day back, I had a horrible coughing fit and was told to go to the doctor and then go home. One co-worker told me to call her when I got home. I stopped at an urgent care center, stopped to pick up a couple of prescriptions, then went home to bed. The same co-worker texted me without leaving any indication of who she was. When I didn’t respond quickly enough, she called and demanded to know whether I’d gone for medical care and if I was home. Once I was better and back at work, I spoke with my boss about it … and he insisted that she cared. But I doubt it – she’s never shown any sign of caring about my wellbeing before or since. I’m taking it as a power play, her trying to assert some (non-existent) authority over me.

  39. QuinleyThorne*

    This level of boundary-crossing is so egregious that I would honestly skip the conversation with the coworker to allow her to “save face”; she forfeited that when she threatened to go to OP’s manager (with other coworkers!!!!) because she apparently doesn’t trust OP enough to manage her own medical condition.

    Go straight to the manager, and then to HR immediately after.

    1. QuinleyThorne*

      Also sending you love and strength. Everything about this sucks, and I’m sorry this is happening to you.

  40. CheeryO*

    Ugh. I’m having a hard time with the idea that this is coming from a place of concern; I think it’s more likely coming from a place of extreme nosiness and some kind of messiah complex. Regardless, I wouldn’t soften the message too much. This is someone who is so out-of-bounds that they need a verbal slap on the hand to come back to reality.

    I’d probably skip right to, “Please don’t watch me eat or leave me snacks, and please don’t ever suggest that I need to be forced into taking time off work. I’m handling things just fine on my own, and all of the attention on my eating is just going to make things harder for me.” But I have a history of disordered eating and contributions from all sorts of “well-meaning” relatives and even strangers, so I don’t have patience for this kind of thing.

    1. Kaaaaaren*

      It’s absolutely coming from a place of extreme nosiness/some kind of savior complex. Genuine concern doesn’t look like this — she basically threatened the OP that if the OP doesn’t take the actions she outlined, she will go to their boss about it.

      1. irene adler*

        Exactly. The ‘going to your boss’ threat talk would rattle me greatly.

        The assumptions as well are troubling. Leaving food for the OP, time off work is something OP is in need of taking, just all smacks of “I know best” behavior. Co-worker has no way of knowing what’s best for OP. What if the snacks left for OP were the very worst thing for the OP? Upthread there’s suggestions on what to say if there’s concern about a co-worker. Much better not to make assumptions and not to push for details.

        Let OP and the medical professionals they consulted with decide the course of action as needed.

        1. Tau*

          Or the time off! Maybe OP is using work to keep herself steady or as an escape from the problems in her personal life, and the last thing she needs is time off work. Coworker has no way of knowing, and shouldn’t know as it’s none of her business, so the “I’ll force you to do X” is extremely concerning.

        2. Kaaaaaren*

          I imagine there are a lot of ways to get expressions of genuine concern for a coworker wrong, but I cannot imagine someone honestly thinks the right way to do it is to issue threats, make uninformed and possibly harmful suggestions, awkwardly observe your coworker’s behavior, or tell the person that the entire office has been talking about them and speculating about their health.

  41. Faith the Twilight Slayer*

    What the absolute shitsnacks??!! I wouldn’t even go to your coworker, honestly. She’s obviously decided she knows what’s better for you than you do, has absolutely zero concept of boundaries, and WILL NOT STOP (she’s even said she won’t!) until she has “fixed your problem”. I’d go to management right now, ask HR to sit in, and explain what’s happening. It sucks, because you’re going to have to at least explain the basics of what your problem is, and it’s going to be a rough and uncomfortable-making conversation, no doubt about it. But she’s forced you to do that with her behavior. I would even tell them that, that the only reason you’re coming to them is because she’s forced your hand, she’s obviously made you the topic of conversations with other coworkers, and it needs to stop. Like, yesterday. And don’t hold back, I’d give them the entire conversation, word for word as much as you can remember it, and especially the part about her having management “force you to take time off” (which, what???). Let them know you expect to not have to discuss your health, or justify your treatment of your OWN, PERSONAL ISSUES to any coworker at all, ever. I don’t know how comfortable you are with confrontation, but IMO once you have this conversation, if anyone approaches you, I’d go straight to HR and make a formal complaint. This is absolute crap and not something you should have to tolerate AT ALL.

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      OP is under no obligation to share any details beyond “lost weight, medical issue, under control, buttinsky needs to slow her roll”

      1. Faith the Twilight Slayer*

        I did not mean to imply that OP has to share every aspect of what’s happening, and when I said “explain the basics” your phrasing of “lost weight, medical issue, under control” is pretty much what I was going for. What I meant by saying “it’s going to be a rough and uncomfortable-making conversation” is that sometimes even a few simple words are going to be difficult to get out without any emotions whatsoever, and I know that I myself would have difficulty talking about an issue like this at all. At word one I would be tearing up at the ridiculousness of it, and it’s simply the reaction I get to serious conversations. I absolutely agree anything more detailed than an overview is optional to the OP.

  42. Rainbow Roses*

    Pushing food, watching(!) you eat, threatening to go to your boss? Report her for harassment.

    I would go as far as throw her food away and tell her to stop harassing you. Tell her that she is not your mom or doctor so she needs to stop.

  43. tinybutfierce*

    Holy cow, OP, I’m so sorry that you’re having to deal with this ridiculous coworker on top of everything else. Alison’s advice is spot-on, and I’d especially second looping your manager in, even if you don’t ask them to intervene, because your coworker is just so WILDLY out of bounds here, it definitely couldn’t hurt to make sure your boss is aware. I hope things get easier for you (and that your coworker butts the hell out, lordy).

    1. KoiFeeder*

      I had such a visceral reaction to this that I nearly flung my monitor away from myself. It’s like my worst nightmare being inflicted on someone else.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Seriously. As someone who really struggles with eating, the idea that whole groups of people might be watching my eating behaviors and judging me makes me nauseous. If this coworker had come to me I’d be curled up in a fetal position somewhere.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      If we did, the coworker who took a picture of the person’s stoma bag at his home and shared it would be in first place, and I would push hard for Jane to be second.

      Because as they say on Letterkenny, HARD NO.

  44. Oy vegh*

    This letter writer reminded me when someone at my work made a comment to me that I looked like I came out of a concentration camp as I lost a lot of weight after gastric bypass surgery. She didn’t know I was Jewish. I lost many family members in the camps. This brought me to tears. I went to my manager who then went with me to HR. The result was the commenter resigned from the job. People need to think hard before they speak.

    1. Caroline Bowman*


      First of all, even if you weren’t Jewish and had no connection to those horrific death camps, what a crappy thing to say to anyone, ever. If someone is ill and terribly thin, announcing it is hardly likely to help!

      Glad they left before they were pushed, what a mortifyingly dreadful thing to have done.

      1. Observer*

        This is true – and I say that as someone with several relatives with complex and not so healthy relationships with food (each person’s pathology is different) due to this kind of background.

    2. Blueberry*

      My eyebrows just flew off my face. I try not to be shocked at how awful people can be but I am so shocked, and you have all my sympathies for having to deal with such awfulness.

  45. Eclecticism is a Virtue*

    I’m all for skip talking to your coworker and go straight to your manager. The only exception to this might be if you have known your coworker for years and this is very out of character for her. Otherwise, your coworker is so far overboard, I think you have a pass to go directly to your manager.

  46. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Been checking the comments to see if this has already been said, and have not seen it – I just cannot get past the part where “She went on to say that if she doesn’t see me start putting on weight she, along with a few other unnamed coworkers, would be going to my manger about forcing me to take time off. ”


    What the heck? is she looping other people into this? Is there a Team Save OP? How many is “a few”? I would say this alone would be enough reason to take this to the manager.

    1. Goliath Corp.*

      Yes I think that’s a very good point for why this needs to be escalated to management immediately. The coworker could be exaggerating or could have created an office-wide harassment campaign. This needs to be shut down.

    2. JustaTech*

      Other folks upthread have suggested 2 likely possibilities on the “unnamed coworkers”.
      1) Everyone in OP’s office is an obnoxious busybody with no boundaries.
      2) Coworker has said something about OP’s weight to other coworkers who have responded either noncommittally or with a mild “yeah, I hope OP’s OK”, and coworker has taken that for full-throated support of their bananas threat.

      And I’d add a third option: Coworker has a collection of followers who don’t actually care about OP at all but will support anything Coworker says.

      I hope, hope, hope it’s option 2, and the “unnamed coworkers” would be horrified if they knew what coworker was saying.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Or a fourth option: Coworker *thinks* that they have such a collection of followers or people who will and must obviously agree with them…but doesn’t actually.

        1. AKchic*

          “Jane, the office plants don’t count as followers, even if you made them individual Instagram accounts”.

        2. Berkeleyfarm*

          From my old days on Usenet:

          “The lurkers support me in email
          They all think I’m great don’t you know
          You posters just don’t understand me
          But soon you will reap what you sow.”

          (to “My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean”)

          But, yes, seriously , if she has looped other people in this needs to be stomped hard by management, now. That’s a hostile work environment related to medical conditions and is very bad.

  47. twig*

    I’m in a similar-but not situation, LW.

    I lost a huge amount of weight last fall due to stress (I wasn’t eating enough/taking care of myself because I was stressed) I left my husband in late December and started actually eating 3 meals a day again. Some of the weight is coming back.

    People keep telling me that I “look good” or asking what I did to lose the weight. I tell them it’s not a good thing, that it was all stress and that I wasn’t eating enough. If someone asks how much I lost (and really — whose business is that???) I tell them that I lost 260 pounds when I walked out on my husband.

    I’m fortunate that I don’t have an ED history (just years of dieting before I discovered and started learning/practicing Intuitive Eating) .

    As a newly single/weight affected person — I’m sending you love, light and all around good vibes. you’ve got this.

    1. Parenthetically*

      People keep telling me that I “look good” or asking what I did to lose the weight. I tell them it’s not a good thing, that it was all stress and that I wasn’t eating enough

      Just reason #5827 I hate diet culture — the assumption that all weight loss is A Good Thing: praiseworthy, resulting from self-discipline, due to healthy life changes and personal virtue, etc.

    2. Grayson*

      As an American, we have such an emphasis on skinny = healthy, which is grounded in phobia because fat people have been demonized and held up as ‘other’. It’s frustrating that the immediate leap for “oh they lost weight” is “good for them”. Expletive, no.

    3. Blueberry*

      Ugh, I hate it so much that people do this. I was quite ill once and lost noticeable weight, and I hated being complimented on it. When I was feeling cranky I’d straight up tell them as much graphic medical detail as I could get awy with, and I love your response of “I lost 260 pounds — the ex.”

      I am cheering you on!

    4. Unemployed in Greenland*

      “… I lost 260 pounds when I walked out on my husband” = ha! Excellent comeback to that nosiness!

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Congratulations, I lost 170 the same way ten years ago and it was the best decision I ever made.

      Six months after I left him, at a party where everyone had known us both for years, a mutual friend pulled me aside with a “I didn’t know what to think of it at first when you left him, but now that I see you, I see you’ve lost a good deal of weight, so this means your decision to leave was a good one.” ??? (I had lost a bit of weight because I’d lost contact with that group and stopped going to their potluck parties 1-2 times/week every week. The weight, of course, came back later, as it does. I was and am in a healthy range. All of it was No Big Deal.)

    6. Anonymous at a University*

      Ugh, I’m so sorry. I have a friend who went through chemotherapy treatments for cancer a few years ago (which were successful), and a second, often clueless friend who, knowing about the cancer, still told her how great she had looked now that she’d lost weight. I wanted to slap second friend. Especially if you know the context, no one gives a shit how you feel about their lost weight.

      1. Parenthetically*

        “no one gives a shit how you feel about their lost weight.”

        Skywrite this. Everywhere. Daily.

  48. Caroline Bowman*

    It might be too much for the OP to go and verbally confront someone who is clearly quite able to say whatever pops into her head, so I would put it in a careful email.

    ” Concern troll, I was completely taken aback by your comments regarding my appearance on X day, and your telling me that I was the object of office gossip among unnamed others and that you would force me to take leave if I don’t somehow comply with your vision for my appearance. Now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, I need you to understand that my weight, my hair, looks generally are nobody’s business but my own. It’s nice to be cared-about and noticed of course, but what you did was a massive overstep, a very concerning one and I am going to have to speak to management about it, because it speaks to very poor judgement. Kindly never raise the subject of any facet of my appearance again and if you feel the urge to gossip about me with anyone, don’t.” Then email your manager and detail exactly what happened unemotionally and with bullet points. You may feel disposed to tell them at this point that you are dealing with some personal / medical stuff and if you did need time off, would absolutely ask for it, but meanwhile, there is no need for concern.

    1. AKchic*

      I think it might be better to compose an email to the manager (cc’ing HR) right before that, and send the email to the manager right before sending the email to the co-irker if this route is being taken. That way there is absolutely no way for Jane to try to get ahead of LW and go to management first.
      And cc or bcc manager and HR on the email to Jane so they are aware and know exactly what was sent. I wouldn’t put it past Jane to try to “forward” the email and edit it prior to hitting the send button.

  49. Mannheim Steamroller*

    ”What you are doing is harassment and if it continues I will need to report it that way.”

    I have never believed in threats. Skip the warning and just report her (to your boss and to HR) for harassment. The very fact that she is overstepping so egregiously suggests that she knows that she is overstepping.

  50. Mama Bear*

    I’d take it to management as well. There are many reasons someone might gain/lose weight (a friend lost a lot of weight and was diagnosed with cancer) but no matter the cause, it is not coworker’s business. This isn’t concern. It’s invasive and unwanted behavior.

  51. Kelly*

    Shut that sh*t down. She is a coworker, nothing more. Go to your boss, go to HR. Having to advocate for yourself in this situation doesn’t help AT ALL with working on your recovery. I’m sorry you’re dealing with her on top of everything else.

  52. Anon for today*

    This is one of those posts that makes me wish you could look at people like the coworker and say “Stop talking. I am a grown adult and I am fully capable of managing my food and weight. Stop gossiping and speculating about me behind my back with other coworkers and take your pamphlets and numbers with you. If you attempt to interfere with my work by going to the manager and trying to force me into taking time off when you have absolutely no right to force me to do anything, I am going to start speculating about you- how nosy and presumptuous you are, why you are trying to interfere with my job and why you think you can tell grown adults how to manage their lives. Leave. Me. Alone.”

    I know we cannot do that at work, but how satisfying it would be to see nosy, boundary-trampling coworkers get exactly what they deserve.

    1. StaceyIzMe*

      Yeah, I agree and it seems to me that this is NOT a “handle it independently” issue. It strikes me as very much a “oh, boy- THAT went to Hades fast… oh, uh, manager? I’m in a bit of a quandary and could use your assistance…”

    2. Not Me*

      I’m not sure why you can’t do that at work. Aside from the “I’m going to to start speculating about you” part, I would 100% say that to someone who was acting the way this co-worker is. As an HR manager, I would also fully support the employee who said this to a co-worker acting the way LW’s co-worker is acting.

    3. Maria Lopez*

      And add to that, “are you so ‘concerned’ because YOU have an eating disorder, and seeing thin pepole triggers you?”

      1. Parenthetically*

        Whoa. Are you saying the only reason Nosy Coworker is harassing OP is because… Nosy Coworker is fat?

        1. Maria Lopez*

          No. Most people with eating disorders aren’t fat, and bulimics are usually normal weight. I’m not sure where your take away comes from that co-worker is fat.

          1. Parenthetically*

            I’m fully aware. You said to ask Nosy if SHE had an eating disorder and was “triggered” by seeing thin people. It seemed like your implication was that Nosy was fat. But in any case, maybe “I know you are but what am I” isn’t a productive response.

  53. JSPA*

    I’m going to push back on “horrible.” Generally, because a one time action can be horrible without labeling the entire person.

    Specifically, for several reasons, in combination

    1. because of what coworker likely thinks they’re seeing:
    A coworker who is new to disordered eating, cracking under work stress. (OP says that nobody would know that it’s personal life stress, and that they have not been exhibiting symptoms previously.)

    2. Because people who are aware of the signs of disordered eating often have very high stress around the subject due to having dealt with those issues “up close and personal” themselves (and are thus not at their best, in broaching the topic).

    3. Because untreated, eating disorders are (startlingly) lethal, and (as with addiction) denial of there being a problem is not rare. It’s rotten for someone who’s aware of their issue to know that others are talking. But the flip side is, naming a problem can save a life.

    4. Because people, especially people dealing with tough topics, go off-script or say more than they intended all the dang time.

    5. Because being around someone’s disordered behavior can be triggering for other people (to the degree that saying, MYOB is a gross over-simplification).

    6. Because it’s a lot easier to say, “silence never equals assent or consent” than it is to recognize that vague nodding or a blank look or a professional smile is not, in fact, assent or consent to continue a conversation.

    7. because coworker is not a manager, and is not expected to have manager-level awareness and skills, as far as how to raise issues, and which ones should first go to the person in question, vs to a manager.

    Let’s not lose sight of the fact that coworker is doing something that could potentially save a life (even though in OP’s case, it’s actually landing as a truckload of hot crap, cascading over OP’s recovery efforts) and that coworker is, however horribly, intending to go to bat for OP.

    Coworker still needs to apologize abjectly for assumptions, for over-reach, and several other things. The end result was horrible.

    But in an office full of gossipers, labeling the one person who tries to actually help (even if it’s “help,” and “Hell No!”) as the “horrible” one… nah, I don’t think that’s fair. It’s a crap situation because having and navigating eating disorders are miserable; not knowing how to help is destabilizing and agonizing; gossip culture is crap; having no guidance on “what to do, if you think your coworker is struggling” is structurally problematic; and untrained humans being bad at communication is endemic. Not only because “coworker is a horrible human being.”

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Mmmm, I’m not buying this “but she’s only trying to heeeeelp” nonsense. Nothing the coworker did or said is helpful, a lot of it is likely to be harmful, and all of it is overriding the OP’s boundaries, normal workplace behavior, and pretty much any ethical way adults treat each other.

      Weight-policing is very, very often done with the smokescreen of “I’m only concerned about you!” and that’s an absolute shit excuse for, let’s review:

      1) Assuming that weight loss/appetite changes must be related to an ED (the coworker was correct in this case, but there are so many other causes for those symptoms!)
      2) Starting out with pushing additional food, which if anything would be more likely to be a trigger than be helpful
      3) Approaching OP with the tactic most likely to create additional shame and paranoia, the “oh we’re all talking about you behind your back” attitude,
      4) Gossiping behind OP’s back with colleagues about her health concerns, which jeopardizes her work relationships with those colleagues
      5) Threatening to go to OP’s manager about her private health concerns
      6) Threatening OP’s job further by saying she should be made to take time off

      Treating people like their bodies are public property to be commented upon and communally managed is horrible, full stop.

    2. Observer*

      So, this is a long attempt to excuse inexcusable behavior. And it’s simply wrong. I’m not going to get into all of the problems with what you’ve said here, but I will address a couple that are the most egregious and actionable.

      Let’s not lose sight of the fact that coworker is doing something that could potentially save a life

      No, not at all the case. For one thing, there is simply no situation where this is likely to save anyone’s life. See all of the comments about how people with ED react to people who raise the issue for a starting point on why it won’t work for ED. And if it’s not ED, what do you think this could do for them? How could this REMOTELY help someone who is depressed, in an abusive situation or suffering from an ailment such as IBS, Cancer, heart problems etc?

      On the other hand the damage that can be done by this is immense. Best case, it’s just incredibly distressing. At worst, it could literally actually put the person’s life at risk. In this case, that’s not what is happening, but it IS doing real damage to the OP, not just making them uncomfortable.

      But the flip side is, naming a problem can save a life.
      This is simply not true. Again, the comments here are a good place to start with this. More often than not, “naming the problem” simply is NOT useful for a wide variety of reasons.

      that coworker is, . . . , intending to go to bat for OP.

      That’s a very questionable assumption. When your “caring” comes down to threats, you really have to question that. And, as others say, intent is really not the issue here. Having good intent does NOT excuse someone taking actions that are ACTIVELY HARMFUL to the person you want to help, much less actions that could literally do the opposite of “saving a life.”

        1. Katherine*

          With respect, there’s a difference between excusing inexcusable behavior and labeling the culprit “horrible.” In my opinion, alisons post was absolutely perfect until that last line. It moved beyond evaluating her actions to judging her as a human, based on incomplete information and no context for the coworker’s motivation. It IS possible the coworker meant well, but has no idea how to help. It’s reasonable to label the actions, not the person.

          1. Random IT Guy*

            Gossipping to /with others about someone you know nothing about?
            Threatening to take ones fabrication to management to force OP doing anything?

            No. That is not concern, that`s being a nosy itchy bee – and so far out of line that ‘horrible’ is correctly applied to the behavior and may be applied to the person as well. (For creating a toxic environment for OP, creating a gossip culture etc)

    3. KoiFeeder*

      Good intentions don’t really mean anything. Since we can’t read minds, we have to judge by actions, and be mindful that our actions are not just well-intentioned, but actually non-harmful.

      1. Katherine*

        The commenter was pushing back on Alison’s declaration that the coworker is horrible- not defending the coworker’s actions. And you’re right that the coworker was wrong and it doesn’t matter if she had good intentions, but good intentions ARE relevant when judging one’s entire character based on a single incident.

        1. Parenthetically*

          This isn’t a single incident, it’s an ongoing campaign of harassment.

          And you know what? Insistence on parsing out the difference between “is a horrible person” and “is doing horrible things” is an abuse-supportive, victim-blaming stance.

          1. Blueberry*

            ” Insistence on parsing out the difference between “is a horrible person” and “is doing horrible things” is an abuse-supportive, victim-blaming stance.”

            +kajillion. *makes note of this succinct phrasing*

          2. Katherine*

            Condemning an action and labeling a person are two very different things. It’s a significant difference, not something you parse out. I said nothing to defend the coworker’s actions and I criticized Alison and the coworker. The only person I didn’t criticize was in fact the victim. Victim blaming is a serious accusation and should only be hurled by people with a fucking clue what it is.

    4. Parenthetically*

      “coworker is doing something that could potentially save a life” Absolutely f*cking NOT. Coworker is threatening to out OP to her boss, when Coworker does not even know for a fact that OP has an eating disorder. And you know what? Even if Coworker did know for a fact that OP has an eating disorder, Coworker’s actions are FOR REAL SURE not in any ED treatment program.

    5. J.B.*

      Al-anon has a whole list of things you should not say to an alcoholic. Because they know. This seems similar to me. It is far too easy to do the wrong thing.

      As someone related to an alcoholic you can express concern – I’m worried about you and I want you to get help. It is the person’s decision to go further or not. Guilt or blame doesn’t get them there.

      1. J.B.*

        To add, I’m not directly comparing eating disorder to alcoholism. But I assume there’s a lot more going on than the average person can jump in and address “I’m rescuing”. Better not to and draw you’re own boundaries.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Right, and to build upon your point, with both alcoholism and EDs, there are copious resources online for how to talk to someone about them. If the coworker *truly* cared, rather than being just a concern troll for her own aggrandizement, she could have looked up how to talk to someone about EDs and actually made the effort to educate herself before shooting her mouth off.

  54. StaceyIzMe*

    No. You don’t get to armchair diagnose coworkers. She’s not HR, she’s not your manager and she’s so far out of line that the added stress is likely to be at least potentially toxic for you. She’s virtue signalling, basically. “Look, I am so ‘woke’ that I can step in and help you battle your way back from the edge… make sure that you get right ON that or imma insert my nose even further into your biz-niss….”. Ick. I’d loop in your manager and frame it as a privacy issue around a health concern and absolutely resist efforts to frame it in any other way. Loop in HR. Loop in her manager. This is a lawsuit or an employee exodus waiting to happen. Scary. Creepy. Grossly invasive. Patronizing. Controlling. No. Smacks of so much of a void where mature self awareness and emotional intelligence should be that it’s not remotely salvageable as “her intentions were kind”. Bleah.

    1. Maria Lopez*

      You especially don’t get to diagnose them without any special expertise. She can tell Jane she shouldn’t be practicing medicine without a license.

  55. agnes*

    PLEASE do as Alison suggests. It might feel uncomfortable to you (or maybe not) but it absolutely is important to be this clear and direct. Best wishes to you as you work through some tough stuff. So glad you have the support you need.

  56. Marissa*

    I am naturally thin and lost weight (intentionally) after starting to eat more healthfully. I’m at my lowest weight I’ve been in years, but still a healthy weight for my body type. I’ve had a co worker make comments about my weight multiple times (you are too thin, you looked better before, you are a stick), when she herself was doing WW, openly, might I add. Let’s just agree that it’s not OK to comment on women’s bodies, period.

  57. In Recovery*

    Ten years ago I was the OP. A colleague staged a similar “intervention.” It was humiliating, traumatizing, and I was deeply offended.

    It also kicked into motion a series of events that saved my life. (This included eventually telling my boss and being forced to take time off.)

    1. JSPA*

      I have seen this, in real life, as well (more than once, in fact).

      The easy assumption that “information is on the internet” = “there exists a way to reach out that has a good chance of helping, no chance of hurting, and every human being can pull this off smoothly” does not mirror reality as I’ve experienced it.

      If we were talking about someone cutting at work (statistically, far less lethal than eating disorders), would people be as angry at the coworker? Or compare when we were talking about someone with bruises, and a coworker worried about abusive relationships.

      Very different advice and attitudes, despite some parallels.

  58. cwhfstl*

    Wow. This was truly awful no matter how well intentioned your coworker thinks they are. To actually tell you that all your coworkers are talking about you behind your back and trying to interfere with your work/employment based on her “standards?” She is truly horrific but sadly I imagine she sees herself as a virtuous helpful saint. She needs to back down now. Completely agree with going to your manager; Alison’s script is awesome. This in mindbogglingly inappropriate. So sorry you have to deal with this particularly on top of your recent stressors.

  59. bluephone*

    Jane reminds me of an anecdote from Tina Fey’s *Bossypants* book. She has a scar near her chin stemming from a childhood incident (someone in her hometown slashed her face when she was about 5) and she rarely discusses it in public. *Bossypants* might have been the first time she publicly said anything about it. And she said she can gauge, to a certain extent, what kind of person someone is, by their reaction to her scar. She can especially tell if someone might be a total a-hole if they bring up the scar unprompted and are like, basically casting themselves in a Lifetime movie in their mind where they are the Epic Hero and Fey is the damsel-in-distress whose face is all scarred up, and whose presence makes them more heroic (or something to that effect).
    Anyway, Jane sounds like she has cast herself in the role of Kind Person Helping a Troubled Soul and she’ll be damned if anyone takes that away from her, including the OP :-(

    1. Blue*

      Right. Some people have a habit of deciding other people’s lives are soap operas and casting themselves in the starring role. That’s what’s happening here. OP is being used as a prop in coworker’s Oscar bid.
      OP, I just want to say congratulations on handling your current difficulties so well, you sound like you’ve absolutely got this.

  60. The Tired Energizer Bunny*

    Dumb question: How should have coworker approached it if they were concerned about OP’s health? The actions were clearly horrible. I dont have experience in ED, but would love to know what someone living it would find helpful.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Honestly? Don’t talk to your coworkers unprompted about their health. It’s really not appropriate to the relationship. At most, a very lightweight, “hey, are you doing all right?” or similar, without naming any specific symptoms, physical changes, or anything else — let the coworker decide how much to say, if anything at all. And if the answer is anything along the lines of “I’m fine,” or “I don’t want to talk about it,” back the heck off.

    2. Dezzi*

      You ask your coworker *once* if they’re okay. If they say everything’s fine, you leave it alone!!! Your coworker’s health is not your business, and there are SO MANY things that cause weight loss besides ED. Do you really want to be the a**hole who confronts someone fighting cancer about their “eating disorder”? No. And honestly, for someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, telling them “yo, we’re all watching you and tracking what you eat” is literally the WORST THING YOU CAN DO.

      Does it feel bad not being able to help? Yep! But you’re their coworker, not their family member/close friend/therapist/doctor. You ask if they’re okay, you let them know you’re available if they need anything, and then you drop the subject.

    3. sometimeswhy*

      The only thing I would’ve found helpful was treating me as if nothing was wrong. At my most fragile an “intervention” from a coworker like this probably would’ve put me in the hospital.

      My coworkers don’t get to be “concerned about my health” anywhere outside their own heads and I’d prefer they didn’t even do it there.

    4. Observer*

      This has actually been addressed upthread.

      Beyond what the others have mentioned, you can just be a good friend. Make friendly small talk if they are that type. Offer specific help in ways that are not too big and are low key. When talking about yourself and your life don’t do a log of complaining, but also don’t curate your life to seem perfect and try to talk about things in a way that signals that you are open to talking / listening if they decide they want to talk to someone.

  61. garretwriter*

    I don’t see any redeeming value or excuse for this horrible coworker’s words and actions. Coworker might be deliberately trying to sabotage OP’s health or employment. At the very least, it’s passive-aggressive masquerading as “caring.” This is a toxic person. Run to your manager. And please update us on what happens! I hope this all works out well with a bare minimum of further stress.

  62. em_eye*

    I just want to throw some support your way, LW. It sounds like you’re handling an incredibly difficult situation with a lot of resilience. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this coworker and hope that one of the approaches Alison suggested works for you.

  63. All Outrage, All The Time*

    I would lose my freaking mind. Tell her in no uncertain terms to stop discussing your body and physical appearance with other people, to stop policing your eating habits, and to tell her she is out of her damn mind if she thinks she has any business going to your boss to “force” you to take time off. I’d have her in HR so fast it would make your head spin. I’d also loop my boss in because these busy body fools are spending company time talking about your body and coming up with bizarro world plans to deal with a problem they made up out of thin air. I’d be burning this house down. My god.

  64. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    No it isn’t naive to expect adults to not say or do anything about another person’s appearance — whether they’re fat, thin, tall, short, hairy, bald, buck-toothed, toothless, big-chested, no-chested, walk with a limp… By adulthood most people have been taught that’s terribly impolite and unacceptable both in social situations and at work.

    …if a coworker is morbidly obese it would be equally appalling to watch and comment on what they eat, drop off pamphlets about Type II diabetes/heart disease/stroke, let them know where the Overeaters Anonymous group meets and refer them to therapists, or tell them that they expect their coworker to start dropping weight or they’ll report them to HR/Boss and get them sent on leave… you know, because you’re concerned they’ll drop dead walking in from the parking lot, and your comfort is paramount.

  65. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Jesus. WHAT an overstep!

    If you truly believe in not harassing people about their weight, doesn’t that mean also not forcing food on people or shaming them for being arbitrarily too skinny? You do you, OP.

    Anyway this reminded me of something that happened when I was nearly 17. I had worked at a public library for two years and all the librarians had known me since I was tiny.

    Due to family and mental health issues, I lived mostly or entirely with my best friend and her family for the latter half of junior year, some parts of summer, and about half of my senior year. My parents lived three blocks from the library, so when someone different is suddenly picking me up instead of me walking to and from, I am no longer talking much about my family, and referring to another place as home, the staff could tell something was up. But instead of prying or assuming abuse and escalating things, my favorite library lady just asked me if everything was okay and I was safe.

    I said yes, and she must have put it about to stop prying and leave me alone. End of story.

  66. Kat in VA*

    I have been struggling with disordered eating since I was 16. Mine is a reaction to feeling out of control and stressed (coupled with a shitty body image) which happens a lot with work and big family and /fill in the blank/.

    Someone telling me (and not what sounds like a close friend, or even a close “work” friend) that I was required to fit some random parameters of theirs or else when I already battle with disordered eating every day would spiral me right off the deep end.

    Honestly, this woman has a lot of sack for pushing it beyond even a gentle, “Hey, I can’t help but notice you’ve lost a lot of weight recently…congratulations? Of course, feel free to tell me none of your business. I’m just concerned about you.”

    Which is exactly how I handled a colleague (one I’m pretty friendly with) whom I hadn’t seen in a few months. He had lost a noticeable amount of weight. In addition, we had a managers’ meeting where managers from all over the country came to visit. They also noticed and so asked me if he was ok.

    The congratulations with a questioning lilt at the end along with the MYOB option are precisely for a situation like this. If it’s good news, great, I’m thrilled your hard work is working for you. If it’s bad news, commiseration and offer to help in any way is available. You don’t want to discuss it? Absolutely! Understood! Catch you in the All Hands!

    Happy aside – he was thrilled that I’d noticed, and thrilled to tell me all about his diet and exercise regimen that had lost him 50+ pounds !and counting! but you just never know. My questioning came from a place of concern but if I’d gone at him all balls-to-the-wall with HEY CHAD I SEE YOU’VE LOST A BUSLOAD OF WEIGHT AND I THINK YOU’VE GOT AN EATING DISORDER, HERE ARE SOME PAMPHLETS AND I’MMA TELL OUR BOSS YOU NEED TO GAIN X POUNDS OR BLARGH BLARGH BLARGH, I don’t think he would have been quite as happy to let me know how his hard work paid off.

    People just…never cease to astonish me. You can come across as caring and concerned without acting like a bully about it!

  67. scared.*

    This letter just makes me so worried!

    I currently hold a position that requires a lot of trust, confidentiality, good judgment, and good character. I see this thing and I‘m scared that someone would come to me and in trying to help, report me.

    My struggle isn’t eating or not eating, but self-harm. I feel very dramatic, old, and ashamed about it since I am almost 30 and it’s seen as a teenage thing. But in the same way, both things are problems that are obvious by/on your body.

    I have not hurt myself in about four years, but there’s a good deal of permanent scarring. So I absolutely roast in the office in warmer weather and get weird looks for always being covered from collarbone to ankles, and long sleeves. A few coworkers and one boss have seen a bit of it, and by mutual unspoken consent seem to not see anything at all.

    Things have been hard lately. I’m not getting the support and affection I need from my spouse, and my parents and two friends are scattered from California to the South. Medicine for anxiety seems to make me calmer, but doesn’t stop me wanting to do it. Unfortunately like an eating disorder it’s addictive so there’s this stupid voice in my head that says “hey, you’re upset…go harm yourself, you know it’ll calm/ground/help you…” when things go roots up.

    Should I end up coming back to this behavior, I would probably get “concern” like OP unless I am verrry careful to hide it. I wouldn’t want any questions beyond maybe “are you ok/is someone helping you with this,“ and forced time off would just make me more anxious! I have a great work ethic and take pride and confidence in my ability to share in providing for my family and being useful- so just let me do the job, ffs, if one really wanted to see me “better!”

    1. Random IT Guy*

      Scared – that`s so hard.

      If I may ask – what would be a way to approach you (or someone else) if one is concerned?

      Would it be okay to ask ‘can I do anything to help you’ – or is that too much?

      1. scared.*

        I wouldn’t focus on the harm aspect of things. Just maybe ask, if you’re a close work friend or a boss with a good relationship with the person, hey, you seem down/anxious, is everything okay?

        Trouble is, you could ask if there’s any way to help- but really, there’s probably nothing you CAN do. At one point I had several people asking me that- but it’s my problem to fight. I just said, no, but you can pray for me if you believe in doing so.

        Maybe if there’s clearly a big stressor in the person’s work or life, ask about helping with that, and make sure you actually DO so. Instead of “is there anything I can do?” offer to help them with the difficult teapot project, or bring them a meal if they’re grieving or caring for a family member. If you’re a boss, maybe just also mention that the person can have some flexibility if available for appointments and such.

        I think if you want to do something for the person, make absolutely sure you follow through! A great deal of self harm stems from abuse, and the secrecy it engenders and such really puts one in the mindset of not being able to trust people or ask for help.

        1. Random IT Guy*

          My question comes from some experience.
          One of our field techs came in for a PC change – and he was ‘out’ for a while.

          He broke down – explained he had a severe burn out – and had thoughts of serious self harm (to the point of taking his life).
          I was shocked – as i did not see it coming (not the content, but also not that he opened up so much to me).

          Guess aut0-pilot took over – as i said that first of all I for one was glad he did not do that (and that was, even on auto pilot, a real and heartfelt comment) – and that while i did not understand his particular struggle, i do understand struggles in general (being on the spectrum, married to someone with chronic depression does help understanding) – and that if he needed to – i will make time to talk with him.

          Fast forward 6 months – and he comes in smiling – recovered from severe burn out – and just wanted to share some happy time with someone he really appreciates (yes, happy feeling for me AND my ego).

          Guess auto-pilot here was my friend – but in case i have to think – i`d like to be prepared.

    2. Introvert girl*

      It’ not a teenage think, don’t feel ashamed. It’s ok. A friend of mine got a tattoo on her wrist recently after years of self-harm, right over de scars saying: “I won.”
      And yeah, anti-anxiety medication can really help.
      Virtual hug…

  68. Mouch*

    I have A Thing about being forced or expected to reveal private medical information to coworkers or supervisors. Even looping in the boss will entail some level of disclosure. That said, I’d probably give my boss a courtesy heads up right before I went to HR with a harassment/hostile work environment complaint.

  69. Katherine*

    Perfect response except the last line. Jumping from “she did something horrible” to “she is horrible” is unfair, overly harsh, not really helpful to the OP, ignorant, and kind of arrogant. I’m guessing you’ve done something in your life that you’re ashamed of, and that you’d hate to be labeled as categorically “horrible” by a stranger based on that one thing. It’s not the first time you’ve thrown around labels (for example, Broken Femur was a jerk) and it is unbecoming.

    1. Random IT Guy*

      Frankly – i think you are wrong.
      Co-irker IS horrible (either as a person or just this one example).

      First of all – my health is just that MY health. Unless I ask someone for help, advice or support – it will be MY health.

      But, in case you have missed it – the co-irker said this to OP:
      “She went on to say that if she doesn’t see me start putting on weight she, along with a few other unnamed coworkers, would be going to my manger about forcing me to take time off”

      How in the world is this not horrible? The serious invasion of privacy is being aggravated by a threat?

      Seriously – co-irker IS horrible!

      1. Katherine*

        I didn’t say the action wasn’t horrible. I agree that it was. I said that labeling a person as horrible is unfair just because they did a horrible thing. Do you honestly not see any difference between “your action was horrible” and “you are horrible”? It IS possible that this coworker meant well and that her actions were well intentioned, albeit terribly misguided. This situation doesn’t make her a categorically horrible person. And Please don’t condescend to me with the “in case you missed it.” You’re the one who completely missed the point of what I said. If I were you or Alison, I guess that instead of saying “you misunderstood what I said,” I’d go straight to saying “you don’t know how to read” or “you’re an idiot.” Would that be fair, or kind, or accurate, or respectful? No? Well, that’s how I feel about alison calling someone “horrible” who she doesn’t know, based on one incident. Opine about the actions in question, not about the coworker as a person.

        1. A Kate*

          There comes a point when a persistent tendency toward horrible actions indicates a horribleness within. I think this co-worker’s behavior has crossed that threshold. Maybe you don’t, and that’s fine, but I don’t think it’s very intellectually honest to pretend that this person just made one small mistake, akin to misreading something and then being called an idiot.

          I also think horrible people can be redeemed–it’s not like being deemed “a horrible person” or “a complete jerk” is a death sentence. The great news is, that’s all within the co-worker’s control to solve. She doesn’t need internet commenters swooping in to defend her; she needs to BE BETTER. Then no one will call her horrible anymore.

          1. Katherine*

            Very fair point- you think the coworker crossed a threshold and I don’t. Completely true. But I am being intellectually honest. No, the coworker didn’t make a small mistake, she made a series of huge ones, but Alison does not know a single thing about the coworker other than her interaction with the letter writer, but went ahead and called her horrible. Those types of generalizations, which have come from Alison more than once on this blog, bother me. And I DID NOT defend the coworker. I said that I agreed completely with everything Alison said, except the last sentence. Everything Alison said was critical of the coworker and was , in my mind, justified- EXCEPT the “horrible” label. I don’t feel the need to protect the coworker, I feel the need to speak out against generalizations and labeling. I think they bring down the level of discourse on this blog and are helpful to no one.

            1. Random IT Guy*

              Frankly, i came to the same conclusion as Alison before I read her comment.
              Just from description of OP.
              (Though, the word i chose would be filtered probably).

              * gossip with coworkers about OP
              * Jumping to conclusions
              * leaving food items
              * the ‘confrontation’
              * the threat

              While just one is a bad call, or a horrible choice – the combination of all of them makes me agree with the verdict that the co-irker is horrible. Perhaps as a co-worker, not as a person – but no sane and even mildly compassionate person would go to these lengths as co-irker did here.

              But, i`ll grant I tend to see things more black & white in these cases – and nuance is sometimes just a word in those cases.
              And, i did not mean to be condescending – but the part I quoted was when i went full WTF about this story – and drew my conclusion that either co-irker is indeed horrible or so far detached from reality that she may need some help to get her feet back on this planet.
              If that was offensive – please do accept my appologies – as I did not mean to cause offense. I just am blunt and not always diplomatic when in ‘WTF’ mode.

    2. Blueberry*

      Why is it that on every discussion online about someone dealing with another person’s harmfulness, someone always shows up to defend the harm-causer? It’s an interesting, if horrifying, phenomenon.

      OP, whether or not your coworker ‘means well’ (a question that can only be answered by a psychic) you are allowed to not want to put up with it. And you can freely ignore those who always insist on defending such overreach to you.

      1. Katherine*

        I didn’t mean to defend the coworker at all. I think the coworker was completely in the wrong. I’ve noticed that *Alison* occasionally labels people in a way that I find unproductive/superior/sweeping, and that’d what I was responding to. I apologize if it seems I’m defending the coworker. I’m not. I’m saying that in general I don’t think you can , or should, generalize about a person in such harsh terms based on limited information. A commenter up/thread made what I thought was a fair argument that the coworker may have had good intentions and gone about them in an insanely wrong way. That’s all.

  70. Former Employee*

    “She said everyone in the office is talking about my recent weight loss and that if I need time to “battle my demons” she is sure my manager would understand.”

    “Everyone” is talking about it because the nosy witch went around putting the idea in people’s minds in the first place.

    I would be tempted to tell her that what she said to me is a threat and that if she ever threatened me again, I have “family” who would take that very seriously on my behalf. If she doesn’t want to know what that means, she needs to stop talking about me to anyone in the office and never approach me again about this subject.

    I’m not sure I could carry it off, but I think it would be great fun if I could.

    1. annakarina1*

      “Family” in quotations makes it sound like you’re connected to an organized crime family and making threats of violence. I don’t advise anyone to actually say that, even if it sounds like a good revenge fantasy.

  71. Random IT Guy*

    As many have said – talk to your manager.

    If you get asked if you talked to the co-irker (i`m so stealing that word!) you can say that, given the sense of violation and the ‘threat’ of going over your head about this – you felt either uncomfortable or threatened that you could not even try (as it felt THAT serious).

    That said – from someone with another kind of disorder – take care of yourself, and hang in there. We`ve got this!

  72. Introvert girl*

    I have the same problem with loosing a lot of weight. When my coworkers asked me I say I’ve found a good doctor and we’re working on it. Which is true, but I don’t need to divulge it’s a psychiatrist. Or I say: yeah, it’s a medical issue and I’m working on it with my doctor. Now no one asks anymore. So that’s how I solved it. As for unwanted advise: thank you for your concern, but I’m sticking with my doctor’s plan right now.

  73. AnyoneAnywhere*

    Just sending positive thoughts- it must be stressful to deal with feeling watched at work as you cope with your own issues in the best way that you can. It seems like you have had a ton of understandably upsetting and destabilizing things come your way, and the last thing that you need is to feel like work is a place of potential judgement.
    I know that shutting down this stuff sometimes make you look defensive- which just reaffirms t0 the annoying PITA that you really do have an eating disorder- but I think if you invoke the I have a medical condition that I am seeing a doctor for which is none of your business- it helps shut that speculation down.
    Good luck. Thinking of you.

  74. Pretty Hate Machine*

    How the F does taking time off work help someone to gain weight? They eat food during the day or they don’t. Doing it at home won’t help and it might make things work.

    Actually, most of the (awesome, crazy, demon-haunted) people I know need to keep going to work when demons are worst. Not get “sent home” to be alone with those bstrds.

    Coworker is an ignorant self-congratulating dipstick.

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