my coworkers say my diet will kill me, job candidates bearing gifts, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. My coworkers keep saying my diet is going to kill me

I eat McDonald’s for breakfast or lunch somewhere around 4-6 times a week. I get high-protein options like egg McMuffins, double cheeseburgers, or chicken nuggets and never order fries or regular soda.

A couple of coworkers frequently ask about my cholesterol levels and make comments like “you’re going to die before you’re 50.” I would be fine with them saying stuff like that if I actually had any health issues, but I don’t! I’m in really good shape and I’ve never taken a sick day.

I’m worried that I’m going to clap back at them and say something hurtful (they’re both obese). What’s an appropriate/gentle way to get them to stop?

It wouldn’t be okay for them to make comments like that if you had health issues either! They’re being rude and intrusive, and the way you manage what you eat isn’t their business. That’s true regardless of the choices you’re making, good or bad.

Here are a variety of ways you can try to shut it down, depending on what wording you’re comfortable with:
* “I know you mean well, but I don’t want to talk about my health or my food. Thanks for understanding.”
* “I really don’t want to talk about my cholesterol or my eating choices at work. Can we declare a cease-fire on this?”
* “All this commentary on my diet is getting old. Can we leave it here?”
* “I’m taking my eating choices off the table for discussion. So about that (insert-related topic here)…”


2. Coworker gave me a smaller gift than she gave everyone else

I work in a doctor’s office with mostly women but my department is all women. There are 10 of us and for the most part we get along great and work well as a team. My question is, should I feel slighted if I received a gift from one of my coworkers that was considerably less than others on my team? I do recognize this is petty and I am thankful to receive anything, but I can’t help but feel snubbed. I help this person considerably throughout our work days and am always available to her. Then it’s Christmas and I get a few items thrown into a bag, where others on my team are receiving bigger bags with wrapped presents and a card with handwritten wishes inside. I don’t ask for anything in return when I help anyone but it makes us all feel better when we’re recognized.

I know I have a lot of “but’s” in here; I’m just not sure how to ask what I’m feeling. I also know I control my feelings and I should just get over it, but it honestly makes me not want to go over and above to help someone where it makes them look good and it leaves me over here in the dirt.

Office gifts are so weird, in part because of things like this. I would try to assume that it wasn’t intended as a snub — that she just works more closely with others, or talks to them more frequently, or couldn’t figure out what you would like while she had perfect ideas for the others, or something else that would explain the difference. If she generally treats you well, that’s really what matters. Don’t let gift comparisons generate bad feelings when you felt fine about things between you beforehand — that is giving too much power to the sometimes arbitrary or inexplicable world of gifts!


3. My employee bothers her office mate with constant questions

I manage two employees who share an office. One is a long-term employee and stellar worker. She bit the bullet and volunteered to share her office because we needed the space. The other position is a new employee in an entry-level assistant role. My more seasoned employee has been venting that the assistant peppers her with many imposing questions. For example:
“Who was that on the phone?”
“What did you just print?”
“Where are you going?”
“Where were you?”
“What was that person talking about?”

I’ve seen it myself because she asks me similar, but much less frequent questions and I notice the awkwardness when I go into their office to discuss projects with the seasoned employee and can feel her staring at me, or making audible acknowledgments, as if she’s apart of the conversation.

I’m afraid this could lead to the seasoned employee quitting in the long run. Is this just a case of social ignorance or should I step in and address it? If so, how do I tell her to, professionally speaking, mind her own business?

Step in and address it! You’re her manager and she needs coaching on a behavior that’s disrupting your team — and is even making you fear someone will leave over it. You absolutely should speak up.

You could say it this way: “I wanted to talk to you about some of the protocol around sharing an office. It can be tough to work in close quarters like that, and so it’s important that you and Jane are both respectful of each other’s space and privacy. I’ve noticed that you ask her a lot of questions about what she’s doing, like who she was talking to, or where she’s going to or coming from. When you’re sharing an office with someone, you need to give them more space than that. A good rule is to treat the other person’s comings and goings and their conversations as if you don’t see or hear them. That doesn’t mean you have to pretend she’s not there at all — it’s just about giving each other privacy to carry out your work and any personal matters without being peppered with questions. Does that make sense?”

Normally I’d suggest that you first coach Jane to address this herself, but it sounds like this employee needs significant enough coaching that it makes sense for you to take it on.


4. Job candidate who bear gifts and quote MC Hammer

I am hiring for an entry-level assistant position in my department. One applicant has dropped by the office twice now. The first time she left a small scented candle with a note thanking me in advance for calling her in for an interview. Today, she dropped off a plant with another thank-you note that said, among other things, “PS – I realize that I am pushing protocol to its limits by pre-interview notes and swag. I really want to work here and will do nearly anything to get noticed. Enjoy the plant.” The notes are not well-written and include some bizarre references. Today, the note quotes MC Hammer, as she is “Too legit. Too legit to quit… trying to get an interview.”

I would not have called her in for an interview based on her resume, but this behavior has me running for the hills! The etiquette lessons drilled in to me from birth leave me feeling like I need to thank her for the gifts, but I don’t want to open up a line of communication with someone I do not feel is qualified for the job. What would you do?

I don’t think you’re obligated to send a thank-you for the gifts, since they’re the equivalent of marketing materials for herself — and you don’t send thank-you’s for promotional items, after all. But I’d send her a rejection notice sooner rather than later so that this doesn’t continue … and it would be a kindness to include something like, “Typically we prefer not to receive gifts from applicants, and encourage applicants to focus on standing out through their cover letters and resumes.”


{ 284 comments… read them below }

  1. LMK*

    Boy, I don’t think I could keep quiet for long if someone was always criticizing what I was eating! I would have shut them down the first time they said it. That’s nobody’s business but mine, period, end of story.

    1. Loulou*

      TBH, I think it’s very easy to read a letter like this and think “well, *I’D* never let them get away with this!” But in real life, when someone violates a boundary in an extreme and rude way, it’s very shocking, and freezing or just deciding not to say anything is a pretty natural reaction.

      So congratulations if you really would have shut them down the first time they said it, but I suspect that a solid 75% of people who think that about themselves would not have!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          So true. So many more excellent comebacks when strictly limited to hypothetical situations.

          “That was weird… They’re going away, maybe it won’t happen again” is probably way more common.

          1. Smithy*


            This may come a bit more from the perspective of being a woman where versions of the frozen response are very often a safety mechanism on their own. Essentially, if this comment or situation is a “one off weird thing” I don’t want to do anything that might potential escalate the situation.

            In my first job back in the US after working for a while in another country where the incidents of sexual harassment in the country overall were higher, I had a weird situation with an older male coworker. I was in the office kitchen and apparently had a hole in the sleeve of my shirt. I found this out because he came over, poked his finger through the hole and said boop.

            I just looked at him without saying anything and he walked away. Every bone in my body was screaming that this was going to become sexual harassment. Turned out the guy was gay and wildly awkward and nothing like that ever happened again. While I support anyone in that situation saying “don’t touch me” or similar – this guy was also a difficult guy in the office.

            My frozen response bought me time to learn more and think through my options. It may not be a snappy story, but it truly was the best course of action for that workplace.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              That is a great example of a one off being a one off.

              Often we don’t say anything the first time to let a one-off be a one-off. And then it repeats, and repeats, and now it feels like if you made a big deal about how much you hate them doing this it would be all out of scale to the action. And how were they to know, you didn’t say anything? You feel that there was an exact perfect time to speak up, the 5 1/2th time this happened, and because you didn’t manage to come out with just the right calibration of corrective then now you’ve got a running joke you hate.

              1. Nanani*

                And if you try to correct it now you get “but if it’s a problem why didn’t you say anything the first time” and now its your fault for not reacting perfectly in at least two contradictory ways at once.


              2. Smithy*


                And all of these situations inevitably have so much more context than just the incident in question. I’m sure lots of us actually have dozens and dozens of cases where the one off is a one off that we maybe don’t even remember because it was just a weird throw away moment.

                That incident has stayed with me, because throughout my whole body I thought this was the start of something bad and part of me did wish I said something. But the more rational side of my brain now knows more about who this guy was and how he would have reacted to even a very level toned “please don’t touch me”. And again, it really was a one off.

                1. Princesss Sparklepony*

                  I’m thinking you may have given him the death stare and that did the work for you. Not every response has to be verbal. A well timed stare and look of scorn can do wonders.

          2. Princesss Sparklepony*

            There is some French phrase for coming up with the perfect comeback hours later that evening… I just don’t remember it. Maybe later tonight it will come to me….

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              Esprit de l’escalier, I believe – “staircase wit”, eg something you come up with when you’re already halfway down the stairs to leave. I think it was coined by Diderot.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yeah, I had coworkers who were doing something similar. They weren’t talking about my for directly, but they were all doing the same diet together and kept talking about it at lunch. They weren’t really noticing me and I’m reasonably sure they weren’t making comments AT me, but when I was eating a tomato salad and one of them went on about how unhealthy tomatoes are because sugar, or something like that, it was super uncomfortable. In the end I never said anything, just moved to another table, but it still frustrates me when I think about it.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Reading this letter I was struck by how anxiety draws some people to conspiracy theories–they want to feel they are addressing the thing that makes them anxious. I think policing other people to ensure they follow the norms you do this week–diet, clothing, etc–might stem from a similar spot of fear.

          “I fear layoffs, so I light an MC Hammer scented candle on my desk every morning, and look at OP with her lack of candles like this isn’t the only scientifically validated approach to warding off a layoff.”

        2. Siege*

          My niece-in-law, who is a bigoted idiot, once went on a description of the women who were the reason she and my nephew stopped attending Warped Tour. What was sad/hilarious about it was that the clothing she was describing was the clothing I was wearing as she sat across the table from me. I’m certain she had no idea, but it also means I had a 15-year head start on who she is as a person that most other members of my family are just catching up to now that she’s a Trumper, Big Liar, and super into Q. I genuinely think most people don’t actually pay attention to what others are doing, and the people who are doing the thing freeze because it’s so obvious to us. “You’re complaining about women in camisoles in the desert heat, do you not see the fetching camisole I am wearing? How can you not? Wait … maybe you … don’t?”

          Honestly, if I had a time machine, I would visit that moment and pitch a fit, rather than sit there like a confused lump.

      2. Bamcheeks*

        I do have a good line in a direct look and, “what an odd thing to say!” But I’ve been practising it for twenty odd years— I certainly couldn’t do it when I was in my twenties!

      3. anonymous73*

        I generally think of things to say hours after something happened, so I may not have said something the first time, but after it continued I certainly would not have kept my mouth shut. People need to stop worrying about being polite and ignoring boundary crossing behavior. They’re the ones being rude, and their behavior needs to be addressed.

        1. Loulou*

          I’m not saying people SHOULD be “polite” or say nothing when people are rude like this…just that a lot of people WILL get tongue tied or choose to brush it off. I don’t want OP to see an internet badass saying “they’d never say that to me twice!!!!” and feel bad about themselves for not having shut it down or not knowing what to say.

          1. Olivia Oil*

            There’s also the fact that the type of person to engage in rude, boundary crossing behavior is the same person who will probably blow up at someone who politely asks someone to respect their boundaries. I think sometimes people are acting on sound instinct when they choose not to confront a person with evidently bad judgment on their behavior if there is nothing to gain from it.

            I don’t remember if Dear Prudence or Captain Awkward coined this phrase, but “reasons are for reasonable people.”

            1. Zweisatz*

              Yeah but Captain Awkward doesn’t use it to say “Don’t set boundaries because people might get upset.”, but “You can keep your boundary setting nice and tight, no need to explain your whole reasoning or justify yourself.”

              Of course sometimes people will be so outright threatening that a different solution than “don’t touch me” is needed, but this phrase is very much designed to set boundaries, not shy away from it.

              (I’m only commenting on the subthread. I very much agree that the first time people say something weird it can be very hard to react at all.)

        2. Blarg*

          This is why role playing is helpful, in professional and personal settings. It is SO awkward and uncomfortable to “play” at a situation … but it gives you the chance to try out different strategies, and when you think of the “perfect” response later, it isn’t too late — cause you haven’t actually had the conversation yet.

          Anyway. I role playing at trainings a s such and yet … it really is helpful!

          1. Blarg*

            Ok well that last sentence got auto corrected into oblivion. “I hate role playing … so much and yet” was what I meant to say.

        3. Observer*

          I think that the problem for the OP was two fold. One was that they seemed to think that the talk was only objectionable because it was WRONG. And therefore, if they were going to say anything it would have to convince the coworkers that they are wrong. In fact, it’s totally not the point. They could have been taking multiple smoke breaks a day, and the coworkers would STILL have been wrong in their behavior.

          I also think that the OP felt a need to not inflame a situation with people they need to work with. Especially when you are lower in the hierarchy and you need other people to cooperate with you that can be a difficult needle to thread.

        4. River Otter*

          But at the same time, when you reply to boundary crossing behavior with your own boundary crossing behavior, you move from NTA to ESH.* that is where the etiquette lesson that calling out rudeness makes you the rude one comes in. The best reply is directly and graciously refusing to engage, not a snappy come back.

          *Reddit parlance for “not the glass bowl” and “everyone sucks here.”

          1. Dr Sarah*

            I now really want to know whether ‘glass bowl’ was a deliberate euphemism or spellcheck being even weirder than usual.

        5. Nanani*

          Except a lot of us have way more to lose from reacting “wrong” than the boundary crosser does for crossing the boundary in the first place.
          Power dynamics are real.

          1. Lucy Skywalker*

            Eh, it depends. If the boundary crosser was a new hire, and the person whose boundaries were crossed was a senior executive, then the boundary crosser has more to lose.

      4. roisin54*

        Agreed. I had a co-worker who criticized my lunch habits (apparently microwaved meals were going to give me cancer) and it wasn’t until the fifth or sixth time she said it that I finally responded and asked her to stop. I probably could’ve come up with something better to say than “Well if I get cancer it’ll be my problem and not yours so please stop bringing it up” but it worked.

        1. Let me clear my schedule for you*

          Thinking of something when it happens is really difficult. My not-so-polite response I gave a coworker who said I’m going to die for microwaving my lunch: “Ohmigosh! You drove to work today!?! In a car!?! You’re going to die!”

      5. Unicorn Parade*

        I had a coworker years ago who had gastric bypass surgery, then decided she was the Queen of Everyone’s Food Choices. This was a woman who weighed over 400 pounds before surgery. After surgery, she constantly commented on what I ate, and it was a small office so we often ate together. I put up with the comments for over a year, then lost my shit. I don’t like raw veggies and I would usually get my burger or whatever minus the lettuce, tomato, and onion. One time I ordered my burger minus the LTO and she said “Oh, god forbid Unicorn Parade eat an actual VEGETABLE” and started laughing. I finally lost it and said “I’ll ask you for nutritional advice as soon as I’m fat enough to need gastric bypass like you, otherwise keep your goddamn mouth shut about what I eat” and stormed out of the office. This was in front of our boss, as well. She ended up having a talk with Queen, turns out everyone was over her behavior but I’m the only one who called her on it.

        1. Blue*

          This seems like a good lesson on why to say something the first (or even 5th) time someone does something that bothers you rather than bottling it up and the exploding with something inappropriate and hateful.

          1. 2QS*

            I reacted like this too. Her behavior was super annoying, but yeah, this response has so much contempt in it – toward a whole group of people that’s already badly treated for flimsy reasons – that I winced.

          2. Office Lobster DJ*

            Yeah. My own well of compassion for Queen would have dried up as well, but whoa. I’m glad your boss talked to Queen, but I’m hoping your boss talked to you, too.

          3. Sara without an H*

            Yes. I’m not criticizing Unicorn Parade (who sounds as though she’d had WAY MORE than more than enough), but it’s usually a good idea to use your words before you’ve reached the BEC stage with somebody.

          4. River Otter*

            Yup. In offices where I have worked, I would have been the glass bowl for responding like that. “Don’t escalate” is a lesson I learned early.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            For me it’s that when you put lettuce on hot food it gets all limp and sad and I do not want to eat it. I’ll eat lettuce in other ways, but not on hamburgers or tacos or any other warm food.

          2. INFJedi*

            I don’t mind them as a side-dish, even with a burger. But yes, not on my actual burger in a bun. It slides out, or is too big (the slice of tomato most of the time) or it pushes the ketchup or mayo out on the sides,… nah! Just a burger with a slice of cheese please :D

        2. Important Moi*

          Unicorn Parade, your response sounds fine to me. This wasn’t the first time Queen overstepped.

          I am fat, that doesn’t make others obligated to politely accept rude behavior from me because I am fat and fat people are treated with contempt.

          1. Wisteria*

            There is vast territory between “politely accept” and “respond with more hate,” and “politely shut it down” is in that territory.

            1. Mannequin*

              I don’t agreed that pointing out someone’s rude and blatant hypocrisy is “respond[ing] with more hate”. It’s stating a fact- that this person is using some pretty wildly divergent double standards to judge those around them, and doing so in a way that is especially rude and invasive. It may be stated in a snarky, sarcastic, and/or unkind way, but I am of the mind that 1. people who act like glassbowls have broken the social contract so completely that they no longer have any right to expect anyone to fulfill the other part of the social contract by responding to them with kindness, empathy, or even basic politeness AND 2. if people choose to respond in kind to being treated badly by some glassbowl, it does NOT “make everyone the glassbowl” or “lower them to that level” or whatever BS people use to gaslight nice people into putting up with mistreatment from glassbowls.

              If someone treats people badly, being treated poorly in return is simply them experiencing the natural consequences of their actions, and I see no reason that awful people should be blocked from experiencing that.

              1. zuzu*

                There’s a whole lot of “Eyes on your own plate” or “What’s it to you?” options available before going nuclear.

                1. Important Moi*

                  Per the letter, this had been going on a year. Please provide the timeframe for how long to is appropriate to accept this without gaslighting me for not be willing to tolerate bad treatment from a glassbowl

                2. Mannequin*

                  Yep, there are, and people can use those options if they want to. But they aren’t obligated to and it doesn’t make them bad or uncharitable people if they decide to simply cut it off at the pass by responding in kind.

              2. Dr Sarah*

                The problem I have here is that the speaking up, which was 1000% justified, turned into fat-shaming, which *isn’t* OK. What this woman was doing was wrong not because of how much she weighed or how much she weighed in the past, but because policing other people’s eating *is wrong*. She could have been a marathon runner with a perfect weight-to-height ratio, and her behaviour would still have been out of line. Her weight is as much her own business as Unicorn Parade’s diet is Unicorn Parade’s own business.

                I don’t buy the ‘hypocrisy’ argument because we have no idea what she weighed at the time she was making these comments (the ‘400 lb before surgery’ comment implies that this changed at least somewhat) or what her diet was like at any point, so this is making assumptions.

                So… yeah, I absolutely agree with Unicorn Parade speaking up. I just think doing it by slamming this person’s own weight was out of order.

      6. EventPlannerGal*

        Agreed. It doesn’t even need to be expressed in a really rude or extreme way for it to be hard to respond! Some people will make the most invasive, mean remarks but if they say it in a smiley, jokey way it leaves *you* feeling like you’re overreacting if you call it out – “it was just a joke!” etc etc.

      7. Caliente*

        I actually did it with my sister but it wasn’t the first time she did it. One of the reasons it wasn’t the first time is because I really had to control lashing out and saying something really mean because she’s obese and I’m not so of course what I felt was like Um WHAT?! But what I said in the end was Would you like me to comment on everything I see you put into your mouth? Shut it down quick without me saying something we both would’ve regretted.

      8. somanyquestions*

        If I could do most of my communications by writing, I would have a life of witty comebacks and steady boundaries.

      9. Olivia Oil*

        Yeah this is me. I do appreciate Alison provides tone neutral suggestions for what to say to coworkers, since you don’t want to be too confrontational with them if you say something.

        But also, can we PLEASE de-normalize commenting on people’s, weight, health, and what they eat? It’s so obnoxious. I’ve had people both comment when they thought my food choices were healthy or unhealthy. I’ve had people comment on my weight. I find these comments downright creepy and don’t know how it is widely accepted.

      10. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        *raises hand* My lunches were always considered really weird because I always brought a random grab bag of fruits, veggies, nuts, etc. in a 1 gallon ziploc and every time someone said something I never had a response, even though I always came up with mega witty ones later. I think it was getting interrupted when eating caused my brain to lock.

      11. KoiFeeder*

        Also, freezing up in those sorts of situations is a social safety mechanism! I am the sort of person who has told people to mind their own business about my diet, and a frustrated “well, the doc says to eat like this or get a colostomy in my 20’s” turns the drama llamas into drama pinatas. It sounds fun on the internet to be a snarky badass, but responding to that sort of thing in a socially incorrect way just results in you getting punished- there’s no punishment for the person who started things by being extraordinarily rude.

        1. Mannequin*

          Im sorry, I don’t actually see what the problem was with your remark. If your doctor actually did tell you to eat a certain way, or risk getting a colostomy bag in your 20s, then what you said is not ‘snark’ or sarcasm, it’s stating a medical fact. If your coworkers chose to read that as rude, THEY are the problem, not what you said, and if your HR or other higher ups chose to reprimand or punish you in any way, they were wrong, and just as petty & immature as your coworkers.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            It was mostly true- I have intestinal damage and I’m supposed to eat low residue, high calorie foods so that my intestines don’t tear themselves to bits with high residue foods and so that I’m actually getting nutrition from what I eat. My intestines are also at risk of going septic under certain conditions, and if they’re shredding themselves while I have a flare I am likely to lose large portions of my GI complex. That being said, the doctor did not say to eat a lot of ice cream and milkshakes, they just make up a large portion of my diet because they’re the least painful things on the menu.

            Also, that particular incident was undergrad- the dining hall had a milkshake machine and I tended to be finishing up a milkshake every day by the time I reached a certain class, and the teacher said I’d need a gastric bypass by the time I was 30 if I kept eating like that.

            My response did not go over well.

            1. Mannequin*

              Holy Honkin’ Hanukkah Balls! Your teacher was so out of line, you actually would have completely justified in telling them to mind their own f-ing business.

              And while your doctor may not have told you specifically to eat ice cream and milkshakes, they were still 1. an appropriate good for your particular diet and 2. the appropriate thing for your diet that was *available*

              Which I totally get. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a few age & stress related digestive issues, and sometimes the things I can or need to eat might seem odd, counterintuitive (dairy soothes/settles my tummy, an ice cream float eases nausea), or unhealthy to others, but I care more about eating enough, being nourished, and not feeling horrible than I do about peoples weird food issues, and I absolutely refuse to let anyone shame me for it. I will shut it down in whatever way gets it to stop. If I am pushed to the point of rudeness, and they don’t like it, well, they certainly had the option to stop being a glassbowl before I got to that point, didn’t they?

    2. RLR2783*

      I’ve dealt with this from a manager. I told him to stop critiquing my food. Didn’t help. So the second time I told him to mind his f-ing business or I would report for harassment.

      Little did I know that there were other issues and he was fired 6 months later after talking to me and a few others that apparently filed complaints.

    3. Anonymous4*

      Come to think of it, I’m not sure if people have ever criticized my lunches. I read the letter, read some responses, and thought, “Have I ever been in that position?” I’ve worked with a lot of women (and men, too) who were on weird diets, and they never shut up about them, and my take on it was, “Better you than me, bucky!” But if they were talking AT me (rather than to me) about what I ate, it went right past me.

      I hope they were talking at me. It would have been so frustrating for them to do everything but climb on my desk and shout, “YOU EAT BAD!” and have it go in one ear and out the other. And God knows, their constant diet yammer was tedious beyond belief.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I get a bit of “you eat like a 9 year old boy,” but I mostly just shrug it off because Spaghettios continue to be delicious and easy to prepare in the office kitchen.

      2. Seriously?*

        When I was actively losing weight, some people would ask what I did and I told them, otherwise I never brought it up. I did get LOTS of, just eat this cookie, you could use it! You’re cold – it’s because you’re too thin! (Nope, it’s genetics, dear!) So many people tried to undermine me.

        It’s a problem both ways. Just don’t comment on food choices!

      3. Saraquill*

        One woman was so bothered by my bread, tomato and sausage meal she asked if I was constipated. I was 17, she was a grown up, and it wasn’t until years later that I understood how out of bounds she was.

        There was also the time in 4th grade my classmates showed visible disgust over me having leftover barbecue for lunch rather than a sandwich like everyone else. I said nothing, just enjoyed the yummy.

      4. Office Chinchilla*

        I was telling my brother once that I mostly ate microwave dinners for lunch and he said that would never fly in his office, because everyone would have to comment on the waste in the packaging, etc. I said no, in my office there is exactly one thing that you are allowed to say about someone else’s food: “Ooh, that smells good.” That’s it. No other comments allowed.

        1. Mannequin*

          I’m disabled and I get very, VERY annoyed by people who become sure self righteous about the existence of convenience meals and other “wasteful” items that improve our QoL or make independent life possible for people like me.

    4. Meep*

      Yeah… It doesn’t sound appetizing to ME and my first thought was to think that OP cannot feel good with all that greasy food on a daily basis, but it isn’t my body. The only argument I can think of is that OP’s bowels are probably a mess and the coworker may not like sharing a bathroom with that, but Pooperi exists.

      1. Observer*

        I hear you. The thing is that it really doesn’t explain their behavior anyway. I mean even assuming that the OP’s bowels were a mess (and a bit of a stretch given the rest of the letter), there is nothing in the OP’s description that points to their diet as being the cause for the kind of thing you seem to be referring to. Even if it COULD be related, no one has any idea if it actually IS related. Which is to say that drawing a straight line between what they see the OP eating and a smelly bathroom is utterly ridiculous.

        And if an adult DOES need to bring up the fact that someone is leaving a smelly bathroom, the way to approach it is NOT to make gross comments about the person’s lifespan and general diet. Now, I’m a bit skeptical that it does ever need to be brought up. But *IF* it does, the way to go is something like “I realize that this is not really in your control, but there tends to be an odor when you leave the bathroom. Could you flush a second time / use some poo-purri / whatever actionable thing?”

        1. Mannequin*

          It’s DEFINITELY not a given that “healthy diet = pleasanter poops”

          I was a vegetarian for decades and let me tell you, that while eating lots of fresh, simple, plant, whole grain, and cultured dairy based meals was GREAT for my bowel health, it didn’t get rid of a “smelly bathroom”, because fragrant by-products are just a natural side effect when you eat a shipload of fiber, fresh fruits & veggies, plain yogurt, and other pre- & pro-biotics, LOL.

      2. Pool Lounger*

        Your body may respond to McDonalds that way, but not everyone’s does. I think about amy uncle, who has refused for his entire life to eat anything green. He eats buttered noodles and plain burgers and crispy fries, and that’s it. He was also a professional volleyball player and still plays and coaches in his late 60s. He’s healthier than many of my other relatives who eat vegetables. His diet works for him. Yours works for you. You can’t assume that just because you react a certain way everyone else will too.

      3. Popinki*

        I eat a fairly high fat and high protein diet, because I’m type 2 diabetic and it’s the easiest way I’ve found of keeping my blood sugar on an even keel. I don’t have tummy troubles from it and my poo doesn’t smell any worse than anyone else’s.

        Also, the items the OP describes aren’t the greasebombs you’re thinking. Egg McMuffins have Canadian bacon, which is very lean. Fast food cheeseburgers, as long as they aren’t loaded up with bacon and mayo and other fatty sauces, are actually lower fat than the “healthy” salads you can get at those places. I can’t call Chicken McNuggets health food even though I’d really love to, but they do have a lot of protein. The worst offenders are fries and sugary drinks, which the OP doesn’t get.

        1. Lala*

          The preservatives and saturated fats in that kind of food pretty much cancels out any health benefit of the protein.

          1. Observer*

            Which is totally irrelevant to the situation, though. It’s not even relevant to this particular piece of speculative fiction, since whatever health issues there may be, they are not especially likely to cause people to have especially stinky poo.

          2. Mannequin*

            No, it actually doesn’t (and certainly I’m no McDonald’s apologist, even as a kid I thought their food tasted awful) but the whole “pure food = pure body” is another crock of shingles entirely

    5. Artemesia*

      I have found there is a lot of power in ‘I never want to hear another word about this’. It even worked on a nag that my mother was laying on me year after year and has worked in workplace situations where someone crossed this kind of personal line. But it is always hard to know that a comment like the diet thing is going to become chronic and so most people ignore it the first time — or just don’t know what to say. But the second time — shut it down.

      1. Pool Lounger*

        This is a great response. People act like you have to come up with a clever response, but you don’t! Just saying, “Don’t do x.” us enough!

    6. IndyDem*

      I would never comment on someone’s diet, unless it directly affects me “What, Burger King again! Could we go to someplace slightly better for us?”. I totally would comment about someone saying “I’ve never taken a sick day” because that’s disturbing.

    7. Freya*

      I mean, I have, but I also have the benefit of having been on a doctor-mandated minimum 3000 calories daily, so I generally get to appeal to authority to back myself up…

  2. LemonLyman*

    Sharing your thoughts on people’s food is inappropriate! I hope OP felt comfortable to shut it down the next time it happened.

    Also, a side note, a thin body size doesn’t equate to healthy and a fat body doesn’t equate to unhealthy (and type of food eaten doesn’t equate to body size). I’ve been listening to Maintenance Phase (podcast) and trying to unlearn fat phobia and food shaming. Highly recommend!

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, I’d love to hear an update on this. But I do find it interesting that it’s a couple of obese people who are/were doing this, because fat people get judged for what they eat much more often than others.

        1. Forrest Gumption*

          “I’m worried that I’m going to clap back at them and say something hurtful (they’re both obese).”

      1. Lucky045*

        I thought this but I have a bad habit of acting defensively ahead of time, which this extremely rude behaviour could be a form of. That is, I am also obese and might look at a coworker and think “I get judged all the time for being unhealthy because of my weight, even though my poor health isn’t related to weight… I bet coworker will one day make a judgey comment – thin people always do… How dare she, when she eats McDonalds multiple times a week?! *Cue unnecessary comment*”

        To be fair, I would still never comment on someone else’s diet and it mostly is with my family, when I have more reason for the internal “they are judging me”.
        But I can see how it would happen. (It could come from paranoia but… OP *are* you implying that kind of judgement with comments or facial expressions? Perhaps it’s just an unrelated history of fatphobic comments from others though.)

        OP, it’s worth noting that, although the behaviour is entirely appalling and I’d be fuming if I were you, if you did succumb and make a comment about their obesity, that would place you squarely in the wrong (thin-privilege is a thing). Still, you absolutely get to ask them to stop, or demand it, even with an affronted/angry tone if you want. Just without hitting out at their weight!

        1. Barbara Eyiuche*

          Yes, I was thinking this too. As a fat person, people often judge what I am eating, and make assumptions about my eating habits. If I saw a normal-weight coworker eating McDonald’s three or four times a week, I would be surprised. However, it would be wrong of me to say anything.

        2. anonymous73*

          It sounds like you’re making excuses for the co-workers because they probably get judged for being obese. Regardless of your own circumstances, making comments about someone’s eating habits is not okay. Full stop. The WHY is irrelevant.

          1. Lucky045*

            I think we’re both clear that it’s not acceptable. The mention of obesity in the original letter gives a relevant context. Particularly given that it’s listed as an avenue of possible attack should the original rudeness continue. Power imbalances in the world mean that all rudeness is not equal and often the “why” does matter – if not to a professional response, certainly to the development or continuation of positive and empathetic relationships.

            1. pancakes*

              It seems pretty clear that the letter writer asked for advice because they want to avoid saying something hurtful. Absolutely no one is recommending that or considering doing so purposefully “as an avenue of possible attack.”

              1. Lucky045*

                No, I don’t think that’s being recommended. The letter writer brought it up as the behaviour they would feel they had to resort to if not given advice on how to respond better. That makes it an avenue of possible attack. Luckily Alison gave excellent alternative advice as ever.

                I’m probably going to log off with a new gratitude for my bubble now as it appears that expressing empathy for or understanding of fat people on the internet requires an immensely high tolerance for clarifying, reframing and challenging strawman reinterpretations of your point.

                1. Quack Quack No*

                  it appears that expressing empathy for or understanding of fat people on the internet requires an immensely high tolerance for clarifying, reframing and challenging strawman reinterpretations of your point.

                  Having followed this discussion, I completely agree. And it’s an example of the kind of thing we’re talking about.

                2. Mannequin*

                  Pointing out the hypocrisy of an obese person policing the supposed unhealthiness of every piece of food that goes into another person’s mouth isn’t fat phobia, it’s not an “attack” on fat people (I should know, I am one) or “a lack of empathy for or understanding of fat people on the internet”. It’s pointing out the absolute ugliness of hypocrites who judge others by what are obviously double standards- on top of being rude, nosy, and invasive to begin with!

                  To me, it’s pretty obvious that being a hypocrite adds an extra layer of nastiness to whatever toxic behavior someone is evincing, and also that this is what is going on here with OP…but then again, I also had to deal with the toxic, actually-a-narcissist ex friend who was overweight and obsessed with dieting. When I was thin (entirely genetic/metabolic), the comments were of the “aren’t you lucky, not everyone can eat like that” variety because she resented that I had neither weight or food issues, when I gained weight later in life, they were of the “you’re eating X? Isn’t X really fattening?” variety because she resented that I still ate whatever I wanted without feeling guilt or worrying about calories.
                  And no, I wasn’t “really thinking” mean, fatphobic things about her, because I grew up with parents/family that didn’t have a bunch of weird hang ups about weight or size, weren’t obsessed with food or dieting, and wouldn’t have DREAMED about judging a person for anything but their actions (and believe me, we kids were NOT allowed to make derogatory comments about anyone, EVER.) I never thought anything about my larger friends except that they were all beautiful and that I was lucky to know so many amazing people! It made me sad that she felt so negatively about herself…but not sad enough to accept her projecting all her personal insecurities into me.

                1. Sure, Jan*

                  That story was definitely *and everyone clapped* wasn’t it? As in, I doubt it happened that way at all.

                2. pancakes*

                  I think you’re referring to a comment they made a half hour or so after I left this one. Take it up with them if you want to challenge it.

                3. Bamcheeks*

                  It wasn’t really intended as a “gotcha”, just pointing out that the idea that it’s a fair line of attack isn’t as rare as all that.

              2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

                Well, the only actionable advice for not saying something hurtful is “don’t say the hurtful thing, regardless of provocation”, which is way too simple for an advice column.

        3. pancakes*

          The behavior you describe isn’t really defensive if it’s “ahead of time” rather than in response to criticism; it sounds more like being combative. Even if the letter writer has made facial expressions that their coworkers regard as judgmental, that doesn’t buy them the right to heckle anyone’s food choices.

          1. Lucky045*

            I can’t be defensive based on the expectation that past behaviour I’ve experienced might be repeated? I think you’re off base here. I’m not sure if you’re implying that fatphobia isn’t engrained enough in society to lead me to expect it? Or if you simply think I’m defending the rude comments themselves?

            If the former, you’re mistaken. You can certainly be defensive about an attitude and dynamic that has repeated itself as many times as fatphobia does, and it can certainly influence your responses to new setups which appear to mimic those dynamics.

            If the latter, not to worry – I certainly do not condone the comments. I simply think there is likely some context behind them which I find it interesting to explore.

            1. Caliente*

              I mean here’s the thing – my sister is very obese and I can honestly assure you I’ve never commented on it. I literally can’t even imagine being like girl you’re big? I would never ever go around telling anyone they need to do anything really – weight related, work related, boyfriend/girlfriend/partner related. Like, do you. I do however workout regularly and try to eat as “healthy” as I can, though for me that means just a regular balanced diet, heavy on the veggies, nothing extreme. However that doesn’t stop me from eating a pastry or ice cream or whatever when I feel like it. Let me pick up something “not healthy” though, and guess who has all kinds of comments about it? Frequently. She also comments on other large people if she seems them eating something “they shouldn’t”. So that is probably some internalized, “well people talk about what I eat so now I’m going after anyone else I see eating junk that I shouldn’t be eating”. Listen, I understand the fat shaming – external and internal. Its sad, it sucks, I wish people wouldn’t do that. But don’t talk about me and what I’m eating either!
              Also we got past this years ago when I was finally like Would you like me to comment on everything you put into your mouth? She didn’t even say no, she literally just looked pretty surprised and she stopped with the comments after that. She actually comments on everything that she herself eats, like if we decide to get ice cream or whatever she talks and talks about how she shouldn’t be eating it and she’s gonna trade this for that and she actually does go on, but I just do not engage.

            2. pancakes*

              I don’t agree that the context makes this heckling interesting, and don’t agree that someone who is combative in anticipation of having to defend themselves against remarks that haven’t been made yet is behaving appropriately.

              It sounds like you have a history of wanting to defend yourself from rude remarks from your family, and I’m sorry to hear that, but the appropriate people to address that with is your family members who are rude, not everyone and anyone you suspect is likely to be similarly rude.

              1. Lucky045*

                I think we have different definitions of “defensive”. Defensive behaviour is almost never acceptable! It’s almost by definition unacceptable behaviour. It’s understandable as a malformed defence mechanism, that’s all.

                Thanks for your concern about my family dynamics – I’m pretty confident on my reading of fatphobia in the wider world, but as I said, I never did agree that OP’s colleagues were behaving in an acceptable way.

              2. Quack Quack No*

                I really hope you’re not implying that fatphobia is limited to Lucky045’s family, because it’s truly not.

              3. socks*

                “Combative in anticipation of having to defend themselves” is practically the definition of “defensive”. It’s not just another word for “defending yourself.”

                Lucky045 didn’t say the coworkers were behaving appropriately, or that their own defensiveness is appropriate. In fact, they said several times that it was *not* appropriate. You’re arguing against statements they haven’t made.

              4. pancakes*

                I don’t see how anything I said suggests that I think fatphobia is limited to this one commenter’s family. It seems like many people here are quick to take offense at those of us saying that whatever reasons the letter writer’s coworkers have for heckling their lunch aren’t relevant. If they’ve been on the receiving end of fatphobia — which is clearly widespread! — then that doesn’t buy them a pass to heckle other people about their food choices. I don’t think it’s particularly empathetic to suggest that they must be so damaged from a lifetime of fatphobic interactions as to have lost sight of that, or to be unable or unwilling to be polite to people who aren’t obese.

                1. Quack Quack No*

                  “whatever reasons the letter writer’s coworkers have for heckling their lunch aren’t relevant”

                  Looking at the overall discussion, the consensus seems to be that 1) the coworkers have no right to hassle LW#1 about their food choices and 2) it IS relevant that LW#1’s coworkers are obese because that fact somehow makes it worse that they’re hassling LW#1 (see Falling Diphthong and Unicorn Parade’s statements for examples thereof). Why is it that pushing back against #2 keeps being counted as pushing back against #1?

                2. pancakes*

                  I don’t agree that comments from two people do in fact somehow establish that the letter writer’s coworkers are worse hecklers on account of being obese. If you nonetheless want to tell those two commenters that their thinking is wrong, go for it.

        4. Third or Nothing!*

          I am also fat and happen to be an athlete. I’ve found myself wearing my half marathon finisher shirts to certain fitness spaces in an attempt to signal I really am a seasoned athlete. Or I’ll casually drop my last hike into the conversation or say things like “oh I’m just doing the 10k today.”

          Part of this comes from running being an important part of my life and because I think representation is important, but there’s also a little part of me that wants to prove I’m a “good fatty” and I hate that because you don’t have to engage in healthy behaviors to deserve basic dignity and respect. There’s definitely an element of trying to take a preemptive protective measure that comes from years of hearing fatphobic comments and trying to head at least some of them off at the pass.

        5. RagingADHD*

          Are you actually policing LW’s hypothetical facial expressions right now?

          If the coworkers felt justified in being rude because they projected their own internal feelings onto LWs face, that is not only outside LWs control, it is twisted.

          I am fat, too. Have been most of my adult life. If you are tied up in this big a knot about it, please find someone to talk to, because the thought process you are describing is incredibly unhealthy and is not a normal reaction to just existing in the world as a fat person.

          Being nasty to people (or having the impulse to be nasty to people) because you think they are thinking something bad about you isn’t about fatphobia. It’s about some significant cognitive distortions that can and should be addressed with CBT.

          1. Mannequin*

            I found that admission of judging peoples levels of fatphobia by a facial expression to be pretty horrifying, NGL.

            I’ve seen multiple posts where they claim to know that people are “really thinking” terrible thoughts and that’s a level of detachment from reality I simply don’t want to be around.

            1. RagingADHD*

              Particularly when you consider how many people get told they have “resting bitch face” or get ordered to smile more to please other people.

        6. Zweisatz*

          It could also be the simple fact that a fat person is very likely to have had a brush with diet culture, be it people trying to force diets on them or they themself trying to lose weight. Being that they are steeped in the same culture of food shaming as everybody else they might have (wrongly) adopted it. it’s not an excuse, still speak up about it! I’m just saying people of any weight can be rude diet evangelists.

          1. Lucky045*

            Absolutely. Diet culture is often easier to internalise if you’re fat. You take it personally and if you don’t chuck it out immediately (hard to do at times) you might feel like you have to “prove” you’re not bad/lazy/selfish etc – all the things society implies about fat people. And you might do that by constantly talking about how healthily you eat, loudly contrasting other people’s diet choices with your own, generally being a diet culture zealot.

            As you say, it’s inappropriate and rude and obnoxious. I think, it’s understandable though, and I think when you’re the victim of really obnoxious behaviour, understanding the source of the behaviour can help to frame your response so that it’s firm, but not cruel or excessive.

            I hope LW follows Alison’s advice to help with that!

    2. MK*

      I find the HAES movement prone to problematic excess, but, apart from not wanting to derail the thread, I frankly don’t think it should play into the advice, even as a side note. It doesn’t matter if the OP is thin or obese, if her eating habits are healthy or dangerous to her health, if the coworkers are thin and unhealthy or fat and healthy. People shouldn’t comment on others’ eating habits, or any other habits really, unless they affect you in some way. Especially not repeatedly.

      1. Lucky045*

        Sorry, how is your personal opinion on the HAES movement relevant? Just wondering about a comment talking about how rude it is to comment on other people’s eating habits/weight which begins with (to those who can hear the dog whistle and have taken part in these “debates” before) “I do think I can judge a person’s health simply by looking at them but…”

        1. MK*

          Because I was responding to a comment that referenced the movement? The irrelevancy didn’t bother you when it was an opinion you apparently agree with, I guess. And your ignorant assumptions about how I think are a lot more irrelevant.

          1. Lucky045*

            The original comment made a point about the letter writer’s instinct to lash back at the “health” commenters for their weight and made the point that their being fat doesn’t mean they are not healthy, though the comments were out of line.

            Your comment effectively said “actually we can totally make judgements about how weight equates to health” (in that you think the principle of HAES is “excessive” and the principle of HAES is that you… Can’t make those judgements?).

            Do you not see how “actually you can’t tell someone’s health just by looking at them (and rude comments are rude)” is a very different kind of comment to “actually you totally *can* make those judgements about people by looking at them, although rude comments are rude”, are different levels of relevant?

            In the first, the commenter directly refers to the letter and an implication made therein. In yours, you reply to this response purely to… Defend your right to make judgements about fat people on the basis that HAES is wrong or excessive..? While acknowledging that repeating the judgements out loud is actually bad? Whatever. You can believe what you want and make judgements about what you like, but if you strongly imply a judgement, you’re hardly following your own principles of not putting your judgements out there. What you believe is your choice… But why do I have to read about it when your ultimate conclusion was that you don’t have to publicise your every judgement anyway?

            P.S. It’s also ok to be fat and unhealthy. Fatness =/= moral worth. Putting that out there because my own comment has referenced “health” about a million times, but also… Fat sick people are also humans deserving of respect.

            1. Lala*

              Pointing out that HAES is imperfect is not the same as saying that judging people’s size and food choices is ok.

          2. Lucky045*

            You know, I’ve taken a step back and thought about my response, and perhaps I was a bit overzealous/aggressive in how I replied to you. I apologise if you felt like I was making assumptions about your beliefs.

            To frame my thoughts less emotively, I guess it feels to me that responding to a comment suggesting that you can’t know a person’s health by looking at their weight, by saying that HAES is excessive implies a belief that there *is* a point at which it’s ok to make that judgement. I don’t imagine that’s what you intended to imply, but it is what your comment felt like, to me.

            Maybe I should simply have flagged that, and requested that you think about what it is about HAES you disagree with, and whether that disagreement is something that it’s reasonable, relevant or kind to share on a thread about something as sensitive as health/food issues, at Christmas time. There may be some unconscious bias there or there may not, but it could be worth examining.

            I hope that’s a more reasoned/less irritable response.

              1. Aquawoman*

                Removed because it’s leading to debate that I’m not up for moderating while on vacation. Sorry! – Alison

            1. Mannequin*

              “You know, I’ve taken a step back and thought about my response, and perhaps I was a bit overzealous/aggressive in how I replied to you. I apologise if you felt like I was making assumptions about your beliefs.”

              Respectfully, you might want to take a few more steps back and view your own part in these discussions with a little more objectivity.
              Because you are here insisting that you “just know” when people are thinking negative, fatphobic thoughts because you are policing their facial expressions and making uninformed snap judgements about an expression that most likely has NOTHING to do with you and EVERYTHING to do with that fight with their spouse, that thorny work problem, that toothache or bad back, their annoying neighbors, and so on.
              You insist on turning an innocuous statement by MK into an interpretation that is so twisted, it’s not even a remotely logical conclusion to make, but you “hear the dog whistles” and are sure you know what they “really meant”, and go off on an impassioned rant about something that MK didn’t even imply.
              You are so certain that you can psychically intuit everyone’s real- and supposedly always awful & hateful- thoughts, that you don’t even have to consider their actual words because whatever they say or however they say it, you can disregard it because you always “know” what they “really meant”!
              That sounds like a very lonely and tiring way to go through life, TBH. Personally, I would find someone who insisted that they knew what all the terrible thoughts were that my plainly stated words were clearly hiding to be very frightening in their level of delusion/detachment from reality, and would want to stay as far away from them as possible.

              1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                I agree with everything you’ve been saying, Mannequin. I’ve been reading through the comments repeatedly going, “Wait, what??c ut haven’t had the energy to frame a response. Thanks to you, I don’t have to.

                What Mannequin said, people. Assuming that you know what someone is thinking just because they have a sour facial expression is laughable. Among other things, some of us just have resting bitch face, for pity’s sake,

                1. Lucky045*

                  Thanks guys, I appreciate your concern for my “lonely and tiring” path through life but I am actually very happy, with a job I love (supporting young people in a specific vulnerable situation – often by showing them subtle signs that the situation is Not Right – which are not glaring or self-evident).

                  While I’ve acknowledged above that my assumptions may not be correct in this case, I’d respectfully ask you to challenge your own about my life.

                  If you don’t believe a person with a great deal of lived experience of fatphobia may have ways of spotting it in the wild that others don’t recognise, that’s completely fine. I’m British – my entire country is made of “but we didn’t explicitly come out and say it, so it can’t possibly be offensive”. It’s like our whole culture, so I’m very used to it and can live with it.
                  I’d suggest not using the same logic in more charged circumstances (POCs feeling they perceive racism, lgbtq+ people feeling they perceive prejudice etc that is unspoken and not perceived by others, etc.) But in this case, I’ll live and continue my very much not-lonely life!

                  Happy new year!

              2. Lucky045*

                Sorry – just noticed you suggested also that noticing facial expressions and body language actually may make me(/someone) “delusional and detached from reality”.

                Look, we’re miles off saying that people are always right when they assess these things. Miles off saying that reacting to them would be appropriate… But please, please consider that some people have experiences which might make them more sensitive to these things. Not me, necessarily – you can think I’m delusional and that is fine! But… As I said above, other people with bigger battles to fight who tell you they feel an attitude or facial expression and sense racism or homophobia after lived experience… Please don’t write them off as delusional, or detached from reality. Sometimes, it’s really important to just… Believe people who know more than us. Again, not necessarily me, I don’t have much skin in this game… But as you generalised, I felt it was best to flag the concern.

          3. MicroManagered*

            “HAES” doesn’t appear in the comment you responded to at all. You responded to a comment that referred to a podcast about diet fads and diet culture. One of the podcasters is a HAES activist, the other is a journalist, but it’s not really a “HAES podcast.”

            1. Loulou*

              The comment also said that being fat doesn’t = unhealthy and being thin doesn’t = healthy? I’m not sure why the second commenter felt the need to share her opinion of HAES either, but it’s a perfectly legitimate reply to say “actually, I don’t think this is relevant *to this question* because…”

      2. LemonLyman*

        I’ve listened to almost every episode of the podcast and hadn’t heard of HAES until now. Had to Google it. And, as I said, I agree that no one should comment on other people’s food choices. I see we agree on that.

        But the reason why I brought up fat ≠ unhealthy and thin ≠ healthy is because the OP brought up the fact that she is thin and the commentators are “obese”. My comment was to put out into the world that we cannot assume someone’s health simply by looking at their body type.

        1. Anon4This*

          OP wasn’t suggesting that the obese commenters/fat bodies = unhealthy, they are pointing out that it is incredibly HYPOCRITICAL for an obese person to police, or make negative comments on, the supposedly unhealthy aspects of every single item that goes into another person’s mouth.

          1. LemonLyman*

            OP didn’t say they’re being hypocritical. OP said that she is worried she is going to say something mean because they are fat. “I’m worried that I’m going to clap back at them and say something hurtful (they’re both obese).”

    3. Bossy Magoo*

      Maintenance Phase has also shined a light and given me pause on my own anti-fat biases. I would never be rude like these people were to OP, but I certainly THOUGHT in very judgmental ways. I try harder every single day now to question my reactions and feelings about food, people and health in general; and to give grace to things that are none of my business or to presumptions about “facts” that could be completely wrong. It’s a great podcast!

  3. Sue*

    I read that as “insect-related topic” in letter one. Perhaps I should be more aware before reading AAM…

    1. I sleep when the sun shines*

      Oh, I wonder if he could get them to stop talking about food if he started talking about insects. Spiders would be even better to talk about!

      1. Clisby*

        Especially if you start talking about insects as food. I understand crickets are supposed to be healthy. (Our farmers market used to feature a vendor who sold cricket flour and cricket cookies.)

  4. feral faerie*

    oof, the first letter reminds of this time when I was 16 at Starbucks and I ordered a frapuccino and a chocolate muffin as a treat to myself. The middle aged woman in line behind me who I’d never met in my life said, “How decadent! By the time you reach my age you won’t be able to eat like that!”

    I think I just made an awkward fake laugh sound and then ignored her. Even at the time I had enough awareness to realize she was probably projecting some insecurity onto me, but it bummed me out because I just wanted to enjoy my treat! If this happened to me in an office setting, I’d probably brush it off the first time or too and try to make it clear that I wasn’t interested in discussing my food. These people seem unlikely to respond to hints.

    1. Bamcheeks*

      Yeah, I also think the other side of this should be explaining to the employee when and where it is appropriate to ask some of these questions. “What was that person talking about?” is a pretty good question for an entry-level person to be asking! Lots of places encourage those kind of questions in new starters because they are how you figure out how the business is going, and you don’t want to scare them off asking useful, sensible questions about how things work all together.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I thought the questions listed put it in a different light and fell more toward “annoying younger sibling won’t leave you alone.” I had expected a barrage of “How do you file a 23c12?” “What’s the Joogooloo Reference?” Where it was a matter of both volume and that a handy resource–quicker than finding Gwen who is supposed to be your mentor, quicker than looking in the manual–is to just ask your office mate.

        “Where are you going?” and “What was that phone call about?” don’t obviously impact on new employee’s job.

        1. Artemesia*

          This. These were Snoopy Mc Boundryfail comments and obviously annoying, not too many questions about the job. Probably time to move Snoopy out of that office to a cube or another office with a clear message about not bothering the new office mate with chatter and snoopy questions.

    2. alienor*

      As a middle-aged woman myself, that’s one of the most annoying things that other people my own age do–not just about food, but about clothes, vacations, their bad knees and backs, and many other subjects. Every time I feel tempted to rain on some 20-year-old’s parade, I remember that when I was their age, I would’ve thought “Yeah whatever, grandma” and it helps me shut up.

      1. Observer*

        I honestly don’t even understand the temptation. Like, OK, I won’t be able to eat X or do Y when I reach a certain age. So? Why is that even relevant.

        1. Artemesia*

          The obvious response is ‘then I would be remiss to not eat all the chocolate muffins I can get my hands on now while I can.’ I was a naturally skinny person till my mid 50s when the pounds started creeping on. My doctor pointed out that while my weight was fine, the trajectory of a few pounds a year would not be fine forever and so I started be a bit more careful. I don’t regret a single chocolate truffle or milkshake of my youth.

        2. alienor*

          I don’t know, it’s sort of like a weird impulse to warn them that X or Y won’t last forever so they don’t take it for granted. But I also know that it’ll just be irritating and won’t make them appreciate X or Y any more than they already do, so I don’t say anything.

    3. Critical Roll*

      I’m a small person. It isn’t an accomplishment, it’s just genetics, but I’ve gotten comments my whole life, from other women, about “just wait until X and then you’ll have to start worrying about your weight!” I know it’s not comparable to what heavier people (especially women) experience, but it’s off-putting and sad.

      1. Blarg*

        Yes! I’ve been made to feel like I should be apologizing for my size my whole life. If I eat garbage, I get “not all of us can eat that way.” If I eat something healthy, “no wonder you’re so small, you should eat a sandwich.”

        I’m a person who tends to run cold and when I grabbed a sweater before a meeting, a supervisor (not mine but still higher up than me) went off about how if I’d just eat more I wouldn’t be cold all the time. In front of everyone. No one said anything besides some chuckles. Like … she was legit mad that I dared to be cold?

        Anyway. I know that it is much easier to be a petite woman than not — my mom weighed about 100 lbs more than me and we were the same height/build, and the way she encountered the world was quite different than me. But people should really just stop commenting on food choices and bodies!

        1. Anon4This*

          I gained 100 lbs during a medical crises and went from thin to obese, and I was still cold all the dang time! Because of course, it had/has nothing to do with my weight- it’s related to being non-neurotypical.

    4. PuzzleObsessed*

      This brings up a good point—people who comment on other’s food choices (or criticize anything topical about them, really) is much more about them than about the target of their comments.

      1. Zweisatz*

        This, it’s externalized anxieties that are unfortunately condoned in the current culture which is why it is so hard to make people keep it to themselves. But they totally should.

        And therefore it is okay to directly and neutrally set boundaries about it. “Please don’t comment in what I eat.” and done.

    5. EventPlannerGal*

      Ugh. Those sorts of remarks are really sad, and make me feel rather sorry for the person making them. How restrictive their life must be if they think a chocolate frigging muffin is a forbidden decadent indulgence worth commenting on.

  5. Mangled metaphor*

    I’m curious whether the “new employee in an entry-level assistant role” with LW3 is also entry-level to the world of work entirely, and these questions are coming from a place of trying to take shortcuts in learning about the office (who was that person?) and her role (audible acknowledgement that she’s part of the conversation).
    Depending on how new they are, this isn’t something she would have had any coaching in prior to getting her role, and LW3 has inadvertently lumbered her seasoned employee with the unwilling role of workplace mentor!

    I see the new employee as keen, verging on pushy – having been on both sides of this experience, I’m inclined towards the benefit of doubt from it being enthusiasm rather than arrogance – and it’s completely correctable, but it needs to come from the actual boss, not a reluctant coworker.

    1. anonymous73*

      I don’t know, this seems like more than just not understanding work place norms. She’s asking her questions about basic every day things that have little to do with work. It sounds like she needs to be coached on basic human interaction, not just work place norms.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        I used to be like that, and it was because this was the behavior modeled by my parents. I had no idea it was rude in other settings.

        It took a while to learn too, because people were not straightforward in correcting me or letting me know they were put off by it. I was supposed to read their minds and just know this.

        1. Risha*

          Whatever limited social skills I have, which, at 45, I’d like to THINK pass as mostly normal during superficial interactions, were learned by rote. So that was my first thought – that this kid might be attempting to start (or when the manager is there, be part of) a friendly conversation, and hadn’t yet learned that this time and these topics are inappropriate for that purpose.

        2. Smithy*

          Early in my career, I had a few jobs that involved a lot of time alone and between how I was raised and being more naturally extroverted – it did contribute to some of my engagement in meetings seeming less focused and more irritating.

          While engagement in meetings is something that is more traditionally coached (i.e. building out a tight agenda allowed me more time to understand when I could be social and when we had to focus on agenda points), I do think there can be suggestions beyond just telling someone to stop. If this junior colleague is seeking a more personal relationship with the colleague, asking them for a thirty minute or hour coffee isn’t unprofessional or inappropriate. And depending on how busy or senior the colleague, trying to do that once a month isn’t unreasonable.

          Often when someone’s social skills are landing them in the “annoying” camp, most of the advice is around just stopping. But I think there are ways to highlight how to professionally engage with colleagues socially that more aligned with your industry. Focusing on timebound engagements and the level of frequency given the work dynamic. In person, asking a colleague someone to get a coffee or remotely, asking for a 30 min social chat/”coffee” is far more likely to be accepted as a professional courtesy and a chance to build good will.

          1. Mannequin*

            The idea of appeasing an already inappropriately nosy coworker by going out with them for a semi social/semi work coffee klatch puts my shoulders up around my ears. Just no. Someone else can mentor them hat way, but I’m not crossing the streams with a known boundary violator.

        3. Nanani*

          That’s a good point – it can be hard ti learn that what was normal in your family/local town/school is not normal in other settings, especially when it’s not part of a role change like “entering the workforce” but more broadly about interacting with others.

        4. Quack Quack No*

          One side of this situation, though, is that many pushy people will respond to “please stop” with doubling down. “I’m just ASKING! What do you have to HIDE? Why are you so UNFRIENDLY” and so on. That can make it unappealing to try to directly confront such a person. I can imagine that getting the Grey Rock treatment isn’t as instructive, but it’s safer for the other person.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I could see a new grad who had been told “You should be seen to be asking questions” hitting on this.

        I can picture the advice giver, on checking in with new employee and learning what questions they’d been thinking up, responding internally “…. No, I meant ask good questions. Oh dear.”

    2. WellRed*

      I get what you are saying but, to me, the questions cited are utterly inane and call to mind busybodies. “Who were you talking to” and “where were you” don’t have a lot of work value. Especially if the answer us “I was in the bathroom”

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        “Aha! It’s good you asked, because I was in the room of requirement. The only way to access our required forms is to circle the elevator shaft three times clockwise while chanting in Middle Welsh…”

  6. Bamcheeks*

    LW1’s coworkers are clearly being obnoxious, but the way LW is holding their obesity against them as the ultimate weapon (which he/she just won’t be able to help using!) if they don’t stop is a really great example of how fatphobia works.

    1. High protein double cheeseburger*

      Yes, I agree. OP’s coworkers should absolutely not be commenting on her food choices and it is extremely annoying to have to face the food police every time you want to have a meal at work. However, the fact that she is apparently willing to weaponize their obesity is a bit off-putting. Why is their weight relevant? I presume the comments would be just as annoying if they were coming from thin people, so why default to comments about them being overweight as your “clapback?”

      1. Stevie*

        I think OP was more offended/hurt by these comments than maybe they even realized and was mentally looking for anything hurtful to use against their coworkers.

        It absolutely would be wrong to weaponize anyone’s weight, though, and I think empowering OP to shut down the coworker commentary (without personal attacks) probably helps. Not sure if OP felt like they had to just grin and bear all this, which could have turned into resentment.

    2. Lucky045*

      Absolutely. It makes me wonder whether there has been anything slightly fatphobic implied by LW in the past which might make have put the rude coworkers on the defensive. We can’t make the judgement that there has, of course, but it’s common enough that it occurs to me as a possibility, since defensiveness could so easily trigger the rude comments.

      That’s all speculation though, of course.

      1. Stevie*

        Offering unsolicited and unprovoked commentary on others’ food choices, regardless of either party’s weight, is also really common, though. Especially at work! Ugh, there needs to be a whole section here on the weirdness of food in the workplace, I think.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          Agreed. One of the good things about working from home, and living alone, is that there are no more food police. I used to have a lot of anxiety about what to bring to work for lunch, but now don’t have to think about it anymore.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          Agreed! People of all sizes can get weirdly nosey and judgemental about other people’s food habits if they strike them as even slightly out of the norm. Even after years of working with/around food I still don’t fully know why, maybe because food is such a loaded personal/cultural/social topic, but it seems to bring out this tendency in a lot of people when there really isn’t any kind of pre-existing conflict. Some people are just rude as hell about it.

          (What are you eating? It’s [foreign cuisine]? That’s weird, don’t you think it smells gross? It’s kosher/halal? Ugh I don’t know how you can stick to crazy made-up rules like that. It’s vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free/lactose-free/FODMAP? I could NEVER, I’d miss BACON and CHEESE hahaha, these diets are all fake anyway hahaha. You’re allergic to XYZ? Ugh kids these days trying to be special, you’re probably making it up to get the kitchen to make you something special. Etcetera etcetera until the heat death of the universe.)

          Obviously there are levels of privilege and fatphobia that play out differently in different situations. But I do think this judgement of other people’s eating habits is a sufficiently universal thing that it doesn’t necessarily mean the OP’s coworkers are retaliating for anything.

          1. Quack Quack No*

            This is very well said, especially combined with how internalized phobias can play out. Having To Express Opinions About Others’ Food is so endemic and so utterly annoying.

      2. Anonymous4*

        Two coworkers are constantly ragging OP about her breakfast. CONSTANTLY. And you’re wondering if there has been anything slightly fatphobic implied by LW in the past?

        Are you perhaps familiar with the parable of the log and the mote?

        1. Siege*

          Ah yes, the noted internet thought experiment of “I am going to assume many things not present in the letter to demonize a person I have never met and know nothing about in line with abuse I experience from other people who also once did the same thing (ie, eat cheeseburgers). My defensiveness is a healthy thought experiment.”

        2. Aquawoman*

          They absolutely should not be doing that. But I don’t agree with you that it’s so much worse than judging people based on their appearance.

          1. Eden*

            It’s absolutely much worse to consistently say something out loud than to think something to yourself. Actions matter more than thoughtcrimes.

            1. Quack Quack No*

              People’s opinions never stay in their heads, or at least, any opinion that is detectable has not stayed in someone’s head. For example a manager may never openly comment on their reports’ size, but may also never promote anyone who isn’t thin. So it’s worthwhile to point out that it is not precisely fair to judge someone negatively for their size, as information that people can take in, not as thought policing.

      3. Observer*

        It makes me wonder whether there has been anything slightly fatphobic implied by LW in the past which might make have put the rude coworkers on the defensive.

        I would totally not be surprised. But it’s not really relevant. Do a thought experiment:

        The Obese Coworker (OCW) writes in to Alison and complains that this new thin young person (YP) has made it clear that they think that OCW is a fat slob who is probably going to die young because of how fat she it. Now YP has started eating McD’s all the time. That stuff is JUNK – high fat, high salt and high calorie. She’s SUCH a hypocrite. Can OCW call YP on it by pointing out that YP is probably going to die of a coronary if they don’t knock it off.

        What does Alison respond?

        My bet is that Alison’s response is: Absolutely NOT. You cannot comment on people’s food choices. You cannot tell them that they are probably going to die of a coronary. What you CAN and SHOULD do is talk to YP about their comments and tell them to stop it.

        Which is to say that we really don’t know if the OP is fatphobic or not. But that simply doesn’t begin to justify the coworkers.

        1. Aquawoman*

          We do know she’s fatphobic, or she wouldn’t have mentioned their weight. They shouldn’t comment on her food, but that doesn’t make it ok to comment on their weight.

          1. Observer*

            Which ignores what I said. We actually do not know whether the OP actually said anything fatphobic to the coworkers, based on their email. Yes, the mention it in the letter, but according to the letter, they have not mentioned it on relation to this issue. So it’s quite possible that they haven’t mentioned it at all.

            But in any case, as I said, if you were to reverse the letter AND assume that the OP was saying fatphobic things, the coworkers are still being wildly inappropriate.

          2. Darsynia*

            FWIW, I took it to mean that she would have expected them to understand what it’s like to have people negatively comment on their eating choices. It’s not a really great assumption but is a less fatphobic assumption to make. I’m fat, myself, so I’m not ignorant to the power of those assumptions, I promise.

            1. Darsynia*

              ((I’m sorry to have seen the comment about refocusing away from weight talk *after* I made this comment, as I was reading in top-down order, I apologize!))

    3. Empress Ki*

      I am obese and I obviously hate fat phobia, but I am also the last person who would give unsolicited nutritional advice. Not that I would if I was slim, but it would particularly ridiculous in my case.
      I can understand the OP’s tentation in this situation. She just want to defend herself. She’s not the villain.

      1. Drag0nfly*

        Agree OP is not the villain. And it’s just common sense that obesity is a sign of a non-healthy diet. The clue is that obesity itself is a comorbidity for a host of diseases and illnesses, including covid. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, infertility; how many diseases does a condition have to coincide with before a person is allowed to observe the condition is unhealthy, *without* being tarred with a slur? Its well outside the norm for a person to have a healthy diet AND be obese, so it makes sense that OP would think it odd for someone in a glass house to throw stones.

        1. Anonymous4*

          No, it is NOT “common sense” that obesity is a sign of a non-healthy diet. It could just as well be a sign of a health issue, like diabetes. Or a sign of medication that causes weight gain, like steroids. Or a sign of genes that pack on the pounds, like being the offspring of Central Europeans who self-selected to be famine survivors.

          Not everyone is built like a Maasai.

        2. ceiswyn*

          Do you have any idea how badly medical fatphobia impacts the health of fat people? As one – ONE – example, I had five different medical practices tell me my ankle pain was due to my weight, and I should go away and diet. My ankle was actually broken, and by the time it was diagnosed ten years later it was in one heck of a mess.

          Then you have to consider the constant stress from societal disapproval, discrimination, and people shouting insults at you in the street. Stress has physical effects.

          I used to weigh 27 stone; now I weigh less than 12. The most depressing aspect of this is how much better I am treated by literally everybody, from medical personnel to baristas to random people passing me in the street, who now absently smile at me rather than scowling.

          None of this is as simple as you think.

          1. ceiswyn*

            Oh, plus, a fat person’s diet can be completely ‘healthy’ , just excessive in quantity. I arguably ate a more balanced and nutritious diet at 27 stone than I do now.

            I’ve developed an eating disorder that has occasionally caused me physical pain and vomiting, and my exercise behaviour is obsessive to the point of physical damage. But since I’m a normal weight, I’m healthy, right?

        3. Jessica Ganschen*

          You’re actually more likely to have heart problems as a result of yo-yo dieting than you are as a result of just being fat in the first place.

          1. ceiswyn*

            And since dieting is more likely to cause a rebound weight gain than a long term loss, there is a strong correlation between how fat a person is and how often they’ve dieted and regained.

        4. Amethystmoon*

          Not always. For some of us, it is a combination of genetics, hypothyroidism, and having a job where you have to sit in front of a computer lest it say “away.”

        5. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The coworkers’ weight isn’t relevant to the question the LW asking (other than to note that it would be horribly inappropriate for her to base a response on what they weigh) so I’m closing this subthread and ask that people stick to advice for the LW rather than opinions on diet/weight/health. Thank you.

      2. Bamcheeks*

        I didn’t l say she’s a villain, just that that’s how outgroup prejudice works. I don’t have a problem with X, but if you step out of line, I’ll use it against you.

        1. pancakes*

          “I fear I’ll snap and say something hurtful if I don’t come up with something else to stop this conflict sooner” isn’t quite that. I don’t quite agree, either, that it’s prejudiced to notice the dissonance in obese people heckling someone about their diet. It would be rude coming from anyone, but it’s rude and odd coming from people who presumably don’t want their own food choices to be a subject of constant comment at work, no?

          1. Anonymous4*

            Very odd, indeed. It’s rude to be criticizing someone else’s food choices, but one would certainly think that they wouldn’t want their own meals to be likewise scrutinized and commented on.

          2. Bamcheeks*

            I think “you’re X so you should be used to / know better than…” is also a form of prejudice.

            1. pancakes*

              I didn’t say that the obese coworkers should “know better than” to heckle a coworker’s food choices or “should be used to” having their own food choices heckled on account of being obese. They should know better than to heckle their coworker because it’s rude. It seems that you want to go a bit further and have everyone assume that obese people are just as likely to be interested in having their food choices scrutinized as anyone else, but in my experience no one apart from rude busybodies is interested in that.

    4. Empress Ki*

      I am obese and I obviously hate fat phobia, but I am also the last person who would give unsolicited nutritional advice. Not that I would if I was slim, but it would particularly ridiculous in my case.
      I can understand the OP’s temptation in this situation. She’s not fat phobic. She just want to defend herself.

    5. Batgirl*

      The ironic thing about conflict avoidance is that you fear you will end up saying the very thing you identified as most inappropriate and hurtful if you let the frustration build high enough, rather than just being assertive and saying what you actually want to say. In fairness to the OP they just want advice on actually constructive wording; strong enough to get it to stop, mild enough to minimize weirdness with people you have to work with. Attacking their weight isn’t even on that spectrum though. It’s just a fear borne of OP’s struggle with their frustration. Being short and displeased and taking on a reproachful tone about the issue at hand is probably the strongest part of the spectrum and anyone who’s avoided conflict knows why the OP is avoiding doing that. It’s not a one shot opportunity though. The OP can start mild and work up. Like, they could go with “I actually don’t enjoy diet talk” as a first attempt and work up to “stop trying to change what I eat, I find it really rude actually” if they find the coworkers are impervious to soft language.

      1. Lucky045*

        I think you’re right about conflict avoidance and the impulse to go to the thing you know you mustn’t say.

        At the same time, it’s definitely worth pointing out that fat people are not inherently unhealthy. That doesn’t make the original criticism ok. Joe Wicks himself would get the middle finger from me if he tried giving me unsolicited health advice. Still, equating fatness with ill-health, even in passing, deserves to be pointed out – otherwise no one could ever address their unconscious biases and they would remain unconscious forever.

      2. River Otter*

        Conflict avoidance is like using a dull knife to cut bc you don’t want to hurt yourself with a sharp knife. The dull knife will cause way more damage when it inevitably slips.

    6. VI Guy*

      I wonder if the OP is likely to respond about their weight as a part of their response to the topic, not as. If someone starts insulting their TPS reports then the response can easily avoid weight. If someone is critical of food choices then it is much harder to avoid comments about health and weight, even if they are indirect.

      1. VI Guy*

        * not as a direct insult

        (Sorry, my page shifted and suddenly my thumb was on Submit instead of the keyboard)

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      What if the annoying coworker kept telling you the key to being on time when you came in late once a month, while being late most days themselves? The key to getting promoted at the company when they hadn’t been? The key to a happy marriage when theirs was/had been miserable?

      Unsolicited advice is always annoying, but there is a particular gratingness when the person piping in very clearly has not accomplished the thing their advice is supposed to ensure.

      1. Bamcheeks*

        Assuming that the “point” of eating or not eating something is to be slim (rather than, because it’s what you want to eat) is also a great example of fatphobia!

          1. Bamcheeks*

            The only quoted comment from the co-workers are A couple of coworkers frequently ask about my cholesterol levels and make comments like “you’re going to die before you’re 50.” I’m not saying this is ok— it’s gross and intrusive. But it’s literally not about weight— LW is the one making it about their weight.

            (LW also says it would be fine if they were unhealthy themselves, which— no it would not! It’s really gross to think this behaviour would be more acceptable if it was coming from a co-worker they perceived as healthy towards someone they perceived as unhealthy.)

            1. AY*

              I think you may have read the letter incorrectly? LW is saying that LW would understand the cholesterol comments if LW was unhealthy but LW is not. I’m just saying that the coworkers are the ones making value judgments about food in this situation, not the LW.

              1. Bamcheeks*

                The co-workers are making value judgments about food. LW is the one making value judgments about people’s size.

                And it would not be ok for the coworkers to make these comments if LW were unhealthy. People commenting on other people’s food choices at work isn’t bad manners when the person eating is actually “in great shape”: it’s bad manners whatever shape you’re in, and whatever shape the person commenting is in.

          1. Bamcheeks*

            I genuinely don’t recognise this way of thinking about food. People can have thoughts and feelings about food and health that are not related to body size!

      2. FridayFriyay*

        The letter doesn’t say anything about the diet choices of the coworkers, only their size. I know plenty of people who have normal and even outstandingly healthy diets who would be classified as obese. The assumption that these things must be correlated is literally a result of fat phobia.

      3. Quack Quack No*

        “Unsolicited advice is always annoying, but there is a particular gratingness when the person piping in very clearly has not accomplished the thing their advice is supposed to ensure.”

        This rests on the assumption that being overweight is necessarily unhealthy and, in this particular case, always co-morbid with high cholesterol.

        The coworkers should not be commenting on LW’s food, at all. But I disagree with the idea that what makes it rude that they are doing so, or even worse that they are doing so, is their own size. Thin people have no inherent right to comment on others’ food either despite their supposedly evident success.

  7. Anon for this*

    LW5 — I hope you talked to the applicant using something like Alison’s script. I knew of a woman who wanted a job. She talked to the hiring manager several times, asking him to hire her. One day she showed up in very short shorts, heels and a low-cut tank (this was at an office job requiring business clothes, which she knew and possessed — and usually wore). She was disappointed to learn that the hiring manager, a ridiculously attractive man, was out. She dropped off a gift for him: a box containing, among other things, a food item and a note full of sexual double entendre. (The note made the brevity of her outfit relevant.)
    Several of us who knew her experienced second-hand embarrassment that she would try such a stunt. So yes, I hope you talked to this young applicant so she doesn’t become a mid-40s woman with a professional resume who still relies on gimmicks.

    1. Mockingjay*

      Reminds me of my first job out of college. I did my best to emulate professional norms and worked with quite a few wonderful people who were willing to coach me. Then the managing director hired the young daughter of a friend as his admin. She showed up in tight sweater dresses with plunging necklines, flirted with every man in the office, waltzed around with pots of coffee to lean over desks while she refilled…

      My boss, an older, very proper man (great boss) was completely flummoxed on how to handle her. He finally came to me and said, “I have no right to ask you, but would you please talk to Flirt about professional norms? You’re closer in age and it might sink in better from you.” I agreed and did. Flirt did stop with the coffee rounds and was eventually moved to a satellite office with the managing director. Flirt ended up leaving when managing director hired a no-nonsense EA to run the office and EA demanded professional performance from Flirt.

      1. Artemesia*

        I was the highest ranking woman in my department and got tasked with dealing with women employees with inappropriate hygiene, clothing etc I sympathize. This is a horrible task to get stuck with.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          At OldExjob, a temp showed up one day in a VERY low-cut blouse. She also wore a jacket but the neckline of her shirt was visible. Bosswife told my supervisor to send her home and call the temp agency to dispatch someone else. It was awkward as hell.

    2. Observer*

      OMG! I hope that that stunt put her on the no hire list. And that someone told her that – and told her why.

      That is just gross. I feel a bit bad for the hiring manager.

  8. The Cosmic Avenger*

    LW#4 needs to tell the applicant STOP! [point out the door] Unemployment line! [Hammer dance]

  9. Roscoe*

    #2. This likely isn’t anything AGAINST you. Fact is, everyone has somewhat of a “heirarchy” of closeness in their office. There are about 10 people in mine. I’m really close with one person, in that we hang out outside of work quite often. Then on the other end, there is someone who I find to be a lovely person, but I really couldn’t tell you anything about them outside of what they do in the office, and we just aren’t close in the least bit, though we do assist each other at work when possible. To the gift giver you may be like the latter example. She likes you a lot, but just isn’t that close. And there is nothing wrong with that.

    If you didn’t know what everyone else got, would you have been happy with what she gave you? If so, maybe you just shouldn’t compare your gifts to others.

    1. Artemesia*

      It is a huge faux pas to give 10 gifts and have one be obviously a lesser gift in value. The OP is right to feel hurt by it but there is no percentage in hanging on to that feeling. When I did holiday gifting to the staff that supported our office, which was about 7 or 8 people usually, I always gave everyone the same small gift. If it was fancy bread, there might be several flavors, but they were always equal value etc. Giving nicer gifts because you like some more is not something to do at the office — you do that outside the office setting.

      1. Roscoe*

        But its not obviously lesser in value. OP has no clue what the other people got, just that it was bigger and wrapped. That’s it. The person with the biggest gift could theoretically have cost the least.

        Even so, this isn’t kindergarten where everyone MUST get the exact same thing. You have different work relationships, different people help you in different ways, and sometimes you acknowledge that differently. People acting like if someone gets something nicer than its this horrible offense are ridiculous and need to grow up

  10. Lynn Marie*

    Re #2. Can we start a movement to change the culture and just stop all gift giving in the office? It generates nothing but toxicity in my experience.

    1. PuzzleObsessed*

      Agree. Does anyone need to spend $$$ on tchotchkes for their coworkers every year? Does anyone need another dollar store candle?

    2. Sara without an H*

      +1. While I have no objection if somebody wants to bring in baked goods occasionally for everyone to share, gift exchanges are more trouble than they’re worth. I say this as someone with multiple coffee mugs, plus a small collection of gift cards to places I never go.

    3. Popinki*

      Amen. This was the first year my workplace didn’t exchange gifts… and it was perfectly fine. None of us need any more bric-a-brac, people have different eating habits and so not everyone wants or can eat sweets or junk food, and I don’t drink alcohol and didn’t care much about it when I could. Far better for people to save their money for themselves and their families to get what they like.

      1. Artemesia*

        We never gifted co-workers, but it was our custom to give small gifts to the office staff that supported our efforts and we took up a collection for the janitors so they got a modest monetary gift at years end. I always tried to get something edible they could take home to their family. One time at a visitation for the father of our AA where I met her family, one of the kids said ‘oh she’s the one that sent us the babka; I loved it.’ Support staff liked signs that showed their families they were valued. (hence showing up for the visitation). The organization did not give bonuses or anything.

    4. eastcoastkate*

      YES PLEASE. I moved into a new team that does no gifts and IT IS LOVELY!!! I hadn’t realized how much it was frustrating me every year to try and figure out what amt/what type gift card/ or what to get my team each year.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      God yes. I don’t want to feel obligated to give my coworkers gifts. It’s bad enough trying to find them for family members.

  11. NforKnowledge*

    For #2 I understand the advice to try to ignore the gifts thing as irrelevant to work relationships, but the person did this unequal gift giving at work! That’s really rude, and I would certainly stop going above and beyond for a rude coworker.

    1. Roscoe*

      If they gave out gifts to everyone except OP, I think I’d agree. But everyone got gifts, just presented differently. And in my experience, its often very hard to determine how much money was spent on something. All OP knows is that the bags are “bigger” and wrapped. That really says nothing about the content of the actual gift. So at best, we know the presentation was different, but the actual value may have been equal among everyone. Even among my family I do this sometimes. I may spend time nice wrapping my mom’s gift, and just hand my brother his out of a bag. I don’t think that should really contribute to how much the person likes the gift.

      1. Batgirl*

        I wouldn’t care if someone gave me a gift out of a bag, or took time to write cards for other people but not for me. But I’ve noticed I’m pretty unusual in that respect. There are lots of people who do care! It’s not weird or strange for them to care just because some of us can shrug it off. I doubt the gifter intended it to be a snub, but doing things unequally at work is a direct route to a faux pas. If you really are good friends with only a few people, do the fancier carefully wrapped gifts, and thoughtful cards outside of work.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Giving a less than stellar gift doesn’t make a coworker rude. As noted in this thread, sometimes people don’t know what to get someone, especially in a work setting in which you don’t know much about their personal life. It’s the thought that counts – here’s something for the holiday.

      Heck, if I don’t send my husband the exact link to what I want, I would never get any gifts. He’s TERRIBLE at reading people and buying suitable gifts. Doesn’t make him rude, it’s just not something he’s good at.

        1. nonegiven*

          I have to buy what I want and wrap it. We don’t really care but it’s nice to have something to take to the family gathering so we have something to open from each other. A couple of times, I’ve gotten us something together. Two birds, one bush.

          The youngers are the ones with lots to open and sometimes, it’s just to have more things to open, even if one person bought several similar items or several items that go together for one gift and wrapped them all separately. Part of the gift is having more things to open because it’s the most fun part for the recipient.

    3. pancakes*

      If the only reason to go above and beyond for a coworker is wanting a gift from them, yeah, that should stop, but that is a weird mindset to have and never should’ve taken root in the first place. If the letter writer feels overworked or routinely pressured to go above and beyond due to under-staffing, that is something to talk to their manager and maybe other higher-ups about, not something to be addressed by peers with gifts once a year.

      1. Batgirl*

        Yes, I agree this is the heart of the matter. OP is mixing up two completely separate things. If she’s doing work favours for friendship or gift reasons, that’s not really going to pan out

    4. Kali*

      It might not have been intentional though. I usually get the admin assistants some chocolate or whatever around the holidays. Last year, I miscounted somehow (we’d had some movement in and out of the department) and was one short! Luckily, one of the ladies declined (not knowing about my shortage), so I ended up with enough. It would’ve been very awkward if not for that though.

  12. Sunflower*

    #1 Our health is between ourselves and our doctors. Lets not make comments since we don’t know what goes on “behind the scenes” with other people.

    Yeah, it’s bit blunt but it gets the point across they are being rude.

    1. IndustriousLabRat*

      Exactly the wording I eventually used on a family member who was always SOOO CONCERNED about my diet/weight, even knowing full well that I was quite active and healthy, and that I had simply inherited my equally indestructible Gran’s refrigerator-like physique. It was when I bluntly told her, sternly, “this is a conversation for Doc and Doc only, thank you” card that she finally gave up.

    2. Nanani*


      Best of all, it applies equally to LW1 as their commenting colleagues. Do not “clap back” about their body size and do not pretend it would ok to be nosy about your lunch if you had a health issue.
      It’s not okay at all to comment on fellow adult’s lunch regardless of the size and health status of the people involved.

  13. Sled dog mama*

    #2 is why I give all coworkers the exact same thing when I give gifts. I usually give cookies for the holidays and sometimes I give based on family size (more cookies to the coworker with a blended family of 10 and fewer to the empty nester whose kids aren’t coming home this year) but usually I just assume everyone gives food and give everyone the same.

  14. Erin*

    A candidate once latched on to me, with escalating levels of gifts/checking in/etc. It was so odd. I wasn’t even the hiring manager, I simply acknowledged him with a nod in the company elevator. At one point during during those couple of weeks, he waited for me outside of the building, and got extremely close to me when talking. It was very unsettling, and I told him to stop seeking me out. Thankfully, I never told him my name, and I don’t have much of a social media presence.

    It was all just too strange & unsettling. I brought the candidate’s behavior to the attention of the actual hiring manager, as well as HR. To my surprise (this company was not know for protecting employees against anything), HR contacted the candidate to let him know that his inappropriate behavior will not result in employment with Company, and that if he is seen on the premises, the police will be called to escort him away.

    I have no idea if the company had any real legal recourse with this guy, but the threat worked. I did not see him after that. I have no idea what drives people to these measures.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think people can get wound up in the belief that they just need someone to notice them somehow, pluck their resume from the pile, then the job will happen and their future be assured: and they are just at a loss on how to make step 1 happen. It used to be the experts said to write your resume on tinfoil, but now you’re not supposed to do that–now you’re supposed to network. And not knowing anyone in the company, this is their attempt to improvise a personal connection that will promote their candidacy.

      Sadly the worse they are at reading social cues, and the worse their resume is at conveying that they are a great candidate, the more likely this sort of stuff to try and get an interview.

    2. Observer*

      To my surprise (this company was not know for protecting employees against anything), HR contacted the candidate to let him know that his inappropriate behavior will not result in employment with Company, and that if he is seen on the premises, the police will be called to escort him away.

      It’s a lot easier to NOT hire someone who is acting inappropriately than deal with someone who is already on staff. And even a not so great HR is going to look at that and realize that if this is how he behaves when he’s on his bet behavior, it’s going to be a REAL disaster when he thinks he is “safe”.

  15. HolidayAmoeba*

    The last letter is an excellent example of what Allison preaches. The best way to get noticed is with a resume showing a track record of accomplishments and your skills that would make you a good fit for the job. This person pushiness is taking the LW from “not right for this position” to “block this person and never have anything to do with them again because they don’t understand boundaries”

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      In a previous discussion on this, someone pointed out that when applicants stand out in your mind–even years later!–it’s normally for bad reasons. If the company isn’t going to offer you the job, then what you want them to have a year from now is more a vague feeling of positiveness toward you if they remember you at all.

    2. Artemesia*

      While in. a beautiful la la world of perfection this would be true, we all know that people of lesser skill and accomplishment are hired all the time because of their connections or appearance or other things not related to their accomplishment. This drives people to try to make connections to be preferred. Yeah this tactic was nutso but driven by the awareness that the world is not and has never been a meritocracy.

  16. Critical Roll*

    A lot of people have complicated or even toxic relationships with food. I want to be involved in coworkers’ food relationships about as much as I want to be involved in their romantic relationships — which is to say, not at all. Leave me out of it, Nancy, I don’t care if you think all men named Fergus are garbage, or that eggs are evil.

  17. Nanani*

    #5 should be rejected -because- of the attempts to bribe their way into good graces and ideally have that explained to them.

    These gimmicks “work” on bad interviewers swayed by sparkly over substance but are a bad idea for exactly that reason. You want to hire the best fit you can find, not the best gift giver, and you want to be hired into a job that fits you, not one that likes your candle more than your resume.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I feel like for every absolutely bonkers bit of job-seeking advice out there, somewhere there is a hiring manager for whom that is the exact sort of gumption they want to see in their employees. “Bill did the entire interview in a banana costume, and by gosh that is the sort of moxie I like to see!”

      1. Nanani*

        Oh absolutely.
        I have a family member (now retired) who was once in a position to hire people and despite a union-approved format for treating people equally, this person was SO IMPRESSED by the gumption of the one applicant who showed up early without an interview to talk to them about the job.
        It did not sink in that this was prioritizing all the wrong things. It shouldn’t be required or expected to show up in person to talk about the job! It shouldn’t have been a positive! But Gumptioneer got hired anyway as far as I know.

        Point being, bootstrap gimmicks work -sometimes- but they shouldn’t. It’s a bad effect overall – anyone who can’t access a banana costume or has other things in their life preventing them from showing up unannounced in person doesnt deserve to be disadvantaged because of it!

      2. tangerineRose*

        I think we need a thread about hilarious gumption like showing up in a banana costume for an interview.

  18. Moonlight Elantra*

    I’m reminded of the first trimester of my last pregnancy when literally the only thing my stomach would tolerate was those sausage and egg McMuffins for breakfast and lunch for like three straight weeks. Any comments from coworkers would have led to me unceremoniously barfing on their shoes.

    1. Quack Quack No*

      That sounds like it would have been an effective and well-earned tactic, if uncomfortable for you.

  19. bluephone*

    LW1 is kind of old so on the one hand, who cares because it’s probably sorted itself out by now. On the other hand, I used to have a diet very similar to OP’s. I do think they’re fooling themselves that they are “perfectly healthy in every way” with every mechanically separated chicken nugget they scarf down (again: eating chicken nuggetst as I write this). But I also know, without a doubt, that the OP’s coworkers’ rude AF comments will NOT change anything, so they really need to just STFU already.

  20. Koala dreams*

    #1 it’s always rude to speculate about your co-workers dying to their face, even if they are actually dying. It’s still rude if they have taken some sick leave or if they eat food you don’t like.

    I haven’t had rude co-workers like that, but for less rude people I’ve had success with “I don’t appreciate comments like that”.

  21. I don't mean to be rude, I'm just good at it*

    I had gastric bypass surgery and went from 450 pounds to 225 pounds. I was also transferred from one school to another in my large urban school district. My new department head was thrilled to have me although most of my new workmates did not know me.

    My appetite was almost nil and for lunch I made a “cup-of-noodles” and ate some of it.

    It’s not 25 years later (damn, I’m old like that) and when we get together for retiree luncheons they still talk about my eating a “cup-of-salt” for lunch everyday.

    For 25 years I’ve ignored them and I still do.

  22. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP1: the last time I ate *anything* in the office I got a comment about how it wasn’t going to help me lose weight (I’m obese and can’t do anything about it) and a bit of a lecture of how unhealthy it was and how I was going to get diabetes (which I don’t have).

    I’ve never eaten at work again. Whole days survived on tea because I don’t have the mental energy for another ‘here’s my judgement of what you eat/how you look/what health issues I think you have’ diatribe. I also nearly died of anorexia at 16 so I’m really iffy about food.

    But I do snap occasionally at those who try to lecture/offer advice and it boils down to ‘mind your own f*cking business’. Because when I get really pissed off I swear.

  23. Lucy Skywalker*

    #1 Is the LW eating poisonous berries, poisonous mushrooms, or anything of the sort? No? Then it’s not her co-workers’ place to tell her what to eat. They aren’t her doctor or nutrionist.

    1. nonegiven*

      Even if she was, as long as she isn’t trying to get them to eat the poison, it’s still none of their business.

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