I don't need a running commentary for every morsel I consume...
November 1, 2010 10:51 PM   Subscribe

Coworker who comments on EVERYTHING I eat. And it's driving me crazy.

I work in a small office with one couple other coworkers and our boss. Me and Mrs. FoodNoticer work in close proximity to each other, separated by feet.

Every time I eat anything at all, she has to make a comment about it. She must inquire what I'm eating, if it smells good, etc. This drives me nuts. Often she will come over while I am chewing and lean over my desk just so she can get a good look at whatever it is I'm eating (and presumably to make sure I told her the truth when she asked what it was). This makes my skin crawl.

Some details that may or may not be relevant:
She cycles through various diets and things, but most often she eats fast food from various places nearby. I tend to bring in baggies of pretzels or granola bars and munch at my desk. I never comment on her food, or make any judgments on what she's eating. She is overweight, and I am on the thinner side (I'm 6'1" and a size four). We are both female. I'm a vegetarian, but don't harass people about eating meat. This has been going on for years. Other than this issue, I would say we have a pretty cordial working relationship.

Solutions I have tried or ruled out:
Confronting her: I did this once and she just kind of laughed and said "I just want to make sure you're eating!"

Eating away from work: I work only part of each day. Time spent off the clock on a lunch break is not something I can afford to do right now.

Not eating at work: Some times I do this, but this usually leads to feeling super hungry and I walk to and from work so I need the energy from my work snack.

Anything rude: I like her as a person, and I want to keep our working relationship polite, so I don't want to say anything rude to her.

Also, I should add I seem to be a target for comments about what I am eating/not eating around older relatives (who I seldom see) too, and I wish I could just make it stop. What are some good general strategies to avoiding this kind of questioning and commentary from people? Also, what do you say to people who say you are too thin? (I think I look nice and my doctor says I'm healthy and it's none of their business)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (52 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
She probably just thinks it's a safe and harmless topic of conversation. Like the weather, but more tailored to your particulars. Does it bother you because of the overtones of envy/jealousy in an overweight person asking a thin person about their food? If so, I don't know that it's really her that's the problem...
posted by Scattercat at 11:01 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, keep in mind that there are many different ways to control a situation; if you're ever asked annoying questions or somebody's in your space in an unwanted way, there is almost always a tactful way to get them to stop, particularly if you just accept that you're going to have to be manipulative to do it and work from there.

For example: I'm just brainstorming here, but overt hospitality seems like it would work well. You're concerned about appearing rude; doing the opposite could have just the effect you want it to. Bring some extra, and offer her your food. Every time. If she's watching you eat, say: oh, I have some extra. Do you want some? This can be a point you continue with, as long as you feel like you have to:

Oh! – you should have some, I just happened to bring a little too much...
"Oh, no – I just want to make sure you're eating?"
(stopping chewing, and looking at her directly) Wait a minute – are you sure you don't want any? It's really good! Seriously, have some!
"No, no, I couldn't... I don't need any..."
Go on, have some. Here, you can have these. They're great, you'll like them.
"Oh... um. Okay..."

The thing is that there are two possible outcomes here: (1) she'll actually love your food, in which case I'm willing to bet ten to one that she's incapable of gawking at you while she's sitting at her desk eating. And then you'll have to bring some extra, but (depending on what it is) it might be a small price to pay. If we're really talking pretzels here, an extra bag or two here or there might be worth it. Or (2) she might see the awkwardness of the situation, or not want to eat it necessarily, or even conclude that you assumed she wanted some, since she's always gawking. You don't have to encourage that last belief, but if you get really desperate, it's worth a try: Oh yeah! – here, since you thought those pretzels looked so good last week, I had an extra bag at home – take it!

Being over-friendly can be very useful as a tactic, if you do it right. If you mention giving her some food every single time she brings up the food thing, you'll be changing the issue around and putting it on her. And she'll be less likely to bother you.

As far as wanting to fix this in your life generally, I don't know if the above will always work. But as I said at the beginning, it's really about controlling the situation; and there are many neutral ways to do that. You just have to shift the paradigm, make sure you don't let them dictate what the conflict is about. If they're pestering you about food or hovering, finish chewing, look them straight in the eye, and ask them a neutral question about something completely unrelated to food; "how are the kids doing in school?" or "how did your court date go?" or "how was the move?" You'll find that when you're asking questions, you're in control – they will feel compelled to answer them. If you manage to ask tough questions, you'll have a lot more time for actually eating while they're trying to answer them, and you'll probably get rid of them quicker.
posted by koeselitz at 11:11 PM on November 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

If she's invading your personal space bubble, tell her something to the effect of: "I don't like being crowded while I'm eating. Would you please back off."
posted by brujita at 11:11 PM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

Well, if I were your coworker and noticed you weren't leaving for lunch and all you seemed to be eating for the day was a baggie of pretzels...I'd probably ask what you're eating, too. (A couple of times, then maybe ask if you wanted to go get lunch with me, then I'd drop the subject.) She's probably not intending to be rude or prying, but is asking 1) to make conversation, 2) because she's genuinely curious and this is just a weird thing she gets curious about, and/or 3) genuine concern if you are quite-quite thin (even if you're healthy).

But if it's bugging you, it's bugging you. It would start to bug me, too, especially if it's not just an occasional thing and happens all the time. You could try responding (cheerfully, like it's all just a big funny joke), "oh, this? I'm eating babies today!" or "my cat barfed this up last night!" or "free-range chicken--you can taste the hope!" Something completely off-the-wall might throw her off enough that she'll stop asking.
posted by phunniemee at 11:14 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about something like this...

SCENE 1: You are sitting comfortably at your desk, eating a delicious vegetarian meal, when COWORKER appears out of nowhere.

Coworker: Ooh! Whatcha eating?

You: (jokingly) Criminy! Coworker, if I didn't know better, I'd say you liked to spy on people.

Coworker: Oh no, I just like to see what you eat. And I want to make sure that you're eating.

You: You know, you've seen me eat something or other practically every day for all the time we've been working together, haven't you? I'm good. I promise.

Coworker: *more excuses*

You: (as gently as possible) Listen. I gotta tell you. I'm the type of person who kind of likes to be left alone when I eat. Work is stressful, you know? Lunchtime and snacktime are kind of my at-peace moments, and you know I love talking to you, but it sort of ruins the whole experience when someone's hanging over me, even if it is coming from a good place. Think you could maybe let a girl eat in peace?


And then if she says yes but forgets in the weeks to come, you can then say, "Hon! We've talked about this. Eating in peace, remember? Shoo!" and just be silly but firm about it.
posted by patronuscharms at 11:19 PM on November 1, 2010 [28 favorites]

I have a friend like you (i.e. very bothered when coworkers comment on her eating, and apparently they're doing it constantly, when I never seem to have that issue). I've always found it a bit particular (& she does have a "complicated" relationship with food).

Obviously "it's not her, it's you" isn't answering the question, but may help you understand why she (your coworker, not my friend) brushed off your attempt at confronting her. You're going to have to spell it out for her. "I know you mean well, but it really bugs you that you constantly comment about my food. I want you to stop." Because as others have said, it's (usually) a safe topic of conversation and she probably doesn't mean anything by it (so I honestly don't see why you had to pick up on the weight difference between you two. I doubt that has anything to do with why she says something).
posted by ClarissaWAM at 11:31 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ugh. I hate that.
I'm not even thin, and I had to deal with someone asking about what I was eating on a daily basis.

She's probably a busybody and thinks you're anorexic or something. No offense, but 6'1" and a size 4 would appear alarming to me. But, if i were your coworker, I sure wouldn't bring up anything about food or what you're eating - as I would guess you hear about it a lot.

Eat in the breakroom, outside at a picnic table, in a conference room, in your car.
I've done all of the above because I'm socially retarded and at certain jobs, I wasn't allowed to eat at my desk and wanted to avoid the breakroom or I didn't want to be near people when eating.

You say you only work part of the day. How many hours? I'm guessing if you have a lunch break than it' more than 4 but less than 8?
If you're working four hours, how about eating a bigger breakfast and then coming home and eating lunch?

My Mom is a pretty thin person and also a picky eater. But 100% healthy. For as long as I remember, other relatives have nitpicked at how she eats and why she doesn't eat enough. I don't think she really gave a shit, though.

Why not just talk to her about what you're eating? I KNOW it's annoying, but sometimes, I've found, it's better to just answer/chat and get along with someone than avoid them. It's such a relieving feeling... I'm still not sure why I don't do that all time.
posted by KogeLiz at 11:35 PM on November 1, 2010

I honestly don't see why you had to pick up on the weight difference between you two. I doubt that has anything to do with why she says something

Not necessarily. One of my friends was perpetually pointing out what I ate because she was getting a vicarious thrill out of watching me eat while she tried to diet. I was very frustrated with her micromanaging until I realized that she was not only trying to control her own food intake, but the food intake of others so she could feel like she was truly in control, even to the point of making other people feel as though they shouldn't be eating when she wasn't. OP, I don't know if that's where you were coming from when you mentioned the disparity between your weight and the weight of your coworker, but that was my discovery during a similar situation.
posted by patronuscharms at 11:38 PM on November 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

In regards to my comment, I see you're actually just snacking and not having a full lunch.
She's probably wondering why you don't eat lunch. unless you work less than 4 hours or so a day.
If I wanted to eat a granola bar and wanted to avoid someone like that, I'd probably just go for a 5-10 minute walk outside and eat. If it's 10 degrees outside, I'd probably just deal with the coworker.
I hate confrontation and I'm afraid of hurting peoples feelings, so maybe that's not the best advice.
posted by KogeLiz at 11:39 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're not at all willing to confront her about it, you could try preemptively telling her what you're having for lunch, and bringing it over for visual inspection. That way you have a little more control over the situation, and it lead to a decrease in the more obnoxious behaviors, such as her coming up close and leaning over you.
posted by ultrabuff at 11:44 PM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

The problem is that, by the sounds of things, you've let this slide for years. So trying to stop it now means some kind of noticeable change in behaviour or boundaries and that's really hard to do tactfully. In my experience people talk about food like this because they find it interesting. It's a kind of odd branch of busybody-ness, partially because she's bored, partially because she seems to have her own issues with food, partially because she really does care about you.

Personally I'd just work out what I can stand eating regularly then always eat the same thing. Either the same one thing always or the same small, regularly scheduled bunch of things. This might get more comments to start with ("you had that yesterday") but eventually it should get boring. Then you can answer enquiries with a brief, non-committal "oh you know, the same old *whatever* as usual" (or even just a one word answer - "granola" - or whatever). You'll still have to talk about it a bit because these food-nosy people never give up. But hopefully it will be too boring to go on about and stop grabbing her attention so much.

As for the 'you're too thin' thing, that's a pretty rude comment. I think it's fine for you to cheerfully say something like "My doctor thinks I'm healthy" followed by "It's none of your business" if they decide to follow it up with another comment. For strangers I'd go straight to the second one (although I'm kind of grumpy). The main thing is to not engage. You are not required to have a conversation with anyone about your body size or eating habits, don't let them draw you into one. Short answers, blank stares when they push the issue, that cold neutral smile before you move away or change the subject.
posted by shelleycat at 11:47 PM on November 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

This has been going on for years, and you mentioned once that it bothered you? And otherwise you have a pretty cordial working relationship? I'm guessing that she doesn't know it bothers you and would probably stop if she did.

Don't expect other people to read your mind. You don't have to be rude or confrontational about it, just mention when she does it, that it bothers you when people ask you what your eating, that you know she doesn't mean any harm but seems weird to you, etc. There's a decent chance she'll get it if you repeat this often enough.
posted by nangar at 11:51 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, I forgot to mention, I work in a food-related research place so everyone is really nosy about what everyone else is eating. And yeah, it kind of bugs me (it's not the one-on-one thing you're having, although I've had that elsewhere). I eat sandwiches every day. Every. Day. Not always the same inside but they always look the same and are boring. My lunch was inspected a bit at first but now I very rarely get asked about it, and it's great. So that's where my idea of boring her quiet came from.
posted by shelleycat at 11:55 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

is there any way you can use the "ding training" method? I imagine that you'd have to couch it in as fun and friendly way as possible, but maybe she doesn't even realize how often she's commenting o your food.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:03 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

What you're bearing is their own insecurities about their weight. You're thin. They would like to be thin but lack the self-control to eat like you do. They fetishize different aspects of the act of eating in an attempt to misdirect their own culpability in their appearance. What are you eating? Is it good? Is it foreign? Is it spicy? How long does it take to cook? How do you make it? Well how do you think you'd make it? Etc., etc., etc.

I don't know how to deal with these people except to just stop acknowledging whatever it is they're saying that's food related with a generic, "Uh huh," or "yeah," or "I dunno."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:11 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe she just wants to make conversation / get to know you better / make friends and this is the most obvious entry point for her. What happens when you try to converse with her about other topics instead?

But, as another thin person who sometimes gets this from overweight people, sometimes I think it may just be jealousy or their own preoccupation with food.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:12 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Honestly? Just be blunt: "[coworker], I'm trying to get my work done, and to squeeze in a snack, so I don't have time to have a conversation about what I'm eating. Let me know if you have something work-related we need to talk about; otherwise I need to get back to this." Then get back to that. If necessary, add headphones so that you can ignore her until/unless she waves her hands in front of you or taps you on your shoulder.
posted by davejay at 12:21 AM on November 2, 2010

Oh, and on the too-thin thing, I either let it go, or I laugh as I watch them realize what a jerk they just were, or (rarely) I respond "well, you can be sure I appreciate your comments about my weight just as much as you'd appreciate me commenting on yours." With a smile, of course.
posted by davejay at 12:23 AM on November 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

oh, and people commenting on your weight like that are either thoughtless, or perceive their comment as a compliment, or they're trying to make you feel bad because they feel bad. feel free to use various methods at your disposal to figure out which, and then treat them accordingly.
posted by davejay at 12:25 AM on November 2, 2010

I have Celiac Disease and wasn't diagnosed until I was 27, so all of my life up till then I was basically malnourished no matter how much I ate.

I was always getting comments about how thin I was, some as not-so-complementary complements, some as concern for my welfare, some downright rude and hurtful. People would ask me how I could be eating that huge piece of fried chicken and still keep my figure, strangers would ask me if I was going to go throw up after I ate that big piece of cake.

Most of the time I would just smile and say that I was blessed with a really fast metabolism, but it was really hurtful. After my diagnosis I say I have a serious medical condition that caused me to stay unhealthily thin. If people ask me to elaborate I answer in one of two ways: if they are an acquaintance I may give them a small overview of Celiac Disease otherwise I just say something like "It's not really something I'm comfortable talking about." and let them think what they want.

Maybe something like that would work with your coworker. Just say something like "My weight and my diet are the result of a medical condition, when you talk about my food I have a really hard time dealing with it. I'd really appreciate it if you could just ignore the fact that I'm eating at all." If she asks what the condition is you can just say that it's difficult to talk about and you'd rather not discuss it. It's a white lie, but it might buy you some peace.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:39 AM on November 2, 2010

Try confronting her again. If she responds with the same as before, ask her how it's any of her business? Smile when you say it to take the edge off. If she pauses, explain nicely that it really bothers you. Keep smiling, and when she tries to rebut you, just explain again that it bothers you and you'd really appreciate her not doing it. This approach should work for pretty much anyone. You need to do it until you get to the point that they accept that it's not acceptable. While they're rebuffing you, they're still thinking it's OK. When they accept that it bothers you is the point at which they're likely to stop.

There's a difference between being rude and being assertive & polite. Giving the other person an explanation and an "out" (a chance to explain their self) is polite.

The above approach is pretty general purpose. It should work on anyone with a modicum of self awareness. And you can always use a more nuclear option if the first doesn't work. You might have to apply the polite approach a few times before it sinks in. Mrs Foodnoticer (great nickname, btw) might think that you're being a little odd about your food, but that is sort of the price you pay for making her shut up.

This approach will also work on those people who say you are too thin. In this case, I'd just ask how it is any of their business. They might respond with something along the lines of how they just noticed, and they're concerned/jealous/whatever. This is not an answer to your question. This is a response that is designed to explain why they're being so rude. Keep repeating until you actually get an answer to your question. This is something along the lines of them being a doctor and you looking malnourished. Them actually saying that you look malnourished is just downright rude, which gives you permission to give the Dead Glare with Raised Eyebrow. Don't break from this until they apologise. Going nuclear like this (staying quiet until the other person feels uncomfortable) is effective but can be nerve-wracking to do.
posted by Solomon at 2:21 AM on November 2, 2010

I just want to note that the desire for privacy when eating is seated in a really low-level part of our brains. This is why fast-food restaurants are brightly lit and fancy restaurants are dimly lit, so they tell me.

So in case you need your feelings validated, this person is violating a pretty basic taboo.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:28 AM on November 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

Have you tried this?

(You eating, she comes over.)

Coworker: "Oh, what's that?"
You: "Pretzels. I got them at Trader Joe's. They're yummy. Want one?"
CW: "No thanks. They look..." (beginning to talk more)
You: "Excuse me, I have to make a call." (pick up phone, turn away.)

posted by dzaz at 2:42 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Confronting, as in calling her out about her obvious food-eaten-by-others obsession and how it bugs you might not be a good idea,

But I think you should point out that you, personally, like to have some private time with your lunch. At least I would be very clear about that. People have different preferences, period. There's no laughing off of that. Repeat as necessary.

[Unless, of course, you want to invest a little creative energy in preparing a few Calvin and Hobbes - type quips ("ugh, this looks like cigar butts in gallstone sauce..."), practice for a bunch of ketchup-squirt or attacking-lobster-type of tricks, or go about like Mr. Bean and scare her away by killing some live sardines for your FRESH sandwich with the paper cutter.]
posted by Namlit at 2:52 AM on November 2, 2010

"No offence Darl, but do you realise you do this/say this to me every day?"
posted by honey-barbara at 3:36 AM on November 2, 2010 [19 favorites]

Perhaps some jokey sarcasm? Ask her to stop again, and if she also says "I just want to make sure what you're eating" again, that's the perfect opening to laugh and say, "okay, Mom."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:26 AM on November 2, 2010

Whenever she starts making weird food comments, tell her:

"Oh, come on [Alice], you're giving me a complex!"

This works because it's both true (you are bothered enough to write an AskMeta) and because she will be sympathetic because she almost certainly has plenty experience dealing with food complexes. It's also not directly rude, because the blame is on your weird quirk of not wanting your food analyzed, rather than directly calling out her rude behavior.
posted by fermezporte at 4:39 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of my friends is half a foot shorter than you and approximately the same size, and gets constant "whatcha eating?" and "you should eat more!" and "you are so thin!" from coworkers. People assume that commenting on a given trait isn't rude if it's a desirable trait. If a very thin person complains about being called "beanpole" in school or finding small enough clothes, she's going to be met with "but... you're so THIN!" as if that makes up for all the trouble.

Anyway. I suggest that, from here on out, every time she makes a comment about what you're eating, quietly wrap your food up and put it in your desk. Wait about a minute after she wanders off to take it back out. She'll notice and ask, and in response you can say something like "It makes me uncomfortable when people watch me eat and comment on it. I appreciate that you want to make conversation, but it feels intrusive." If she brings out the "but I just want to make sure you're eating!" line, reply with "Eating choices are personal. I'm uncomfortable having my personal choices scrutinized."

Be your normal friendly self otherwise. You can always explain that you let this slip for so long because you really like working with her and didn't want to upset her, which is true.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:41 AM on November 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Have you considered that listening to you eat is distracting to her?

If I were bored with my job and it was quiet--the sound of your knoshing would send me into orbit.
posted by AuntieRuth at 4:55 AM on November 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

I disagree with the posters who are telling the OP that it was irrelevant to mention the body sizes of the people in this situation. Body size absolutely enters into the subtext between people in all sorts of ways. Anyway, since the woman in question has an overwrought relationship with food AND is actually saying things like "I hope you're eating enough", it's pretty safe to conclude that body size is obviously playing a role here.

I would handle this with jokey, but firm deterrents. Basically you need to Ding Train her. You can just use "Dings", but in this situation I might do it a little more jokingly and respond like it's a CIA attack and you're a little suspicious- it's kind of warmer and not as dismissive and I think will work better with the power dynamic you've outlined.

HER: What are you eating?
YOU: (Look over your shoulder at her, a little hauntedly) Why, do you work for the CIA?
HER: Ha ha, no, what is that, chili?
YOU: No seriously, are you taking a census? Why are you scrutinizing my food? Do you suspect me of something? Am I being charged with anything, officer?

The key is to have a slightly jokey look on your face to keep things socially soft, but also don't give her the information she wants. Change the subject to the CIA and police interrogations in response to everything she asks. Then DROP IT until she asks again- ie, don't call her Officer or anything later in the day when you're talking about work. But at snacktime, when she asks, go right back into it: "Oh, is it interrogation time again? I know my rights. I don't have to answer these questions." Still smiling a little, but also firmly NOT answering about food.

HER: (leaning over your shoulder to smell things- which, by the way, would make me STABBY)
YOU: (pull your food away, kind of smiling) Officer this is not due process. I demand legal counsel. Seriously. Enough. (still smiling but do not let her get a better look).
HER: Ha ha no lemme see it. Is it chili?
YOU: Dave are you seeing this? Can you take some video of this for my testimony later? I'm being harassed by a food inspector.

You can also be ludicrous about it:

HER: Ha ha, i just want to make sure you're eating!
YOU: What? No, I rigged an elaborate tube from my cheek into a bucket under my desk so I can pretend to eat. What the hell are you talking about?

HER: What does that smell like?
YOU: (lightly, smiling, not looking at her too hard) It smells kind of like a cubicle neighbor who always tries to smell other people's food. Why do you ask?

The trick to all of these is to be kind of lighthearted about it- smile, make it a joke, and check your tone so it never sounds like a personal attack on her, just on the behavior. As soon as she drops it, you drop it- do NOT bring it up again outside of when it's actually happening. And be extra nice to her in other contexts when she's behaving appropriately- compliment her work or her shoes or whatever, laugh at her jokes, etc. Keep it cordial. Don't be angry at her- it's YOUR fault this has gone on so long, since you've trained her for years that it's ok to interrogate you and YOU'RE the one changing the game on her, so try to start this fresh and not bring lots of built-up resentment into it. But now that you've decided you don't like these questions and you want it to stop, you also need to enforce your new boundary, so do NOT answer any inappropriate food questions any more.

This will all feel like a lot of work at first, but it's worth it because it will work. Basically you're just enforcing new boundaries: "From now on, it's not OK to scrutinize my food and I will not tell you what I'm eating or let you smell it anymore." I'm on your side here. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:27 AM on November 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

I had a pair of flatmates with eating disorders who did this to me incessantly, only they always included backhanded compliments with it. ("Wow, you're so brave! If I had hips like yours, I'd never eat spaghetti!") Basically they were hungry, had a disordered relationship with food, and in the living situation we were in, I ended up the only person in the flat who ate real food publicly because they created this really pressured situation where most of the other women in the flat started striving for super-thin and eating as little as possible, and the rest got so self-conscious about eating they quit doing it where anyone could see them. Make-up and curling iron use also soared. It was a very weird situation.

Anyway, the only way I found to cope with it was to ignore it and/or agree with them -- "Yep! I love spaghetti!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:33 AM on November 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Could you put on headphones every time you eat? It's hard to tell from your question if you're grazing throughout your shift, or taking a few minutes to eat your granola or whatever. If it's the latter, then putting on headphones is the Universal Office Bat Signal that you'd like to be left alone for a bit.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:17 AM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've always been overweight to some degree, a fact that left me open to both bullying and well-meaning commentary, and I didn't realize/learn until well into adulthood that the same kind of commentary on other body types is just as rude, unwelcome, and ignorant as what I was subjected to. I honestly thought it was a sort of compliment. Maybe everyone isn't open to this kind of learning and retraining, but, truly, if someone had shown me how wrong I was, it would have been a kindness.
posted by littlegreenlights at 7:20 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

People do OBSESS about what thin people eat--and yes, it drove me crazy. You say you confronted her only once. Once is rarely enough in such situations.
Say: X, I like working with you and I know you mean well, but when you do that you make me nervous. Please stop.
X: ha ha, blah blah blah, I just.....
You: X, please stop. (Turn back to what you were doing.)
Every single time after that, just shake your head no, you are not even participating in that conversation. And don't.
posted by uans at 8:20 AM on November 2, 2010

I would lie. Not subtly or anything, not like you're trying to get away with it. She asks you what you're eating, you're eating pretzles. Say "a steak". When she inevitable cranes her head and says "hey, those are pretzles." say either "what?" (repeated as she continues to ask questions), or insist that it is, in fact, a steak, and look at her puzzled: "what are you talking about, yes it is? [pop another pretzel into your mouth." Refuse to acknowledge what you're actually eating. I just think it would be fun :)
posted by brainmouse at 8:20 AM on November 2, 2010

One of my friends is half a foot shorter than you and approximately the same size, and gets constant "whatcha eating?" and "you should eat more!" and "you are so thin!" from coworkers. People assume that commenting on a given trait isn't rude if it's a desirable trait. If a very thin person complains about being called "beanpole" in school or finding small enough clothes, she's going to be met with "but... you're so THIN!" as if that makes up for all the trouble.

Actually as a guy who has been skinny forever, there are certain people who are just dicks about it, even when they clearly do not think that being very thin is an attractive trait for males. Whenever we have some sort of gathering at work that involves food, I get "You should have another piece of cake" sort of comments from various people, usually "motherly" types. If I eat a lot, I get comments on how surprising that is, and if I don't eat much I get comments on how I should eat more. The same types of people ask me uninvited personal questions about what I eat outside of work. The male equivalent of the motherly type will also generally combine this with suggesting that I work out at the gym to bulk up.

Honestly I do not know what advice to give the OP because I personally have taken the grin and bear it route, along with eating lunch alone (which I like doing anyway). I doubt that you could really stop this kind of behavior without offending the person in question, because you would have to be very blunt and from their perspective it will come across as a sleight to them. The only thing that has somewhat worked for me in these kinds of situations is being extremely boring and not fun to talk to about it. Lots of one-word answers and sounding disinterested about the topic.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:49 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Flat out tell the truth

"I want to make sure you're eating..."

Look, I appreciate it thanks but as a grown woman, I can choose to eat or not. Can you not comment on everything I"m eating, when, how, why because it really, really annoys me. Ok? I'm sorry but seriously, stop.

I had to do a similar treatment to my best friend about parenting things. The bottom line is I didn't need reminders, I didn't need lectures, I didn't need paranoia, I didn't need unfounded theories, I didn't need...shit, it was time to tell her to STFU, I KNOW THE OBVIOUS.

I found the constant reminders and unsolicited opinions/comments insulting to my parent techniques, me being an adult, and me doing what is best for my child.

Seriously, politely but firmly tell her it bugs you. You can't control if she's going to be all pissed off about it. She obviously has weight issues and you're her example of what she wants to be like but she's passively aggressively puting HER issues on to you (making sure you eat).
posted by stormpooper at 9:46 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh hi, I am this person.

I can tell you why I talk to people about their food, perhaps compulsively. It's because I love food -- intellectually. It fascinates me. I'd rather read about food than most other things. I can't pass by a menu posted outside a restaurant without stopping to read it. It's the thing that I am intellectually most passionate about and can discuss with more confidence and knowledge than anything else. I know obscure ingredients. I know the mother sauces. If you throw out a weird foreign word for some cooking technique that is only used in kitchens like (the soon-to-be-shuttered) El Bulli or French Laundry, I'll be able to follow right along with you, and I'll be going over the steps in my head.

I'm interested in food the same way that a lot of people are interested in cars. They can rattle off the specs of a 1967 Firebird or a '57 Chevy and it's fascinating to them, even though they'll probably never come close to owning their dream car. They're equally happy to stop by and help you if you've raised the hood on your Ford Focus in order the check the oil. They'll talk details with you, because the details are interesting to them.

I'm that way with food. I guess I am also that way, unfortunately, with other people's food. In the breakroom at lunch, I do ask people what they're eating. I'm not judging them, or nannying them, or checking to see if I can catch them in some sort of dodge or lie. I just find it interesting. There are usually other questions: "Did you make it?" Or, if not, "Oh, I've never tried Trader Joe's _____. How do you like it?" Etc.

This is part social anxiety, of course. It's not just something to make conversation about -- it's something I can make conversation about. When food is the topic, I personally am on much better footing than if the topic is purses or shoes or kids' soccer games or other things I have no interest in.

So there you go. Your question has made me realize that I might be the person in the breakroom that everyone else would like to avoid, and I'm going to try to be conscious of that.

But maybe, after hearing this, you can relax your negative reaction to your coworker. Maybe you could ask her, in a non-charged tone, "You know, you always seem really interested in my food. I'm curious about why that is." And maybe she has horrible, indefensible motives. Or maybe, like me, she just finds it really interesting to talk about food, and you can go from there.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:03 AM on November 2, 2010 [10 favorites]

"Oh, Sue, you know I hate to talk about food. What are you doing this weekend?"

Reject the conversation without rejecting her. Also, it sucks that you are being body-policed! Body acceptance is for everyone.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:20 AM on November 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Oh Sue, I hate to say this. It's a personal pet peeve for people to talk about what I'm eating. I've made the mistake in being overtly polite. Would you mind just not commenting on it? I really like throwing the BS around...but this is one of those things that really annoy me - and I like you too much for that. Would you mind?"
posted by filmgeek at 10:41 AM on November 2, 2010

I feel for you.

Please, please, please don't be passive-aggressive about this. I think mudpuppie has it down, as do filmgeek and a few others. Be friendly, supportive, caring, but up-front. That PA stuff is for children.
posted by liquado at 11:10 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

But maybe, after hearing this, you can relax your negative reaction to your coworker. Maybe you could ask her, in a non-charged tone, "You know, you always seem really interested in my food. I'm curious about why that is." And maybe she has horrible, indefensible motives. Or maybe, like me, she just finds it really interesting to talk about food, and you can go from there.

To be clear about at least my comment, your description does not really seem to match what I was talking. The "I just want to make sure you're eating!" and "You're too thin" comments are entirely different than anything related to general curiosity about food. I could be wrong, but I would guess from my experience that it's the OP in particular who the coworker is doing this to and not everyone.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:36 AM on November 2, 2010

I agree that the difference in your sizes really jumps off the page.

I know a few people (in the average to plus size range) whom automatically assume that all thin women have an eating disorder. So she might just be worried that that's the case and wants to make sure you're eating enough. It's annoying and unnecessary, but it might just be out of concern.

On the other hand (and it could be a combination of both these factors), I also knew some people who were obsessed with what I ate. I'm 5'4'' and a size 6 to 8 and these two women (who did not now each other) were larger than me. Both became slightly obsessed with what I ate. Both seemed to think that I ate more than they did and seemed to think it was horribly unfair that I was smaller than they were. It was odd because it was obvious that that wasn't the case.
One was a coworker and she'd always eat fast food breakfast, a salad or lean-cuisine frozen lunch, candy bar or fudge in the afternoon, and eat deep-fried whatever for dinner. Whereas my main meal is lunch (when I was at work), so yeah she'd see me eat more than she did - for that one meal (and they were always healthier than her meals). I tried explaining the obvious to her, didn't work.

The second person was a friend. Every time we ate together, she'd visibly stare at me eating - a lot - noticing meticulously what I are. (Needless to say I stopped eating around her.) But she'd ignore the fact that she ate out every. single. meal. And I didn't.

In both cases they wanted to make excuses for not losing weight, and my heart goes out to them. But eventually they both began resenting me for being smaller than they were. It was sad.
posted by Neekee at 11:44 AM on November 2, 2010

oh, and those were two isolated cases, I'm not trying to disparage against larger women.
posted by Neekee at 11:51 AM on November 2, 2010

Wear headphones while you are snacking. When she comes over to you, ignore her. If she persists, say "Oh I can't talk right now, I'm listening to music!". Keep this up. She'll get the idea. She'll probably wonder what your attitude problem is, but who cares?
posted by dreamsofhorses at 1:05 PM on November 2, 2010

It's hard to change other people's behavior.

Extinguishing: You can try ignoring it. Get out a book or magazine, put on a headset attached to audiobook or radio (Her - gestures for your attention. You - pointedly pause book, answer patiently, pointedly return to book Day 2 or 3, don't answer.). Enjoy a peaceful 15-30 minute lunch. Or, make a big batch of soup, and bring the same soup & bread every day for a week. "Yes, more delish cabbage and kielbasa soup; sure am glad I made lots." "Umm-hmmm soup again. '

Diversion. I get tired of talking about my food; did you /see Dancing with the stars last night?/hear the newest joke/see the new TPS report covers?

Is there some unpleasant consequence you can apply? I can't think of one that would not be hurtful.

Enlist her help: You know, Jane, I saw my aunt over the weekend and she nagged me about my thinness. I'm perfectly fine with my weight and health, and it bother me that my aunt won't stop bugging me about it. Every Monday, you can bring in a fresh story about someone who annoyed you about your weight or eating.

Because it's harder to change other people's behavior than your own, you could try to view it as her personal tic, and compassionately tolerate it.
posted by theora55 at 1:06 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

@mudpuppie---just an observation--your technique IS interesting. The person the OP is talking about is annoying. Who says "making sure you're eating" except a mother to a 2 year old. Seriously annoying.

Again, tell her bluntly that it's bothersome.
posted by stormpooper at 2:09 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not to excuse her behavior, but perhaps she is curious about vegetarianism? My coworker was recently asked by her doctor to go gluten free for a month and she's been showing me things like her gluten-free donuts, and I asked if I could read the ingredients label. So I've been reading a lot of labels lately to learn about gluten free foods. If she is curious, could you perhaps suggest a great vegetarian recipe website?

I would seriously have issues with her leaning over my food. I don't want her breathing on my food and spewing germs all over it. I agree that you should be forthcoming and not use a passive-aggressive approach.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:03 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is she older than you? My very thin ex used to get this all the time ('you're not eating enough' type comments), especially from older women. And many heavier women who would attempt to phrase it as a self-deprecating joke or something but it still came off bad. However, my ex was not afraid of confrontation and so people usually didn't do this more than once (but her "fuck off" approach wouldn't lead to a cordial working environment...)
posted by wildcrdj at 4:45 PM on November 2, 2010

I'm on the average/plus size borderline (and probably the heaviest in my office, thinking about it - that's the media for you). I would never comment on someone else's weight. Partly because it's rude, and partly because, well, people have all kinds of triggers about food. I lived with someone who was watching their own weight, and would constantly say things like 'Why are you eating Utterly Butterly? It's BUTTER' and 'You should never eat carbs after 5pm' and it started to really piss me off. Peeing in the street is 'naughty'. Eating a fucking chocolate biscuit isn't 'naughty'.

It sounds like she's interested because she wants to change her own diet, and in her head, finding out about what others eat is the way to do this. I think the best way is to be politely direct and ask why she's so interested.
posted by mippy at 11:49 AM on November 3, 2010

oh, doh, I forgot to include what I did about it: with my coworker, since she was so curious, I made sure to inform her of what else I had eaten during the day - including measures taken to make the meals healthier*. As in, "you want to talk about food and nutrition, let's talk about food and nutrition in a nice, open, friendly way." I wasn't doing so passive aggressively, just in a "I am just as curious as you are" sort of way. Although I wasn't all that curious, it was obviously important to her so I made sure to lay it all out on the table. It worked, she slowly but surely stopped.
*that made the conversation much friendlier and more cordial.
posted by Neekee at 5:00 PM on November 3, 2010

Please forgive me if I am totally off base with this, but-

It sounds like you have tried being totally passive (eating away from work) and totally confrontational, but you haven't tried anything in the middle.

Do you have a hard time with confrontation/boundaries in general? Sometimes, when a person has a hard time with confrontation, they let things slide and let things slide, and then they can't take it anymore, and totally explode and get really pissed. It's like they're only comfortable with one extreme or the other.

But I think the best thing to do is be totally matter of fact. No angry words, no angry tone. It is completely possible to set boundaries in a matter of fact way without slipping into Rude.

So the next time she does this, you don't have to "confront" her. You can just say to her,

"Hey Nancy, I'm sorry, but it makes me really self-conscious to have people watch me when I'm eating. That's just my thing."

And if she says she's just making sure you're eating/is just concerned about you, you can say, "No problem, I'm just a lot more comfortable if people don't comment on that stuff."

You just repeat the same thing in slightly altered ways, bringing it back to the same message no matter what her reply is.

Also, if she's breathing on your food while you're trying to eat, you can say, "Hey Nancy, I'm sorry but I just have this thing about my food, I just like to have some space while I'm eating it."

IF she is just clueless that she's irritating you, that should put an end to it after a couple times. There's no need to go nuclear on her. A lot of people will say that you shouldn't say sorry about something like this or take on an apologetic tone, but I think that's really only a problem if the other person is manipulative.

However, if she's deliberately being passive aggressive and trying to make you uncomfortable and playing some weird kind of game, then I think that would call for more bluntly enforced boundaries.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:46 AM on November 4, 2010

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