How do I respond to co-worker making comments about what I eat?
July 28, 2012 3:38 PM   Subscribe

How do I respond to co-worker making comments about what I eat?

My small 7 person work team just got switched to a new location. We now share a floor with another larger team that we have not had much interaction with in the past. Our new floor has a great kitchen/lunchroom that opens up onto a lovely terrace. I (female) bring my lunch 4-5 days a week, so this has been great with one exception. Exception is a female member of the larger team, L. L has a lot to say about my food. Because of meetings and calls, 3 days a week I have to eat lunch very early, and it’s when L eats. It’s usually just her and I.

In the past month her comments have ranged from “You put chick peas on your salad? Weird!!!” to “Never put the tomatoes on your sandwich in the morning, pack them separately and put them on just before you eat!” to “Pasta for lunch?? Never eat pasta for lunch! You’re going to be taking a nap under your desk this afternoon, hahaha.” A little annoying, but whatever. I don’t want to eat at my desk to avoid her- I love the outdoor terrace- so I have been just kind of making noncommittal mmhmm noises and ignoring her food comments. We can generally chat pleasantly about other topics.

Yesterday our boss bought everyone lunch from Panera. I chose a half sandwich/salad combo. L was the person who helped pass out the orders. At about 2 pm I received an email from her. It included a link to the nutrition information for my sandwich (from the Panera website) and the comment- “More calories than you would think!!” The subject line was “FYI.”

This has been just sticking in my craw since then. I don’t want anyone, let alone a co-worker, making weird shaming comments about my food choices. I did not respond to the email, but I want to.
Other (maybe) relevant information:
- I am average, or maybe a bit less than average weight for my height, and so is L.
- L has not mentioned any food issues to me
- L is about 5 years older than me (both in our 30’s)
- We work in a mostly male office (maybe she is trying to bond via food talk?)
- I asked the guys on my team (I am the only woman) if she said anything about their lunch, they all said no and had similar WTF reactions to her email
- I don’t know anyone on the larger team well enough (yet) to ask them about her behavior.

2 questions- 1) How should I respond to her email? and 2) Why do you think she is doing this?
posted by aviatrix to Human Relations (72 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just reply, "Please don't comment on my food choices via email or in person."
posted by liketitanic at 3:40 PM on July 28, 2012 [21 favorites]

1) "Oh good -- I like calories."
posted by feral_goldfish at 3:40 PM on July 28, 2012 [75 favorites]

I would completely ignore the email and ignore her when she comments on what you eat in person. I bet she'll stop if you do.
posted by amro at 3:42 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Your e-mail worries me, especially considering all the comments you make to me re: food. If you want to talk about an eating disorder, I can help research some resources for you."
posted by xingcat at 3:42 PM on July 28, 2012 [54 favorites]

She is deeply insecure, that's why she's doing it. Pity her and ignore her.
posted by MegoSteve at 3:43 PM on July 28, 2012 [13 favorites]

"Thank you for concern but you know absolutely nothing about my health history or dietary needs. Please stop commenting on what I eat."

If it continues, copy a boss on the next request.
posted by Michele in California at 3:43 PM on July 28, 2012 [10 favorites]

I honestly think she's doing this because she has esteem issues, doesn't have many friends, and wants you to think she's smart and informed.
posted by hanoixan at 3:44 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

2) She is trying to bond with you in an odd and self-conscious way.
posted by Specklet at 3:44 PM on July 28, 2012 [19 favorites]

This seems to be one of those cases where a person is so hyper-aware of their own situation that they project it on other people. I think she probably has an unhealthy relationship with food and you're just in her orbit. Sympathy would seem to be the appropriate reaction.
posted by raisingsand at 3:45 PM on July 28, 2012 [54 favorites]

Another vote for ignoring her.
posted by francesca too at 3:45 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't respond to the email. Especially since you don't really know each other, a jokey response may not be read as jokey (since she doesn't know you), and a serious response will probably just get you labeled as "too sensitive" or some shit like that.

The next time she says something about what you're eating, keep in mind that it's not about you - it's about her. She's the one with issues, and she's just externalizing. So say nothing. Or say "Yeah." Or "Uh huh." Or something totally out of left field - if she says "Wow, that's a really big sandwich!", you respond with something like "I laughed so hard at [recent funny movie] - have you seen it?" or "I had a great weekend, yes! How was yours!"
posted by rtha at 3:46 PM on July 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

Does it seem mean-spirited when she does it? If so, go with ignoring. But I think it's possible that she could be socially awkward and simply observing that this is one of the social conventions upon which US American women bond with each other--counting calories and giving far too much of a shit about calories in general--and maybe she's just awkwardly hoping to connect with you?

I'd say something direct, along the lines of liketitanic's suggestion. "I enjoy talking with you at lunch, but please stop commenting on my food choices." Ignoring could go right over her head, if this is an issue of her maybe just not being able to read how much what she's already doing is bothering you.
posted by so_gracefully at 3:48 PM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

"Do you have anything else to talk about other than my food?"
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:50 PM on July 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

I would give her the benefit of the doubt. You two really don't know each other, and basically the only thing she knows about you is your lunch. So, she talks about your lunch. If this is even remotely possible, some small detail other than lunch can change all this. Don't respond to her email. Next lunchtime, you start the conversation -- about the weather, the weekend, a movie you saw, a book you like, whatever. Continue the redirect for a while. For example:

Her: Tomatoes make sandwiches soggy.
You: Yes, sometimes they do. I do love tomatoes -- it's maybe my favorite thing about summer, but this year there's been too much rain for good tomatoes. Think it'll rain tomorrow?
Her: I don't know anything about weather, I just want to talk about your food choices! [kidding here but if she doesn't take the redirect, keep trying]
You: I guess the good thing about rain is you get to do all the indoor stuff, like reading and watching movies. Seen a good movie or read a good book lately?

Eventually she'll confess to a movie or book she likes. Next lunch, you start the conversation first -- about a similar book or movie.
posted by Houstonian at 3:51 PM on July 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

"I like you and all (if you do) but it seems you make frequent critical comments about what I eat, and these comments distract me from work and the enjoyment of my meals."
posted by zippy at 3:59 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would give her the benefit of the doubt. You two really don't know each other, and basically the only thing she knows about you is your lunch. So, she talks about your lunch.

If this was only about the lunchtime passive-aggressive banter, sure, but the email takes it way beyond trying-to-find-something-to-say-while-we're-sitting-here.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:00 PM on July 28, 2012 [11 favorites]

People comment on my food choices all the time. I react with a combination of good humor, poking fun at them and/or myself, and ignoring anything else about it. I find it a bit weird that people seem interested in what I eat/want to tell me why I need more protein/whatever, but I have a lot more control over how I react to them than I have over what they say to me.

So, you can choose to talk to her in a way that escalates things or makes them really awkward I'd put the aggressive comments that imply "What the fuck are you thinking?/My food is none of your business" in that category. Or you can choose an approach like mine which isn't likely to stop the comments entirely, but at least might let them not bother you very much. A third alternative is to be very direct about it but not in a way that is designed to be antagonistic. Like, "Hey, can I talk to you privately?" and then pulling her aside and saying something like, "You've made some comments about my eating that have bothered me. I'm asking you to stop making them." There's no guarantee this approach will work, but if you are going to be confrontational, it seems like you might as well be as direct and transparent as possible to leave her with little room to misinterpret what you mean.

As to your second question--the only person who knows why she is doing this is her. You're asking a bunch of people who don't know her to speculate about it based on very little information. Someone here will probably make a guess that will sound good to you and you can choose to believe that about your coworker, but it's not likely to be the actual reason. If you really want to know the actual reason, ask her.
posted by MoonOrb at 4:01 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Flat out tell her to stop commenting on your food. If she continues tell her not to speak with you except for functional talking. Don't dance around. Be assertive.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:03 PM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I used to have a coworker like this. She had some very major body image issues and food issues, and I did (and do) feel sorry for her about those, because holy shit, been there done that... but it didn't make her any less annoying when she would get all up in my grill about what I was having for lunch. The only way I got her to stop was to wait until she said something to me about my food, and then I said to her: "S., I think I get where you're coming from, and I appreciate your concern, but I don't view food or think about food in the same way that you do. I have my own issues with food, and your comments are really not helpful. If you can stop, please do, but if you can't, I won't be able to eat lunch with you anymore."

Since you're not close to this person you may want to steer clear of telling her you have any food issues (if you do). I was friendly with my coworker and we were both pretty blunt people so it wasn't a big deal for me to be blunt with her. In your case, I would suggest talking to her at a time when you're alone, and telling her that you appreciate her concern but that the comments about your meals are making you not want to be around her.
posted by palomar at 4:03 PM on July 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

"It's weird how you're always commenting on what I eat. Can you stop doing that?"
posted by chickenmagazine at 4:04 PM on July 28, 2012 [18 favorites]

Ignore the e-mail and ignore the food comments. A friend of mine pulls the same stunt on me, and each time she did it, I refused to engage her but continue to chat about whatever we were discussing before. It took some time, but she has more or less dropped the subject now. Try ignoring your coworker and see what it does. If she persists, "Let's not talk about food/my lunch, it's so boring."
posted by peripathetic at 4:04 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Hey, keep your eyes on your own plate!"

Deliver this with both a steady, eye-holding gaze and a smile.
posted by mosk at 4:05 PM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think the email gives you the perfect opportunity to speak up about it. Simply ask her to stop commenting on the food.
posted by Milau at 4:06 PM on July 28, 2012

My tactic when quizzed in a hostile way about my food is to heighten the comment in a jokey way.

“You put chick peas on your salad? Weird!!!”
"Yeah, I know. I *usually* put in squid eyeballs, but I ran out this morning."

“Pasta for lunch?? Never eat pasta for lunch! You’re going to be taking a nap under your desk this afternoon, hahaha.”
"That's why I have that cot under my desk! What, you never noticed?"

Acting as if their comment was a setup for your joke is pretty damn offputting, yet allows plausible deniability, unlike a dry comment like, "I would prefer that you not comment on my food."

Of course, if the poor thing is just socially inept and clueless, it would be cruel to do this. But if she's being catty, then, hey, you can scratch too.
posted by ROTFL at 4:08 PM on July 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

"The comments you make about what I eat are inappropriate. Stop making them."
posted by Hello Darling at 4:12 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had a coworker/boss/something once who did this all the time, and I concur with hanoixan and Specklet's analysis of her actions. But just because she's probably not malevolent, doesn't make it any less obnoxious. For me, it got to the point where I was actively avoiding eating around my coworker, because of his constant irritating little comments.

I eventually dealt with it by saying, "I don't want to talk about my food. Ever. I won't talk about it with you again. Thanks." I said it firmly, but without hostility. It worked fine.
posted by Coatlicue at 4:13 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

(2) She deludedly thinks that by criticizing you she scores points, both with you AND in some cosmic competition against you. I share your irritation, and recommend The Big Bang Theory as craw-therapy.
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:18 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Others have given good advice. I confess what I would probably do is go to her in person, pull her inside, and in a low concerned voice ask her if she is dealing with food issues. Assuming she would respond with her version of "what the heck" I would then say, " With all the commenting and then that email about my food choices, I am worried that you are dealing with some kind of eating disorder-because that is not typical behavior. "

Not necessarily recommending you do that, of course. But I agree with those that are saying this is definitely a reflection on her. And hey, it is possible she really is struggling, and if so, you could point her to some help?

On further reflection, the wiser idea might be to just go to her and say, hey, so and so, that was a flat out weird email. What gives?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:23 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

"I find conversations about food really boring. Maybe it's just me? So, have you been following the Olympics?"
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:26 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Stare at her with confusion that dawns into intense pity. Say "oh, you poor thing!" If she engages you further, give her the Care Bear Stare you would give to a small helpless puppy that just shat the rug during a thunderstorm.

Otherwise just say "I'm not interested in your opinions on my eating habits, thanks."
posted by elizardbits at 4:27 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would also have sent back the email about calories or whatever shit with a header saying "I think you must have sent this to me by mistake."
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:28 PM on July 28, 2012 [22 favorites]

I'm with hanoixan-- I think she's probably a compulsive talker and feels the need to sound knowledgeable. This are the sort of people that old wives' tales come from.

That's good advice about the tomatoes, but the way, but obviously not a good way to offer advice. She could also be displacing her own food issues onto you. She could be saying things meant to be kind, but she's a boor as she does this, pressing her own opinions onto you.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:28 PM on July 28, 2012

The people who are saying this isn't a big deal are missing the point that this lady has no way of knowing whether or not it is a big deal for aviatrix. If, heaven forbid, aviatrix was someone who was in recovery from an eating disorder, her colleague's unwanted and unasked-for food policing could be actively detrimental to her recovery.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:31 PM on July 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

Implying that someone who is a nosy know-it-all about food must have food issues is a dick move. People in offices talk about each others lunches. What you consider annoying, other people may not even care about. I'd respond to the email with "hahahah, thanks, I'm not into counting calories" and then every time she brought up food, change the subject.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:37 PM on July 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

More calories than you would think!!” The subject line was “FYI.”

Response: Ha ha! How many calories do you think I think are in it?
posted by vitabellosi at 4:41 PM on July 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

For in person incidents, I like the Miss Manners approach. "How kind of you to take an interest." Just that, no response to the content at all.

I vote for ignoring the e-mail.
posted by Bruce H. at 4:43 PM on July 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

The "she's awkward" theory holds more water for me than the "she's malicious" theory for me. That said, I don't think awkwardness excuses obnoxiousness. There's lots of good one-liners in this thread that could be reasonably expected to shut this down. But then, when dealing with someone so socially clueless, it's hard to say for sure what would work.

I've got a technique for shutting down conversations I don't want to be having, especially if they're messing with my boundaries or if the person I'm done hearing from is being disrespectful. Pulling it off requires there be other people in the room. Last time I used it was to get someone off my back about his not agreeing with my choice of reading material - worked like gangbusters. It goes like this.

1) The obnoxious person says something obnoxious about something that's none of their business.

2) You make strong eye contact and maintain an expression somewhere between confusion and annoyance. Lean in slowly as if you're not sure what you're looking at. Tilt your head a little. Let the silence get super uncomfortable for everyone but you.

3) Say "Huh."

4) Immediately turn to someone else and blatantly start an unrelated conversation.

It's kind of a scorched earth thing - it shuts people up effectively, but you're probs not gonna be friends with anyone you use it on. Therefore, i'd hold this move in reserve for after trying some of the less aggressive suggestions above.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:45 PM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

People in offices talk about each others lunches.

I've worked in offices for the past 15+ years and no one has ever taken it upon themselves to send me the nutritional information on a meal I ordered. That's not normal behavior, that's overstepping the bounds of politeness.
posted by palomar at 4:47 PM on July 28, 2012 [25 favorites]

This is a perfect "Well bless your heart" moment.

I am guessing a socially inept person who is trying to "bond" by talking about food, if she's otherwise alright company I'd ignore what she says or maybe turn the conversion back onto her.

"Oh yeah, you should try chickpeas in a salad they are amazing, want to try a mouthful."

"Pasta for lunch is great, I don't have problems with getting sleepy after carbs, do you?"

"Thanks for your email, thanks for your concern, but I'm not into counting calories."

In my experience there was one office I worked in where there was a small subset of women that bonded by talking about food as if there is some sort of willpower contest going on. Unless food conversations involve someone giving me 5 more uses for bacon I find them pretty boring, but if she's otherwise polite I'd assume ignorance rather than mallice.
posted by wwax at 4:57 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

The "she's awkward" theory holds more water for me than the "she's malicious" theory for me.

I agree, because her comments are just so odd. The calorie thing alone might be malicious, and the others alone might be attempts at criticism or friendly advice or bonding or just talking about recipes, but together? Weird!

I would answer each differently, not too snarkily but just in a rather short manner than doesn't allow for much response. (“You put chick peas on your salad? Weird!!!” "Nah, it's pretty common." “Never put the tomatoes on your sandwich in the morning, pack them separately and put them on just before you eat!” "Hmm." “Pasta for lunch?? Never eat pasta for lunch! You’re going to be taking a nap under your desk this afternoon, hahaha.” "Actually I'm fine with pasta.") I'd answer the email with "Thanks, but I don't care!"

In past jobs I had people comment on what I ate many times. Usually some version of "That's all you're eating?" "You're not ordering lunch?" Etc. I don't know why they do it, but saying something boring and direct like the examples above has always stopped it. They lost interest in the conversation if that was all they got from me.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:59 PM on July 28, 2012

This isn't for everybody, but in most situations, I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt and react based on what their best intentions could be. I think this is especially true when trying to do the best to maintain a healthy-ish work relationship.

I would probably say something like, "yeah, so, this might be weird, but I don't really like talking about what I'm eating with other people. Especially around heath-related stuff. Everybody's relationship with food is personal, don't you think? Let's just change the subject."
posted by smirkyfodder at 5:01 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

1) How should I respond to her email?

In person. A simple "Hey, I'm fine with my food choices, so if you could stop commenting on what I eat, that would be great, thanks!"

and 2) Why do you think she is doing this?

I don't care and neither should you. You'd just be taking slice out of crazy pie and you don't want any of that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:02 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Unless she's actively insane in other ways, just diffuse it:

“You put chick peas on your salad? Weird!!!”

Makes it taste good though!

“Never put the tomatoes on your sandwich in the morning, pack them separately and put them on just before you eat!”


“Pasta for lunch?? Never eat pasta for lunch! You’re going to be taking a nap under your desk this afternoon, hahaha.”

I should bring it every day then!
Tastes good though!

“More calories than you would think!!” The subject line was “FYI.”

But tasty!
posted by heyjude at 5:03 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

People in offices talk about each others lunches.

The other comments, while kind of tactless and awkward, are in line with people talking about each others lunches. The calorie counting email is out of line, and it'd be out of line if she said it in person too. It's crossing boundaries because it's making assumptions and implications about aviatrix's health and weight that are uncalled for from someone who barely knows her. Hell, they'd be uncalled for from a lot of family and friends. Consider, how is aviatrix supposed to respond from the nosy coworker's point of view? "Thanks, I didn't know that, I'll stick to salads from now on"? "Oh my gosh, you're right, I'm getting a little fat and need to watch my weight, I'll check the calorie counts from now on"? If the coworker is trying to draw aviatrix into having conversations about some sort of adversarial, calorie-counting relationship with food by concern trolling her, aviatrix is not obligated to get sucked into it. I agree with others that your coworker probably has her own food issues.

I say you should redirect conversation away from food, and if she persists or sends you more inappropriate emails, then bluntly tell her you're happy with your food choices and don't appreciate her fixation on your food and food choices.
posted by yasaman at 5:04 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think almost all of these suggestions are too... prim for casually friendly workmates. I'd go with "Dude! Mind your own lunch. PS Do you know where the extra printer ink is? I am out of cyan."

Repeat as needed but call her out and then change the subject, EVERY time.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:04 PM on July 28, 2012 [10 favorites]

Yeah, maybe she's just trying to reach out. Go easy on her!
posted by lulu68 at 5:12 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think a great response to the email would be "I notice you eat your lunch earlier than everyone else, and usually by yourself. Do you think your need to comment on other people's food choices my be the cause of this?" Optionally add "STFU and GBTW" but in more diplomatic terms.

I think she is doing this because she is a shrew who needs to learn to mind her own business.
posted by Rob Rockets at 5:16 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Answering in reverse order:

2.) Like most people here, I'm betting it's a combination of her own personal food/body issues and awkwardness. That being said, just because she's awkward it doesn't give her the right to lesson your enjoyment of your own meals.

1.) Because of the answer above, for your reply I would go with something like: "Um thanks -- I've never been one to obsess about calories, I think that's kind of unhealthy." Just to push it into her face that what she is doing is really not ok.

If she comments on your food again, always reply in such a way that says that your choices are better than hers. "Oh, you don't like chickpeas? You really should try to be more adventurous". "I'd separate my tomatoes, but that's just an extra package that needs to be thrown away/washed", etc.

Sure, this way is a little adversarial, but it seems like she might need that in order to back off -- and maybe it will help her clue in to the fact that she's really doing things that are not ok.
posted by sparklemotion at 5:28 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

People will do this; why she specifically does it is not known to us and we don't need to know. I'd avoid the stern, icy response (DO NOT TALK TO ME ABOUT MY LUNCH OR EATING HABITS AGAIN *scary robot noises*) and make a joke to diffuse the situation. Yeah, it's super annoying but responding in an unexpected way will leave you both on good terms with each other, instead of the other feeling awkward and apologizing and the secret resentment of each other... (don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about).

Co-worker sends email about the calories in your Panera meal. "Wow, so many calories!" Find the most caloric menu item in the website, send her the link with "Thank goodness I didn't get this thing."

Co-worker states pasta is a bad lunch choice, that the carb-overload is going to give you food coma. You can respond: "Does that happen to you? I've never really had that problem with pasta. A side of bacon, however..."
posted by french films about trains at 5:29 PM on July 28, 2012

I would try to be very indirect and to turn this into something I'd find more interesting, but that would gently point out to her that she was crossing a line-- and make her a little uncomfortable-- all at the same time.

If your mother is dead, for example, you might put your food down for a moment and sigh, then say "no one has talked to me like that since my mother died X years ago. I miss her so much sometimes, but life goes on... Is your mother still alive?"

If your mother is alive (and you were angry enough), you could say "Huh! You sound like my mother! I didn't realize you were that much older than me!"

If her husband or boyfriend or child is a little overweight, say: " Well, after meeting [Norm] I guess I can understand your interest in other people's food intake" *chomp*.

If any of those people are skinny: "Ah, I begin to understand why [Norm] is so bony!"

I'd predict that not too many servings of that would make her lose her appetite for monitoring your eating.
posted by jamjam at 5:39 PM on July 28, 2012

Most people mean well, even when they are doing something very inappropriate. That is why I would start with "Thank you for your concern". It acknowledges that she probably has good intentions, even if she is paving a road to hell with them, which helps take some of the sting out of the request to stop.

Women are frequently made responsible for the diets of other people. She may not realize how codependent and invasive this is. So I would try to be nice about it. But I would also be pretty firm. It sounds like an entrenched habit that won't simply go away without you drawing a clear line in the sand. Firm but sidestep the emotional bs. It sounds like she is escalating because you haven't really responded. Give her a response. Make her feel heard. Validate her positive impetus. But also make it very, very clear it is not ok.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 5:51 PM on July 28, 2012

Just say, "How interesting" in a bored voice or "Wow, I'm never bringing you to brunch!"
posted by discopolo at 5:53 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I eat lots of protein, and much of it is meat. People often comment on my choices, but I usually let a couple go by and then hit them with "Yes, I do eat a lot of meat and I can bench press my own weight. You?" and often the food sheriff shuts up. If they persist, I say politely that I'm not interested in learning about food science from a co-worker and that surely we can find other topics of conversation. And if that still doesn't work, I ask about their degree in nutrition.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:00 PM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'd ignore the email, but the next time she says anything, I'd say, "You know, L, I should have said this sooner, but I don't want to discuss my food with you. At all. Thanks."
posted by argonauta at 6:02 PM on July 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

I dunno, I think that the e-mail definitely crosses the line into slightly creepy harassment -- after all, to do that she must have had to make a special note of what you ordered at the time you ordered it, then go back and look it up on the Internet, then send it with the assumption that it was information you ought to have. Making negative comments about somebody's food can sometimes be a pretty direct proxy for getting inappropriately close to them by policing their body. I mean, if you were just trying to awkwardly bond with a coworker, would you repeatedly focus on something that she only ever responds to with "noncommittal mmhmm noises"? That doesn't mean you shouldn't use some of the non-confrontational, defusing responses other people have posted here -- they might well work -- but just be prepared for the possibility that, if you succeed in demonstrating that you have a healthy relationship with food and can't be thrown by this kind of thing, she might move on to something more openly aggressive.
posted by ostro at 6:03 PM on July 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

While several of these responses made me laugh, I think wwax's "bless your heart" approach is spot-on and my two cents echoes what others have already said. Putting aside the email for a second, I also think this sounds like someone trying to make chit-chat and bond over the only thing she can think of and that is food because you are having lunch together. That doesn't make it any more appropriate but it might be easier to tolerate if you think of her as trying to befriend you. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, the chickpea comment could be curiosity (expressed somewhat rudely) and I could easily someone saying the tomato and pasta thing truly trying to be helpful, no matter how much her help isn't needed and wanted. Then there's the email, which most people would think of as bitchy and intrusive except if coming from a good friend who you talk with about diet, nutrition, & calories. Still, I suspect this is also an awkward attempt to befriend you. I would probably reply to her email with something like, "You're probably just trying to be helpful and didn't mean it this way, but this is a bit offensive. I'd prefer if you didn't comment on my nutritional choices." Then briefly segue into another topic that is not charged and let's her know you're cool with her in order to minimize awkwardness. Just a short, "By the way, xyz." You don't need to become best friends with her and you don't need to put up with her comments about your food, but the best way to improve this situation is to change the conversation and provide another topic for you two to chat about over lunch. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 6:05 PM on July 28, 2012

Yes, I agree she's trying to bond awkwardly and inappropriately and agree with this:

there was one office I worked in where there was a small subset of women that bonded by talking about food as if there is some sort of willpower contest going on.

That is why I love the idea of responding to her email with "good, I love calories" or "oh, that must be why it is SO DELICIOUS." You could respond to the tomato idea with "I guess I'd have to be less lazy to do that" or "mmmm, sogggy." Those answers are a way of saying "I don't care about food the way you do." Then if she's just trying to make friends, she'll switch topics, or if she has another motive, she'll reveal it (like she'll lecture or scold you.)
posted by salvia at 6:21 PM on July 28, 2012 [15 favorites]

To say my point in a different way, people make friends via stupid boundary-crossing comments like this all the time, just about less sensitive topics. "Oh, man, you've gotta watch Lost tonight; it's the season finale." Now, I personally treat food as an off-limits topic, but I've noticed that not everyone treats it the same way, and I don't feel like it's my job to educate the world about its sensitive nature. So, returning to my Lost example, to be all "I'd appreciate it if you never told me what to watch" might feel a bit like an overreaction. A reply like "you like that show??" or "guess I'd need a TV to do that" would get across "we're not going to bond over crappy TV" and "your advice isn't useful" without being all heavy. She'd learn "aviatrix doesn't like Lost" and hopefully stop pursuing that line of conversation. Similarly, I'd establish that food isn't a topic where you're going to bond and then change the subject.
posted by salvia at 6:41 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

"You put chick peas on your salad? Weird!!!"
"Yes. Potbelly has a great chickpea salad, and I stole the idea from them," or better yet, freeze what you're doing, including holding the fork still in mid-air, and just look at her and don't say anything. Let the silence be deafening. Let her figure it out.

The Miss Manners response is always good, too.

If chickpeas on salads is weird, I don't want to be normal, thanks. I love chickpeas on anything. I got the idea from Potbelly, and many salad bars.
posted by SillyShepherd at 6:45 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think charitably that maybe what you have in common is that you eat lunch together. So...her conversation topic is 'lunch'. Specifically 'what you are eating for lunch'. Maybe she is just the worst person in the world (well, not worst) at making small talk.
posted by bquarters at 7:02 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tell her "back off".
posted by brujita at 7:34 PM on July 28, 2012

I also agree that socially awkward/food issues are behind these comments. I'd alternate between "That's interesting" or "Why do you say that?" as appropriate, and then change the subject.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:49 PM on July 28, 2012

"There's an old saying that it's rude to count other people's money. I think that goes for calories as well."
posted by The Deej at 8:26 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all the great ideas and comments. I’m going to answer her email on Monday and go with feral_goldfish’s awesome and hilarious suggestion of “Oh good- I like calories.” It’s really perfect because I don’t feel like she has any malicious intent, but at the same time, it kind of puts the kibosh on her attempt to suck me into some calorie-courting conversation. The chickpea/tomato/pasta comments are annoying, but I can live with them and continue to respond noncommitally and redirect the conversation. But for a long time when I was younger I did count calories and view certain foods as bad. I have no desire to ever visit that place again, so I do feel as though I have to be vigilant, and it’s probably why her email really got to me.
posted by aviatrix at 9:22 PM on July 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Just a potentially-explanatory thought I had, it's possible that her parents or someone else she's close to does this all the time and she actually thinks it's simply normal or expressing affection or something. There have been a couple of behaviors one or the other of my parents displayed that I find myself exhibiting in adult life and it's taken years for me to realize "oh, wait, that's not a normal or reasonable way to interact with other people, that's actually being an asshole."

(All the more reason to confront her in one way or another, I think, if that were the case.)
posted by XMLicious at 1:31 AM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

and the comment- “More calories than you would think!!”

Oh god. I would have been INCENSED. Or replied with 'yay! Calories are great!'

I feel your pain - I work on a team where there is food/calorie talk non-stop, with the emphasis on eating certain foods as being disgusting. One often refers jokingly to making himself throw up after binge-eating. Eyes on stalks when other people walk past with food. It's uncomfortable, and as I'm a big girl, I can't help wondering what's being said when I'm away from my desk. I find it hard not to snap and say 'Can we PLEASE talk about something more interesting?' (At least if it were sports, I'd learn who was likely to win the Premier League this year.)

However, without the e-mauil, i wondered if it was her way of bonding, like some women will complement shoes or hair to start a conversation when it's not clear what to say. Some women, for better or worse, talk about food a lot.
posted by mippy at 4:27 AM on July 29, 2012

I'm a great believer in direct action with this sort of person. Just tell her you'd appreciate it if she'd stop criticising your food choices because you find it irritating. No need to overthink it.
posted by Decani at 6:06 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

It doesn't really matter if it's malicious or not. It's rude and over the line. If you shut it down, she will probably take her rudeness elsewhere and cross someone else's lines.

An appropriate response to that email would have been "cut out the criticism." No arguments or discussions, no nothing.

Repeat as necessary repeat as necessary repeat as necessary repeat as necessary
posted by tel3path at 12:53 PM on July 29, 2012

When people say things like this to me, I have this face I make where I sort of curl my lip a bit, partially close my eyes, then I say "Meh" while I shrug my shoulders. It sort of translates to "I guess so but whatever." And then I say "Hey, *insert off topic thing*." It's a great non-confrontational redirection. People hardly ever take offense and, after a few times, totally pick up on the futile nature of trying to talk to you about that subject.

"More Calories than you would think."

"Meh. Hey, you meet the new guy in marketing yet? Sploosh!"
posted by Foam Pants at 3:23 PM on July 29, 2012

This freak is way hostile, and her behavior is beyond inappriopriate.

I've got one of these at my job too. When I first met her I thought she was smart and interesting, and cultivated her in the beginning - suggested coffee. We chatted about weight loss, a not-unusual subject among women, and she told me she'd recently lost a lot of weight. She would have Americanos at our coffee place - black coffee, nothing added. Whereas I would always go for the big ice-creamy frap things with tons of chocolate and whipped cream. She started commenting on my choices. "Boy, you're not going to lose any weight doing that every day!"

She extended her casual criticisms to my outfits - "What are you, some kind of hippy?" and my financial situation - "Boy, you got that much in debt over furniture?"

I suddenly realized I couldn't frickin' take it any more, so I clammed up - stopped telling her details of my life, and said I was busy next time she asked to do coffee. It's been a few months since I've trained her to keep away from me, and it's funny - she just doesn't let up! She's in charge of office supplies, and she continues to derive pleasure from pushing back at me whenever I request some stupplies, like printer cartridges. Recently the soap in the women's rest room ran out, and I figured I should tell her about it, but I suddenly realized I didn't have the energy to go through what she was going to put me through. It would be something along the lines of:

"Hi Jackie, we're all out of soap in the girls', would you mind putting that on your list for next time to put in an order?"

"What? What's wrong this time?"

"We're out of soap in the women's rest room."

"How do you know?"

"I know that because it was empty when I just tried to use it."

"Did you use the last of it?"

"No, I just noticed it was empty."

"Can't you get along without it today?"

"Yes, I'm fine, I was just wondering if you could put it on your list to order some more next time."

"Why did you use up all the soap?"

"I didn't personally use up all the soap, I'm just - "

"You're not supposed to use more than dime-sized dollop, you know. How much are you using?"

I meant this would go on and on if I let it.

What worked for me was becoming as independent as I could be. So I bring my own soap now. And I take coffee away from Jackie. And life is so much better.
posted by cartoonella at 6:28 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would have immediatefuckingly printed out the email, walked over to her desk with it, and said, "Why did you send this to me?" and then waited for her answer.
posted by thebazilist at 8:23 PM on July 29, 2012

I'm with thebazilist. I'd ask her why she sent the email. Then I'd proceed from there to try and be sympathetic with her viewpoint and get a sense of her intentions, while at the same time telling her my perspective: "I feel uncomfortable when you comment on my food choices." Telling her what to do at this point seems like the same thing she is doing to you. I think humor at this point will only serve to prolong the conflict.

Good luck. This is a hard one.
posted by macinchik at 2:12 AM on July 30, 2012

« Older When the mama is away, the cat wants to play - but...   |   Is there a way someone could use my cellphone... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.