Are you being food shamed at work? Colette Sexton, news correspondent at the Sunday Business Post, explores the politics of office eating.
It’s been a rough start to the week. An early morning meeting went terribly. Your boss is in a bad mood so you’ve had to tiptoe around them. A major client cancelled on a deal you’ve been working on for months. Time seems to be standing still. You need a little pick-me-up to get you through to home time and so with your 3pm coffee you buy a nice chocolate brownie. But just as you are about to take a bite, a colleague pipes up with “a moment on the lips, forever on the hips. There must be hundreds of calories in that.” Your delicious treat is ruined. It tastes like disappointment instead of chocolatey joy.
While many workplaces acknowledge that discussing politics or religion probably isn’t a good idea, food seems like a fairly safe topic but in fact what we eat is actually quite personal. According to the HSE, an estimated 188,895 people in Ireland will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives. These are not just teenagers, which is a common assumption. It is estimated that over 1,750 new cases occur in Ireland each year in the 10 to 49 age group. Commenting on someone’s food could be incredibly triggering for them.
Just like it’s not pleasant when someone comments if you eat something unhealthy, it can be just as annoying when someone makes a comment when you’re eating something that is healthy. “Oh that salad looks super healthy. You’re so disciplined. Do you ever let yourself have a treat?” It is also irritating when someone chooses to bring in their lunch rather than going out to eat and they have to almost apologise for it – maybe they are on a tight budget or they have dietary requirements which means it is easier and safer for them to make their own food. Likewise, the reverse is true. If someone wants to have lunch every day in the poshest restaurant in town, it’s still no-one else’s business but their own.
The phenomenon of coworkers sharing their opinions when they are neither welcome nor wanted is nothing new but food shaming can be a tricky one to navigate. How does one handle the constant comments from their colleagues? To keep workplace peace, the best thing to do is probably to ignore them or to respond to them without letting them feel like they have embarrassed you: “Yes, there probably are hundreds, maybe even a thousand calories in this brownie and I am going to enjoy each and every one of them” or “Yes, it is a super healthy salad. Do you want the recipe?”
If you really want it to stop, maybe take the commenting colleague aside privately and tell them that it is making you uncomfortable. They might not even realise how often you are doing it. Most of all, remember that no matter what you choose to eat, it is nobody’s business but your own. So go forth and enjoy your doughnut or kale salad without guilt or judgement.