48

Problem:

Every day, we are eating at a table of 10 people and there is a man that I like but who is not my friend, just a coworker that I only see during breaks who always comments on the food choices of other people.


Examples of what he can say:

"You should not be eating grapefruit, it's bad for you".

"Hey [random name], you're eating too much mayonnaise, your heart will fail"

"Fries every day? Seriously, are you trying to kill yourself?"

"Meat again? Oh boy, do you know that it is a bad habit"


More Information:

The funny part is that he is the only one that is fat at the table. Talking for myself, I think that breaks should be relaxing moments without negative comments. The problem is that I can't eat at another table as my manager always selects this table to let his engineers eat with their friends (including the man I'm talking about). So changing tables is not an option. Another "problem" is that he is the kind of person that doesn't like being told anything.

I've already told him that what I eat is my business, but he just said back "even if it's your problem, you should not be eating this".

He is 53, I'm 24.


Question

What can I do to make him understand that he should not say anything like this in order to leave me (us?) in peace. Even if he is technically correct in his statements, I (we) would still prefer that he stop making comments on our meal choices.

closed as too broad by Arwen Undómiel, Tinkeringbell, JAD, RedSonja, Mister Positive Dec 7 '17 at 13:38

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 3
    @AnneDaunted I did smile a little and I talked with a calm voice to say "This is my concern and I do sport 5 times a week, I think it is okay for me to eat like this". – Meow Nov 10 '17 at 9:07
  • Is he practising what he preaches himself? – Anne Daunted Nov 10 '17 at 9:17
  • 1
    @AnneDaunted Yes but it's look like he doesn't like what he is eating since he is always complaining. – Meow Nov 10 '17 at 9:22
  • 53
    What culture is this? It seems horribly rude to me. – user1760 Nov 10 '17 at 9:52
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this as too broad until what culture this is taking place in is specified. – Arwen Undómiel Dec 7 '17 at 10:08

13 Answers 13

57

Judging from what you said in the comments:

Yes but it looks like he doesn't like what he is eating since he is always complaining.

Your co-worker might very well be feeling a little jealous. Trust me, I'm dieting myself, and it's pretty hard to see co-workers eat the nice cafeteria petit pains with salmon or brie, and I'm there chewing a slice of dry bread with a slice of chicken, no butter allowed.

The smell of fries is also very tempting, just like sugary fruits like grapefruit. If he's on a diet and doesn't want to eat these, he might be making these statements just for his own confirmation. Saying out loud that something is bad might be his only way to keep his lust for these kinds of foods in check.


Personally, I would not take his comments too serious, reply with a joke, maybe offer him a compliment on how healthy his choices are. So for example:

Him: "Fries every day? Seriously, are you trying to kill yourself?"
You: "Ah well, the people that drink water every day eventually also die. By the way, I've noticed you're only picking a lot of healthy things lately, are you dieting?"

Once you know if he really is on a diet, you just wave the conversation the next time:

Him: "Fries every day? Seriously, are you trying to kill yourself?"
You: "Ha. Healthy veggies for you again today I see? Good job sticking to your diet. < insert a change of topic here >"


What can I do to make him understand that he should not say anything like this in order to leave me (us?) in peace. Even if he can be right, he should not tell people what to do.

Well, if you really feel this strongly about it, and want it to stop, the best approach might not be the most polite. Make sure you assert your boundaries.

Co-worker, please listen to me. The last few lunches you've been commenting on my food choices. I don't feel comfortable when you're doing that, so could you please stop it? I don't know why you do it, and I don't want to know. I just want to eat my lunch in peace.

  • 2
    Really hard to stay polite in that situation. I like your joke-reply approach better than the confrontational. But then, they will overlap anyway. – Fildor Nov 10 '17 at 14:09
  • 13
    The problem with the jokey reply is that it validates the unwanted behaviour. – David Richerby Nov 10 '17 at 19:31
  • Marked as correct cause it's definitively the best answer. – Meow Nov 20 '17 at 8:07
  • According to Feeling Good, rather than reinforcing the behavior, this method tends to diminish it. The reasoning is that these people tend to be looking for a certain reaction (e.g., that you'll help them complain, or that you'll be offended or feel defensive), and they eventually get sick of not getting it from you. – Patrick B. Feb 14 '18 at 4:17
20

"Fries every day? Seriously, are you trying to kill yourself?"

I would probably say something like:

Yes. I am attempting to commit suicide one fry at a time.

Totally deadpan but perhaps followed with a smile. You can even get more absurd and claim that you believe that fries are only bad for you if you stop eating them every day because your body lets it guard down etc. They key is to take control of the conversation and yammer on and on with creative bullshit. Use every logical fallacy you can manage. Be completely unreasonable in your assertions of complete nonsense.

I have found this is an effective technique to keep pests away. It's so obnoxious that this person will think twice about opening the door again.

16

You could try to tell him, why you would appreciate not hearing such comments, in a polite way. The core of that approach is what you wrote here

I think that pause should be a relaxing moment without any negative comments.

Instead of accusing him of anything ("[...] he is the kind of person that doesn't like being told anything.") and make him become defensive, and to lower the risk of a response like "even if it's your problem, [...]", just stick to the effect it has on you and what the lunch break means to you:

Thank you for your concern. For me, the [shared meal] is a moment to relax from work and enjoy some free time with colleagues, including you. Being questioned about my personal decisions makes me feel uncomfortable and impairs my positive experience. I'm sure that you mean well, but please honor my request. (Maybe there is another way you could let us know [In case he could share his wisdom with you (all) an a way that can be easily ignored.].)

The above is not meant to be exactly what you should say, since you will no doubt find a better way to express it, but rather to highlight what to say:

  • What the meal means to you (all)
  • That he has good intentions
  • How it impairs your enjoyment, the effect(s) it has on you
  • Ask him to stop (without accusing him)
  • Present a way out for him, if possible (main purpose is to weaken his arguments for acting like this.)

This way, you are not telling him what to do, but you may make him understand, why he shouldn't do it. It's polite and non-accusatory, so it bears very little risk. It does bear some risk, depending on how mean he is, but with other people around, he would make himself look very rude. On the other hand, he may still ignore it.

  • 4
    I really enjoyed your answer since you gave me something that please me. I don't want to looks rude, I'm not saying that I will be, I just don't too LOOKS LIKE I'm rude and your answer is genuinely what I needed to read. – Meow Nov 10 '17 at 15:18
9

You'll likely have to be confrontational to address this, but you could try:

  • Wearing headphones (the ultimate "don't talk to me" social cue)
  • Sitting as far away from him as possible at the table
  • Reading a book during lunch (the lesser "don't talk to me" social cue)

If none of these work or are not applicable, you'll have to confront. I suggest something along those lines:

I really don't appreciate your commenting on my food. I'm an adult and can choose what I eat. Please mind your own plate.

It's important that you don't directly address his concerns like you did. You should make it clear in your response that it is not his place to ask or comment, not that you disagree with his comments.

Now, chances are he won't take that very well, which is why I suggested alternative methods first. But short of ignoring his comments that's probably the best you can do.

There is of course the nuclear option of lodging a complaint with your manager or HR, and the super nuclear option of going to HR and describing this as harassment, but you'd most likely want to avoid those, as they can be career limiting for yourself.

  • 4
    Wearing headphones would be considered as being rude, reading a book could be seen as being rude too but I think it's mainly impossible to read with all the noise in the cafetaria. Sitting as far away from him is already what I do but sometimes, he still has the energy to say something. Btw, I really like the sentence you're proposing me. – Meow Nov 10 '17 at 9:11
  • 1
    @Catheart That's what I meant with "or are not applicable". You might not have that luxury. The key though is making clear that you're displeased with the fact that he is judging your food at all, not with his judgement in this instance as you have done so far. This only encourages him to discuss, which is what you don't want – Magisch Nov 10 '17 at 9:16
  • Wearing headphones usually doesn't work for anyone i know. People will do anything from standing there talking to you (ignoring the headphones) to physically removing them from your head to talk to you. I've seen headphone removal happen probably about 2-3 dozen times on busses, at the gym, in the library, etc. – user3316 Nov 11 '17 at 17:39
4

When I want to answer someone's "concerns" being as accurate as possible, I need to understand as much as I can what the other person thinks and feels. Here, you say that he's fat, and on diet. He's older than you, most likely less healthy. What's in his mind? Let me jump in his boots...

Yeah, this young guy is eating [ any junk food I can't have myself ] again, while I have only these [ any tasteless item ]. Really. I wish I could still enjoy myself with [ what you're eating ].

To him, it's just not fair! As often, when they can't, they rant.

In my mind, this guy is doing this, not against you, but "against the system". He would most probably do that about anything, to anyone, because you can, and he can't. He feels bad, and so, wishes to deflect his sense of frustration towards you.

If my analysis is right, I can only try and deflect back. I would say something like:

Yeah, I noticed you're doing a great job taking care of your health. I need to work hard at the gym, 5 times a week. But I know that I'll have to be more careful in the future, and might have to change my dietary habits, I just don't know yet how and when I'll do it...

This way, you acknowledge his attempt to take care of himself, you kind of "prove him right" (and people who rant like that, even if it can open the door to more). And if it's not enough, you can add something like: You know, I'm just enjoying myself right now, I love to have a complete break at lunch time in order to relax. Please don't feel offended if I keep quiet.

  • I did not said that he was on a diet, just that he was always complaining. "In my mind, this guy is doing this, not against you, but "against the system", there, I think that you are perfectly right. He is the kind of old dude with discret anarchist/prison tatoo. – Meow Nov 10 '17 at 15:16
  • 1
    My back hurts. I don't annoy people with "don't lift it like that" because I can't. I do it because I know it will hurt them slightly and might sometimes hurt a lot, they just won't understand it and won't care until they get where I am. Being annoying is a reasonable trade-off to not let others ruin themselves :) – Džuris Nov 11 '17 at 12:57
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    @Džuris : for sure, once can be helpful, but OP stated that their coworker does that far too often ;) – OldPadawan Nov 11 '17 at 16:04
3

Not sure why simply saying this is not an option:

I don't mean to be rude, but as long as my eating habits do not affect the workplace, they are none of your business. Please keep your thoughts to yourself.

If he still keeps making remarks, I would tell him once more and then either talk to a manager about it or, it that doesn't help anything, just ignore his remarks concerning food completely. Some people are just stupidly stubborn and trying to argue with them is pointless.

  • After two failed attempts at direct dissuasion, followed by a failed attempt at soliciting management, it unlikely that " just ignore his remarks concerning food completely" will be possible. By that point, I'd be fuming. – DonBoitnott Nov 10 '17 at 14:55
  • 2
    Sounds like a good time to take some perspective and have a good look at your options: either you can work on your patience and tolerance and learn to let (stupid) people not bother you, or if you just can't you can start looking for a better work environment. In general developers don't really need to fear unemployment, but this might depend on your country/age. This might sound extreme for one annoying employee, but I see this as a sign there may be other issues if management doesn't listen. – Djdev Nov 10 '17 at 15:56
3

You have already tried the direct approach, so another possible tack to take is to give a more simple reply.

Thank you for your concern.

Use the same response, in the same semi-monotone voice, to any reference he makes to your food choices. If others are as annoyed with him as you, then they may also start responding in the same way.

  • Well, he is the kind of guy that will keep harassing even after being told anything "simple" and I don't want to looks like I don't care about what he is saying cause he will just make him feel bad. – Meow Nov 10 '17 at 15:14
  • So he's sitting there making other people at the table feel bad, yet you're concerned about how it will affect his state of mind if you have an apathetic response to his exceptionally rude comments? That's just downright bizarre, it's nice that you're such a kind person, but I'm also going to venture a guess that this general outlook on relationships is a big part of the reason you haven't been able to handle this situation. Bullies need to be put in their place, and this guy is a bully. – the_SJC Nov 10 '17 at 17:45
1

In some occasions, you got to fight fire with fire.

he is the kind of person that doesn't like being told anything

Yeah, but guess what ? He should not be telling anything to anyone then. This is rude, inappropriate and most of all, arrogant. He is basically implying "I don't like being told anything but I can tell you whatever I want because I don't care about what you think or feel". "Uh ? So why would he do something he does not like to endure ?" Exactly.

I guess we can all agree that anything said repeatedly is annoying. If I were you, I would do the same thing, but always with a smile. Always make it looks like you are joking, and it doesn't affect you this much.

I do this when I get to a new job : people try to mess with me because I'm slightly different. I just answer them things much worse that what they said, but I always make it looks like a joke. It shows you have repartee and make it looks like you are confident, and leads them to stop, or at least consider you. Quick comebacks lead to respect.

Don't get me wrong : I'm not asking you to be cocky. It's just the way it is, some people do not understand what they do to people unless they are being done the exact same thing. Then, they might realise they are being total jerks.

1

Presumably you're a curious person, or you wouldn't be here asking this question, right? Aren't you curious about what makes this guy tick? Why the heck is he asking those questions in a seemingly provoking manner? Wouldn't it be fun to find out? Next time he says:

"You should not be eating grapefruit, it's bad for you".

"Hey [random name], you're eating too much mayonnaise, your heart will fail"

"Fries every day? Seriously, are you trying to kill yourself?"

"Meat again? Oh boy, do you know that it is a bad habit"

Try replying with: "Oh? What makes you say that?" in a disarming manner.

Either you've called his bluff, or you might learn something new about this person. Maybe you'll even find common ground and make a friend. Wouldn't it be better to have a friend, than deal with an annoyance?

You're at a lunch table with a bunch of people, you're already socializing, why not learn more about them? What have you got to lose?

1

He does it to several people, right? And it annoys them too? Tag team him.

Him: Ugh, not X again!
You: I like X. What do you think, Joe?
Joe: I like X too.
You: How about you, Jill?
Jill: What?
You: Should I be eating X?
Jill: If you like it, why not?

An attack on one is an attack on all. It's not nice having everyone disagree with you. Maybe he'll get the hint.

Or ask him to drive you to soccer practice. He'll probably ask why, or just look blank. Then you say "Sorry, I thought for a moment you were my mom".

  • You don't decide what's right or wrong by vote. If the food is good or bad for you, it stays the same regardless of whether Joe likes it or Jill allows it. A discussion with Him about whether the food is really bad will be more beneficial for everyone than Joe's opinion. – Džuris Nov 11 '17 at 12:49
0

Radically affirm or incredulously deny in an overdone way. Throw in some sarcasm, long-windedness, spurious claims, and ridiculousness, and you should be well on your way to treating lunch like comedy hour. Your coworker will give up when he senses (quite tardily) that his comments are not having the intended effect and could be unwise for him to continue.

"You should not be eating grapefruit, it's bad for you".

Affirm: "Good thing I only have 2 months to live, so I don't have to worry about that."

Deny: "Are you crazy? Everyone knows grapefruit is healthful for your heart, skin, eyes, liver, tongue, teeth, connective tissue, muscles, lungs, reproductive system, digestive system, spleen, kidneys, and brain. Where are you getting your medical information? Some kind of anti-grapefruit society? Do you have weekly meetings and share grapefruit slandering poetry and confess to the group how many grapefruit you ate the past week? You should join my grapefruit-worshiping society. It's much more fun than yours. We get to brag how many grapefruit we ate the past week."

"Hey [random name], you're eating too much mayonnaise, your heart will fail"

Affirm: "I know, every gram is like one more dagger right in the ticker. Good thing I don't care the slightest bit about it."

Deny: "Au contraire, I was just reading a study about how mayonnaise, unlike fried mouse gizzards, is good for the heart. Makes it run more smoothly. Seriously. I read it in a medical journal. Or was that MAD magazine? I always get those mixed up."

"Fries every day? Seriously, are you trying to kill yourself?"

Affirm: "Why yes. Yes I am. I'm having a race to see whether I die of cancer or a heart attack first."

Deny: "No, not to kill myself, just to make you think I'm trying, because it's so fun to see you freak out about it every day. <giant overdone wink> ... Well, actually, just kidding, because these aren't French fries. They're Idaho root vegetables cooked in a liquid extracted from vegetables. Vegetables are healthy. This is 100% healthy."

"Meat again? Oh boy, do you know that it is a bad habit"

Affirm: "Hey, if I don't cultivate my bad habits carefully, I might accidentally stop practicing them over time. Thanks for the affirmation of my choices! I really appreciate how you support our desires to run our lives according to our own principles."

Deny: "There's nothing wrong with eating meat. But are you sure you want talk about who has what bad habits? We might end up discussing the bad habits of everyone here, and then some people might get embarrassed and be unable to enjoy their lunch. I'd hate that if it happened to me."

0

So, your colleague is fat. You colleague has therefore researched about what food is good and what is bad. He knows how hard it is to un-fat yourself so he goes on constantly annoying everyone about their food choices because others don't understand the risk as much as he does.

Sometimes when I remind people not to bend the back when picking up things, they respond with "Well you do it with straight back and your back still hurts." This sounds like a similar case. He is not fat because of healthy food choices. He's into healthy food because he's fat. Just listen to the fellow, discuss your food choices, he's probably really into that stuff, don't miss your chance to learn.

0

These people are the worst. You should passively aggressively infer (because that is the only language he understands, because all of the comments he's making are passive aggressive and he needs to be treated in the same manner) that he should be using some of his own advice (or that clearly what he's preaching ain't working for him), or refer him to HR. Unless I'm missing something or he's actually much tamer sounding in person, this isn't a one off thing, and he's like this all the time, in other areas of his life as well. By letting him pass or downplaying his behaviour you're allowing him to create a load on everybody else he interacts with, so I would recommend that you find a way to teach him that his behaviour will not be tolerated.

If you need nutritional advice to back anything up, I'm a qualified nutritionist and there are no foods that are unhealthy (outside of exceptions and chemical-heavy foods/drinks), there are just foods you should eat in limited quantities. I myself regularly eat donuts, but haven't put on a single pound in years, primarily because I don't gorge myself on 20 of them. Anybody can have fries every day. It's a question of how much.

AND, if you actually think about what he's doing, he is basically inviting you to a verbal sparring match to defend your consumption choices when your guard is down and you're trying to enjoy yourself. That's not just passive aggressive, that's AGGRESSIVE aggressive. If you think about what he's actually doing, I would report him to HR in the strongest language possible, and ask them to ask the people who work with him whether similar reports have been made.

  • The coworker indeed is a passive-aggressive loser, not so much because of the remarks, but because he insists on making them after the OP has clearly stated that he's making his lunch break uncomfortable and that he should stop. However, I'd remove the "report to HR" part. In most companies, I expect that the most likely outcome of a complaint to HR over something so trivial, to be likely to damage the OP career, as noted by @Magisch. It may result in the coworker stopping his behavior, but the reward is definitely not worth the risk. – DeltaIV Nov 11 '17 at 16:16

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