Posted by: Hil | July 31, 2008

Dealing with the Food Rudes

My post about office party etiquette seems to have resonated with a lot of people.  Apparently I’m not the only one who has delt with nosy comments from co-workers.  One theme that kept showing up in the comments is that while everyone should exercise basic politeness, all too often this does not happen.  Accordingly, I wanted to take a minute to elaborate on office party commandment #6:  Thou shalt not dignify rude comments with a response.  Whether you are at work, at a party, at home, or with family, you do not have to defend yourself to nosy people.

I think that many people, women especially, feel as though they owe a response to intrusive remarks and pseudo-compliments.  This behavior has become so common that we think people must not realize how rude they are being, so we give them the benefit of the doubt and mutter a reply.  I am starting a movement to end this nonsense.  Commenting on another person’s weight, size or eating habits is rude, and well-intentioned people will cease their nosy questions much sooner if you don’t reward them.

I first happened upon this strategy when an acquaintance took me by surprise with the comment, “You’ve gotten so skinny.”  I was distracted doing something else at the time and stared blankly, trying to process this complete non-sequitor.  The person repeated, “You’ve gotten so skinny; you should eat something.”  I think that this was intended as a compliment, as there is no way that any person in his right mind would consider me underweight.  I stared blankly for another minute.  Another time, I might have forced out a “thank you,” but I was seriously not in the mood to act as though an accusation that I had lost too much weight was an acceptable form of praise.  I stared blankly for another minute and then sputtered, “Um, I guess I’ll take that as a compliment,” in a tone that made it pretty clear that I did not.  Now, I really don’t think that I handled that situation as well as I could have.  I was truly caught off guard that this male acquaintance was bringing up the subject of my weight.  I just said the first thing that popped into my head.  But guess what?  The next time I saw him, he made the effort to compliment me more politely.

That situation just got me to thinking about all of the rude, invasive questions and comments that people make.  Gems I’ve gotten in the past year include, “Is that supposed to be healthy or something?”  “Why did you take such a small piece?” and (my personal favorite) “You sure haven’t lost much weight for someone who eats as little as you do.”   I know I’m not alone.  Blueberry Sis gets massive grief from people who barely know her about her eating habits.  She is naturally very small-boned and thin, so if she eats a dessert or orders red meat in a restaurant (as she usually does), people comment.  If she eats a small portion or orders a “healthy” entree, people ask if she’s dieting.  People even ask her what she weighs!  And don’t get me started about the uninvited “helpful advice” that people dish out to my friends who are on the heavier side. 

I developed the following policy:  don’t reward bad behavior.  Don’t apologize, don’t explain, don’t answer rude questions, don’t say thank you to something that isn’t a compliment.  Don’t allow people to put you on the defensive.  You don’t have to start an argument, either.  If someone makes a nosy comment, look surprised and change the subject.  If you’re dealing with a food pusher, say “no, thank you” politely and firmly.  If people are rude enough to continue to press more food on you, you don’t have to make a scene…just don’t finish it.  If people comment that you haven’t cleaned your plate just say, “I’m full, but it was absolutely delicious” or “I’m saving room for dessert.”  Some people are just incorrigible, but a surprising number can be trained to behave themselves.

Of course, the corrollary to this principle is, don’t draw attention to yourself.  Eat what you want and live as you want without guilt, but keep comments about your eating habits to a minimum.  Don’t talk about your weight.  If you bring it up, of course people are going to consider the topic fair game.

The bottom line: conduct yourself with composure and manners and expect others to do the same.  And don’t ever let anyone make you feel embarassed about the way that you eat.  You can’t control whether others behave politely, but you can conduct yourself with class and do your part to change the intrusive status quo.



  1. Well said! Thank you. I only recently started taking this approach and wish I had thought of it sooner- I could have saved myself a lot of torture and heartache. Thanks again for writing this!

  2. Thank you for this post, it was done a lot more rationally and eloquently than I could have put it. I deal with so many of these issues, especially with my family. My grandparents especially are total ‘food pushers’, it’s so frustrating.

    I just HATE when someone says “oh you’ve gotten too skinny–eat something” and things along those lines. It’s annoying because I’m sure if I had moved in the opposite direction they wouldn’t have commented “wow you’re getting FAT-stop eating!” But really it’s the same concept!

    I’m going to try the “don’t reward bad behavior policy” more and when someone makes unnessary and rude comments, I’m just going to ignore it and change the subject.

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