Why you should never talk about your diet at work

I learned the hard way that talking about your dietary habits in the office should never occur.

Some years back I worked with a guy that for the purposes of this article I’ll call Marty, who was fun and funny and smart and a really great co-worker…most of the time. He was also fabulously wealthy and incredibly good looking to boot. Did I mention the fact that Marty was heir to a global electronics fortune and also dating an heiress? True story.

The thing about Marty was though, that due to his ridiculously privileged lifestyle he could not seem to figure out how to provide the basics for himself, and lunch, in particular, seemed to strike him as a huge challenge.

Come lunchtime, whenever Marty was hungry and hadn’t gotten around to ordering something, he would root through the office fridge and appropriate my lunch. When he hit a mid-afternoon slump, Marty could be found digging through my desk drawer in search of snacks. All that changed when I went on a week-long cleanse.

I came to work one day to find Marty standing over my desk with an extremely pained look on his face. “Where is everything?” he asked but didn’t wait for my response. “WHERE ARE THE SNACKS?” he practically bellowed. I stuttered in response. And here’s what happened next.

Instead of simply going down to the store to pick up some sustenance, the grievously injured Marty then went around the office
discussing my new food plan with pretty much everyone. Curious co-workers stopped at my desk to talk about what I’d be eating and drinking and how it affected me. I felt their curious and appraising looks every time I walked into the office…or went to the bathroom.

Needless to say, it became excruciating and I vowed never again to speak about my food habits with co-workers, something easy enough to stick to as a freelancer.

Back in November 2013, NPR’s This American Life ran an episode called “The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About.” The gist of the segment included seven things that producer Sarah Koenig’s mother thought you should never talk about. And yes, diet was a major topic to avoid.

We live in a culture where complimenting someone’s weight loss is no longer recommended depending on the circumstances.

There’s also the fact that no matter how close you might be to a co-worker, hearing them discuss the merits of kale vs arugula gets old fast. Town & Country ran a somewhat humorous article a few years back called “Why It’s Rude to Talk About Your Diet;” in the piece, writer Susan Fales-Hill asked, “Do you really think your office mate, or that attractive person at the networking conference—or even your best friend!—wants to hear about the effect your high protein, no carb, gluten-free plan is having on your breath and bowel movements?” I think we all know the answer to that question.

Here are a few exceptions to the rule about not talking about your diet or dietary restrictions at work:

  • If you have severe food allergies you might want to clue co-workers in so that you can find a way to keep your food or utensils separate.
  • If your boss is planning a huge dinner type event and your skipping the meal will be noticed or worse- negatively commented on. Try to talk to the caterer in advance to come up with a meal that works for you.
  • If your religion forbids certain foods produced by your company or clients, you might want to mention it to your supervisor at some point. For instance, if you keep kosher or are strictly halal, you don’t want it to come up in every single conversation where food is potentially involved. It’s better to mention it privately than for it to become a topic of interest.
  • If you plan on having bariatric or weight-loss surgery and anticipate a drastic weight-loss, you might want to tell your closest colleagues or work wife so that they don’t worry that you’re ill.