Carolyn Hax: When you can — and cannot — offer diet advice to a co-worker

Carolyn Hax
Columnist November 16, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I have a very lovely and very sweet co-worker who struggles terribly with her weight and talks to me about it a lot. She wants to lose weight and is frustrated that her efforts to exercise aren’t affecting the scale all that much.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to see why she’s not having much success. She eats large amounts of fast food on a regular basis — I have often seen her open a rather large meal intended for one person and then open an additional sandwich or side dish. She also doesn’t restrict her snacking between meals.

I am not being judgmental, just practical, when I say that she clearly overeats, and that’s just during the workday.


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

What, if anything, can I say to her about it? I feel like her discussing her weight constantly at work opens the door for me to offer her feedback. I am slim and she seems to think that’s mostly luck (it’s not; I have to work really hard to keep my weight down), so I worry that she would reject anything I say as smug or impractical advice.

D.C.

“I feel like her discussing her weight constantly at work opens the door for me to offer her feedback”: No, it doesn’t.

For the love of double cheeseburgers, don’t say anything unless you are explicitly asked a question.

And if and when you are asked a specific question, say that the only thing that has ever worked for you is healthy food and strict portion control (that’s your message, right?). Meaning, don’t comment on her choices, stick to your own.

If she presses further, or challenges what you say, or dismisses it with some reference to how easy things must be for you, don’t take the bait — go vague. “Weight control is such an individual thing.”

Why? Because someone who complains about her weight while regularly eating fast food is nowhere near ready to be serious about weight loss, and that means anything you say about the mechanics of weight problems will get tangled into her emotional problem, and, especially as co-workers, that won’t serve either of you well.

Re: Weight issues:

Perhaps after showing sympathy, say, “If your regime isn’t working for you, why not consult a professional — say a personal trainer or a nutritionist?” If she’s actually ready for help, it could give her something to work with that doesn’t involve you and if she’s not, no skin off anyone’s nose. If you do this, please remember to phrase it as “if you’re not happy with the results” — it’s about her achieving her goals.

Anonymous

Love this, thank you.

Re: Weight:

I am often on the receiving end of, “Why are you eating salad, you’re skinny”-comments and I typically say I’m skinny BECAUSE I eat a lot of salad. I don’t actually need to point out that the commenter is eating a double cheeseburger, fries and a soda to get my point across.

Anonymous 2

Right. Again — speak up only when asked directly, speak only of what works for you and know the limits of what you can do.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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