Counting calories in the office

You know what I fucking hate? Moral judgements around food.

The office I work in has recently relocated, which means I have been forced out of my antisocial hidey hole into an open plan nightmare. Not only does this mean no more cute videos of bulldogs on skateboards, it’s also forced me into contact with a couple of colleagues who are obsessed with counting calories.

“This is so naughty,” “How many calories are in that?” “I shouldn’t. Oh, go on then.” This is what I hear around me every lunchtime and afternoon. This kind of food talk between women is so common it feels trite to claim it’s noteworthy. But we should pay attention to this language; we should notice it.

I’m so mad at this situation that I’m finding it really hard to come up with coherent thoughts about it. Hearing this kind of language at works reinforces a lot of negative beliefs I have about my body, but have also been trying to de(con)struct for some years. I think I look quite good, with my round tummy and pencil skirt, munching on a chocolate, but then I hear a colleague joking about how she’s going to be “naughty” and have a cookie, and I think – “wait, am I supposed to be feeling bad about this? Am I supposed to be hating myself? Oh God I am, aren’t I!” and descend into a bout of self-hating that, as we well know, contributes to an obsessive relationship with food and, paradoxically, comfort eating.

OK, this isn't office workers on a donut, it's police on a donut. But I thought it sufficiently similar to be funny. Thanks, Tumblr.
OK, this isn’t office workers on a donut, it’s police on a donut. But I thought it sufficiently similar to be funny. Thanks, Tumblr.

It’s not like these thoughts aren’t already there. I’m not blaming individuals at work for my insecurities, but I am certainly blaming an anti-feminist work culture that fails to support its colleagues by excluding this kind of moral language from the office. I guess this is what is meant by triggering. Although I am leery of the culture of excessive trigger warnings I see around me in lefty, queer, feminist online spaces, I can appreciate their use in this situation. I just want to yell SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU ARE MAKING ME FEEL BAD ABOUT MYSELF AND NOW I CAN’T CONCENTRATE ON THIS DAMN PROOFREADING! Hearing them talk about their own insecurities remind me of, and contributes to, my own.

I have enough internalized fatphobia as it is, I don’t need people at work making me feel even worse. When are we going to learn that internalized misogyny is just as harmful and pervasive as the racism and homophobia that we already (mostly) know is not OK in our workplaces?

I know I could take the feminist high ground here and empathize for these people who have such a complicated relationship with food. But, you know what? So do I! And I don’t need to be exposed to anyone else’s.

So, the next time you joke about being bad because you’re going to have one of the chocolates in the kitchen, spare a thought to the rest of us who don’t need to be reminded of our own body hatred and difficulties with food.

And now it’s time to turn to you, dear readers. I would appreciate your advice. Do you have any strategies for dealing with this language at work? I really don’t think pointing it out to them would be productive, or supported, as it is the management team who talks like this. Any advice would be great.

Lastly, here are a couple of resources that I’ve found helpful:

Navigating assumptions about weight loss as a fat positive person

Self-hating feelings about fat and their transformation into FAT ACTIVISM AWESOMENESS

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6 thoughts on “Counting calories in the office

  1. Justine

    I don’t have any advice but I experienced working in an emotional-food-friendly office once. They had a food club where they all brought in dishes for a shared meal on the same day each week and ate like champs. They also had donuts once per week. And while there was the occasional quartered donut left in the kitchen, generally speaking it was a pretty healthy environment. It was nice being around people who just enjoyed eating without all the guilt-talk or the ‘better go to the gym now’ comments. But now that I am not working I am starting to notice family and friends doing cleanses, eating special diets to lose weight and counting calories. It drives me fricking nuts! Like you, I am working hard at being happy with my body while enjoying eating the things I love. I wish those around me would try and do the same. We all would be a lot happier!

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Hi Justine, lovely to hear from you! When you say “emotional-food-friendly” what do you mean exactly?

      On a related note, a few colleagues and myself are also thinking of starting an informal “food club,” where we enjoy food together occasionally without any of the negative talk, as a balm to the negativity we hear around us. I wish there were a way to bring this up with managers, but I don’t think they would understand as they are the ones who are propagating this kind of negative talk.

    2. you know; it’s funny, sometimes when I work in an office, I take a half or a quarter donut, and I leave the other half of 3/4s. Generally, it’s because, despite my obesity, I’m generally ok with my eating habits, and I’m only in the mood for a half or a quarter donut (protip to office donut suppliers: munchkins/donut holes/timbits, please. Then I can take the two bites that are all I need when I had breakfast already). Anyway, taking a snaller piece shouldn’t be shameful, either.

      The thing is….even though I know every other woman in the last office I worked in was relatively comfortable with their weight, all of them would say, on seeing me cut a donut, would say something like, “Oh, I should have done that.” Like I would EVER have expected that reaction. I didn’t want it. I wasn’t restricting myself. I was just eating the amount I was in the mood for. But it felt almost like white noise. Like it was a default thing to say ‘because that’s what women say’. It was very confusing.

      (I never cut up a cruller, mind you. sometimes I take 2. I am ALWAYS in the mood for multiple crullers.)

      1. Lipstick Terrorist

        I agree with your comment about white noise. Comments about why you “should” or “shouldn’t” be eating something, portion size etc. are ‘just’ niceties. Thing is, they are very harmful niceties. I find that aspect of shaming around eating very insidious – something very mentally destructive is framed as something harmless. The intention behind those comments can even be supportive, even though those attitudes come from very sexist ideals about women and bodies. It’s so fucking difficult to address!

        I often find that when I take a small piece of something, I am assumed to be dieting, even though that’s not necessarily the reason. A friend of mine once related that it was always pointed out to her when she didn’t take the cake (because she doesn’t like cake). Her not taking it seemed to make other women feel guilty for eating it. In that case, it seems like there is an all-or-nothing attitude – “we all have to be naughty together.” It’s also this kind of negative attitude towards food that leads towards me towards binge-eating and feeling out of control in my body. If there weren’t this moral weight attached to eating certain foods, I am sure I would have a much healthier relationship with them. Instead of feeling ashamed of what I eat, and then eating more to stifle that feeling.

        Anyway, this is another blog post now. So thanks for the comment!

  2. I couldn’t agree more that moralizing talk around food is crap because it often reflects internalized misogyny. I would add that using moral language to describe decisions around aesthetic concerns, like thinness and fatness, misrepresents morality and trivializes real moral issues. Choosing to eat a Big Mac might involve lots of social, cultural, aesthetic, and dietary considerations, but it’s not a moral decision. At the same time, the company that produces Big Macs constantly makes moral decisions, ones that have serious consequences for things like the environment and food security. Hearing “naughty” and “food” in the same breath grates on my nerves because it’s just so flippant.

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Hey Khadija, I’ve never thought about it explicitly in those terms before, but I agree. Thanks for being so thought-provoking!

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