The office lunch
Must you accept all eating-out invitations? Plus, RSVP-ing to Tupperware parties.
For about six months I’ve been eating healthier and limiting how often I eat out. But at my new job, everyone (including my boss) is always inviting me out to eat. I feel I can’t say no, even when I’ve already brought lunch. How can I mitigate the damage to my diet and office diplomacy without becoming “that person on a diet”? A.D. / Boston
Perhaps it is the influence of workplace sitcoms, perhaps ’twas ever thus, but most people in an office wind up being “that person” of one variety or another: “the Buddhist,” “the fly fisherman,” “the one with all the kids.” So, you’ll be “the healthy eater,” which is not such a bad thing – I’ve often been that person myself. (It beats being “the one who breaks the copier all the time.” Trust me.)
Food is inherently social, which makes office eating a non-calorie-burning exercise in setting boundaries. Accept as many lunch invitations as you can, particularly from the boss – most restaurants have at least a few options that should meet your approval. If your healthy eating involves several small meals a day, that can be a convenient excuse to eat less: “I’d be happy to join you for lunch – I had a yogurt a half an hour ago, so I’ll just get some soup or a side dish.” With colleagues, take the lead and suggest brown-bag lunch dates, followed by a walk, a hunting-gathering expedition at local shops, or a game of chess in the break room.
People will undoubtedly comment on your eating choices. Yes, your food is your own business, but be compassionate: If those comments are snarky, it’s probably because the people who make them are assuming you’re judging their own “inferior” habits. What I’ve found works is to keep any talk about food focused on how it makes me feel: “Those
brownies look delicious, but I’m going to fall asleep over my copy editing if I have sugar in the afternoon” or “Let’s just say my stomach is a lot happier if I have a big salad every day.” No one can argue with, or feel judged by, your particular tastes and subjective experiences. Stay away from discussing your diet in terms of weight or in terms of things we should all be doing (“I’m trying to cut down on processed foods. Americans get far too much salt in their diets”). Those conversational tacks will make people feel judged.
Finally, if and when you ever splurge, invite someone along. “I just landed the MacGuffin account and want to celebrate with a really fancy coffee drink. Come with?” If you’re known as a food purist, an occasional trip for a sugar-laden coffee concoction will have all the illicit joys of smoking under the bleachers with a friend. This can be a useful technique when you really need to launch a charm offensive on someone.
I am inundated with invitations to “parties” whose purpose is to sell you jewelry, purses, kitchenware, etc. The hosts are just asking me to spend money so they can earn free products. I’ve gotten to the point that I do not even want to RSVP. Any advice on how to handle this? J.M. / Kansas City, Missouri
You may certainly RSVP in the negative, but you must RSVP. Do you hear that, people? Non-RSVP-ing is my own personal biggest peeve, and it’s probably in the top five etiquette complaints I hear from my readers. It’s “Repondez, s’il vous plait,” not “Rocket Science, Very Problematic.” I almost never hijack a response for my own agenda, but I’m going to this time. If you are a chronic non-RSVP-er, would you e-mail me at email@example.com or comment on my blog at http://www.boston.com/missconduct and explain why? What makes RSVP-ing so difficult for you? Do you think it’s not required anymore? All responses will be anonymous – speak to us, O non-RSVP-ers!
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. Got a question? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at boston.com/missconduct. CHAT Get advice live every first and third Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at boston.com.