Dealing with Toxic Lunchroom Talk and Advocating for the Possibility for Culture Change

Written by: Center for Body Trust

It’s a common scenario, most of us have probably experienced it. We’re having lunch at work, decompressing, enjoying leftovers, maybe a sandwich and some cookies or takeout, and it happens.

“I must have gained XX amount of pounds over vacation.”

“I really shouldn’t be eating this, I’m so bad!”

“We are doing Whole 30/keto/etc. I feel amazing!”

“I could never eat that for lunch, I would blow up like a balloon!”

“So my friend started doing CrossFit and she has lost so much weight.”

“I’m gonna have to go to the gym on my way home to make up for eating this.”

“Ugh, I HATE it when someone brings donuts in the break room! Are they trying to make me fat?”

Diet and healthism talk.  Fat shaming. Maybe it’s at the next table, and you’re overhearing it, or maybe it shows up in a conversation you’re already involved in. It’s hard for anyone to know what to do. People ask us about how to handle this kind of stuff all the time. Once you become aware of the dieting mind, you start to hear it everywhere.

Helping professionals who are committed to working from a weight inclusive model of care are also often flummoxed, especially those working in organizations where a weight inclusive approach is not the norm. You may be swimming upstream against a strong current of workplace culture that is still completely steeped in diet culture and body blame, whether you are working in the mental health field, a medical setting, a fitness center, community center, an educational setting, or anywhere else.

More and more people have been sharing with us that when this kind of talk comes up in their workplace, they want to speak up. Many feel like it’s their duty to speak up in the lunchroom (or anywhere in the office for that matter). But how? Office politics are real. The relationships you have with coworkers are important. How you communicate about things is important.

So we’d like to offer some thoughts on how folks can address this kind of talk, and perhaps even begin to change the culture at work around food and body talk. This can be where a lot of organizations start shifting to create a weight-inclusive environment.

First of all, when we come across this kind of talk, it can bring up some big feelings that may not be the best to share in their rawest form and it’s important to let yourself feel them. Take a moment and pause, connect with your breath, check in with yourself, so you feel more grounded and centered. From this place, you can decide how you would like to proceed:

    • You don’t have to confront someone in the lunchroom or in the moment. “Calling people out” when it happens will likely bring up a shame response or just doesn’t always work well at work. Often focusing on how to change the system will have a bigger impact. You may just want to leave the room and take the larger issue of “diet talk” to the whole team later as something you’d like to change about the workplace culture. You might bring it to a supervisor, raise the issue at a staff meeting or organizational learning session. Ask that your workgroup/organization to come up with agreements about how to give and receive feedback when harmful stuff happens in the workplace.
    • Talk about how these statements impact you. Tell people you recognize their intention is very likely not to harm you (and others in the room) and that does not change the fact that their statements have a negative impact. Remind people that there are likely others in the space that have challenging relationships with food and their bodies. “I’ve heard these kinds of comments and this is how I experienced it.”
    • State your boundary. “This kind of talk triggers all my body shame. Can we talk about something else?” Rachel Cole likes to say, “You know how some people don’t talk about religion or politics, I don’t talk about weight loss and diets.”
    • Explain that people may be exploring a different path than diet culture. Offer to share information if and when they are open to hearing more. Draw parallels between weight stigma and other forms of oppression. Refer people to our Health at Every Size® info page, which includes links to peer-reviewed journal articles that evaluate weight science and provide evidence for a shift toward a more weight inclusive model of care. The Association for Size Diversity and Health is another great resource.
    • If you are a helping professional, use examples from your client work to highlight how this stuff affects people. “I cannot tell you how many clients have told me that they find diet and health talk in workplace lunchrooms to be triggering.” Ask coworkers to consider how these conversations are rooted in fatphobia.
    • Consider getting posters for workplace lunchrooms from Nalgona Positivity Pride or our online store.

Culture change is possible. Remember you are part of the transition team. There are others in this community who stand with you. You are the trailblazers – the groundbreakers – and it’s not going to be comfortable.

Your effort and labor matters. And it is okay if you are not always up for it.

We can help with culture change. Write to us to find out more.

Together, we can make this world a better place for ALL bodies.


View more posts related to these topics

Making Your Healing Bigger Than You

One way we dismantle structures is to divest personally from them. We have the power to collapse systems if we include ourselves in the process. This process is about healing and reclaiming body trust.

read more

Food Justice and Body Sovereignty

Many, if not most, people who worry about how nutrition impacts health spend their time judging people for their food choices or claiming that we are “being poisoned” with sugar or processed or highly palatable foods while knowing little to nothing about the systemic injustices in our food systems.

read more