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I was granted an H1B visa (United States) and was able to get hired after about a year. During the interview, I thought the company looked amazing as they are a fitness company and promote a healthy lifestyle in the workplace. Since joining, I feel like there was a lot that I didn't see between the lines during the interviews.

We have an open lunch period, but I've learned that people prefer to eat their meals on some sort of schedule. Similarly, it's very similar stuff ranging from protein shakes to plain boiled chicken. Because of this strange lunch timing, it's difficult for me to join them and when I do, people make comments about how I'm ruining my "macros" (I just eat Marie Calendar pot pies). There's also wildly snide remarks about some sort of syrup in my soda, which I don't quite understand.

The last real incident aside from snide remarks was the time I brought some Cheetos to a office party, to find out that everyone brought veg places and proceeded to dump the Cheetos away was mocking it.

Recently, I've been trying to acclimate to these changes and so far nothing else has happened, but I find it "different" from my normal lifestyle. I want to know if these social pressures are normal and if it's reasonable for me try to fit in?

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10 Answers 10

92

It sounds like you bit off a bit more than you can chew, so to speak, when applying to a fitness company which promotes a healthy lifestyle. Sounds like these people take it SERIOUSLY. While there is no excuse for insulting you in the workplace for anything like this and they're a bit over the line in my opinion, in this case it sounds like everyone does one thing and you're doing something else that they don't approve of. Normally I would say to raise this issue with HR because you're being bullied, but based on the way you've presented the issue, it sounds like a company culture thing, and you're just too far outside the culture. Meaning, you should start bringing plain boiled chicken or protein shakes for lunch, and bring veggies as party snacks, or this will continue.

EDIT: As for whether these sorts of pressures are normal, absolutely they are not. However, if literally everyone in the company, all the way from the lowest level to the CEO all does things one way, and you're the only person who doesn't, this is what happens. Not saying it's OK, but this organization sounds more like a cult than a company, and that's how cults do things.

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    Or as an alternative to switching what you eat, don't eat in the office where people can see you. – David K Mar 14 at 15:16
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    @DavidK That's not a good way to address bullying and unprofessional behavior. – Richard U Mar 14 at 15:18
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    Or as another alternative, start sending out the CV – UKMonkey Mar 14 at 17:25
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    @Clay07g Based on the information in the OP, it seems to me that the OP is basically alone in a sea of what is essentially a cult. If HR is in on the cult, then approaching HR with this issue is likely to get you laughed out of the office, or worse. To save OP the time and trouble (and potential embarrassment) of that happening, I suggested to simply avoid that step. In any reasonable situation, I would definitely suggest going to HR, but this case seems exceptional. – Ertai87 Mar 14 at 20:28
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    This very clique-ish behavior is very common in the fitness, fashion and fancy foods business. I've meet people that went as far as get body modding done (tattoos, piercings) to be able to fit in the culture of their workplace. – T. Sar Mar 15 at 13:28
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This sounds like blatant workplace bullying.

Forget for a moment that this is a fitness company, and just take all the affront's you've had to suffer.

  • People make comments about how I'm ruining my "macros"
  • There's also wildly snide remarks about some sort of syrup in my soda
  • I brought some Cheetos to a office party, to find out that everyone brought veg places and proceeded to dump the Cheetos away was mocking it.

Recently, I've been trying to acclimate to these changes and so far nothing else has happened, but I find it "different" from my normal lifestyle. I want to know if that these social pressures are normal and if it's reasonable for me try to fit in?

Changing to fit in might cure the symptoms, but it won't cure the disease. This is essentially mobbing behavior and "othering" anyone who doesn't conform to their corporate culture in a very nasty way.

Start floating your resume. It has been my experience that once you have been "othered", you are not likely to ever fully fit in with the group, and even if you try to conform, they will find other excuses to engage in shaming behavior.

You don't need to put up with this abusive behavior. Be ready to move on if the behavior continues towards yourself, or anyone else.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Mar 14 at 18:51
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    As someone who worked at a large (~1000 employee) fitness company, this is the right answer. When I joined the company, I initially thought this might be a problem: There are people there who are health nuts, and they do their health nut thing (I'd estimate a higher percentage compared to the general population), but there are also people there who are "average" Americans, with all the bad health habits that comes along with. I was never accosted in this manner by anyone at my work. This is not "fitness employees will be fitness employees," this is a toxic work environment. – TemporalWolf Mar 15 at 17:20
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    There was a case in my country, a woman applied for a job (I believe in marketing or business dev) with a fitness/ sports company. She was rejected with a justification she was obese and because of being obese she didn't "look the part". She went to court. And lost. In case of OP: they applied for a job with a fitness company. Just as you expect that people working in poverty eradication for a charity don't think the unemployed are themselves to blame or that a tobacco lobbyist isn't against smoking, you expect an employee of a fitness company to try to avoid eating/ promoting junk food. – BigMadAndy Mar 16 at 7:15
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    I think we can't ignore that it's a fitness company... So I'm not comfortable with your assertion that this is bullying. It isn't polite or elegant, but again, it's a fitness company. I am concerned he is being overly sensitive. If he was quarreling about abortion in the breakroom here, that is not the same as in the breakroom at Planned Parenthood. – Harper Mar 16 at 18:51
  • @Harper I fail to understand why you need to justify workplace bullying based on who does it, and then throw in an unrelated political point. If you think this answer is wron, post one of your own and see how many votes you get. – Richard U Mar 16 at 21:52
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What you're describing is far from normal in general - you might see one or two "healthy eating zealots" in a company - but obviously they are easier to ignore.

The situation you find yourself probably has it's roots in the company being as you put it a "fitness company" and that perhaps a higher proportion of people who are going to be that way inclined. They probably aren't all zealots to that degree - but if there's enough of them it can become the dominant culture.

I'm not going to excuse their behavior - it's bullying and unacceptable IMHO, your dietary choices are none of their business and frankly they should shut the hell up. Unfortunately it sounds as if this culture is quite entrenched in this particular company so I think from a practical point of view trying to change or eliminate it yourself is going to be nigh on impossible.

So what to do?

It depends on how much it's affecting you really - you could just ignore them, do your work and refuse to engage. Eat what you want and to hell with them. On the other hand if it's really bothering you then you might have to look at polishing the CV and finding another company, it's not right, it's not fair but sometimes you just have to pick your battles.

That said you mention that the promotion of a healthy lifestyle was one of the things that attracted you to the company - if you want to change your diet for you, not to "fit in" or any such peer-pressure rubbish but because it's something you want to do anyway then I'd suggest seeking out a co-worker who you have something of a rapport with and hasn't caused any of these incidents and asking them if they would mind giving you some tips for eating healthier.

But (and I know I'm repeating myself here) only consider doing so if it's because you want to make a change for you. If you're happy with your diet/lifestyle then more power to you! No-one should feel pressured to change something like this because of childish bullies.

Good luck!

PS: To help you decipher some of their cryptic references:

"macros" probably refers to "macro-nutrients" e.g. Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat "some sort of syrup in my soda" probably refers to High Fructose Corn Syrup, a syrup used to provide the sweetness in many US sodas.

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    And let's get something straight - these people's perception of what's 'healthy' is nowhere near reality. But for better or worse you're in a company where agreeing on those standards is an important cultural factor. So either you toe the line and pretend to be converted to their faddish perceptions, or you polish up the resume – George M Mar 14 at 19:46
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    @GeorgeM To be fair, it's probably true that flaky-crust pot pies, soda, and Cheetos are not exactly healthy foods. – JAB Mar 15 at 1:45
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    @JAB neither is a diet of vegan crisps, protein shakes, and supplement pills... Anyway, what's healthy depends on the individual, there is no "perfect diet", no matter what the "food pyramid" and its advocates claim. – jwenting Mar 15 at 5:47
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    @jwenting but that is not what OP describes them eating, that is your caricature of healthy eating. Also the food pyramid has no connection to healthy eating, that was 1960s farm industry propaganda. What they're eating is reasonable for a health based company. – Harper Mar 15 at 13:44
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    @Harper It's a reasonable enough diet for anyone, but not so clearly a superlative diet that the behavior of the OP's coworkers is in any way justifiable. It's definitely possible that their approach to nutrition is a good one that will persist through time, but it's at least as possible that it will fade over the next couple of years as yet another fad diet. – Upper_Case Mar 15 at 14:20
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I was going to comment that the behaviour seems strange, like it was some sort of cult, but then I saw it was a fitness company.

I'm going to be honest with you, if you do decide to attempt to fit-in, it will take some work. To the point where it may be a significant lifestyle change, and not just at-work behaviour. You've already identified this.

The company says that it promotes a healthy lifestyle, and it seems that many of the employees, at least the ones in your team, take that to heart.

I'm inclined to say that it would be rather difficult for you to "fit in". If you really want to work there, and are not inclined to work to fit in, you can simply ride it out and they will get used to you. They will eventually get used to your eating habits. Do you otherwise have much in common with these people?

It's really a question for you and what your priorities are. It sounds like you travelled quite a way to find a job, so I wouldn't throw that all away because of a few snide remarks. Is the work enjoyable?

It's natural to want to fit in, but in this instance it may require more work than you are prepared to do.

If you do decide to give it a go, good luck!

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    -1 I'm unsure as to what this answer says that my answer (which you admitted to downvoting) does not. – Ertai87 Mar 14 at 15:41
  • @GregoryCurrie I think my rep will survive the hit – Richard U Mar 14 at 15:56
  • @GregoryCurrie Ah my bad. I thought you downvoted my answer, and then posted your own which was a clone of mine, which would be kind of rude. Apparently SO won't let me change my vote on yours, so apologies for that. – Ertai87 Mar 14 at 15:59
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    @Ertai87 Don't sweat it. It is pretty similar. I'm going to delete all my comments here, cause they are a bit pointless. Feel free to do the same (but keep the justification for the downvote if ya want) – Gregory Currie Mar 14 at 16:04
  • @Ertai87 this might have been in all the deleted comments, but I think the main difference between this answer and yours is that is makes clear the OP could stay without having to fit in. While it might not have been your intention, to me your answer reads as "fit in or ship out". This one explicitly states that's not necessary, plenty of people with boiled chicken habits survive at more mainstream workplaces the opposite shouldn't be a problem. – Jontia Mar 15 at 9:12
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There is a certain kind of classism in US society around food. And it may help to understand it.

First, there are two terms you might be confused by:

  • "Macros" refers to carbohydrate/fat/protein balance.

  • The "Syrup" is corn syrup. US agricultural subsidies resulted in dirt cheap corn-based sweet syrup. It is commonly used in sweet drinks.

In the USA, there is a sigma associated with "junk food" and a class-connection with eating "health food". Health food in general requires more work (to prepare, keep fresh) and costs more than "junk food".

The current fad in high social status food is lean protean and avoiding carbohydrates. There is also an entire movement against consuming high fructose corn syrup; not only because it is a sugar, and a carbohydrate, but also because of the usual chemical-fear. (Secondary effects include that it doesn't taste as good).

Your choice of food -- cheetos, freezer meals of medium-processed food, sodas -- are lower status food. Their choice of food -- lean chicken, protein shakes, veggie trays -- are higher status food. Their behavior can be modelled as similar to someone making fun of someone for having the wrong brand name on their clothing.

At the same time, "healthy eating" (high status food) is aligned with virtue, so they can both be snobbish about it and feel virtuous while doing so.

There may also be some parts of where their diet actually is healthier for them than yours is for you, but that generally isn't why people are making fun of you over it.

By far the easiest way to solve your problem is to fit in. Actually changing company culture is going to be difficult. Your "class" (in the sense of "protected class" in US law) isn't a clearly protected one in the USA, so there is no practical legal protection against being discriminated on the basis of having different dietary preferences.

It may help to treat it as a performance to avoid having to deal with harrassment at work. Failing that, consider moving on to another company; this kind of extreme embracing of "healthy eating" is not typical.

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    It can straight up cost more to eat healthy as well to add on about status symbols, before even considering whatever's the current fad. – user1821961 Mar 15 at 15:38
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    +1 for the explanation of the american context – Paolo Mar 16 at 15:31
  • Well, what's also true is that America has started to suffer epidemics of staggering proportion. Morbid obesity, CPAP use, Type II diabetes, heart disease, digestive issues likely related to IgG food allergies, many others. The rates are over the moon compared to the 1960s. And these followed the trends of corn hypergluts, high-fructose corn syrup, GMO enabling other worrisome practices, animals that don't eat corn being force-fed corn, etc. Correllation is not causality, but there's a lot to look at. – Harper Mar 16 at 18:18
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    @Harper: still, mocking people (or pulling status and virtue "cards") or more generally bad stress at work is not known to help much with any of those issues... – cbeleites Mar 16 at 20:53
  • @harper I believe I covered your points sufficiently in the 3rd from last paragraph. Do you disagree? – Yakk Mar 16 at 22:17
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They are a bad cultural fit for you

Do you have a right to work in any company? Ideally yes, but in actual practice, it can get a little weird. I wish it were not so, but the fact is, "cultural fit" is a real thing which exists.

CRA of 1964 Title VII outlaws firing someone for bad cultural fit on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender or religion. Other laws outlaw it for age, sexual origin, gender identity, or disability. But that's about it.

You have the kind of "cultural fit" problem that is not protected. Same as if you were a black-tie IBM guy at Blizzard Entertainment. Health is the company's mission and your evident lifestyle does not map to that mission.

Several times, you have inadvertently "hung a lampshade on" what a misfit you are to the company's culture. Their questioning your eating is really them questioning what actually motivates you to work here instead of 1000 other places you could get a paycheck.

It is also an attempt to enroll you into the lifestyle, to see if you want to be part of the company culture. (it's ham-handed of course; humans are like that.) They're waiting to see if you've enrolled: if you start showing a passion for health, that will increase your social standing and prove this isn't just a paycheck to you.

I suppose you could try to turn this into a legal fight, but it'd be an uphill fight to say they discriminated against you by prodding you to eat healthy :)

Wise man said, "Do you really want to die on that hill? AKA "choose your fights carefully".

... which is odd because you say you want that

company looked amazing as they promote a healthy lifestyle in the workplace.

comments about how I'm ruining my "macros"... snide remarks... dump the Cheetos

Um ...

What exactly were you imagining when you heard "promote a healthy lifestyle"?

You do realize: Bad eating habits are tough to break. It's not that different from an alcohol or smoking addiction, with some of the same underlying drives. They've helped each other break bad eating habits, and they know how tough it is. It's not done lightly or gently. Mutual support is what keeps them on their path.

You came here for exactly this kind of prodding. Here it is.

Part of their resentment is you're tempting them

Does a health nut want a Chee-to? Does a diabetic want a slice of chocolate cake? Oh, you betcha!

But they can't, and also keep their health lifestyle. We've had other questions on here about "I like to bring treats some coworkers can't [won't, for reasons] eat"... you're bringing snacks most coworkers can't eat.

If you want to be part of this lifestyle, participate

Really, this is a checkpoint: "Am I really up for this?"

If you want to improve your lifestyle but not if it means giving up your corn-sweetener sodas and carby fatty freezer-section food, then they are not a good cultural match and it's time to move on.

If you really want to use the shared culture of this company to improve your lifestyle, (again, this is what you said), then go all-in. In the future when they rib you, say "thanks for reminding me" or "I didn't know. What can you tell me?"

You don't need to eat boiled chicken or shakes, that's just lazy cooking on their parts. Spices are your friend, and add virtually no calories. And make the most of any food traditions from your home country. They're having boiled chicken, you're having blackened chicken - you can turn yourself into the envy of the breakroom.

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    +1 for mentioning that you are tempting them. I have to decline offers of snacks and cookies at work a couple of times a week. – steverino 2 days ago
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It's not normal but could be expected that they're passionate about a healthy lifestyle.

Next time you should ask why food X is bad and then ask what they suggest as substitute.

This has multiple effects.

  • Some might shut up

  • most likely though they'll enthusiastically explain to you why, what and how

  • You have free bonding time with your colleagues
  • You might learn something
  • They got it out of their system and might bother you less frequently
  • You might start getting into healthier habits yourself

You also could of course instead (or on top) tell them, yeah you know your food is unhealthy but you just love it too much, that you appreciate their concerns but ask them not to bother you with that anymore.

FUN FACT:

Soda Is made of water,carbon dioxide(for fizz) and a sugary syrup with mostly artificial ingredients (some which might or might not cause cancer or other alleged,so far mostly unproven issues) for the taste...yummy...

  • Well, eating protein shakes and boiled chicken is not particularly healthy. Fat, including saturated fat, is NECESSARY, and a high protein intake (from 1 g/kg or so per day for sedentary people) can cause serious health issues in the long term. I would not want to hear health advice from such a bunch. – raven Mar 15 at 19:00
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There was a court case in my country. A woman applied for a job (I believe in marketing or business dev) with a fitness/ sports company. She was rejected with a justification she was obese and because of being obese she didn't "look the part". She went to court. And lost.

I found the court's decision shocking until I got some work experience in different places. In all of them, there was something you can call culture and you were expected to follow it or get ostracised.

There were more cases of people who applied for jobs with religious organizations without being part of the respective churches. Also here the court decision was: normally you can't reject candidates based on their religious beliefs unless it's about a church-affiliated organization (NGO, hospital, etc.).

In case of OP: they applied for a job with a fitness company. Even if they weren't asked about it during the recruitment process, it was probably expected from them that they aren't against the company mission.

Just as you expect that people who work in poverty eradication for a charity don't think the unemployed are themselves to blame or that a tobacco lobbyist isn't against smoking, you expect an employee of a fitness company, a company that promotes healthy lifestyle in the workplace (!), to try to avoid eating and/or promoting junk food, at least in the workplace.

Yes, people should be allowed to do what they deem valid, but in practice, it doesn't work like that. The OP should change jobs if they aren't happy at the current employer. They won't be able to change the whole culture.

  • Yup yup. If you are a conservative Catholic who thinks the gub'mint ought to stick its nose in social issues, then your values may be a complete contradiction for working at Planned Parenthood. And them pointing that out is not religious discrimination. That said, the company is free to apply the Ainsley Hayes rule and embrace you as an avatar. You're just not entitled to that. – Harper Mar 16 at 18:28
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Learn from this experience.

The next time you look for a job, and an interviewer asks if you have any questions, you can ask about company culture. What is distinctive? Any things I should know?

I would not be comfortable with some dog-friendly employers. It depends on how many dogs are in the office, how they are controlled (or not), and how militant employees are about it. The latter is especially important in the C-suite, in my opinion.

I am writing a document about coding culture for the startup I am co-founding. I'm trying to set some things in the culture up front.

Code is read more than it is written. Write code and comments assuming your audience is a new employee who has no job experience.

We are not rabid zealots about IDE, languages, editors, etc. We would not hire someone who is - they would not be a good fit.

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It's a fitness company, but from what I could see the problem is the other employees behaving. I think you have as most people that follow the mainstream not is what considered an healthy food balance, normally very high on carbohydrates like refine sugars and starchy foods. The problem in my opinion is in the mode of snark comments you receive on what you're eating, and not giving you advice on how to improve yourself.

I think that unfortunately you are in a bad position and you are in the position of the lazy fat guy or some such. I think you should in the medium term seek a new workplace, or if it's possible for you to go to eat outside. Maybe the nice girl at the grocery store is more bell behaved...

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