Dear Helena,

I dread holiday season at work. First people bring in their leftover Halloween candy, then they start leaving one-pound bags of seasonally wrapped Hershey’s Kisses in the kitchen, and then it’s the holiday cookies. I know people are trying to be nice, but I have weight issues. And I’m not the only one who has developed “cankles” while working here. We have a smoke- and asbestos-free workplace, don’t we have the right to a candy-free workplace too? How should I deal with this?
—Fistful of M&M’s

Dear Fistful of M&M’s,
Here’s what you should not do: send out an email asking colleagues not to bring in treats. Nor should you approach your boss and ask him to mandate that employees not share any foods other than baby carrots. Trust me, you do not want to become known around the office as the kill-joy who tried to ban fun-size Milky Ways. (I disagree here with the New York Times’ Ethicist, who recently addressed a similar issue.)

If you try to outlaw candy, you’ll be depriving your co-workers of more than just an afternoon lift. Sharing treats is an important office bonding ritual. Chloe Krumel, who works for a sweater company in New York, says her co-workers like to please one another by bringing in different regional snacks from their travels: “Fritos has a style of chip called Chili Cheese that you can’t get in New York.” The bonding effect won’t be the same if you’re sharing Ryvita. It’s like sneaking out for a cigarette with a colleague: In both cases, part of the fun comes from sharing something forbidden (not that I’m recommending the consumption of cigarettes or Fritos—I’m just trying to protect you from the ire of your co-workers).

In fairness, not everyone who brings in snacks is motivated by team spirit. Caterina Rindi, an educator in San Francisco, confesses that at her last job, “whenever I had leftover anything I wanted to get rid of, I brought it in to work and left it in the communal kitchen. It was usually gone in an hour. Candy, bagels I didn’t like, bad cake, etc. I thought the whole operation was rather more efficient than composting things, but I certainly wasn’t doing anyone any favors.”

It’s hard to stay healthy when the office kitchen is a dumping ground for any treat your co-workers don’t want tempting them at home. Nonetheless, your diet is your responsibility. You don’t have a choice about inhaling secondhand smoke or asbestos particles, but no one is forcing you to dip your hand into the office candy jar.

Happily, there are ways to combat overindulgence other than depriving everyone else. Dan Stein, a professional mediator with experience resolving workplace disputes, suggests approaching cake-bringers and asking them individually if they could support you in your diet by not offering any to you. (Don’t do this when someone is right in the middle of the act of offering, otherwise he or she may feel personally rejected.)

You can also enlist your boss’s help by asking him to create an informal office wellness program. He’ll be on board if you point out that it could mean fewer sick days. Instead of banning unhealthy foods, such a program could institute changes that make it easier to be healthy. For instance, your boss could spring for a weekly fruit delivery. You’ll still have to resist the cookie platter, but at least you’ll have the option of reaching for an apple.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.

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