Don’t vs. Can’t: How to Own Your Choices

I once came across a psychological study mentioned briefly in a health magazine.  The study focused on the subtle influence of language on diet.  It found that participants who spoke about their diets in terms of don’t (“I don’t drink soda”) lost significantly more weight than those who explained their diets in terms of can’t (“I can’t drink soda”), even when other factors were controlled for.

This is powerful. Think about it for a minute.

The researchers theorized that usage of can’t unconsciously indicated powerlessness.  It implied that the can’t dieters had some sort of inability, some restraint preventing them from making a conscious choice. The don’t dieters, meanwhile, were expressing empowerment, indicating clearly how they do and do not behave based on personal decisions. They may have wanted to drink soda, but saying “I don’t” expressed their will and neatly precluded further discussion.

Why does this matter? For starters, follow-up discussion is an underrated danger. In the diet arena we all too often behave well on our own but give into friendly social pressure, and this is especially true when sabotage comes in the form of flattery (“Girl, you NEED dessert with your lunch! Just look how skinny you are!”) or encouraged self-indulgence (“Come on. You earned at least three beers tonight, man”). We all want to seem fun and easygoing, and women especially hope to avoid the shame and stigma associated with dieting.

That’s why it’s time to take don’t for a ride…

Imagine I’m at a restaurant with my friends and suddenly announce that I can’t drink soda.  At least half of my uppity friends would immediately call shenanigans on this claim, and some of the more devious ones might even start to think challenge accepted.  The hard truth is that badass people will not accept lame-ass excuses, and a feeble “I can’t drink soda” is the equivalent of a “kick me” sign.

Now imagine I said “I don’t drink soda” and promptly ordered a water. Most people would not blink an eye at this. Of course if someone did happen to ask me “why not?” I would respond to them simply (“It’s too sugary for me”; “I don’t like it”; “health reasons”; etc.), but the key here is that I would not have to apologize, defend, or explain. Don’t is a choice word. It expresses who you are.  People find it easy to question imaginary disabilities, but questioning life choices is a whole different game.

So now take this trick and apply it to anything. You’ll be amazed at how your confidence and efficacy soar. If there’s something you don’t like, say so kindly, firmly, and with minimal fanfare, and don’t forget that the opposite is also powerful (stating what you do and are.) I think you’ll be pleased to discover that your choices require much less justification than you think they do, and that you can safeguard your routines and other priorities without coming across as rigid or obsessed.  Seriously. This week I challenge you to decline an invitation with “I run on Tuesday nights. Maybe Wednesday?” instead of a lame and rambling excuse like “Well I wish I could go to happy hour tonight, but I don’t think I’ll have time because I usually try to run, and running is important to me for my health because blah blah blah.” Etc. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.

I want to end this article with a reminder to my fellow gluten-free and paleo folks, all of whom can relate to the experience of being challenged and questioned for going gluten/grain/etc.-free. People will insinuate that you’re just being trendy; they’ll say that you’re paranoid or really extreme; and horribly, they’ll imply that your health problems are imaginary if you don’t have celiac sprue.

So how do you respond? You don’t, folks. Haters gonna hate. All too often I hear gluten-free folks frantically justifying their gluten-free lifestyle, as though anyone anywhere has a right to give you shit about what you put in your mouth.  

So the next time you need to tell someone you don’t eat gluten, I challenge you to just say, “I don’t eat gluten.” The same goes for sugar or dairy or other foods.  If people ask you why, you can explain your decision, but make sure you’re explaining to educate or bond, not because you’re trying to prove that you are not trendy/arbitrary/insane.

Because really, so what if you were? What if you adopted the difficult gluten-free style for absolutely no reason at all? 

That’s your prerogative.

Own your choices.

You don’t apologize for who you are.


Enjoying August


I know it’s already August 6th, but don’t worry — part of the reason I’ve been slow to post is that I’ve wasted no time in acting on this list.  I have a tasty g-f zucchini spice bread recipe comin’ soon.  🙂 For now here are some ways I plan to embrace and celebrate August — please share if you have any more ideas!

  • Bask at the pool before it closes
  • Go to a lavender farm
  • Go berry picking (blackberries, I hope?!)
  • Go to farmer’s markets for peak summer produce
  • Eat and cook with said produce — peaches, zucchini, basil, etc.
  • Do something on a river (canoe, kayak, rope swing) if time allows
  • Have a bonfire and make s’mores
  • Celebrate “Back to School” by taking a nostalgic walk through campus, acquiring a confidence-boosting new outfit, and getting organized/re-energized for the year (even though I’m not a student anymore!)

I’d like to add things like ‘go to a county fair’ and ‘take a mini roadtrip,’ but my August weekends will be delightfully occupied with pre-wedding festivities for a friend.  Hopefully you will have time to do the things that I cannot! 🙂

I also have a long DIY To-do/Wish-list… hopefully I can share some of it soon.

Now let’s turn off our computers and go bask!


Hello, August

Happy first day of August!


August is one of my favorite months.  We get to enjoy all the richness of summer while also savoring foreshadows of fall. The days remain hot and lazy, but in Ohio at least the humidity declines, and so the sky gets bluer and sunlight takes on a dusty golden quality.  Sometimes, we get a huge copper-colored moon.  The grass gradually becomes crisper and more fragrant underfoot, and unseen cicadas return, loud and reassuring.  I like how alive the air feels in August.  It’s calmer than July, not as sweltering and sticky, but it is not yet drowsy with fall.

In summer I also revel in the seemingly boundless harvest here.  Though Ohio farmer’s markets may not be as dazzling as those in California, we nonetheless feast on corn and zucchini, cucumber and eggplant, green beans and peppers, peaches and nectarines, plums and cherry, corn and melon, apricot and honey.  And more. There are so many good things to eat.

I am determined not to let this pass me by.

So, what am I going to do about it?

Starting today I am going to start making resolutions focused on taking advantage of every month’s simple pleasures and unique opportunities. Think New Year’s resolutions but smaller, and more focused on enjoying each month’s pleasures than on trying to improve myself.  Believe me, I spend enough time trying to improve myself.  Why not appreciate what’s already perfect? Besides, I believe that cultivating happiness inherently makes for a better individual.

I will make a separate post of August resolutions later, as I want more time to think about them.
Do you have any suggestions?  What should I do to ensure I thoroughly enjoy August before it’s gone?