When faced with a struggle of whether to eat, say, chocolate cake or ice cream or a plate of nacho fries, is there a difference between saying “I don’t” vs. “I can’t”?

Psychologically, thinking or saying “I don’t” is a lot more satisfying, and effective, than “I can’t.”

“I don’t” is a simple statement of fact.

“I can’t” implies restriction, control, or deprivation.  Think of a teenager saying, “I can’t go out tonight because, I’m grounded.” Or a friend commenting, “I can’t because I’m broke.”  Or the common phrase: “I can’t, I’m on a diet.” All of these convey that someone else or some other external force is pushing us to make this decision against our own preference or enjoyment.

And it works the same way with the food.  If you say, “I can’t have birthday cake, its not on my diet,” you’re consciously telling yourself, ‘this is against my true desire’ and thus you feel deprived and resentful.  It makes you want the cake all the more.  You start to put yourself into a pattern of restriction, deprivation, resentment, craving, succumbing, and guilt. And frankly, that sucks.

By contrast, “I don’t eat cake” is a simple statement of fact.  Furthermore, it conveys your power as the decision maker, knowing what’s best for you, and honoring that. Empowered people are in touch with their bodies, knowing what food serves them best and they adjust their language accordingly. You never here a vegan say, “I can’t eat that” and then secretly wish they could dive into a hamburger.  They are very matter-of-fact, straightforward and say “I don’t eat meat,” which shows this is their decision to honor themselves.

Along with vegetarian/vegans, I believe, most serious Paleo/Primal eaters also follow this mentality. “I don’t” is more empowering, authentic, and self-supporting than “I can’t.”

For me it works: I don’t eat grains, soy, legumes, anything GMO (namely corn), regular desserts, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc.

Think about it: “I don’t eat junk food.”  v.  “I can’t eat junk food.”  Which feels better?

Try it next time and leave a comment on whether you experienced a mental shift.