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  • Writer's pictureTalia Cooper

I Can't Eat vs I Choose Not to Eat

Autonomy and agency: core human needs. As in, we need to feel that we get a say in our lives.

In my 20s I learned the concept of saying “I don’t…” or “I’m choosing to…” instead of “I can’t” or “I have to.”

For example, “I can’t come to dinner because I have to finish writing this grant report.”

…can be turned into choice-based language:

I decided not to attend the dinner because it’s important to me to turn this grant application in on time.”

When we use the language of choice, we are participating in our own autonomy and re-affirming our values. Are there exceptions? Sure, but fewer than you’d think.

The same applies to food and eating, and is one of the (many) reasons why diets don’t work. When someone says, “You can’t eat this,” it activates our human fear of not having agency.

Image: a quote from author Terry Pratchett that says "1. All fungi are edible. 2. Some fungi are only edible once." This is a VERY autonomous approach to poisonous mushrooms!

Which is probably why when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 26 weeks pregnant and handed a long list of “NO” foods, I got a little….activated to say the least. (CUE: Talia crying for about 3 weeks straight).

My autonomy felt limited and I was confused about how to be in integrity as an intuitive eater.

And then one morning while cooking breakfast, I remembered this concept of “I can’t” vs “I choose not to.” That’s when everything changed.

For many people with diabetes, the mornings are the most challenging, and this is true for me too– when I first wake up my body has the hardest time producing insulin, which gets a lot easier as the day goes on.

So one morning as I fried myself some eggs, I watched my partner Andrew make himself a giant bowl of fruit salad. It looked amazing. “Want some?” Andrew asked. I salivated.

“I can’t eat fruit in the morning,” I retorted. I felt mad. Then I took a breath. “I mean, I’m choosing not to eat fruit this morning. I would love to eat some later, thank you.”

Because of course I CAN eat fruit in the morning:

  • Step 1: put fruit in mouth

  • Step 2: chew

  • Step 3: swallow

Image: Miley, enjoying herself some delicious fruit.

I can and I’m allowed to.

Saying “I can’t” is not true. The honest truth is:

  • I have been choosing to eat less fruit in the morning because my pregnant body is struggling to produce morning insulin. The glucose meter has confirmed this for me

  • Eating morning fruit would spike my blood sugar

  • Spikes make me feel sleepy and I would probably need a nap

  • After breakfast I prefer to start work rather than take a nap

  • Spiking my blood sugar a lot overtime could hurt the baby

  • By choosing to eat the fruit salad later in the day, I was choosing energy for the morning (short term) and protection for the baby (long term)

  • Which means I care about my energy and about my baby

See what I mean? It is actually a choice. It has to feel like a real choice to feel that sense of agency.

And when I remembered this things started to shift.

I started translating what my diabetes dietician said into intuitive eating:

When she said, “Avoid these foods”

I translated it to: “Here are some foods that have been known to spike blood sugar for other diabetics. This means you might want to use the glucose meter to check if they also spike yours. And maybe eat them at night when you have more insulin, or on a day when you can handle a spike.”

The more I told myself I had a choice, the more I felt my body relax. I started enjoying my food again. And you know what? My glucose numbers improved.

So that’s what intuitive eating is; listening to your body, removing food anxiety, and not letting external rules be the ultimate boss. (It’s also about not being weight-focused in terms of outcomes). The same is true even with a medical condition like gestational diabetes. It’s all about knowing you have agency, knowing what you are prioritizing and why.

Image of me as a 33-weeks pregnant beauty laying on an outdoor table in a hot pink dress as if I was about to sing jazz standards on top of a piano. Like ya do. (Photo credit: Tessa Strauss).

Sending body love,


BTW- I’ve been taking a lot of notes on my experience of gestational diabetes. I’ll be writing more about it soon, including how I am applying all 10 principles of intuitive eating. Let me know what questions you have.


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