Can’t vs. Don’t vs. Won’t – life+running

Can’t vs. Don’t vs. Won’t

(Trigger Warning: this post could be triggering to those who have had experience with eating disorders.)

Ever since I discovered my enormous amount of food allergies, I’ve come to appreciate the things that I actually CAN eat. My friend and I were discussing the fact that not only do people like me exist (those who can’t eat certain foods, due to allergy or intolerance, or other health issue), some people choose not to eat specific things (dairy, sugar, gluten, meat, etc.) for religious or personal beliefs, and still another group of people are tried-and-true picky eaters: people that won’t eat certain foods (kale, lima beans, etc.). My friend and I realized that food isn’t a thing that can be shared anymore because there is so much judgement around it (likes / dislikes, health concerns, body image, etc.). That is a very sad fact. This coming from the girl who loves to bake and share treats. 

There’s nothing wrong with being in any of these categories. Except, I guess, for those of us who can’t eat stuff because it makes us sick. There is so much wrong with being in that category. It’s so sad.

Actually, all of us fall into all three categories one way or another. For instance, I’m mostly a Can’t Eater, but I’m a bit of a Don’t Eater because I have some things I can eat but don’t eat frequently because they add to my inflammation and make my GI symptoms worse. To add to the complexity of my diet, I cannot stand — read, Won’t Eat — a few foods (kale, lima beans, chicken). Honestly, most of the foods I love fall into the Can’t Eat category, which is why it was SO hard for me to write this post without turning it into a major rant against all the Don’t and Won’t Eaters. I would KILL for a freaking piece of pizza with marinara sauce. Y’all act like martyrs when you turn down pizza, “Oh, I *don’t* eat that stuff.” Stuff? It’s food! It won’t kill you, but it MIGHT kill me. 

I digress.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because people don’t understand the difference between those of us who Can’t, those of us who Don’t, and those of us who Won’t. This is a real problem for the people who get sick from ingesting certain foods. The restaurant industry does not understand the difference between Can’t, Don’t, and Won’t. They make an incorrect assumption that a celiac isn’t eating gluten because it’s trendy, then — BAM! — that poor person is sick (or dead!). The restaurant industry (and most other people) definitely doesn’t understand how I can tell them I’m allergic to onions and to please remove them from Item A, but that it’s totally fine to have onion powder as a trace ingredient in the dressing on Item B. It’s how my body works, and I understand it. Doesn’t mean you have to understand it; just serve me my freaking food the way I ordered it.

**For the record, I say to the restaurant industry: it does NOT matter what reason a person wants his or her food prepared a certain way. That person is paying you — and trusting you — to feed them what they want / need. You’re doing them a service, so do it the right way. Personally, I avoid restaurants that I know will not or cannot cater to me. It’s unreasonable to expect everybody to cater to all your dietary needs, but if you work at a place that can make adjustments, PLEASE DO! I have been known to leave a 50% tip for serving me the correct order (not even kidding).**

Let’s get to the nitty gritty of this.

Can’t eaters.

This is the easiest category of eaters to explain. Can’t Eaters are people who physically cannot ingest certain things without becoming ill. The illness can range from violently sick leaving the person curled up in the fetal position to a more tolerable, but still valid, sickness that leaves the person feeling generally inflamed (joint pain, fatigue, headaches, etc.). Also, it’s important to note that this category includes people that DIE when you feed them certain things. Basically, we Can’t Eaters mean business. 

Don’t eaters.

People in this category don’t eat certain foods, but can physically tolerate the foods that they do not eat. Over time, some of these Don’t Eaters can turn into Can’t Eaters because their body no longer tolerates a food which its not been fed for ages. A lot of vegans and vegetarians (my former self included) report that meat makes them physically sick because they’ve not eaten it for so long. People have many reasons why they don’t eat certain foods, and guess what? It’s their choice!

I am not going to lie, Don’t Eaters piss me off sometimes, but to each their own. I don’t care what you will or will not eat, but for fuck’s sake, if I offer you something you don’t eat, do not say you CAN’T eat it, because you CAN physically ingest it without curling into a ball and wanting to die. I will even listen to your political / religious rant against a food if you say you DON’T eat it.

Won’t Eaters.

Won’t eaters are the people that will basically only eat bare chicken breasts (haha, bare breasts), buttered noodles, PB&J, and cheese pizza (or other bland staples depending on the culture). These people are not adventurous. They know what they like, but more importantly, they know what they don’t like. The good news is if you throw a dinner party, you can probably make a Won’t Eater a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and he or she would be super happy.

Ever since I started intuitively eating, I realized that I’m also kind of a Won’t Eater. I used to choke things down just because they were healthy. I think we need to do a certain amount of that, but I also know that we need to enjoy the act of eating. Through intuitive eating, I discovered that I hate chicken. I also can’t do kale. Just. No. I blame it on my juice fasting days.

Whatever type of eater you are, be kind to others and respect their eating habits.

Remember that if you don’t eat a food, chances are it’s somebody’s favorite food, somebody else’s least favorite food, and that same food could kill somebody else. All our bodies are different, and our minds are similarly diverse. If somebody offers you something you can’t / don’t / won’t eat, please politely decline with a “No, thanks”. That person is probably going to be hurt regardless, but they’ll be an awful less hurt if you don’t tell them all the reasons you can’t, don’t, or won’t eat whatever it is they’re offering you.


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3 Comment

  1. Oh man we could talk for days about this I know because I’ve been on both sides of the story..the restaurant and the person trying not to ingest too much dairy for fear of one of those nights curled up in a ball wanting to die. Also note that I said “too much” because I can tolerate some…which makes others question my true dairy sensitivity. Sometimes it’s just like “let me decide when and where I want to intake lactose.” Being on the other side is frustrating when the person cooking isn’t taking the special order seriously. We have a separate cutting board at the cafe for gluten free bread and a separate one for peanut butter, but sometimes people just get lazy and use the regular cutting board for everything…like those people who think allergies are all in your head.

    Then it’s increasingly tough to talk about food on the blog without a million disclaimers or comments on recipes like “I wish this was dairy free” when the recipe is already gluten free which I’m super proud of. Sheesh!

    Anywho I hear ya and agree! 🙂

    1. Calee says: Reply

      Thanks, lady! I also didn’t even touch the subject of eating disorders. There was a really good article on Cracked about that this week.

  2. This was a good post. I’ve read stories about Don’t eaters who drive waitstaff crazy (there was this one lady who swore she was allergic to “crunchy” – I mean, wtf?) which leaves a lot of the Can’t eaters having to be like NO F’REAL, I HAVE AN ALLERGY, I WILL HAVE A REACTION AND POSSIBLY DIE. When Ex-Beef and I would go out to eat, all the servers were awesome, he explained that he had an allergy and would ask what was in stuff, and there would be ones that would, like, underline NO ONIONS on the ticket to make sure that he wouldn’t get food that would make his throat close up. I know there are probably a LOT of waitstaff who are like “mmkay, gluten, whatever” because somehow or another it’s become trendy (WHYYYY) but I think they can tell when you’re being sincere and when you’re just being a snowflake. (Won’t eaters are probably the easiest to eat out with, I would imagine? They just steer to the part of the menu that contains the stuff they like.)

    I am super lucky that I can eat (almost) anything, and I can usually predict which dairy-heavy foods to stay away from, because, like you said, I know my body pretty well at this point. The fact that my grandma has legit issues with gluten and now my mom is trying to cut gluten to see if it helps her fibro, well, if a gluten-free future is in my cards, I’m going to be super depressed. I love me some gluten. I don’t even care.

    If I had a point, I forgot it. It’s just a really interesting topic to discuss.


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