What? Me? A picky eater?

A picky eater's plate with food pushed off to the sideThen

As far back as I remember, I’ve  been an unpicky eater. I’d eat pretty much anything presented as food (except for that incident with the overdone deep-fried grasshoppers). And I never really understood people who made being picky a core part of their identity.


Working on making a ketogeneic diet my everyday, long-term eating pattern is giving me a mild case of identity crisis!

I’m figuring out what I can eat, and how much of it, which can be challenging. It’s often hard to tell what’s in a prepared food, and, away from home, I can’t whip out my handy-dandy scale and calculate the carb content.


The hardest part is that it makes me feel like a picky eater – and I’ve never been over-fond of picky eaters!

Intellectually, I realize that my carb-conscious “pickiness” is an inevitable part of maintaining a keto diet, and that, for me, staying keto is important. However, it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve turned into something I feel kinda judgy about.

And coming out as keto has its difficulties. At home, since I cook for only myself, it’s not an issue. And during the nine and a half months it took me to lose most of the excess weight, it was relatively easy.

Ignoring the breadbasket, choosing low-carb items from restaurant menus, and the occasional “no thank you” worked reasonably well. On the rare occasions when someone pressed me to take something that was too carby, telling them I was working on my weight was usually enough. Pretty much everyone has had the experience of trying to lose unwanted avoirdupois!

Now that I’m almost at my goal weight, there’s another challenge: living keto without being a pain at social and family occasions when I’m not the cook.

As I figure out how much carbohydrate I can tolerate and still stay in ketosis, and get more confident in choosing food that works for me, it may get easier. Though, there are some situations that I suspect will always be at least a little uncomfortable, even with lots of time.

It ain’t easy

For example, last month I visited my sister and stayed with her a couple of weeks. One of the things we’ve always done together is cook, and she was looking forward to making Czech fruit dumplings with me. Sadly, while Czech fruit dumplings are nice and fatty – they’re served with a small lake of melted butter – they’re also over-the-top carbs, what with the yeast-raised wheat flour dough, plum or apricot filling, and lots and lots of sugar. And at that point, I just couldn’t cope with that much carbohydrate.

Luckily, the Osaka supermarket across the road from my sister’s place has an amazing meat department, and an even more amazing fresh seafood counter, so we still did a lot of adventurous cooking and eating, But still, the disappointment was there…

Another, less emotionally difficult, occasion was a medieval-style feast at a Society for Creative Anachronism event a couple of weeks ago. I was able to eat a lot of what was served, and it was delicious. I didn’t take the root vegetables or sweets, and ate around the carby parts of the meat dishes. Which, after multiple courses, left me with an ugly mess of demolished food on my plate. Next time, I’ll bring a covered slop basin to hide the evidence. Should make it a little easier!

Though I can explain, and/or find a workaround, the core issue is that, unlike a friend who is genuinely celiac, I don’t have a widely-understood physiological reason for my pickiness. It’s a choice I’ve made, and, though my reasons are very, very good, being keto is still regarded as one of those fringe-y lifestyles. And leaving half my dinner on the plate, or worse, eviscerating what I’m served, feels, at best, awkward, and at worst, just plain rude.

The choice

Bluntly, I’d rather be a skinny, picky, little old lady than a bigger and bigger and bigger one!




Little Old Lady on Ketones (or seven months on an upside-down diet)

The ketones

I finally broke down and bought a blood glucose/ketone meter and, after the usual faffing around that goes with a new piece of equipment, I discovered to my delight that my ketone level is 2.3mmol, which is smack in the optimum zone.

By itself, that’s a weird & irrelevant factoid, so here’s some background:

 The weight gain

Ten years ago I took a job in systems support at one of Canada’s major banks. Between the stress, the forced bonhomie of corporate culture, the food merchants in the mall, a mild addiction to Dufflet lemon tarts, and menopause, I started to gain weight.

After five years, the department I worked in was outsourced and I got laid off (which was a huge relief), but the weight gain had become a habit, and I continued to pick up a steady three or four pounds a year.

Not much, nothing dramatic. But over ten years, it added up to forty-six pounds. Ouch!

During those ten years, I tried dieting – many times – but never got past the first ten pounds before the diet became intolerable. And, of course, I regained whatever I had lost. With interest.

The search

Mid-January I decided to have another go. This time, instead of the usual calorie-counting, I did some research before deciding on how to diet, and lucked out.

I found a lot of material on weight control; most of it was suspect or irrelevant. Allergy diets, gluten-free diets, vegan diets, paleo diets, self-serving product-hawking diets, and just plain weird diets. Lots & lots of stuff I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole!

Winnowing through this barrage, I found one site – dietdoctor.com – that stood out with what appeared to be a research-based diet, with lots of backup information, no sales pitches, and a modest $8US monthly membership fee that goes towards supporting the site without any industry funding.

Which is super-important – with industry-sponsored sites, there’s an inevitable positive bias, conscious or not, towards the sponsor. After all, who wants to bite the hand that feeds them?

dietdoctor.com recommends & supports a low carb, high fat (LCHF) diet, with an option to choose to eat a very low carb ketogenic diet, which is what I have done. Hence the blood glucose/ketone meter.

The controversy

The kicker is that the LCHF diet is super-contentious at the moment.

Government-recommended diets are the exact reverse – low fat, high carb. The Food Pyramid (which has morphed into the much-less communicative “My Plate” recently) has carbs as its broad base and fats are relegated to a tiny cell in the attic.

However, the science behind the low fat/high carb diet is tenuous, and since it was introduced, obesity and Type 2 diabetes have exploded wherever it has been followed by the public – which is most of the developed world.

Over the last decade, a growing body of research & investigation has been suggesting, then showing, that the low fat/high carb diet has been A Big Fat Mistake.

The success:

Over the past seven months I’ve lost most of the weight I wanted to shed, and changed my way of eating drastically. Since that’s almost certainly made significant metabolic changes, I’d like to get some blood work and a couple of other tests done to establish a new baseline.

The problem:

At which point I’ve run into a problem: unfortunately, but predictably, the medical establishment still hasn’t got the memo. (Google “Tim Noakes”).

When I (cautiously) asked my doctor about low carb/high fat diets she

  1. didn’t know what LCHF is
  2. and, when I explained it to her, she read me a severe lecture on not succumbing to fad diets & keeping on with “everything in moderation” since my health was good

Now, this doctor – a family practitioner – is not an old fuddy-duddy on the verge of retirement; she’s younger than my daughter! To be charitable: she’s, an excellent baby catcher, so little old ladies are not the focus of her practice.

She also works out of the family practice clinic of one of Toronto’s major hospitals, and, from various things over the years, I get the impression that the hospital keeps a very tight rein on their junior medical staff. I suspect that they have to toe the line of received wisdom pretty carefully, so an excursion into a flaming dietary controversy would probably not do her career any good at all.

Either that, or she figures I’m a little old lady with a bee in her bonnet, and, as an old woman, can safely be ignored.

Or both. But that’s another post…

So now I’m looking for a physician with whom I can discuss my experiences with LCHF & ketosis, can get tests done, and, most of all, a physician who is willing help me look after my health in my LCHF/ketogenic life.

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Have I mentioned that I despise raccoons?

Me in a Tyvek overall, respirator with dust filters and a cranky mood.My experiences with raccoons haven’t been positive – they’ve nested under the deck and clawed at my feet through the gaps between the boards, defecated on the roof, torn up the garden – repeatedly – and often woken me up disporting themselves under my bedroom window, but the latest outrage is the worst.

Sometime over the summer they pried open a corner of the door to the shed where I store spare chairs, a silk-painting frame and odds & ends of building materials for making running repairs to the house.

They pried it open and moved in.

Unfortunately, I didn’t notice until a couple of weeks ago – the door is behind the apple tree and a composter. The top of the door looks fine, and I didn’t happen to need any of the stuff in the shed over the summer.

It was a horrible mess! Muddy paw marks and heavy dirt smudges all over, many dried dribble marks (the roof does not leak), and a deposit that appeared to be from a raccoon with intestinal problems. And to make the mess even worse, they had clawed up the offcuts of styrofoam insulation that I used to keep the furniture from wicking moisture from the floor – styrofoam crumbs all over everything.

Cleaning up after raccoons can be dangerous – aside from rabies they also carry raccoon roundworm and leptospirosis, both of which can be fatal. So it was on with the disposable Tyvek overalls, gloves and respirator with dust filters. And Javex – lots of Javex to wash the items that are worth keeping and swab down the area I’ve been working on.

Finding a day that’s free, sunny and reasonably warm has been a challenge – this has been a busy and chilly autumn. So far I’ve been able to spend two afternoons cleaning up and have at least one more to go before spring.

Once the shed is empty, I’ll swab it down with Javex solution and seal it up until spring. When the weather is warm enough to paint outdoors, I’ll paint all the surfaces with a stain sealer.

And repair the door so I don’t have to screw it shut to keep the raccoons out,



So what to do?

Image of a knight in chain mail waving a sword & kickingThe obvious options – like helping with grandchildren, travel, volunteering, gardening, a hobby – just don’t grab me.

My kids are great and my grandchildren are delightful but, much as I love them and enjoy their company, turning them into a full-time occupation is a creepy idea.

Traveling for the sake of traveling doesn’t appeal – the thought of going on a cruise gives me the willies.

I’ve volunteered – and still volunteer – and meet some great people, but no matter how worthy the cause or useful the work, it leaves me wanting more.

My garden is a pleasure and a refuge, but it’s not a life.

And I’m not sure I get the idea of hobby. If you google the definition of “hobby” you get words like “diversion”, “distraction”, “sideline”. In other words a pastime – something to fill in time.

Which sums up the problem. To this active, healthy little old lady the usual activities deemed suitable for little old ladies sound like filling in useless time, waiting for death.

Um. No. No thanks. That doesn’t suit me; I want something more positive, more creative, more satisfying, more active. Something I can get a kick out of, the sense of a job well done, a life well lived!







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The world is changing…

Last Sunday I made my farewell pilgrimage to the World’s Biggest Bookstore.

Final receipt from World's Biggest BookstoreFor thirty-three years it’s been a source of information, inspiration and entertainment, and occasionally a refuge. Probably half the books that infest my house came from there.

It wasn’t just somewhere to find reading material, it was a handy place to meet, a useful place to spend those odd bits of time when I was downtown with a gap in my schedule – or simply a good place to browse and relax. Low-key, predictable, reliable and a permanent feature of my personal urban landscape.

Only now it’s closing.

I’m not surprised  – rumors have been circulating for years. A low-rise box with a big footprint is an obvious target in Toronto’s skyrocketing real estate market.

But I am surprised by how bereft I feel. My life has been punctuated by bookstores and the World’s Biggest was a favourite. Mildly scruffy, with long hours, a reasonably clean washroom, no pressure to buy, and staffed by helpful people who didn’t mind if I took piles of books over to a staircase and sat down to browse.

I know change is inevitable, but when something that was a good part of my life disappears I’m saddened – an old friend I took for granted is gone.

In case you’re wondering what the receipt is for, I bought a gardening magazine with an article on hardy clematis and two books on Italian cooking.

…which reminds me – the Cookbook Store also closed this month.


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The kindness of strangers

Unlike Blanche DuBois, I don’t depend on it, but the kindness of strangers sometimes surprises and reassures me.

This morning I slogged through much snow – both falling and fallen – to the hardware store for a 20 kilo bag of anti-slip stuff.

 By the time I got there I was covered with snow and stopped outside the doors to brush some of it off so that it wouldn’t melt and drip once I got into the nice, warm store. I shook the snow off my hat and started to brush it off the rest of me with my mitt.

Then a total stranger gently took the mitt out of my hand, brushed the snow off my back, handed the mitt back and went on her way.

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In April 2005 my hairdresser pissed me off royally. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say I was left with an expensive mess.

In that eye-rolling moment of “oh, crap, I have to find a new hairdresser” I had one of those rare flashes of insight that actually make a difference to how my life goes. It went something like “hey, wait a minute…I hate going to hairdressers…”!

So I stopped going to hairdressers and let my hair grow!

It’s been nearly nine years and my hair is long enough now to brush the chair when I sit. Not quite long enough to sit on, but it still seems to be growing, so it may still get there. Sometimes I wear it in a bun or in a single braid down my back; most of the time I wear it in two braids.

My latest hair project is to learn how to sew it crown-fashion like Lucia, Minerva and Europa Anguissola playing chess in this 1555 painting by their sister, Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola (who lived to be a little old lady of 93).

Sofonisba Anguissola's painting of her sisters playing chess


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that depends a good deal on where you want to get to

Tenniel illustration of Cheshire Cat from Alice Through the Looking Glass - flipped to face right.30,000 years or so ago the proportion of people who lived long enough to be grandparents skyrocketed – which may have been the driving force behind the explosion of new tool types and art forms that occurred at the same time, and may explain how modern humans outcompeted other hominids such as the Neanderthals.

Right now we’re experiencing just such another jump in life expectancy.

Judging from what happened from the last time humanity experienced such a jump, the life of our species may change radically. And this time we have the opportunity to direct that change.

So what are we going to do with it? Where do we want to get to?

(The title of this post is the Cheshire cat’s answer to Alice’s question)

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would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

Tenniel illustration of Cheshire Cat from Alice Through the Looking GlassMost of the people who have reached the age of 65 are alive now. That was the text of the bank ad on the mall wall that accosted me when I came out of the subway. A startling statistic, but apparently true.

in 1881, when  Otto von Bismarck set the retirement age at 70, life expectancy in Europe and North America was in the low 60s – statistically few people were expected to survive to retire, even when retirement age was eventually lowered to 65.

Now it’s very different – in the western world life expectancy hovers around 80.

What to do with all those years?

(The title of this post is Alice’s question to the Cheshire cat in “Through the Looking Glass”)