Is Your Liver Mad At You?

winding path in the greenery

If you have headaches, especially migraines, you have probably searched online more than once looking for relief. Lately I’ve been listening to how people talk about their headaches, and I’ve discovered I am not the only one who describes the whole-body malaise as “I feel like I’m being poisoned.”

That’s your liver talking. At least, I’ve come to see it that way. The liver works constantly to manage toxins and determine what to do with the fat in your body. Most people, even people with seemingly healthy diets, consume plenty of toxins, alongside a fair amount of stress which affects our body chemistry and the liver. One of the liver’s main jobs is releasing fat. “Hm! Better pay attention to that,” I thought. I’ve been on a plateau for a long time, and I wanted to jog some new activity in my metabolism. If that’s possible.

So here’s what I’m doing about it. I’ve refreshed my memory about some of the foods that the liver loves and that help the liver do a better job. Happily, they are the same foods I need for maintaining a healthy relationship with sugar. These are the ones I’m focused on right now:

Cruciferous veggies
Green leafy veggies (read: KALE)
B vitamins
Flaxseed oil
Warm water with lemon (every morning)
Milk thistle in pill form

All that focus brought me to a simple lentil recipe. I’m making a lentil soup, using French green lentils, adding garlic and dinosaur kale and shitake mushrooms, and seasoning it with turmeric and curry.

Let’s see if I can make friends with my liver again. You know, when you fall off your routine, at some point you can just climb back on. Join me. Let’s stay strong and lean and healthy.

Suzanna Stinnett

p.s. While I was composing this post, I snacked on a carrot dipped into fresh almond butter with some flaxseed oil mixed into it. That was yummy! Liver. Happy.

Here is The Sugar Divorce. It will get you way down the road toward a new level of fitness and body-love.

Sugar Divorce for nook.003

Sugar Confusion

Perfect Burned Marshmallows on a stick

Fructose, glucose, corn syrup, cane sugar, you name it. Sugar is definitely making mainstream news. It is now standing naked in the bright light, giving us a very good chance to make new choices. But there is only one message we need to hear, and I can see how all these different labels on sugar are confusing the issue. See that photo of perfectly burned marshmallows? Even though I haven’t eaten marshmallows in a jillion years, this was part of my childhood and it literally makes me drool to look at it. Good old brain, just doing the job it is designed to do.

Eating less sugar will help you lose weight, feel stronger, live longer, and think more clearly. Eating less sugar is the only message we need to hear, way down deep in our brains. The goal is to flatten your insulin curve, avoiding the spikes that lead directly to all the most common diseases.

We are a nation addicted to sugar, and addiction is your brain twisting the truth. Confusion is one of the brain’s tricks for getting what it wants. What it wants is sugar. The way out of this trap is to listen to one message above all: Reduce your sugar intake. Is that message bothering you? Well, that’s your brain twisting the message again. Good. You’re getting closer to making a very healthy change. About two years ago I began my journey toward being much healthier for the rest of my life. Understanding how my brain sneaks in the sugar was the first and most important step. It remains the biggest challenge, right alongside being motivated to get enough exercise. In The Sugar Divorce and the two resources I’ve published, I explain how I shifted my lifestyle, learning to approach food with a new understanding.

melted marshmallow with graham cracker chocolate and baconS’MORE CONFUSION
How is that photo treating you? Maybe you didn’t roast marshmallows as a kid. Maybe you had S’mores. You know who you are, you’ll be putting together the ingredients for this in your toaster oven soon after looking at this pic. (Don’t miss the fact that this one has bacon on it, friends.) This is the addiction breaking point for lots of Boomers who took their kids camping and made this combo part of the love. It’s a family thing. So is obesity.

If you’re part of the crowd who finds all this gloppy sugar really gross, well, that’s probably a good thing. But if you still wonder about your sugar intake, let’s talk about wheat. And fruit. If it drives up your insulin, you have a problem. Wheat drives insulin higher than sugar. Yep, freaky. The hybrid created to “feed the world” which we are all now consuming every day is a monster. Fruit is wonderful, now, don’t get me wrong, of course fruit is on the healthy side. But how much? And what kind? Don’t tell me you’re having a nice healthy bagel for breakfast with a glass of orange juice. And a banana? Heaven help us. Your insulin is catapulting straight into the land of disease. We have a problem.

When I set out on the experimental journey to flatten my insulin curve (that is the holy grail for fitness) I wrote out the agony and the ecstasy over the first three weeks. The first thing that happens when sugar (and wheat) is dramatically cut out of your diet is a lot of brain adjustment. The good news is it happens faster than you might think. That “cheat day” was very helpful the first months, although I no longer need it.

My body changed significantly. Even with the ups and downs in the two years that followed, those first weeks gave me something I had never even dreamed I would accomplish. I am stronger, lighter, leaner, and far healthier than I was ten years ago. It’s still a journey. Want to come along?


heart of strawberries for Sugar Divorce cover

*What does wheat have to do with it? Fact: Wheat drives your insulin higher than sugar. Yep. The bagel, the toast, the muffin. Read more in

The Sugar Divorce, Accept No Substitutes, and Sister Island.

Cereal Killers? Grains are not your friend

sugar divorce ebook cover

What I’m going to tell you
I know some of my readers are looking at the screen right now with eyes narrowed and fingers on the mouse or touchpad or whatever, ready to jump right off this post. I know because I know I’m not alone in feeling irritable about the bouncing ball of nutritional information we’ve endured the past few decades.

So let’s come together a little bit right now. I use a simplified formula to talk about what we need to do to help our bodies burn fat and move ever further from the overconsumption of sugar. It goes like this: elevated insulin levels make fat stick around. I concentrate on refining my lifestyle in the direction of a flat-lined insulin level.

What do grains have to do with this? Think grains are healthy? Why wouldn’t you. We have a problem here.

Why I am telling you this
If you’ve read The Sugar Divorce you know I am not a person who can stick to any extreme kind of food plan. I never will be that person. Sometimes a reader comes along and shows open disgust with what they see as a frivolously undisciplined approach to weight loss goals. They’re wrong. I think highly disciplined people are the exception, not the rule, and I’m writing for a readership who has spent some time at the end of their rope, like I have.

So about those grains. There are so many foods I love and will always crave. This craving that doesn’t go away is the norm for many people, possibly the majority. Our brains want what feels good, and grains have done a good job of comforting and juicing up some good brain chemicals. We will always want more of that.

The reason I want to get as close to the truth as possible where grains are concerned is that this information helps me make choices. When I get clear on the extreme damage I’m doing by consuming something I thought was healthy, I can back away from it more often. Now for the simplified truth about grains.

Stop picking on those poor grains
On my Official Suzanna Scale of one to ten, ten being spectacularly healthy, wheat is sitting around the 2.1 mark. It’s a poor substitute for everything else. Even sugar, in some cases, is better for you than wheat. Wait! Wait! Don’t leave yet!

Here in the U.S. we live with a monstrously hybridized wheat which drives your insulin higher than sugar. And most of the time our wheat products also have plenty of sugar added.

Any talk about nutrition that leaves out this fact is doing you a disservice. Whole grain toast for breakfast? Sorry. You just put your insulin level on the launching pad and pressed the red button.

Lots of other grains
Yes, yes, there are so many to choose from. No, they’re not all the same. But they all live in the sugar corral together, driving up your insulin. Quinoa is better in some ways but many people cannot tolerate it. Gluten-free products made with rice flour, tapioca flour, corn and soy should be used with great discretion. Occasional. I’ve seen some flours made from coconut and other nuts. These may be a bit better in terms of driving insulin levels.

How non-disciplined people keep their insulin levels flat
This may sound like discipline to you, and maybe it is. I have been trying something new. The first three weeks of each month, I keep wheat out of my diet almost 100%. I say almost because I do fall off the wagon and have a small amount, almost every month, about the fifteenth day. That’s my pattern. But I go right back to my rule and wait until the 21st of the month. At that point, I am free to eat wheat. So far, I’ve only eaten wheat for a day or two, and been satisfied enough (and grossed out enough by my bloated belly) to stay away from it even though I am giving myself a whole week of wheat-eating. This seems to keep two or three pounds of bloat off my body. I am not strong-willed enough to avoid other grains while I’m being strict about wheat, but I’m aware. I think if I could push corn out of my daily life the way I’m pushing wheat out, I’d see more weight loss.

It’s a long journey of awareness and slow-slow-slow change. If you’re not getting the weight loss and fat loss results you’re hoping for, take a look at your grain consumption. I still eat them, as you can see, but with eyes wide open to the fact that grains are not simply benign, healthy foods.

Keep your foods as varied as you can, and watch out for the cereal killers! Read my short book, The Sugar Divorce, to see how one 50-something non-athlete can use slow-carb and short exercises to get healthy and strong.

Suzanna Stinnett
The Sugar Divorce
sugar divorce ebook cover

Interesting articles on how wheat turned bad. I agree with some of these statements.

Sweet realizations: Maintaining weightloss while living life

two people's hands touching the nose of a baby whale
If only blubber was as normal for me as it is for these adorable whales.

I think it finally happened. I went on a road trip and lost touch with my fat-burning, muscle-building, brain-expanding lifestyle.

Over the past year many people have asked me if I was sticking to “the plan.” Yes! I told them. But this funny thing happened. I could call it ‘being human’ and that would not be inaccurate. More specifically, my body did what all our bodies do: it fought to maintain the status quo, which means my cells are trying to return to the higher weight and fat level. The level I maintained for over fifteen years.

After returning from an amazing trip to Baja to see mom and baby whales up close, I had to admit that the one pair of shorts I had kept from the “old days” was now fitting me again.

Don’t be discouraged! I’ll say that to you as well as the girl in the mirror. This didn’t happen overnight. I had stopped doing the exercises and started having a little bit of dessert here and there. It took a month or two for it to sneak back in. But it won’t take that long for me to turn it around — I’m betting.

Two days after returning from my trip I had dropped the bloat from my short wheat-eating binge. Upping the exercises again, (which means three or four 90 second sessions a day, big whoop), my thigh muscles immediately shrank a bit and my jeans are already more comfortable.

The system works. The only flaw is that you have to do it. Isn’t that just like life?

Bottom line: 12 months into the slow-carb lifestyle I was still keeping 18 pounds off. Four pounds crept back on while I was behaving badly and ignoring the rules. If you know the statistics on keeping weight off, you know as well as I do: Not a bad score!

Oh, and one p.s. here. On the trip, I was flying in a small plane, hiking into a little town in Baja, and generally trucking around carrying luggage and doing things I don’t do every day. I noticed a huge difference in my overall energy level, strength and stamina compared to a year ago. (My boyfriend was so pleased.) Divorcing sugar makes life more lively!

Join us as we teach our bodies how to be healthy and strong with a whole lot less sugar.


book cover with a heart made of strawberries

Away from home and staying fit

rolling surf on a beach with green cliffs around
I’m in the midst of a longish writing retreat, staying in a friend’s house near the Mendocino cliffs and surf. Yes, these cliffs and this surf.

While I’ve got this superb opportunity to laser in on my micronovels, I don’t want to be distracted several times a day figuring out the food scene. I also want to feel good and keep my brain sharp, so flaking out on the food plan isn’t really an option. Besides, I love these foods.

How am I handling that? Back to the basics, with veggie / legume / protein stews that are good for dinner and great with an egg cooked on top for breakfast. They take very little time, and I get three or four servings from each stew. This morning I had the last of a chicken-broth-based soup, made with green French lentils, spinach, brussels sprouts, onion, carrots, and a little chicken. I just heated it in a small pot after cracking an egg (ooo! double yolk!) right into the middle of it and putting the lid on.

Keeping up with the squats and wall push-offs has been a little harder, I admit. I seem to have a day on and a day off. Plus, my usual morning floor stretches and yoga often go by the wayside when I’m traveling. Well, there’s always something to work on, right?

In other news, I had The Sugar Divorce up on Kindle for two days in the free program. It’s still running, and I’ve seen over 3500 downloads of the book! Welcome to any and all newcomers to the wonderful world of slow carb and 90-second exercises. Be sure to follow on Twitter with the hashtag #morefit, where I posted 35 tips to keep you on track.

To your health in the new year,
Suzanna Stinnett

@Brainmaker on Twitter

Nuts for the Holidays

dog in front of christmas tree in the sixties
Seriously folks. The days — and evenings — of November and December can present a major challenge to our slow-carb resolve.

I want to enjoy some treats and not feel like a party pooper at every potluck, but I don’t want to wake up with a sugar hangover either. There’s a middle path in there somewhere and that’s what I’m going for.

Nuts get me out of a lot of jams, especially when I’m on the road or I know I won’t be eating on my regular routine.

So I’ll have on hand my favorite nuts: Raw pecans, cashews with tamari or some other interesting seasoning, and the lower-salt mix from Trader Joe’s that has macadamia nuts in it. When I’m really noshing for something sweet with my morning coffee or tea (I actually drink tea sometimes now!) I’ve found that a few raisins with a handful of nuts satisfies my desire for a cookie.

Actually this is standard fare. I just make sure these nutty friends come with me everywhere.

I pay close attention to my morning protein. How I start the day makes a big difference in the strength of my resolve in the afternoon. I plan to cook up a new lentil recipe and maybe a stew to have around, as I usually do.

I’ve also added an extra challenge or two to my exercise routine. Just one more round of squats or an extra 30 wall push-offs, and maybe a bit more walking.

The idea is to maintain some focus on what I know is working for me in the midst of all that sparkle and tempting sights and smells.

Then if I really go nuts, it’s not so far to make my way back.

Warmest wishes to you all,

Sister Island is here!

book cover for Sister Island with Kathy and Suzanna photos

Excited!! This is the companion book to The Sugar Divorce. Sister Island was written over the month I spent this summer with my sister, Kathy, in Duluth, Minnesota. We shared the experience of losing weight and building lean muscle using slow carbs, the 90-second exercises, and a wide variety of ways to “cheat” this system.

Kathy turned 60 in July. I continue to be awestruck by her vibrance, her energy, and now her new muscle-y arms! She’s always been my inspiration.

Sister Island contains important information about insulin and diabetes. I talked about the process of this food plan and lifestyle after a few months have gone by, what it’s like to maintain the fitness level (not that hard!) and provided a series of reminders to help us all stay on track.

Here it is on Amazon:
Sister Island


Pick One: Sugar or Beef

Cow in Sugar Cane Field in Dominican Republic

A cow in a sugar cane field in the Dominican Republic

Which do you think is worse for your body and the planet: Sugar or beef?

The collective consciousness of environmentalism has a high focus on the price we pay to eat animals, especially cows. My recent expedition into the world of sugar as I reduced my sugar intake (and made substantial gains in my health and well-being) has led me to dig deeper. For the record, I do now eat small amounts of animal protein. I’ve been a vegetarian for long stints in my life, but I now understand that my body needs animal protein. Don’t miss the “small amounts” mentioned there — it’s the point of this article.

Before we go any further, I have another question for you. Do you check your sweetened stuff while you’re shopping, to make sure it has “cane sugar” rather than “corn syrup?”

(Cane) sugar may be responsible for more biodiversity loss than any other crop, due to destruction of habitat, intensive water use, agri chemicals, and polluted wastewater discharged in production process.

The Great Barrier Reef is being destroyed by pesticides and sediment from sugar cane farms.

What you may already know: Commercial corn used for corn syrup has been found to contain toxic levels of mercury.

When I say I reduced sugar intake, I’m talking about foods that convert to sugar and/or raise insulin levels. That’s not just cane sugar and corn syrup. Fruit, too much and too often, can do it too. Potatoes, rice, and wheat are also heavy hitters. I’m being careful with all of those things. It has made a world of difference in my cognition, my weight, my energy, my strength and my mood. After a few months of much less daily sugar, I took a bite of a “cornbread muffin” in a Mexican restaurant and just about fell out of the booth onto the tile floor. Refined sugar packs a serious punch. It’s amazing how we get used to that.

When the FDA declared that there was no “conclusive evidence” that sugar was detrimental to the body in “current amounts” of intake, they estimated that Americans consumed about 40 pounds of sugar per year. Sounds like a lot. But the Dept. of Agriculture said we were consuming 75 pounds a year even then, in the ’80s. The estimate for today is — hold on to your hat — 158 pounds per year. Can you spell o-b-e-s-i-t-y?

Beef or Sugar? Of course our choices don’t boil down to sugar or beef. The strongest statements we can make — through our food choices — are about diversity and local resources. This article was fueled by my recent experiences with friends and associates who seem to think that just not eating meat is the solution to the planet’s ills. I think we need to look a little further.

Solutions are elusive in an excess of options. The American culture pushes people toward excess in everything. Produce, buy, consume, waste — all in excess. This may be the most important piece of our puzzle today: Examine your own excess. There is even an excess in efforts for sustainability — when people become closed to important information and are ultimately only reacting with emotion. What is sustainable? If you swing too hard to a restricted diet, you’ll be frustrated and unsuccessful with your plan. Preaching your chosen restrictions to others may cost you friends. One of the hardest things a human can do is scrutinize her own habits. What do you reach for when you’re not really thinking about it? Is that your excess? Is that your sugar?

What you eat is a personal choice that has a ripple effect on your world. I want to eat something sweet now and then, and I’m sure I will. Animal protein remains part of my diet, in very small amounts.

Be gentle with yourself as well as your planet. Approach your food choices with the idea that balance is attainable. Mix it up. And create space in your life to enjoy long, slow meals with loved ones and friends. There, we can continue to discover how to live without the damage of excess.

Suzanna Stinnett

for Blog Action Day 2011

Read the 2004 report by WWF “Sugar and the Environment”

How cattle farmers are responding to environmental concerns:

How the corn industry hides the mercury issue:

What sugar may really be doing to our brains – NYT Article “Is Sugar Toxic?”

Insulin is your steering wheel

INSULIN – The steering wheel toward fat or lean. You choose the direction.

What insulin controls
The hormone insulin talks to the cells of your body, telling them to hold or release fat, to use sugar you consume as energy, to use the fat as energy, and an array of other critical functions. When your diet is high in sugars, (that’s rice, corn, wheat and potatoes as well as refined sugar), your insulin levels are staying high and you are developing a dangerous cellular resistance to the important functions of insulin.

What can you do in your meal plan to avoid high blood sugar and help lower your insulin resistance?

The reason the food plan I use (which draws from Tim Ferriss’ research and from the slow-carb concept) works so well is that I stay focused on keeping my insulin levels “flatlined.”

In the beginning, and then in a less controlled way later on, this means focusing on these foods:

The visual conflict
There’s a visual conflict with the “recommended” foods we see now and have seen for decades.

When I sit down to a “food planny” meal, it looks like a serving of protein with three servings of vegetables.

In the “recommended” charts, vegetables and protein share the plate with fruits and grains.

With fruits and grains, it is too easy to make big mistakes, saturate your body with sugar, which then drives up a steep insulin spike. It’s that spike that creates a resistance to insulin. Your cells get tired of responding to the excess insulin. The cell’s receptors quit responding to it.

Let’s look at the fruits and grains. How about a nice bowl of granola with lots of mixed fruit on top? Looks healthy, doesn’t it?

Visual conflict.

One rule of thumb I’ve seen is “5 & 5.” That’s less than 5 grams of sugar and at least 5 grams of fiber, when deciding on a cereal. The average bowl of granola, at half a cup, is at least 20 grams of sugar. Add the mixed fruit and you’re pushing 50 grams or more. How about some yogurt with your granola? Yum! Typical yogurt from the grocery store will be flavored with fruit. Add another 20 grams of sugar. Now on the food plan recommended by Tim Ferriss, you wouldn’t consider grains or fruit except on your cheat day once a week. You probably know by now that I bend the rules a lot and I suggest you experiment to find the lifestyle that’s really going to work for you.

Breakfast is about the protein. On the best day, it’s also about veggies and legumes. But the protein is the critical feature. My favorite breakfast is a stew that has all three components in it, and I poach an egg and add it to my stew. Very yummy and not too time consuming, as the stew is made in advance and lasts through quite a few meals.

My little dark secret:
When I head to a cafe to write after breakfast, I always crave some sweet treat to go with my coffee. World of bad habits here. I often give in, but with a big adjustment. Now I have one small cookie or a “mini scone,” which amounts to about 1/5 the sugar I was eating in the past. Plus, I’ve already set my metabolism in motion with a food-planny breakfast. I’m stable. So the small amount of sugar has much less effect on me for the whole day.

Lunch looks like this:

I cover the plate with a bed of spinach.
I add three or four tablespoons of lentils, black beans, cannellini beans, or pintos.
Next I pile on sauteed vegetables including yellow squash, zucchini, cabbage, cauliflower, bell peppers, onions, broccoli or brussels sprouts. I will use carrots occasionally, but not as the feature vegetable. Potatoes are not on the list, although I have started including occasional sweet potatoes — just a few bites. Now comes the protein. A 3 or 4 ounce serving of turkey, chicken, fish, shrimp, beef, or pork. Eggs work too, but it’s hard to get quite enough protein just using eggs.

See what I mean? It looks like three servings of vegetables.

I eat this way all the time. A gazillion varieties, changing out the protein sources, spices, dressings, adding guacamole, tomato, cucumber, kalamata olives.

It’s very satisfying. The plate of food is daunting when I dive into it, and I almost always think “there’s no way I can eat all this.” Almost always, I clean the plate.

“It’s not healthy to avoid fruit”
Of course. I thought the same thing. Maybe you’ll do fine keeping the blueberries in the mix, but I made those early milestones by following this food plan without the fruit. I am used to eating an apple every single day of the year, so this really bothered me at first. Now, after several months getting used to the food plan, I have some apple, maybe a few strawberries or blueberries, and a string of other yummy treats through the week. I just watch the frequency and the amount. I continue to very slowly drop weight.

If you can eat these kinds of meals two or three days a week, leaving fruit out of the picture at the beginning (eat it on “cheat day!”), you will see sudden and motivating changes in your energy, your weight, and your jeans size. You are “flatlining” your insulin. That’s why the results are dramatic.

Learn more about it in The Sugar Divorce.

Suzanna Stinnett

Here’s the book on Amazon.

book cover with heart made of strawberries


Just a little more control, please

Circus bicycle balancing act

On the road
I’m away from home. Visiting my sister. To do my work, I sit in her office. Today, quite a bit of activity. I’ve put my earbuds in and am listening to Tommy Emmanuel on the Pandora app on my iPhone. Okay. Just a little bit of control. I can focus and write.

A few minutes ago I took a break and did a round of squats and push-offs in the bathroom. It dawned on me, about squat #35, when I start to feel the chemical change in my brain along with the “whew, this is hard” sensation, that these exercises give me a solid measure of control in my life.

I’ve been away from home for three weeks tomorrow. During that time, I recovered from the plane flight and the weird hostel and settled in to my comfortable surroundings at my sister’s house. I adjusted to the different foods (they have adopted most of the food plan), and the different light and air and sounds. Now, I’m starting to regain my equilibrium. Now I can push my edges a little bit.

Every time I’ve done the exercises, say before a meal in a restaurant bathroom, I felt some measure of control. I felt that I was in charge of this outcome.

Most of my adult life I have not felt much control over my fitness. Like millions of average Americans, I’ve tried here and there. Joined the gym, left the gym. Three weeks of Jazzercise (ugh). Some yoga. Tai Chi for a couple of years (that was great). Wistful thoughts about swimming, but then there’s my hair color…

Enter Tim Ferriss and his obsessive research. Thanks, Tim Ferriss. Thanks for the control you’ve introduced into my life. Wow, thank you.

That Winning Sensation
When Kathy and I were hiking around Duluth the other day, striding up a hill downtown, she commented on the workout we were getting. I said, “Yeah! This counts for one round of squats.” And that’s how I see it. Each time you jump into a 90 second workout, you’ve just gone to the gym. You’ve just done Jazzercise. Now you may think I’m exaggerating, but check it out. What Tim found was that the 90 second interval which raises your heart rate does indeed produce effects similar to or even better than a one or two hour workout. And when you do it several times a day, well, you know what I mean — if you’ve started doing this, you’re already getting results. You may see change the first week, many people do.

So when someone stretches, rubs their shoulders and says “Ah, great workout at the gym today,” you can say “Oh yeah, I enjoyed all four of my workouts yesterday. I’m shooting for five today.” And let them look at you funny.

Then go fly up a hill if you feel like it. Enjoy a little bit of control.

Suzanna Stinnett

Read about it in The Sugar Divorce

white book cover with strawberries making a heart for the sugar divorce