6 Signs Sugar is Ruining You & What To Do About It

Did you know vending machines are banned in France? Even if you answered “yes,” how about that Hungary is installing a program to increase water consumption in schools? Mexico also has a soda tax and the Netherlands is promoting a fruit and vegetables program in school. But why? Ever since the World Health Organization’s sugar guideline recommended that adults and children should limit their sugar intake to less than 10 percent of their total energy intake—countries have gone to great lengths to cut the cravings.

Let’s break it down—to achieve the WHO’s standard, you must reduce your sugar intake to 12.5 teaspoons of sugar per day. Dr. Holly Willis, a registered dietitian nutritionist and program director of nutrition and dietetics at St. Catherine University, says, “The current Dietary Guidelines for American's suggest that people consume less than 10 percent of their calories from sugar.  This means for a person eating 2,000 calories per day, they should aim for less than 200 calories from added sugar.”

One regular can of soda contains 10 teaspoons, and one Hershey’s chocolate bar contains about 5 teaspoons of sugar. If you’re like us—you’re currently mentally tallying your drinks and snacks throughout the day. But before you freak—ask yourself—are these common entries in your daily food log? Or just your ~monthly~ sugar craze.

Can’t decide—or not willing to admit it? Here are six signs that your sugar intake is getting out of hand.

1. You feel totally drained

You’re not a little kid anymore. You can’t take those pixie stix before recess and then crash in your designated naptime spot. You have school, work and probably a few extracurriculars that don’t include curling up on a sofa.

Annie Lawless, creator of Blawnde.com, a certified holistic health coach and co-founder of Suja Juice, says, “Sugar causes a spike in our blood sugar, which then causes swings in our energy levels.” She recommends eliminating the processed sugars in your daily diet, and finding natural sugar alternatives. “For example, I have made a raw cacao bark, which hits my chocolate craving but doesn't leave me with the high-sugar intake,” says Lawless.

Some tips? Ditch the yogurt and fruit combo cups—start with plain yogurt and slice your own fruit to cut those additional sugary teaspoons. When you’re properly fueled and free from an impending sugar crash—ditch the indoors and take a stroll through the park or a nice jog around the neighborhood. Oftentimes to beat that lethargy you need to amp up your workout routine!

2. Your workouts are getting harder—and shorter

Has your mile count gone from four to two? Not getting as many flights in on the stair master? Chalk it up to sugar—and those pesky sports drinks.

According to Julie Corliss, executive editor of the Harvard Heart Letter, sugar-sweetened beverages like Powerade and Gatorade—which claim to replenish our electrolytes and energize our tired bodies—are a double-edged sword. They spike our blood sugar in the short term but then deflate our energies later on.

The sugar contained in the sports drinks and energy chews we take before workouts are “empty calories," that lack fiber, vitamins or any other necessary minerals to truly revitalize the body in the long term.

Life is a marathon—not a sugar-induced sprint. Take the time to fuel your body the right way. An ideal pre-workout meal mixes both simple carbohydrates and protein—so opt for a Greek yogurt and banana and you’ll be well on your way to mile six, seven or even eight.

3. You’re breaking out

It’s winter and the second semester is starting back up—which means snow clouds and stress. Don’t let your sugar intake add to the reasons why you’re breaking out.

Sugar spikes insulin levels in the body and when insulin levels rise, so do the amount of whiteheads. Stay away from foods like white bread, sweetened cereals (say goodbye to those Lucky Charms) and pasta that the body breaks down quickly. The faster the foods break down the higher the levels of insulin—and the higher your dermatologist bill will be.

Keri Glassman, celebrity nutritionist and contributing author in partnership with Healthline.com’s Break Up with Sugar Campaign, admits to the challenges of breaking that mid-afternoon chocolate craving. So how do we starve off these urges and the messy side effects of the sugar overload? Keri says, “Pack your meals with protein, which helps you stay satisfied longer and ward off those sugar cravings. But make sure you are eating enough throughout the day. I recommend snacks such as nuts, slices of turkey or plain, full-fat Greek yogurt topped with hemp seeds.”

Related: 50 Years Ago the Sugar Industry Paid Off Scientists to Blame Fat for Health Problems

4. You’re never truly full—despite the bloat

You’re hungry, but, you haven’t eaten much today other than some Lay’s potato chips, Starbucks’ red velvet cupcakes, a yogurt and two scones—and some Chipotle. But according to Amy Schumer, that stuff goes right through you. Are you bloated—but still starving? Chances are you’re indulging in some serious empty sugar calories.

Sugar causes your body’s blood sugar levels to rise and large amounts of insulin to be released. Keri confirms sugar’s inability to satisfy hunger, but rather increase those cravings—she says, “Your body gets accustomed to being fueled with a high level of sugar, so when you consume less, you feel out of sorts — which causes you to reach for more sugar. This is bad news because changes in blood sugar can disrupt sleep, cause increased consumption of calories, and lead to fatigue.”

Basically, those potato chips that you thought would satisfy the hunger just increased your cravings! No wonder you can never have one chip.

For Kristen Van Buren, a student at High Point, when her sugar intake is too high, she says, “I would feel bloated but not full and I would also have energy spikes throughout the day.” A helpful tip to stay healthy and full—an apple a day can help keep the hunger away. The fiber and water from the fruit help weaken those pesky cravings before your next meal!

5. Your clothes are getting tighter

It’s time to face the facts—the wiggle-and-tug dance you’ve been doing to pull on your Levi’s is looking more and more absurd. It’s best to pinpoint the source of the weight gain. Our bet—along with the American Heart Association—is on sugar.

According to the AHA, Americans have steadily increased their intake of added sugars over the past 30 years. The nationwide sugar craze has resulted in an “obesity epidemic.” You see, sugar offers us all the calories and zero of the nutrients needed for a strong and lean body. Seems like a pretty unfair trade to us.

Dr. Willis says, “Too much sugar can lead to excess calorie intake, which can lead to weight gain. Someone who is overweight or who is gaining weight should look at their caloric intake and assess excesses (sugar is surely one possible culprit).”

So, don’t play into sugar’s manipulative hand. The taste of the Snickers bar or a cup of soda lasts a total of five minutes—but the satisfaction of a healthy body will last you well past the time those Levi’s are too worn to wear.

Samantha Burke, a recent graduate of Siena College says, “I went from always having juice or soda when I was thirsty to drinking mostly water all day every day—and it helped a lot with maintaining my weight!” Samantha recommends carrying around a personal Brita bottle (or a S’well of the like) and refilling it throughout the day.

6. You’re feeling especially scrooge-like

Bah-humbug. You’re feeling pessimistic and you don’t know why. We’re here to help you make sense of the inexplicable gloom.

We’ve stressed the deficiencies of sugar in your body’s nutrients department. Dr. Willis says, “Nutritionists might call this nutrient displacement because the sugar foods can displace foods that might contain beneficial nutrients.” As empty calories come in with nothing beneficial to show for it, Dr. Willis explains you might feel an overall “cruddy” feeling. “Whenever someone says they don't feel well or don't feel they have the energy or mood they used to, it's a good idea to take a look their diet as a whole.”

Dr. Willis stresses the importance of sugar in consideration with the larger picture of your diet as a whole. That being said—you should tailor your diet to what works best for your daily schedule, your exercise regiment and most importantly, your tastebuds.

“Some people might do really well choosing some portioned controlled sizes of their favorite sugar foods. For example, the mini-mini candy bars. Choosing to have a little of what they really want might be better than trying to find a ‘healthy’ food that tastes sweet but isn't satisfying.  Other people may benefit more from finding their favorite sweet fruits that can satisfy a craving,” Dr. Willis says.

Like most things in life—sugar is okay in moderation. We’ve all been there when that pint of Ben & Jerry’s is calling our names after a long day. Just be careful that pint doesn’t turn into a gallon—and an occasional treat doesn’t become a habit.

Keri agrees that an occasional indulgence of a sugary snack is OK—just don't let those cravings control you. Keri encourages you: "Envision your future self with more energy, better skin, less bloating, a clearer mind and a stronger immune system—all benefits of dramatically lowering your sugar intake."

Sugar is sweet—but a healthy lifestyle is sweeter.