You want to cut back on sugar, but simply telling yourself not to eat that slice of cake or bowl of ice cream just isn’t cutting it. That’s not a shocker, since you are probably addicted (like most people). Solution: Trick your brain into wanting less sugar in the first place. Here are the surprising, scientifically-proven strategies that can do just that…

  1. Get more sleep. Following up on research that found that getting too little sleep leads to eating extra calories the next day, scientists have found that the reverse is also true: Adults who increased the amount of sleep they got each night naturally ate 10 g less sugar each day and also chose better quality foods with more protein and less fat. And they didn’t need to sleep their lives away, either: On average, they increased their nightly sleep by only 47 minutes.
  2. Practice “disidentification.” Mindfulness is a great tool for losing weight and improving diet in general, thanks to components such as awareness and acceptance, but the specific part of the practice called disidentification could have the biggest impact when you want to cut back on sugar. Mindfulness teaches you to think of your cravings as only thoughts you have—not as who you are—but with disidentification, you take it one step further and mentally distance yourself from these thoughts. According to a study published in the journal Appetite, people who used these components of mindfulness had fewer cravings for chocolate than people who used another popular technique, distraction, to avoid eating it. Ways to learn mindfulness meditation range from an app, such as Stop, Breathe & Think, to online classes from organizations such as the pioneer in the practice, the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
  3. Drink up. Dehydration can masquerade as hunger. So you might think you need a cookie when all you really need is a glass of water. If you don’t tend to drink a lot of water instinctively, set a schedule and keep it flowing.
  4. De-link caffeine and sweet beverages. A study published in The British Journal of Nutrition found that people who drank high-sugar caffeine drinks had more of them than people who drank high-sugar but caffeine-free drinks. While it doesn’t affect taste, caffeine causes a dependence that leads you to have more and more sugary beverages. You can still enjoy coffee, but skip the sugary flavored creamers and other add-ins.
  5. Avoid sugary foods and drinks that are served cold. Cold decreases your perception of all tastes, including sweetness. You don’t taste the sugar as acutely as if the food were at room temperature or warm, so you end up consuming more to scratch your sugar itch. Yes, this means you’ll eat more ice cream than a warm pudding.
  6. Be a sugar sleuth. There are 61 different named sugars that manufacturers slip into packaged foods. Some are obvious, such as high fructose corn syrup and sucrose, but others are more inscrutable such as barley malt and maltol. Check out the complete list from the University of California San Francisco. Remember, just because a food sounds healthy doesn’t mean it’s not loaded with sugar. Read the label to be sure and to keep track of your intake. For women, the smart limit is 6 teaspoons or 25 g of sugar per day, and for men, it’s 9 teaspoons or 36 g. (But those aren’t targets—they’re limits!) For easy food swaps to reduce your sugar intake, check out our infographic “Don’t Fall For These Hidden Sugar Traps.”