Getting the body of your dreams is 80 per cent nutrition, 20 per cent training. It’s true that you cannot out train a bad diet. If you want to get leaner, you have to eat right. But how exactly do you eat right? Most people are confused and with good reason.

For every reliable piece of information available, there are a hundred stinkers. Consumerism is the main problem (sorry to get political!) Corporations need to sell products and the media need the corporations’ money. Therefore, they will do everything in their power to convince you to spend your hard earned cash on the latest herbal tablets/meal replacement shakes/slimming bars to help you lose half a stone in three days.

Unfortunately there are no quick fixes. Gimmicky diets are big business but, if you want to be leaner, happier and richer, you must follow a sensible nutrition plan you can stick to – for life.

How, when and what you eat depends on individual goals/lifestyle and body type. Everyone has different ideas about diet and if you’ve found a nutrition plan that works for you, great! However, I remember the days when I desperately wanted to make the right food choices, but found myself poring over restaurant menus or scanning supermarket aisles not knowing what would help me achieve my health and body composition goals. I’ll talk more about nutrition in the coming weeks, but these few basic rules have helped me stay lean and satisfied and ended my obsession with dieting.

  1. Eat real food. If it comes in a packet, it’s probably no good. Convenience food is packed with salt, additives, sugar and sugar’s evil twin glucose syrup. This processed sweetener is addictive, full of empty calories and has played a key role in rising obesity since it was introduced as a cheap bulking ingredient by the U.S government in the 1970s. Other nasties found in convenience foods include monosodium glutamate, trans fats and E numbers. Food manufacturers are a crafty lot and these nasties go by many pseudonyms. If you want to know exactly what is in your next meal, prepare it from scratch.
  2. Calories count. Too much fuel equates to fat storage irrespective of whether that fuel comes from chicken or cake. Boring as it sounds, you need to keep tabs on your calorie intake, from the milk in your tea to the extra portion of vegetables at dinner. This does not mean resorting to starvation diets. A good rule of thumb is to eat 14 to 16 calories per pound of body weight for maintenance or 11 to 13 calories for fat loss. If you have a particularly active lifestyle, you should aim for the upper end of the scale. For example, I weigh 125lbs (57kg), so I’d eat 1,750 to 2,000 calories per day if I wanted to maintain my weight or 1,375 to 1,625 if I wanted to lose fat.
  3. Eat enough protein. Protein is absolutely vital for building and preserving muscle. Depending on your activity levels, you need between 0.6 and 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. A portion of protein with every meal will keep you fuller for longer and optimise the growth and repair of muscle tissue. Top protein sources are meat, dairy and eggs. Vegetarians should opt for legumes, nuts and high-protein vegetables such as peas, broccoli and spinach.
  4. Eat a balanced diet. Your body needs a variety of nutrients for overall body function. As a rough guide, your daily diet might comprise 50 per cent carbohydrate, 30 per cent protein and 20 per cent fats. Carbohydrate is not the enemy of fat loss. This essential macronutrient provides energy and helps control weight. However, there are goodies and baddies. The majority of carbohydrate intake should come from unprocessed sources such as oats, sweet potatoes and rice. Processed junk like white bread, breakfast cereals and baked goods should be avoided. Healthy fats such as those found in meat, dairy, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds help your body absorb other nutrients and nourish the nervous system.
  5. Don’t diet! If you want a shortcut to misery, frustration and weight gain, go on a diet. Cut calories too far and your body will fight back with disastrous results for your waistline. Our ancient ancestors had to last long periods without food and our bodies became hard-wired for survival. When food was scarce, our bodies adapted to decrease energy expenditure and food-seeking behaviour. This starvation response may have worked to ensure the survival of man, but with today’s sedentary lifestyles and wide availability of food, the starvation response is less helpful. Drastically cutting calories slows your metabolism and increases cravings. Thus, the joyous merry-go-round of yo-yo dieting begins. Your body may even turn to muscle for energy which slows your metabolism even further as muscle burns more than fat. Whatever happened to the Rosemary Conley Slimmer of the Year 1992? God knows, but I bet she isn’t wearing those size 8 jeans any more.