Forget crash dieting; it doesn't work and it makes you cranky. The problem with crash diets is that people almost always regain the weight, creating a cycle of weight-loss/weight-gain that is even unhealthier than being steadily overweight. So listen up: having a permanently lean waistline and flat abs requires a long-term commitment to a low fat, but healthy, eating plan. From now on, think of 'diet' as a general eating 'lifestyle' rather than as the thing you see Richard Simmons trying to sell you. It doesn't mean "not eating;" it means "eating right."

Be aware of your food intake

One rule of thumb is to consume carbohydrates, fat, and protein in a 55:30:15 ratio, which is to say that 55% of calorie intake should come from carbs, 30% should come from fat, and 15% should come from protein. Here's how you can calculate these percentages:

  1. Multiply the grams of carbohydrates in your meal by 4 - that's your calorie intake for carbs

  2. Multiply the grams of protein in your meal by 4 - that's your calorie intake for protein

  3. Multiply the grams of fat in your meal by 9 - that's your calorie intake for fat

  4. Add your three numbers together

  5. Divide each calorie intake number by the sum of the three numbers.

  6. Multiply each calorie intake number by 100

You will then have the amount of carbs, fat, and protein as a percentage of the amount of calories in your food serving

For instance, a meal has 40 grams of carbs, 10 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fat, and your meal has 600 calories. So:

40 x 4 = 160 g of carbs
10 x 4 = 40 g of proteins
9 x 10 = 90 g of fat

Add these together, and you get 290. Divide each individual number by 290 and multiply by 100.

Fat: 160/290 = .55 x 100 = 55%
40/290 = .14 x 100 = 14%
90/290 = .31 x 100 = 31%

So it's very close to the recommended 55%-30%-15%.

Keeping track of caloric intake should be easy enough, but some of you might be too darn busy to keep whipping out a calculator every time you want a snack. In that case, keep in mind that the recommended allowance is about 65-85 grams of fat per day. Especially stay away from saturated fat - you might as well pump lard directly into your veins. As for caloric expenditure, you can use the fact that average daily caloric expenditure varies from 1600 to 2400, depending on the amount of exercise or other physical activity you do. You may also want to try tracking your food, calories and exercise with an online tool like The Daily Plate.

The only way to lose the excess fat is to eat less fat. The rule of thumb invoked above suggests you should not eat something in which fat makes up more than 30% of its calories. Basically, that includes anything tasty. If you need some advice on specific foods, check out this list of tips.