The biggest determining factor in fat loss is caloric intake. If you consume less than your body needs, it will take the energy from fat stores.
-- To summarize this system: Get enough sleep, do intense exercise where you really sweat for 50+ minutes at least 5 times a week, eat a few small balanced meals daily, eat a decent sized breakfast and taper off the size of your meals as the day goes on, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, eat enough protein and good fat, avoid starches and sweets, eat when you're hungry and don't eat when you're not, fight cravings for 15 minutes and they'll fade, gain support from understanding friends and family, and remember to enjoy life.
-- An even shorter version: Eat good food, avoid bad food and big meals, get enough sleep and exercise, enjoy life.
The Long Version:
0) This way of eating is the only one that's worked for me; but it's not for everyone. It's based mostly upon my own experiences; supplemented by some books I've read. I recommend that you do the same. Have faith in your own feelings and listen to your body's good common sense. Ask advice from people you know. Keep an ear out for medical literature that might seem worthwhile. Read books and see if they speak to you. I've gotten the most personal value out of "Potatoes Not Prozac" By Kathleen DesMaisons, "The No Grain Diet" by Joseph Mercola, "The South Beach Diet" by Arthur Agatston, "Wake Up I'm Fat!" By Camryn Manheim, the writings of Andrew Weil, and 3FatChicks.com. Find whatever works for you and stick with it.
1) Cardio - Cardiovascular exercise and healthy eating are the basic foundations of any attempt at fat loss. Aim for at least 50 minutes of continuous cardiovascular exercise 5 days a week where you really sweat, where you raise your heart rate. If you can talk but can't sing, that's a good rule of thumb. I've been told that it's best to do do this early in the morning before your first meal. I suspect that's true, but really the only important thing is to find a time that's convenient for you, then stick with it. Once you make a habit out of exercise you enjoy it'll become second nature. Remember to warm up a little, then stretch, then get started.
2) Resistance Training & Stretching - Resistance training & stretching can both help fat loss. Resistance training will increase your lean body mass, which will automatically burn more calories throughout the day. You need to resistance train at least twice a week for this to be worthwhile. Remember to warm up a little first and stretch afterwards. Yoga and other forms of stretching will allow you to recover faster from your workouts, leaving you refreshed so you don't get burned out.
3) "Safe" Carbohydrates - Carbohydrates are the human body's primary fuel source, as well necessary for brain cell maintainance. Get your carbs first from fruits & vegetables. In fact you can eat as much as you want of these, and should have at least some with every meal. Try to eat at least one salad and two fruits a day (1 apple + 1 orange = 2 fruits). Don't overload on really sweet or starchy fruits (such bananas or citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits), and eat them with some protein or fat if possible.
4) "Tricky" Carbohydrates - Your second carbohydrate source should be whole grains such as brown rice or whole wheat bread. But you have to be conservative with these, since the starch in them creates sugar cravings, which often get mistaken for hunger pangs. If you overload on grains like I did--whole grain on otherwise--you often can't tell the difference between cravings and real hunger. You'll naturally overeat. For me, I've found that 4-6 servings of grains a day is about right. That's not much once you consider that 1/2 cup of cooked (non-instant) oatmeal, or two slices of whole-grain bread, or 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice are all 4 servings right there. Also, space out your grains so you don't eat all the servings at once. And don't eat them alone, eat some protein with them if possible.
4) "Bad" Carbohydrates - Be careful with whole grains, and avoid if at all possible refined carbohydrates that have been heavily processed, sweetened, or fattened; such as donuts, biscuits, pastries, wonder bread, rice cakes, instant oatmeal, popcorn, white rice, most pastas etc. The refined nature of the starch in these foods increases the sugar cravings they can cause. Overload on these and you'll start eating them constantly, like I did. At my peak, 12 bagels a day was 11 bagels too many.
5) Protein - The body needs protein for growth, tissue repair, normal body function, and the prevention of disease. Most adults need about about a little more than half gram of protein for every pound of body weight, or something like that. If you get your protein from non-animal sources make sure to get enough complete protein. If you get your protein from animal sources make sure to avoid the load of saturated fat and salt that often accompanies it. Also, remember good carbs like fruits and vegetables should come first.
6) Fat - The body needs fat for vitamin absorption, stored energy, insulation, to pad organs, and all sorts of things. It also helps one feel satisfied after a meal. Avoid animal or dairy fat when possible, and eat enough good fat, mostly unsaturated fat. Nuts are good, olive oil is good. (I eat about a jar of peanut butter every two weeks. I'm not sure if that's the right amount). Again, focus on good carbs first.
7) Mix - The body needs all three carbohydrates, protein, and fat in a good ratio. Try to eat at least a little bit of each in each meal. I have no idea what that is. I'm guessing mine is roughly 1/3 of my calories from each.
8) Sugar - It's much easier to avoid sugar cravings if you avoid sugar itself in all its forms. That means no sugar, no corn syrup, no grape juice concentrate, no brown rice syrup, no maple syrup, etc. Honey doesn't seem to be as bad, but be conservative.
9) Fiber - For some reason fiber seems to help with weight loss. I've found that a grain food's fiber content can indicate--roughly--how healthy it is.
10) Processed Food - As little processed food as possible (no lunchables, no powerbars, no powdered drinks).
11) Cravings & Hunger - Cravings usually pass after about 15-30 minutes. So if you are like Pooh Bear and often get cravings or feel like you "could eat a little something," try waiting a half hour. The feelings should subside until you truly need to eat. If you just really want to eat something, try something small and healthy like a carrot or a few almonds. It's okay to go to sleep a little hungry, but it's not necessary.
12) Habit Snacks - Impulse eating or eating out of habit can add up quickly. Learn to recognize hunger pangs and eat to satisfy them. Also be mindful of eating just because you traditionally eat at that time of day or there is food available.
13) Breakfast - It may seem like common sense to skip meals when you want to lose weight, but this often has the opposite effect. If your body can't get the energy it needs from food it will compensate. It will reduce your metabolism to conserve energy, hoard fat in case of famine, and convert muscle mass into fuel. And it will encourage you to have giant meals when you do eat. If nothing else, you will probably feel hungry most of the time, making it impossible to do this long-term without becoming miserable and/or very unhealthy. You will lose "weight," but it will be mostly water and muscle mass. Once you stop skipping meals the pounds will come back on. Eat breakfast!
14) Tapering off your meals - So you have a decent sized breakfast. You shouldn't be as hungry in the afternoon. And then as your day starts to wind down you should be even less hungry in the evening. So I try to eat a small meal in the afternoon and then eat as little as possible in the evening. The idea is to create hunger the next morning. Or at least make sure you're hungry. If you are never hungry, how do you know if you need to eat? I find that if I am consistently really hungry in the morning, if I look forward to breakfast, that's when I know I am losing weight. If I'm really hungry at night, I of course eat something, but I try to avoid eating more than I have to. If I eat a big meal, then I often don't feel that hungry the next morning, but eat breakfast anyway.
15) Meal Size - Eat small meals often instead of a giant meal rarely. Big meals will affect your blood sugar and make you feel sluggish and drowsy. You'll eventually get used to the feeling and associate it with fullness. And it'll stretch your stomach so you'll need more food to feel full. And the human body can't fully utilize the fuel from a big meal and will convert the excess to fat stores. Make sure you have healthy options easily available. That will make it much easier to avoid unhealthy foods during your small meals.
16) Hidden Sugar - You'd be surprised how many food products have sugar, corn syrup, or some other derivative as a major ingredient. Check if you don't know for sure.
17) Wine & Coffee - Some studies I've seen say avoid all alcohol and caffeine. Others say drinking a little of both in moderation, such as half a glass of wine with dinner and one cup of coffee with breakfast, may actually help. In any event, if you do drink them do so sparingly.
18) Bedtime - Nothing to eat past about three hours before you go to bed.
19) Sleep - Make sure to get enough of it. If you're overtired the body will naturally want to replenish itself through food. If you have to drag yourself out of bed when you hear the alarm, then you're not getting enough sleep. A nap during the day isn't a bad idea.
20) Rest - Take time for yourself as often as you need it.
21) Water - Drink a reasonable amount of water, perhaps 8-10 glasses a day, but don't go overboard.
22) "Diet" & "Exercise" - It's impossible to consistently eat food or engage in exercise that you dislike. If you don't enjoy your menu or your exercise activities then tamper with them until you do. Try to vary the food you eat every so often so you don't get bored. For exercise you can try jogging, biking, swimming, dancing, aerobics, ice skating, tennis, soccer, basketball, fast-paced walking, climbing stairs, and all kinds of other things. I like to ride a stationary bike and watch TV so I stay entertained.
23) Treats - Delicious but unhealthy foods can be a real temptation. Often attempts to forever avoid unhealthy foods fail because people inevitably give in, usually more often than they realize. In contrast, planning the occasional treat a little in advance will make you more conscious of it, and give you something to look forward to. As you eat healthier you may also gradually realize that your tastes have changed and you don't enjoy your old guilty pleasures as much anymore.
24) "Setbacks" - Have eaten just a smidgen of a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, then just a little bit more, and a little bit more? And eventually you found that you've eaten almost half of it? So you eat the rest because you might as well anyway? I've done this several times. Or have you just felt tired and depressed after a stressful event, so you skip your exercise routine for a few days? I've done that too. If you think of yourself as on a temporary "diet," these seem like setbacks and may discourage you. If you think of yourself as trying to gradually change your overall lifestyle, they seem less important. Tomorrow is another day and you have the rest of your life open to you. Besides, my human body is only one part of who I am. It may be unhealthy for my body to pig out on B&J and watch movies, but sometimes it seems to soothe my soul. I'll take the occasional trade-off.
25) Eating - Over the last decade I have gradually trained myself to eat quickly. It seems like I rarely have luxury of time and have to wolf my meals down so I can get on to my next appointment or task. Eating rapidly may not give your body time to respond to the meal you just ate, and so you will overeat before you even realize that you're full. Eat your food slowly, that alone will also help feeling satisfied with your meal.
26) Supplements - Most diet pills, treatments, creams are worthless. They simply don't work. The system I use is an attempt to encourage the body to eat less while eating a healthy diet. Really, it's just "eat right and exercise." I've found a multi-vitamin to be helpful, and everything else to be a waste of money.
27) Goals - Set small goals at first, and set them for behavior, not weight loss. Whenever I start on my healthy lifestyle again I resolve to first get up early and get on the exercise bike. Then I resolve to stay on for a whole hour. Then I resolve to eat a salad every day. Then to eat sweets like ice cream or pasta only occasionally. Then to start lifting weights 3 times a week, etc. I know if I try to do it all at once I'll fail, but if I move gradually and keep at it, eventually I'll achieve my goal: be healthier and happier.
28) "Weight" - How much you weigh can depend upon the time of day, the day of the month, whether you have eaten recently, etc. If you are resistance training you will gain muscle too, maintaining your weight and masking body fat loss. Avoid constantly weighing yourself. Focus instead on how your clothes fit over time, and how much your weight changes over time. Once a month might be a good schedule to weigh yourself. Losing 4-6 pounds a month is a good pace. Sudden weight loss, such as 7 pounds in a week or 30 pounds in a month is unhealthy. This means that you've lost mostly water or muscle mass, both of which you need to lose body fat.
29) Support - Share your attempts to lose weight with others who will support you. This can be an invaluable aid to help you perserve through a very challenging experience. I have found that the only people who can truly empathize with you and offer practical advice are those who are also trying to lose weight. Attending a support group or informally creating one of your own can really help.
30) Plateaus - You will have plateaus where your weight remains steady for some time. The human body will gradually adjust to increased exercise and reduced food instake. This is to be expected. You will have to respond in kind. Your exercise periods will have to slowly increase in intensity while you adhere to a plan of small meals made up of good carbohydrates, enough protein, and good fat. After a while this should all become second nature. I enjoy my time on the exercise bike, and I like all the food I eat.
31) Friends & Colleagues - The one thing I really struggle with is the social pressure involved in eating or drinking with people I know. I enjoy cosmopolitans, chocolate truffles, pasta, chocolate chip cookies, ice cream, hamburgers, etc. When I'm around others who are drinking a lot or having pizza for dinner it's hard to say no. I wish I better controlled what I eat when I go out, but I still don't. It's hard.
32) Happiness - Living to lose weight is exhausting for even the most disciplined person. The added stress of "dieting" can make it almost impossible. Sometimes it seems like my life is ruled by food. Changing your target body from a thin one to a healthier & happier one should help you in variety of ways. It will reduce the stress that arises from trying to lose body fat. It will help you realize that healthy doesn't necessarily mean thin. It points out the fact that life is a many splendored thing; obsessing on a thin body will blind you to the world's beauty and eventually consume your soul. Enjoying life will help you become thinner over time anyway.
Life is too short to be small.