Why is the topic of nutrition so complicated? Why do we have infinite resources at our fingertips, yet have so many question marks over how to eat properly to reach a goal?

In an age where an ever-increasing number of people have Internet access, there is a lack of quality control in the information being put forward. Fitness blogs are like Internet dating; most people are lying, misleading, completely naive or a heavy-set bearded guy named Bruce with a penchant for listening to Kenny G while rubbing oil onto his chest… I’ve digressed.

The point is, in the hustle and bustle of living your busy life, it can be very difficult to get a clear picture of how to eat. Especially when a perfectly framed picture of a hipster glass filled with organic oats, berries, banana, chia seeds, yoghurt and honey can be hash tagged #raw #organic #cleaneating #glutenfree, and yet still be a calorie-dense sugar bomb.

Additionally, it’s very easy to suffer “analysis paralysis” and never start adhering to any kind of nutritional plan until you find the perfect plan. The perfect plan doesn’t exist – in fact, the perfect plan is no plan at all! When you reach a point where you truly understand how your body reacts to different foods and have created a foundation of discipline, then the aim is to enjoy life and eat intrinsically within the boundaries of health and fitness. The only way you will reach this Jedi-level of awareness is to stick to rigid plans and start creating a personal framework. It may take months or years, but it will give you the best return on investment.

Below is a step-by-step process that has given clients and myself huge success over the years. It starts off with some fluffy stuff, but the fluffy stuff is crucial… Grab a pen and paper, a cup of joe and strap in for the long-haul. I can guarantee that following at least some, if not all, of this process will definitely assist in creating a more positive and proactive approach towards nutrition.

What is the focus of undertaking a structured nutrition plan? What do you want to improve: health? Performance? Body composition?

If you don’t have a clear priority from these three streams, that’s fine. I’m yet to meet someone who says they intend on getting fatter, slower and as unhealthy as possible – so let’s assume that there is a unified focus on improving all three simultaneously. Your priority will give context to the plan. If, for example, you have recently received news of significant hormonal issues, then your primary focus should absolutely be focused on improving health rather than on achieving a “thigh gap”.

When do you want to achieve this by? Let me give you a hint – “some time” is a mythical anomaly that unfortunately doesn’t exist. Seek the guidance of someone who specialises in your goal, and ask whether the timeframe is realistic. The key is to make it an acute period that you can confidently see yourself maintaining discipline throughout.

How have you gone so far? If you’ve had previous success losing body fat or improving a health issue in the past following certain principles – great! If on the other hand your goal is to “lose 5kg of fat” and your timeframe is “within 2 weeks”, and you’ve had this goal since 1997, then that’s a different story. We need to be realistic about the objective in the first place! Unless you look at all lifestyle factors, there is a very real chance you will be saying the same thing in 3015. Unless we are robots by then. Better to take some action now just in case. 

Relevant to your goal, get some baseline measurements to help get clarity on where things sit today. 

Health – hormonal profile, blood pressure, cholesterol, stress levels & sleep.
Performance – strength test, endurance test
Body Composition – DXA scan at HKU.

It goes without saying that in order to track progress, you want the best possible technology at your disposal… A dehydrated selfie in a forgiving hotel bathroom mirror with brilliant lighting and a few Instagram filters applied does not count as a true representation of your body. Comparing yourself to this a week later is only going to cause disappointment.

When it comes to your track record of setting a challenging goal and then achieving it – let’s take an honest look at the scoreboard. Are you a bloodthirsty savage who is happy to train until aneurism and eat gluten-free cardboard? Or are you a pacifist stoner who has been wearing the same pyjamas for a few days straight? There’s neither a right nor wrong here, being a bit flaky is natural and doesn’t make you any less of a person. However, if you’re setting a very high goal and placing a difficult timeframe on yourself while having an abysmal track record, re-adjust the goals to something more realistic like “don’t eat pizza for breakfast”… After you have proven to yourself you can stick to smaller, more manageable goals – the bigger ones become much more achievable.

What obstacles will you have to overcome in order to maintain a rigid nutrition plan? Regular work trips to Beijing? Mandatory Wednesday dim sum with the boss? Wild weekend swinger parties in Discovery Bay? Whatever foreseeable situations you have occurring that impede your ability to stick to something 100% – make note of it and take this into consideration. The most thought-out and scientifically validated plans will be futile if you are making considerable deviations based on other commitments.

As far as I am aware, scientology or zen Buddhism will not help you here. What we mean is that you should create a framework you’ll work within, in order to reach your target. This may be paleo, low carb, ketogenic, low fat, vegan… the list goes on. If this is the most confusing step for you, allow me to simplify. Follow the “stop eating sh*t diet”. It always works! This means alcohol, croissants, ice cream and chocolate are definitely out. Completely out! You’ll be amazed at the results just from making this “easy to understand, harder to adhere to” change will make.

Once you’ve become crystal clear on a) what you want to achieve b) when you will achieve this by, and c) navigated through the obstacles – it’s time to start crunching some numbers. If you are allergic to numbers, look away from the screen immediately. Do not make direct eye contact as the below function will almost certainly cause spontaneous combustion.

BMR = 655 + ( 9.6 x weight in kilos ) + ( 1.8 x height in cm ) – ( 4.7 x age in years ) 

Or… you can follow this link and use the calculator by plugging in your weight, height and age (don’t lie!). The resulting number will be an approximate number of calories you need per day to maintain weight, given the variables and activity level. Like all formulas, this isn’t perfect. But it’s the best system we have.

If you wish to lose some junk in your trunk, then we need to lower the daily intake of calories slightly. The term “caloric defect” is essentially ensuring you are taking in less energy than you are spending = fat loss.

As general advice, I like to see women be much more moderate about how many calories they remove initially. The truth is, many will see amazing results even without caloric restriction – just by removing all the crap foods and reducing cellular inflammation.

Try reducing overall calories by 10%-20% initially. If you start seeing noticeable results and feel great, you can always increase this a fraction. There is no point making life harder for yourself by introducing a strict nutritional plan and also going into extreme caloric defect at the same time.

Example: BMR = 1,800 calories for weight maintenance. (20% defect) would = 1440 calories for fat loss.

If you’re still reading this and haven’t been terrified by the calculations, I commend you. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet explained where these calories come from, and I truly believe that the specific source of energy is more important than the total amount itself. It would be completely irresponsible of me to offer you a set macro-nutrient breakdown to follow, everybody responds differently. However there is one universal truth: most people consume way too many carbs, from the wrong carb sources, way too frequently.

If you’re looking for a balanced approach, try: 40% protein / 30% carb / 30% fat

If you’re looking for a low carb approach, try: 50% protein / 10% carb / 40% fat.

****Make sure you calculate this on calories, and NOT molecular weight. Each macronutrient has a different amount of calories per gram of weight.

Protein = 4 calories/gram   Carbohydrates = 4 calories/gram   Fat = 9 calories/gram

Disclaimer: Always seek the advice of physician or registered dietician/nutritionist before undertaking any structured nutrition intake.

Now for the fun part! You will have to set up a spreadsheet and there’s a good chance this will take an hour to two… yet if you’ve struggled with body issues for some time, I cannot think of a better way to invest some minutes.

Remember that “close enough is good enough”. Don’t lose your marbles and avoid starting because you are missing a few grams of protein here or a few extra grams of carbs there. I dare say following this process has defined an intake which is lightyears beyond what you were previously doing. Use the resource calorieking.com for the nutritional breakdown on anything you can imagine. Do not search “chicken nuggets” or “oreos”.