lift HEAVY. I personally prefer compound movements like deadlifts and squats that workout multiple muscle groups at once (because I’m lazy and it takes less time) but some ladies prefer split muscle group workouts. I’d do some research into which kind of workout you prefer.
Regardless of what you choose to do, make sure your weights are so heavy that you can only do 8-12 reps per set. This will often be heavier than you think you can handle; when I started lifting, I did 50lb deadlifts (which is waay heavier than I thought I could do) and I’m at around 80-85 now (which is probably as high as I’ll go; that’s almost my body weight and I’ve been advised not to go much higher).
I do deadlifts (1-3 sets, 5 reps), squats (3-5 sets, 8-12 reps), bench press (3-5 sets, 8-12 reps), military press (3-5 sets, 8-12 reps), and then whatever else I feel like (push ups, burpees, etc.)
I alternate lifting days with cardio days; I do high intensity interval runs usually (again, because I’m too lazy to do long distance running, but some people prefer it.) For HIIT, really push yourself during the sprint portions; you should feel exhausted afterward.
I finish off with yoga most days, which not only helps build core strength, but keeps you flexible and therefore less likely to be injured. I took about a year of yoga and now just do it at home; my chiropractor said that the basic poses are more than sufficient (downward dog, cat/cow, etc.) but YMMV.
Diet stuff: you know the answer to this already. Less sugar and desserts (dammit), more fruits and especially vegetables, lots of lean protein, and a good portion of healthy fats (nuts, avocado). Some people like to cut carbs, but I personally don’t find that whole grains (like farro, brown rice) affect my weight, so I don’t bother. If you’re in the cutting (fat loss) phase, eat less calories (but obviously don’t starve yourself); if you’re in the bulking (muscle building phase), eat more of the good stuff.
To get more vegetables in your diet, I recommend things like green smoothies (try Oh She Glows’ recipes) to make the leaves go down easier. Make sure your plate is mostly greens and other plant matter. Figure out what vegetables you actually enjoy and make sure there’s lots of them on hand. For example, I don’t really like uncooked greens, they are a bit hard to digest. I LOVE steamed veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, etc.) and veggies roasted in a little bit of olive oil (summer squash, kale, etc.), so I make sure I have those on hand. I also recommend checking out ethnic markets to see what kind of interesting greens they have, so you’re not just eating the same kale and spinach forever.
Other factors to consider:
1) decision fatigue: you can only make a limited number of decisions per day before you start making poor choices. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decision_fatigue) Reduce the number of decisions you have to make by making an exercise plan that you follow by rote, and making your food habits routine (always eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch, for example. If this bores you, shake it up every few weeks, but don’t give yourself too many options on a day to day basis.) It reduces the amount of health related decisions you have to make, and therefore your choices (because you already made them) will be healthier.
2) intermittent fasting: I personally CANNOT do those 3 meals of 400 calories or whatever. When I eat, I want to eat, and if I try to eat 3 meals I end up eating well over 2000 calories a day. I therefore intermittently fast to keep my daily calorie count within reason. I found that intermittent fasting reduced my appetite (my stomach shrunk because I don’t eat for about 20 hours a day) and keeps my weight down. I eat one full meal a day of about 1000-1200 calories (dinner, since I eat that with my FI), and a light lunch of fruit, steamed vegetables, and about 100 calories of protein or fat (tofu, boiled egg, nuts, or avocado, of about 200-400 calories) between 2-4 pm. That’s it. I find that on this schedule, I don’t think about food at all during the day and I don’t get hungry. However, this is something you have to figure out for yourself. IF may not be for you.
3) remember that even body builders don’t look like that all the time. They cut before competitions to make their muscles stand out, and also dehydrate themselves briefly. Also, it may not be healthy for you to have such a low percentage of body fat. For example, when my body fat dropped below 12%, I lost my period. Of course, some people lose their period at a higher %age, some people at a lower one. One of my friends cut so drastically her organs started eating themselves or something (obviously that’s not the medical diagnosis, I can’t quite remember the details, but it was bad.)
Best of luck! You’ll look awesome no matter what!