'Why I'm tired of dieting to get that bikini body'
After 18 months of yo-yo dieting, Vicki Notaro is turning her back on 'quick fixes' and faux detoxes. Now she plans to embrace a healthier approach.
It's that time of year again. Beyonce has announced she's gone vegan to shed the pounds, popular websites are awash with images of women "flaunting" their bodies on the beach, and Instagram is littered with references to #fitspiration and limbering up for swimsuit season. Yes, it's time for your bikini body to make an appearance.
In an ideal world, you already have a bikini body - a body on which to put your bikini. Simple! But the phrase has morphed in to a frightening beast, something you have to prep for, like you might for a hurricane.
Your normal human body is not good enough for a bikini - it must be tighter, stronger, leaner. Hence the need for the "bikini body diet", normally a quick fix or a faux detox that promises to help you shed pounds fast.
I am sick to death of it all. For the past 18 months, I've been stuck in a vicious cycle when it comes to health and fitness. For weeks at a time, I am absolutely angelic with diet and exercise. I eschew alcohol, cut my carbs intake, eat "clean" and work out up to five times a week.
I buy lean turkey mince, spiralise courgettes to make veggie spaghetti, and "treat" myself with occasional dark chocolate rice cakes.
Each time I do it, I feel absolutely amazing. My skin is clear, I sleep better and people comment on how well I look. It's great, and I feel like I'm winning at this thing called being a woman. It's like I'm finally following the rules, and for a people pleaser like me, that's ideal.
But then I'll go on a big night out - somebody's birthday, a wedding or a leaving do - and throw all my diet rules out the window.
I'll go on holiday, or for a weekend away with my boyfriend, and exercising suddenly becomes a foreign concept. After a few days of this behaviour, I adopt a "sure feck it" mentality.
I eat and drink to my heart's content, indulge in hangover pizzas and ice creams in the sunshine, and before I know it, I'm completely out of whack.
I'm something of a bon vivant, you see - happiest when clinking glasses - and unfortunately, an all or nothing kind of gal.
Sick of myself after a week or so of indulgence, I always eventually clamber back on the wagon. I vow once more to "be good", bin the bread and decline drinks invitations. Until inevitably, some unavoidable fun comes my way and I'm back living the high life again.
On and on it's been going, but recently, I snapped.
I returned from a trip to New Orleans where I ate one too many beignets (fried donuts, divine), and could feel the familiar despair setting in again. I began to gear up for another round of "being good", and found I couldn't quite summon the energy.
But instead of turning the rage inwards and blaming myself, I started to get mad at the world we live in. Why on earth do I put myself through all this just to stay relatively thin? Why do I hate myself every time I gain weight, when it's obvious that it was going to happen?
'That's it', I swore. I am DONE with dieting, counting, limiting, and feeling hard done by. I have to find some peace, and a way to be healthy that doesn't bring me up and down, physically and mentally, like a yo-yo.
You see, I used to be naturally thin. I never gave my figure a second thought, ate what I wanted and maintained an average level of fitness by commuting to college and working in a shoe shop (great cardio, running up and down those stairs).
When I gained some weight, a personal training programme took care of it and I thought that would be that. But no, the fitness wisdom didn't stick.
While it's true that my metabolism isn't what is once was, I have never actually been "fat" - just a little out of shape. But I often look terrible in pictures, both those in the paper and ones people tag of me on Facebook. Thus being slim is always at the forefront of my mind, as it is for many women, and I'm absolutely sick of it.
At no point in my life have I ever thought the figure of a Victoria's Secret model was attainable - so why are we all measuring ourselves against these blessed, cellulite-free genetic oddities?
Yet, I do seem to have a problem - a mental one at least. And I know I'm not alone. The "sure feck it" mentality, when let out of its box is a powerful one; it's what makes you eat all of the biscuits instead of just two, and encourages you to order the most fattening thing on any menu. And I think it's this impulse that I need to conquer more than anything else.
Health and lifestyle coach Brona Cloonan agrees. "Mindset is absolutely everything, and it will dicatate the outcome of any challenge we set ourselves."
She tells me about the six steps of behavioural change, which is what we all encounter when it comes to dieting. "First we have preconception, which is the part where we think we might like to lose weight. The next stage, contemplation is when we decide to actually go for it. Preparation is when we buy runners or join the gym, and action is when we actually begin and are doing well."
However as we know, after a certain amount of action, we can often just give up and never reach the next vital stage - maintenance.
"You might have an occasion, or a do to go to, and you just let it all go and fall off the wagon. This stage is called relapse, and it's very common." The secret, says Brona, is not to let a relapse become a collapse. But for me, being saintly was absolutely asking for trouble. Brona says that's common.
"When we go hell for leather at something, it's hard to maintain. Instead, take things day by day, goal by goal."
Another issue I have is that in 2015, it appears that in order to be fit and healthy, one must go the whole hog. It's not enough to just exercise any more - you have to exercise and give up potatoes and alcohol and live off protein shakes to see any results, if popular culture is to believed.
But I just want to be able to climb Killiney Hill without feeling like my lungs are about to expire, and not have to squeeze into Spanx in order to look nice in a little black dress.
I don't need abs you can grate cheddar on, so surely eating better and moving more will suffice?
"There is no quick fix, and avoid anyone who tells you otherwise!" says personal trainer Karl Henry.
"It takes hard work and lots of it to get results, but don't forget to have your odd treat to create balance and enjoy it guilt-free."
Karl's not a big fan of the protein shake army either. "Eat unprocessed foods with short shelf lives, move enough to get out of breath, and accept that everyone has an off day, myself included. Dwelling on it will make it harder to get back on track."
He follows the 80/20 rule - be mindful of eating well and exercising 80pc of the time, and enjoy yourself the rest.
For me, there will be no more fad diets and no more vicious cycles of highs and lows, "good" and "bad" behaviour. I'm making it my business to just be a healthier person overall.
However, if I do have a few drinks on a Friday and a pizza the next day, I won't let it spiral in to a fortnight of "feck it".
I know I won't see results in mere weeks, but I think it's a healthier attitude to adopt in the long term - for my mind as well as my body.