In the summer I visited what I call my 'second home', Burgau, a small fishing village located in the Algarve in Portugal, that is loved by locals and tourists for its traditional charm.
I was there for a week of pure relaxation, good food and even better booze! Cristiano in Smugglers Bar makes the best gin and tonic... not so great for my waist line but hey, we all need a holiday where we can indulge in our vices.
Burgau is the ultimate 'happy place' for me... I first went there aged 20 to work behind a bar with my best friend Joe, knowing no one but each other. It was a life changing decision and I'm so glad I somehow found the guts to do something completely out of my comfort zone at a time when I was shy and feeling insecure in a size 20 body.
By the end of that first summer, I was more confident, had made life-long friends and could speak to just about anyone after nights spent serving drunken teenagers.
Ten years on, I'm still in love with the village that boasts steep cobbled streets, friendly locals, a beautiful beach, my favourite tapas restaurant, No. 9, stunning cliff top views and a community spirit higher than anywhere else I've visited.
Burgau is very special for another reason too. I had some hypnotherapy a year or two ago to get over some issues that were making me a rather unhappy girl following a horrible break up. I was asked to imagine a happy place throughout the process and mine was Burgau beach surrounded by all my friends and family with Bob Marley being played in the Beach Bar. In my head it was like my wedding day, except there was no groom. Just me, smiling in a beautiful white dress, dancing with everyone who I could trust and had always accepted me for my true self, whether I was a size 22 or 12.
This particular holiday I knew I would be spending most of my time on the beach. Joe, who came along with me, and I needed a week of pure relaxation. That means lying horizontal on the sand, listening to Madonna on our headphones, and making the occasional trip down to the clear blue sea for a cooling off.
Being the fashion conscious girl I am, I wanted to look and feel good on the beach rather than spend my week worrying about my wobbly tummy and having hot sweaty thighs rubbing together as I made my way down the beach. These are the self-conscious feelings I would experience throughout my teens and early twenties, and this summer it would finally be different after dropping numerous dress sizes.
My first health and fitness goal since joining the gym was wearing a very fitted pink lace dress to my friend Carrie's wedding, which I did and felt the best I've ever felt. Glowing, happy and, most importantly, healthy. My second goal came in the form of a bikini. One clothing item I have never, ever worn in all of my 29 years on this earth.
My friend Katie leant me a stunning polka dot bikini in a flattering style. She knew I felt apprehensive and she thought this particular style would suit me. And she was right! The halter neck bra and fifties-style shorts flattered my figure, which is becoming more hour-glass than potato-like thanks to my time in the gym, and I actually felt good in it!
My tummy was still wobbly and had stretch-marks due to the extent of my weight loss, and my thighs were still curvy... but I chose to focus on the positive. My shoulders were looking more toned and upper arms more sculpted, and you could actually see my belly button! A few more circuits and weights, and lots of hot water and lemon, and I would be feeling even more confident...
I previously had always worn swimsuits or tankinis on holiday, and had always envied my friends in their bikinis and brown flat tummies. If I looked back to three or four years ago, I would never have believed that I would one day walk down Burgau beach in a bikini - it just seemed too far out of my reach when I was at the weight I was.
So the first day of our week in the sun came and I put on the bikini... and I felt so free and happy on that first walk down to the sea. Liberated from that prison of insecurities. I looked around the beach and there were women of all sizes and shapes confidently walking into the sea and playing bat and ball. How had I spent so long worrying about what people thought of my wobbly thighs? You never know, they might have been looking at my cleavage thinking, 'Lucky girl!'
I have chosen to post this particular bikini shot, which was taken six days into the holiday, rather than one on the first day where my tummy looked a lot flatter! Due to a few boozy nights and coffees with cows milk and a nibble of bread before dinner, my tummy soon felt the effects... However, it was my week to enjoy and by then, I really didn't give one hoot!