For most of my life, I've gone through phases in which I obsess about weight loss. It's just something I was poisoned with when I was a kid by a number of outlets and, to be honest, it's been a major thorn in my side. It's inconvenient and consuming and only in recent years have I really found a formula that works for me.

My secret? Eat real food and exercise but also let yourself indulge once in a while. That's what works for me.

For others, expensive structured programs, pills, fad diets and all kinds of trickery are the key, but for me, I honestly stick with nothing other than eating right and exercising as a routine - not as a diet, not as a new exercise fad. It must be just another thing in my list of daily duties just like brushing my teeth and going to work.

I try to keep it interesting, though. I throw a couple things in there for a sense of excitement, like kale smoothies, apple cider vinegar shots and coconut oil pulling, but, for the most part, I try to keep it as natural a process as possible.

Oh, but I didn't always. The real backstory is, I used my very first check out of my very first checkbook when I was 12 years old to purchase diet pills from the back of some teen magazine - where, it is kind of disgusting to have advertisements for diet pills.

Sad? Yes, but I thought pills would work miracles and my adolescent chub wasn't getting me any slow dances and phone calls from cute boys. Again, sad, I know. I wish I had never felt that way about myself, but it's something I cognitively understand and a demon I must deal with.

Going forward, the pills didn't work, but it didn't stop me from taking more pills and trying new tricks. I honestly think I tried everything.

I did the shakes, I tried starvation, I binged, I purged, I worked out obsessively, I cleansed, I fasted, I ate six times a day, I ate every three days. I did it all. I'm telling you, if there was a fad, I tried it, and I just Oprah Winfried'd up and down the scale until I finally hung it up and decided to do it the old-fashioned way.

I have, for about seven years now, been in a routine of getting up early every morning and going to the gym pretty religiously. If I wouldn't make it in the morning, it would be a must for after work.

Exercising regularly is key to my mental and physical health, but everyone, once in a while, falls off the wagon.

Life gets in the way and the excuses start rolling in.

I ended up losing a bunch of weight over the summer thanks to stress and anxiety, so I held off from the gym because my clothes were all falling off and I figured the then-devastating-life-event-makes-me-not-want-to-eat diet was working wonders.

Then, in an effort to return to normalcy, I started going back to the gym. Then, once again, life got in the way, vacation got in the way, Halloween parties got in the way, Thanksgiving got in the way, work got in the way, wine got in the way and so on and so forth. I hadn't really gained any weight, maybe just a few pounds which I needed back from my unhealthy summer weight loss, but I definitely fell out of sync and out of shape.

I was knocked right off track.

So, in early December, I started the T-25 workout and I honestly loved it, I mean, I hated it, too, but overall, 25 minutes a day and that's it? Sign me up; this is how I will get back on track. I called the gym and suspended my membership, vowing to be back as soon as I finished the six or eight weeks of this program. That would have placed me in the first week of the New Year in the best shape of my life.

Well, that didn't happen.

Instead, I had taken up smoking, and drinking wine had become my new favorite hobby.

It's so easy to stay off track once you are derailed, but, never is there a point of no return.

I recognize what happened, I'm not beating myself up too badly, I don't feel at my very best - I didn't even gain a significant amount of weight - but I'm not where I feel comfortable at all. It's just time to address it and get back into my routine.

I like to be in good shape. Feeling out of shape is depressing and inconvenient. It's harder to get dressed as confidence sinks, it's harder to walk up flights of steps and less gets done around the house among other things.

So, I've cut down on smoking big time because I prefer to be able to breathe when I work out, and plan to be completely done with it in a few weeks. Remember, it's what works for me.

Personally, I tried cold turkey, but found myself caving then smoking an entire pack, so I've just knocked back from a pack a day to a pack a week. It wasn't even that hard, really, it's just mind over matter once I had my mind set. If I can cut back that severely, there is no way I can't just hang up the habit completely.

The wine? Well, I'm not about to give up my relationship with wine. We're really in love, and since a food allergy prevents me from drinking all but very specific kinds of beer - the longtime love of my life - wine works for me because liquor doesn't. I suppose not drinking at all would work, too, but I come from a family of casual drinkers. My family worked for F&S, Durdach's, The Lion Brewery and more, so I wouldn't dare shame their memory by not knocking a few back once in a while - in a responsible manner, of course.

Anyhow, my wine solution was to give up the semi-sweets and switch to drier varieties because I've really cut down on sugar. Now, don't get me wrong, while at an event called "Wine on Ice" over the weekend in Elmira, N.Y., I certainly indulged, but that was all in the name of fun. Come on. You have to live a little.

Sometimes it's a process to get back on track and easier to tackle one thing at a time.

I tried to jump right back on and went for a fad workout - that may be incorporated into my routine once I'm back on track, but baby steps have been working for me, so that's what I'm sticking to - back to the routine.

I plan on being back to the gym full time as part of my daily ritual. It's no resolution, it's routine. Routine, paired with mild discipline, is what I need.

Never do I wish to feel as though I'm punishing myself or depriving myself through exercising and eating. I don't want to obsess like I did when I was younger and try a variety of unhealthy means to a banging body.

There will always be a constant body image struggle in my head and that sucks.

If I could give one gift to the younger me it would be to tell her there is no easy way, and through dedication to eating right and exercising as routine, she could build the self-esteem needed to avoid body image issues and gain the confidence needed to shut up the voice that tells her she isn't good enough at any weight.

It's ridiculous, the time and money I've wasted over the years and the risks I've put my health in just to fit a mold society has created.

We all go through it: the large, the thin, men, women. There is always something - a magazine, a movie, a realtive - telling us we aren't good enough. It's not really fair and, in the grand scheme of things, amounts to a huge waste of time and worry.

So, no matter what works for you, just make sure you're not hurting yourself and you feel good. It doesn't matter what anyone else says, health and happiness are two keys to a beautiful life, and all that is needed to achieve that is determination. We were all built with that. Sometimes you just have to dig around to find it.

(Jenna Wasakoski is an assistant editor at The News-Item)

is a graduate of Von Lee School of Aesthetics and is certified as a professional makeup artist.)