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Inspire Me Well Offers Tales of Motivation Toward Better Health

Inspire Me Well, by Lisa Belanger and Sarah O'Hara (Insomniac Press, 2012).

Inspire Me Well: Finding Motivation to Take Control of Your Health (Insomniac Press, 2012), by Lisa Belanger, MSc, CEP and Sarah O'Hara, RD, showcases the tales of everyday people who made extraordinary changes to their health and well-being. While making a commitment to run 250 marathons in one year to benefit a beloved charity might seem daunting to the average person, it was an average person who made such a commitment, and you'll meet him, and others, in the pages of Inspire Me Well.

At the turn of each new year, we're surrounded by claims of how to be a better you, how to drop pounds fast and be bikini-ready by March Break. Inspire Me Well boasts a host of tips toward a healthier lifestyle, but at its core is a message of social support and how life-changing experiences are often the precursor to life-changing habits and lives well-lived.

Belanger and O'Hara chat with 49th Shelf about their approach to wellness, how making changes to just one area of your life will automatically (and positively) impact three others (together known as The Big Four), and they offer some tips for how to combat daily stress. You'll also meet Judy, whose story appears in Inspire Me Well, reposted here in excerpt.

Julie Wilson: There are a lot of books in the marketplace that offer advice on how to live a healthier life. Where Inspire Me Well sets itself aside is in how it places a particular focus on people who have taken their own personal journeys of discovery to the next level by giving back to groups and organizations.

Lisa Belanger and Sarah O'Hara: We completely agree. We wanted to add a dash of inspiration. Readers are able to relate to a story in the book, and knowing the contributor was successful in their pursuits may encourage thought about the reader's own life. We elaborate on the research behind a particular topic and look at how the concept can be integrated into your life, no matter if the barrier is time, know-how, or motivation.

Many of our contributors clearly find a true sense of happiness in helping others, and in some cases they were even inspired to start charitable organizations after coming through a major life event as a way to give back. We have found this element of human nature hugely inspirational, a key ongoing motivator for many people. The power of giving back can be a great tool for health promotion: there are events such as walks or runs in support of almost any type of charity.

JW: Tell us more about who appears in Inspire Me Well and why it was important to you to put these people in the forefront?

LB and SO: Many of the book's contributors were people we'd met through our jobs or extracurricular activities. In one case, we had been following the contributor's charitable pursuits through social media and connected with him via email and were thrilled to hear that he was interested in sharing his story.

For different reasons their stories had touched us through the years. Each of the contributors has a unique background, motivation, body shape, age, goal, and perspective on health. What they all share in common is their understanding of the importance of taking care of their health, as well as a passion for life.

JW: Lisa, in your personal introduction, you say, "I had always enjoyed physical activity, but now it is more than a game; it allows me to do the things I want." Talk to us a bit about the behavioural changes needed in order to commit to a healthier lifestyle?

LB: Theories of behaviour change try to address everything that makes us choose our behaviours. Theories include things such as social support, perceived enjoyment, and environmental cues. All theories of behaviour change include self-efficacy: essentially the confidence you need to have in order to engage in the behaviour. The higher your self-efficacy, the more likely you are to perform the behaviour.

One way to improve self-efficacy is through mastery experience.

For example: You want to pick up an outdoor winter sport. You have always wanted to try downhill skiing but have fears that you may resemble Bambi. A friend offers to take you to the bunny (beginner) hill. After learning about rentals, equipment, and hill etiquette, you brave your first run. Nervous, you nonetheless complete the run (Bambi-like). Again and again, you make it down the hill, each time with a little more speed, and finally without a fall. That success you feel when you get to the bottom of the hill comes from being proud of having tried something new, as well as for having acquired new skills that will increase your confidence, along with the likelihood that you will attempt skiing (the behaviour) again.

That first step—trying something outside of your comfort zone—is the hardest. In order to make it a bit easier, consider getting an instructor and ask an experienced friend to come along. Take small/manageable steps (i.e., bunny hill before mountain), remain patient with yourself—key to staying motivated—and always keep in mind your long-term goal.

JW: Tell us more about the Big Four—sleep, de-stress, move, food—and how changes to just one of these areas will have a positive affect on the others, and so on.

Lisa Belanger, co-author of Inspire Me Well (Insomniac Press, 2012)

LB: There are many ways the "Big Four" can interact with one another, but the most dramatic I have seen is the initial reduction of stress (i.e., de-stressing by quitting a job I did not love). Because of the reduction of stress I experienced after leaving that job, I found myself making healthier choices with my food, craving more exercise, and being able to fall asleep faster, and maintain sleep longer. The more I moved, the better I slept, and the better food choices I made. Once you start to sacrifice one, the others tend to follow suit. Conversely, if you make a positive step in one of these behaviours, it most likely will positively affect the other three.

SO: We often don't consider how closely these four elements of health are interconnected. For example, a great deal of research has shown that both an active lifestyle and getting enough quality sleep can help to promote proper regulation of hunger signals. We are also much more likely to make healthy food choices when we aren't overstressed. If management of any of the Big Four is lacking, it can lead to negative impacts on each of the others. Conversely, a decision to make improvements in any of these four will favour improvements in all other areas. Forget about hitting two birds with one stone—go for four!

JW: Sarah, when talking about social support, Inspire Me Well offers some tips on how we can ask the people in our social network to keep us on path. What suggestions would you offer someone who works in a fast-paced industry that operates around business lunches and social outings?
SO: Working in any industry that places inadequate emphasis on health and wellness can eventually lead to negative health consequences, and it be can be detrimental to work performance. Why not be the one to spearhead a shift in perspective at work?

For example:

  • If you have the ability to provide your input about where business luncheons are held or catered from, take the opportunity to request healthier options.
  • Get involved with (or start) a wellness committee to help create social support for a healthier work environment.

Employers are becoming much more aware of the fact that healthier employees are better employees, but we still need to advocate for our individual health. This being said, it's important to remember to make healthy choices when we are able, and try not to stress too much about what's beyond our control. If you feel that your lunch was a disaster because there were no healthy choices available to you, do your best to choose healthy meals and snacks for the rest of the day. A little planning can go a long way; try bringing your own portable snacks (i.e., fruit, trail mix) when you've got a busy day ahead.

JW: The people profiled in Inspire Me Well have extraordinary tales. Front of mind is Martin who set himself a goal to run 250 marathons in one year to support Right to Play. You note that one of the keys to behavioural change is that we must enjoy an activity else we won't commit to it. In essence, health must become habit-forming. Talk more about that, particularly in respect to how we might encourage children to follow suit.

Sarah O'Hara, co-author of Inspire Me Well (Insomniac Press, 2012)

LB and SO: If we don’t enjoy an activity, we likely just won’t do it—or won’t do it for long. Enjoyment is key when changing health behaviours for adults as well as children. Creating an environment for children that promotes fun, active, healthy lifestyles sets them up for a lifetime of healthier habits. It's said that it takes just 21 days to form a habit, but if you can't stand to do something for those 21 days or if you find yourself forcing your way through it, it's unlikely to stick in the long run. We both feel that life is too short to spend it on things you don't enjoy. There isn't a single best way to live healthily, so find what works best for you!

JW: Let's talk more about stress. In Inspire Me Well, you note that we actually need a certain amount of stress in our lives. Talk about the pros and cons of stress, as well as some of the physiological signs that present when we have too much of it.

LB and SO: We encounter stressors everyday of our lives, everything from positive life events (getting married) or negative (getting into a fender-bender on the way to work).

We need a certain amount of stress in our lives to motivate us, to keep us engaged and productive. Too much stress, however, can result in devastating physical and psychological effects.

Managing stress is one of the least talked about health behaviours that can have a tremendous benefit for not only our physical and psychological well-being, but also our interpersonal relationships. If you are feeling overwhelmed and anxious (depending on your situation), these are a couple of simple coping techniques: deep breathing, counting to ten, and my personal favourite, going for a walk.

Ultimately, stress is best managed (like all health behaviours) with daily choices. Daily ways to manage stress include:

  • exercise
  • yoga
  • meditation
  • journaling
  • taking time to relax (especially before bed)
  • time with friends
  • making "to do" lists with ONLY 6 things on them at a time

As we discussed above with respect to the Big Four, making stress management a priority will most likely result in a positive effect in other aspects of your health.

JW: In your introductions, you each point to a particular person and the "aha" moment that encouraged you to make healthy, preventative changes immediately. There's no more powerful mentor than that kind of intimate witness, someone who inspires you toward change. So, can celebrities teach us anything? Do they deliver the same quality of message?

LB: The culture around celebrities and health tends to focus on dramatic weight loss, weight gain, fad diets, and the extremes of health. It is particularly negative for body image and, heaven forbid, that celebrities should be victim to their genetics or age. Shows such as The Biggest Loser focus on such dramatic weight loss, long hours of seemingly "painful" exercise, and crash caloric restrictions, none of which sound enjoyable, let alone sustainable.

We have created a culture where the worst thing you can do is gain weight, and we don't speak enough about "healthy behaviour change"—meaning a behaviour change that you can sustain. Viewers of these shows watch people starve themselves and perform excruciating exercises, all while sitting on their sofa, eating a bag of chips.

I realize few people would watch a show about slow weight loss, healthy choices, and enjoyable exercise, but perhaps our focus should be on the dramatic things people can accomplish after having improved their health (travel, climb a mountain, etc).

There is no quick fix, and shaming those who are not healthy will never serve as a motivation. Until we change that message, the celebrity culture will, in my opinion, do much more to hurt rather than help population health.

SO: I totally agree with Lisa, and find it unfortunate that the culture of celebrity and media so heavily celebrates thinness instead of health, and that shows like The Biggest Loser promote highly artificial environments to promote drastic weight loss, which is usually not maintained when contestants are back in their home environments, precisely because they haven't learned habits that will promote health in everyday life.

Until there is a cultural shift in perspective in which we celebrate health over weight, it's unlikely in my view that the power of celebrity and media can be used to its full potential for health promotion.

JW: Finally, can you tell us, in one sentence, what good (or happy) health means to each of you?

LB: Good health means the ability to pursue my passions, the next adventure and living every day to the fullest.

SO: Good health means striking a balance in life's activities and choices that promotes my chances at continuing to do the things I love, and living a long quality-filled life with my family and friends.


Lisa Belanger, MSc, CEP, is the owner of Exceed Wellness and recent winner of the YMCA Woman of Influence Award—Local Hero Award.

Sarah O'Hara is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for chronic disease prevention and management.
Follow them on Twitter as @InspireMeWell.


The below excerpt from Inspire Me Well: Finding Motivation to Take Control of Your Health (2012) appears courtesy of Insomniac Press.

As a home economist and volunteer coordinator for Edmonton’s Food Bank, Judy Yawney sees the difficulties of food insecurity and lack of skills for food preparation on a daily basis. Despite her healthy upbringing, Judy struggled with her own weight and health issues for years following an injury that resulted from a motor vehicle incident while she was cycling. This all changed for her when she made a New Year’s resolution to radically transform her own diet and lifestyle for the long term. She has made a brave and successful return to commuting by bicycle and supports initiatives throughout the country that focus on healthy lifestyle practices. Following Judy’s story we will discuss aspects of eating and physical activity that Judy uses to promote her long-term health, including meal planning basics and a variety of ways to track your activity in order to continuously challenge your body.

Judy’s Story: A New Year’s Resolution to Last a Lifetime

My name is Judy Yawney and I am the Volunteer Coordinator at Edmonton’s Food Bank. I graduated from the University of Alberta with a BSc in Home Economics in 1986. As I write this, I think of the interesting twists and turns and even detours my life has taken over the last 50 plus years.

Having grown up in Rossland, British Columbia, I had a relatively active lifestyle of swimming, cycling, and hiking in the summer and, of course, downhill skiing at Red Mountain in the winter. In 1981, all that changed for me.

I was in motor vehicle accident while cycling and suffered massive pelvic and spinal injuries. After nine weeks in the hospital and two years of physiotherapy, my active lifestyle was no longer very active. With each passing year, it became more difficult to be active and maintain my health. I dreaded shopping for clothes, as nothing ever fit me! There was also a cloud of a family history of diabetes hanging over my head. Plus the driver who changed my life was also diabetic! (The driver had cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.)

On New Year’s Day 2007, I came to understand that I had to make some drastic changes in my lifestyle. I was 75 lbs overweight, was struggling with acid reflux, had a persistent cough, and required increasing amounts of pain medication. With a family history of both type 1 and 2 diabetes, the change became even more critical. As well, my nephew, who was in his 30s had recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

What changed that day in 2007?

For the first time in my life, I made a New Year’s resolution to get fit and lose weight. Since then, I have participated in the Running Room’s Resolution Run/Walk , which helps me to stay focused on this promise to myself.

Most importantly, I am eating healthy! I always have lots of fresh fruit and vegetables in my fridge, and pack a sensible lunch for work each day. I also support local food producers through farmers’ markets. I have to admit, however, that I sometimes have trouble drinking enough water, as I’m on my feet at work for hours at a time!

Portion control and meal planning have been essential. On weekends, I prepare meals that I am able to reheat for dinners or take as leftovers. I shop for groceries only once each week and always with a list that I stick to. When I started shopping once a week, I found I had more disposable income as well! I also make it a rule not to eat within the last three hours before going to bed.

Exercise has become part of my daily routine. I wear my pedometer to track how many steps I take, with an average of between 15,000 to 22,000 steps per day.

Although I had always enjoyed cycling, I was terrified to return to it after my accident. With some help and encouragement from friends, I started biking again. Initially, I would only cycle on trails. I am gradually gaining my confidence and becoming a bit more adventurous after participating in the MS Bike Tour (190K) the last few summers (and I’m hoping to register for next year). I have also explored some of the Kettle Valley Railway in southern BC (and even had a close encounter with a bear).

In addition, I’ve also started cycling to work—seven kilometres each way. I even cycle to work during the winter, as I am fortunate to be able to use the incredible trail system here in Edmonton. This last summer, I even took a women’s mountain bike clinic in Fernie, BC. And yes, I have returned to downhill skiing, gradually making my way back to the black diamond runs! I have also participated in the Rossland tradition of hiking Mount Roberts in the Rossland Range for Canada Day (a 7.5K hike with a change in elevation of 860 metres).

Since January 2007, I have lost 65 lbs and now require minimal pain medication. In fact, I recently had to replace all my pain medication, as they had all expired. With a healthy diet, following Canada’s Food Guide, I find I have control of my acid reflux without having to take medication, since it was acidic foods and fats that were the culprits for me. My persistent cough has disappeared.

As a home economist, I am alarmed by the number of people today who are unable to make simple meals and are reliant on convenience foods. Add to that the increasing rate of type 2 diabetes and inactivity, and the importance of a healthy lifestyle becomes all the more evident, which will impact our health care system. Some local initiatives I support include community gardens and Plant a Row, Grow a Row, which encourages individuals to plant an extra row of produce to support their local food banks. (For more information on this program, please contact your local food bank.)

I’ve realized that eating healthy and daily exercise is a lifestyle change, which will be with me for life!

Back to Basics: Meal Planning 101

"He who fails to plan is planning to fail."—Winston Churchill

I completely agree with Judy’s statement that the lack of meal planning and cooking skills found in many people is alarming. Based on my experience, many of us use lack of time as an excuse to reach for convenience foods throughout the day. Realistically though, a few simple planning tools will help get you on the right track. The first step is to plan your meals. Taking just 15 minutes once a week before grocery shopping to decide what you want to eat for each meal in the upcoming week will save you time and money (and the urge to order take-out). Planning will also help you to create a grocery list to ensure that you’ve got all the required ingredients and avoid extra trips to the store throughout the week that waste time and gas money. You’ll also save money by purchasing ingredients to make recipes from scratch rather than relying on food that is already prepared. You pay a premium for pre-prepared items or sauces, and these often contain high amount of salt, sugar, or fat (or all three). Finally, planning in advance helps to minimize waste, which keeps even more of your hard-earned money in your pocket.
When meal planning, keep a few things in mind:

  • Write down what you’d like to eat for each meal throughout the week. (If you’re just starting out, you could try just doing this for the supper meals.) Then prepare your grocery list by going through the meals and writing down the items you need to purchase in order to make each meal. See the example below.
  • Incorporate three or four food groups to make balanced meals that provide a wide array of nutrients. Each food group contains vitamins and minerals that are in lesser quantities or may be absent from another food group, so incorporating more food groups brings a well-rounded plate of nutrients to your body. For example, grain products are typically high in B-vitamins; meat and alternatives (such as beans, lentils, and tofu) are sources of iron and zinc; milk and milk alternatives (such as fortified soy or almond beverages) contain much more calcium per serving than other food groups; and vegetables and fruit contain a wide array of antioxidant vitamins.
  • For an extra nutritional boost, plan to include at least two food groups into each snack that you might consume during the day. Good choices would be veggie sticks or whole wheat pitas and hummus, or yogurt with fruit.
  • Use recipes while meal planning, especially if you’re trying something new. This will ensure that you have all necessary ingredients on hand.
  • Another time-saving tool for making healthy food choices is to prepare extra servings of your dinner each night to use as a quick and healthy leftover lunch for the following day.
  • Involve the whole family! Including your partner, roommate, or children allows the whole household to be engaged in planning for healthy eating. This sets a great example for kids and teaches the importance of including variety in our diet. They also might want to help participate in the preparation or cooking process. For example, allowing children to wash fruit and vegetables or scrub potatoes, and teaching teens to chop and dice foods, will prepare the next generation with skills for lifelong healthy eating.

Taking the time to plan meals will add up to major time and cost savings throughout the week.

If you’re struggling with the same boring rotation of meals, try something new! Most of us only have a rotation of a few meals that we make regularly. Spice things up by adding some variety. Ask friends and family for their favourite recipes or borrow a cookbook for inspiration. Starting an email recipe exchange with friends, family, or co-workers can also be a fun way to gather new ideas (see the template below). Another way to get ideas is to join (or start) a community cooking club. These clubs bring groups of individuals together from a community. Each person brings in his or her favourite recipe at the beginning of the season, and the group takes turns each week cooking each recipe as a group. At the end of each class, you’ll have learned and sampled another member’s recipe. It’s a great social activity and a fun way to try new recipes and gain new culinary skills!


What books have inspired you to make great life changes? Leave them in the comments!

February 6, 2013
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