Originally Published: September 13, 2015 1:22 a.m.
PRESCOTT - Health coach, artist and first-time author Melanie Banayat's life story is far from a fairy tale.
Her childhood living room was a battle zone; flying fists, mean-spirited taunts and secret shame all hidden to outsiders by a façade of respectability. The jagged edge of invisible, yet painful emotional wounds left her to seek solace in a lot of wrong places and with a lot of the wrong people.
Her adult years were tainted by the childhood traumas, failed marriages and businesses, a bout of homelessness, even an arrest - her weapon was a chunk of guacamole. Her balm against depression and despair, painting and athletics, were threatened by a crippling disease and series of chronic illnesses.
At a rock-bottom point a decade ago, Banayat embarked on a soul-searching mission in Mexico. The six-month hiatus ignited within her a spark of hope that grew into a flame of possibility. Banayat suddenly saw a chance to "hack" her story; she could not change the past but she could script a new tomorrow.
And she opted to share her journey so as to benefit others.
Her first book, "Stretch Your Brave, Hack Your Story - Break Through Chronic Disease With Storytelling," is a piece of that endeavor.
The 185-page, coffee-table book published in April and embellished with Banayat's artwork - the cover is an eye-grabbing original oil painting illustration of a half-clothed girl seated in a chair with a book beneath it titled, "My Story" - chronicles not only Banayat's story but those of 15 other men and women. Each story offers an assessment of how these clients "stretch their brave."
For one the path to renewed health is relinquishing anger through support groups and volunteerism at a nature center. For another it is facing up to an eating disorder, writing a gratitude journal and finding the courage to say "No" to things and people that prove detrimental to her well-being.
The inspiration for her book was born from her work as a student of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York City, the largest nutrition school in the world.
The 18-month program proved her metamorphosis.
"I felt I was learning all these secrets, and I wanted to scream out to the world, 'Look what's going on here,' said Banayat, 50, from a seat at her tall kitchen table surrounded by a squash bounty from the front yard, organic garden of the home she shares with husband, Greg Fine, in a bucolic neighborhood near the base of Thumb Butte.
"We focused on primary foods, and secondary foods, including everything that is not put into your body - relationships, spirituality, physical activity and career," Banayat said. "If those things aren't all in line they will play out in your health."
Within six weeks of her studies, Banayat said she could paint again.
After earning her certificate, Banayat opened her private practice, Nourish Me Academy LLC; yet another chapter in her life story.
"I had no idea how to market myself as a health coach," Banayat said.
But she slowly built up a clientele such that just before she opted to write her first book she was working with some 20 clients at a time. Her optimal client load is about 12.
"It was wonderful to see how many people wanted the support of a health coach," Banayat said.
She admits her services are not inexpensive - the cost is between $100 and $120 a session and most clients do two one-hour sessions a week and are asked to commit for three to six-month periods. But Banayat said she and her clients view the work they do, and the changes they are able to make, as an investment in their life.
"It kind of hurts to put that money down, but if they do, they are likely to put the effort in," she said. "Almost all of my clients have had some level of success."
Artist, entrepreneur and Banayat client Pamela Smith feels that working with Banayat was "one of the best decisions I've ever made."
"I learned more about myself than I thought was possible," Smith wrote in a testimonial on Banayat's website. "There was no shaming, blaming, or pity party, just honest and clarity concerning issues... She was insightful, encouraging, supportive and fun."
In her book, Banayat offers practical tips and suggestions from her experience, and that of her clients, on how to break reliance on unhealthy habits to be happy and healthy.
"I love this work. It is so gratifying," said Banayat, the mother of two grown children and stepmother of eight more, who moved to Prescott in 2006 to be a commercial artist and five years later found a way to blend her need for better health with her art.
Her book is an extension of her practice, a creative exercise she wanted to explore "forever" but wasn't exactly sure where to begin. Working with clients, Banayat said she recognized "people want their stories heard."
In November 2014, the institute offered a writing course for health coaches. She knew her time had come.
For three months, Banayat was a full-time writer. She admits her work habits were not always healthy, and she was forced to open some long-closed doors.
"I was stressed ... I was revisiting some dark places," Banayat said.'
Upon completion, though, Banayat reveled in "how far I have come."
In April, Banayat submitted her book to the institute as part of a book competition. She was one of 400 submissions. In June, she was notified that the institute selected her book for its Top 10 Author's Award.
"It was one of those pinch me moments," Banayat said of the award that also came with a $3,000 prize.
Fellow self-help author Laurie Ann Powell describes Banayat's book as "a rich, meaningful and lovely work of art as well as a stirring personal reflection on what it means to seek to be well in an often painful world."
"Both a seeker and a guide on the path to wholeness herself, she has created a book that will become a cherished companion for those seeking a gentle voice to lead from a dark place to illumination of the soul."
As she reflects on the latest chapter in her story, Banayat admits she has never been happier.
One of her Facebook quotes speaks to her journey.
"Let's just say, I'm far more alert now as to when the clear blue sky kisses the soil."
If You Go
Melanie Banayat, the author of "Stretch Your Brave, Hack Your Story - Break Through Chronic Disease With Storytelling" - will do a book-signing and art show event at the Granite Mountain Brewing & Tap Room as part of the 4th Friday Art Walk in downtown Prescott on Sept. 25 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Those attending can view her artwork, listen to her storytelling and participate in a question-and-answer session.
Her book can be purchased at the Peregrine Book Company and on Amazon.com. For more information about Banayat's work and life visit her website: & Tap Room in downtown Prescott will be hosting a book-signing and art show event for Banayat during the 4th Friday Art Walk on Friday September 25, 2015 from 5 pm - 8 pm. View Banayat's artwork, and enjoy her storytelling and Q&A with the audience (at 5 pm). The book is available at Peregrine Book Company in Prescott, Amazon.com, and at www.MelanieBanayat.com
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter@HutsonNanci Reach her at 928-445-3333 Ext. 2041 or 928-642-6809.