While there are many amazing things about the Lyme disease community, one of my favorites is the number of amazing human-beings in it. Ashley Iovinelli is one of those people- a Lyme warrior and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Ashley lights up any room she enters. Ashley is the creative brain behind @WheatGrassWarrior.
Ashley's passion for nutrition and a holistic lifestyle stems back to her own personal struggle with chronic health issues. Over the years, she has battled IBS, interstitial cystitis, asthma, allergies, anxiety, and most recently late-stage neurological Lyme disease and tick infections Bartonella and Babesia.
Ashley loves cooking and the kitchen is the heart of her home. Much like Dr. Kelley, Ashley preaches the "real food diet", which consists of mainly organic, whole foods.
Q: Your social media is equal parts sharing factual education and opening up about your personal battle with Lyme disease. What drove you to open yourself up so publicly to the online community?
A: When I first got sick with Lyme disease, it was a very lonely and scary path. My husband and I were pretty much on our own navigating the challenging health care system until I found the Global Lyme Alliance and met some amazing friends and connections through their wonderful fundraising and advocacy events. I chose to share my story because I wanted to make sure others know they aren’t alone in their health journey and to provide helpful information, resources, and preventative tips. No one should have to go through the suffering my family and friends have endured with Lyme disease. To date, there have been at least a handful of people who have reached out and told me that they were diagnosed with Lyme because of hearing about it from my social media. I always said from the start, that if my content helps even just one person receive a correct diagnosis, then it's worth the effort!
Q: You wear many hats, two of which are Lyme warrior and Mother- neither an easy job! How do you balance being a mom and taking care of yourself? Do you have any advice for other moms battling illness?
A: My biggest advice is to be kind to yourself. Give yourself some grace for doing the best you can with some tough cards dealt. It's important to take time for you no matter how crazy things get. Whether that’s taking a bath, reading a book, meditation, going on a walk, or watching a favorite TV show. That ‘ME’ time is not selfish, it's self-care.
Believe me, I know that it’s so easy to go down the rabbit hole of guilt when you live with chronic illness, but that doesn’t help you and certainly doesn't help your children.
I used to feel guilty that my illness would somehow negatively impact my son’s childhood or that he was missing out on something until his teacher told us that he was a "bright leader and one of the most compassionate kids in the class who truly takes care of everyone." It was then I realized that my chronic illness wasn’t hindering my son at all. Our family’s challenges with chronic illness have actually helped shape my son into an even better human being, who at an early age can see the world from a place of love and compassion, and he will be able to carry these important lessons with him throughout his life to more easily understand and help others along the way.
Q: Like Dr. Kelley, you practice meditation and mindfulness. Are there any specific practices that others can also put into place?
A: Yes! Meditation has been so helpful for me in my healing journey and throughout stressful periods in my life. Even just 5 minutes a day is shown to have benefits. I think especially when life gets tough, we forget to simply breathe throughout the day, so the breathwork alone is very helpful. There are some apps including Headspace and Calm that many people find helpful, and also YouTube has tons of great free guided meditations as a place to start. You have to find what works for you!
Another helpful practice is journaling. There is no right or wrong way to approach this. I use it for daily gratitude lists and affirmations. I believe and have seen firsthand that when you give energy and thankfulness for the things you already have, more good things come your way.
Q: I would be remiss if I did not ask you about food! I know that your family follows the “real food diet.” As we know-food can be very powerful in aiding a healthy immune system. What should someone do if they want to adopt this style of eating?
A: We focus on eating real, organic whole foods in their natural state. For us, this means trying to avoid processed foods and sticking with fruits, vegetables, grains, and grass-fed meats, and also trying to limit dairy, gluten, and sugar, and buying organic products when possible. It is a process, we didn’t start eating this way overnight. If you can integrate one small change a week even, it will make a BIG difference in your digestion and health. For example, a great place to start is the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. I know that buying organic produce is not always doable financially, but if you can try to follow these lists that can help lower your exposure to pesticides and chemicals. The beauty of eating this way is that it is not deprivation or a strict regimen, it is being able to eat and enjoy a variety of foods without all the added junk.
I also encourage people to try to make their favorite foods in a healthier way…for example cauliflower crust pizza, zucchini or veggie noodles instead of regular pasta, and recently we made gluten and corn free nachos with cashew cheese (they were delicious).
Lastly, keep in mind that due to bio-individuality we all have different ways of eating that work for our unique body and health history. Choose foods that work for you, as the saying goes “one man’s food is another man’s poison."
Q: If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life- what would it be?
A: I would have to say fruit! I love my veggies, but I think I would miss fruit more (especially berries).