Growing up in Haymarket, Melissa Riley suffered from psoriasis, which became severe when she was in middle school. But, it was in her last few years of high school that her health issues multiplied.
“My mom has always been very much into natural remedies,” she said. “She worked for the Homeopathic Center of America, and she always said that dairy was for baby cows, not for people. So, the first thing she told me was to stop all dairy and see how things went from there.”
Despite cutting out dairy for a few years, Riley still had many health woes. “I had so many stomach problems; I could hardly eat anything,” she said. “I played soccer and felt like I was about to throw up before every game. Although we weren't very big on taking medication, I finally went to a doctor.”
She had a CT scan, but nothing was found, so they put her on an antacid to see if that would help. “I took that for a long time, but my problems kept getting worse. It was the summer of 2014 and I was doubling over in pain all the time.” She was also having migraines and her head would hurt for three to four weeks on end.
Her mother, Bernadette, had a friend who offered reflexology and essential oils, so Riley decided to visit her. “I entered into this new world and knew this was where I needed to go,” she said. “She also recommended that I go to the Gainesville Holistic Health Center. I scheduled an appointment and the first thing the doctor said to me was ‘Don't you worry. You're going to feel better.’ It was an outstanding feeling.”
While she was there, she also met with a nutritionist. Within a week, her headaches stopped, and she started feeling better overall. “Within the first year of working with my nutritionist, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” said Riley. “If I could help somebody and give them the tools I’ve been given, my life would be complete.”
In 2020, she began taking nutrition classes and graduated in July 2021 as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. Last year, she became an Autoimmune Paleo-Certified Coach.
The Crunchy Leaf, which began as a blog about her favorite things, is now the name of her business. “My favorite season is fall and, on my website, I've got this big tree with colorful leaves that my friend painted for me. To me, the human body is like a tree, and your root system needs to be completely stable in order to grow a substantial tree. You can't have all those beautiful colors if your root system isn’t intact.”
Riley schedules a 20-minute phone call with new clients so she can find out what they're looking for and explain how she goes about the process of healing. Before the first appointment, she sends clients a food and mood journal.
“That's especially important because I have to see how they're feeling and how well they know their body when they're eating certain foods. They may not see the correlation, but I can. I also give them a questionnaire with 300 questions - it's very detailed and personal.” She then schedules a face-to-face meeting, which she prefers to do in person, but Zoom is also an option.
Amanda L., a client from Manassas, said, “I have had major gut issues due to long term use of medications for a chronic illness. This led me to get help from Melissa. She had me complete a very thorough questionnaire in order to assist with my specific issues.”
Riley and her clients then formulate small, medium and large goals. “Taking one thing at a time makes it much more manageable,” she said. “I'm there to support them, but also to show them that they have the power within them to do it themselves. They have the strength within them, they have the tools and I'm there to meet with them during their journey.”
“She helped me go through grocery aisles to find what foods to eat and what foods to avoid,” said Amanda. “It was overwhelming, but she made it seem do-able.”
Riley also assists clients with fridge and pantry clean outs. “I use my own natural products and clean everything, and then we organize everything in a way that fits,” she said. “We mark the foods that aren’t doing their bodies any good, and they have the power to remove them.” She helps devise meal ideas as well.
Now 32 years old, Riley is healthy and thriving. For others who are suffering, she advised them to reach out for help. “People often feel they're so alone in this world, but if you just ask, somebody's bound to know something or they can lead you somewhere.”
Amanda is glad she asked for assistance. “Today, I’m feeling much better and happier. I have more energy and fewer stomach problems and I’m able to enjoy doing more active things.”
This feature appears in the May 2023 edition of Haymarket-Gainesville Lifestyle Magazine. You can pick up copies at these locations and read the entire issue here.
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