My daughter, Maya, first started showing signs of eczema as a baby. At the time, the doctors told me that the condition — inflammation of the skin that covered Maya's body with red, scaly spots — was genetic and incurable.
But I didn't give up.
I tried different treatments for years, including prescription steroids. Nothing seemed to work. Then, when Maya was about 7 years old, I started to notice the correlation between her eczema flare-ups and the food she was eating. I decided to try different dietary approaches and finally came across the raw vegan diet. It sounded crazy, but I decided it was worth a try.
I tried it first on myself, and it made me feel great. I then put my family of five on a vegan diet in April 2014. Within five months, Maya's skin cleared up and she was eczema-free for the first time in her life. I decided to share my success story on this site last year, and recently wrote a book about my experience in order to inspire others.
It's now been a year and a half since we first started following a mostly raw, plant-based diet. Here's what it's been like for our family since.
How Changing Our Diet Helped the Whole Family
Today, Maya is a happy and healthy 9-year-old. Since adopting the new diet, she has only had a few mild flare-ups.
My husband and I also have two younger sons, Travis, 6, and Troy, who is almost 3. Like Maya, both of the boys developed eczema at a very early age. The inflammation covered their legs, back, buttocks, arms, and stomachs. But after switching to the raw diet, the eczema disappeared quickly. Troy was 1 at the time, and his eczema vanished within three weeks. Travis started the diet just before he was 5. His skin is clear today and he hasn't had any flare-ups since.
Travis also has autism, and we believe we've seen improvements there as well. Before the dietary changes, he was very disconnected and had difficulty communicating. Today, although he still has autism, he's a verbal and vibrant child. While there's currently no evidence that diet can help with autism — though there are some studies that suggest a link — I'm happy that we've seen an improvement in his behavior and well-being.
Our Daily Diet: How We Make Raw Work for Us
Following a raw vegan diet hasn't always been easy, and we're constantly working on expanding our family's menu. But for now, here's what a typical day of meals looks like:
We start most mornings with a green smoothie — everyone loves it! It's hydrating and refreshing and gives us energy without making us feel too full. We typically make our smoothies out of bananas or pineapples with a large amount of greens, plus chia or flax.
Our lunches are simple: usually a bowl of fruit. The kids' favorites are watermelon, bananas, papaya, and mango.
Dinner is the one meal that is sometimes cooked, although there's always a big, green salad on the side. The kids eat pretty simple: Their favorite is veggie dip (cucumbers, apples, and radishes that they dip in a sauce made out of zucchini, tomatoes, and sunflower seeds) or “rice salad," which is lettuce, cucumbers, and avocado with rice and some herbs.
Right now, the kids are also enjoying small portions of steamed veggies, rice, or potatoes. We're watching their reactions to these cooked foods, and taking it slowly. So far, Maya’s skin has handled these additions well, although we're still keeping her diet high in raw foods for now.
My husband and I tend to go for more cooked dinners. We love vegan pumpkin curry with rice, simple steamed vegetables with potatoes or rice noodles, vegetable sushi, and fresh spring rolls with mango dip. We've discovered there are so many delicious dishes that don't require any meat or diary products.
Where We Are Today
About six months ago, we decided to move to northern Thailand, from our native Poland. We wanted to travel the world, and were also looking for a tropical and inexpensive place to live, since our diet is dependent on fresh produce. The abundance of seasonal fruits and vegetables here is amazing!
Of course, there's no way to be perfect with this diet all of the time, especially when we're not eating at home. While we typically bring food with us — usually fruit in containers or simple smoothies — there have been a few situations in which it hasn't been possible to follow the diet, like at weddings, or on long plane trips.
But in general, we try to follow a raw, vegan diet — and we've been so happy with what we've seen. Not only has the kids' eczema cleared up, but we all feel healthier and happier. When my husband and I do have a strong craving for something that's not raw or vegan, we usually go ahead and eat a little bit of it.
Overall, it's a process, and I'm still learning what works best for our family. While this diet isn't easy, living with eczema was much more difficult. Our kids' health is most important to us — and that encourages us to stay focused.
Above: Maya, before and after switching to a plant-based diet.