Since childhood, Smitha’s daughters suffered from skin issues, frequent colds & coughs and wheezing. Having found no relief from conventional medicines and having won her own health back naturally, Smitha transitioned her children towards Natural Foods. Read about her struggles and triumphs in her very relatable story here.
Neha Hemadri – 13 years, Ritu Hemadri – 10 years
(Neha and Ritu’s health journeys as narrated by their mother Smitha Hemadri)
My older daughter Neha - Puking, eczema, sleepless nights
Neha is 13 years old now. She was born in the US via a normal delivery, but preterm by 4 weeks. During her pregnancy, I was physically active, had a lot of raw food and also a lot of dairy.
After her birth, she developed eczema on her face. We used to smear her body with lotions. Neha was on mother’s milk and also on formula for one year while I resumed work. She used to puke a lot as a child and throughout her early ages. Even the slightest extra morsel would bring the entire meal out. Throwing up food and milk was a common thing and we spent a lot of time in our lives cleaning up. She also used to get up overnight and start crying for no reason. As she grew up, lotions for the eczema did not work for her and she used to scratch herself a lot, especially on her back and hurt herself. The severity was suppressed once I applied petroleum jelly on her body. We were so worried about her that in desperation we tried extreme steps like going to renowned far-off temples to pray, doing pooja to please specific gods, etc.
Time passed by and we switched back to lotion again for the skin problems. We did not give her milk in the morning as we realised she puked.She used to have cooked breakfast and go to school, most of the time oats porridge. We fed her small portions to avoid the vomiting. She also had cold and cough and some wheezing and had been to doctors who recommended puffs to inhale. We did not like the idea and did it only once.
My younger daughter Ritu – cough & cold, wheezing and skin problems
Ritu is 10 years old now. Unlike my first pregnancy, I was in India and busy with office. I did not really care about eating raw food, I had regular cooked meals and had put on more weight in this pregnancy. Ritu was delivered via a C-section at full term. When she was 24 days old, we noticed that her ear hole closed via an extra growth and it had to be operated. The doctors told us that she had pus which could have damaged her brain function. It seemed she had collected it before birth itself. So she was under observation for many months to see if she met her milestones. She was healthy otherwise and grew well too. However, she had cold most of her time as a toddler. We gave her allopathy meds for cold cough/slight wheezing on a daily basis and then Ayurvedic syrups. Kerchiefs were an integral part of her early days. Over time she developed rashes on her joints, inner part of her elbow and neck. So we did what we knew best at that time, based on Neha’s experience - apply lotions. But the problem persisted.
Implementing changes I learnt from my health journey
It was 2014, Neha was around 8-9 yrs and Ritu was around 5-6 yrs. I had been making changes to my lifestyle to address my health problems and had recovered wonderfully. I was convinced about the body’s self-healing powers and the importance of raw foods.
So by this time, I knew that 4 things had to be eliminated from Ritu’s life:
Junk / processed food
Neha was still having heartburns and puking issues, but her condition was still manageable by eating small portions, her problems were not as big as Ritu’s. So I focussed more on Ritu.
Juicing and eliminating milk & curd
Learning from my own health journey, I knew dairy was a big factor in skin issues and other allergies and I had quit by then. I had to make this change in the lives of my kids. This was easier said than done. Like any South Indian family, dairy was a big part of our lives. My family members and elders believed kids needed that calcium for their growing bones. As the first step, I thought I should try organic milk. I researched some organic milks like Akshaykalpa and started it for both. As days passed, I observed that Ritu’s skin was not as wet with pus and her wheezing sort of cough was better, but the problems still persisted. So I took the next jump to remove dairy fully.
I had to explain to her the harmful effects of dairy on health and luckily my kids were very cooperative that way. I also educated them about the ethical aspects of veganism so that their foundation is stronger. As kids, if they understand what a calf and its mommy cow go through, I believed they will give up dairy and they did.
I had to bring in alternatives. So I would give them juices. I started this for both my kids so one does not feel that she is being treated differently. I had to make the juices interesting. My niece is also with my kids for most of the second half of the day and I had to ensure that my kids were not gaping at her glass of milk. It was tough to face family and also meet the demands of the hungry kids. I would browse to search interesting drinks for their evenings. I would feed them juices which they liked.
As we began juicing, skin issues became better. Since I saw progress, the next big step was curd.
Imagine that we would sit on the dining table for dinner and my inlaws would have curd and Ritu would look at that container desperately. I knew this was a big issue and again I started browsing to find alternatives. I then found out about almond milk and dairy-free options. I took a class at Carrots restaurant on learning to make dairy-free alternatives. I started making curd at home with peanuts and fed dairy free plant milk to kids. My kids really liked the taste.
Overall, my kids started recovering well. While Ritu’s skin issue with a wet rash with pus and blood turned to dry and scaly discoloured skin, Neha’s eating disorders seemed to improve too. She started eating well and stopped vomiting. Her gut started healing perhaps. But Ritu still got colds and coughs frequently.
Alternatives for ghee and paneer
It was now close to a year while we went from normal dairy milk to organic milk to dairy-free milk and curd. Paneer was switched with tofu.
By this time, my husband after seeing changes in healing my children also became a vegan. So one day we just stopped ghee and I found cold pressed coconut oil to be a close substitute. Until then ghee salt rice was Ritu’s daily dinner and after removing ghee, she needed an alternative. The oil was hard due to winter and Ritu believed it to be ghee!
Removing ghee was a big step because it meant that I would be jeopardising all traditional recipes in festivals. There were heated discussions at home because I was taking extreme steps like removing some staple foods from kids’ diet. It meant that if something was made at home, the 4 of us would not have. So with a heavy heart, that item had to be removed from the menu and elders in the family were beginning to feel the pinch of my decisions. But we stood our ground for the sake of the kids. During family functions, I had taught them to avoid kheer, curd rice and sweets made of ghee. I would educate them about what each sweet will contain. I would give them a small talk before each meal outside or I would sit next to them to ensure they avoid dairy.
Handling tough social situations
I had also removed medicines from my kids’ lives and keeping them on juices and liquids when they fell sick was also making me face a lot for making kids ‘starve’. But since I knew the self-healing powers of the body, medicines were not needed anymore. We learnt to eat healthily and I knew how to manage during their illness.
Relatives often commented that removing dairy from kids’ meals was bad as it was a key source of calcium. Kids also lost weight after they went vegan. Neha was already on the thinner side and she became skinny. However, she had overcome vomiting issues. Ritu had overcome her skin issues completely and was only eliminating toxins through cold now, occasionally. I was not worried about their weight as the old issues which bothered us so much earlier, had healed to a large extent. I knew a lot of detoxification had happened and their bodies were healing so wonderfully without medicines and difficult-to-digest dairy products. I knew that getting adequate calcium is easy if my kids ate a varied plant-based diet with enough greens and nuts.
Removal of maida, sugar and junk
I had already quit sugar and maida in 2012 and I knew how I can make the switch to healthier flours and alternatives for my daughters.
In 2016 October, we moved to organic foods because while Ritu’s major skin issues were almost addressed, I would see her eliminate toxins with white sugar and maida, I saw a pattern around that. More than skin issues, it used to be a severe cold. So gradually we completely stopped all sugar made foods and replaced sugar with jaggery or dates. Ritu has a sweet tooth, so I had to moderate her and educate her against sweet foods. We switched to dates in all smoothies, chutneys, salads, juices and even in gravies that needed some mild sugar, like tofu butter masala. Once in a while if I would make cakes for her, I would use coconut sugar or jaggery.
We stopped bringing any biscuits or chocolates to home.
Refined oil-based products were avoided. Even if I had to buy some junk like papads or chikkis from the organic store, I would see that they don’t have vegetable oil or sugars. I bought only jaggery based chikkis.
Food & more
In addition to food changes, I also began focusing on other aspects of health:
Physical fitness - Neha is a voracious reader and not so much of an outdoor person. So I can barely get her to do some warm ups. Ritu is an outdoor person and goes to the park to play daily and thrice a week she plays basketball for 1-2 hrs.
Music – Positive engagement in a hobby or activity helps in kids’ brain development and gives them good mental / emotional health. So Neha is learning the Carnatic music vocal and Ritu plays the sitar.
Our healthy lifestyle today
My daughters’ journey of Natural Living began in 2014 when Neha was around 8-9 yrs and Ritu was around 5-6 yrs old. After suffering for so many years of their childhood, they are now illness free, medicine free. Thanks to switching to natural foods! - namely adding in more fruits and veggies, raw, juices, soups, salads, organic, healthy whole grains and removing dairy, white sugar, maida and packaged/processed foods. They eat a fruit breakfast, a whole food plant based organic cooked lunch and dinner.
They have deepened their understanding of natural foods to the extent of giving away the chocolates or biscuits they get in schools. They have learnt to avoid certain foods in parties. They even go to school picnics and come back without eating anything white or creamy. They carry juices and smoothies for a snack to schools.
As a mother, I put that extra effort to make/bake at home the junk they miss by replacing it with healthier alternatives. I believe that mothers have the power, patience and stamina to face all battles to heal their children only if they believe in the power of natural self-healing that the body has!
(About Smitha Hemadri: The above story is about Neha and Ritu, as narrated by their mother Smitha Hemadri. A computer engineer by qualification, Smitha worked as a Program Manager in a leading MNC in Bangalore. She quit her corporate role to pursue her interest in baking. She is a vegan baker & specializes in special needs like gluten free, sugar free, dairy free bakes.Smitha is a natural health enthusiast and believes in serving mankind as a health educator).
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