Directions

Ingredients

Podcast Ep. 1: Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast with Audra and Justin!

In this episode

Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast! In this inaugural episode, The Family Thrive cofounders Audra DiPadova and Justin Wilford tell listeners about who they are, what they do, and what people can expect from future conversations. The husband and wife duo discuss how their son’s terrifying brain cancer diagnosis changed their lives and led them to start their first organization, MaxLove Project. Through MaxLove Project they’ve empowered thousands of families like theirs, and now they're on a mission to reach all families through their newest project, The Family Thrive. The couple then offers a sneak peek of what amazing content awaits parents in The Family Thrive community: on the website, in the app, and—of course—on this podcast.  


About Audra and Justin


Audra DiPadova Wilford and Justin Wilford are parents to Max and Maesie and the co-founders of MaxLove Project and The Family Thrive. After going to culinary school, Audra earned her BA in Political Science and her Masters in Philosophy and Education. She is also a Functional Medicine health coach. Justin has a PhD in Geography and a PhD in Public Health and worked as a professor and researcher at UCLA and UC Irvine. Audra and Justin devote their time to both of their organizations with the mission to help every family live their best lives.

Show Notes

Upcoming Guests

  • Dr. Ruth McCarty is a doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine who currently works at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
  • Tiffani Ghere is a registered dietitian. She has recently written an article calling for the normalization of supplementing breastfeeding with formula feeding.
  • Vanessa Baker works as a coach for parents of teens who wants to change the narrative that “teens are problematic. She also hosts a podcast called You’ll Understand When You’re Younger.
  • Jena Curtis is a professor and member of the Health Department of SUNY Cortland. Her teaching specialty is in gender and sexuality.
  • Sofia B. Pertuz is an experienced Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) strategist and consults for a number of organizations.
  • Jenny Walters is a licensed marriage family therapist who specializes in working with Highly Sensitive People at her practice, Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy.
  • Colin Champ, MD is a researcher, associate professor, and practicing doctor at Duke. He has been featured in The Boston Globe, the National Cancer Institute, Medscape, and more.
  • Alexia Hall is a registered dietitian and Integrative and Functional Credentialed Practitioner (IFNCP, May 2021) with an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Certification in Food Allergy Management.
  • Dr. Angela Poff and Victoria Field are the founders of the Metabolic Health Initiative and host the Metabolic Health Summit conference with Dr. Dominic D'Agostino.
  • Maria Barrera is the founder and owner of Athena Acupuncture & Wellness Center, a pediatric acupuncturist at Open Mind Modalities, and Secretary of the Board of Trustees for the California Acupuncture & Traditional Medicine Association.
  • Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton is a psychologist whose work focuses on anxiety, depression, pain, and conversion disorders. Her workshop, Flourish: Knowing When We Need Help, is available on The Daily Thrive.


Justin: Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast! This is our inaugural episode. We're kicking things off by introducing ourselves, talking about what this podcast is gonna be, and then what The Family Thrive is gonna be.

So this podcast is gonna be focused on bringing parents experts: expert science, expert wisdom on everything from diet and nutrition, exercise, sleep, spirituality, emotional health, parenting. We're gonna have therapists on, we'll have doctors on, we'll have dietitians on. It's going to really be anybody who is an expert who can help us in all the different areas that it takes to have a family live their best lives. So that's what this podcast is gonna be about today.

I'm gonna introduce myself, Audra's gonna introduce herself, and as I said, we're gonna just give you all context for what The Family Thrive is and what we hope to do for a long time coming. So I'm Justin Wilford. I have two PhDs, one in Geography. That will not help anybody with any parenting stuff... Well, maybe that's not true, because actually my geography PhD—well, my geography dissertation—was on religious groups in American suburbs, specifically big mega-churches, and these mega-churches understood a lot about how to serve families. I myself am not a mega-churchgoer, but this was an academic study, so I might have something to say for my first PhD, but it was actually the second PhD that was really family-focused.

I went back to school to get a PhD in Public Health, specifically in family-focused health behavior change, really helping parents—and specifically childhood cancer parents—live, change their behaviors, do things in such a way to give them and their kids the best shot at living high-quality, meaningful lives. So yeah, I have two PhDs, I've spent most of my life in academia, and so this is a big shift for me to get out of academia and into the real world, helping real people.

Audra, I guess we can touch on other things about me, but I'll throw it over to you. Who are you?

Audra: Well, I am certainly not going to be able to just answer that and say it in a nice little nutshell. But I can tell you about my background, that what brings me to The Family Thrive in addition to being Max and Maesie’s mom and your partner. Let's see, what have I studied? I went to culinary school. I learned how to become a cook, I also went to school for philosophy and education.

Justin: So culinary school was when you were what, 19 or 20?

Audra: Yeah, 19, 19. And one of the things I realized, even at that young age was that life skills were really, really important. I didn't have an essential life skill, I didn't know enough about cooking. And two things: I wanted to be able to have a reliable career. If I ever needed to fall back on something or you know. I wanted to be able to have that career choice. And then secondly, I wanted to be able to cook for myself and hopefully a family one day. Look what happened.

So I worked in kitchens for a number of years, and then I went back to undergrad, got a degree in Political Science, which led me into education. And I went to school for grad school for philosophy and education, and then went into higher education administration. I worked in student leadership development, and then Max was diagnosed and our world changed and I became a cancer mom.

Justin: Yeah, do you experience your life as a before-Max’s-diagnosis and after-Max's-diagnosis?

Audra: A little bit, but one thing that looking back on things, it seems that everything built to be what I needed at the time. So in other words, all of my experience leading up to Max’s diagnosis gave me something that I needed to draw upon. During Max's diagnosis, moving into treatment, moving through everything, and starting and growing MaxLove Project.

Justin: I don't have that experience.

Audra: Really?

Justin: No, I think about my life really as before-Max's-diagnosis and after. 'Cause Max was diagnosed, so he was four-and-a-half years old when he was diagnosed with a rare mixed grade glioma. That's a brain tumor.

Audra: It's actually not the term that is used anymore...

Justin: That's the term that I've always used.

Audra: And I guess they don't use that term anymore works, just to be specific at this point, we would say a glioma, but it is historically mixed in types and grades.

Justin: So it wasn't a low grade glioma, let’s just say that.

Anyways. Yeah, so I had just finished my PhD in Geography. I was putting the finishing touches on a book, turning my dissertation into a book, publishing the book, ready to go out on the job market, and just be a nerd. Just be a tenure track professor. And that was the life I had envisioned, and then Max was diagnosed and everything I had studied was just all of a sudden irrelevant.

And I realized, and this is no knock to academics who are engaged in this type of thing, but I was basically doing research that was of interest to a handful of other scholars around the world. And it just wasn't gonna cut it, so there were a couple of years after Max's diagnosis where I was going through the motions in geography, but just realizing that this... I wasn't gonna be able to go on in this 'cause I had lost the fire and the drive.

So my experience is different. I didn't feel like what I had done up until then had prepared me for the diagnosis, for the treatment, for everything that happened afterward. But now that you say that you felt like you were slowly getting prepared for this. It does make sense, 'cause I think your reaction to it was, well, it was what led to MaxLove Project, the non-profit, and then eventually The Family Thrive. So I'm super grateful that you were prepared for this 'cause I was not.

Audra: Well, I mean, I wasn't prepared the day that Max was diagnosed. And the days soon after that, I was an absolute wreck. I certainly was not prepared for jumping off that cliff, I was not...or being pushed off that cliff. I was not prepared for that.

But it does strike me, and I don't know if you remember you said to me, “At one point, someday it's gonna make sense why you have all these different interests. Someday it's all going to come together.” And I remember at one point...it was like, “Wait a minute, it's starting to feel like...I get it. I'm starting to feel like I get what I'm supposed to do with this. I get that I'm supposed to make this into something, not only for Max but for others.” I really, really could see it.

And for the first time had clarity in my life. I try to start multiple little things from a non-profit before to a business, to all kinds of different things. I had...in addition to work in our education, I had worked on a bunch of little side projects and...

Justin: You always had an entrepreneurial spirit.

Audra: Yes, and it was strange because it seemed like I wasn't supposed to.

You work in higher education administration, you're just supposed to do that. Only entrepreneurs proven, gone to business school are the ones we are allowed to have entrepreneurial spirits, that's sort of like how...I feel like the environment that I understood growing up. It just seems so foreign. “I'm allowed to do this?”

And I think when Max was diagnosed, the boundaries were broken and I was like, “I'm allowed to step up. Not only allowed to step up—I need to step up to make this cancer into something that's going to give and help others and not just be our own personal trauma and tragedy. In fact, this can be life-changing in a super powerful and positive way, not just for us, but for an entire community. So what can we do with it?”

...Some of that understanding came from this work that I had done trying to put together a leadership program for my students. I worked at a community college at the time, and working on productivity and initiative, and working on really that foundational part, where—Viktor Frankl will always be a hero to me, and he wrote about that last enduring freedom: our freedom to choose, our response to any given stimulus, and, you know his story at all, you familiar with the story?

Justin: A little bit.

Audra: Author of “A Man's Search for Meaning.”

Justin: Umm, survived Nazi concentration camp?

Audra: Yeah, so he was experimented on. And in kind of an audience for the Nazis, he was like a subject of medical experimentation. And do you know what he envisioned when he was on the table and in the midst of that trauma and horror?

He envisioned what he was going to tell his students about his experience and how he was going to use it for education. He did not envision his revenge, he did not envision, I mean, what a powerful way to approach something horrible happening to you.

So he's a victim in that time, but he didn't want to live his life as a victim, and so that was really stirring in the background for me when Max was diagnosed, and then Brene Brown...her work [was] super, super alive and active for me when Max was diagnosed and these things came together. So it was almost like just a spark, and it was like, “I am going to jump into action for my son, for our family, but we're also going to make something powerful out of this.”

And so that is really how MaxLove Project was born in that children's hospital ICU, when we saw the opportunities to give. Now, the MaxLove Project just started as a service project. I don't know if you recall, but we started with giving away Cloud b Twilight Turtle nightlights.

Justin: Our garage was full of them.

Audra: Yeah, and so in that process, what happened was, Max came home after four weeks in the hospital, and he was so terrified of the dark even though his room had four lights on. He was so terrified, so I ran out to Target, I got one of these things but I remember feeling like “I'm gonna spend $32 on a night light,” it just feels weird, but whatever.

Came home and it's just the sweetest story. We called those stars healing stars. We created this whole narrative around green superpowers and the good guys fighting the bad guys, and the good guys being within us and supporting the good guys in their work. And he picked up that turtle, he put on the green light and he held it up to the back of his head and he goes, “Look, Mommy, I'm healing.”

Now it was at that point, I realized, so it seems like so much of healing for us anyway, was in the narratives we choose. How we chose to think about it, right? And we were told, when we were in the hospital for a couple of days in, to focus on Max’s quality of life. That had we come in 30 days later, it would have been because he would have been in a coma and he wouldn't have made it.

The neurosurgeon at the time said we would be calling it something called DIPG, 30 days later. But we know now that's not how they look at it, but still, he wouldn't have come home with us, is what we were told. We're told to focus on his quality of life, and so everything began, like, turned into not just fight this cancer at all costs, but...let's make sure Max can sleep, okay. Let's make sure that he feels good, that he feels strong, that all of the little things became really, really important.

And when we saw what it did for him, I wrote to that company that night and I said, “I wanna send this to other children's hospitals, I wanna do that.” And they got back to me and they said—and it ended up being a CEO, she didn't say she was a CEO—but she got back to me and she was like, “This is such a moving story, we wanna support you, we're gonna give you the product to do this with.” And that began our relationship, and the reason why I started MaxLove Project, Max's Love Project Incorporated, it's a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, was because I thought they would need a receipt. And that we should just, we're gonna need to do that.

But what happened in the process… So we get it off the ground and we're giving away turtle nightlights, and we're building a community through Facebook, and we're really working hard on just giving and serving and building a community. And then we started to see as we were diving into integrative health for Max, we were diving into quality of life care, other parents in that network started saying, “Wait a minute, what are you feeding Max? Wait a minute. No, what's acupuncture? Wait a minute. What are these things?”

Justin: Sleep can be healing.

Audra: Right. So we started to see that the white space that was there for us, the fact that hospitals are only really able, I really think the way that the healthcare system is set up, there are in many ways, not mechanisms built in to pay for all of these integrative modalities within current critical care.

So I'm not being suggestive in that way, I do think one day we'll have integrative care incorporated into all of pediatric critical care, but—so I'm trying to say I get it—but chemotherapy, surgery, radiation is what we were offered. And at our hospital, we were offered acupuncture (one of the few programs in the country), and we do talk to Dr. McCarty on this show in a little bit.

Justin: In a couple of weeks.

Audra: It's gonna be... It's a really, really great conversation. She's a pioneer and totally opened our eyes. But that white space that we were seeing, the need for quality of life-enhancing care, all the things that we can do at home, everything that is based in some evidence to help and not hurt, to support, to help us thrive. These are the things that we need, that we can do at home, but what are they? How do we learn more? How do we incorporate it into our lives? That white space that we identified, we started to see hundreds and now thousands of other families who are experiencing the same exact thing. So we started to grow into that, and that's when we became something way beyond a service project.

Justin: So we started...so it was sleep at the beginning, with the Twilight Turtles, and then it was food, because of Audra’s culinary background, and then I had access to the huge medical library, it was all online, but I could start to do research and start to look around. “Is there anything about diet and cancer, is there anything at all?”

And so we started to connect with some doctors and researchers around diet and cancer, and I remember we had our first cooking class at the teaching kitchen at the community college where Audra was working at. And so we started to build out... So we had sleep and nutrition, and then as we began to get connected with other doctors and researchers, we started to put together a picture of all things that parents could do at home, outside of the clinic, to give them and their kids the best shot at living a full, meaningful, thriving life.

And so we collected a really awesome Medical Advisory Board as a part of MaxLove Project, and we came up with the Be Super action plan… This is all the things like stress management for parents. And so stress trickles down to our kids, so what can parents do to start to get a handle on their own stress? Exercise, and of course sleep, nutrition, building a positive mindset.

So these are all things that can be done outside. And of course, social support, which ended up being the focus of my dissertation in public health: parental social support. So these are all the things that parents can do outside of the hospital, and that has been our focus like... We let the experts do what they do. We're not surgeons, we're not oncologists. We’re parents, and so we're in charge of the sleep, we're in charge of the food, we’re in charge of their physical activity. So what are all the things that we can do? And that ended up being the real driving force that got MaxLove Project off the ground, I think, into what it is today, a coherent force for quality of life for families facing childhood cancer.

Audra: And for all families. One thing that I wanna reflect on is when we were in the hospital very early on, and there was a family next door to us in infusion, and I will never forget, this mom was struggling to talk to the doctor through a translator telephone. And I will never ever forget the experience of thinking, “How is this mother remotely as empowered as I am in, this moment?” Like, This is just not fair. It is not fair to not be able to really, really be here, and to know with all assurances that you're communicating as effectively as you can and that you’re understanding what someone's saying, it just didn't feel... It didn't feel right.

And one of the things that we've seen is that families with—and especially in our health care system—who are incredibly well-resourced, still struggle to get access to integrative health and still struggle to get the information needed to make the decisions that will support their child's thriving, and their family thriving.

A commitment to finding ways to provide this evidence-based information and resources and support to all families and to all hospitalized families became a really critical part of growing MaxLove Project. And we're still working on that, and we'll always be working on that. I think that is just going to be a forever part of the mission, but it's one of the things that encouraged the growth of our culinary medicine collaborative, so we went from that one little cooking class to start off all those years ago, to hosting monthly cooking classes in our community, to taking them online in COVID, to now having them online live in our app and recorded and posted and available at all times to any of the users of our MaxLove Connect app. It's been an incredible progression.

In addition to that, our culinary medicine collaborative is a really beautiful working group of hospital practitioners who’ve come together to try to figure out how to do culinary medicine in the pediatric healthcare setting. And that is something that we're really committed to because we know as we start doing this in the hospital that more and more families are going to have access, who don't have access to these resources out of the hospital. That will only be growing into the future as well.

Justin: Okay, so... What does any of this have to do with The Family Thrive? The name of this podcast is The Family Thrive Podcast, our website, the platform, The Family Thrive, The Daily Thrive. So Audra, I'll let you take it, except I just wanna express my experience and how The Family Thrive grew out of this and see if it matches with yours.

We would tell supporters, just people in our community, anyone we would need who would ask about MaxLove Project, we would tell them about all the things that we do. And so we go through the cooking classes, the exercise, the stress management…

Audra: Social support.

Justin: All that stuff, and they would say, “Wow, well, that seems like something that my family could use or really everyone can use.” And my response would always be, “Yeah, totally, but... Sorry, we're just a little non-profit and we just work with childhood cancer families.”

But I had heard that enough times over so many years that it started to bubble up for me like, We need to figure out how to bring this approach to all families. The approach is really one where we blend expertise like doctors, researchers, clinicians, with really engaging, fun (what I like to use) wisdom, like the parent-on-the-ground wisdom, and blend these two. So it's science and wisdom, it is the expertise, it's blended with the parent engagement. Fun, beautiful, engaging. And that is the spirit of MaxLove Project, and we wanted to bring that to every single family, no matter what their circumstances. How does that land for you?

Audra: Yeah, I agree. I would get questions, “Can you host cooking classes for the community? We can do it as a fundraiser? Please, can we have our own cooking class which is for typical families? Can we? When is your cookbook coming out? When is your cookbook coming out?” Again and again and again. It's a good question. It is coming, but it is coming through The Family Thrive.

And so...you know that you've got something when people ask for it. This doesn't come out of nowhere. People have been asking for it, and so that sometimes even more than childhood cancer families, we would hear from the community on this because the MaxLove Project way—our Be Super action plan, our methodology, our support—does apply to health and wellness for everybody.

And one thing that is totally clear, and if you start dipping your toe into pediatric health care, it's increasingly clear that we are struggling as a society with really, really challenging health issues related to lifestyle. And how do we start intervening on these earlier? How do we start intervening on these things in childhood, how do we set our kids up for life-long thriver-ship and health? How do we grow old in the most beautiful, empowered way possible?

It's very similar to the MaxLove Project Mission. But how do we get here? Where did The Family Thrive come from? It came from all of these seeds being planted along the way, it came from people asking for it, and then finally COVID-19 hit MaxLove Project and hit MaxLove Project hard. And we were very, very lucky, so fortunate to have donors step forward and say, “We're not going to allow MaxLove Project to stop.”

Justin: We were right in the middle of planning for several really big fundraisers. Right in the middle, and they were all in-person, face-to-face, all that stuff.

Audra: We had grown to the point to be highly dependent on fundraisers that required presence, physical presence, like golf and our big beautiful Farm to Fork event and others, Coaches Fighting Cancer. We had so many really wonderful community gatherings that were fundraisers, but then also a huge amount of MaxLove Project events, all in-person, and we are a tiny, tiny and mighty team, making all of this happen. But we have known for a long time—and I'll speak on the MaxLove Project, on the side of the CEO of MaxLove Project of a small non-profit: anyone who is running a small non-profit knows they're searching for sustainability. And often like hoping and praying for a hero, “Would somebody come along? High net worth, create an endowment with us, let's live in perpetuity.” Is there a way that we create alternative revenue sources? Are there different types of fundraising? Can we partner with corporate folks in a different way to create a more sustainable path than just essentially asking for money for the same thing again and again and again?

And so this has been on the back of my mind forever. In fact, and we started MaxLove Project, we started by selling hats. We had a beautiful headwear brand, and we started as a social enterprise. Our board member Diana did an incredible job with that. Gina did an amazing job with the branding. People could buy MaxLove brand hats in Japan at one time. We started down on that path, but we invested so much into growing the non-profit that we just didn't have the ability to invest in a social enterprise at the time.

So in any case, COVID goes down. We're working on a cookbook. Yes, we were working on the MaxLove Project Cookbook. We were working on a series of magazines. We had the coolest stuff, the best food photographer in the region, best graphic designer, best chefs, everybody signed up volunteering, ready to go. Plus our culinary medicine collaborative, we're making recipes just for use in the hospital, everything is on fire, we're doing it… And we lose all of that funding. But I thought there's no way we're gonna let this go down, we are not stopping this work. This work is too important. And what if we could put this work out there to a bigger community in a way bigger market, a huge community, meaning all families to benefit everybody and bring in revenue to support MaxLove Project and all of our work? What if we could do something self-sustaining in a way? Like, what if we could do something, what if we could be our own hero?

And right there, that's when The Family Thrive came into full view and full vision. We were going to start an awesome online platform. Something beyond a website where we can gather families, we could provide expert-backed, evidence-based information, beautiful recipes, beautiful cookbooks, a magazine, all of the things, and we could generate revenue in this for-profit entity that would eventually support MaxLove Project’s operations as well. And this is how we decided to not only create a bigger stage for ourselves and really introduce the MaxLove Project way to the world, but provide for typical families with everything that we've learned and create community around family thriving.

One thing that we noticed along the way is that the very same white space, like I said, for MaxLove Project families, exist for regular families, and all of the health and wellness information is geared towards individuals. So if it's men, you might be thinking longevity, optimization, for women, it is always weight loss, but where is the acknowledgment that is “families, we're doing this together?”

Justin: We're doing it together.

Audra: And so this is where the Family Thrive was born at the very...within the first two weeks of the shutdown...I think two weeks into the first COVID shutdown, when we saw what was happening. The wheel started turning real fast and that pivot happened quickly, the team that we had volunteering to work on everything, we presented the plan, and they said, “Yep, we're down. Let's do it.”

Justin: There was a sense at the beginning of COVID, between Audra and I, that this was going to be a massively disruptive event. I was teaching in public health, working in public health. And so I had my ear to the ground. I had sensed since really mid-January that something big was coming. And so when the shutdown started to happen, what is mid-late March, there was a sense that we need to take this opportunity to do something big. It just felt like this is our shot, not that the universe is bringing COVID to everyone so that we can build The Family Thrive. But for us, it was this opening of like, “We just need to step into the unknown.”

Audra: It was a call to action. If you were going to walk through COVID and come out the other end, everyone's gonna be transformed in some way. And it was getting back to that empowerment like, “How did we wanna do this?” And we wanted to see this as an opportunity to grow our movement, and it's been incredible. The flow around it... It has just been amazing.

I think one thing that people, the conversations are changing in COVID too because people started seeing that health and wellness really matters. It's not just like a cultural thing, and it's cool to do yoga and get green juice or whatever, and of course, there's a ton of privilege wrapped up in that, but COVID showed us that health and wellness is something that is essential to human and planetary flourishing. I feel like there's a human rights aspect involved in it. It's something that we're seeing now is not just a privileged choice, but something everyone needs access to, and that's one reason why we built the platform the way that we have to try to provide broad access.

Justin: Okay, so let's just get into it. What is The Family Thrive? We've alluded to it, we've talked kind of in big 30,000-foot terms, but let's get a little more detailed.

So I'm gonna give my take on The Family Thrive and you can give yours. So my overview of The Family Thrive is that it is an online platform. We have an outward-facing website that has tons of amazing recipes, and it has previews of all the content that we are going to have on a subscriber-only platform. So we have this outward-facing website for everybody, and then we have a subscriber-only platform that is full of expert-written, expert-produced articles and how-to’s.

When it comes to the subscriber-only platform, I think of it as having three main parts. So there's one part that is just unique, fresh content coming out every single day from experts on things like sleep, nutrition, exercise, parenting, emotional health, mental health, all focused on parents, kids, and families.

Then there's a second part, which is live events. So in this subscriber-only app, there are weekly live events happening most days of the week, things like exercises, classes for parents, mental health, emotional health, social support, all coordinated, planned out, and done by experts again, and all of them [are] parents as well.

And then there is this third part, which is our workshop e-learning component. So this app has amazing workshops on our Thrive Pillars. And so in The Family Thrive, we have these Thrive Pillars, which are the main areas families can focus on to be their best: nourish, flourish, embody and connect. And then we have the expert-written workshops as well, and these expert-written and designed workshops on specific things like emotional health; managing, healing the inner critic. Things like how to know when parental stress has gotten too much and we need to go get help, and then what does that help look like? We have a really awesome workshop that I'm so excited about, just for dads on emotional health and emotional connection just for dads.

And so that's what we have going on in the subscriber-only app. We have the daily fresh content, which is also a community—so in that content, we're gonna be able to comment and share and talk about it, connect with other parents—and we have the live events, and then we have the workshop. So Audra, how would you like to flesh that out?

Audra: Well, I think you covered it pretty, pretty comprehensively, but I can talk about some of the things that I'm really excited about that we're building into this into this platform.

I'm really excited about the live events, in-app events with experts, because the experience is cool...Zoom is integrated into the app, so you...can just be there on your phone. And I'm really excited because you have... I know as a mom, it can be really hard—I read a lot of articles and there's no direct access to anyone to ask questions. I love that I'll be able to do that in this app; that I'll actually be able to have direct access to experts, clinical psychologists, therapists, dieticians. I’m really excited.

And then I'm excited to the community, about the community that's going to surround that. I think one thing that's really cool about this is that it is not in our immediate goal structure or anything like that, or looking at the first five years, at least of this business to have a massive network of millions of people. We're not looking to be the next Facebook, we're looking to be a mutually-supportive, safe, enclosed social network, which means it's gonna be really personal and personable and encouraging and supportive and safe. And so I'm really daunted, personally, on social media out there. It is something that I'm grateful for, deeply grateful for. It's how we have grown our work and met so many people and made so many connections and maintained connections and all of that. But there are parts of it that can feel really unsafe, especially when you're going into health and wellness.

One thing that I find to be really difficult is that influencers make a lot of claims around health information and knowledge that sometimes can be really dubious, it can be, my experience as a cancer mom over the past almost 10 years has been... I have had to develop some pretty amazing information competency, having been to grad school and having a partner with two PhDs, it can still be hard to sift through information. And there is a lot of dubious stuff out there and people making wild claims and trying to sell their plans and all of that. So I love that the space will be curated and edited down for me. I love that it will be the kernel of really, really great wisdom from experts that it's not just being delivered to sell something, to sell a plan, or because someone was sponsored to do it. So I'm really, really excited about getting that direct access in a safe and supportive space with others, and then being able to be in a community, a supportive community around that.

One of the things that we say about The Family Thrive is “we got your back.” There's that sense that when you need something, you pull up the app, you get in there, get support, maybe take a workshop, maybe jump into a live event, join our Culinary Academy, whatever it might be that interests you, and then dip out. It's not addictive, it's not, we're not geared around clickbait. We're definitely a platform to and a group of experts that believes in meeting people where they are, progress over perfection. And, as a mom, I find it really, really motivating that we don't see that there's only one way to do this health thing and wellness. That there's not just...

Justin: Sure.

Audra: Right? That we've created a plan that is about tapping into what you need. I think, you know what I missed in my bio is that I'm a certified Functional Medicine health coach.

Justin: Right. Yes, you did.

Audra: Totally got distracted. Missed that part. So I got my certification through the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, and it's an awesome program, and it's a year-long program, so like a weekend sort of thing, and I learned some really powerful health coaching practices through that. And really meeting people where they are, walking with people through their journeys and holding the space so people can reveal their experience and then decide as they're looking, making changes in their lives, people know what changes they want to make and what's achievable and what is going to be the powerful next step for them. I don't know that for someone. You know that for you.

Justin: Well, a major part of my public health PhD program was behavior change—learning about behavior change—and there's something called the Behavior Change Paradox, and it goes something like: only when you can accept yourself exactly as you are, can you start to make real change. And that is how we feel about ourselves, that is how we feel about everything

And so the app is really set up for parents to have to choose their own adventure of just, what is of interest to you right now, what is exciting for you right now… There is no one path to thriving, certainly there is no one path to thriving. And so for the app, you can set your notifications and follow the exact topics that you want, and so you can really curate an experience that is just right for you; whatever is going on for you and your family. I think that is a real driving ethos for The Family Thrive: no one way to thrive, choose your own adventure, be at peace with where you're at, and then in that moment when new options come open, step forth in confidence and your own truth.

Audra: Yeah, it made me think too… Another thing along, speaking of the journey, that MaxLove Project has done for me, that The Family Thrive will be bringing forward, is almost mentorship companionship, if you will.

I've made friends through MaxLove Project. We're united in our journey, but we have kids of very different ages. And one thing that's been cool for me is having some moms who are further ahead than I am, help show the way or help normalize certain things…  it's just been really cool to have the mutual support, whereas if it wasn't for the MaxLove Project, I would be kind of stuck in grade levels. It's the sixth-grade moms and the ninth-grade moms or whatever it might be. I'd be stuck in this little pod of grade levels, and it's been really cool to have people who are at different stages. So we're gonna have resources for new parents. I'm really, really excited about digging into, we have a conversation coming up with Tiffani Ghere, talking about breastfeeding and beyond, and she is a part of a really great formula startup actually, and really excited to normalize the conversations around feeding our babies.

[We’ll] get into everything all the way up through coaching parents of teenagers. We have Vanessa Baker, an expert on that. We have Jena Curtis... she's a professor of gender and sexuality. We’ll be talking about gender and sexuality. We have Sofia [Pertuz], an expert on social justice talking who's gonna talk with us on, an expert on diversity and equity, going to talk with us about social justice, how to talk to our kids about race and social justice, and how to engage our communities. And things like that. These are all of the things that… I don't know, it's hard for me to find where to have these conversations sometimes, and we're gonna have them all in one place.

Justin: And the conversations focus specifically on families… Right? So much in the health and wellness world, as Audra has just said, is focused on individuals.

Audra: Let's focus on macros and doing specific things in the gym.

Justin: Yeah, yeah, this is all about thriving together, and I'm super excited about the dad content, so.

Audra: I'm super excited about the dad content as well. And I have to tell you, I have personally benefited from Justin's development of the dad content, and I know our kids have as well. And so it's something that's been a powerful part of the change in our own family, personally.

So much of this work we've benefited from personally, I think maybe that's, you wanna know why we started MaxLove Project, 'cause we've seen it, we went from focusing on our child's health to realizing that thriving is a family project.

Justin: Well, we heard about this idea early on in a MaxLove Project, and it became a guiding principle for us. It’s called the Oxygen Mask Principle. And so if you are passed out in your airplane seat, you cannot put the oxygen mask on your child, and so they always say, “Put your own oxygen mask on first, and then you can attend to your child.” And I don't know that we need to take that as gospel, that you can't do anything for your kid until you just totally focus on yourself. Of course, we have to walk and chew gum. But the point is that if you neglect your self-care, your child's gonna suffer for it.

So that became a guiding principle for us that we needed to start to look at our own health, and then it started out with physical health, and for me, in particular, and eventually got to mental and emotional health, where if I'm not really taking care of my anxiety, my stress, my irritability, then I can't be the best father for my kids. It started out though, me projecting it on to other families saying, “You know, I need to do this mental and emotional health work so we can create programs for other families.” And then as I started to dig into it, I realized like, “Oh, I might need this. This might be good for me.”

And so I started to get into therapy and different therapeutic approaches while I was working with psychologists on these programs. And it has been life-changing for me, and I'm so excited to bring this stuff to other dads, it's gonna be a major focus of The Family Thrive is really connecting dads to their own emotional worlds, inner worlds, and that when they can really start to get in touch with what's happening inside, they're gonna be—their entire world will change and they will be able to connect with their kids and their partner in a whole new way. And I am super excited about this, it's gonna be a major topic of podcasts to come, so stay tuned on that.

Audra: So I can hear that you're perking up all the partners out there, the partners to these dads if they are partnered, that ears perking up with the potential and the promise of that. 'Cause it's something that our society doesn't support.

Justin: Yeah, we don't have a lot of role models for how to process our emotional stuff as men and as fathers. So a lot of it gets ignored, it gets avoided, it gets pushed down. And so for, in the best case scenario, what happens is that [for] fathers, our emotional world just…  It just gets truncated, it gets restricted down to a band.

We say, “Well, we're never gonna let out anything too intense.” But what happens is that not just the low-end gets cut off, but the high-end gets cut off as well. And so that's in the best case scenario, so you have an even-keeled dad who's just coming in every day, just doing the thing. But that dad is not able to really connect with the highs and lows of everyone else going on or what everyone is experiencing in the family. And so it might be a dad who is able to show up physically, but can that dad show up emotionally? And that's where the magic happens.

So we're gonna be doing a lot of work on that, and I don't wanna make this whole show about dads, but I, but it is the stuff that I am super passionate about. This is, I believe, is the key to really unlocking everything else, at least for dads, is emotional health and wellness. And so we're working with different psychologists, different therapists, and relationship coaches all doing amazing work around this, I truly believe it's going to be life-changing, and I can't wait to see a bunch of dads in The Daily Thrive.

Audra: I wanna give one more plug for The Family Thrive that I think is really exciting and ground-breaking, and that's in an area of my passion, which is Fierce Foods. And so the Fierce Foods platform we developed initially for MaxLove Project because saying, healthy foods doesn't really make sense, I have a dietitian friend, I was like, “You can be healthy. Your body can be healthy, but a food cannot be healthy. A food can be nourishing, a food can be other things.” And I mean, the connotation isn't great. I don't care who you are, and how nourishing you choose to eat or [what] your choices are, but saying when someone says, “Hey, you wanna go to that Healthy Restaurant?” most people are like, “I feel like I should,” or whatever. And kids certainly don't like the word, kids do not—I mean, it is—the connotation is definitely negative, so we went with Fierce Foods because of course the alliteration is fantastic, but then the connotation is powerful.

Justin: Foods that make you strong.

Audra: Strong and feel great, and they have power. And the thought that what is the power of what goes in you has power in you and is fortifying and all of that. So that has been our platform all on the way we developed our Fierce Foods Academy out of that, which is our cooking classes and related programs. And so coming into The Family Thrive, we still wanted the work to be the work of culinary medicine. And why is that? Because the odds are stacked against us when it comes to food and nutrition in this country, with the standard American lifestyle.

You hear the tips shop, the perimeter of the store and all of that, but it takes a significant amount of nutritional competency to be able to do that. It is not easy. People say shop at the farmers market. Of course, that's great if you have access to it, but then what. What do I do with it? Most of us don't have training on how to cook and how to cook at home; it can be overwhelming and difficult. And so instead of using any dietary philosophy specifically, what we've done with our Fierce Foods approach is the focus is on whole foods, nourishing whole foods. You know the research even better than I do, that when we eat whole foods we're getting there, right? Whole foods are better than processed foods for our bodies.

Justin: In public health and health sciences, there's this thing called the Nutrition Wars. And so researchers get really heated when they argue about, is it low fat, is it low carb, what is the right approach? Is it the Dash diet, the Atkins diet?

Audra: No meat-eating.

Justin: So a lot of... Just a lot of vitriol and animosity and the Nutrition Wars. But the cool thing that when you step back and you take a look at the big major studies out there, what you see is a common thread running through them, and it's basically this: if you are eating whole foods, and that includes meat, if you are eating whole foods and limiting processed foods, especially what they call ultra-processed foods, and we have articles about all that on The Daily Thrive, but if you're doing these things, then you are getting the best possible nutrition.

And that if you wanna tweak around the edges and maybe have a little bit less of this and a little bit more of that, we actually get into some of the details as well. But from a broad perspective on a daily basis, it's really about whole foods, it's about limiting processed and ultra-processed foods, and the research is really clear, you can go really low carb, really high carb, really low fat, really high fat, but if it's whole foods, on average, people are way more healthy. They are way healthier, they lose weight, their blood profiles build more muscle, lower cardiovascular disease risk. So that is what we help parents with...

So then the question becomes, alright, that's all great. “You're telling me whole foods and limiting ultra-processed and processed food, but I'm a busy parent. I don't have time for that nonsense.” And so all of the rest... Well, okay, so not all of the... There are gonna be a couple of recipes that are a little fancier, that are fun, if you wanna give them a try.

Audra: We have legit, amazing chefs working on the steps. You are gonna get culinary in with the medicine, but you're going to learn some culinary tips and tricks which are amazing. These are life skills.

Justin: We're also gonna have a ton of recipes that are just for busy parents, of like how do we get this whole-food, low-processed meal on the table quickly, because I don't have time for this. And so we understand that, we live that same reality every day.

Audra: And one thing I wanted to share about this too, in the Fierce Foods approach that is really, really cool, is that we are not prescribing anything. We're not telling you exactly how to eat, but we're also providing the tools for you to identify where you might wanna be.

So we have three steps in our Fierce Food spectrum that all of the recipes are linked to that help you identify through our dietitian where you might wanna be. And so we start with basic whole foods, and then we have our moderate, something we do it on a scale that relates to metabolic health, we have a moderate carbohydrate level, and then we have a low-carb meals, and so these are things that can help you easily identify along with icons for allergens, if you're looking for a dairy-free, vegetarian, gluten-free, whatever it might be, we are going to have those identifiers as well.

We're trying to make it really quick and easy to identify even on a health-related spectrum, how you and your family might be served by those recipes. And then we infuse that with some culinary education, the precision of the support from a dietitian, and we have a recipe for, I think an all new way of looking at nourishing a family, and where I'm really, really excited about this particular part of the program because it's something very close to my heart. And I'm excited to bring this out to all families and all of you all out there who've been asking for the MaxLove Cookbook. This is it.

Justin: Awesome, wow, I think we've covered the main things. So we talked about our background, how we got here, how The Family Thrive came about, what The Family Thrive is.

Audra: Yeah, I wanted to talk, just quickly as we're ending this, about our timeline. And we're gonna be launching this podcast, and so people are gonna be listening to this as we are launching the platform. And I think it's going to be an amazing journey that we're gonna take together with our early adopters and early platform users, 'cause we're gonna be building this over the next couple of years, and our early users are going to be essential in building this community. So I wanna thank everyone who's listening and who is jumping into the platform, and I'm getting a lot of use out of it because it's something. This is a movement for family thriver-ship that we're really growing together.

Justin: Yes, this is a community that is gonna grow over time, and we're so hopeful that you choose to be a part of it, and we hope to see you in The Daily Thrive. So The Family Thrive is the overarching brand. It's the outward-facing website, eventually The Family Thrive... We eventually wanna do more things than just a subscriber-only platform. I will let you in on, one dream that I have, I might as well just like... What do they call it? Dreamcasting?

Audra: Yeah.

Justin: Alright, so I'm gonna dream cast this. I wanna have a family-friendly, super cool music festival. As a parent, I do not wanna go to Coachella. I do not wanna go to any of these other festivals.

Audra: And they don't want us to either.

Justin: Yeah, they don't... And I’m actually banned in several of these... So I want a family-friendly music festival that has cool music, that is fun, and that is also like, there's gonna be a quiet nap tent when your kid needs to take a nap and wonderful changing station. Okay, so that is my dream. I would love for The Family Thrive to be a part of something like that, but anyways.

Audra: Can I share a dream? I am so excited for The Family Thrive Membership box as I want every month to get new, kind of like BirchBox, but Family-Thrive-style. And I wanna get samples of products used in The Family Thrive and used in all of our culinary workshops, so that I can try them out and see what fits for my family and our lifestyle.

Justin: We are doing some dreamcasting here. Alright, I love it. Yeah, so big things are going to happen, but it's gonna start with The Daily Thrive. So The Daily Thrive is the subscriber-only platform, that's where all the good stuff's gonna happen.

You can go to www.thefamilythrive.com. You can get your 30-day free trial there. And then hop on, there will be some other opportunities, so keep your eyes out, if you're lucky, there will be some other opportunities to get a 90-day free trial. But we are super confident that you're going to love this, that parents are going to love this and that we're gonna have a community that you're gonna wanna be a part of for a long time, so... I hope to see you over there.

Audra: I just wanna give a quick shout-out to Matt, our director of media production, who was producing this podcast. You are... If you're gonna be continuing to listen to your podcast, this podcast, which we hope you will, then Matt is the one making it magical.

And I also wanna give a shout-out to Leah Goren, who has done the illustration for this podcast cover, I guess you call it. She's super, super talented. Her illustration is also featured on the home page of our website, and she's a really amazing artist, we’re really grateful that she's working with us.

Justin: I guess we should also end by just giving a preview of the next several episodes. So if you're thinking about, “Do I wanna subscribe to this podcast or not?”

Audra: Well, yes!

Justin: The answer is yes. And this is what you have to look forward to. So we are going to have in the next couple of weeks, Jenny Walters marriage family therapist, who talked with us about just so many amazing things around stress, around being a Highly Sensitive Person, around coping with that mind chatter, the inner critic, right: “You are not a good enough parent. You're never gonna be enough.” Right, so how we start to approach this voice and befriend this voice, so we have Jenny Walters. We have Colin Champ MD, a physician at Duke, he is an amazing not only physician, author. He used to do his own podcast now he's too busy researching and writing.

Audra: You know what's cool though, is that when we first met Dr. Champ, he's been a friend of MaxLove Project for such a long time, but when we first met him, he wasn't a dad and he's now a dad, and so things have changed a little bit.

Justin: So we talk about his experience as a physician and all of the research that he does around diet, physical activity, all of this lifestyle stuff, and then how being a dad has affected his research and how his research has affected his family life. And then we talk with our dietitian, Lexi Hall.

Audra: An amazing mama bear, who also was thrown into pediatric healthcare with her daughter's diagnosis and then became a functional dietitian after that and is running our culinary medicine programming and at our hospital as well. And she is a dynamo, and one thing I love about Lexi is that she's so hungry for knowledge. She is never resting on her laurels or what she learned a year ago. She is up on it all, she's a major part of The Family Thrive’s Fierce Foods program.

Justin: And then... Let's see, we talk with Dr. Ruth McCarty.

Audra: Dear Ruth. Our healer. She's incredible, she's a pioneer. She has been doing pediatric acupuncture in-patient, in the hospital for almost 20 years. She takes us through that journey, she takes us through the power of traditional Chinese medicine, the history, the research. She takes us through one of her, I think, greatest passions in this life, which is helping people die as beautifully as they came into this world.

Justin: We only briefly touched on that, we asked her back to do a whole episode just on death. And a really salient topic, of course, in the childhood cancer world, but really every family, when grandma dies—and especially in this last year...

Audra: It's a really important part of thriving when you look at...the health-span, lifespan. Thriving is something that we need to be talking a lot more about, so it’s almost an area of activism, I feel like for us, is to normalize these conversations.  

Justin: And then in the next couple of weeks, we are going to air our interview with Dr. Jena Curtis.

Audra: Such a fun conversation.

Justin: We mentioned her a little bit previously. She's a professor of gender and sexuality at SUNY Cortland. An amazing personal story, an amazing professional career, and we get to hear the research, but then we also get to talk really nitty-gritty stuff like how young is too young to start dating. What does “the talk” look like, at what point, if you just had a baby, do you need to start to think about gender and sexuality and all of these issues. And so we just dive straight into it, and she gives it to us like it is. It was such a fun podcast.

Audra: Enlightening.

Justin: And enlightening. And then we're gonna talk with Vanessa Baker, a mother of six. Okay, so she doesn't have a PhD, but I figure if you are a mother of six, you have a PhD in just being a mom...

Audra: Oh yes, absolutely.

Justin: She is a professional teen parent coach. So she only works with families with teenagers who are having problems, and this woman is just amazing because she doesn't just like teens, she loves teens, like she loves working with them, and the passion just comes out. If you have teens or expect to one day have teens, you're gonna wanna listen to this episode.

So we have a bunch more coming out after that. We have one with the amazing Dr. Angela Poff and Victoria Field on metabolic health. What is that? Well, you're gonna have to listen to find out. Maria Barrera...

Audra: Such a great conversation. I mean, so...just a beautiful story. She is an incredible healer, acupuncturist, and she has had quite a journey getting there, and she's also an awesome mom. So it’s a really cool conversation.

Justin: It was so much fun. She has such infectious energy. And then Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton, a clinical psychologist who is now in private practice. We first met Nadia at Children's Hospital of Orange County where Max was being treated, and so we first met her in her professional capacity and then became friends. Worked with her on various projects in MaxLove Project, and then we have invited her to be one of our amazing experts in The Family Thrive. She knows so much about mental and emotional health for kids and families, so... Yeah, we have an amazing line-up that's gonna take us through the next couple of months, we can't wait for you to join us.

Audra: I'm super, super excited. Now on this podcast, I will be on the show sometimes, and sometimes I won't. So it sounds like we have a couple of episodes where I am not present, and we have some episodes where it was just best for Justin to be, 'cause it's not easy to do this dual kind of thing. If you listen to a lot of podcasts as you do, they're usually just one person, and if it is a second person, they're a little bit more in the background. So we do kinda pick and choose how we feel like we need to get the most out of the content and the guests.

Justin: Scheduling for three people, can get kind of hairy? And so there are times when it will just be me, because my role in The Family Thrive as I am the Director of Content, or technically the Vice President of Content, so the podcast falls under my purview. I'm in charge of this thing, and so I will be here no matter what.

Audra: One thing I'm excited about with this podcast, we are going to be offering live chats with our podcast guests. Potentially, maybe not all of them, but the ones who have the time and are able to, so that will release a podcast and potentially let's say a week after, we will be able to have a live chat within The Daily Thrive, within the app, just with that expert. No one else is able to do that. I think it's such a powerful thing to offer to participating parents and families to be able to say, “Hey, you listen to podcasts, it triggered a bunch of things, you're marinating on it, you had a lot of thoughts. Come into the AMA, we're gonna have a live event, we're gonna be able to really talk about it.”

And we're going to have similar events with us. So in The Daily Thrive is gonna be this really personal community where it's gonna be easy to reach out and to connect with people. I'm really excited about that.

Justin: It's gonna be awesome. I'm so excited for this, I'm so excited to start this journey with you, the listeners. We'll see where this thing takes us. Alright. We'll see you on the other side.

Audra: Awesome, bye!

Justin: Bye!


Podcast Ep. 1: Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast with Audra and Justin!

Close
Theme icon

Podcast /

Content /

Connect

Podcast Ep. 1: Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast with Audra and Justin!

Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast! In this inaugural episode, cofounders Audra DiPadova and Justin Wilford tell listeners about who they are, what they do, and what people can expect from future conversations.

Join The Family Thrive community and download the mobile app, all for free!

JOIN TODAY

Key takeaways

1

2

3

Low hassle, high nutrition

Fierce Food: Easy

Fierce Food: Easy

50/50 mixes of powerful veggies and starchy favorites

Fierce Food: Balance

Fierce Food: Balance

Maximize nutrients, minimize sugar and starch

Fierce Food: Power

Fierce Food: Power

Ingredients

Kitchen Equipment

Ingredient Replacement

View replacement list (PDF)

Reading time:

60 Minutes

In this episode

Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast! In this inaugural episode, The Family Thrive cofounders Audra DiPadova and Justin Wilford tell listeners about who they are, what they do, and what people can expect from future conversations. The husband and wife duo discuss how their son’s terrifying brain cancer diagnosis changed their lives and led them to start their first organization, MaxLove Project. Through MaxLove Project they’ve empowered thousands of families like theirs, and now they're on a mission to reach all families through their newest project, The Family Thrive. The couple then offers a sneak peek of what amazing content awaits parents in The Family Thrive community: on the website, in the app, and—of course—on this podcast.  


About Audra and Justin


Audra DiPadova Wilford and Justin Wilford are parents to Max and Maesie and the co-founders of MaxLove Project and The Family Thrive. After going to culinary school, Audra earned her BA in Political Science and her Masters in Philosophy and Education. She is also a Functional Medicine health coach. Justin has a PhD in Geography and a PhD in Public Health and worked as a professor and researcher at UCLA and UC Irvine. Audra and Justin devote their time to both of their organizations with the mission to help every family live their best lives.

Show Notes

Upcoming Guests

  • Dr. Ruth McCarty is a doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine who currently works at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
  • Tiffani Ghere is a registered dietitian. She has recently written an article calling for the normalization of supplementing breastfeeding with formula feeding.
  • Vanessa Baker works as a coach for parents of teens who wants to change the narrative that “teens are problematic. She also hosts a podcast called You’ll Understand When You’re Younger.
  • Jena Curtis is a professor and member of the Health Department of SUNY Cortland. Her teaching specialty is in gender and sexuality.
  • Sofia B. Pertuz is an experienced Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) strategist and consults for a number of organizations.
  • Jenny Walters is a licensed marriage family therapist who specializes in working with Highly Sensitive People at her practice, Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy.
  • Colin Champ, MD is a researcher, associate professor, and practicing doctor at Duke. He has been featured in The Boston Globe, the National Cancer Institute, Medscape, and more.
  • Alexia Hall is a registered dietitian and Integrative and Functional Credentialed Practitioner (IFNCP, May 2021) with an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Certification in Food Allergy Management.
  • Dr. Angela Poff and Victoria Field are the founders of the Metabolic Health Initiative and host the Metabolic Health Summit conference with Dr. Dominic D'Agostino.
  • Maria Barrera is the founder and owner of Athena Acupuncture & Wellness Center, a pediatric acupuncturist at Open Mind Modalities, and Secretary of the Board of Trustees for the California Acupuncture & Traditional Medicine Association.
  • Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton is a psychologist whose work focuses on anxiety, depression, pain, and conversion disorders. Her workshop, Flourish: Knowing When We Need Help, is available on The Daily Thrive.

In this episode

Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast! In this inaugural episode, The Family Thrive cofounders Audra DiPadova and Justin Wilford tell listeners about who they are, what they do, and what people can expect from future conversations. The husband and wife duo discuss how their son’s terrifying brain cancer diagnosis changed their lives and led them to start their first organization, MaxLove Project. Through MaxLove Project they’ve empowered thousands of families like theirs, and now they're on a mission to reach all families through their newest project, The Family Thrive. The couple then offers a sneak peek of what amazing content awaits parents in The Family Thrive community: on the website, in the app, and—of course—on this podcast.  


About Audra and Justin


Audra DiPadova Wilford and Justin Wilford are parents to Max and Maesie and the co-founders of MaxLove Project and The Family Thrive. After going to culinary school, Audra earned her BA in Political Science and her Masters in Philosophy and Education. She is also a Functional Medicine health coach. Justin has a PhD in Geography and a PhD in Public Health and worked as a professor and researcher at UCLA and UC Irvine. Audra and Justin devote their time to both of their organizations with the mission to help every family live their best lives.

Show Notes

Upcoming Guests

  • Dr. Ruth McCarty is a doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine who currently works at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
  • Tiffani Ghere is a registered dietitian. She has recently written an article calling for the normalization of supplementing breastfeeding with formula feeding.
  • Vanessa Baker works as a coach for parents of teens who wants to change the narrative that “teens are problematic. She also hosts a podcast called You’ll Understand When You’re Younger.
  • Jena Curtis is a professor and member of the Health Department of SUNY Cortland. Her teaching specialty is in gender and sexuality.
  • Sofia B. Pertuz is an experienced Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) strategist and consults for a number of organizations.
  • Jenny Walters is a licensed marriage family therapist who specializes in working with Highly Sensitive People at her practice, Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy.
  • Colin Champ, MD is a researcher, associate professor, and practicing doctor at Duke. He has been featured in The Boston Globe, the National Cancer Institute, Medscape, and more.
  • Alexia Hall is a registered dietitian and Integrative and Functional Credentialed Practitioner (IFNCP, May 2021) with an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Certification in Food Allergy Management.
  • Dr. Angela Poff and Victoria Field are the founders of the Metabolic Health Initiative and host the Metabolic Health Summit conference with Dr. Dominic D'Agostino.
  • Maria Barrera is the founder and owner of Athena Acupuncture & Wellness Center, a pediatric acupuncturist at Open Mind Modalities, and Secretary of the Board of Trustees for the California Acupuncture & Traditional Medicine Association.
  • Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton is a psychologist whose work focuses on anxiety, depression, pain, and conversion disorders. Her workshop, Flourish: Knowing When We Need Help, is available on The Daily Thrive.

In this episode

Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast! In this inaugural episode, The Family Thrive cofounders Audra DiPadova and Justin Wilford tell listeners about who they are, what they do, and what people can expect from future conversations. The husband and wife duo discuss how their son’s terrifying brain cancer diagnosis changed their lives and led them to start their first organization, MaxLove Project. Through MaxLove Project they’ve empowered thousands of families like theirs, and now they're on a mission to reach all families through their newest project, The Family Thrive. The couple then offers a sneak peek of what amazing content awaits parents in The Family Thrive community: on the website, in the app, and—of course—on this podcast.  


About Audra and Justin


Audra DiPadova Wilford and Justin Wilford are parents to Max and Maesie and the co-founders of MaxLove Project and The Family Thrive. After going to culinary school, Audra earned her BA in Political Science and her Masters in Philosophy and Education. She is also a Functional Medicine health coach. Justin has a PhD in Geography and a PhD in Public Health and worked as a professor and researcher at UCLA and UC Irvine. Audra and Justin devote their time to both of their organizations with the mission to help every family live their best lives.

Show Notes

Upcoming Guests

  • Dr. Ruth McCarty is a doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine who currently works at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
  • Tiffani Ghere is a registered dietitian. She has recently written an article calling for the normalization of supplementing breastfeeding with formula feeding.
  • Vanessa Baker works as a coach for parents of teens who wants to change the narrative that “teens are problematic. She also hosts a podcast called You’ll Understand When You’re Younger.
  • Jena Curtis is a professor and member of the Health Department of SUNY Cortland. Her teaching specialty is in gender and sexuality.
  • Sofia B. Pertuz is an experienced Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) strategist and consults for a number of organizations.
  • Jenny Walters is a licensed marriage family therapist who specializes in working with Highly Sensitive People at her practice, Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy.
  • Colin Champ, MD is a researcher, associate professor, and practicing doctor at Duke. He has been featured in The Boston Globe, the National Cancer Institute, Medscape, and more.
  • Alexia Hall is a registered dietitian and Integrative and Functional Credentialed Practitioner (IFNCP, May 2021) with an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Certification in Food Allergy Management.
  • Dr. Angela Poff and Victoria Field are the founders of the Metabolic Health Initiative and host the Metabolic Health Summit conference with Dr. Dominic D'Agostino.
  • Maria Barrera is the founder and owner of Athena Acupuncture & Wellness Center, a pediatric acupuncturist at Open Mind Modalities, and Secretary of the Board of Trustees for the California Acupuncture & Traditional Medicine Association.
  • Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton is a psychologist whose work focuses on anxiety, depression, pain, and conversion disorders. Her workshop, Flourish: Knowing When We Need Help, is available on The Daily Thrive.

Enjoying this? Subscribe to The Family Thrive for more healthy recipes, video classes, and more.


Justin: Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast! This is our inaugural episode. We're kicking things off by introducing ourselves, talking about what this podcast is gonna be, and then what The Family Thrive is gonna be.

So this podcast is gonna be focused on bringing parents experts: expert science, expert wisdom on everything from diet and nutrition, exercise, sleep, spirituality, emotional health, parenting. We're gonna have therapists on, we'll have doctors on, we'll have dietitians on. It's going to really be anybody who is an expert who can help us in all the different areas that it takes to have a family live their best lives. So that's what this podcast is gonna be about today.

I'm gonna introduce myself, Audra's gonna introduce herself, and as I said, we're gonna just give you all context for what The Family Thrive is and what we hope to do for a long time coming. So I'm Justin Wilford. I have two PhDs, one in Geography. That will not help anybody with any parenting stuff... Well, maybe that's not true, because actually my geography PhD—well, my geography dissertation—was on religious groups in American suburbs, specifically big mega-churches, and these mega-churches understood a lot about how to serve families. I myself am not a mega-churchgoer, but this was an academic study, so I might have something to say for my first PhD, but it was actually the second PhD that was really family-focused.

I went back to school to get a PhD in Public Health, specifically in family-focused health behavior change, really helping parents—and specifically childhood cancer parents—live, change their behaviors, do things in such a way to give them and their kids the best shot at living high-quality, meaningful lives. So yeah, I have two PhDs, I've spent most of my life in academia, and so this is a big shift for me to get out of academia and into the real world, helping real people.

Audra, I guess we can touch on other things about me, but I'll throw it over to you. Who are you?

Audra: Well, I am certainly not going to be able to just answer that and say it in a nice little nutshell. But I can tell you about my background, that what brings me to The Family Thrive in addition to being Max and Maesie’s mom and your partner. Let's see, what have I studied? I went to culinary school. I learned how to become a cook, I also went to school for philosophy and education.

Justin: So culinary school was when you were what, 19 or 20?

Audra: Yeah, 19, 19. And one of the things I realized, even at that young age was that life skills were really, really important. I didn't have an essential life skill, I didn't know enough about cooking. And two things: I wanted to be able to have a reliable career. If I ever needed to fall back on something or you know. I wanted to be able to have that career choice. And then secondly, I wanted to be able to cook for myself and hopefully a family one day. Look what happened.

So I worked in kitchens for a number of years, and then I went back to undergrad, got a degree in Political Science, which led me into education. And I went to school for grad school for philosophy and education, and then went into higher education administration. I worked in student leadership development, and then Max was diagnosed and our world changed and I became a cancer mom.

Justin: Yeah, do you experience your life as a before-Max’s-diagnosis and after-Max's-diagnosis?

Audra: A little bit, but one thing that looking back on things, it seems that everything built to be what I needed at the time. So in other words, all of my experience leading up to Max’s diagnosis gave me something that I needed to draw upon. During Max's diagnosis, moving into treatment, moving through everything, and starting and growing MaxLove Project.

Justin: I don't have that experience.

Audra: Really?

Justin: No, I think about my life really as before-Max's-diagnosis and after. 'Cause Max was diagnosed, so he was four-and-a-half years old when he was diagnosed with a rare mixed grade glioma. That's a brain tumor.

Audra: It's actually not the term that is used anymore...

Justin: That's the term that I've always used.

Audra: And I guess they don't use that term anymore works, just to be specific at this point, we would say a glioma, but it is historically mixed in types and grades.

Justin: So it wasn't a low grade glioma, let’s just say that.

Anyways. Yeah, so I had just finished my PhD in Geography. I was putting the finishing touches on a book, turning my dissertation into a book, publishing the book, ready to go out on the job market, and just be a nerd. Just be a tenure track professor. And that was the life I had envisioned, and then Max was diagnosed and everything I had studied was just all of a sudden irrelevant.

And I realized, and this is no knock to academics who are engaged in this type of thing, but I was basically doing research that was of interest to a handful of other scholars around the world. And it just wasn't gonna cut it, so there were a couple of years after Max's diagnosis where I was going through the motions in geography, but just realizing that this... I wasn't gonna be able to go on in this 'cause I had lost the fire and the drive.

So my experience is different. I didn't feel like what I had done up until then had prepared me for the diagnosis, for the treatment, for everything that happened afterward. But now that you say that you felt like you were slowly getting prepared for this. It does make sense, 'cause I think your reaction to it was, well, it was what led to MaxLove Project, the non-profit, and then eventually The Family Thrive. So I'm super grateful that you were prepared for this 'cause I was not.

Audra: Well, I mean, I wasn't prepared the day that Max was diagnosed. And the days soon after that, I was an absolute wreck. I certainly was not prepared for jumping off that cliff, I was not...or being pushed off that cliff. I was not prepared for that.

But it does strike me, and I don't know if you remember you said to me, “At one point, someday it's gonna make sense why you have all these different interests. Someday it's all going to come together.” And I remember at one point...it was like, “Wait a minute, it's starting to feel like...I get it. I'm starting to feel like I get what I'm supposed to do with this. I get that I'm supposed to make this into something, not only for Max but for others.” I really, really could see it.

And for the first time had clarity in my life. I try to start multiple little things from a non-profit before to a business, to all kinds of different things. I had...in addition to work in our education, I had worked on a bunch of little side projects and...

Justin: You always had an entrepreneurial spirit.

Audra: Yes, and it was strange because it seemed like I wasn't supposed to.

You work in higher education administration, you're just supposed to do that. Only entrepreneurs proven, gone to business school are the ones we are allowed to have entrepreneurial spirits, that's sort of like how...I feel like the environment that I understood growing up. It just seems so foreign. “I'm allowed to do this?”

And I think when Max was diagnosed, the boundaries were broken and I was like, “I'm allowed to step up. Not only allowed to step up—I need to step up to make this cancer into something that's going to give and help others and not just be our own personal trauma and tragedy. In fact, this can be life-changing in a super powerful and positive way, not just for us, but for an entire community. So what can we do with it?”

...Some of that understanding came from this work that I had done trying to put together a leadership program for my students. I worked at a community college at the time, and working on productivity and initiative, and working on really that foundational part, where—Viktor Frankl will always be a hero to me, and he wrote about that last enduring freedom: our freedom to choose, our response to any given stimulus, and, you know his story at all, you familiar with the story?

Justin: A little bit.

Audra: Author of “A Man's Search for Meaning.”

Justin: Umm, survived Nazi concentration camp?

Audra: Yeah, so he was experimented on. And in kind of an audience for the Nazis, he was like a subject of medical experimentation. And do you know what he envisioned when he was on the table and in the midst of that trauma and horror?

He envisioned what he was going to tell his students about his experience and how he was going to use it for education. He did not envision his revenge, he did not envision, I mean, what a powerful way to approach something horrible happening to you.

So he's a victim in that time, but he didn't want to live his life as a victim, and so that was really stirring in the background for me when Max was diagnosed, and then Brene Brown...her work [was] super, super alive and active for me when Max was diagnosed and these things came together. So it was almost like just a spark, and it was like, “I am going to jump into action for my son, for our family, but we're also going to make something powerful out of this.”

And so that is really how MaxLove Project was born in that children's hospital ICU, when we saw the opportunities to give. Now, the MaxLove Project just started as a service project. I don't know if you recall, but we started with giving away Cloud b Twilight Turtle nightlights.

Justin: Our garage was full of them.

Audra: Yeah, and so in that process, what happened was, Max came home after four weeks in the hospital, and he was so terrified of the dark even though his room had four lights on. He was so terrified, so I ran out to Target, I got one of these things but I remember feeling like “I'm gonna spend $32 on a night light,” it just feels weird, but whatever.

Came home and it's just the sweetest story. We called those stars healing stars. We created this whole narrative around green superpowers and the good guys fighting the bad guys, and the good guys being within us and supporting the good guys in their work. And he picked up that turtle, he put on the green light and he held it up to the back of his head and he goes, “Look, Mommy, I'm healing.”

Now it was at that point, I realized, so it seems like so much of healing for us anyway, was in the narratives we choose. How we chose to think about it, right? And we were told, when we were in the hospital for a couple of days in, to focus on Max’s quality of life. That had we come in 30 days later, it would have been because he would have been in a coma and he wouldn't have made it.

The neurosurgeon at the time said we would be calling it something called DIPG, 30 days later. But we know now that's not how they look at it, but still, he wouldn't have come home with us, is what we were told. We're told to focus on his quality of life, and so everything began, like, turned into not just fight this cancer at all costs, but...let's make sure Max can sleep, okay. Let's make sure that he feels good, that he feels strong, that all of the little things became really, really important.

And when we saw what it did for him, I wrote to that company that night and I said, “I wanna send this to other children's hospitals, I wanna do that.” And they got back to me and they said—and it ended up being a CEO, she didn't say she was a CEO—but she got back to me and she was like, “This is such a moving story, we wanna support you, we're gonna give you the product to do this with.” And that began our relationship, and the reason why I started MaxLove Project, Max's Love Project Incorporated, it's a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, was because I thought they would need a receipt. And that we should just, we're gonna need to do that.

But what happened in the process… So we get it off the ground and we're giving away turtle nightlights, and we're building a community through Facebook, and we're really working hard on just giving and serving and building a community. And then we started to see as we were diving into integrative health for Max, we were diving into quality of life care, other parents in that network started saying, “Wait a minute, what are you feeding Max? Wait a minute. No, what's acupuncture? Wait a minute. What are these things?”

Justin: Sleep can be healing.

Audra: Right. So we started to see that the white space that was there for us, the fact that hospitals are only really able, I really think the way that the healthcare system is set up, there are in many ways, not mechanisms built in to pay for all of these integrative modalities within current critical care.

So I'm not being suggestive in that way, I do think one day we'll have integrative care incorporated into all of pediatric critical care, but—so I'm trying to say I get it—but chemotherapy, surgery, radiation is what we were offered. And at our hospital, we were offered acupuncture (one of the few programs in the country), and we do talk to Dr. McCarty on this show in a little bit.

Justin: In a couple of weeks.

Audra: It's gonna be... It's a really, really great conversation. She's a pioneer and totally opened our eyes. But that white space that we were seeing, the need for quality of life-enhancing care, all the things that we can do at home, everything that is based in some evidence to help and not hurt, to support, to help us thrive. These are the things that we need, that we can do at home, but what are they? How do we learn more? How do we incorporate it into our lives? That white space that we identified, we started to see hundreds and now thousands of other families who are experiencing the same exact thing. So we started to grow into that, and that's when we became something way beyond a service project.

Justin: So we started...so it was sleep at the beginning, with the Twilight Turtles, and then it was food, because of Audra’s culinary background, and then I had access to the huge medical library, it was all online, but I could start to do research and start to look around. “Is there anything about diet and cancer, is there anything at all?”

And so we started to connect with some doctors and researchers around diet and cancer, and I remember we had our first cooking class at the teaching kitchen at the community college where Audra was working at. And so we started to build out... So we had sleep and nutrition, and then as we began to get connected with other doctors and researchers, we started to put together a picture of all things that parents could do at home, outside of the clinic, to give them and their kids the best shot at living a full, meaningful, thriving life.

And so we collected a really awesome Medical Advisory Board as a part of MaxLove Project, and we came up with the Be Super action plan… This is all the things like stress management for parents. And so stress trickles down to our kids, so what can parents do to start to get a handle on their own stress? Exercise, and of course sleep, nutrition, building a positive mindset.

So these are all things that can be done outside. And of course, social support, which ended up being the focus of my dissertation in public health: parental social support. So these are all the things that parents can do outside of the hospital, and that has been our focus like... We let the experts do what they do. We're not surgeons, we're not oncologists. We’re parents, and so we're in charge of the sleep, we're in charge of the food, we’re in charge of their physical activity. So what are all the things that we can do? And that ended up being the real driving force that got MaxLove Project off the ground, I think, into what it is today, a coherent force for quality of life for families facing childhood cancer.

Audra: And for all families. One thing that I wanna reflect on is when we were in the hospital very early on, and there was a family next door to us in infusion, and I will never forget, this mom was struggling to talk to the doctor through a translator telephone. And I will never ever forget the experience of thinking, “How is this mother remotely as empowered as I am in, this moment?” Like, This is just not fair. It is not fair to not be able to really, really be here, and to know with all assurances that you're communicating as effectively as you can and that you’re understanding what someone's saying, it just didn't feel... It didn't feel right.

And one of the things that we've seen is that families with—and especially in our health care system—who are incredibly well-resourced, still struggle to get access to integrative health and still struggle to get the information needed to make the decisions that will support their child's thriving, and their family thriving.

A commitment to finding ways to provide this evidence-based information and resources and support to all families and to all hospitalized families became a really critical part of growing MaxLove Project. And we're still working on that, and we'll always be working on that. I think that is just going to be a forever part of the mission, but it's one of the things that encouraged the growth of our culinary medicine collaborative, so we went from that one little cooking class to start off all those years ago, to hosting monthly cooking classes in our community, to taking them online in COVID, to now having them online live in our app and recorded and posted and available at all times to any of the users of our MaxLove Connect app. It's been an incredible progression.

In addition to that, our culinary medicine collaborative is a really beautiful working group of hospital practitioners who’ve come together to try to figure out how to do culinary medicine in the pediatric healthcare setting. And that is something that we're really committed to because we know as we start doing this in the hospital that more and more families are going to have access, who don't have access to these resources out of the hospital. That will only be growing into the future as well.

Justin: Okay, so... What does any of this have to do with The Family Thrive? The name of this podcast is The Family Thrive Podcast, our website, the platform, The Family Thrive, The Daily Thrive. So Audra, I'll let you take it, except I just wanna express my experience and how The Family Thrive grew out of this and see if it matches with yours.

We would tell supporters, just people in our community, anyone we would need who would ask about MaxLove Project, we would tell them about all the things that we do. And so we go through the cooking classes, the exercise, the stress management…

Audra: Social support.

Justin: All that stuff, and they would say, “Wow, well, that seems like something that my family could use or really everyone can use.” And my response would always be, “Yeah, totally, but... Sorry, we're just a little non-profit and we just work with childhood cancer families.”

But I had heard that enough times over so many years that it started to bubble up for me like, We need to figure out how to bring this approach to all families. The approach is really one where we blend expertise like doctors, researchers, clinicians, with really engaging, fun (what I like to use) wisdom, like the parent-on-the-ground wisdom, and blend these two. So it's science and wisdom, it is the expertise, it's blended with the parent engagement. Fun, beautiful, engaging. And that is the spirit of MaxLove Project, and we wanted to bring that to every single family, no matter what their circumstances. How does that land for you?

Audra: Yeah, I agree. I would get questions, “Can you host cooking classes for the community? We can do it as a fundraiser? Please, can we have our own cooking class which is for typical families? Can we? When is your cookbook coming out? When is your cookbook coming out?” Again and again and again. It's a good question. It is coming, but it is coming through The Family Thrive.

And so...you know that you've got something when people ask for it. This doesn't come out of nowhere. People have been asking for it, and so that sometimes even more than childhood cancer families, we would hear from the community on this because the MaxLove Project way—our Be Super action plan, our methodology, our support—does apply to health and wellness for everybody.

And one thing that is totally clear, and if you start dipping your toe into pediatric health care, it's increasingly clear that we are struggling as a society with really, really challenging health issues related to lifestyle. And how do we start intervening on these earlier? How do we start intervening on these things in childhood, how do we set our kids up for life-long thriver-ship and health? How do we grow old in the most beautiful, empowered way possible?

It's very similar to the MaxLove Project Mission. But how do we get here? Where did The Family Thrive come from? It came from all of these seeds being planted along the way, it came from people asking for it, and then finally COVID-19 hit MaxLove Project and hit MaxLove Project hard. And we were very, very lucky, so fortunate to have donors step forward and say, “We're not going to allow MaxLove Project to stop.”

Justin: We were right in the middle of planning for several really big fundraisers. Right in the middle, and they were all in-person, face-to-face, all that stuff.

Audra: We had grown to the point to be highly dependent on fundraisers that required presence, physical presence, like golf and our big beautiful Farm to Fork event and others, Coaches Fighting Cancer. We had so many really wonderful community gatherings that were fundraisers, but then also a huge amount of MaxLove Project events, all in-person, and we are a tiny, tiny and mighty team, making all of this happen. But we have known for a long time—and I'll speak on the MaxLove Project, on the side of the CEO of MaxLove Project of a small non-profit: anyone who is running a small non-profit knows they're searching for sustainability. And often like hoping and praying for a hero, “Would somebody come along? High net worth, create an endowment with us, let's live in perpetuity.” Is there a way that we create alternative revenue sources? Are there different types of fundraising? Can we partner with corporate folks in a different way to create a more sustainable path than just essentially asking for money for the same thing again and again and again?

And so this has been on the back of my mind forever. In fact, and we started MaxLove Project, we started by selling hats. We had a beautiful headwear brand, and we started as a social enterprise. Our board member Diana did an incredible job with that. Gina did an amazing job with the branding. People could buy MaxLove brand hats in Japan at one time. We started down on that path, but we invested so much into growing the non-profit that we just didn't have the ability to invest in a social enterprise at the time.

So in any case, COVID goes down. We're working on a cookbook. Yes, we were working on the MaxLove Project Cookbook. We were working on a series of magazines. We had the coolest stuff, the best food photographer in the region, best graphic designer, best chefs, everybody signed up volunteering, ready to go. Plus our culinary medicine collaborative, we're making recipes just for use in the hospital, everything is on fire, we're doing it… And we lose all of that funding. But I thought there's no way we're gonna let this go down, we are not stopping this work. This work is too important. And what if we could put this work out there to a bigger community in a way bigger market, a huge community, meaning all families to benefit everybody and bring in revenue to support MaxLove Project and all of our work? What if we could do something self-sustaining in a way? Like, what if we could do something, what if we could be our own hero?

And right there, that's when The Family Thrive came into full view and full vision. We were going to start an awesome online platform. Something beyond a website where we can gather families, we could provide expert-backed, evidence-based information, beautiful recipes, beautiful cookbooks, a magazine, all of the things, and we could generate revenue in this for-profit entity that would eventually support MaxLove Project’s operations as well. And this is how we decided to not only create a bigger stage for ourselves and really introduce the MaxLove Project way to the world, but provide for typical families with everything that we've learned and create community around family thriving.

One thing that we noticed along the way is that the very same white space, like I said, for MaxLove Project families, exist for regular families, and all of the health and wellness information is geared towards individuals. So if it's men, you might be thinking longevity, optimization, for women, it is always weight loss, but where is the acknowledgment that is “families, we're doing this together?”

Justin: We're doing it together.

Audra: And so this is where the Family Thrive was born at the very...within the first two weeks of the shutdown...I think two weeks into the first COVID shutdown, when we saw what was happening. The wheel started turning real fast and that pivot happened quickly, the team that we had volunteering to work on everything, we presented the plan, and they said, “Yep, we're down. Let's do it.”

Justin: There was a sense at the beginning of COVID, between Audra and I, that this was going to be a massively disruptive event. I was teaching in public health, working in public health. And so I had my ear to the ground. I had sensed since really mid-January that something big was coming. And so when the shutdown started to happen, what is mid-late March, there was a sense that we need to take this opportunity to do something big. It just felt like this is our shot, not that the universe is bringing COVID to everyone so that we can build The Family Thrive. But for us, it was this opening of like, “We just need to step into the unknown.”

Audra: It was a call to action. If you were going to walk through COVID and come out the other end, everyone's gonna be transformed in some way. And it was getting back to that empowerment like, “How did we wanna do this?” And we wanted to see this as an opportunity to grow our movement, and it's been incredible. The flow around it... It has just been amazing.

I think one thing that people, the conversations are changing in COVID too because people started seeing that health and wellness really matters. It's not just like a cultural thing, and it's cool to do yoga and get green juice or whatever, and of course, there's a ton of privilege wrapped up in that, but COVID showed us that health and wellness is something that is essential to human and planetary flourishing. I feel like there's a human rights aspect involved in it. It's something that we're seeing now is not just a privileged choice, but something everyone needs access to, and that's one reason why we built the platform the way that we have to try to provide broad access.

Justin: Okay, so let's just get into it. What is The Family Thrive? We've alluded to it, we've talked kind of in big 30,000-foot terms, but let's get a little more detailed.

So I'm gonna give my take on The Family Thrive and you can give yours. So my overview of The Family Thrive is that it is an online platform. We have an outward-facing website that has tons of amazing recipes, and it has previews of all the content that we are going to have on a subscriber-only platform. So we have this outward-facing website for everybody, and then we have a subscriber-only platform that is full of expert-written, expert-produced articles and how-to’s.

When it comes to the subscriber-only platform, I think of it as having three main parts. So there's one part that is just unique, fresh content coming out every single day from experts on things like sleep, nutrition, exercise, parenting, emotional health, mental health, all focused on parents, kids, and families.

Then there's a second part, which is live events. So in this subscriber-only app, there are weekly live events happening most days of the week, things like exercises, classes for parents, mental health, emotional health, social support, all coordinated, planned out, and done by experts again, and all of them [are] parents as well.

And then there is this third part, which is our workshop e-learning component. So this app has amazing workshops on our Thrive Pillars. And so in The Family Thrive, we have these Thrive Pillars, which are the main areas families can focus on to be their best: nourish, flourish, embody and connect. And then we have the expert-written workshops as well, and these expert-written and designed workshops on specific things like emotional health; managing, healing the inner critic. Things like how to know when parental stress has gotten too much and we need to go get help, and then what does that help look like? We have a really awesome workshop that I'm so excited about, just for dads on emotional health and emotional connection just for dads.

And so that's what we have going on in the subscriber-only app. We have the daily fresh content, which is also a community—so in that content, we're gonna be able to comment and share and talk about it, connect with other parents—and we have the live events, and then we have the workshop. So Audra, how would you like to flesh that out?

Audra: Well, I think you covered it pretty, pretty comprehensively, but I can talk about some of the things that I'm really excited about that we're building into this into this platform.

I'm really excited about the live events, in-app events with experts, because the experience is cool...Zoom is integrated into the app, so you...can just be there on your phone. And I'm really excited because you have... I know as a mom, it can be really hard—I read a lot of articles and there's no direct access to anyone to ask questions. I love that I'll be able to do that in this app; that I'll actually be able to have direct access to experts, clinical psychologists, therapists, dieticians. I’m really excited.

And then I'm excited to the community, about the community that's going to surround that. I think one thing that's really cool about this is that it is not in our immediate goal structure or anything like that, or looking at the first five years, at least of this business to have a massive network of millions of people. We're not looking to be the next Facebook, we're looking to be a mutually-supportive, safe, enclosed social network, which means it's gonna be really personal and personable and encouraging and supportive and safe. And so I'm really daunted, personally, on social media out there. It is something that I'm grateful for, deeply grateful for. It's how we have grown our work and met so many people and made so many connections and maintained connections and all of that. But there are parts of it that can feel really unsafe, especially when you're going into health and wellness.

One thing that I find to be really difficult is that influencers make a lot of claims around health information and knowledge that sometimes can be really dubious, it can be, my experience as a cancer mom over the past almost 10 years has been... I have had to develop some pretty amazing information competency, having been to grad school and having a partner with two PhDs, it can still be hard to sift through information. And there is a lot of dubious stuff out there and people making wild claims and trying to sell their plans and all of that. So I love that the space will be curated and edited down for me. I love that it will be the kernel of really, really great wisdom from experts that it's not just being delivered to sell something, to sell a plan, or because someone was sponsored to do it. So I'm really, really excited about getting that direct access in a safe and supportive space with others, and then being able to be in a community, a supportive community around that.

One of the things that we say about The Family Thrive is “we got your back.” There's that sense that when you need something, you pull up the app, you get in there, get support, maybe take a workshop, maybe jump into a live event, join our Culinary Academy, whatever it might be that interests you, and then dip out. It's not addictive, it's not, we're not geared around clickbait. We're definitely a platform to and a group of experts that believes in meeting people where they are, progress over perfection. And, as a mom, I find it really, really motivating that we don't see that there's only one way to do this health thing and wellness. That there's not just...

Justin: Sure.

Audra: Right? That we've created a plan that is about tapping into what you need. I think, you know what I missed in my bio is that I'm a certified Functional Medicine health coach.

Justin: Right. Yes, you did.

Audra: Totally got distracted. Missed that part. So I got my certification through the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, and it's an awesome program, and it's a year-long program, so like a weekend sort of thing, and I learned some really powerful health coaching practices through that. And really meeting people where they are, walking with people through their journeys and holding the space so people can reveal their experience and then decide as they're looking, making changes in their lives, people know what changes they want to make and what's achievable and what is going to be the powerful next step for them. I don't know that for someone. You know that for you.

Justin: Well, a major part of my public health PhD program was behavior change—learning about behavior change—and there's something called the Behavior Change Paradox, and it goes something like: only when you can accept yourself exactly as you are, can you start to make real change. And that is how we feel about ourselves, that is how we feel about everything

And so the app is really set up for parents to have to choose their own adventure of just, what is of interest to you right now, what is exciting for you right now… There is no one path to thriving, certainly there is no one path to thriving. And so for the app, you can set your notifications and follow the exact topics that you want, and so you can really curate an experience that is just right for you; whatever is going on for you and your family. I think that is a real driving ethos for The Family Thrive: no one way to thrive, choose your own adventure, be at peace with where you're at, and then in that moment when new options come open, step forth in confidence and your own truth.

Audra: Yeah, it made me think too… Another thing along, speaking of the journey, that MaxLove Project has done for me, that The Family Thrive will be bringing forward, is almost mentorship companionship, if you will.

I've made friends through MaxLove Project. We're united in our journey, but we have kids of very different ages. And one thing that's been cool for me is having some moms who are further ahead than I am, help show the way or help normalize certain things…  it's just been really cool to have the mutual support, whereas if it wasn't for the MaxLove Project, I would be kind of stuck in grade levels. It's the sixth-grade moms and the ninth-grade moms or whatever it might be. I'd be stuck in this little pod of grade levels, and it's been really cool to have people who are at different stages. So we're gonna have resources for new parents. I'm really, really excited about digging into, we have a conversation coming up with Tiffani Ghere, talking about breastfeeding and beyond, and she is a part of a really great formula startup actually, and really excited to normalize the conversations around feeding our babies.

[We’ll] get into everything all the way up through coaching parents of teenagers. We have Vanessa Baker, an expert on that. We have Jena Curtis... she's a professor of gender and sexuality. We’ll be talking about gender and sexuality. We have Sofia [Pertuz], an expert on social justice talking who's gonna talk with us on, an expert on diversity and equity, going to talk with us about social justice, how to talk to our kids about race and social justice, and how to engage our communities. And things like that. These are all of the things that… I don't know, it's hard for me to find where to have these conversations sometimes, and we're gonna have them all in one place.

Justin: And the conversations focus specifically on families… Right? So much in the health and wellness world, as Audra has just said, is focused on individuals.

Audra: Let's focus on macros and doing specific things in the gym.

Justin: Yeah, yeah, this is all about thriving together, and I'm super excited about the dad content, so.

Audra: I'm super excited about the dad content as well. And I have to tell you, I have personally benefited from Justin's development of the dad content, and I know our kids have as well. And so it's something that's been a powerful part of the change in our own family, personally.

So much of this work we've benefited from personally, I think maybe that's, you wanna know why we started MaxLove Project, 'cause we've seen it, we went from focusing on our child's health to realizing that thriving is a family project.

Justin: Well, we heard about this idea early on in a MaxLove Project, and it became a guiding principle for us. It’s called the Oxygen Mask Principle. And so if you are passed out in your airplane seat, you cannot put the oxygen mask on your child, and so they always say, “Put your own oxygen mask on first, and then you can attend to your child.” And I don't know that we need to take that as gospel, that you can't do anything for your kid until you just totally focus on yourself. Of course, we have to walk and chew gum. But the point is that if you neglect your self-care, your child's gonna suffer for it.

So that became a guiding principle for us that we needed to start to look at our own health, and then it started out with physical health, and for me, in particular, and eventually got to mental and emotional health, where if I'm not really taking care of my anxiety, my stress, my irritability, then I can't be the best father for my kids. It started out though, me projecting it on to other families saying, “You know, I need to do this mental and emotional health work so we can create programs for other families.” And then as I started to dig into it, I realized like, “Oh, I might need this. This might be good for me.”

And so I started to get into therapy and different therapeutic approaches while I was working with psychologists on these programs. And it has been life-changing for me, and I'm so excited to bring this stuff to other dads, it's gonna be a major focus of The Family Thrive is really connecting dads to their own emotional worlds, inner worlds, and that when they can really start to get in touch with what's happening inside, they're gonna be—their entire world will change and they will be able to connect with their kids and their partner in a whole new way. And I am super excited about this, it's gonna be a major topic of podcasts to come, so stay tuned on that.

Audra: So I can hear that you're perking up all the partners out there, the partners to these dads if they are partnered, that ears perking up with the potential and the promise of that. 'Cause it's something that our society doesn't support.

Justin: Yeah, we don't have a lot of role models for how to process our emotional stuff as men and as fathers. So a lot of it gets ignored, it gets avoided, it gets pushed down. And so for, in the best case scenario, what happens is that [for] fathers, our emotional world just…  It just gets truncated, it gets restricted down to a band.

We say, “Well, we're never gonna let out anything too intense.” But what happens is that not just the low-end gets cut off, but the high-end gets cut off as well. And so that's in the best case scenario, so you have an even-keeled dad who's just coming in every day, just doing the thing. But that dad is not able to really connect with the highs and lows of everyone else going on or what everyone is experiencing in the family. And so it might be a dad who is able to show up physically, but can that dad show up emotionally? And that's where the magic happens.

So we're gonna be doing a lot of work on that, and I don't wanna make this whole show about dads, but I, but it is the stuff that I am super passionate about. This is, I believe, is the key to really unlocking everything else, at least for dads, is emotional health and wellness. And so we're working with different psychologists, different therapists, and relationship coaches all doing amazing work around this, I truly believe it's going to be life-changing, and I can't wait to see a bunch of dads in The Daily Thrive.

Audra: I wanna give one more plug for The Family Thrive that I think is really exciting and ground-breaking, and that's in an area of my passion, which is Fierce Foods. And so the Fierce Foods platform we developed initially for MaxLove Project because saying, healthy foods doesn't really make sense, I have a dietitian friend, I was like, “You can be healthy. Your body can be healthy, but a food cannot be healthy. A food can be nourishing, a food can be other things.” And I mean, the connotation isn't great. I don't care who you are, and how nourishing you choose to eat or [what] your choices are, but saying when someone says, “Hey, you wanna go to that Healthy Restaurant?” most people are like, “I feel like I should,” or whatever. And kids certainly don't like the word, kids do not—I mean, it is—the connotation is definitely negative, so we went with Fierce Foods because of course the alliteration is fantastic, but then the connotation is powerful.

Justin: Foods that make you strong.

Audra: Strong and feel great, and they have power. And the thought that what is the power of what goes in you has power in you and is fortifying and all of that. So that has been our platform all on the way we developed our Fierce Foods Academy out of that, which is our cooking classes and related programs. And so coming into The Family Thrive, we still wanted the work to be the work of culinary medicine. And why is that? Because the odds are stacked against us when it comes to food and nutrition in this country, with the standard American lifestyle.

You hear the tips shop, the perimeter of the store and all of that, but it takes a significant amount of nutritional competency to be able to do that. It is not easy. People say shop at the farmers market. Of course, that's great if you have access to it, but then what. What do I do with it? Most of us don't have training on how to cook and how to cook at home; it can be overwhelming and difficult. And so instead of using any dietary philosophy specifically, what we've done with our Fierce Foods approach is the focus is on whole foods, nourishing whole foods. You know the research even better than I do, that when we eat whole foods we're getting there, right? Whole foods are better than processed foods for our bodies.

Justin: In public health and health sciences, there's this thing called the Nutrition Wars. And so researchers get really heated when they argue about, is it low fat, is it low carb, what is the right approach? Is it the Dash diet, the Atkins diet?

Audra: No meat-eating.

Justin: So a lot of... Just a lot of vitriol and animosity and the Nutrition Wars. But the cool thing that when you step back and you take a look at the big major studies out there, what you see is a common thread running through them, and it's basically this: if you are eating whole foods, and that includes meat, if you are eating whole foods and limiting processed foods, especially what they call ultra-processed foods, and we have articles about all that on The Daily Thrive, but if you're doing these things, then you are getting the best possible nutrition.

And that if you wanna tweak around the edges and maybe have a little bit less of this and a little bit more of that, we actually get into some of the details as well. But from a broad perspective on a daily basis, it's really about whole foods, it's about limiting processed and ultra-processed foods, and the research is really clear, you can go really low carb, really high carb, really low fat, really high fat, but if it's whole foods, on average, people are way more healthy. They are way healthier, they lose weight, their blood profiles build more muscle, lower cardiovascular disease risk. So that is what we help parents with...

So then the question becomes, alright, that's all great. “You're telling me whole foods and limiting ultra-processed and processed food, but I'm a busy parent. I don't have time for that nonsense.” And so all of the rest... Well, okay, so not all of the... There are gonna be a couple of recipes that are a little fancier, that are fun, if you wanna give them a try.

Audra: We have legit, amazing chefs working on the steps. You are gonna get culinary in with the medicine, but you're going to learn some culinary tips and tricks which are amazing. These are life skills.

Justin: We're also gonna have a ton of recipes that are just for busy parents, of like how do we get this whole-food, low-processed meal on the table quickly, because I don't have time for this. And so we understand that, we live that same reality every day.

Audra: And one thing I wanted to share about this too, in the Fierce Foods approach that is really, really cool, is that we are not prescribing anything. We're not telling you exactly how to eat, but we're also providing the tools for you to identify where you might wanna be.

So we have three steps in our Fierce Food spectrum that all of the recipes are linked to that help you identify through our dietitian where you might wanna be. And so we start with basic whole foods, and then we have our moderate, something we do it on a scale that relates to metabolic health, we have a moderate carbohydrate level, and then we have a low-carb meals, and so these are things that can help you easily identify along with icons for allergens, if you're looking for a dairy-free, vegetarian, gluten-free, whatever it might be, we are going to have those identifiers as well.

We're trying to make it really quick and easy to identify even on a health-related spectrum, how you and your family might be served by those recipes. And then we infuse that with some culinary education, the precision of the support from a dietitian, and we have a recipe for, I think an all new way of looking at nourishing a family, and where I'm really, really excited about this particular part of the program because it's something very close to my heart. And I'm excited to bring this out to all families and all of you all out there who've been asking for the MaxLove Cookbook. This is it.

Justin: Awesome, wow, I think we've covered the main things. So we talked about our background, how we got here, how The Family Thrive came about, what The Family Thrive is.

Audra: Yeah, I wanted to talk, just quickly as we're ending this, about our timeline. And we're gonna be launching this podcast, and so people are gonna be listening to this as we are launching the platform. And I think it's going to be an amazing journey that we're gonna take together with our early adopters and early platform users, 'cause we're gonna be building this over the next couple of years, and our early users are going to be essential in building this community. So I wanna thank everyone who's listening and who is jumping into the platform, and I'm getting a lot of use out of it because it's something. This is a movement for family thriver-ship that we're really growing together.

Justin: Yes, this is a community that is gonna grow over time, and we're so hopeful that you choose to be a part of it, and we hope to see you in The Daily Thrive. So The Family Thrive is the overarching brand. It's the outward-facing website, eventually The Family Thrive... We eventually wanna do more things than just a subscriber-only platform. I will let you in on, one dream that I have, I might as well just like... What do they call it? Dreamcasting?

Audra: Yeah.

Justin: Alright, so I'm gonna dream cast this. I wanna have a family-friendly, super cool music festival. As a parent, I do not wanna go to Coachella. I do not wanna go to any of these other festivals.

Audra: And they don't want us to either.

Justin: Yeah, they don't... And I’m actually banned in several of these... So I want a family-friendly music festival that has cool music, that is fun, and that is also like, there's gonna be a quiet nap tent when your kid needs to take a nap and wonderful changing station. Okay, so that is my dream. I would love for The Family Thrive to be a part of something like that, but anyways.

Audra: Can I share a dream? I am so excited for The Family Thrive Membership box as I want every month to get new, kind of like BirchBox, but Family-Thrive-style. And I wanna get samples of products used in The Family Thrive and used in all of our culinary workshops, so that I can try them out and see what fits for my family and our lifestyle.

Justin: We are doing some dreamcasting here. Alright, I love it. Yeah, so big things are going to happen, but it's gonna start with The Daily Thrive. So The Daily Thrive is the subscriber-only platform, that's where all the good stuff's gonna happen.

You can go to www.thefamilythrive.com. You can get your 30-day free trial there. And then hop on, there will be some other opportunities, so keep your eyes out, if you're lucky, there will be some other opportunities to get a 90-day free trial. But we are super confident that you're going to love this, that parents are going to love this and that we're gonna have a community that you're gonna wanna be a part of for a long time, so... I hope to see you over there.

Audra: I just wanna give a quick shout-out to Matt, our director of media production, who was producing this podcast. You are... If you're gonna be continuing to listen to your podcast, this podcast, which we hope you will, then Matt is the one making it magical.

And I also wanna give a shout-out to Leah Goren, who has done the illustration for this podcast cover, I guess you call it. She's super, super talented. Her illustration is also featured on the home page of our website, and she's a really amazing artist, we’re really grateful that she's working with us.

Justin: I guess we should also end by just giving a preview of the next several episodes. So if you're thinking about, “Do I wanna subscribe to this podcast or not?”

Audra: Well, yes!

Justin: The answer is yes. And this is what you have to look forward to. So we are going to have in the next couple of weeks, Jenny Walters marriage family therapist, who talked with us about just so many amazing things around stress, around being a Highly Sensitive Person, around coping with that mind chatter, the inner critic, right: “You are not a good enough parent. You're never gonna be enough.” Right, so how we start to approach this voice and befriend this voice, so we have Jenny Walters. We have Colin Champ MD, a physician at Duke, he is an amazing not only physician, author. He used to do his own podcast now he's too busy researching and writing.

Audra: You know what's cool though, is that when we first met Dr. Champ, he's been a friend of MaxLove Project for such a long time, but when we first met him, he wasn't a dad and he's now a dad, and so things have changed a little bit.

Justin: So we talk about his experience as a physician and all of the research that he does around diet, physical activity, all of this lifestyle stuff, and then how being a dad has affected his research and how his research has affected his family life. And then we talk with our dietitian, Lexi Hall.

Audra: An amazing mama bear, who also was thrown into pediatric healthcare with her daughter's diagnosis and then became a functional dietitian after that and is running our culinary medicine programming and at our hospital as well. And she is a dynamo, and one thing I love about Lexi is that she's so hungry for knowledge. She is never resting on her laurels or what she learned a year ago. She is up on it all, she's a major part of The Family Thrive’s Fierce Foods program.

Justin: And then... Let's see, we talk with Dr. Ruth McCarty.

Audra: Dear Ruth. Our healer. She's incredible, she's a pioneer. She has been doing pediatric acupuncture in-patient, in the hospital for almost 20 years. She takes us through that journey, she takes us through the power of traditional Chinese medicine, the history, the research. She takes us through one of her, I think, greatest passions in this life, which is helping people die as beautifully as they came into this world.

Justin: We only briefly touched on that, we asked her back to do a whole episode just on death. And a really salient topic, of course, in the childhood cancer world, but really every family, when grandma dies—and especially in this last year...

Audra: It's a really important part of thriving when you look at...the health-span, lifespan. Thriving is something that we need to be talking a lot more about, so it’s almost an area of activism, I feel like for us, is to normalize these conversations.  

Justin: And then in the next couple of weeks, we are going to air our interview with Dr. Jena Curtis.

Audra: Such a fun conversation.

Justin: We mentioned her a little bit previously. She's a professor of gender and sexuality at SUNY Cortland. An amazing personal story, an amazing professional career, and we get to hear the research, but then we also get to talk really nitty-gritty stuff like how young is too young to start dating. What does “the talk” look like, at what point, if you just had a baby, do you need to start to think about gender and sexuality and all of these issues. And so we just dive straight into it, and she gives it to us like it is. It was such a fun podcast.

Audra: Enlightening.

Justin: And enlightening. And then we're gonna talk with Vanessa Baker, a mother of six. Okay, so she doesn't have a PhD, but I figure if you are a mother of six, you have a PhD in just being a mom...

Audra: Oh yes, absolutely.

Justin: She is a professional teen parent coach. So she only works with families with teenagers who are having problems, and this woman is just amazing because she doesn't just like teens, she loves teens, like she loves working with them, and the passion just comes out. If you have teens or expect to one day have teens, you're gonna wanna listen to this episode.

So we have a bunch more coming out after that. We have one with the amazing Dr. Angela Poff and Victoria Field on metabolic health. What is that? Well, you're gonna have to listen to find out. Maria Barrera...

Audra: Such a great conversation. I mean, so...just a beautiful story. She is an incredible healer, acupuncturist, and she has had quite a journey getting there, and she's also an awesome mom. So it’s a really cool conversation.

Justin: It was so much fun. She has such infectious energy. And then Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton, a clinical psychologist who is now in private practice. We first met Nadia at Children's Hospital of Orange County where Max was being treated, and so we first met her in her professional capacity and then became friends. Worked with her on various projects in MaxLove Project, and then we have invited her to be one of our amazing experts in The Family Thrive. She knows so much about mental and emotional health for kids and families, so... Yeah, we have an amazing line-up that's gonna take us through the next couple of months, we can't wait for you to join us.

Audra: I'm super, super excited. Now on this podcast, I will be on the show sometimes, and sometimes I won't. So it sounds like we have a couple of episodes where I am not present, and we have some episodes where it was just best for Justin to be, 'cause it's not easy to do this dual kind of thing. If you listen to a lot of podcasts as you do, they're usually just one person, and if it is a second person, they're a little bit more in the background. So we do kinda pick and choose how we feel like we need to get the most out of the content and the guests.

Justin: Scheduling for three people, can get kind of hairy? And so there are times when it will just be me, because my role in The Family Thrive as I am the Director of Content, or technically the Vice President of Content, so the podcast falls under my purview. I'm in charge of this thing, and so I will be here no matter what.

Audra: One thing I'm excited about with this podcast, we are going to be offering live chats with our podcast guests. Potentially, maybe not all of them, but the ones who have the time and are able to, so that will release a podcast and potentially let's say a week after, we will be able to have a live chat within The Daily Thrive, within the app, just with that expert. No one else is able to do that. I think it's such a powerful thing to offer to participating parents and families to be able to say, “Hey, you listen to podcasts, it triggered a bunch of things, you're marinating on it, you had a lot of thoughts. Come into the AMA, we're gonna have a live event, we're gonna be able to really talk about it.”

And we're going to have similar events with us. So in The Daily Thrive is gonna be this really personal community where it's gonna be easy to reach out and to connect with people. I'm really excited about that.

Justin: It's gonna be awesome. I'm so excited for this, I'm so excited to start this journey with you, the listeners. We'll see where this thing takes us. Alright. We'll see you on the other side.

Audra: Awesome, bye!

Justin: Bye!



Justin: Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast! This is our inaugural episode. We're kicking things off by introducing ourselves, talking about what this podcast is gonna be, and then what The Family Thrive is gonna be.

So this podcast is gonna be focused on bringing parents experts: expert science, expert wisdom on everything from diet and nutrition, exercise, sleep, spirituality, emotional health, parenting. We're gonna have therapists on, we'll have doctors on, we'll have dietitians on. It's going to really be anybody who is an expert who can help us in all the different areas that it takes to have a family live their best lives. So that's what this podcast is gonna be about today.

I'm gonna introduce myself, Audra's gonna introduce herself, and as I said, we're gonna just give you all context for what The Family Thrive is and what we hope to do for a long time coming. So I'm Justin Wilford. I have two PhDs, one in Geography. That will not help anybody with any parenting stuff... Well, maybe that's not true, because actually my geography PhD—well, my geography dissertation—was on religious groups in American suburbs, specifically big mega-churches, and these mega-churches understood a lot about how to serve families. I myself am not a mega-churchgoer, but this was an academic study, so I might have something to say for my first PhD, but it was actually the second PhD that was really family-focused.

I went back to school to get a PhD in Public Health, specifically in family-focused health behavior change, really helping parents—and specifically childhood cancer parents—live, change their behaviors, do things in such a way to give them and their kids the best shot at living high-quality, meaningful lives. So yeah, I have two PhDs, I've spent most of my life in academia, and so this is a big shift for me to get out of academia and into the real world, helping real people.

Audra, I guess we can touch on other things about me, but I'll throw it over to you. Who are you?

Audra: Well, I am certainly not going to be able to just answer that and say it in a nice little nutshell. But I can tell you about my background, that what brings me to The Family Thrive in addition to being Max and Maesie’s mom and your partner. Let's see, what have I studied? I went to culinary school. I learned how to become a cook, I also went to school for philosophy and education.

Justin: So culinary school was when you were what, 19 or 20?

Audra: Yeah, 19, 19. And one of the things I realized, even at that young age was that life skills were really, really important. I didn't have an essential life skill, I didn't know enough about cooking. And two things: I wanted to be able to have a reliable career. If I ever needed to fall back on something or you know. I wanted to be able to have that career choice. And then secondly, I wanted to be able to cook for myself and hopefully a family one day. Look what happened.

So I worked in kitchens for a number of years, and then I went back to undergrad, got a degree in Political Science, which led me into education. And I went to school for grad school for philosophy and education, and then went into higher education administration. I worked in student leadership development, and then Max was diagnosed and our world changed and I became a cancer mom.

Justin: Yeah, do you experience your life as a before-Max’s-diagnosis and after-Max's-diagnosis?

Audra: A little bit, but one thing that looking back on things, it seems that everything built to be what I needed at the time. So in other words, all of my experience leading up to Max’s diagnosis gave me something that I needed to draw upon. During Max's diagnosis, moving into treatment, moving through everything, and starting and growing MaxLove Project.

Justin: I don't have that experience.

Audra: Really?

Justin: No, I think about my life really as before-Max's-diagnosis and after. 'Cause Max was diagnosed, so he was four-and-a-half years old when he was diagnosed with a rare mixed grade glioma. That's a brain tumor.

Audra: It's actually not the term that is used anymore...

Justin: That's the term that I've always used.

Audra: And I guess they don't use that term anymore works, just to be specific at this point, we would say a glioma, but it is historically mixed in types and grades.

Justin: So it wasn't a low grade glioma, let’s just say that.

Anyways. Yeah, so I had just finished my PhD in Geography. I was putting the finishing touches on a book, turning my dissertation into a book, publishing the book, ready to go out on the job market, and just be a nerd. Just be a tenure track professor. And that was the life I had envisioned, and then Max was diagnosed and everything I had studied was just all of a sudden irrelevant.

And I realized, and this is no knock to academics who are engaged in this type of thing, but I was basically doing research that was of interest to a handful of other scholars around the world. And it just wasn't gonna cut it, so there were a couple of years after Max's diagnosis where I was going through the motions in geography, but just realizing that this... I wasn't gonna be able to go on in this 'cause I had lost the fire and the drive.

So my experience is different. I didn't feel like what I had done up until then had prepared me for the diagnosis, for the treatment, for everything that happened afterward. But now that you say that you felt like you were slowly getting prepared for this. It does make sense, 'cause I think your reaction to it was, well, it was what led to MaxLove Project, the non-profit, and then eventually The Family Thrive. So I'm super grateful that you were prepared for this 'cause I was not.

Audra: Well, I mean, I wasn't prepared the day that Max was diagnosed. And the days soon after that, I was an absolute wreck. I certainly was not prepared for jumping off that cliff, I was not...or being pushed off that cliff. I was not prepared for that.

But it does strike me, and I don't know if you remember you said to me, “At one point, someday it's gonna make sense why you have all these different interests. Someday it's all going to come together.” And I remember at one point...it was like, “Wait a minute, it's starting to feel like...I get it. I'm starting to feel like I get what I'm supposed to do with this. I get that I'm supposed to make this into something, not only for Max but for others.” I really, really could see it.

And for the first time had clarity in my life. I try to start multiple little things from a non-profit before to a business, to all kinds of different things. I had...in addition to work in our education, I had worked on a bunch of little side projects and...

Justin: You always had an entrepreneurial spirit.

Audra: Yes, and it was strange because it seemed like I wasn't supposed to.

You work in higher education administration, you're just supposed to do that. Only entrepreneurs proven, gone to business school are the ones we are allowed to have entrepreneurial spirits, that's sort of like how...I feel like the environment that I understood growing up. It just seems so foreign. “I'm allowed to do this?”

And I think when Max was diagnosed, the boundaries were broken and I was like, “I'm allowed to step up. Not only allowed to step up—I need to step up to make this cancer into something that's going to give and help others and not just be our own personal trauma and tragedy. In fact, this can be life-changing in a super powerful and positive way, not just for us, but for an entire community. So what can we do with it?”

...Some of that understanding came from this work that I had done trying to put together a leadership program for my students. I worked at a community college at the time, and working on productivity and initiative, and working on really that foundational part, where—Viktor Frankl will always be a hero to me, and he wrote about that last enduring freedom: our freedom to choose, our response to any given stimulus, and, you know his story at all, you familiar with the story?

Justin: A little bit.

Audra: Author of “A Man's Search for Meaning.”

Justin: Umm, survived Nazi concentration camp?

Audra: Yeah, so he was experimented on. And in kind of an audience for the Nazis, he was like a subject of medical experimentation. And do you know what he envisioned when he was on the table and in the midst of that trauma and horror?

He envisioned what he was going to tell his students about his experience and how he was going to use it for education. He did not envision his revenge, he did not envision, I mean, what a powerful way to approach something horrible happening to you.

So he's a victim in that time, but he didn't want to live his life as a victim, and so that was really stirring in the background for me when Max was diagnosed, and then Brene Brown...her work [was] super, super alive and active for me when Max was diagnosed and these things came together. So it was almost like just a spark, and it was like, “I am going to jump into action for my son, for our family, but we're also going to make something powerful out of this.”

And so that is really how MaxLove Project was born in that children's hospital ICU, when we saw the opportunities to give. Now, the MaxLove Project just started as a service project. I don't know if you recall, but we started with giving away Cloud b Twilight Turtle nightlights.

Justin: Our garage was full of them.

Audra: Yeah, and so in that process, what happened was, Max came home after four weeks in the hospital, and he was so terrified of the dark even though his room had four lights on. He was so terrified, so I ran out to Target, I got one of these things but I remember feeling like “I'm gonna spend $32 on a night light,” it just feels weird, but whatever.

Came home and it's just the sweetest story. We called those stars healing stars. We created this whole narrative around green superpowers and the good guys fighting the bad guys, and the good guys being within us and supporting the good guys in their work. And he picked up that turtle, he put on the green light and he held it up to the back of his head and he goes, “Look, Mommy, I'm healing.”

Now it was at that point, I realized, so it seems like so much of healing for us anyway, was in the narratives we choose. How we chose to think about it, right? And we were told, when we were in the hospital for a couple of days in, to focus on Max’s quality of life. That had we come in 30 days later, it would have been because he would have been in a coma and he wouldn't have made it.

The neurosurgeon at the time said we would be calling it something called DIPG, 30 days later. But we know now that's not how they look at it, but still, he wouldn't have come home with us, is what we were told. We're told to focus on his quality of life, and so everything began, like, turned into not just fight this cancer at all costs, but...let's make sure Max can sleep, okay. Let's make sure that he feels good, that he feels strong, that all of the little things became really, really important.

And when we saw what it did for him, I wrote to that company that night and I said, “I wanna send this to other children's hospitals, I wanna do that.” And they got back to me and they said—and it ended up being a CEO, she didn't say she was a CEO—but she got back to me and she was like, “This is such a moving story, we wanna support you, we're gonna give you the product to do this with.” And that began our relationship, and the reason why I started MaxLove Project, Max's Love Project Incorporated, it's a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, was because I thought they would need a receipt. And that we should just, we're gonna need to do that.

But what happened in the process… So we get it off the ground and we're giving away turtle nightlights, and we're building a community through Facebook, and we're really working hard on just giving and serving and building a community. And then we started to see as we were diving into integrative health for Max, we were diving into quality of life care, other parents in that network started saying, “Wait a minute, what are you feeding Max? Wait a minute. No, what's acupuncture? Wait a minute. What are these things?”

Justin: Sleep can be healing.

Audra: Right. So we started to see that the white space that was there for us, the fact that hospitals are only really able, I really think the way that the healthcare system is set up, there are in many ways, not mechanisms built in to pay for all of these integrative modalities within current critical care.

So I'm not being suggestive in that way, I do think one day we'll have integrative care incorporated into all of pediatric critical care, but—so I'm trying to say I get it—but chemotherapy, surgery, radiation is what we were offered. And at our hospital, we were offered acupuncture (one of the few programs in the country), and we do talk to Dr. McCarty on this show in a little bit.

Justin: In a couple of weeks.

Audra: It's gonna be... It's a really, really great conversation. She's a pioneer and totally opened our eyes. But that white space that we were seeing, the need for quality of life-enhancing care, all the things that we can do at home, everything that is based in some evidence to help and not hurt, to support, to help us thrive. These are the things that we need, that we can do at home, but what are they? How do we learn more? How do we incorporate it into our lives? That white space that we identified, we started to see hundreds and now thousands of other families who are experiencing the same exact thing. So we started to grow into that, and that's when we became something way beyond a service project.

Justin: So we started...so it was sleep at the beginning, with the Twilight Turtles, and then it was food, because of Audra’s culinary background, and then I had access to the huge medical library, it was all online, but I could start to do research and start to look around. “Is there anything about diet and cancer, is there anything at all?”

And so we started to connect with some doctors and researchers around diet and cancer, and I remember we had our first cooking class at the teaching kitchen at the community college where Audra was working at. And so we started to build out... So we had sleep and nutrition, and then as we began to get connected with other doctors and researchers, we started to put together a picture of all things that parents could do at home, outside of the clinic, to give them and their kids the best shot at living a full, meaningful, thriving life.

And so we collected a really awesome Medical Advisory Board as a part of MaxLove Project, and we came up with the Be Super action plan… This is all the things like stress management for parents. And so stress trickles down to our kids, so what can parents do to start to get a handle on their own stress? Exercise, and of course sleep, nutrition, building a positive mindset.

So these are all things that can be done outside. And of course, social support, which ended up being the focus of my dissertation in public health: parental social support. So these are all the things that parents can do outside of the hospital, and that has been our focus like... We let the experts do what they do. We're not surgeons, we're not oncologists. We’re parents, and so we're in charge of the sleep, we're in charge of the food, we’re in charge of their physical activity. So what are all the things that we can do? And that ended up being the real driving force that got MaxLove Project off the ground, I think, into what it is today, a coherent force for quality of life for families facing childhood cancer.

Audra: And for all families. One thing that I wanna reflect on is when we were in the hospital very early on, and there was a family next door to us in infusion, and I will never forget, this mom was struggling to talk to the doctor through a translator telephone. And I will never ever forget the experience of thinking, “How is this mother remotely as empowered as I am in, this moment?” Like, This is just not fair. It is not fair to not be able to really, really be here, and to know with all assurances that you're communicating as effectively as you can and that you’re understanding what someone's saying, it just didn't feel... It didn't feel right.

And one of the things that we've seen is that families with—and especially in our health care system—who are incredibly well-resourced, still struggle to get access to integrative health and still struggle to get the information needed to make the decisions that will support their child's thriving, and their family thriving.

A commitment to finding ways to provide this evidence-based information and resources and support to all families and to all hospitalized families became a really critical part of growing MaxLove Project. And we're still working on that, and we'll always be working on that. I think that is just going to be a forever part of the mission, but it's one of the things that encouraged the growth of our culinary medicine collaborative, so we went from that one little cooking class to start off all those years ago, to hosting monthly cooking classes in our community, to taking them online in COVID, to now having them online live in our app and recorded and posted and available at all times to any of the users of our MaxLove Connect app. It's been an incredible progression.

In addition to that, our culinary medicine collaborative is a really beautiful working group of hospital practitioners who’ve come together to try to figure out how to do culinary medicine in the pediatric healthcare setting. And that is something that we're really committed to because we know as we start doing this in the hospital that more and more families are going to have access, who don't have access to these resources out of the hospital. That will only be growing into the future as well.

Justin: Okay, so... What does any of this have to do with The Family Thrive? The name of this podcast is The Family Thrive Podcast, our website, the platform, The Family Thrive, The Daily Thrive. So Audra, I'll let you take it, except I just wanna express my experience and how The Family Thrive grew out of this and see if it matches with yours.

We would tell supporters, just people in our community, anyone we would need who would ask about MaxLove Project, we would tell them about all the things that we do. And so we go through the cooking classes, the exercise, the stress management…

Audra: Social support.

Justin: All that stuff, and they would say, “Wow, well, that seems like something that my family could use or really everyone can use.” And my response would always be, “Yeah, totally, but... Sorry, we're just a little non-profit and we just work with childhood cancer families.”

But I had heard that enough times over so many years that it started to bubble up for me like, We need to figure out how to bring this approach to all families. The approach is really one where we blend expertise like doctors, researchers, clinicians, with really engaging, fun (what I like to use) wisdom, like the parent-on-the-ground wisdom, and blend these two. So it's science and wisdom, it is the expertise, it's blended with the parent engagement. Fun, beautiful, engaging. And that is the spirit of MaxLove Project, and we wanted to bring that to every single family, no matter what their circumstances. How does that land for you?

Audra: Yeah, I agree. I would get questions, “Can you host cooking classes for the community? We can do it as a fundraiser? Please, can we have our own cooking class which is for typical families? Can we? When is your cookbook coming out? When is your cookbook coming out?” Again and again and again. It's a good question. It is coming, but it is coming through The Family Thrive.

And so...you know that you've got something when people ask for it. This doesn't come out of nowhere. People have been asking for it, and so that sometimes even more than childhood cancer families, we would hear from the community on this because the MaxLove Project way—our Be Super action plan, our methodology, our support—does apply to health and wellness for everybody.

And one thing that is totally clear, and if you start dipping your toe into pediatric health care, it's increasingly clear that we are struggling as a society with really, really challenging health issues related to lifestyle. And how do we start intervening on these earlier? How do we start intervening on these things in childhood, how do we set our kids up for life-long thriver-ship and health? How do we grow old in the most beautiful, empowered way possible?

It's very similar to the MaxLove Project Mission. But how do we get here? Where did The Family Thrive come from? It came from all of these seeds being planted along the way, it came from people asking for it, and then finally COVID-19 hit MaxLove Project and hit MaxLove Project hard. And we were very, very lucky, so fortunate to have donors step forward and say, “We're not going to allow MaxLove Project to stop.”

Justin: We were right in the middle of planning for several really big fundraisers. Right in the middle, and they were all in-person, face-to-face, all that stuff.

Audra: We had grown to the point to be highly dependent on fundraisers that required presence, physical presence, like golf and our big beautiful Farm to Fork event and others, Coaches Fighting Cancer. We had so many really wonderful community gatherings that were fundraisers, but then also a huge amount of MaxLove Project events, all in-person, and we are a tiny, tiny and mighty team, making all of this happen. But we have known for a long time—and I'll speak on the MaxLove Project, on the side of the CEO of MaxLove Project of a small non-profit: anyone who is running a small non-profit knows they're searching for sustainability. And often like hoping and praying for a hero, “Would somebody come along? High net worth, create an endowment with us, let's live in perpetuity.” Is there a way that we create alternative revenue sources? Are there different types of fundraising? Can we partner with corporate folks in a different way to create a more sustainable path than just essentially asking for money for the same thing again and again and again?

And so this has been on the back of my mind forever. In fact, and we started MaxLove Project, we started by selling hats. We had a beautiful headwear brand, and we started as a social enterprise. Our board member Diana did an incredible job with that. Gina did an amazing job with the branding. People could buy MaxLove brand hats in Japan at one time. We started down on that path, but we invested so much into growing the non-profit that we just didn't have the ability to invest in a social enterprise at the time.

So in any case, COVID goes down. We're working on a cookbook. Yes, we were working on the MaxLove Project Cookbook. We were working on a series of magazines. We had the coolest stuff, the best food photographer in the region, best graphic designer, best chefs, everybody signed up volunteering, ready to go. Plus our culinary medicine collaborative, we're making recipes just for use in the hospital, everything is on fire, we're doing it… And we lose all of that funding. But I thought there's no way we're gonna let this go down, we are not stopping this work. This work is too important. And what if we could put this work out there to a bigger community in a way bigger market, a huge community, meaning all families to benefit everybody and bring in revenue to support MaxLove Project and all of our work? What if we could do something self-sustaining in a way? Like, what if we could do something, what if we could be our own hero?

And right there, that's when The Family Thrive came into full view and full vision. We were going to start an awesome online platform. Something beyond a website where we can gather families, we could provide expert-backed, evidence-based information, beautiful recipes, beautiful cookbooks, a magazine, all of the things, and we could generate revenue in this for-profit entity that would eventually support MaxLove Project’s operations as well. And this is how we decided to not only create a bigger stage for ourselves and really introduce the MaxLove Project way to the world, but provide for typical families with everything that we've learned and create community around family thriving.

One thing that we noticed along the way is that the very same white space, like I said, for MaxLove Project families, exist for regular families, and all of the health and wellness information is geared towards individuals. So if it's men, you might be thinking longevity, optimization, for women, it is always weight loss, but where is the acknowledgment that is “families, we're doing this together?”

Justin: We're doing it together.

Audra: And so this is where the Family Thrive was born at the very...within the first two weeks of the shutdown...I think two weeks into the first COVID shutdown, when we saw what was happening. The wheel started turning real fast and that pivot happened quickly, the team that we had volunteering to work on everything, we presented the plan, and they said, “Yep, we're down. Let's do it.”

Justin: There was a sense at the beginning of COVID, between Audra and I, that this was going to be a massively disruptive event. I was teaching in public health, working in public health. And so I had my ear to the ground. I had sensed since really mid-January that something big was coming. And so when the shutdown started to happen, what is mid-late March, there was a sense that we need to take this opportunity to do something big. It just felt like this is our shot, not that the universe is bringing COVID to everyone so that we can build The Family Thrive. But for us, it was this opening of like, “We just need to step into the unknown.”

Audra: It was a call to action. If you were going to walk through COVID and come out the other end, everyone's gonna be transformed in some way. And it was getting back to that empowerment like, “How did we wanna do this?” And we wanted to see this as an opportunity to grow our movement, and it's been incredible. The flow around it... It has just been amazing.

I think one thing that people, the conversations are changing in COVID too because people started seeing that health and wellness really matters. It's not just like a cultural thing, and it's cool to do yoga and get green juice or whatever, and of course, there's a ton of privilege wrapped up in that, but COVID showed us that health and wellness is something that is essential to human and planetary flourishing. I feel like there's a human rights aspect involved in it. It's something that we're seeing now is not just a privileged choice, but something everyone needs access to, and that's one reason why we built the platform the way that we have to try to provide broad access.

Justin: Okay, so let's just get into it. What is The Family Thrive? We've alluded to it, we've talked kind of in big 30,000-foot terms, but let's get a little more detailed.

So I'm gonna give my take on The Family Thrive and you can give yours. So my overview of The Family Thrive is that it is an online platform. We have an outward-facing website that has tons of amazing recipes, and it has previews of all the content that we are going to have on a subscriber-only platform. So we have this outward-facing website for everybody, and then we have a subscriber-only platform that is full of expert-written, expert-produced articles and how-to’s.

When it comes to the subscriber-only platform, I think of it as having three main parts. So there's one part that is just unique, fresh content coming out every single day from experts on things like sleep, nutrition, exercise, parenting, emotional health, mental health, all focused on parents, kids, and families.

Then there's a second part, which is live events. So in this subscriber-only app, there are weekly live events happening most days of the week, things like exercises, classes for parents, mental health, emotional health, social support, all coordinated, planned out, and done by experts again, and all of them [are] parents as well.

And then there is this third part, which is our workshop e-learning component. So this app has amazing workshops on our Thrive Pillars. And so in The Family Thrive, we have these Thrive Pillars, which are the main areas families can focus on to be their best: nourish, flourish, embody and connect. And then we have the expert-written workshops as well, and these expert-written and designed workshops on specific things like emotional health; managing, healing the inner critic. Things like how to know when parental stress has gotten too much and we need to go get help, and then what does that help look like? We have a really awesome workshop that I'm so excited about, just for dads on emotional health and emotional connection just for dads.

And so that's what we have going on in the subscriber-only app. We have the daily fresh content, which is also a community—so in that content, we're gonna be able to comment and share and talk about it, connect with other parents—and we have the live events, and then we have the workshop. So Audra, how would you like to flesh that out?

Audra: Well, I think you covered it pretty, pretty comprehensively, but I can talk about some of the things that I'm really excited about that we're building into this into this platform.

I'm really excited about the live events, in-app events with experts, because the experience is cool...Zoom is integrated into the app, so you...can just be there on your phone. And I'm really excited because you have... I know as a mom, it can be really hard—I read a lot of articles and there's no direct access to anyone to ask questions. I love that I'll be able to do that in this app; that I'll actually be able to have direct access to experts, clinical psychologists, therapists, dieticians. I’m really excited.

And then I'm excited to the community, about the community that's going to surround that. I think one thing that's really cool about this is that it is not in our immediate goal structure or anything like that, or looking at the first five years, at least of this business to have a massive network of millions of people. We're not looking to be the next Facebook, we're looking to be a mutually-supportive, safe, enclosed social network, which means it's gonna be really personal and personable and encouraging and supportive and safe. And so I'm really daunted, personally, on social media out there. It is something that I'm grateful for, deeply grateful for. It's how we have grown our work and met so many people and made so many connections and maintained connections and all of that. But there are parts of it that can feel really unsafe, especially when you're going into health and wellness.

One thing that I find to be really difficult is that influencers make a lot of claims around health information and knowledge that sometimes can be really dubious, it can be, my experience as a cancer mom over the past almost 10 years has been... I have had to develop some pretty amazing information competency, having been to grad school and having a partner with two PhDs, it can still be hard to sift through information. And there is a lot of dubious stuff out there and people making wild claims and trying to sell their plans and all of that. So I love that the space will be curated and edited down for me. I love that it will be the kernel of really, really great wisdom from experts that it's not just being delivered to sell something, to sell a plan, or because someone was sponsored to do it. So I'm really, really excited about getting that direct access in a safe and supportive space with others, and then being able to be in a community, a supportive community around that.

One of the things that we say about The Family Thrive is “we got your back.” There's that sense that when you need something, you pull up the app, you get in there, get support, maybe take a workshop, maybe jump into a live event, join our Culinary Academy, whatever it might be that interests you, and then dip out. It's not addictive, it's not, we're not geared around clickbait. We're definitely a platform to and a group of experts that believes in meeting people where they are, progress over perfection. And, as a mom, I find it really, really motivating that we don't see that there's only one way to do this health thing and wellness. That there's not just...

Justin: Sure.

Audra: Right? That we've created a plan that is about tapping into what you need. I think, you know what I missed in my bio is that I'm a certified Functional Medicine health coach.

Justin: Right. Yes, you did.

Audra: Totally got distracted. Missed that part. So I got my certification through the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, and it's an awesome program, and it's a year-long program, so like a weekend sort of thing, and I learned some really powerful health coaching practices through that. And really meeting people where they are, walking with people through their journeys and holding the space so people can reveal their experience and then decide as they're looking, making changes in their lives, people know what changes they want to make and what's achievable and what is going to be the powerful next step for them. I don't know that for someone. You know that for you.

Justin: Well, a major part of my public health PhD program was behavior change—learning about behavior change—and there's something called the Behavior Change Paradox, and it goes something like: only when you can accept yourself exactly as you are, can you start to make real change. And that is how we feel about ourselves, that is how we feel about everything

And so the app is really set up for parents to have to choose their own adventure of just, what is of interest to you right now, what is exciting for you right now… There is no one path to thriving, certainly there is no one path to thriving. And so for the app, you can set your notifications and follow the exact topics that you want, and so you can really curate an experience that is just right for you; whatever is going on for you and your family. I think that is a real driving ethos for The Family Thrive: no one way to thrive, choose your own adventure, be at peace with where you're at, and then in that moment when new options come open, step forth in confidence and your own truth.

Audra: Yeah, it made me think too… Another thing along, speaking of the journey, that MaxLove Project has done for me, that The Family Thrive will be bringing forward, is almost mentorship companionship, if you will.

I've made friends through MaxLove Project. We're united in our journey, but we have kids of very different ages. And one thing that's been cool for me is having some moms who are further ahead than I am, help show the way or help normalize certain things…  it's just been really cool to have the mutual support, whereas if it wasn't for the MaxLove Project, I would be kind of stuck in grade levels. It's the sixth-grade moms and the ninth-grade moms or whatever it might be. I'd be stuck in this little pod of grade levels, and it's been really cool to have people who are at different stages. So we're gonna have resources for new parents. I'm really, really excited about digging into, we have a conversation coming up with Tiffani Ghere, talking about breastfeeding and beyond, and she is a part of a really great formula startup actually, and really excited to normalize the conversations around feeding our babies.

[We’ll] get into everything all the way up through coaching parents of teenagers. We have Vanessa Baker, an expert on that. We have Jena Curtis... she's a professor of gender and sexuality. We’ll be talking about gender and sexuality. We have Sofia [Pertuz], an expert on social justice talking who's gonna talk with us on, an expert on diversity and equity, going to talk with us about social justice, how to talk to our kids about race and social justice, and how to engage our communities. And things like that. These are all of the things that… I don't know, it's hard for me to find where to have these conversations sometimes, and we're gonna have them all in one place.

Justin: And the conversations focus specifically on families… Right? So much in the health and wellness world, as Audra has just said, is focused on individuals.

Audra: Let's focus on macros and doing specific things in the gym.

Justin: Yeah, yeah, this is all about thriving together, and I'm super excited about the dad content, so.

Audra: I'm super excited about the dad content as well. And I have to tell you, I have personally benefited from Justin's development of the dad content, and I know our kids have as well. And so it's something that's been a powerful part of the change in our own family, personally.

So much of this work we've benefited from personally, I think maybe that's, you wanna know why we started MaxLove Project, 'cause we've seen it, we went from focusing on our child's health to realizing that thriving is a family project.

Justin: Well, we heard about this idea early on in a MaxLove Project, and it became a guiding principle for us. It’s called the Oxygen Mask Principle. And so if you are passed out in your airplane seat, you cannot put the oxygen mask on your child, and so they always say, “Put your own oxygen mask on first, and then you can attend to your child.” And I don't know that we need to take that as gospel, that you can't do anything for your kid until you just totally focus on yourself. Of course, we have to walk and chew gum. But the point is that if you neglect your self-care, your child's gonna suffer for it.

So that became a guiding principle for us that we needed to start to look at our own health, and then it started out with physical health, and for me, in particular, and eventually got to mental and emotional health, where if I'm not really taking care of my anxiety, my stress, my irritability, then I can't be the best father for my kids. It started out though, me projecting it on to other families saying, “You know, I need to do this mental and emotional health work so we can create programs for other families.” And then as I started to dig into it, I realized like, “Oh, I might need this. This might be good for me.”

And so I started to get into therapy and different therapeutic approaches while I was working with psychologists on these programs. And it has been life-changing for me, and I'm so excited to bring this stuff to other dads, it's gonna be a major focus of The Family Thrive is really connecting dads to their own emotional worlds, inner worlds, and that when they can really start to get in touch with what's happening inside, they're gonna be—their entire world will change and they will be able to connect with their kids and their partner in a whole new way. And I am super excited about this, it's gonna be a major topic of podcasts to come, so stay tuned on that.

Audra: So I can hear that you're perking up all the partners out there, the partners to these dads if they are partnered, that ears perking up with the potential and the promise of that. 'Cause it's something that our society doesn't support.

Justin: Yeah, we don't have a lot of role models for how to process our emotional stuff as men and as fathers. So a lot of it gets ignored, it gets avoided, it gets pushed down. And so for, in the best case scenario, what happens is that [for] fathers, our emotional world just…  It just gets truncated, it gets restricted down to a band.

We say, “Well, we're never gonna let out anything too intense.” But what happens is that not just the low-end gets cut off, but the high-end gets cut off as well. And so that's in the best case scenario, so you have an even-keeled dad who's just coming in every day, just doing the thing. But that dad is not able to really connect with the highs and lows of everyone else going on or what everyone is experiencing in the family. And so it might be a dad who is able to show up physically, but can that dad show up emotionally? And that's where the magic happens.

So we're gonna be doing a lot of work on that, and I don't wanna make this whole show about dads, but I, but it is the stuff that I am super passionate about. This is, I believe, is the key to really unlocking everything else, at least for dads, is emotional health and wellness. And so we're working with different psychologists, different therapists, and relationship coaches all doing amazing work around this, I truly believe it's going to be life-changing, and I can't wait to see a bunch of dads in The Daily Thrive.

Audra: I wanna give one more plug for The Family Thrive that I think is really exciting and ground-breaking, and that's in an area of my passion, which is Fierce Foods. And so the Fierce Foods platform we developed initially for MaxLove Project because saying, healthy foods doesn't really make sense, I have a dietitian friend, I was like, “You can be healthy. Your body can be healthy, but a food cannot be healthy. A food can be nourishing, a food can be other things.” And I mean, the connotation isn't great. I don't care who you are, and how nourishing you choose to eat or [what] your choices are, but saying when someone says, “Hey, you wanna go to that Healthy Restaurant?” most people are like, “I feel like I should,” or whatever. And kids certainly don't like the word, kids do not—I mean, it is—the connotation is definitely negative, so we went with Fierce Foods because of course the alliteration is fantastic, but then the connotation is powerful.

Justin: Foods that make you strong.

Audra: Strong and feel great, and they have power. And the thought that what is the power of what goes in you has power in you and is fortifying and all of that. So that has been our platform all on the way we developed our Fierce Foods Academy out of that, which is our cooking classes and related programs. And so coming into The Family Thrive, we still wanted the work to be the work of culinary medicine. And why is that? Because the odds are stacked against us when it comes to food and nutrition in this country, with the standard American lifestyle.

You hear the tips shop, the perimeter of the store and all of that, but it takes a significant amount of nutritional competency to be able to do that. It is not easy. People say shop at the farmers market. Of course, that's great if you have access to it, but then what. What do I do with it? Most of us don't have training on how to cook and how to cook at home; it can be overwhelming and difficult. And so instead of using any dietary philosophy specifically, what we've done with our Fierce Foods approach is the focus is on whole foods, nourishing whole foods. You know the research even better than I do, that when we eat whole foods we're getting there, right? Whole foods are better than processed foods for our bodies.

Justin: In public health and health sciences, there's this thing called the Nutrition Wars. And so researchers get really heated when they argue about, is it low fat, is it low carb, what is the right approach? Is it the Dash diet, the Atkins diet?

Audra: No meat-eating.

Justin: So a lot of... Just a lot of vitriol and animosity and the Nutrition Wars. But the cool thing that when you step back and you take a look at the big major studies out there, what you see is a common thread running through them, and it's basically this: if you are eating whole foods, and that includes meat, if you are eating whole foods and limiting processed foods, especially what they call ultra-processed foods, and we have articles about all that on The Daily Thrive, but if you're doing these things, then you are getting the best possible nutrition.

And that if you wanna tweak around the edges and maybe have a little bit less of this and a little bit more of that, we actually get into some of the details as well. But from a broad perspective on a daily basis, it's really about whole foods, it's about limiting processed and ultra-processed foods, and the research is really clear, you can go really low carb, really high carb, really low fat, really high fat, but if it's whole foods, on average, people are way more healthy. They are way healthier, they lose weight, their blood profiles build more muscle, lower cardiovascular disease risk. So that is what we help parents with...

So then the question becomes, alright, that's all great. “You're telling me whole foods and limiting ultra-processed and processed food, but I'm a busy parent. I don't have time for that nonsense.” And so all of the rest... Well, okay, so not all of the... There are gonna be a couple of recipes that are a little fancier, that are fun, if you wanna give them a try.

Audra: We have legit, amazing chefs working on the steps. You are gonna get culinary in with the medicine, but you're going to learn some culinary tips and tricks which are amazing. These are life skills.

Justin: We're also gonna have a ton of recipes that are just for busy parents, of like how do we get this whole-food, low-processed meal on the table quickly, because I don't have time for this. And so we understand that, we live that same reality every day.

Audra: And one thing I wanted to share about this too, in the Fierce Foods approach that is really, really cool, is that we are not prescribing anything. We're not telling you exactly how to eat, but we're also providing the tools for you to identify where you might wanna be.

So we have three steps in our Fierce Food spectrum that all of the recipes are linked to that help you identify through our dietitian where you might wanna be. And so we start with basic whole foods, and then we have our moderate, something we do it on a scale that relates to metabolic health, we have a moderate carbohydrate level, and then we have a low-carb meals, and so these are things that can help you easily identify along with icons for allergens, if you're looking for a dairy-free, vegetarian, gluten-free, whatever it might be, we are going to have those identifiers as well.

We're trying to make it really quick and easy to identify even on a health-related spectrum, how you and your family might be served by those recipes. And then we infuse that with some culinary education, the precision of the support from a dietitian, and we have a recipe for, I think an all new way of looking at nourishing a family, and where I'm really, really excited about this particular part of the program because it's something very close to my heart. And I'm excited to bring this out to all families and all of you all out there who've been asking for the MaxLove Cookbook. This is it.

Justin: Awesome, wow, I think we've covered the main things. So we talked about our background, how we got here, how The Family Thrive came about, what The Family Thrive is.

Audra: Yeah, I wanted to talk, just quickly as we're ending this, about our timeline. And we're gonna be launching this podcast, and so people are gonna be listening to this as we are launching the platform. And I think it's going to be an amazing journey that we're gonna take together with our early adopters and early platform users, 'cause we're gonna be building this over the next couple of years, and our early users are going to be essential in building this community. So I wanna thank everyone who's listening and who is jumping into the platform, and I'm getting a lot of use out of it because it's something. This is a movement for family thriver-ship that we're really growing together.

Justin: Yes, this is a community that is gonna grow over time, and we're so hopeful that you choose to be a part of it, and we hope to see you in The Daily Thrive. So The Family Thrive is the overarching brand. It's the outward-facing website, eventually The Family Thrive... We eventually wanna do more things than just a subscriber-only platform. I will let you in on, one dream that I have, I might as well just like... What do they call it? Dreamcasting?

Audra: Yeah.

Justin: Alright, so I'm gonna dream cast this. I wanna have a family-friendly, super cool music festival. As a parent, I do not wanna go to Coachella. I do not wanna go to any of these other festivals.

Audra: And they don't want us to either.

Justin: Yeah, they don't... And I’m actually banned in several of these... So I want a family-friendly music festival that has cool music, that is fun, and that is also like, there's gonna be a quiet nap tent when your kid needs to take a nap and wonderful changing station. Okay, so that is my dream. I would love for The Family Thrive to be a part of something like that, but anyways.

Audra: Can I share a dream? I am so excited for The Family Thrive Membership box as I want every month to get new, kind of like BirchBox, but Family-Thrive-style. And I wanna get samples of products used in The Family Thrive and used in all of our culinary workshops, so that I can try them out and see what fits for my family and our lifestyle.

Justin: We are doing some dreamcasting here. Alright, I love it. Yeah, so big things are going to happen, but it's gonna start with The Daily Thrive. So The Daily Thrive is the subscriber-only platform, that's where all the good stuff's gonna happen.

You can go to www.thefamilythrive.com. You can get your 30-day free trial there. And then hop on, there will be some other opportunities, so keep your eyes out, if you're lucky, there will be some other opportunities to get a 90-day free trial. But we are super confident that you're going to love this, that parents are going to love this and that we're gonna have a community that you're gonna wanna be a part of for a long time, so... I hope to see you over there.

Audra: I just wanna give a quick shout-out to Matt, our director of media production, who was producing this podcast. You are... If you're gonna be continuing to listen to your podcast, this podcast, which we hope you will, then Matt is the one making it magical.

And I also wanna give a shout-out to Leah Goren, who has done the illustration for this podcast cover, I guess you call it. She's super, super talented. Her illustration is also featured on the home page of our website, and she's a really amazing artist, we’re really grateful that she's working with us.

Justin: I guess we should also end by just giving a preview of the next several episodes. So if you're thinking about, “Do I wanna subscribe to this podcast or not?”

Audra: Well, yes!

Justin: The answer is yes. And this is what you have to look forward to. So we are going to have in the next couple of weeks, Jenny Walters marriage family therapist, who talked with us about just so many amazing things around stress, around being a Highly Sensitive Person, around coping with that mind chatter, the inner critic, right: “You are not a good enough parent. You're never gonna be enough.” Right, so how we start to approach this voice and befriend this voice, so we have Jenny Walters. We have Colin Champ MD, a physician at Duke, he is an amazing not only physician, author. He used to do his own podcast now he's too busy researching and writing.

Audra: You know what's cool though, is that when we first met Dr. Champ, he's been a friend of MaxLove Project for such a long time, but when we first met him, he wasn't a dad and he's now a dad, and so things have changed a little bit.

Justin: So we talk about his experience as a physician and all of the research that he does around diet, physical activity, all of this lifestyle stuff, and then how being a dad has affected his research and how his research has affected his family life. And then we talk with our dietitian, Lexi Hall.

Audra: An amazing mama bear, who also was thrown into pediatric healthcare with her daughter's diagnosis and then became a functional dietitian after that and is running our culinary medicine programming and at our hospital as well. And she is a dynamo, and one thing I love about Lexi is that she's so hungry for knowledge. She is never resting on her laurels or what she learned a year ago. She is up on it all, she's a major part of The Family Thrive’s Fierce Foods program.

Justin: And then... Let's see, we talk with Dr. Ruth McCarty.

Audra: Dear Ruth. Our healer. She's incredible, she's a pioneer. She has been doing pediatric acupuncture in-patient, in the hospital for almost 20 years. She takes us through that journey, she takes us through the power of traditional Chinese medicine, the history, the research. She takes us through one of her, I think, greatest passions in this life, which is helping people die as beautifully as they came into this world.

Justin: We only briefly touched on that, we asked her back to do a whole episode just on death. And a really salient topic, of course, in the childhood cancer world, but really every family, when grandma dies—and especially in this last year...

Audra: It's a really important part of thriving when you look at...the health-span, lifespan. Thriving is something that we need to be talking a lot more about, so it’s almost an area of activism, I feel like for us, is to normalize these conversations.  

Justin: And then in the next couple of weeks, we are going to air our interview with Dr. Jena Curtis.

Audra: Such a fun conversation.

Justin: We mentioned her a little bit previously. She's a professor of gender and sexuality at SUNY Cortland. An amazing personal story, an amazing professional career, and we get to hear the research, but then we also get to talk really nitty-gritty stuff like how young is too young to start dating. What does “the talk” look like, at what point, if you just had a baby, do you need to start to think about gender and sexuality and all of these issues. And so we just dive straight into it, and she gives it to us like it is. It was such a fun podcast.

Audra: Enlightening.

Justin: And enlightening. And then we're gonna talk with Vanessa Baker, a mother of six. Okay, so she doesn't have a PhD, but I figure if you are a mother of six, you have a PhD in just being a mom...

Audra: Oh yes, absolutely.

Justin: She is a professional teen parent coach. So she only works with families with teenagers who are having problems, and this woman is just amazing because she doesn't just like teens, she loves teens, like she loves working with them, and the passion just comes out. If you have teens or expect to one day have teens, you're gonna wanna listen to this episode.

So we have a bunch more coming out after that. We have one with the amazing Dr. Angela Poff and Victoria Field on metabolic health. What is that? Well, you're gonna have to listen to find out. Maria Barrera...

Audra: Such a great conversation. I mean, so...just a beautiful story. She is an incredible healer, acupuncturist, and she has had quite a journey getting there, and she's also an awesome mom. So it’s a really cool conversation.

Justin: It was so much fun. She has such infectious energy. And then Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton, a clinical psychologist who is now in private practice. We first met Nadia at Children's Hospital of Orange County where Max was being treated, and so we first met her in her professional capacity and then became friends. Worked with her on various projects in MaxLove Project, and then we have invited her to be one of our amazing experts in The Family Thrive. She knows so much about mental and emotional health for kids and families, so... Yeah, we have an amazing line-up that's gonna take us through the next couple of months, we can't wait for you to join us.

Audra: I'm super, super excited. Now on this podcast, I will be on the show sometimes, and sometimes I won't. So it sounds like we have a couple of episodes where I am not present, and we have some episodes where it was just best for Justin to be, 'cause it's not easy to do this dual kind of thing. If you listen to a lot of podcasts as you do, they're usually just one person, and if it is a second person, they're a little bit more in the background. So we do kinda pick and choose how we feel like we need to get the most out of the content and the guests.

Justin: Scheduling for three people, can get kind of hairy? And so there are times when it will just be me, because my role in The Family Thrive as I am the Director of Content, or technically the Vice President of Content, so the podcast falls under my purview. I'm in charge of this thing, and so I will be here no matter what.

Audra: One thing I'm excited about with this podcast, we are going to be offering live chats with our podcast guests. Potentially, maybe not all of them, but the ones who have the time and are able to, so that will release a podcast and potentially let's say a week after, we will be able to have a live chat within The Daily Thrive, within the app, just with that expert. No one else is able to do that. I think it's such a powerful thing to offer to participating parents and families to be able to say, “Hey, you listen to podcasts, it triggered a bunch of things, you're marinating on it, you had a lot of thoughts. Come into the AMA, we're gonna have a live event, we're gonna be able to really talk about it.”

And we're going to have similar events with us. So in The Daily Thrive is gonna be this really personal community where it's gonna be easy to reach out and to connect with people. I'm really excited about that.

Justin: It's gonna be awesome. I'm so excited for this, I'm so excited to start this journey with you, the listeners. We'll see where this thing takes us. Alright. We'll see you on the other side.

Audra: Awesome, bye!

Justin: Bye!



Justin: Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast! This is our inaugural episode. We're kicking things off by introducing ourselves, talking about what this podcast is gonna be, and then what The Family Thrive is gonna be.

So this podcast is gonna be focused on bringing parents experts: expert science, expert wisdom on everything from diet and nutrition, exercise, sleep, spirituality, emotional health, parenting. We're gonna have therapists on, we'll have doctors on, we'll have dietitians on. It's going to really be anybody who is an expert who can help us in all the different areas that it takes to have a family live their best lives. So that's what this podcast is gonna be about today.

I'm gonna introduce myself, Audra's gonna introduce herself, and as I said, we're gonna just give you all context for what The Family Thrive is and what we hope to do for a long time coming. So I'm Justin Wilford. I have two PhDs, one in Geography. That will not help anybody with any parenting stuff... Well, maybe that's not true, because actually my geography PhD—well, my geography dissertation—was on religious groups in American suburbs, specifically big mega-churches, and these mega-churches understood a lot about how to serve families. I myself am not a mega-churchgoer, but this was an academic study, so I might have something to say for my first PhD, but it was actually the second PhD that was really family-focused.

I went back to school to get a PhD in Public Health, specifically in family-focused health behavior change, really helping parents—and specifically childhood cancer parents—live, change their behaviors, do things in such a way to give them and their kids the best shot at living high-quality, meaningful lives. So yeah, I have two PhDs, I've spent most of my life in academia, and so this is a big shift for me to get out of academia and into the real world, helping real people.

Audra, I guess we can touch on other things about me, but I'll throw it over to you. Who are you?

Audra: Well, I am certainly not going to be able to just answer that and say it in a nice little nutshell. But I can tell you about my background, that what brings me to The Family Thrive in addition to being Max and Maesie’s mom and your partner. Let's see, what have I studied? I went to culinary school. I learned how to become a cook, I also went to school for philosophy and education.

Justin: So culinary school was when you were what, 19 or 20?

Audra: Yeah, 19, 19. And one of the things I realized, even at that young age was that life skills were really, really important. I didn't have an essential life skill, I didn't know enough about cooking. And two things: I wanted to be able to have a reliable career. If I ever needed to fall back on something or you know. I wanted to be able to have that career choice. And then secondly, I wanted to be able to cook for myself and hopefully a family one day. Look what happened.

So I worked in kitchens for a number of years, and then I went back to undergrad, got a degree in Political Science, which led me into education. And I went to school for grad school for philosophy and education, and then went into higher education administration. I worked in student leadership development, and then Max was diagnosed and our world changed and I became a cancer mom.

Justin: Yeah, do you experience your life as a before-Max’s-diagnosis and after-Max's-diagnosis?

Audra: A little bit, but one thing that looking back on things, it seems that everything built to be what I needed at the time. So in other words, all of my experience leading up to Max’s diagnosis gave me something that I needed to draw upon. During Max's diagnosis, moving into treatment, moving through everything, and starting and growing MaxLove Project.

Justin: I don't have that experience.

Audra: Really?

Justin: No, I think about my life really as before-Max's-diagnosis and after. 'Cause Max was diagnosed, so he was four-and-a-half years old when he was diagnosed with a rare mixed grade glioma. That's a brain tumor.

Audra: It's actually not the term that is used anymore...

Justin: That's the term that I've always used.

Audra: And I guess they don't use that term anymore works, just to be specific at this point, we would say a glioma, but it is historically mixed in types and grades.

Justin: So it wasn't a low grade glioma, let’s just say that.

Anyways. Yeah, so I had just finished my PhD in Geography. I was putting the finishing touches on a book, turning my dissertation into a book, publishing the book, ready to go out on the job market, and just be a nerd. Just be a tenure track professor. And that was the life I had envisioned, and then Max was diagnosed and everything I had studied was just all of a sudden irrelevant.

And I realized, and this is no knock to academics who are engaged in this type of thing, but I was basically doing research that was of interest to a handful of other scholars around the world. And it just wasn't gonna cut it, so there were a couple of years after Max's diagnosis where I was going through the motions in geography, but just realizing that this... I wasn't gonna be able to go on in this 'cause I had lost the fire and the drive.

So my experience is different. I didn't feel like what I had done up until then had prepared me for the diagnosis, for the treatment, for everything that happened afterward. But now that you say that you felt like you were slowly getting prepared for this. It does make sense, 'cause I think your reaction to it was, well, it was what led to MaxLove Project, the non-profit, and then eventually The Family Thrive. So I'm super grateful that you were prepared for this 'cause I was not.

Audra: Well, I mean, I wasn't prepared the day that Max was diagnosed. And the days soon after that, I was an absolute wreck. I certainly was not prepared for jumping off that cliff, I was not...or being pushed off that cliff. I was not prepared for that.

But it does strike me, and I don't know if you remember you said to me, “At one point, someday it's gonna make sense why you have all these different interests. Someday it's all going to come together.” And I remember at one point...it was like, “Wait a minute, it's starting to feel like...I get it. I'm starting to feel like I get what I'm supposed to do with this. I get that I'm supposed to make this into something, not only for Max but for others.” I really, really could see it.

And for the first time had clarity in my life. I try to start multiple little things from a non-profit before to a business, to all kinds of different things. I had...in addition to work in our education, I had worked on a bunch of little side projects and...

Justin: You always had an entrepreneurial spirit.

Audra: Yes, and it was strange because it seemed like I wasn't supposed to.

You work in higher education administration, you're just supposed to do that. Only entrepreneurs proven, gone to business school are the ones we are allowed to have entrepreneurial spirits, that's sort of like how...I feel like the environment that I understood growing up. It just seems so foreign. “I'm allowed to do this?”

And I think when Max was diagnosed, the boundaries were broken and I was like, “I'm allowed to step up. Not only allowed to step up—I need to step up to make this cancer into something that's going to give and help others and not just be our own personal trauma and tragedy. In fact, this can be life-changing in a super powerful and positive way, not just for us, but for an entire community. So what can we do with it?”

...Some of that understanding came from this work that I had done trying to put together a leadership program for my students. I worked at a community college at the time, and working on productivity and initiative, and working on really that foundational part, where—Viktor Frankl will always be a hero to me, and he wrote about that last enduring freedom: our freedom to choose, our response to any given stimulus, and, you know his story at all, you familiar with the story?

Justin: A little bit.

Audra: Author of “A Man's Search for Meaning.”

Justin: Umm, survived Nazi concentration camp?

Audra: Yeah, so he was experimented on. And in kind of an audience for the Nazis, he was like a subject of medical experimentation. And do you know what he envisioned when he was on the table and in the midst of that trauma and horror?

He envisioned what he was going to tell his students about his experience and how he was going to use it for education. He did not envision his revenge, he did not envision, I mean, what a powerful way to approach something horrible happening to you.

So he's a victim in that time, but he didn't want to live his life as a victim, and so that was really stirring in the background for me when Max was diagnosed, and then Brene Brown...her work [was] super, super alive and active for me when Max was diagnosed and these things came together. So it was almost like just a spark, and it was like, “I am going to jump into action for my son, for our family, but we're also going to make something powerful out of this.”

And so that is really how MaxLove Project was born in that children's hospital ICU, when we saw the opportunities to give. Now, the MaxLove Project just started as a service project. I don't know if you recall, but we started with giving away Cloud b Twilight Turtle nightlights.

Justin: Our garage was full of them.

Audra: Yeah, and so in that process, what happened was, Max came home after four weeks in the hospital, and he was so terrified of the dark even though his room had four lights on. He was so terrified, so I ran out to Target, I got one of these things but I remember feeling like “I'm gonna spend $32 on a night light,” it just feels weird, but whatever.

Came home and it's just the sweetest story. We called those stars healing stars. We created this whole narrative around green superpowers and the good guys fighting the bad guys, and the good guys being within us and supporting the good guys in their work. And he picked up that turtle, he put on the green light and he held it up to the back of his head and he goes, “Look, Mommy, I'm healing.”

Now it was at that point, I realized, so it seems like so much of healing for us anyway, was in the narratives we choose. How we chose to think about it, right? And we were told, when we were in the hospital for a couple of days in, to focus on Max’s quality of life. That had we come in 30 days later, it would have been because he would have been in a coma and he wouldn't have made it.

The neurosurgeon at the time said we would be calling it something called DIPG, 30 days later. But we know now that's not how they look at it, but still, he wouldn't have come home with us, is what we were told. We're told to focus on his quality of life, and so everything began, like, turned into not just fight this cancer at all costs, but...let's make sure Max can sleep, okay. Let's make sure that he feels good, that he feels strong, that all of the little things became really, really important.

And when we saw what it did for him, I wrote to that company that night and I said, “I wanna send this to other children's hospitals, I wanna do that.” And they got back to me and they said—and it ended up being a CEO, she didn't say she was a CEO—but she got back to me and she was like, “This is such a moving story, we wanna support you, we're gonna give you the product to do this with.” And that began our relationship, and the reason why I started MaxLove Project, Max's Love Project Incorporated, it's a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, was because I thought they would need a receipt. And that we should just, we're gonna need to do that.

But what happened in the process… So we get it off the ground and we're giving away turtle nightlights, and we're building a community through Facebook, and we're really working hard on just giving and serving and building a community. And then we started to see as we were diving into integrative health for Max, we were diving into quality of life care, other parents in that network started saying, “Wait a minute, what are you feeding Max? Wait a minute. No, what's acupuncture? Wait a minute. What are these things?”

Justin: Sleep can be healing.

Audra: Right. So we started to see that the white space that was there for us, the fact that hospitals are only really able, I really think the way that the healthcare system is set up, there are in many ways, not mechanisms built in to pay for all of these integrative modalities within current critical care.

So I'm not being suggestive in that way, I do think one day we'll have integrative care incorporated into all of pediatric critical care, but—so I'm trying to say I get it—but chemotherapy, surgery, radiation is what we were offered. And at our hospital, we were offered acupuncture (one of the few programs in the country), and we do talk to Dr. McCarty on this show in a little bit.

Justin: In a couple of weeks.

Audra: It's gonna be... It's a really, really great conversation. She's a pioneer and totally opened our eyes. But that white space that we were seeing, the need for quality of life-enhancing care, all the things that we can do at home, everything that is based in some evidence to help and not hurt, to support, to help us thrive. These are the things that we need, that we can do at home, but what are they? How do we learn more? How do we incorporate it into our lives? That white space that we identified, we started to see hundreds and now thousands of other families who are experiencing the same exact thing. So we started to grow into that, and that's when we became something way beyond a service project.

Justin: So we started...so it was sleep at the beginning, with the Twilight Turtles, and then it was food, because of Audra’s culinary background, and then I had access to the huge medical library, it was all online, but I could start to do research and start to look around. “Is there anything about diet and cancer, is there anything at all?”

And so we started to connect with some doctors and researchers around diet and cancer, and I remember we had our first cooking class at the teaching kitchen at the community college where Audra was working at. And so we started to build out... So we had sleep and nutrition, and then as we began to get connected with other doctors and researchers, we started to put together a picture of all things that parents could do at home, outside of the clinic, to give them and their kids the best shot at living a full, meaningful, thriving life.

And so we collected a really awesome Medical Advisory Board as a part of MaxLove Project, and we came up with the Be Super action plan… This is all the things like stress management for parents. And so stress trickles down to our kids, so what can parents do to start to get a handle on their own stress? Exercise, and of course sleep, nutrition, building a positive mindset.

So these are all things that can be done outside. And of course, social support, which ended up being the focus of my dissertation in public health: parental social support. So these are all the things that parents can do outside of the hospital, and that has been our focus like... We let the experts do what they do. We're not surgeons, we're not oncologists. We’re parents, and so we're in charge of the sleep, we're in charge of the food, we’re in charge of their physical activity. So what are all the things that we can do? And that ended up being the real driving force that got MaxLove Project off the ground, I think, into what it is today, a coherent force for quality of life for families facing childhood cancer.

Audra: And for all families. One thing that I wanna reflect on is when we were in the hospital very early on, and there was a family next door to us in infusion, and I will never forget, this mom was struggling to talk to the doctor through a translator telephone. And I will never ever forget the experience of thinking, “How is this mother remotely as empowered as I am in, this moment?” Like, This is just not fair. It is not fair to not be able to really, really be here, and to know with all assurances that you're communicating as effectively as you can and that you’re understanding what someone's saying, it just didn't feel... It didn't feel right.

And one of the things that we've seen is that families with—and especially in our health care system—who are incredibly well-resourced, still struggle to get access to integrative health and still struggle to get the information needed to make the decisions that will support their child's thriving, and their family thriving.

A commitment to finding ways to provide this evidence-based information and resources and support to all families and to all hospitalized families became a really critical part of growing MaxLove Project. And we're still working on that, and we'll always be working on that. I think that is just going to be a forever part of the mission, but it's one of the things that encouraged the growth of our culinary medicine collaborative, so we went from that one little cooking class to start off all those years ago, to hosting monthly cooking classes in our community, to taking them online in COVID, to now having them online live in our app and recorded and posted and available at all times to any of the users of our MaxLove Connect app. It's been an incredible progression.

In addition to that, our culinary medicine collaborative is a really beautiful working group of hospital practitioners who’ve come together to try to figure out how to do culinary medicine in the pediatric healthcare setting. And that is something that we're really committed to because we know as we start doing this in the hospital that more and more families are going to have access, who don't have access to these resources out of the hospital. That will only be growing into the future as well.

Justin: Okay, so... What does any of this have to do with The Family Thrive? The name of this podcast is The Family Thrive Podcast, our website, the platform, The Family Thrive, The Daily Thrive. So Audra, I'll let you take it, except I just wanna express my experience and how The Family Thrive grew out of this and see if it matches with yours.

We would tell supporters, just people in our community, anyone we would need who would ask about MaxLove Project, we would tell them about all the things that we do. And so we go through the cooking classes, the exercise, the stress management…

Audra: Social support.

Justin: All that stuff, and they would say, “Wow, well, that seems like something that my family could use or really everyone can use.” And my response would always be, “Yeah, totally, but... Sorry, we're just a little non-profit and we just work with childhood cancer families.”

But I had heard that enough times over so many years that it started to bubble up for me like, We need to figure out how to bring this approach to all families. The approach is really one where we blend expertise like doctors, researchers, clinicians, with really engaging, fun (what I like to use) wisdom, like the parent-on-the-ground wisdom, and blend these two. So it's science and wisdom, it is the expertise, it's blended with the parent engagement. Fun, beautiful, engaging. And that is the spirit of MaxLove Project, and we wanted to bring that to every single family, no matter what their circumstances. How does that land for you?

Audra: Yeah, I agree. I would get questions, “Can you host cooking classes for the community? We can do it as a fundraiser? Please, can we have our own cooking class which is for typical families? Can we? When is your cookbook coming out? When is your cookbook coming out?” Again and again and again. It's a good question. It is coming, but it is coming through The Family Thrive.

And so...you know that you've got something when people ask for it. This doesn't come out of nowhere. People have been asking for it, and so that sometimes even more than childhood cancer families, we would hear from the community on this because the MaxLove Project way—our Be Super action plan, our methodology, our support—does apply to health and wellness for everybody.

And one thing that is totally clear, and if you start dipping your toe into pediatric health care, it's increasingly clear that we are struggling as a society with really, really challenging health issues related to lifestyle. And how do we start intervening on these earlier? How do we start intervening on these things in childhood, how do we set our kids up for life-long thriver-ship and health? How do we grow old in the most beautiful, empowered way possible?

It's very similar to the MaxLove Project Mission. But how do we get here? Where did The Family Thrive come from? It came from all of these seeds being planted along the way, it came from people asking for it, and then finally COVID-19 hit MaxLove Project and hit MaxLove Project hard. And we were very, very lucky, so fortunate to have donors step forward and say, “We're not going to allow MaxLove Project to stop.”

Justin: We were right in the middle of planning for several really big fundraisers. Right in the middle, and they were all in-person, face-to-face, all that stuff.

Audra: We had grown to the point to be highly dependent on fundraisers that required presence, physical presence, like golf and our big beautiful Farm to Fork event and others, Coaches Fighting Cancer. We had so many really wonderful community gatherings that were fundraisers, but then also a huge amount of MaxLove Project events, all in-person, and we are a tiny, tiny and mighty team, making all of this happen. But we have known for a long time—and I'll speak on the MaxLove Project, on the side of the CEO of MaxLove Project of a small non-profit: anyone who is running a small non-profit knows they're searching for sustainability. And often like hoping and praying for a hero, “Would somebody come along? High net worth, create an endowment with us, let's live in perpetuity.” Is there a way that we create alternative revenue sources? Are there different types of fundraising? Can we partner with corporate folks in a different way to create a more sustainable path than just essentially asking for money for the same thing again and again and again?

And so this has been on the back of my mind forever. In fact, and we started MaxLove Project, we started by selling hats. We had a beautiful headwear brand, and we started as a social enterprise. Our board member Diana did an incredible job with that. Gina did an amazing job with the branding. People could buy MaxLove brand hats in Japan at one time. We started down on that path, but we invested so much into growing the non-profit that we just didn't have the ability to invest in a social enterprise at the time.

So in any case, COVID goes down. We're working on a cookbook. Yes, we were working on the MaxLove Project Cookbook. We were working on a series of magazines. We had the coolest stuff, the best food photographer in the region, best graphic designer, best chefs, everybody signed up volunteering, ready to go. Plus our culinary medicine collaborative, we're making recipes just for use in the hospital, everything is on fire, we're doing it… And we lose all of that funding. But I thought there's no way we're gonna let this go down, we are not stopping this work. This work is too important. And what if we could put this work out there to a bigger community in a way bigger market, a huge community, meaning all families to benefit everybody and bring in revenue to support MaxLove Project and all of our work? What if we could do something self-sustaining in a way? Like, what if we could do something, what if we could be our own hero?

And right there, that's when The Family Thrive came into full view and full vision. We were going to start an awesome online platform. Something beyond a website where we can gather families, we could provide expert-backed, evidence-based information, beautiful recipes, beautiful cookbooks, a magazine, all of the things, and we could generate revenue in this for-profit entity that would eventually support MaxLove Project’s operations as well. And this is how we decided to not only create a bigger stage for ourselves and really introduce the MaxLove Project way to the world, but provide for typical families with everything that we've learned and create community around family thriving.

One thing that we noticed along the way is that the very same white space, like I said, for MaxLove Project families, exist for regular families, and all of the health and wellness information is geared towards individuals. So if it's men, you might be thinking longevity, optimization, for women, it is always weight loss, but where is the acknowledgment that is “families, we're doing this together?”

Justin: We're doing it together.

Audra: And so this is where the Family Thrive was born at the very...within the first two weeks of the shutdown...I think two weeks into the first COVID shutdown, when we saw what was happening. The wheel started turning real fast and that pivot happened quickly, the team that we had volunteering to work on everything, we presented the plan, and they said, “Yep, we're down. Let's do it.”

Justin: There was a sense at the beginning of COVID, between Audra and I, that this was going to be a massively disruptive event. I was teaching in public health, working in public health. And so I had my ear to the ground. I had sensed since really mid-January that something big was coming. And so when the shutdown started to happen, what is mid-late March, there was a sense that we need to take this opportunity to do something big. It just felt like this is our shot, not that the universe is bringing COVID to everyone so that we can build The Family Thrive. But for us, it was this opening of like, “We just need to step into the unknown.”

Audra: It was a call to action. If you were going to walk through COVID and come out the other end, everyone's gonna be transformed in some way. And it was getting back to that empowerment like, “How did we wanna do this?” And we wanted to see this as an opportunity to grow our movement, and it's been incredible. The flow around it... It has just been amazing.

I think one thing that people, the conversations are changing in COVID too because people started seeing that health and wellness really matters. It's not just like a cultural thing, and it's cool to do yoga and get green juice or whatever, and of course, there's a ton of privilege wrapped up in that, but COVID showed us that health and wellness is something that is essential to human and planetary flourishing. I feel like there's a human rights aspect involved in it. It's something that we're seeing now is not just a privileged choice, but something everyone needs access to, and that's one reason why we built the platform the way that we have to try to provide broad access.

Justin: Okay, so let's just get into it. What is The Family Thrive? We've alluded to it, we've talked kind of in big 30,000-foot terms, but let's get a little more detailed.

So I'm gonna give my take on The Family Thrive and you can give yours. So my overview of The Family Thrive is that it is an online platform. We have an outward-facing website that has tons of amazing recipes, and it has previews of all the content that we are going to have on a subscriber-only platform. So we have this outward-facing website for everybody, and then we have a subscriber-only platform that is full of expert-written, expert-produced articles and how-to’s.

When it comes to the subscriber-only platform, I think of it as having three main parts. So there's one part that is just unique, fresh content coming out every single day from experts on things like sleep, nutrition, exercise, parenting, emotional health, mental health, all focused on parents, kids, and families.

Then there's a second part, which is live events. So in this subscriber-only app, there are weekly live events happening most days of the week, things like exercises, classes for parents, mental health, emotional health, social support, all coordinated, planned out, and done by experts again, and all of them [are] parents as well.

And then there is this third part, which is our workshop e-learning component. So this app has amazing workshops on our Thrive Pillars. And so in The Family Thrive, we have these Thrive Pillars, which are the main areas families can focus on to be their best: nourish, flourish, embody and connect. And then we have the expert-written workshops as well, and these expert-written and designed workshops on specific things like emotional health; managing, healing the inner critic. Things like how to know when parental stress has gotten too much and we need to go get help, and then what does that help look like? We have a really awesome workshop that I'm so excited about, just for dads on emotional health and emotional connection just for dads.

And so that's what we have going on in the subscriber-only app. We have the daily fresh content, which is also a community—so in that content, we're gonna be able to comment and share and talk about it, connect with other parents—and we have the live events, and then we have the workshop. So Audra, how would you like to flesh that out?

Audra: Well, I think you covered it pretty, pretty comprehensively, but I can talk about some of the things that I'm really excited about that we're building into this into this platform.

I'm really excited about the live events, in-app events with experts, because the experience is cool...Zoom is integrated into the app, so you...can just be there on your phone. And I'm really excited because you have... I know as a mom, it can be really hard—I read a lot of articles and there's no direct access to anyone to ask questions. I love that I'll be able to do that in this app; that I'll actually be able to have direct access to experts, clinical psychologists, therapists, dieticians. I’m really excited.

And then I'm excited to the community, about the community that's going to surround that. I think one thing that's really cool about this is that it is not in our immediate goal structure or anything like that, or looking at the first five years, at least of this business to have a massive network of millions of people. We're not looking to be the next Facebook, we're looking to be a mutually-supportive, safe, enclosed social network, which means it's gonna be really personal and personable and encouraging and supportive and safe. And so I'm really daunted, personally, on social media out there. It is something that I'm grateful for, deeply grateful for. It's how we have grown our work and met so many people and made so many connections and maintained connections and all of that. But there are parts of it that can feel really unsafe, especially when you're going into health and wellness.

One thing that I find to be really difficult is that influencers make a lot of claims around health information and knowledge that sometimes can be really dubious, it can be, my experience as a cancer mom over the past almost 10 years has been... I have had to develop some pretty amazing information competency, having been to grad school and having a partner with two PhDs, it can still be hard to sift through information. And there is a lot of dubious stuff out there and people making wild claims and trying to sell their plans and all of that. So I love that the space will be curated and edited down for me. I love that it will be the kernel of really, really great wisdom from experts that it's not just being delivered to sell something, to sell a plan, or because someone was sponsored to do it. So I'm really, really excited about getting that direct access in a safe and supportive space with others, and then being able to be in a community, a supportive community around that.

One of the things that we say about The Family Thrive is “we got your back.” There's that sense that when you need something, you pull up the app, you get in there, get support, maybe take a workshop, maybe jump into a live event, join our Culinary Academy, whatever it might be that interests you, and then dip out. It's not addictive, it's not, we're not geared around clickbait. We're definitely a platform to and a group of experts that believes in meeting people where they are, progress over perfection. And, as a mom, I find it really, really motivating that we don't see that there's only one way to do this health thing and wellness. That there's not just...

Justin: Sure.

Audra: Right? That we've created a plan that is about tapping into what you need. I think, you know what I missed in my bio is that I'm a certified Functional Medicine health coach.

Justin: Right. Yes, you did.

Audra: Totally got distracted. Missed that part. So I got my certification through the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, and it's an awesome program, and it's a year-long program, so like a weekend sort of thing, and I learned some really powerful health coaching practices through that. And really meeting people where they are, walking with people through their journeys and holding the space so people can reveal their experience and then decide as they're looking, making changes in their lives, people know what changes they want to make and what's achievable and what is going to be the powerful next step for them. I don't know that for someone. You know that for you.

Justin: Well, a major part of my public health PhD program was behavior change—learning about behavior change—and there's something called the Behavior Change Paradox, and it goes something like: only when you can accept yourself exactly as you are, can you start to make real change. And that is how we feel about ourselves, that is how we feel about everything

And so the app is really set up for parents to have to choose their own adventure of just, what is of interest to you right now, what is exciting for you right now… There is no one path to thriving, certainly there is no one path to thriving. And so for the app, you can set your notifications and follow the exact topics that you want, and so you can really curate an experience that is just right for you; whatever is going on for you and your family. I think that is a real driving ethos for The Family Thrive: no one way to thrive, choose your own adventure, be at peace with where you're at, and then in that moment when new options come open, step forth in confidence and your own truth.

Audra: Yeah, it made me think too… Another thing along, speaking of the journey, that MaxLove Project has done for me, that The Family Thrive will be bringing forward, is almost mentorship companionship, if you will.

I've made friends through MaxLove Project. We're united in our journey, but we have kids of very different ages. And one thing that's been cool for me is having some moms who are further ahead than I am, help show the way or help normalize certain things…  it's just been really cool to have the mutual support, whereas if it wasn't for the MaxLove Project, I would be kind of stuck in grade levels. It's the sixth-grade moms and the ninth-grade moms or whatever it might be. I'd be stuck in this little pod of grade levels, and it's been really cool to have people who are at different stages. So we're gonna have resources for new parents. I'm really, really excited about digging into, we have a conversation coming up with Tiffani Ghere, talking about breastfeeding and beyond, and she is a part of a really great formula startup actually, and really excited to normalize the conversations around feeding our babies.

[We’ll] get into everything all the way up through coaching parents of teenagers. We have Vanessa Baker, an expert on that. We have Jena Curtis... she's a professor of gender and sexuality. We’ll be talking about gender and sexuality. We have Sofia [Pertuz], an expert on social justice talking who's gonna talk with us on, an expert on diversity and equity, going to talk with us about social justice, how to talk to our kids about race and social justice, and how to engage our communities. And things like that. These are all of the things that… I don't know, it's hard for me to find where to have these conversations sometimes, and we're gonna have them all in one place.

Justin: And the conversations focus specifically on families… Right? So much in the health and wellness world, as Audra has just said, is focused on individuals.

Audra: Let's focus on macros and doing specific things in the gym.

Justin: Yeah, yeah, this is all about thriving together, and I'm super excited about the dad content, so.

Audra: I'm super excited about the dad content as well. And I have to tell you, I have personally benefited from Justin's development of the dad content, and I know our kids have as well. And so it's something that's been a powerful part of the change in our own family, personally.

So much of this work we've benefited from personally, I think maybe that's, you wanna know why we started MaxLove Project, 'cause we've seen it, we went from focusing on our child's health to realizing that thriving is a family project.

Justin: Well, we heard about this idea early on in a MaxLove Project, and it became a guiding principle for us. It’s called the Oxygen Mask Principle. And so if you are passed out in your airplane seat, you cannot put the oxygen mask on your child, and so they always say, “Put your own oxygen mask on first, and then you can attend to your child.” And I don't know that we need to take that as gospel, that you can't do anything for your kid until you just totally focus on yourself. Of course, we have to walk and chew gum. But the point is that if you neglect your self-care, your child's gonna suffer for it.

So that became a guiding principle for us that we needed to start to look at our own health, and then it started out with physical health, and for me, in particular, and eventually got to mental and emotional health, where if I'm not really taking care of my anxiety, my stress, my irritability, then I can't be the best father for my kids. It started out though, me projecting it on to other families saying, “You know, I need to do this mental and emotional health work so we can create programs for other families.” And then as I started to dig into it, I realized like, “Oh, I might need this. This might be good for me.”

And so I started to get into therapy and different therapeutic approaches while I was working with psychologists on these programs. And it has been life-changing for me, and I'm so excited to bring this stuff to other dads, it's gonna be a major focus of The Family Thrive is really connecting dads to their own emotional worlds, inner worlds, and that when they can really start to get in touch with what's happening inside, they're gonna be—their entire world will change and they will be able to connect with their kids and their partner in a whole new way. And I am super excited about this, it's gonna be a major topic of podcasts to come, so stay tuned on that.

Audra: So I can hear that you're perking up all the partners out there, the partners to these dads if they are partnered, that ears perking up with the potential and the promise of that. 'Cause it's something that our society doesn't support.

Justin: Yeah, we don't have a lot of role models for how to process our emotional stuff as men and as fathers. So a lot of it gets ignored, it gets avoided, it gets pushed down. And so for, in the best case scenario, what happens is that [for] fathers, our emotional world just…  It just gets truncated, it gets restricted down to a band.

We say, “Well, we're never gonna let out anything too intense.” But what happens is that not just the low-end gets cut off, but the high-end gets cut off as well. And so that's in the best case scenario, so you have an even-keeled dad who's just coming in every day, just doing the thing. But that dad is not able to really connect with the highs and lows of everyone else going on or what everyone is experiencing in the family. And so it might be a dad who is able to show up physically, but can that dad show up emotionally? And that's where the magic happens.

So we're gonna be doing a lot of work on that, and I don't wanna make this whole show about dads, but I, but it is the stuff that I am super passionate about. This is, I believe, is the key to really unlocking everything else, at least for dads, is emotional health and wellness. And so we're working with different psychologists, different therapists, and relationship coaches all doing amazing work around this, I truly believe it's going to be life-changing, and I can't wait to see a bunch of dads in The Daily Thrive.

Audra: I wanna give one more plug for The Family Thrive that I think is really exciting and ground-breaking, and that's in an area of my passion, which is Fierce Foods. And so the Fierce Foods platform we developed initially for MaxLove Project because saying, healthy foods doesn't really make sense, I have a dietitian friend, I was like, “You can be healthy. Your body can be healthy, but a food cannot be healthy. A food can be nourishing, a food can be other things.” And I mean, the connotation isn't great. I don't care who you are, and how nourishing you choose to eat or [what] your choices are, but saying when someone says, “Hey, you wanna go to that Healthy Restaurant?” most people are like, “I feel like I should,” or whatever. And kids certainly don't like the word, kids do not—I mean, it is—the connotation is definitely negative, so we went with Fierce Foods because of course the alliteration is fantastic, but then the connotation is powerful.

Justin: Foods that make you strong.

Audra: Strong and feel great, and they have power. And the thought that what is the power of what goes in you has power in you and is fortifying and all of that. So that has been our platform all on the way we developed our Fierce Foods Academy out of that, which is our cooking classes and related programs. And so coming into The Family Thrive, we still wanted the work to be the work of culinary medicine. And why is that? Because the odds are stacked against us when it comes to food and nutrition in this country, with the standard American lifestyle.

You hear the tips shop, the perimeter of the store and all of that, but it takes a significant amount of nutritional competency to be able to do that. It is not easy. People say shop at the farmers market. Of course, that's great if you have access to it, but then what. What do I do with it? Most of us don't have training on how to cook and how to cook at home; it can be overwhelming and difficult. And so instead of using any dietary philosophy specifically, what we've done with our Fierce Foods approach is the focus is on whole foods, nourishing whole foods. You know the research even better than I do, that when we eat whole foods we're getting there, right? Whole foods are better than processed foods for our bodies.

Justin: In public health and health sciences, there's this thing called the Nutrition Wars. And so researchers get really heated when they argue about, is it low fat, is it low carb, what is the right approach? Is it the Dash diet, the Atkins diet?

Audra: No meat-eating.

Justin: So a lot of... Just a lot of vitriol and animosity and the Nutrition Wars. But the cool thing that when you step back and you take a look at the big major studies out there, what you see is a common thread running through them, and it's basically this: if you are eating whole foods, and that includes meat, if you are eating whole foods and limiting processed foods, especially what they call ultra-processed foods, and we have articles about all that on The Daily Thrive, but if you're doing these things, then you are getting the best possible nutrition.

And that if you wanna tweak around the edges and maybe have a little bit less of this and a little bit more of that, we actually get into some of the details as well. But from a broad perspective on a daily basis, it's really about whole foods, it's about limiting processed and ultra-processed foods, and the research is really clear, you can go really low carb, really high carb, really low fat, really high fat, but if it's whole foods, on average, people are way more healthy. They are way healthier, they lose weight, their blood profiles build more muscle, lower cardiovascular disease risk. So that is what we help parents with...

So then the question becomes, alright, that's all great. “You're telling me whole foods and limiting ultra-processed and processed food, but I'm a busy parent. I don't have time for that nonsense.” And so all of the rest... Well, okay, so not all of the... There are gonna be a couple of recipes that are a little fancier, that are fun, if you wanna give them a try.

Audra: We have legit, amazing chefs working on the steps. You are gonna get culinary in with the medicine, but you're going to learn some culinary tips and tricks which are amazing. These are life skills.

Justin: We're also gonna have a ton of recipes that are just for busy parents, of like how do we get this whole-food, low-processed meal on the table quickly, because I don't have time for this. And so we understand that, we live that same reality every day.

Audra: And one thing I wanted to share about this too, in the Fierce Foods approach that is really, really cool, is that we are not prescribing anything. We're not telling you exactly how to eat, but we're also providing the tools for you to identify where you might wanna be.

So we have three steps in our Fierce Food spectrum that all of the recipes are linked to that help you identify through our dietitian where you might wanna be. And so we start with basic whole foods, and then we have our moderate, something we do it on a scale that relates to metabolic health, we have a moderate carbohydrate level, and then we have a low-carb meals, and so these are things that can help you easily identify along with icons for allergens, if you're looking for a dairy-free, vegetarian, gluten-free, whatever it might be, we are going to have those identifiers as well.

We're trying to make it really quick and easy to identify even on a health-related spectrum, how you and your family might be served by those recipes. And then we infuse that with some culinary education, the precision of the support from a dietitian, and we have a recipe for, I think an all new way of looking at nourishing a family, and where I'm really, really excited about this particular part of the program because it's something very close to my heart. And I'm excited to bring this out to all families and all of you all out there who've been asking for the MaxLove Cookbook. This is it.

Justin: Awesome, wow, I think we've covered the main things. So we talked about our background, how we got here, how The Family Thrive came about, what The Family Thrive is.

Audra: Yeah, I wanted to talk, just quickly as we're ending this, about our timeline. And we're gonna be launching this podcast, and so people are gonna be listening to this as we are launching the platform. And I think it's going to be an amazing journey that we're gonna take together with our early adopters and early platform users, 'cause we're gonna be building this over the next couple of years, and our early users are going to be essential in building this community. So I wanna thank everyone who's listening and who is jumping into the platform, and I'm getting a lot of use out of it because it's something. This is a movement for family thriver-ship that we're really growing together.

Justin: Yes, this is a community that is gonna grow over time, and we're so hopeful that you choose to be a part of it, and we hope to see you in The Daily Thrive. So The Family Thrive is the overarching brand. It's the outward-facing website, eventually The Family Thrive... We eventually wanna do more things than just a subscriber-only platform. I will let you in on, one dream that I have, I might as well just like... What do they call it? Dreamcasting?

Audra: Yeah.

Justin: Alright, so I'm gonna dream cast this. I wanna have a family-friendly, super cool music festival. As a parent, I do not wanna go to Coachella. I do not wanna go to any of these other festivals.

Audra: And they don't want us to either.

Justin: Yeah, they don't... And I’m actually banned in several of these... So I want a family-friendly music festival that has cool music, that is fun, and that is also like, there's gonna be a quiet nap tent when your kid needs to take a nap and wonderful changing station. Okay, so that is my dream. I would love for The Family Thrive to be a part of something like that, but anyways.

Audra: Can I share a dream? I am so excited for The Family Thrive Membership box as I want every month to get new, kind of like BirchBox, but Family-Thrive-style. And I wanna get samples of products used in The Family Thrive and used in all of our culinary workshops, so that I can try them out and see what fits for my family and our lifestyle.

Justin: We are doing some dreamcasting here. Alright, I love it. Yeah, so big things are going to happen, but it's gonna start with The Daily Thrive. So The Daily Thrive is the subscriber-only platform, that's where all the good stuff's gonna happen.

You can go to www.thefamilythrive.com. You can get your 30-day free trial there. And then hop on, there will be some other opportunities, so keep your eyes out, if you're lucky, there will be some other opportunities to get a 90-day free trial. But we are super confident that you're going to love this, that parents are going to love this and that we're gonna have a community that you're gonna wanna be a part of for a long time, so... I hope to see you over there.

Audra: I just wanna give a quick shout-out to Matt, our director of media production, who was producing this podcast. You are... If you're gonna be continuing to listen to your podcast, this podcast, which we hope you will, then Matt is the one making it magical.

And I also wanna give a shout-out to Leah Goren, who has done the illustration for this podcast cover, I guess you call it. She's super, super talented. Her illustration is also featured on the home page of our website, and she's a really amazing artist, we’re really grateful that she's working with us.

Justin: I guess we should also end by just giving a preview of the next several episodes. So if you're thinking about, “Do I wanna subscribe to this podcast or not?”

Audra: Well, yes!

Justin: The answer is yes. And this is what you have to look forward to. So we are going to have in the next couple of weeks, Jenny Walters marriage family therapist, who talked with us about just so many amazing things around stress, around being a Highly Sensitive Person, around coping with that mind chatter, the inner critic, right: “You are not a good enough parent. You're never gonna be enough.” Right, so how we start to approach this voice and befriend this voice, so we have Jenny Walters. We have Colin Champ MD, a physician at Duke, he is an amazing not only physician, author. He used to do his own podcast now he's too busy researching and writing.

Audra: You know what's cool though, is that when we first met Dr. Champ, he's been a friend of MaxLove Project for such a long time, but when we first met him, he wasn't a dad and he's now a dad, and so things have changed a little bit.

Justin: So we talk about his experience as a physician and all of the research that he does around diet, physical activity, all of this lifestyle stuff, and then how being a dad has affected his research and how his research has affected his family life. And then we talk with our dietitian, Lexi Hall.

Audra: An amazing mama bear, who also was thrown into pediatric healthcare with her daughter's diagnosis and then became a functional dietitian after that and is running our culinary medicine programming and at our hospital as well. And she is a dynamo, and one thing I love about Lexi is that she's so hungry for knowledge. She is never resting on her laurels or what she learned a year ago. She is up on it all, she's a major part of The Family Thrive’s Fierce Foods program.

Justin: And then... Let's see, we talk with Dr. Ruth McCarty.

Audra: Dear Ruth. Our healer. She's incredible, she's a pioneer. She has been doing pediatric acupuncture in-patient, in the hospital for almost 20 years. She takes us through that journey, she takes us through the power of traditional Chinese medicine, the history, the research. She takes us through one of her, I think, greatest passions in this life, which is helping people die as beautifully as they came into this world.

Justin: We only briefly touched on that, we asked her back to do a whole episode just on death. And a really salient topic, of course, in the childhood cancer world, but really every family, when grandma dies—and especially in this last year...

Audra: It's a really important part of thriving when you look at...the health-span, lifespan. Thriving is something that we need to be talking a lot more about, so it’s almost an area of activism, I feel like for us, is to normalize these conversations.  

Justin: And then in the next couple of weeks, we are going to air our interview with Dr. Jena Curtis.

Audra: Such a fun conversation.

Justin: We mentioned her a little bit previously. She's a professor of gender and sexuality at SUNY Cortland. An amazing personal story, an amazing professional career, and we get to hear the research, but then we also get to talk really nitty-gritty stuff like how young is too young to start dating. What does “the talk” look like, at what point, if you just had a baby, do you need to start to think about gender and sexuality and all of these issues. And so we just dive straight into it, and she gives it to us like it is. It was such a fun podcast.

Audra: Enlightening.

Justin: And enlightening. And then we're gonna talk with Vanessa Baker, a mother of six. Okay, so she doesn't have a PhD, but I figure if you are a mother of six, you have a PhD in just being a mom...

Audra: Oh yes, absolutely.

Justin: She is a professional teen parent coach. So she only works with families with teenagers who are having problems, and this woman is just amazing because she doesn't just like teens, she loves teens, like she loves working with them, and the passion just comes out. If you have teens or expect to one day have teens, you're gonna wanna listen to this episode.

So we have a bunch more coming out after that. We have one with the amazing Dr. Angela Poff and Victoria Field on metabolic health. What is that? Well, you're gonna have to listen to find out. Maria Barrera...

Audra: Such a great conversation. I mean, so...just a beautiful story. She is an incredible healer, acupuncturist, and she has had quite a journey getting there, and she's also an awesome mom. So it’s a really cool conversation.

Justin: It was so much fun. She has such infectious energy. And then Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton, a clinical psychologist who is now in private practice. We first met Nadia at Children's Hospital of Orange County where Max was being treated, and so we first met her in her professional capacity and then became friends. Worked with her on various projects in MaxLove Project, and then we have invited her to be one of our amazing experts in The Family Thrive. She knows so much about mental and emotional health for kids and families, so... Yeah, we have an amazing line-up that's gonna take us through the next couple of months, we can't wait for you to join us.

Audra: I'm super, super excited. Now on this podcast, I will be on the show sometimes, and sometimes I won't. So it sounds like we have a couple of episodes where I am not present, and we have some episodes where it was just best for Justin to be, 'cause it's not easy to do this dual kind of thing. If you listen to a lot of podcasts as you do, they're usually just one person, and if it is a second person, they're a little bit more in the background. So we do kinda pick and choose how we feel like we need to get the most out of the content and the guests.

Justin: Scheduling for three people, can get kind of hairy? And so there are times when it will just be me, because my role in The Family Thrive as I am the Director of Content, or technically the Vice President of Content, so the podcast falls under my purview. I'm in charge of this thing, and so I will be here no matter what.

Audra: One thing I'm excited about with this podcast, we are going to be offering live chats with our podcast guests. Potentially, maybe not all of them, but the ones who have the time and are able to, so that will release a podcast and potentially let's say a week after, we will be able to have a live chat within The Daily Thrive, within the app, just with that expert. No one else is able to do that. I think it's such a powerful thing to offer to participating parents and families to be able to say, “Hey, you listen to podcasts, it triggered a bunch of things, you're marinating on it, you had a lot of thoughts. Come into the AMA, we're gonna have a live event, we're gonna be able to really talk about it.”

And we're going to have similar events with us. So in The Daily Thrive is gonna be this really personal community where it's gonna be easy to reach out and to connect with people. I'm really excited about that.

Justin: It's gonna be awesome. I'm so excited for this, I'm so excited to start this journey with you, the listeners. We'll see where this thing takes us. Alright. We'll see you on the other side.

Audra: Awesome, bye!

Justin: Bye!


Discover Nourish

See more
Podcast Ep. 1: Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast with Audra and Justin!

Podcast

Condimentum eu tortor bibendum.

By

Jackie Kovic

Podcast Ep. 1: Welcome to The Family Thrive Podcast with Audra and Justin!

Podcast

Condimentum eu tortor bibendum.

By

Jackie Kovic

Podcast

Condimentum eu tortor bibendum.

By

Jackie Kovic

Give This a Try: 4-7-8 Breathing

Podcast

Give This a Try: 4-7-8 Breathing

By

The Family Thrive Expert Team

Pod Wisdom: Three Ways to Boost Your Family’s Metabolic Health

Podcast

Pod Wisdom: Three Ways to Boost Your Family’s Metabolic Health

By

The Family Thrive Podcast

Podcast Ep. 11: Feeding Kids From Infancy Through Adulthood With Tiffani Ghere, RD, CSP, CLEC

Podcast

Podcast Ep. 11: Feeding Kids From Infancy Through Adulthood With Tiffani Ghere, RD, CSP, CLEC

By

The Family Thrive Podcast

Podcast Ep. 10: Tuning Into Intuition and Traditional Healing With Maria Barrera, LAc

Podcast

Podcast Ep. 10: Tuning Into Intuition and Traditional Healing With Maria Barrera, LAc

By

The Family Thrive Podcast

New Research: 7 Research-Backed Strategies to Help Your Kids Love Vegetables

Podcast

New Research: 7 Research-Backed Strategies to Help Your Kids Love Vegetables

By

The Family Thrive Expert Team

Avocado Monster Mash Toast

Podcast

Avocado Monster Mash Toast

By

Alexia Hall, RDN

5 Ways to Identify and Prevent Parental Burnout

Podcast

5 Ways to Identify and Prevent Parental Burnout

By

The Family Thrive Expert Team

Podcast Ep. 9:  What Parents Need to Know About Metabolic Health With Angela Poff, PhD, and Victoria Field

Podcast

Podcast Ep. 9: What Parents Need to Know About Metabolic Health With Angela Poff, PhD, and Victoria Field

By

The Family Thrive Podcast

Podcast Ep. 5: Blending Holistic Healing and Mainstream Pediatric Medicine With Ruth McCarty, DAMC, LAc

Podcast

Podcast Ep. 5: Blending Holistic Healing and Mainstream Pediatric Medicine With Ruth McCarty, DAMC, LAc

By

The Family Thrive Podcast

Podcast Ep. 8: How to Talk to Your Kids About Race and Ethnicity With Sofia Pertuz, PhD

Podcast

Podcast Ep. 8: How to Talk to Your Kids About Race and Ethnicity With Sofia Pertuz, PhD

By

The Family Thrive Podcast

Give This a Try: 4-7-8 Breathing

Give This a Try

Give This a Try: 4-7-8 Breathing

By

The Family Thrive Expert Team

Pod Wisdom: Three Ways to Boost Your Family’s Metabolic Health

Pro Perspective

Pod Wisdom: Three Ways to Boost Your Family’s Metabolic Health

By

The Family Thrive Podcast

Podcast Ep. 11: Feeding Kids From Infancy Through Adulthood With Tiffani Ghere, RD, CSP, CLEC

Podcasts

Podcast Ep. 11: Feeding Kids From Infancy Through Adulthood With Tiffani Ghere, RD, CSP, CLEC

By

The Family Thrive Podcast

Podcast Ep. 10: Tuning Into Intuition and Traditional Healing With Maria Barrera, LAc

Podcasts

Podcast Ep. 10: Tuning Into Intuition and Traditional Healing With Maria Barrera, LAc

By

The Family Thrive Podcast

New Research: 7 Research-Backed Strategies to Help Your Kids Love Vegetables

New Research Tuesday

New Research: 7 Research-Backed Strategies to Help Your Kids Love Vegetables

By

The Family Thrive Expert Team

Avocado Monster Mash Toast

Recipes

Avocado Monster Mash Toast

By

Alexia Hall, RDN

5 Ways to Identify and Prevent Parental Burnout

5 Things Friday

5 Ways to Identify and Prevent Parental Burnout

By

The Family Thrive Expert Team

Podcast Ep. 9:  What Parents Need to Know About Metabolic Health With Angela Poff, PhD, and Victoria Field

Podcasts

Podcast Ep. 9: What Parents Need to Know About Metabolic Health With Angela Poff, PhD, and Victoria Field

By

The Family Thrive Podcast

Podcast Ep. 5: Blending Holistic Healing and Mainstream Pediatric Medicine With Ruth McCarty, DAMC, LAc

Podcasts

Podcast Ep. 5: Blending Holistic Healing and Mainstream Pediatric Medicine With Ruth McCarty, DAMC, LAc

By

The Family Thrive Podcast

Podcast Ep. 8: How to Talk to Your Kids About Race and Ethnicity With Sofia Pertuz, PhD

Podcasts

Podcast Ep. 8: How to Talk to Your Kids About Race and Ethnicity With Sofia Pertuz, PhD

By

The Family Thrive Podcast

Subscribe to get all the goods

Join for free
Login