Now through August 18th, KIND is raising money for First Descents.
Over the next month, both of our organizations will be sharing stories from the members of KIND and our own staff of who’s keeping us inspired to be ‪#‎OutLivingIt‬, and they want you to do the same. For every story you share with a photo of you and someone who inspires you, use #OutLivingIt and KIND will donate $1 to FD. It’s all part of their ongoing book proceeds program for Do The KIND Thing. Click below to learn more- and check out the campaign on Facebook (@KINDsnacks), Twitter (@KINDsnacks), and Instagram (@kindsnacks)


Wildflower Program Report

OBX 4Surfing with FD and Farmdog Surf School in the Outer Banks, NC is a true treat. The ocean turned on the waves to provide some spectacular conditions for the participants who journeyed from all parts of the country to join the FD family and shred the GNAR! For three days we donned our skin tight wetsuits, lathered ourselves with sunscreen and paddled our way through the crashing waves. There were moments of triumph, when someone would catch a wave, pop up into their surfer stance and ride into the beach over the roar of their FD friends cheering them on. There were also the wipe outs, when the waves would be a rainbow of brightly colored surfboards and their rider tumbling about in the whitewash.

OBX 3Every time, either after a great ride or a great wipe out the surfer would bust through the surface of the ocean with a smile as wide as the horizon. Farmdog and his team of instructors swam endlessly in the surf help us catch waves as well as helping us get back on our boards after a gnarly wipeout. They were also the varsity team at making delicious smoothie drinks back at the Farmdog Surf Shop after each day on the ocean. I was so stoked to be back in the field leading and being part of such an amazing week in OBX. Thank you to Farmdog Surf School and the FD staff and volunteers who made this program such a great success. The biggest thank you goes out to the participants who faced their fears with grace and determination and showed us all what it means to truly be “Out Living It”, you all made this Wildflower very proud! – Wildflower




FD Healthy: Reading Nutrition Labels

Reading Nutrition Facts on Packaged Food | By Clara Darling

When trying to make informed decisions about what we are eating, we must always look at the nutrition facts on the packaging to see what is contained in a product and what our body will get out of it. When you want to know if a product contains soy, or when you want to know the sugar content in a beverage, all this information will be offered under the nutrition facts panel. Since this is the go to spot for most of your product inquiries, it is important to know how to decipher the nutrition facts and understand what they are really saying.

nutrition labelNutrition Facts labels are be broken down into 5 basic sections, not including the ingredient lists.

1. The first section tells you the serving size as well as servings per container. Sections 2-5 are then all based on amounts per that serving size. This is very important because more often than not the listed serving size will vary from what you actually consume. For example, a can of soda will have a serving size of half a can, but are you going to only drink half a can of soda? Probably not, in which case you will need to double all the listed nutrient amounts in order to get an accurate count of what you are consuming.

2. This section tells you how many calories are in a product and how many of those calories come from fat. Again keep in mind the serving size. If a serving size is ⅔ a cup, and you consume 1 full cup, the amount of calories consumed will be higher.

3. Section three describes the nutrients that should be limited in your diet: saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. Notice that only saturated and trans fats are listed here, not monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. This is because unsaturated fats are good healthy fats that our body needs to function properly. You will also notice that percentages are now shown to the right of each nutrient. These percentages are based off the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) published by the Institute of Medicine, which establish what amount of nutrients are appropriate for our daily consumption. These are discussed more in section 5.

4. Listed here are the nutrients that we typically need more of: dietary fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. The exception here is sugar, which is listed in this section because along with dietary fiber it makes up the total carbohydrates in a product. Unlike dietary fiber however, you want to limit your sugar intake. There are natural sugars in most foods remember, so here we are talking mainly about added sugars from cane sugar, beet sugar, high fructose corn syrup, even honey or agave.

5. The last section is a footnote that focuses specifically on the Percent Daily Values mentioned earlier. The information shown here is based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. This is very important, as very few of us consume only 2,000 calories a day. Depending on your age, height, gender, activity level you may need to consume more or less than 2,000 calories a day. And if you are trying to lose or gain weight, your calories will vary even more. To find out a basic estimate for your personal calorie needs, click here. Also in this section you will see a comparison of DRI recommendations based on both a 2,000 calorie and a 2,500 calorie diet. This is a good quick reference for figuring out how much of a nutrient you should be consuming. As a guide, if you want to consume less of a nutrient (such as saturated fat or sodium), choose foods with a lower % DV- 5 percent or less. If you want to consume more of a nutrient, such as fiber, seek foods with a higher % DV- 20 % or more.

Separate from the nutrition facts, but equally important, is the ingredient list. Here is where you can find what foods are actually in a product. The tricky part can be deciphering what some of these foods are and how much of them are in that package. The two main things to keep in mind when reading ingredient lists are (1) the order and (2) multiple names being used for the same product.

ingredient labelOrder: Ingredients are always listed from greatest quantity to least. Hint, if sugar is listed first, you probably don’t want it. Keep in mind that this list can be skewed; if you look at the label on salsa, tomatoes will obviously be listed first, but it could still contain a lot of sugar, salt, preservatives and additives. Hydrogenated fat could be listed last, but could still be in a higher quantity than desired.

Ingredient Names: Certain ingredients go by more than one name, which can make it difficult if you are trying to limit certain ones in your diet. Three big ones are sodium, sugar and trans fat. Sodium can be listed as salt, sodium benzoate, disodium, sodium nitrite or monosodium glutamate (MSG). Sugar can be in the form of cane sugar, beet sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, glucose, fructose, agave or honey. Trans fats are usually listed as hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil. It can take time to really understand all of these, so if you are not sure what a word is on a food label, look it up!

Nutrition labels and ingredient lists may not reveal everything about a product from an ethical standpoint: how the farm workers are being treated, if they are using proper crop rotation, if they are giving back to their community, etc. However, for an instant decision in that grocery aisle when trying to buy the best product, what these labels can give you a is good base of understanding and a comparison between that product and its competitors.

For more detailed information on food labeling and nutrition facts, here is a link to the FDA Labeling & Nutrition Page:

Bio PicMy FD name is Kitchen Ninja (Kinja). I am from Auburn, AL. I graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a Bachelors in Culinary Nutrition. I am currently Sous Chef at Linger in Denver. My passion is creating nutritious food for others and spreading knowledge of health through food and cooking.



FD Healthy: Impostor Health Foods

Impostor Health Foods | By Clara Darling

As we all know, there is always some new diet to try, new code word to look for, or new superfood that ‘cures everything’. We continue to give in to all these sales pitches in hopes that this time it will work, somehow forgetting the 20 previous fads we followed that did not work. We all do it, but why? Everyone wants to believe they are choosing what is healthy for them as well as their families, and most people learn what to think is healthy by reading articles online and in magazines as well as word of mouth from people around them. It doesn’t take much more than a statement that something is healthy, maybe some vague statistics, to make us believe it is true, because why would anyone lie about that?

Companies know this. They use it to their advantage. All businesses want to make money, and in order to do that they must somehow convince consumers that their product is the best, is unique in some way. This is why food labels often contain statements such as “all natural”, “organic”, “free range”, “made with real sugar”, “low sodium”, “paleo”, “vegan”, “non-GMO”, “fair-trade”, “local” and of course all the “frees”: “Gluten free”, “wheat free”, “fat free”, “sugar free”, “soy free”, “free of artificial colors and sweeteners”, “water free.” Ok I made that last one up but you get picture. All of these labels have good intention, however they quickly lose their meaning as companies find ways to manipulate these words, and make money doing so. So we create new words to convey health once the old ones lose meaning, and it snowballs to the point that no one knows what to buy anymore.

I wish there was an easy answer to all this, but the truth is there is no easy answer. There never will be. Mindless shopping and mindless eating is no longer an option for anyone wanting to live a healthy lifestyle. We have to think about where we shop, what we buy when we shop, where those products were made and most importantly how they interact with our bodies. Simply eating organic or eating gluten free isn’t enough. The food industry today is designed to keep you blind and confused. Don’t let it. Do your research and use your intuition. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Below is a list of five common impostor health foods that may seem like a good choice, but are often just empty calories with a pretty label.

1.) Free Food

Let’s back up to the word “free.” This one word is used to articulate product values across our grocery stores, but what does it really mean? In an ideal world, free means good, it means we don’t have to worry about something unhealthy being in our food. However, when a food is free of one thing, you can be guaranteed that it has been replaced with another to keep the flavor, texture and/or color recognizable. Usually this replacement will be something of equal or lesser value to your body, i.e. fat replaced by sugar, gluten grains replaced with a combination of processed starches and gums containing no nutritive value.

For example, when fat is taken out of ranch dressing, the taste is no longer appealing, so companies will add extra sugar and artificial flavors to mask it. Once it tastes better, they still need to add thickeners and artificial colors to make it look and feel like ranch (since the fat is what made the ranch thick and creamy in the first place). In the end you have a product, that although it is fat free, it is high in sugar and artificial processed bits that are no better for you.

Now this does not mean you should go douse all your salads in original ranch dressing, but on the occasion that you do, at least know what you are putting in your body.

How much sugar2.) Beverages

We all know that sodas are full of sugars and artificial flavors, but what about all those other drinks you buy at the store? Vitamin waters, sweetened teas, energy drinks, all of these things contain just as much sugar, if not more, than regular sodas. Read the labels, compare them to the label on a soda bottle, and pay attention to serving sizes. The label may say 38g of sugar, but a serving size is half a bottle. So if you drink the whole bottle you are getting 76g of sugar. As a comparison, the maximum amount of daily sugar suggested by the American Heart Association is 25g for women and 37.5g for men. Again, if you drink that whole bottle with 76g of sugar, you are getting over the daily maximum in one sitting.

Your best bet is always to just drink water. Water is necessary for every function of our body, and our level of hydration directly affects our concentration and mood throughout the day. If you need something with more flavor, put lemon, lime or cucumber in your water. Choose flavored soda water, unsweetened teas, or coconut water. You will be surprised by how much more energy you have during the day if you stay hydrated and avoid sweet beverages that spike your blood sugar.

3.) Yogurt (and granola)

This one is a particularly slippery slope, as it is often associated with healthy living in our country. To be clear, yogurt and granola can be an excellent health food. It contains many of the necessary nutrients our body craves: protein , fiber , carbohydrates , healthy fats, as well as assorted micronutrients (vitamins. minerals and phytonutrients). However not all yogurt and granola combos are the same, and most are not up to par with what could be considered healthy. Companies use advertising to make you assume that these products are good for you, when in all reality many of them are high in processed sugar, low in fiber and micronutrients. On top of that, the sourcing for their yogurt is often from cows raised on antibiotics and GMO corn, their granola from pesticide covered grains, their fruit preserved with extra sugar, and all of it stripped of nutritive value so that it can be shelf stable for a longer period of time. Again there are good choices out there, so do your research and make educated decisions on what you are buying.

Choosing your yogurt and granola:

First and foremost, make your own whenever possible.  Control what you are putting in your body, don’t let someone else decide for you. Choose a yogurt that is from a reliable source (this may mean you have to research the company or the area you are in). When possible choose yogurt made from cow’s milk that was raised organically, minimally processed, and without added sugars. If you don’t consume dairy, there are a number of yogurts made from alternative milks; again make sure these are minimally processed and don’t contain a high amount of sugar and additives(*note: alternative milks/yogurts will contain some small amount of thickeners or binders to keep them from separating).

Choose an organic granola that when you read the label contains whole grains, nuts, seeds and not a lot of added sugars and preservatives. Choose one without dried fruit and add fresh fruit to it. Or even better, make the granola yourself using your favorite grains, nuts and seeds. Try new ingredients you haven’t heard of, research them to find out their nutritional value. Have fun with it! Remember, the more you know about what you are eating the better.

hummus-and-vegetable-chips4.) Veggie ‘Chips’                                          

Just because a bag of chips is made from sweet potato, beets, cava root, or any other nutrient dense root, doesn’t mean that the chips themselves will be nutrient dense, or any better for you than regular potato chips. Veggie chips are still chips,  and chips are empty calories. When you thin slice a vegetable and deep fry it, the heat of the oil will kill the nutrients that were once present in that vegetable. On top of being devoid of nutrients, these chips are now soaked in oil that is usually a processed and nutrient-less fat. As if this isn’t enough, the chips are then covered in salt (sodium) to make them tasty yet addicting.

So what about baked chips? Granted these are better than fried chips since they don’t necessarily have the same high level of fat, but they are still going to be depleted of many of their nutrients from heat exposure and processing, and again covered in salt.

A better option: try buying beets, parsnips or carrots in the produce section at the store and slicing those into fresh veggie chips yourself. Keep a container of them cut and ready in your fridge so next time you crave chips you have something good to grab instead. These go great with hummus, bean dips, guacamole, and salsa. It won’t be the same of course, but if you make it a habit, soon your body will crave the nutrients from fresh vegetable instead of the salt from the chips.

5.) Cereal

One of the most common and deadly culprits hidden in food is sugar. As a country we are addicted to sugar, truly addicted. The reason is because it is in everything.

Cereal is an easy vessel in which to hide sugar and empty calorie ingredients. It is something that most of us eat, is considered a proper breakfast, and we grew up with it being sweet so we don’t think twice about it. But eating processed sugar first thing in the morning only makes your cravings worse, not to mention it will cause your blood sugar to spike which means your mood and energy levels will be uneven the rest of the day. Children’s cereals often contain as much sugar as eating a candy bar or drinking a soda, but do we let children have candy and soda for breakfast? No. So why would we let them eat, or let ourselves eat, a bowl of pure sugar for breakfast, often called ‘the most important meal of the day”. For one thing, the label is deceiving. It shows a nice long list of all the vitamins and minerals contained within that box. However these are synthetic vitamins that need to be added to make up for the complete lack of natural vitamins in a product, and those still don’t make up for the amount of processed grains, sugars and fats in that same product.

Even if you are reaching for the granolas, the whole grain cereals, the boxes with pretty pictures of green farms and fresh produce that just look healthy, take another look at that label. Ignore the pictures and the catch words on the front. Look at the little words on the label panel. Those are the words that matter. Look at the amount of sugar in that box, as well as the serving size. Serving sizes can be as small as ¼ cup; when was the last time you ate just a ¼ cup of cereal? How much fat, protein, and dietary fiber is listed? Look at what ingredients are in it. Look out for words like ‘enriched’ flour, it is enriched because they stripped the grains of all it’s natural vitamins and minerals and are trying to make it sound better by adding back synthetic vitamins and minerals. Studies do show that synthetic and natural vitamins react the same in our body, however we add synthetic vitamins to products like cereal because it is otherwise an empty calorie food. Don’t be fooled by sneaky wording and advertising, know what you and your family are eating.

Bio PicMy FD name is Kitchen Ninja (Kinja). I am from Auburn, AL. I graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a Bachelors in Culinary Nutrition. I am currently Sous Chef at Linger in Denver. My passion is creating nutritious food for others and spreading knowledge of health through food and cooking.




First Descents Tributaries 1st Quarter Event Recap

Main Tribs banner

FDTributaries got off to a great start for 2015! This year, each of our 10 Tribs will have four quarterly events that align with First Descents four core values: Community, Adventure, Challenge, and Humility. Our theme of community brought a lot of people together to share meals in their own unique ways.

Denver, Colorado-

We kicked the year off with the second annual Breckenfest in beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado. Going along with our community theme, we all shared a delicious chili dinner at the Bivvi- the rad hostel that we stayed at. After eating to our hearts delight we relaxed in the hot tub as well as played some fun games (heads up anyone??!) and just enjoyed the Denver Trib community. After devouring some eggs and coffee the next morning we headed to Frisco Adventure Park for a fun day of flying down some snow filled mountains in large inner tubes. If anyone hasn’t been snow tubing are in for a treat! Tubing worked up a serious appetite so we headed to a local mexican restaurant for some queso and tacos. All and all it was a fun weekend and a great way to start off the Trib year with a bang! -Dizzy









Austin, TX-

FDTribs Austin had a blast cooking up a healthy dinner for our Q1 community event. Not only did we learn about different types of healthy options for meals but also the best ways to prepare them. Afterwards we all sat down to share the incredible meal that we had created as a group! -Lil’ Sis

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Boston, MA-

FD Tribs Boston officially launched with a potluck at the Party Barn, a charming and decked-out converted barn owned by the family of Tribs captain Big Red! We feasted on lobster tacos from local restaurant Blue Ox as well as recipes from FD’s Out Cooking It cookbook! The raw coconut lime avocado pie that Sundowner made was a big hit. For some, it was their first FD event–a group of cool peeps joined us after the Dana-Farber Young Adult Conference that day. Tribs captain Rev gave a rousing, witty speech to the tribe, and as we mingled began to dream about our next big adventure together. -Big Red

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Los Angeles-CA

On April 16, fourteen members of FDTributaries Los Angeles had the pleasure of gathering at Hipcooks for an awesome culinary workshop. We were honored to welcome some new faces to the FD family and connect with others who had been around a little bit longer. There was dancing, singing, cooking, and tasting as we learned how to tweak recipes to our liking. We ate a lot of amazing Indian food and we laughed even more. We can’t wait to see where our next FDTribs adventure takes us! -Mrs. Kemp








On April 6, six strangers met up for fun times with Korean food and Karaoke. In keeping with the First Descents spirit of community, politeness was soon thrown out the window as we each shared the highs and lows of our cancer experience. The food was great and the friendships formed were better. We showed up as strangers and left as good friends. -Ninja

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New York City-NY

Wowzers!  A wait list for healthy cooking!  FDer’s ROCK!  Sixteen of us arrived at the best culinary teaching loft in Chelsea.  This place is so great.  Warm and inviting and just one long kitchen counter for us all to gather around and get cooking!  Cha Cha and Gidget teamed up with a slew of healthy recipes perfect for the spring time, including asparagus and strawberries!  We started out with intros and jumped right into why, what, how and where our ingredients were chosen and their super powers.  Then we divvied up into groups tackling all the recipes at once!  This was magic time.  Each team identified their ingredients and naturally delegated the work.  It was sense overload in no time.  If anyone wasn’t hungry when we started they sure were now!!  There really is nothing like gathering around the kitchen and cooking to bring strangers together.  Everyone was chatting up a storm and staying on task.  I was SO impressed.  Once our delicious dishes were ready to plate, Gidget, Cha Cha and I served up our hard working chefs.  Each team took a moment before we dug in to talk about what they learned, what they found challenging and how well they felt their dish panned out. What an awesome way to provide some insight and natural gratitude for their efforts and our yummy reward.  From asparagus soup, to asparagus risotto, to asparagus and shrimp quinoa our mouths were in happy time and oohs and ahhs abound!  Then my favorite part…DESSERT!  The THREE desserts were just AHMAZING!  Cookies good enough to have for breakfast they were so healthy, but so tasty you could enjoy them any time!  Fresh strawberries swimming in mango custard to die for and the BEST strawberry crumble… it was HEAVEN.  Each team went above and beyond and could not have been more proud of their labor!  Best of all this team of chefs found friendship and camaraderie in the kitchen, sharing a bittersweet commonality that is made of pure strength and courage.  There is no question we all felt overwhelmingly nourished in body and spirit, as only one can with FD! -Sunshine








What better way to spend a rainy Sunday in Seattle than with good food and FD family! The Seattle Trib gathered at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Co. for an Out Cooking It potluck in March. What an awesome way to try a bunch of recipes from one cookbook at once! Our favorites: Avocado Cabbage Spring Rolls and Paleo Sweet Potato Brownies-yum! -Spike seattle



10 Ways To Love Yo’ Body


I want to talk about loving our bodies and not merely in a bar soap commercial sort of way. Although it’s important to come to love and accept our bodies no matter what they look like on the outside the kind of love I am talking about is more than skin deep. I am talking about the kind of revolutionary love that connects our minds and our bodies and can heal us from the inside out, a kind of love that it took getting cancer for me to understand.

Before I get into how I think we can all find this kind of love I want to share my own journey through frustration, betrayal and eventually acceptance, awe and love for my body. Prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer I think I had a pretty typical relationship with my body for a 20-something-year-old. I saw it as serving primarily aesthetic purposes which meant I was often frustrated with it. I never hated it but always wished I was a little bit taller, a little less soft around the edges. My body also rarely performed the way I wanted it to. I was a particularly uncoordinated teenager and could never seem to run as far, swing the bat as hard or spike the ball with as much gusto as I would have liked. In some ways it felt like me and my body were in a constant battle and neither of us ever won.

Then, right around my 30th birthday, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease and breast cancer in rather quick succession and I was overwhelmed by a feeling of betrayal. My body was literally attacking itself and in the process it was threatening my life. But I also began to feel guilty. Although I had always tried to eat healthy I had been doing so from a perspective of what would make me look good, not what would make my body feel it’s very best. I had been hard on my body, filling it with chemicals, demanding that it keep running at optimum levels despite the toxins to which it was exposed. I also felt bad about the treatment I was about to put it through. Over the course of a year my body sustained 20 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and 33 rounds of radiation. It was poisoned, slashed and burned, as they say.

As my treatment went on, however, I began to realize how resilient my body was, how it would bounce back from beating after beating, ever striving to make me feel well again. The combination of guilt and awe that I now found myself feeling, on top of the desire to be as healthy as I could, led me to begin thinking about my body in completely new ways. I began to be gentle with it, started to try and listen to what it needed and wanted, educated myself on what was best for it instead of what would make it look the way I wanted.

By the time I was diagnosed with advanced metastatic breast cancer this past January I no longer felt betrayed by my body. Instead I was deeply in love with it. I devoted all of my time and energy to treating it with all the kindness and care I could muster. I love my body, more than anything else, for letting me be here, for letting me exist on this earth, for allowing me to explore the world. Before cancer my body was an impediment to letting me be the person I wanted to be and now I am in awe of this incredible vehicle that works ceaselessly to try and keep me on the planet enjoying my life for as long as it can. I used to take my sight, my hearing, my ability to eat, to run and jump and play for granted. Now I know that cancer or some other debilitating illness could easily take those away from me so I am thankful every day for what my body lets me do.

Whether you have had cancer or not we could all use a little more body lovin’ in our lives. Here are 10 ways to learn to love your fabulous body:

1. Just listen: Our bodies are pretty good at communicating with us but, unfortunately, we are even better at ignoring them. We see much of our bodies’ communications: upset stomachs, headaches, aches and pains, etc. as annoyances to be covered up, not necessarily messages that something might not be quite right. After several years of dealing with chronic illness I have come to realize that often I intuitively know when something is wrong. I have always been right when a new lump or spot on a PET scan was cancerous and when it wasn’t. I went to the doctor before I had any obvious symptoms of an auto-immune disease because something was just “off.” We are taught to ignore, suppress and not give credence to the messages our bodies are constantly delivering when really we should be leaning in closer and listening as carefully as possible.

2. Eat to nourish your body not just to please your taste buds: I’m not saying don’t eat delicious food. Goodness no! What I am saying is that we should eat with nourishment as the main motivator. I have actually discovered that food can be even better when we eat for our health rather than our taste buds. Often times that plate of pancakes looks tempting but leaves us feeling sluggish and unfulfilled. It’s because those yummy pancakes aren’t providing what we most need. I’m not advocating any kind of particular diet because I don’t believe there is a one size fits all. I do think that we should be eating, and teaching our children to eat, what makes us feel good, not just what tastes good.

3. Don’t work out, have fun: It wasn’t until I started rock climbing regularly that I realized how much fun a good workout could be. I used to force myself to go to the gym no matter how bored I was with my routine. Now I’ve let go of any strict rules I once had for myself (“must get x amount of cardio in every week”) and just try to move my body in whatever way is the most rewarding. Sometimes I really feel like a good stretch so I dig into yoga. Other times I feel like a nice sprint so I go for a run. Don’t be afraid to dabble in lots of different activities, to try something new, to go outside and to make playing your passion.

4. Recognize when your body feels good: We often pay so much attention to what is going wrong with our bodies that we fail to pay attention when our bodies feel good. Chemo was a really good teacher in reminding me to appreciate how good it feels to feel good. A good day during chemo was one where I didn’t have terrible mouth sores, I wasn’t terribly nauseated and I could get up and walk around for more than a few minutes without feeling exhausted. Today I try to appreciate whenever I am feeling strong, vital and whole and am grateful to my body for letting me feel that way.

5. Pay attention to the mind-body connection: Our minds and our bodies are intimately connected. Nearly everything we think and feel is playing out in some way at the physiological level. It’s easy to recognize this when we are feeling a negative emotion. When the tears start rolling or our hearts start pounding the connection is clear. But it goes the other way as well. Positive feelings calm our bodies down, release happy hormones and boost our immune systems. One benefit of paying attention to this connection is that when we are overwhelmed by negative emotions just concentrating on our bodies instead of the negative thoughts can help us relax. It’s an incredibly powerful connection that can keep us sick as well as help us heal. Just think of the commonly occurring placebo effect. Just believing we will get better can make a sugar pill as effective as medicine. That’s a mighty powerful mind!

6. Respect the R&R: We love to be busy. Our bodies (and our minds) do not. Our bodies love sleep and downtime but we so rarely give it all that it requires. Don’t be afraid to go to bed early, take a nap, let yourself unwind, allow yourself do nothing but just be present. Your body and your brain will thank you.

7. Build the right team of healers around you: You would never send your pet to a veterinarian who didn’t care about animals so why do so many of us put up with doctors who don’t fully respect us and our bodies? Contrary to popular belief YOU are the number one expert on your body so you should find doctors and healers who respect that idea above all others. You want a team who wants to work with you to help you find the root causes of your health problems and lead you on a path to ultimate wellbeing.

8. Forgive your body: It’s easy to feel betrayed by our bodies. We all deal with some sort of illness, or allergy, or weakness or cancer. Our bodies are fragile and we live in a pretty toxic world. Just as we often make mistakes so do our bodies. It’s part of our humanity. While it’s ok to wade through all the anger and frustration you need to come to a more accepting place I do recommend you give your body a break whenever possible and try to respect all the ways in which it is working for you even when it feels like it’s not on your side.

9. Don’t make comparisons: We all know we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to the unrealistic and heavily Photoshopped standards we see all around us but in reality we shouldn’t compare our bodies, what they need and their strengths and their weaknesses to any other body. Each one is completely unique. Each of our bodies has different needs when it comes to food, workouts, environment, medicine, sleep, etc. Don’t feel bad if your body is different from those around you. Just respect its little quirks and do what you can to meet its unique needs.

10. Be in awe: Our bodies are absolutely incredible instruments. The millions of billions of tiny little processes that have to happen every second to keep us breathing, keep our blood pumping, keep our immune system going are worthy of our unending awe. Our bodies are constantly fighting to keep us healthy, constantly recovering even when we don’t treat it very kindly, constantly doing everything it can to keep us here for as long as it’s able. If that isn’t worthy of our unconditional love I’m not sure what is!









FD Healthy: Stay Hydrated!

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Dehydrated? You need more than a water bottle!  Pick up your fork!

When do we need to drink more than plain water to stay hydrated?

When you do high intensity exercise for more than one hour or in intense heat.  Your body loses not only fluids ,but also electrolytes: sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

Electrolytes control a huge list of body functions including fluid level, temperature control, cardiac arrhythmia, respiratory rate, digestion and neurological function to name just a few.

Recovery starts before exercise begins.

Foods contain so many more electrolytes as well as vitamins and minerals and health protective compounds than sports drinks.  Not to mention, fresh whole foods do NOT contain added sugars, chemical, synthetic vitamins and artificial colors.

-Season when you cook.  Salt is a flavor enhancer.  Don’t be afraid to season your fresh whole foods when cooking.

-Eat lots of fresh fruits and Vegetables.  Bananas are high in potassium but also oranges, melons, sweet potatoes and leafy greens.

-For especially high water content (90% or more) cucumber, iceberg lettuce, celery, radishes, green peppers, cauliflower, strawberries and grapefruit.

-Dairy is not the only way to get calcium.  Dark leafy greens, broccoli, legumes, almonds  and sesame and sea vegetables are all very high in calcium.

-Magnesium helps fight fatigue.  Eat plenty of green veggies, whole grains, beans, lentils and nuts.

Coconut water is relatively low in carbohydrates and rich in potassium, but neither coconut water nor most sports drinks contain enough sodium or carbs for heavy perspiration.  For long bouts of exercise you may need to supplement with more carbs (think raisins, dates, or banana) to keep blood sugar up.

Ditch the chemical laden sport drinks and try this hydration drink recipe for a long day on the river, at the beach or on the rocks (pun intended).


Master Recipe

1 quart of liquid – plain water, green tea, herbal tea or coconut water

¼ tsp Himalayan sea salt

¼ cup fresh juice – lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit or any fresh fruit puréed

1-2 Tablespoons sweetener – honey, stevia,  or maple syrup

Great additions:

Fresh ginger root – brew in tea or hot water and then cool.  Ginger calms the stomach and may help reduce muscle pain

Chia seed are high in omega 3’s , potassium, calcium and antioxidants.  Make your own chia gel by pouring 1 cup of water over 3 Tbs of chia seeds.  Let it sit overnight in the fridge. Use the gel to stir into your drinks in any amount you like.


jennaJenna Ortner aka Lamb chop, is the chef manager for First Descents program nutrition. She currently lives in Virginia with her three daughters where she teaches yoga and health supportive cooking.




One Day At A Time- PTSD and Anxiety after cancer


Sometimes it’ll just hit me all at once out of nowhere.

I’ll be in the car driving home, or walking around on my college campus and then suddenly… I’m crying. And I mean like ugly crying… hardcore sobbing with streams of tears rushing down my face. My hands usually start trembling and my knees go weak. I just want to curl up in a ball and disappear. Sometimes it gets so bad I can’t even see anything in front of me. All I can think of is, Cancer…I had cancer.

And the strange part is, most of the time I don’t even really know why I’m crying about something that happened to me over two years ago. I don’t feel anything except the numbness that echoes through me like footsteps in an empty hall. But still, my whole body tenses as if I’m staring down an invisible enemy. In my head, I know I’m not in any immediate danger. My brain is telling the rest of me to get it together and suck it up. Don’t be such a baby, you’re fine now, I try to tell myself. But of course, that doesn’t help.
Something insignificant triggers a piece of a memory, and then at once it all comes back to me. Half-second memories and nightmares flood my mind, causing each breath to feel like a desperate gasp for air before drowning. I try to stay focused on the present, but visions of the past demand my attention and force me under. Needles going into my chest port, painful bone marrow biopsies, liters of neon yellow chemotherapy, blood and platelet infusions, being violently ill, wheelchairs, electrocuting pain all over, wondering whether the chemo or the cancer would kill me first, wondering if it will just come back one day anyways…

As I drop to my knees shell-shocked, I realize… I am drowning inside of myself, and no one else even knows it.

Eventually, I reached a point where I had to talk to somebody about what was going on. Thankfully, I was able to receive free post-cancer counseling therapy through a local nonprofit. Talking with my counselor about these thoughts and feelings has helped immeasurably, and I would highly recommend anyone who has been affected by cancer (whether by their own diagnosis or that of a loved one) seek professional counseling. My counselor told me I exhibit many signs of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and anxiety, but that it’s not uncommon for survivors to experience those issues after treatment ends. It hadn’t really occurred to me before that this might actually be a common struggle for many other adolescent/young adult (AYA) cancer survivors, too. Maybe I wasn’t just “being a crybaby.” Maybe this wasn’t something I could just force myself to “get over.” Maybe this was somehow… normal?

After talking with my fellow FD campers, my suspicions were confirmed. PTSD is a fairly widespread issue among AYA cancer survivors, often accompanied by other underlying issues such as “survivor’s guilt,” depression and anxiety. Not everyone experiences these problems to the same degree, and some do not experience any of them at all. But for those of us who do, these mental and emotional struggles can be every bit as crippling as the physical challenges of cancer and treatment. Unfortunately, there is still a large gap in information, research and resources available that address AYA cancer survivors’ mental health issues during and after a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

First Descents plays a crucial role in filling part of this gap by providing AYA cancer survivors with the chance to connect with one another and find healing through incredible outdoor adventures. FD provides survivors with a chance to redefine their physical and mental limits by learning a new outdoor skill. Furthermore, FD helps survivors reclaim their bodies from disease to use as strong, capable tools for adventure and fun, rather than seeing themselves as broken or sick victims.

I wish I could tell you that during my FD1 kayaking trip I mastered the roll, or even a simple T-rescue. But I didn’t. I was too scared to be willingly flipped over in my kayak with my head underwater. The fear of being out of control, trapped, and drowning was too overwhelming for me. At the time, I didn’t understand why. But now I can see how to a large degree, it was my PTSD and anxiety that held me back. The feeling of drowning was all too present in my daily thoughts for me to be able to enjoy those underwater exercises. I chose to stay upright in my kayak as much as possible that week, and honestly, I still felt every bit as happy and accomplished as any of the other campers by the end of the week.

That’s part of the beauty of FD. They encouraged me to go beyond what I thought my limits were (both physically and mentally), but they never forced me to do something I didn’t feel safe doing. The motto of the week was, “Choose your own adventure.” For someone who hasn’t had much say in what’s gone on in her life, it was refreshing to have choices.

I learned tons of valuable lessons about myself and about life in general during my week on the water. I learned that life will throw you rapids, and sometimes your only option is to ride straight through them. They may end up being the most fun thing ever, or can be as scary as hell. Either way, it’s up to you to decide how you’ll tackle those rapids and what your mindset will be when riding through them. Your mindset probably won’t change your circumstances, but it certainly will change your experience of those circumstances.

I also learned that my body is stronger than I thought it was. I am (surprisingly) not made of glass! Or cancer! Who knew? After my week on the river, I was inspired to spend more time outdoors enjoying nature and being physically active. So I started out simple by go for long walks, then I started running, then I moved on to horseback riding, and soon I hope to get back in the kayak and master those skills I wasn’t ready to try before.

With PTSD and anxiety, there are good days and bad days. Counseling, friends, family, writing, art therapy and being active outdoors have all played a part in helping me outnumber the bad days with good ones. As I apply the lessons learned on the river to my everyday life, I’m finally reaching a point where I can roll myself upright from the waters of a bad day. I’ve finally found the creative outlets, resources and people that can help give me a T-rescue when I feel the rapids of PTSD pull me under. Even though the panic attacks and episodes come every now and then, they don’t scare me as much as they used to. I’m getting stronger, one day at a time. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe I’ll go on an FDX trip soon, and I’ll be able to roll and T-rescue with the best of them. After all, I’ll have had lots of mental practice. 😉

Elise Intern LS pic1Elise Frame (“Lil Sis”) is a 23 year-old student at the University of Texas studying Communications with a focus on Nonprofit Development. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 20, but recently finished chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free in October 2014. Elise participated in an FD1 kayaking trip last summer and discovered a previously unknown love for the great outdoors. She now enjoys stand up paddleboarding and kayaking on Town Lake in Austin, Texas, where she currently lives. As a passionate young adult cancer awareness and prevention advocate, she has served as an intern at The LIVESTRONG Foundation, and currently contributes to The Huffington Post‘s young adult cancer blog series, “Generation Why”.

The Importance of now


I have always been a grass-is-always-greener sort of gal. My mother likes to remind me that I was born with a fierce independent streak. I snatched the spoon out of her hands as soon as I could muster the dexterity. Along those same lines I couldn’t wait to get my own car, go off to college, move out on my own, get a job, buy a house, get married, etc. At each point in my life I knew that my life could be even better and all my problems would be solved if I just had [fill in the blank]. My mind was forever focused on the future.

As I approached my thirtieth birthday a few years ago I had a few big future plans already in the works. My husband was going to finish his PhD soon, we’d leave Washington, DC, finally move into a house that could fit all of our stuff, and start a family. It didn’t all have to happen in that order but I had finally begun craving the whole white picket fence thing and was ready to jump all in.

Life, as usual, had other plans. A few months before my 30th birthday I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that left me sick for much of the summer. Just as I was recovering from that, to add insult to immune system problems, I discovered a lump that turned out to be breast cancer.

It was early stage but aggressive and would require an intensive year of treatments, which ended up including 20 rounds of chemo, 33 rounds of radiation and a double mastectomy. In the midst of this poison, slash and burn routine my grass-is-greener mindset kicked into overdrive. Even when I put on a brave face and decided to strut around the city in high heels and a little black dress balder than the day I was born, I couldn’t wait to have a full head of hair again. Oh life with eyebrows! How sweet it would be! I created a countdown and gleefully ripped off treatment after treatment pining for the days when my stomach would settle, my body would feel strong again and my everything would stop hurting.

I found the lump on August 27, 2013 and had my final round of radiation on August 25, 2014. I spent the first half of the day celebrating and rejoicing in my new found freedom. As the day wore on, however, an unexpected pit grew in my stomach and by that evening I found myself sobbing to my husband. I was filled with fear for what was in front of me. Those supposedly greener pastures I had been waiting for all of a sudden seemed like scary, uncharted territory.

As long as I was in treatments I was safe. I was doing something. The problem was in someone else’s hands. Without treatments I was left alone to cross my fingers as tightly as I could in hopes it was enough to ward off a recurrence. My type of breast cancer, called triple negative, meant that a recurrence was twice as likely as in other breast cancers and that the first few years after treatment were the most dangerous. I just needed to survive the next three years and then my chance of recurrence would plummet and I’d be home free, my doctors had told me. But I didn’t know what survival was supposed to look like in this post-cancer place. I couldn’t go back to the way my life was before. That life and that person were forever gone. I had to build something new in the midst of a mountain of fear.

Lucky for me I was signed up to go on my First Descents trip just two weeks after my treatments ended. I spent the week rock climbing on the bright orange rocks of Utah with a bunch of badass cancer fighters just like me. One thing, among many, that I learned on those rocks was not just how to survive, but how to thrive and how to be truly present. You can try your best to make a plan for tackling each climb but once you’re up there you have no choice but to take it one foothold and one handhold at a time. You can’t worry about what obstacle may lay further up ahead. You’ve just got to keep pushing onward and upward. It was an incredible freedom to realize I didn’t have to spend my days being fearful of the future. I could just enjoy what was before me. Finally the grass I was standing on was looking pretty dang green.

I took these lessons in thriving to heart and decided to make the most of the last few months of one of the worst years of my life. After rock climbing in September I went to Italy, for work in October and got lost on the streets of Rome where I cheated on my vegan diet with cappuccinos, pizzas and gelato. In November I went to South Africa for a conference and tacked on an extra week in Cape Town where I went snorkeling with seals, diving with great white sharks, and experienced the most breathtaking views of my life hiking and rocking climbing up Table Mountain. In December I went on vacation to Mexico where I chased sea turtles around our little bay, snorkeled through the dark in an underwater cave and toured one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I was out living it as loudly as I could and refusing to let cancer have the last word on my life.

Then in January, on the drive back to DC from visiting our families for the holidays in Michigan, I found it. The car in front of us slammed on their breaks and when my husband did the same the seat belt dug into my clavicle. When I went to rub the aching spot I found a lump just beneath my clavicle on the same side I’d had breast cancer. My heart stopped, my world shattered into a million pieces and I knew in my immediately that the cancer was back. Buckets of tears, heartbreaking worry, 5 doctors’ appointments and 4 tests later and my greatest fears were confirmed. I had advanced stage metastatic breast cancer. As I started talking to doctors and getting 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th opinions I began to hear phrases like, “incurable,” “life-extending treatment,” “chemo-resistant,” “radiation-resistant,” and “palliative options,” tossed out with too much ease for the incredible weight of their connotation. It became clear that all of these doctors assumed my days were numbered.

All of a sudden the expert in greener pastures had run out of pastures. It was as if I had drawn my entire life out on a great chalkboard full of hopes and expectations for the future and someone had come along and erased every day after today. When I did dare to imagine my future all I could see was more bad-news test results, more treatment, more pain and eventually having to find a way to say good-bye to everyone I loved. When I thought about my past I just felt sad for what I had already been through and for that girl who yet again didn’t know what she had coming to her.

But spirits are tough to break and after several difficult weeks I finally came to a conclusion that helped me piece mine back together. All I had to do was be here… right now. This moment, right now, became my refuge. In this moment I am alive. I feel healthy. I feel vibrant. I can see and hear and smell and walk and talk and think. I am not the sad story my doctors want to tell. I am not cancer. I am just a girl living her life. This moment is the only thing that is guaranteed and this is where I had to live. No more pining for a brighter future. This moment could be my bright spot.

Since then I have found a doctor who has some unconventional but proven and promising treatments for me. And while I will always and forever remain hopeful that I have a long, full life ahead of me I am also busy enjoying what I’ve got right now. Despite my diagnosis, my daily pill regimen that would put your grandmother to shame, and a lingering fear that every so often leaves me convinced I’ve got cancer in my elbow or my big toe, I love my life. I still make plans, still get excited about tomorrow, but I also make sure that I am enjoying what is right in front of me for however long I’ve got it. When you stop assuming you’ve got a lifetime of summers to take the trip you’ve always wanted, thousands of days left to spend with the ones you love and millions of moments to get around to being happy you realize how important today is. You understand that if you want to go out live it you better get started…right now.

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Visiting Chichen Itza

At the 2015 First Descents Ball

At the 2015 First Descents Ball