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Introducing “Whole Person Integrative Eating”: A Dietary Lifestyle for Overcoming Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity

“[Whole Person Integrative Eating] provides a fresh perspective on our epidemic of overeating, overweight, and obesity…that…could signal a paradigm shift in the field of nutrition.”  

David Riley, MD
“Integrative Nutrition: Food’s Multidimensional Power to Heal”
Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing1

At the beginning of our coaching sessions, Alison was a 64-year-old woman who weighed 235 pounds and wore a size 3x. A former business woman turned professional meditation practitioner, Alison’s obesity began as a teenager. She had tried many “diets-du-jour” over the decades. Each time she would lose some weight—sometimes a lot; then she would return to her preferred “go-to” foods and gain back the weight…and more.

Alison had already figured out what would never, ever work for her: dieting and its twin, calorie counting. “Every time I eat those small portions of ‘should’ food I don’t enjoy, I feel angry and hopeless and so alone. Meditation and spirituality have become a big part of my life now, so I resonate deeply with the idea of bringing more meaning to my meals, to relating to food in a different way so that food and eating are fulfilling—not something I fear, count, and obsess about. Does this make sense?” “Absolutely,” I assured her.

Alison had called me after reading “The Enlightened Diet” article I had written for Spirituality & Health magazine. In the piece, I invited people to participate in my Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) online e-course. Based on our original research, the e-course is an evidence-based program that addresses what and how to eat for weight loss and well-being by nourishing yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially each time you eat. These are the four major “nutrients” in the Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) dietary lifestyle I’m excited to tell you about in my new blog.

After one year of coaching, Alison weighed about 165 pounds and wore a size 12. She has attributed her weight loss to the “wholeness” of the Whole Person Integrative Eating dietary lifestyle she learned…and continues to practice. By following her spot-on intuition—which, for Alison, meant infusing meaning into meals by replacing calorie counting and traditional dieting with a way of eating that nourished “all of her” each time she ate—she achieved the sustainable weight loss she had been seeking for years. Having adopted Whole Person Integrative Eating as a lifetime practice, Alison has maintained her weight loss five years later.

Welcome to Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE): A Dietary Lifestyle for Overcoming Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity.

Here, the research odyssey behind our program.

Discovering Ancient/New Nutrition Truths

“Ancient food wisdom meets modern nutritional science” is how I describe the Whole Person Integrative Eating program that brought weight-loss success to Alison. This is because its foundation is based on a distillation of Western nutritional science and ancient food wisdom that provided optimal eating guidelines to humankind for millennia—prior to the evolution of nutritional science in the 20th century. The perennial food wisdom I unearthed emerged from major world religions (such as Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.); cultural traditions (yogic nutrition, Native American food beliefs, and so on);(2) plus Eastern, holistic medical systems (Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, and Tibetan Medicine).

Meet the “4 Facets of Food”

Behavioral scientist Larry Scherwitz, Ph.D.is my husband, and we often collaborate on research and writing projectsSo, too, with Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE). When we stepped back to make sense of the enormous amount of ancient food wisdom we had amassed, we realized it encompasses six perennial principles that in turn, comprise four facets of food.(3) In other words, ancient food wisdom provides guidelines for:

  1. biological (what to eat for physical health)
  2. psychological (how food affects feelings)
  3. spiritual (the life-giving meaning in meals)
  4. social (dining with others) nourishment; ergo, whole person integrative eating.

To find out if there is a link between perennial food wisdom–on which our Whole Person Integrative Eating dietary lifestyle is based–and weight, we partnered with Spirituality & Health magazine. In its cover story on what we than called “The Enlightened Diet,” readers, like Alison, were invited to take our six-week, eighteen lesson e-course on the magazine’s website. Participants first completed our 76-item WPIE survey and entered their height and weight.

The “New Normal” Overeating Styles and Weight

Of the 5,256 participants, throughout the e-course, those who increasingly ate according to the six, perennial, ancient-food guidelines we had identified, were the ones who lost the most weight. While the implications were enormous in relation to the question of how to lose weight, with another look at the food choices and eating behaviors our 76-item questionnaire revealed, we identified seven (statistically significant) styles of eating that predict overeating and weight gain. We call them the “new normal” overeating styles.

What’s especially powerful about our discovery of the overeating styles is this:

All seven “new normal” overeating styles we identified strongly diverge from the perennial principles we’ve identified that served as optimal eating guidelines in the past. The more participants followed the ancient Whole Person Integrative Eating guidelines, the less overeating and more normal their weight. The more they followed today’s “new normal” ways of eating—the seven newly identified overeating styles we discovered—the more likely they were to overeat and be overweight or obese.(4)

Clearly, as a society, we have moved away from the integrative modes of eating that kept us slimmer for centuries.

Welcome to Whole Person Integrative Eating 

When Alison began our coaching sessions, she filled out our (statistically validated) “What’s Your Overeating Style? Self-Assessment Quiz,” so both of us could get a better understanding of the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social root causes of her overeating, and in turn, insights into her lifetime struggle with weight.

What we both realized over time is this: Returning to a relationship to food and eating espoused by wisdom traditions for millennia; one that provides multidimensional nourishment—and that is supported by our research and that of many others—enabled Alison to attain and maintain weight loss success.(5)

Visit Deborah’s websitemakeweightlosslast.com, for free evidence-based, credible information and education about optimal eating for weight loss and well-being. You can also visit her blog, integrativeeating.com.

Join Deborah for her upcoming webinar with MedFit:

Reprinted with permission from Deborah Kesten.

Deborah Kesten, M.P.H., is an award-winning author, specializing in preventing and reversing obesity and heart disease. Her expertise includes the influence of epigenetics and diet on health, Lifestyle Medicine, and research on the Whole Person Integrative Eating dietary lifestyle to treat overeating, overweight, and obesity. She and her husband, behavioral scientist Larry Scherwitz, Ph.D., collaborate on research and writing projects. 


  1. Riley, D. “Integrative Nutrition: Food’s Multidimensional Power to Heal,” Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing 1, no. 5 (2005): 340–41.
  2. Deborah Kesten, Feeding the Body, Nourishing the Soul: Essentials of Eating for Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Well-Being (Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 1997; Amherst, MA: White River Press, 2007).
  3. Deborah Kesten, The Healing Secrets of Food: A Practical Guide for Nourishing Body, Mind, and Soul. (Novato, CA: New World Library; 2001).
  4. Larry Scherwitz and Deborah Kesten, “Seven Eating Styles Linked to Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity,” Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing 1, no. 5 (2005): 342–59.
  5. Kesten D, Scherwitz L, “Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Program for Treating Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity,” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal 14no. 5 (October/November 2015): 42-50.

MFN Contributing Author