Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Breakthrough Dietary Lifestyle to Treat the Root Causes of Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity – A Deborah Kesten Interview

Whole Person Integrative Eating
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With input by Cindy Keer, Professional Development Consultant at The Permanente Medical Group, Inc.

During this time of unprecedented stress, many are turning to comfort foods to cope. And they’re gaining weight. Original, pioneering research by holistic nutrition researcher Deborah Kesten, M.P.H., and behavioral scientist Larry Scherwitz, Ph.D.—authors of the award-winning Whole
Person Integrative Eating: A Breakthrough Dietary Lifestyle to Treat the Root Causes of Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity—gives you the insights and in-action steps you need to halt, even reverse overeating and weight gain. The key concept:Replace the reasons you overeat (your “overeating styles”) and gain weight through a powerful self-assessment quiz, then build a personalized plan to create a new, healthy way of eating (a dietary lifestyle) that leads to eating less and weighing less…for life.

Deborah Kesten, M.P.H., Author of Whole Person Integrative Eating

Deborah Kesten, M.P.H., generously took time to answer questions about her science-backed program for halting—even reversing—overeating, overweight and obesity.  

1. What led to your studying multiple cultures for their guidelines about food and eating? 

The idea to research various cultures about their food beliefs was born in New Delhi, India, where I interviewed clinical cardiologist Dr. K. L. Chopra—father of thought leader Deepak Chopra, M.D.—about an article I was planning to write about yoga and diet. When I asked Dr. Chopra about this, he instantly referred to Hinduism’s 5100+ years old Bhagavad Gita:

Prana is the vital life force of the universe…and it goes into you, into me, with food,” he said. “When you cook with love, you transfer the love into the food and it is metabolized…”. 

Food and love. The thought wouldn’t let go. My thinking was that if Hindus believe that loving awareness is somehow transmuted into food, then perhaps other spiritual traditions would have discovered this too. And so began what I call my “nutrition journey around the world.”

The award-winning book, Whole Person Integrative Eating

The perennial food wisdom I unearthed—which is the foundation of the Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) program—emerged when I studied major world religions (such as Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.); cultural traditions (yogic nutrition, Native American food beliefs, and so on); plus Eastern healing systems (Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, and Tibetan Medicine)—for their beliefs and guidelines about what and how to eat. 

What’s of special significance is this: For thousands of years—prior to the relatively recent evolution of nutritional science in the 20ᵗʰ century—humankind turned to this ancient food wisdom for guidelines about optimal eating.  

2. Whole Person Integrative Eating is based on nourishing ‘all of you’ each time you eat. What does this mean?

When behavioral scientist and co-author of Whole Person Integrative Eating, Larry Scherwitz, Ph.D., and I stepped back to make sense of the enormous amount of ancient food wisdom we had amassed, we realized that food nourishes us physically, but also psychologically, spiritually, and socially. I call these the “4 facets of food.” They are: 

1.  Biological Nutrition: What to eat for physical health

2.  Psychological Nutrition: How food affects feelings

3.  Spiritual Nutrition: The life-giving meaning in meals

4.  Social Nutrition: Dining with others in a pleasant atmosphere

The 4 facets of food tell us what religions, cultural traditions, and Eastern healing systems discovered instinctively and intuitively and what modern nutritional science is beginning to conjecture: that food has the power to nourish ‘all of you’ each time you eat; and in this way, empowers us to heal multidimensionally. I use the term “whole person integrative eating” to describe the “4-facet” way of eating, because the facets make connections between food and body, food and mind, food and soul, and food and social well-being. 

Whole Person Integrative Eating is a holistic, science-backed program that nourishes ‘all of you’.

3. What are the root causes of overeating?

The root causes of overeating are an intricate web of food choices (what you eat) and eating behaviors (how you eat) that work together to influence overeating and weight gain. Over 25 years of research on the Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE)® dietary lifestyle, by behavioral scientist and co-author of Whole Person Integrative Eating Larry Scherwitz, PhD, and me, has revealed that replacing the underlying reasons we overeat—meaning, the new-normal overeating styles Larry and I have identified—with their antidotes: the ancient/new elements of our scientifically sound Whole Person Integrative Eating model and program, leads to less overeating and weight loss.

Here are today’s new-normal overeating styles that lead to overeating and weight gain, and some—but not all—characteristics of each. Do you see yourself in any of them?

  • Emotional Eating: Eating based on negative emotions instead of a healthy appetite
  • Fast Foodism: A diet of mostly fast, processed food
  • Food Fretting: Dieting and obsessing about the “best” way to eat
  • Task Snacking: Doing other activities, such as working or watching TV, while eating
  • Sensory Disregard: Not taking time to taste, savor, and enjoy food
  • Unappetizing Atmosphere: Eating in unpleasant emotional or aesthetic surroundings
  • Solo Dining: Eating alone most of the time

In addition to providing a clear formula for overeating and becoming overweight and obese, the discovery of the overeating styles is powerful for two other reasons: (1) they identify and address the root reasons many of us overeat and gain weight; (2) and they are statistically significant—meaning each overeating style is a dependable measure of overeating and weight gain. 

4. You describe Whole Person Integrative Eating as the “antidote” to overeating and weight gain. How so?

Research Larry and I did on Whole Person Integrative Eating revealed that not only are the elements of WPIE the antidotes to each of the overeating styles, they are a scientifically sound new and varied path to eating and weighing less. Here’s what we found:  

The more the 5,256 participants in our study followed the “new normal” overeating styles we identified—the more likely they were to overeat and be overweight or obese. Conversely, those who replaced the seven overeating styles with the Whole Person Integrative Eating guidelines, were the ones who ate less and lost the most weight.

Since our study on WPIE, people I have coached to replace their overeating styles with the ingredients of the Whole Person Integrative Eating dietary lifestyle have been successful at losing weight and keeping it off; in other words, by replacing “diet think” with the “ingredients” of Whole Person Integrative Eating, they are making weight loss last.   

5.    Do you have a target group or groups that you feel are most important to reach so they understand and implement your message? 

Ultimately, my mission with Whole Person Integrative Eating is to help children, tweens, teens, and adults—the millions of all ages who suffer from chronic overeating and concerns about their weight. Here’s what I mean: In the United States, over 73 percent of adults are overweight or obese. At the same time, about half of U.S. adults are on a diet at any given time. As a matter of fact, the average dieter will try between 55 to 130 diets in their lifetime. Clearly, millions are struggling with weight, but the obesity pandemic continues to soar. In other words, “diet think” isn’t working.

The revolutionary research Larry and I tell you about in Whole Person Integrative Eating presents a simple yet powerful paradigm shift in our thinking about weight loss, showing that nourishing ‘all of you’—body, mind, soul, and social well-being—with the four facets of food each time you eat leads to less overeating and weight loss. 

Here’s how it works: Identify the reasons you overeat (your overeating styles) and gain weight—with the illuminating self-assessment quiz—then overcome overeating and lose weight by replacing your overeating styles with the antidotes: the 7 “ingredients” of the Whole Person Integrative Eating program. The combined effect of all seven elements of Whole Person Integrative Eating makes the transformative difference.

6.    In what ways do you see other areas of our food industry and/or media, i.e: TV, chefs, online blogs, recipes, cooking magazines or programs fitting into this integrative approach?

Great question! I think that integrating the perennial ingredients of Whole Person Integrative Eating (fresh food, positive emotions, mindfulness eating, heartfelt gratitude, loving regards, pleasant environs, and sharing fare) into various food media, is a wonderful suggestion. Why? Because exposing more and more people to WPIE could be a first step toward creating a cultural shift that could in turn help people replace their struggles with food, eating, and weight with a science-backed, positive way of eating that leads to weight loss, health, and healing.  

In my opinion, James Beard Award-winning chef, bestselling cookbook author, and restaurateur Yotam Assaf Ottolenghi instinctively integrates the “ingredients” in Whole Person Integrative Eating into his recipes, cookbooks, and restaurants. A food aficionado who is passionate about flavor-filled food, Ottolenghi’s cooking is also strongly influenced by the deep respect he has for the culture and history of meals he makes—another key element of Integrative Eating.

This excerpt from Ottolenghi’s website reflects his fondness for “flavoring” his meals with the ingredients of Whole Person Integrative Eating.

“Simply put, we are very serious about making people happy through our food. To look at, to taste, to eat … the food that we create is often described as ‘sunny’. It’s…beautiful to look at yet close to its original form; it’s full of surprising drama yet always comes together as one; it’s noisy yet peaceful, lip-smacking yet warm, simple yet daring. 

As ever, our food is freshly-made and (naturally!) free from preservatives and colouring… there is so much energy, passion and integrity going into the making of first-class ingredients.” Ottolenghi adds this about the cultural influence of his food: “The Mediterranean influence is still strong in our cooking…The result is some very merry-making food.”

Clearly, Chef Ottolenghi delights in creating delicious, wholesome meals; and he takes pleasure in the pleasure his food brings to diners. I would be delighted to see more and more food-and-cooking media infuse their articles, shows, podcasts, and interviews with the delight-filled, eat less-weigh less ingredients of Whole Person Integrative Eating concepts. It could be a first step toward showing people how to replace the new normal overeating styles with ‘whole person’ nourishment.

7.    Do dietary supplements play a role in your Whole Person Integrative Eating program?

Nutritional science has made many advances in the last few decades, so much so that we now know how to eat to treat many diet-related mind-body conditions—from overweight and obesity to heart disease, diabetes, depression, and more. And what we know is this: First and foremost, it is your everyday diet—meaning the foods you eat everyday——that can help prevent, treat, or reverse many chronic conditions. 

Given the power of food to heal, ‘whole person’ nourishment is the focus of Whole Person Integrative Eating. Supplements certainly have their place when there are nutritional deficiencies or a person has a health condition that cannot be remedied with a balanced diet alone. But it is a misuse of supplements if they are used to fulfill daily nutritional requirements in place of a fresh-whole-food diet.

The foundation of Whole Person Integrative Eating: physical, emotional,
spiritual, and social nourishment

8.    Can you comment on Plant Based Eating and how it ties into the integrated approach?

FreshWholeInverse. These are the three what-to-eat guidelines of Whole Person Integrative Eating that lead to less overeating and weight loss. Fresh, whole, and inverse means your most-of-the-time way of eating includes unprocessed fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds, with small servings of chemical-free, lean animal-based foods: dairy, poultry, fish, and meat. This is the “inverse” of how most Americans eat, meaning, the standard American diet (SAD) is mostly animal-based foods with ketchup, fries, and white flour functioning as the most-often consumed plant-based foods.

Eating mostly plant-based foods is integral to the Whole Person Integrative Eating program, because more and more studies have documented that returning to your “food roots”—going back to a diet of predominantly fresh, whole, plant-based foods—helps to prevent, treat, or even reverse a plethora of food-related chronic conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, depression, and more.

What’s the secret elixir in plant-based foods that lead to health and healing? Actually, it’s a potpourri of naturally occurring restorative nutrients in the ratio nature intended: vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and so on. Conversely, the more high-fat, high-sugar, fried, chemical-laden, processed foods you consume, the more you’re likely to overeat and be overweight or obese. 

The takeaway: Plant-based foods are the foods that have the nutrients your mind-body needs to be healthier and slimmer. And WPIE studies—and that of hundreds of others—reveal that making this your most-of-the-time way of eating leads to weight loss, health, and healing. 

9.    What are your thoughts on how to tackle the global obesity pandemic (given that COVID is present)? 

In this time of unprecedented stress, the global obesity pandemic—which has been sweeping the globe for decades—is escalating. Many are eating more and gaining weight as they cope with the Covid-19 crisis by turning to high-fat, high-sugar, high-carb comfort food. As I write, more than 10 percent of the world’s population is obese; in the U.S. alone, about 40 percent of adults are obese.

This watershed time is the time to tackle global obesity by replacing the current do-it-yourself, diet-and-deprivation approach to weight loss with a nationwide, community- and family-and-friendship based Whole Person Integrative Eating program. In other words, now is the time for nations worldwide to show—not tell—the millions of overweight and obese people how to replace their overeating styles with a science-backed, pleasurable, positive relationship to food and eating that leads to less overeating, weight loss, health, and healing. 

I am suggesting this, because the obesity pandemic is an all-encompassing societal problem that requires a multi-faceted, all-encompassing societal response. It requires a sustainable, all-in, teamwork response that uses all effective elements throughout society to address the overeating that leads to overweight and obesity. 

What would an all-inclusive “societal response” that addresses the root causes of overeating and weight gain look like?

First of all, it would be a community-based intervention that would be culturally sensitive, meaning, all ages in all communities in all countries with high overweight and obesity rates would learn a new-normal way of eating that would bring them back to their “food roots”—the foods that were normal to their culture for millennia, prior to evolution of today’s typical diet of fast, processed, refined, chemical-laden, denatured food products.

To accomplish this…

The Whole Person Integrative Eating dietary lifestyle would join with existing organizations already working to combat the obesity pandemic, and all levels of the community would be collaborative partners. A sampling (for starters): local spiritual and religious organizations; K-12 schools; Whole Foods Market and other health-food stores; Walmart; local supermarkets; community centers; the YMCA and other fitness facilities; medical centers; medical universities; worksites; food policy experts; government-based food assistance programs; physicians, psychologists, dietitians, allied-health practitioners; and more. 

In other words, all levels of society would work together to create a seismic, sustainable, cultural shift—over a generation—in what and how people eat. Like an interconnected web, individuals, family members, friends, organizations, and communities nationwide would work together to address the complexities of creating a new-normal relationship to food and eating that could lead to overcoming overeating, overweight, and obesity—and in the process, reshape the obesity crisis in America…and in other countries worldwide.  

10.    Do you have wisdom to share with other professionals who are currently coaching clients who are obese? 

I have two suggestions for health professionals interested in using our Whole Person Integrative Eating model and program with patients and clients struggling with overeating, overweight, and obesity: (1) read the case-study research article Larry and I wrote, which describes how to use WPIE to coach patients and clients struggling with overeating, overweight, and obesity; (2) and become a Certified WPIE Specialist with our WPIE Certification Course for health professionals. 

  1. Case-study research article. The article Larry and I wrote in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, offers step-by-step guidelines about how to use Whole Person Integrative Eating to coach overweight and obese clients.  
  • WPIE Certification Course. Teaming up with the American Academy of Sports Dietitians and Nutritionists (AASDN), I created the Foundations of Whole Person Integrative Eating Certification Course for licensed health professionals. The course provides the knowledge, skills, strategies, and “in action” techniques for health professionals to guide clients, patients, and coachees to make the sustainable behavior changes needed to overcome overeating, overweight, and obesity.

Throughout this powerful, practical, hands-on, 20-module WPIE certification course, participants are trained to administer the “What’s Your Overeating Style? Self-Assessment tool; and they are given step-by-step skills about what (food choices) and how (eating behaviors) to eat so that overeating lessens, and weight loss becomes a natural “side effect” of the WPIE dietary lifestyle. The WPIE Certification Course also provides practical WPIE coaching skills to use with clients, patients, and coaches.

Says physician David Reed Miloy, M.D., M.S., who prescribes Whole Person Integrative Eating to his overweight patients: “Whole Person Integrative Eating delivers a profoundly powerful, evidence-based program for sustainable freedom from the ravages of overweight and obesity.”

Find out more about the WPIE Certification Course for health professionals

11.   Is there anything else you would like to share with our Splash Magazines Worldwide readers?

Today, our WPIE program is the first integrative, holistic, scientifically sound dietary lifestyle to treat the root causes of overeating, overweight and obesity. Ultimately, it is an antidote to societal forces that have created a new-normal relationship to food that is based on convenience and “food as fuel”; a relationship that has led us down a road of overeating, overweight, malnutrition, and poor health.  

With the discovery of WPIE, my mission is to revolutionize our thinking about food, eating and weight by offering a way of eating that brings maximum ‘whole person’ nourishment, and in turn, weight loss, health and healing. In other words, with the science-backed body/mind/spirit ingredients of WPIE at your table, you now have the tools to re-envision your relationship to food, eating, and weight so you can eat and weigh less.

To jump start you on the WPIE dietary lifestyle, here are three steps you can take now to reap the weight-loss and optimal-eating rewards of Whole Person Integrative Eating.


Discover your overeating styles by taking the “What’s Your Overeating Style? Self-Assessment Quiz” in Whole Person Integrative Eating. It will tell you your trouble spots, and give you instant insights into the food choices you make, and eating behaviors you have that are leading to overeating and weight gain.


Prioritize your overeating styles and decide which one you want to work on first. For instance, a formally overweight woman I coached, who lost weight and has kept it off for more than seven years, decided to begin by replacing her Unappetizing Atmosphere overeating style with a beautiful place setting. Start with what’s important—and manageable—for you, personally.


Put WPIE into action by practicing “The WPIE Guided Meal Meditation” (chapter 13). I created the WPIE Guided Meal Meditation to empower you to turn Whole WPIE into an actual practice, so that each time you eat you nourish body, mind, and soul, and in the process, up your odds of losing weight and keeping it off.

For Support…

Please visit Find a Certified WPIE Specialist

For more about Whole Person Integrative Eating, please visit IntegrativeEating.com

I wish you a wonderful Whole Person Integrative Eating journey.

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Photos: Courtesy of Deborah Kesten

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