— By Deborah Kesten, VIP Contributor at Thrive Global 

Did you know that overeating and weight gain are influenced by more than what you eat (food choices); how you eat (eating behaviors) also plays a part? Pioneering research by holistic nutrition researcher Deborah Kesten, MPH, and behavioral scientist Larry Scherwitz, PhD, has identified six HOW-you-eat behaviors that are also major players in the weight-loss picture.1-3

The researchers describe the what-and-how to eat ingredients of their Whole Person Integrative Eating® (WPIE) model and program as the “4 facets of food” because the what-to-eat element of fresh, whole food nourishes physically, while the how-to-eat ingredients nourish emotionally when we eat with positive emotions in pleasantemotional and aesthetic atmospheres; spiritually, through in-the-moment mindfulness, heartfelt gratitude, and loving regard; and socially, when we share fare with others.

Here is the research behind the ingredients of the Whole Person Integrative Eating® (WPIE) model and program—and its link to eating less and weighing less.

WPIE: Ancient Food Wisdom Meets Modern Nutritional Science

For millennia, prior to the birth of nutritional science in the twentieth century, humankind turned to the wisdom traditions—world religions (such as Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, etc.), cultural traditions (Yogic nutrition, Native American food beliefs, and so on), and Eastern healing systems (such as India’s Ayurvedic Medicine and traditional Chinese Medicine)—for guidelines about what and how to eat.4

Both the what and how-to-eat elements of the Whole Person Integrative Eating dietary lifestyle are a distillation of this ancient food wisdom—with each element verified by modern nutritional science. In other words, the perennial principles of WPIE tell us what religions, cultural traditions, and Eastern healing systems discovered instinctively and intuitively over thousands of years, and what modern researchers are beginning to conjecture: that food empowers us to heal multidimensionally, meaning, physically, but also emotionally, spiritually and socially (ergo, ‘whole person’ integrative eating).5

To find out more about the impact of the Whole Person Integrative Eating program Kesten and Scherwitz discovered, they asked 5,256 mostly overweight people who participated in their study to fill out their 74-item What’s Your Overeating Style? Self-Assessment Quiz before and after the 6-week, 18-lesson, online WPIE intervention.

What they discovered is this: Those who replaced their new normal food choices and eating behaviors—what Kesten and Scherwitz call the “new normal” overeating styles (Emotional Eating, Fast Foodism, Task Snacking, Food Fretting, Sensory Disregard, Unappetizing Atmosphere, Solo Dining) with their antidotes: the elements of Whole Person Integrative Eating—ate less and lost weight as a natural “side effect” of WPIE.1-3 In other words, the more they infused their eating experience with the elements of WPIE, the less they overate, the more they enjoyed their food, and the more weight they lost—without dieting!

Derailing Diabetes with WPIE How-to-Eat Behaviors

Is it possible that the how-you-eat elements of Whole Person Integrative Eating—positive emotions, in-the-moment mindfulness, heartfelt gratitude, loving regard, pleasant atmosphere, and social connection—influence not only what you eat, how much you eat, and what you weigh but also blood-sugar levels (HbA1c)? This is the question diabetes researchers Erica Oberg, ND, MPH, and Ryan Bradley, ND, MPH, posed when they applied the overeating styles—and their antidotes, the WPIE dietary lifestyle—to people with type 2 diabetes.6,7  

At the start of the study, those with high Emotional Eating scores (the WPIE Emotional Eating overeating style was a big issue for many in the study) had the higher baseline blood-sugar levels. But as participants made improvements in all the overeating styles, and in Emotional Eating especially—plus in their total overeating style score—blood-sugar levels decreased. Surprisingly and unexpectedly, macronutrient content—such as carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake—had a lesser influence on blood-sugar levels than improving the how-you-eat overeating-style behaviors (such as Emotional Eating, Sensory Disregard, and Unappetizing Atmosphere).6-7

Says lead investigator Oberg: “We taught the research participants about the seven overeating styles and those that made the biggest changes in their eating behaviors [ital, mine] had the biggest improvements in blood sugar, independent of calories or carbohydrate intake. Continues Oberg: “Literally, how [italics mine] they ate mattered more than what [italics mine] they ate.”8,9 

Such findings prompted co-investigator Bradley to state, “I know the Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) program is effective, because I have applied it to patients with type 2 diabetes. My research revealed that the how components of WPIE (such as positive emotions, mindfulness, gratitude, etc.) were even more powerful determinants of lowering blood sugar levels than what participants ate.”10   

The How-to-Eat Ingredients of Whole Person Integrative Eating

To give you a clear overview of the Whole Person Integrative Eating dietary lifestyle, here are the 6 how-to-eat WPIE guidelines, plus the single what-to-eat WPIE recommendation. 

HOW-to-Eat WPIE Guidelines

  1. Positive Emotions

Most of us are familiar with the phrase “emotional eating,” turning to comfort food to soothe negative feelings such as depression, anxiety, or anger; but also sometimes to enhance joyous, celebratory feelings in response, let’s say, to a birthday or promotion. In the WPIE program, although all 7 overeating styles are strong predictors of overeating, the Emotional Eating overeating style is the #1 predictor. To overcome this overeating style, WPIE research reveals that replacing negative feelings with positive emotions (and all WPIE ingredients each time you eat) lessens overeating and leads to weight loss as a natural “side effect.”1-3

2. In-the-Moment Mindfulness

“Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing,” says mindfulness meditation researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn. Research on Whole Person Integrative Eating tells us that when you bring moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness to every aspect of the meal, you eat less and weigh less. The opposite of mindfulness eating is the WPIE overeating style of Task Snacking, meaning, eating while doing other things, such as working at your computer or watching TV. An easy antidote: Do what you’re doing, but when you take a bite of food, pause for a moment, close your eyes, inhale, relax, and focus on the flavors of the food. Afterward, return to your activity.1-3

3. Heartfelt Gratitude

“Gratitude is not dependent on what you have. It depends on your heart,” says Buddhism master Jack Kornfield of Spirit Rock. For millennia, humankind said blessings of appreciation—from the heart—over food. To up your odds of eating and weighing less, replace the WPIE overeating style, Food Fretting—dieting, counting calories, over-concern about what you’re eating—with an appreciative, authentic, from-your-heart connection to food and to the extraordinary experience of nourishment and eating.1-3

4. Loving Regard

For thousands of years, Eastern healing systems—such as India’s Ayurvedic Medicine and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)—related to optimal eating based on whether meals included six tastes: bitter, sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent. Eating with a 6-flavor sensibility means that when you eat, you’re savoring the colors and flavors and scents of the meal before you. WPIE research revealed that when you “flavor” food by nourishing your senses and with loving regard when you eat (Sensory Regard), your meals are better metabolized and you’re more likely to eat and weigh less.1-3

5. Amiable Ambiance

Most of us know that eating in congenial surroundings is, at the very least, enjoyable. Although it’s still an emerging field, the medical community is becoming more and more aware that environment has a profound impact on health and healing. Research on Whole Person Integrative Eating revealed that eating in an Unappetizing Atmosphere—both psychological and/or aesthetically unpleasant surroundings—leads to eating more and weighing more. The WPIE antidote? When you dine, nourish yourself with an amiable ambiance by being aware if your emotions and others’ are positive; and if the external atmosphere is pleasing. 1-3 

6. Share Fare

If you typically eat by yourself, you’ve got plenty of company. The eat-alone trend has escalated over the last few years—and of course with today’s Covid-based social isolation. More and more research is revealing that the escalating eat-alone trend—and its twin, loneliness—up the odds of overeating and weight gain. Some recipes for social nourishment: Consider creating an online cooking club “family”; make online dining dates; or, while eating, fill your thoughts with memorable meals you’ve had with others. Or consider dining with your pet!1-3

WHAT-to-Eat WPIE Guidelines

To give you a better understanding of the WPIE program, here are the what-to-eat WPIE guidelines. (To find out more about WPIE what-to-eat guidelines, please see this article on Thrive Global: https://lnkd.in/esfDEp9.)

7. Fresh Food

FreshWholeInverse. These are the three what-to-eat ingredients of WPIE 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. These are the foods that have the nutrients your mind-body needs to be healthier. 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.1-3

The How-You-Eat, What-You-Eat Takeaway

The paradigm-shifting, well-researched message in Whole Person Integrative Eating is that it’s possible to halt, even reverse, overeating and weight gain by replacing your new normal overeating styles with the how and what elements of the Whole Person Integrative Eating dietary lifestyle.1-3

The WPIE model also tells us that the invisible power of food to heal is strongly influenced by the “quality of attention” you bring to food and eating. In other words, not only may “flavoring” fresh, whole food with positive emotions, in-the-moment mindfulness, heartfelt gratitude, loving regard, and social connection ward off weight, but it also holds the power to balance emotions, blood-sugar levels, and up your odds of weight loss, health, and healing.1-3, 6-10

To find out more about WPIE, please visit www.IntegrativeEating.com


  1. 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.
  2. Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz, “Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Program for Treating Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity,” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, 14, no. 5 (October/November 2015): 42–50.
  3. Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz, Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Dietary Lifestyle to Treat the Root Causes of Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity (Amherst, MA: White River Press, 2020).
  4. 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).
  5. Deborah Kesten, The Healing Secrets of Food: A Practical Guide for Nourishing Body, Mind, and Soul (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2001).
  6. Erica Oberg, Ryan Bradley, J. Allen, and M. McCrory, “Evaluation of a naturopathic nutrition program for type 2 diabetes,” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 17, no. 3 (2011): 157–61. 
  7. Ryan Bradley, “Eating habits and diabetes: how we eat may be more important than what we eat,” Diabetes Action website, June 2011, www.diabetesaction.org/article-eating -habits?rq=ryan%20bradley%202011. 
  8. Erica Oberg, e-mail to behavioral scientist Larry Scherwitz, PhD, co-principal investigator of Whole Person Integrative Eating research, September 7, 2018.
  9. “I experienced the power of Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) in my medical practice when I conducted research on WPIE with diabetic patients. When they applied the seven root causes of overeating that Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz have identified, they were transformed. …Overeating and obesity simply resolved as ‘side effects’ of practicing Whole Person Integrative Eating…”. —Erica Oberg, N.D., M.P.H.
  10. Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz, “Advance Praise for Whole Person Integrative Eating,” Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Dietary Lifestyle to Treat the Root Causes of Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity (Amherst, MA: White River Press, 2020).


  • Deborah Kesten


    Whole Person Integrative Eating

    Deborah Kesten is an international nutrition researcher and award-winning author, specializing in preventing and reversing obesity and heart disease. Her research career began as Nutritionist on Dean Ornish, M.D.’s first clinical trial for reversing heart disease, and as Director of Nutrition on similar "reversal" research at cardiovascular clinics in Europe. Deborah is Founder of Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE), her evidence-based model and program for treating the root causes of overeating, overweight, and obesity. Her research on WPIE has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals, and her WPIE training-and-certification course for certified health professionals may be accessed at  www.IntegrativeEating.com/training/ and at www.WPIE.org. Deborah's latest award-winning book is Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Breakthrough Dietary Lifestyle for Treating Overeating, Overweight, and ObesityTo learn more, please visit https://integrativeeating.com/iesection/