THE FOUR FACETS OF FOOD: Biological Nutrition, Psychological Nutrition, Spiritual Nutrition, Social Nutrition

-– By Deborah Kesten, VIP Contributor at Thrive Global

In Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Deepak Chopra writes, “The most significant breakthrough is not contained in isolated findings but in a completely new worldview.”

Our current worldview about food encourages us to look at food with binoculars. One moment we point them at protein, the next at carbohydrates, and then at fat.

But toss away the binoculars and instead view food through a kaleidoscope, and suddenly, a new vista emerges; a multidimensional, holistic, “whole person” view that reflects the power of food to nourishphysically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. These are the four facets of food that lie at the core of what I call Whole Person Integrative Eating®.1-3

An “Old/New View”: The 4 Facets of Food

My discovery of the four facets of food began when I unearthed ancient food wisdom from major world religions (such as Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism), cultural traditions (such as yogic nutrition, African-American soul food, the Mediterranean diet, etc.), and Eastern healing systems that include nutrition (traditional Chinese medicine, India’s Ayurveda, Tibetan Medicine).

A distillation of nutritional truths that emerged from the marriage of ancient food wisdom and state-of-the-art science revealed that food is more, much more than an amalgam of nutrients. Rather, it has been used by people for millennia to heal their bodies (Biological Nutrition), calm their minds (Psychological Nutrition), infuse meals with meaning (Spiritual Nutrition), and create connection to others (Social Nutrition). In other words, I discovered that food has the power to heal multi-dimensionally. And a plethora of scientific studies are verifying that food can indeed, heal body, mind, soul, and social well-being.

Ancient Food Wisdom, Modern Nutritional Science

Here’s a closer look at the four facets of food—and some scientific studies that are verifying that each facet influences health and healing—often in unexpected ways.

FOOD FACET #1: Biological Nutrition

If you’ve ever counted calories, carbs, or fat grams, you’ve practiced Biological Nutrition.

This facet explores the influence of nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc.) on the body. It includes analysis of today’s new-normal Standard American Diet (SAD) of fast, processed, denatured food—which includes mostly animal foods (dairy, poultry, meat, fish) with limited amounts of plant-based foods (fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans and peas, nuts and seeds).

Biological Nutrition studies: from fresh and whole to SAD.

SAD is the opposite of the kind of foods that our ancestors ate for millennia, which were fresh, whole, and inverse, meaning, the opposite of SAD— mostly plant-based foods with small servings of animal-based foods. Scores of studies reveal that today’s new-normal diet high in animal-based foods, and processed sugar, oils, and white flour ups the odds of weight gain and a multitude of other mind-body chronic conditions— from heart disease and type 2 diabetes to depression and more.4-6

FOOD FACET #2: Psychological Nutrition

Psychological Nutrition is an emerging field of mind-body nutrition research, which explores how food affects feelings; and conversely, how thoughts and feelings often affect food choices. Food-mood research began perhaps 5,000 years ago when ancient yogis (rishis) used their own minds/bodies as laboratories to discover which foods kept them calm so they could meditate and practice yoga.

A Psychological Nutrition study: the food-mood connection

Today, we describe yogic foods as lactovegetarian: plant-based foods with small amounts of dairy. In the 1970s, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) verified ancient yogic wisdom, when they discovered that carbohydrate-dense foods (such as potatoes) release a naturally occurring hormone called serotonin, which is calming and relaxing.7

FOOD FACET #3: Spiritual Nutrition

The three “ingredients” of Spiritual Nutrition include eating with mindfulness, gratitude, and loving regard for food.2,3 Each infuses meals with meaning.

A Spiritual Nutrition study: mindfulness and metabolism

Mindfulness meditation has been a tradition of Buddhism for thousands of years. Here’s a study linking meditative awareness with enhanced digestion of nutrients. When researcher Donald Morse had women meditate before eating a high-carb meal, and then also do mental arithmetic before eating, he found that meditation significantly produced more of the salivary enzyme d-alpha amylase, which enhances digestion of carbohydrates.8

FOOD FACET #4: Social Nutrition

The Social Nutrition facet is about the health and healing benefits that food can bring when you’re dining with others in a pleasant atmosphere.

Social Nutrition and the “social ties” study

The idea that eating in a socially supportive atmosphere can serve as a buffer against ailments, emerged when researcher Stewart Wolf discovered that the rate of heart disease and heart attacks was low in the Italian-American town of Roseto, Pennsylvania because close family ties and community cohesion were the norm.3,9

Nourishing Body, Mind, Soul, and Social Well-Being

The takeaway: For millennia, humankind and theologies turned to food to nourish physical, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Today, modern nutritional science is verifying what our ancestors discovered centuries ago!

The four facets of food reconnect us with timeless food wisdom; at the same time, the facets help us to demystify and make sense of emerging nutritional science. The result: a science-backed re-visioning of nutritional health about the power of food to heal and nourish “all of you” each time you eat.


  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz, Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Breakthrough Dietary Lifestyle to Treat the Root Causes of Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity (Amherst: MA: White River Press, 2020).
  4. Anna Gosline, “Why Fast Foods Are Bad, Even in Moderation,” New Scientist, June 12, 2006, https://www. why-fast-foods-are-bad-even-in -moderation/.
  5. F. Hu, R. van Dam, and S. Liu, “Diet and Risk of Type II Diabetes: The Role of Types of Fat and Carbohydrate,” Diabetologia 44, no. 7 (2001): 805–17.
  6. Dean Ornish, Eat More, Weigh Less: Dr. Dean Ornish’s Life Choice Program for Losing Weight Safely while Eating Abundantly (New York: HarperCollins, 1993).
  7. Judith J. Wurtman, Managing Your Mind and Mood through Food (New York: Rawson Associates, 1986).
  8. D. Morse and M. Furst, “Meditation: An In-depth Study,” Journal of the American Society of Psychosomatic Dentistry and Medicine 29, no. 5 (1982): 1–96.
  9. Julie Stewart Wolf and John G. Bruhn, The Power of Clan: The Influence of Human Relationships on Heart Disease (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1993).


  • 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 and at 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