—By Deborah Kesten, VIP Contributor at Thrive Global

For decades, millions of Americans have been struggling with overeating, being overweight or obese, disordered eating behaviors, and/or full-blown eating disorders—food-and-eating problems that have worsened during today’s quarantine lockdown lifestyle.  

Nutrition researcher Deborah Kesten, M.P.H., and behavioral scientist Larry Scherwitz, Ph.D, have combined ancient food wisdom with modern nutritional science to create the Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) dietary lifestyle, an effective, program that can lead us all back to a deeper, healthier relationship with food and eating, and in turn, weight loss, health, and healing.

The Research: WPIE as a Path to Eating Less, Weighing Less

Kesten and Scherwitz made two groundbreaking discoveries when they did research on their Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) program with 5,256 participants. They discovered: (1) 7 new-normal overeating styles that lead to overeating and weight gain; (2) and the solution to overeating: 7 perennial WPIE principles that are the antidotes to each of the overeating styles. 

The more people in the WPIE study followed the “new normal” overeating styles Kesten and Scherwitz identified—the more likely they were to overeat and be overweight or obese. Conversely, those who replaced the seven overeating styles (Emotional Eating, Fast Foodism, Food Fretting, Task Snacking, Sensory Disregard, Unappetizing Atmosphere, Solo Dining) with the Whole Person Integrative Eating guidelines, were the ones who ate less and lost the most weight. 1-3

In other words, their research revealed that Whole Person Integrative Eating is a scientifically sound new and varied path to eating less and weighing less.1-3 What’s especially intriguing about their findings is that only one WPIE “ingredient” is about what to eat (food choices); the other six are about how to eat (eating behaviors) to overcome overeating and overweight.

The Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) Pyramid demystifies the WPIE what-to-eat findings.

What You Eat Leads to Leanness or Weight Gain

The road to the Whole Person Integrative Eating What-to-Eat Pyramid begins and ends with state-of-the art science. For instance, knowing that many obese people have what is called Western diet-induced obesity (DIO), researchers wanted to know if there was a relationship between gut microbiota (the 10-100 trillion microbial cells, mostly bacteria, harbored by each person in the gut) from the fast-food, high-calorie standard American diet (SAD) and weight. To find out, they transplanted gut microbiota from a fast food diet into germ-free mice—meaning mice with organism-free guts. The results: microbiota from the standard fast-food diet promoted more fat gain than transplants from lean donors.4-7

This study on mice matters, because both mice and humans are mammals with a similar biology, so what applies to mice can apply to humans. Because of this similarity, we now know that the quality of the food you eat—meaning fresh whole food vs a fast food, ultra-processed diet—and your weight are intimately interconnected.4-7 In other words, state-of-the-art science is revealing there’s a lot more to the weight story than calories in (food), calories out (physical activity). Perhaps a more helpful question to ask about weight loss may be: Is your most-of-the-time way of eating fresh, whole food; or are highly processed, fast-food products your typical fare?

Benefits of Fresh Whole Food vs Chemical Cuisine

What exactly are “fresh, whole foods”? They’re foods that are real, natural, nourishing, and healthful; their original integrity is intact. Not only does fresh, whole, plant-based food from fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds offer balanced nutrients in the ratio nature intended, they have what your microbiome and mind-body need for health and healing.

The opposite of fresh, whole, plant-based food is ultra-processed, denatured, fast-food products that wreak havoc in your microbiome and in turn lead to overeating, overweight, and obesity. These refined food products are high in fat, salt, and calories—and they’re often filled with chemicals and additives that further increase odds of weight gain. 

Here is a brief look at fresh food vs fast food on weight, but also on your appetite, emotions, and wellness.

Lose weight. Researchers recently discovered that city children in Ecuador’s Amazon who ate far more meat, dairy products, processed starches (such as white rice), and candy, than rural children, not only ate more, they also gained a lot more weight—even though the city and rural children moved and burned similar amounts of calories throughout the day. This tells us that what we eat may be more important than how much we move when it comes to fighting obesity.8

Eat less.  Whole Person Integrative Eating is based on a simple yet powerful premise: Replace the reasons you overeat (your overeating styles) and gain weight, with the antidotes: the elements of the Whole Person Integrative Eating program—and you eat and weigh less. Overcoming overeating includes replacing WPIE’s Fast Foodism overeating style with this WPIE guideline: choose fresh whole foods in their natural state as often as possible.1-3

It’s also likely you’ll eat less and have a “balanced” appetite if your gut microbiota is nourished by the fiber and other nutrients in fresh, plant-based food.9

Feel better. Consuming a mostly fast-food diet can lead to malnourishment and too much “bad bacteria” in the gut—both of which can contribute to depression and anxiety. An antidote? One of the key findings in WPIE research is thatthe combination of reducing negative feelings and improving food choices (meaning more fresh, whole, plant-based foods) were the strongest predictors of how much weight people lost. In other words, positive feelings and food choices are key factors in controlling weight.1-3

Restore health. Here are two examples of the power of fresh, whole foods to restore health by halting and reversing a plethora of diet-related chronic conditions: 

  • Lifestyle research by Dean Ornish, MD, showed that heart disease10, and overweight11 can be reversed with (1) a plant-based diet, (2) stress management, (3) physical activity, (4) and social support.
  • When Native American sculptress Roxanne Swentzell and thirteen other members of the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico replaced years of fast-food fare with the original indigenous fresh foods their ancestors ate, they restored their health. Along with losing a lot of weight (some lost 50 lbs. or more), other diet-related mind-body ailments—from high blood pressure and heart disease to depression and more—healed12,13

The WPIE What-to-Eat Pyramid

The Whole Person Integrative Eating What-to-Eat Pyramid reflects state-of-the-art studies on what to eat for a more balanced microbiome and in turn weight loss, enhanced emotions.14 and restored health. The WPIE What-to-Eat Pyramid is not a diet; rather, it suggests a most-of-the-time way of eating that includes these four categories: 

Here are the four categories in The WPIE What-to-Eat Pyramid: lots of Plant-Based Food; small (or no) servings of unprocessed Animal-Based Food (Optional); the concept of Relaxed-Restraint (Optional) Food choices; and Food to Avoid because these food products wreak havoc in the microbiome, and on weight and mind-body well-being.


  • Fresh
  • Whole

Examples: Fruit, Veggies, Greens, Whole Grains, Beans & Peas, Raw Nuts & Seeds, Fermented Veggies

Comment. Fresh, whole, plant-based food has an abundance of nutrients (such as fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants,vitamins, minerals, and so on) that enhance health and healing. They feed “good” bacteria in your gut, which in turn helps you to attain and maintain a healthy weight and mind-body health.


  • Fresh
  • Chemical-Free
  • Lean
  • Low-Fat

Examples: Dairy, Fish, Fowl, Meat, Fermented Dairy

Comment. Animal food in The WPIE Pyramid is optional. If you include animal food in your diet, make the servings small, fresh, lean, and chemical-free. Lots of plant-based food with small amounts of animal food is the way to eat for weight loss, a balanced microbiome, and mind-body wellness.


  • Ultra-Processed
  • High-Fat
  • High-Sugar
  • High-Salt

Examples: Pastries, Cookies, Cakes, Sweetened Cereal, Candy, Soda & Sugary Drinks, Corn Chips, Canned Food, Refined Flour, Alcoholic Beverages o

o  Enjoy wine, beer, or alcoholic beverages in moderation if they are already part of your dietary lifestyle. Do not begin to drink these beverages if it is not currently typical for you.

Comment. Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) includes the concept of relaxed restraint, a behavioral-medicine idea that supports moderate flexibility about what you eat in order to up the odds of maintaining optimal eating for the long-term. If you choose to eat sweets, do so sometimes and in moderation.


  • Fried Food
  • Cured Meat
  • Fruit Juice, Sweetened
  • Fast Food

Examples: French Fries, Fried Chicken, Sausage, Baloney/Cold Cuts, Frankfurter, Bacon, Salami, Potato Chips, Hamburgers, Pepperoni Pizza, Donuts

Comment. Fried, sweetened, processed food replete with health-harming fats, sugars, and a motley crew of synthetic chemicals that feed “bad” bacteria, increase odds not only of overeating and weight gain, but they are also more likely to trigger anxiety,14 depression, emotional-eating episodes, inflammation, autoimmune conditions . . . and more. 

Eat Fresh, Weigh Less. Feel Better. Restore Health.

The What-to-Eat WPIE Pyramid is a guide designed to ‘reset’ and rethink what we eat; to replace traditional dieting with a scientifically sound and flexible way of eating that lessens overeating, leads naturally to weight loss, enhances mind-body health, regulates hunger levels and eating behaviors such as food cravings and overeating,4,7 balances the microbiome, strengthens the immune system…and more.  

The What-to-Eat WPIE Pyramid also reflects the antidote to the WPIE Fast Foodism overeating style: Choose fresh, whole food in its natural state as often as possible. By providing a clear, safe, and effective roadmap for what to eat to lose weight, feel better, and restore health, The What-to-Eat WPIE Pyramid may serve as a guide for the millions who struggle with weight and the “best” way to eat for sustainable weight loss, health, and healing. 

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

For a whole copy of the What-to-Eat WPIE Pyramid, write [email protected]


  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. P. Turnbaugh, “Gut Microbiota and Obesity,” Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 73, no. 1 (October 2015): 213–23.
  5. P. Turnbaugh, F. Bäckhed, L. Fulton, and J. Gordon, “Diet-induced obesity is linked to marked but reversible alterations in the mouse distal gut microbiome,” Cell Host Microbe 3, no. 4 (2008): 213–223. 
  6. P. Maruvada, V. Leone, L. Kaplan, and E. Chang, “The Human Microbiome and Obesity: Moving beyond Associations,” Cell Host and Microbe 22, no. 5 (2017): 589–99. 
  7. Jillian Levy, “The Human Microbiome: How It Works + a Diet for Gut Health: Foods to Eat,” draxe.com, January 7, 2016.
  8. Samuel S Urlacher, et al, “Childhood Daily Energy Expenditure Does Not Decrease with Market Integration and Is Not Related to Adiposity in Amazonia,” The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 151, Issue 3, (March 2021) 695–704.
  9. Marcel van de Wouw, et. Al, “Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: Modulator of Host Metabolism and Appetite,” The Journal of Nutrition, 147, no. 5(May 2017): 727–745.
  10. Dean Ornish, S. Brown, Larry Scherwitz, et al., “Can Lifestyle Changes Reverse Coro- nary Heart Disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial,” The Lancet 336, no. 8708 (1990): 129–33. 
  11. J. Daubenmier, G. Weidner, M. Sumner, N. Mendell, et al., “The Contribution of Chang- es in Diet, Exercise, and Stress Management to Changes in Coronary Risk in Women and Men in the Multisite Cardiac Lifestyle Intervention Program,” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 33 (January 2007) 57–68.
  12. Inez Russell Gomez, “Artist Reclaims Native Culture with Ancestral Foods,” The New Mexican, accessed August 30,2018, http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/community/artist-reclaims-native-culture-with-ancestral-foods/article_21a8e264 -1c29-5e25-b0f4-e384a643a2af.html. 
  13. Deon Ben, “Food as Medicine: The Healing Power of Native Foods,” Grand Canyon Trust, December 9, 2016, https://www.grandcanyontrust.org/blog/food-medicine-healing-power-native-foods.
  14. K. Neufeld, N. Kang, J. Bienenstock, J. Foster, “Reduced anxiety-like behavior and central neurochemical change in germ-free mice,” Neurogastroenterol Motil 23 (2010): 255–64. 


  • 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/