Discover the 4 Facets of Food–and Their Power to Heal


Optimal eating is more than just a balanced diet

-– By Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz –


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 food worldview encourages us to look at food with binoculars. One moment we point them at protein, the next at carbohydrates, and then at fat—both in food and on our body. Viewed through such a restricted field of vision, we see food solely from a singular, biological perspective of “isolated findings.”

But toss away the binoculars and instead view food through a kaleidoscope, and in place of the interesting but limited binocular focus on food, stunning new nutrition insights are revealed; suddenly, subtleties that reflect physical, emotional, spiritual, and social nourishment are manifested. These are the Four Facets of Food that lie at the core of our research on overeating, overweight, and obesity. Viewed from the interactive, ever-changing, four-facet vantage point, food and nutrition become integrated, interconnected, and whole.


A “New View”: The 4 Facets of Food

Sometimes you have to go backward before you can move forward. In our quest to discover optimal eating strategies—which ultimately enabled us to unravel the four facets of food—we began by unearthing ancient food wisdom from world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.), cultural traditions (such as yogic nutrition, the Mediterranean diet, etc.), and Eastern healing systems that include nutrition (traditional Chinese medicine, India’s Ayurveda, etc.); then we integrated ancient food wisdom with modern nutritional science.

A distillation of nutritional truths that emerged from the marriage of ancient food wisdom (see “Study Uncovers 6 Ancient Healing Secrets of Food” for more about this)  and state-of-the-art science revealed that food is 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), connect to the mystery of life inherent in food (spiritual nutrition), and create connection to others (social nutrition). In other words, the four facets of food have the power to heal the “whole person”; to heal multi-dimensionally.


Here’s a closer look at the four facets of food:

Think of a favorite food experience. Was it sharing food with some friends, family members, and coworkers, or were you dining at a table for one? This facet of social well-being is about the health and healing benefits that food can bring when you’re dining in a socially supportive environment (see “Eat with Others, Eat Less”).

Do you ever wonder why you crave carrot cake instead of a carrot when you’re, say, anxious? The facet of emotional well-being is an emerging field of mind-body nutrition research, which explores how food affects feelings via hormones (chemical messengers) that are released in the brain when we eat certain foods; and conversely, how thoughts and feelings often affect food choices (see “Overcoming Emotional Eating”).

The spiritual food facet explores the consciousness (degree of mindfulness, appreciation, and loving regard) that we bring to the mystery of life inherent in food. The spiritual nutrition philosophy is at the core of the food-related wisdom espoused by world religions and cultural traditions for thousands of years (see “The Weight Loss Power of Mindfulness”; “The Mindfulness Meal Meditation”).

If you’ve ever chosen a particular food after calculating its calorie content—perhaps with the intention of maintaining or losing weight; or selected a particular food for its health-enhancing antioxidants—you’ve experienced the biological/physical well-being facet of food (see “Eat Fresh, Weigh Less”). This facet explores the power of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, etc.) to heal—or harm—health.

In essence, the four facets of food reveal that food has the power to nourish you physically, but also emotionally, spiritually, and socially. In this way, the four facets provide a “whole person” way of eating (see our Whole Person Nutrition Program), which our research has linked with increased odds of weight loss. Still other studies have found that each of the four facets heal in yet other ways.


Healing with the 4 Facets of Food

More and more scientific studies are verifying that each of the four facets of food impact health and healing—often in unexpected ways. A sampling…

Social nutrition and the rabbit study

Every wisdom and cultural tradition is rich with food-related social feasts, festivals, and rituals—which is quite a contrast to the isolated eating that is typical for Americans today. Indeed, one groundbreaking study by R. M. Nerem suggests that rabbits that ate potentially artery-clogging food while being held with care did not develop plaque-clogged arteries.1

Psychological nutrition and ancient yogic insights

Perhaps food-mood research began with ancient yogis (rishis) who, 5,000 years ago, used their own minds/bodies as laboratories to discover which foods kept them calm so they could meditate and practice yoga. The Bhagavad Gita, Hindu scripture, calls these foods sattvic, while in the West, we describe them as vegetarian, plant-based foods (see “Eat Fresh, Weigh Less”). Flash-forward to the 1970s, when scientists verified ancient yogic wisdom: carbohydrate-dense foods (such as potatoes) release a naturally occurring hormone called serotonin, which is calming and relaxing.2

Spiritual nutrition and mindfulness

The three components of spiritual nutrition are eating with mindfulness, gratitude, and loving regard for food. Indeed, eating with mindfulness—one path to enlightenment based on Buddhist philosophy—and being present in the moment while eating may actually affect the way food is metabolized, and ultimately, weight (see “The Weight Loss Power of Mindfulness”), digestion, and wellness.3

Biological nutrition and enhanced nutrient production

We’ve known for decades that nutrients in food can lead to health and healing. What may be less known is that the consciousness with which you eat (see “Spiritual nutrition and mindfulness,” above) may influence the quantity of nutrients you both digest and produce. When researcher L.W. McCuaig studied the saliva of a male meditator over a six-month period, he found that meditation significantly increased various salivary minerals, all of which are important to optimal digestion.4


The Powerful Potential of the 4 Facets of Food

For millennia, humankind and theologies turned to food to nourish physical, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Today Western science is verifying what our ancestors discovered about food and nutrition by instinctively and intuitively using their own bodies and minds as “laboratories.” The four facets of food reconnect us with this timeless food wisdom; at the same time, they help us to demystify and make sense of emerging Western nutritional science concepts. The result: a balanced relationship to food and eating that holds the power to heal and nourish multi-dimensionally.

Rather than thinking about the four facets of food as a new diet or as more dietary dogma, consider that they integrate our current nutrient-oriented view of food while also acknowledging the harder-to-measure healing dimensions of food, such as its link to emotions, spiritual well-being, and community. Once you begin to view food from this multifaceted framework, your entire relationship to food, eating and weight—and your perception about its power to heal holistically—will change at its core.


  1. Robert M. Nerem, Murina J. Levesque, and J. Fredrick Cornhill, “Social Environment as a Factor in Diet-Induced Atherosclerosis,” Science New Series 208, no. 4451
  2. Judith J. Wurtman, Managing Your Mind and Mood through Food (New York: Rawson Associates, 1986).
  3. Deborah Kesten, Feeding the Body, Nourishing the Soul (Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 1997; Amherst, MA: White River Press, 2007).
  4. Deborah Kesten, The Healing Secrets of Food: A Practical Guide for Nourishing Body, Mind, and Soul (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2001): 3–18, 80-81.



“Study Uncovers 6 Ancient Healing Secrets of Food”
“The Weight Loss Power of Mindfulness”

The Healing Secrets of Food by Deborah Kesten
Feeding the Body, Nourishing the Soul by Deborah Kesten
Make Weight Loss Last by Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz

Next post:
Think outside the diet to make weight loss last with our next post, “Chocolate: Elixir of Love” posted on our FreshFoodFables blog.

You’ll get plenty of clarity about what’s true and useful—or not—by keeping up with nutritionist Deborah Kesten, MPH, and research scientist Larry Scherwitz, PhD, the writers of this post, by liking them on Facebook, following them on Twitter, or sending us an email.

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