“Take care of yourself so that you can help others.” With Beau Henderson & Deborah Kesten

During these times of unprecedented uncertainty and unpredictability, it is easy and understandable to succumb to stress and anxiety. Still, there are ways to cope — both on a day-to-day basis and for whatever the future holds. The key concept: Nourishing yourself multidimensionally — physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially — with moment-to-moment awareness — can help you de-stress, relax, and stay healthy. […]

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During these times of unprecedented uncertainty and unpredictability, it is easy and understandable to succumb to stress and anxiety. Still, there are ways to cope — both on a day-to-day basis and for whatever the future holds. The key concept: Nourishing yourself multidimensionally — physicallyemotionallyspiritually, and socially — with moment-to-moment awareness — can help you de-stress, relax, and stay healthy.

As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Kesten.

Deborah is an international nutrition researcher, award-winning author, and health writer, with a specialty in preventing and reversing obesity and heart disease. She was the nutritionist on Dr. Dean Ornish’s first clinical trial for reversing heart disease through lifestyle changes alone — without drugs or surgery, and Director of Nutrition on similar Lifestyle Medicine reversal research at cardiovascular clinics in Europe. Deborah is the founder of Whole Person Integrative Eating, her science-backed, holistic program for halting, even reversing overeating and weight gain by replacing the seven new-normal overeating styles she has identified with the evidence-based elements of her mindfulness-based Whole Person Integrative Eating program.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Mycurrent career path was born in New Delhi, India in the 1990s when I had the opportunity to interview clinical cardiologist Dr. K.L. Chopra — father and mentor of personal transformation pioneer Deepak Chopra, MD — about a magazine article I was intending to write on yoga and diet (anna yoga). When I asked Dr. Chopra about this, his response was immediate: “Prana is the vital life force of the universe, the cosmic force . . . and it goes into you, into me, with food. When you cook with love, you transfer the love into the food and it is metabolized . . . In former days (based on the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita), the tradition was for the mother to cook the food with love and then feed it to the children; only then would she eat.”

The thought that a loving consciousness could affect food wouldn’t let go. As a nutrition researcher — who had experienced the power of food to heal, firsthand, when I lived with and taught heart patients who were research participants in the Ornish heart disease reversal program — I was fascinated by the possibility that consciousness could alter the food we eat. Such a concept was a paradigmatic shift from the current nutrition model with its biological focus on nutrients in food and their influence on health. I was deeply inspired to learn about “invisible ingredients” in food academically, but also to discover if a broader way of thinking about food and eating could help me help the millions who struggle with food-related conditions — from overweight and obesity to heart disease, diabetes, and more. To find out, I began what I call my “nutrition journey around the world”; a research journey that changed the course of my career for the next 25 years.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

In the 1990s, my husband, behavioral scientist Larry Scherwitz, PhD, and I, were doing research on Dr. Dean Ornish’s heart disease reversal program with heart patients at cardiovascular clinics in Europe. During this time, Leonard Laskow, MD, author of Healing with Love, visited us in Germany. One evening at a restaurant, we introduced Dr. Laskow to a group of physicians who had an interest in heart disease. As the conversation evolved, Dr. Laskow told the group of conservative physicians about his work with loving, healing energy. Of course, Larry, the physicians, and I were skeptical and disbelieving, so Larry asked Dr. Laskow to demonstrate what he meant by “loving, healing energy.” The experiment that followed changed us from skeptics to believers.

After Larry ordered a bottle of medium-quality wine, Dr. Laskow opened the bottle, then poured half of the wine into one carafe, and the rest of the wine into another carafe. At the same time, Larry ordered two glasses for everyone, labeling the bottom of the glasses “treated” and “not treated.” Then Larry moved one carafe to another table and placed the other carafe in front of Dr. Laskow at his place setting. Next, Dr. Laskow held his hands close to the carafe, taking care not to actually touch it. As everyone watched, he verbally visualized a golden ball of light above his head; then he drew the “golden energy” through the crown of his head, into his heart center, and then into his hands. During the next few minutes — keeping his hands close to the wine flask — he thanked the grapes for “allowing” themselves to be made into wine; he also thanked and acknowledged all elements (such as the soil for its nourishment and the sun for its energy) and people involved (from the grower to the trucker) in bringing the wine to us. Throughout this procedure, he continued to envision the golden energy being infused into the wine. Then Dr. Laskow set the “love-infused” wine aside for about ten minutes, as you might do when you marinate some food, so it could “reconstruct.”

As we waited for the wine to “reconstruct,” the formal, polite conversation continued. Then the time came for everyone to smell and taste both the wine that had been infused with loving, golden light, and the “untreated” wine in the carafe sitting on a nearby table. To do this, Larry poured a little treated and untreated wine into the two glasses in front of each diner. We could all detect distinct differences in the scent, flavor, and body of the “loved” and “unloved” wine. For Larry and me, the spiritually imbued wine smelled and tasted subtler and more gentle, not unlike a lovingly prepared dish that had been made with quality ingredients. Then something delightfully unexpected happened: Conversation around the dinner table became animated and began to crackle with laughter. Indeed, the waiter was so fascinated by the experiment and new energy he observed around the table, he wanted to join us!

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

“Come now, let us reason together…”.

Isaiah 1:18

Creating a fantastic work culture — for both organizations and for those in solitary work environments such as writers and work-at-home tech consultants — is a complex process that involves a web of elements that range from effective communication and sound ethics to a meaningful mission. However, whether working with others or solo, the key question to achieving a fantastic work culture is this: What communication skills are most conducive to creating a rewarding work life?

Angeles Arrien, PhD, a cultural anthropologist whose work with the Four-Fold Way is currently used in medical, academic, and corporate environments, suggests these communication guidelines when interacting with others:

  • Show up and choose to be present
  • Pay attention to what has heart and meaning
  • Tell the truth without blame or judgment
  • Be open but not attached to an outcome
  • Say what is so when it is so
  • Say what you mean
  • Do what you say

In other words, Arrien is suggesting communication that is respectful, authentic, and succinct. And what is implied is avoiding gossip, colluding, and “backroom” alliance building. The intention is to keep communication open, truthful, and direct while maintaining appropriate boundaries.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Art of Eating and The Gastronomical Me are two books by preeminent American food writerM.F.K. Fisher, whichhave had a strong impact on me. This is because all Fisher’s 27 books reflect her belief that eating well is one of the “arts of life,” a theme she explored in her books with her prolific, prose-like writing. Consider this quote from her book, Long Ago in France: Years in Dijon:

But now when I think of the meals…: the Sunday dinners in the formal salle á manger…when soufflés

sighed voluptuously…and…salads and chilled fruits in wine and cream waited for us…no, when I

think of all that, it is the people I see. My mind is filled with wonderment at them as they were then.

Fresh, delicious food made with care. Savoring surroundings. Appreciating flavors and the beauty of the meal. Dining with friends. I resonate deeply with Fisher’s “food-and-eating sensibility” because she writes about dining as one of life’s greatest pleasures; as a social, ceremonial, sensual delight — a sharp contrast to how most of us relate to food and eating today.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?

For me, the keywords that describe the state of being mindful are the intentional, nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. In his book, The Power of Now, mindfulness master Eckhardt Tolle describes the state of mindfulness as “the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it.” Tolle’s take on mindfulness can be the antidote to stress, which he says “is caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there.” The key to turn stress-filled “think” into a state of mindfulness, serenity, and inner peace is to replace the thought-filled analytical mind with the silence of being in the present moment. The more you practice being fully present in routine activities, such as eating, and accepting what is, the better you get at reaping the peace-of-mind rewards of mindfulness.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

For years, I have researched the link between mindfulness and its relationship to food, food, eating, and weight. What I have found is that mindfulness eating is about nourishing “all of you” — the physical, emotional, spiritual and social. This happens when you stay in the moment while eating. Take the time to truly taste, savor, and appreciate your food. Eat with others in a pleasant atmosphere. Eat while filled with positive emotions. In fact, one of the most convenient ways to practice mindfulness is when we prepare food or when we eat.

Among the many benefits of eating mindfully are:

  • Improved digestion. Researcher Donald Morse at Temple University and his team measured discovered that those who meditated mindfully before eating produced 22 percent more of the digestive enzyme alpha-amylase, responsible for digesting and metabolizing carbohydrates in carbohydrate-dense foods (such as potatoes, bread, cake and cookies). When you gulp down your food, you don’t digest food optimally, and your entire digestive system is affected.
  • Lessens binge eating. Another study done by Jean Kristeller at Indiana State University discovered that after a participating in a six-week mindfulness eating program, women with binge eating disorder lowered their weekly bingeing episodes from an average of five times to less than one per week.
  • Leads to weight loss. When the researchers at Dr. Dean Ornish’s Preventive Medicine Research Institute looked closely at mindfulness, meditation, and weight, they discovered that the amount of time each person spent practicing yoga as directly linked with the amount of weight lost, regardless of whether participants changed their dietary fat intake or their exercise habits. They also discovered that an increase in exercise didn’t contribute any further to the amount of weight loss. Rather, it was the number of time participants meditated and the degree to which they lowered their dietary-fat intake that brought the best results.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

During these times of unprecedented uncertainty and unpredictability, it is easy and understandable to succumb to stress and anxiety. Still, there are ways to cope — both on a day-to-day basis and for whatever the future holds. The key concept: Nourishing yourself multidimensionally — physicallyemotionallyspiritually, and socially — with moment-to-moment awareness — can help you de-stress, relax, and stay healthy.

Here are some powerful, proactive, mindfulness-based steps that can start you on your path to “whole person” health.

PHYSICAL MINDFULNESS: Nurture a healthy body

Lifestyle Medicine is a new medical specialty that has emerged in the 21st century. It evolved from research by Dean Ornish, MD, who showed that heart disease, some cancers, and other chronic conditions can be reversed through lifestyle changes alone, without drugs or surgery. Each element of the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program, by itself, can diminish and relieve anxiety. Practiced together as your most-of-the-time lifestyle, they’re a powerhouse of anxiety-relieving strategies. And these lifestyle practices keep you healthy in another way: they boost your immune system so your body is poised to fight unwanted pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, and more. In addition, be mindful of what you’re eating and include more plant-based foods (fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds) in your diet.

EMOTIONAL MINDFULNESS: Promote balanced feelings

Harvard Health offers this focused-awareness (mindfulness) techniques to activate the relaxation response and achieve inner calm: deep breathing exercises; body scan; guided imagery; yoga, tai chi, and qigong; and repetitive prayer. When your mind-body is relaxed, anxiety and other negative emotions are “released.” Other clues these practices are working to promote balanced feelings: your heartbeat and breathing are calm and your arms and legs feel warmer because of improved circulation. Try meditation and mindfulness apps such as HeadspaceCalm, and Breethe, which are currently offering free content.

SPIRITUAL MINDFULNESS: Do mindfulness meditation

Albert Einstein said there are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle. I perceive spirituality as including a sense of connection to the mystery and miracle of life. And it is mindfulness, specifically, the silence and quietude we can experience through mindfulness meditation, that anchors us in the present moment. In this way, we access and “touch” the mystery and magic of the universal human experience and of the true nature of reality. In this way, mindfulness meditation can help combat the anxiety-inducing thoughts that are linked to, say, a stress-filled society.

SOCIAL MINDFULNESS: Connect with others

During this time of social isolation especially, be mindful of the power of phone, text, social media, and the internet to connect with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and community. When you talk with others, share your feelings and concerns, and listen attentively and with mindfulness to the feelings and concerns of others. Use apps like Zoom or FaceTime to reach out to others and stay in touch.


Eating mindfully can help transform meals into a restorative, relaxing escape; an opportunity to practice a comforting, self-care mindfulness meal meditation. The right mix of fresh, whole food; positive emotions; pleasant surroundings; mindfulness; gratitude; loving regard; and social connection when you eat, is a restorative recipe that curtails emotional eating and can help you relax and feel peaceful and serene.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Based on my research and that of others, here are five steps we can take to support others who are feeling anxious.

1. Take care of yourself so that you can help others. Taking care of yourself could mean eating well (lots of fresh, whole foods), exercising regularly, creating quiet-time throughout the day (perhaps just a one-minute break each hour when you close your eyes and breathe deeply), developing some sort of contemplative practice (such as yoga), restorative sleep, and meaningful friendships. Each is a powerful anxiety reducer but practiced together, they can do a lot to relieve your own anxiety so you can be more present to help others deal with the anxiety they may be experiencing.

2. Reach out to others. Call a friend, family member, or co-worker. Ask how they are, and listen with an open heart, and focused attention to their response. Personal attention shows others that they matter, that they are heard, and that you are there to support them. Reflect on how what they had to say affected you and tell them. Also, be open to sharing your own feelings of anxiety and how you are dealing with it. Now is a time when these conversations can be especially deep.

3. Breathe! The world’s wisdom traditions have much to tell us about relieving anxiety, and one of the most fundamental and powerful anti-anxiety practices is breathing exercises. Because our breathing is often shallow when we are anxious, deep and even breathing can harmonize the autonomic and central nervous systems and in turn help you relax. Connect with friends and family digitally, and practice Yoga’s ancient “Three-Part Breath” together: Take a deep breath, filling your abdomen, then your diaphragm, then your chest. Hold for three seconds. Release the breath and exhale slowly and completely, first exhaling from your upper chest, then your ribcage, then your belly. Do this five times.

4. Relax the mind. Yoga’s “Three-Part Breath,” above, relaxes the mind-body. So, too, do soaking in a warm bath, listening to soothing music (one of my favorites is Tibetan chime tracks), and sipping some soothing herbal tea, such as chamomile. Try these anti-anxiety techniques yourself, and suggest them to others.

5. Eat yogic foods. The Bhagavad Gita tells us that yogic foods are “foods that promote life, mental strength, vitality, cheerfulness, and loving nature (Chapter 17, verse 8). It is sattva, or sattvic food, that constitutes the yogic diet. To the Western mind, it is a Lacto-vegetarian, consisting mainly of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and peas, nuts and seeds, and lesser amounts of dairy products, such as yogurt and soft, fresh cheese. Because these plant-based foods release a naturally occurring hormone called serotonin, they are calming and soothing. The takeaway: Good nutrition supports emotional health. During the upcoming weeks of isolation and social distancing, consider connecting with others online during mealtime and enjoy a virtual meal packed with fresh, whole, anti-anxiety plant-based foods.

De-stressing. Relaxing both body and mind. Connecting with others. Eating well. Along with lessening anxiety, these steps help boost the immune system — another key tool to decrease anxiety and protect yourself against unwelcome pathogens.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

SuperSoul Sunday is a daytime series on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN channel that offers insights and inspiration from renowned thought leaders for viewers to discover a deeper connection to the world around them; a connection that nourishes body, mind, and soul.

Deepak Chopra, MD is a world-renowned expert in, and practitioner of meditation. He has both an intellectual and deep visceral understanding of the ancient practice of meditation and its power to bring balance and to heal body, mind, and soul. Any of his books and/or retreats and workshops are excellent resources for becoming more mindful and serene in everyday life.

Eckhardt Tolle is a spiritual teacher and author whose profound yet simple teachings about transformation of consciousness and spiritual awakening can help people find inner peace and greater fulfillment.

Jack Kornfield, PhD is an author and Buddhist practitioner and one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. Through his Buddhist retreat center, Spirit Rock in Northern California, he creates books, retreats, lectures, and events that would be helpful for those who want to bring mindfulness and serenity to their everyday lives.

Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson. Great teachers like the Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, and Gandhi were all born with brains built essentially like anyone else’s — and then they changed their brains in ways that changed the world. Buddha’s Brain draws on the latest research to show how to use guided meditations and mindfulness exercises so you can rewire your brain to experience greater well-being and peace of mind in your day-to-day life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

After years of meditation, the quote that best reflects my “life lesson” is this: “Silence is for bumping into yourself.” A monk said these words to George Prochnik, author of “In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning a World of Noise.” Deepak Chopra might explain the concept of “bumping into yourself” as connecting to your “true self” or “higher self”; the quiet, eternal part within each of us that is conscious of the mystery of life — and our life; and that lives with an awareness of this awareness. The more we pursue the silence and quietude that ongoing meditation can bring, the more we can be in the space between each breath and each word, and in turn, reap the glorious, joy-filled, euphoric rewards of connection with the gift of life…in all its manifestations.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger 🙂

After the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis ebbs, millions of Americans will continue to struggle with being overweight and obese. As a matter of fact, obesity and related conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, seem to worsen the effect of COVID-19. Given that obesity is the out-of-control scourge of the 21st century, the movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people would be one that could halt and turn-around the obesity tsunami that is occurring as I write.

Accomplishing this calls for creating nothing less than a seismic culture-shift; a countrywide, proactive public health intervention that would show — not tell — Americans how to replace the new-normal overeating styles that Larry and I identified in our research — the overeating styles that are typical for most Americans that lead to overeating, overweight and obesity — with the health-enhancing, scientifically sound elements of the Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) dietary lifestyle that leads naturally to weight loss.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Please visit to learn more about Whole Person Integrative Eating. And follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

I would also like health professionals to know that I have teamed up with the American Academy of Sports Dietitians and Nutritionists (AASDN) to offer the “Foundations of Whole Person Integrative Eating Certification Course” for licensed health professionals. Please visit to learn more, and to register for the WPIE Certification Course.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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