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Rethink Weight Loss: Exercising and Eating for Whole Person Health

Updated: Apr 29

rethink weight loss through whole person health

The whole-person-health approach to weight loss is the way out of the battle with your weight. By restoring the ability of your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual parts to work together, you tap into your built-in motivation to thrive. This guide is not a new way to lose weight, it’s the way to align with how you are designed, so you can be healthy in your whole person now. This way your body can reset to its healthy and sustainable weight, the one where you thrive. You will learn a completely different way to think about exercising and eating that makes sense, so it’s sustainable. With this approach you can rethink weight loss and function the best you can every day, starting today!

The new truth about calories and weight loss

If you have any connection with the outside world, your brain’s perception of your body, emotions, and spirit has been changed by weight-loss marketing, whether you are trying to lose weight or not.

“I think about my weight from the moment I get up until I go to bed. It makes my already busy life more stressful. I know I need to exercise to undo what I ate so I can lose weight, but exercise makes me feel worse, and when I feel worse, I eat more. I am trapped in this deadly triangle.”

This is what one of my clients said in our first coaching session. Can you relate? The ‘deadly triangle’ messes with our heads and how we relate to our bodies, exercise, food, and the scale.

rethink weight loss | the deadly triangle

The truth is, that the calories-in/calories-out model we have come to know and love/hate is not a reliable math equation. Scientists are finding that the number of calories your body burns is unpredictable. It changes day to day and is different from person to person. They are even going one step further and saying this focus on the calorie balance equation is doing more harm than good.

Studies also reveal that what happens in your body to the calories you eat depends greatly on things like your mindset, stress level, and sleep quality. Even the way you think about exercise and your body’s abilities changes how exercise affects your health.

This means the cultural messaging about cutting calories, burning calories, and pushing your body to look better is based more on marketing science than health science. The bigger concern is how these mindsets and approaches are not only not working for us, they are working against us!

The problem is this is brain-based weight loss. Trying to eat less than you take in is relying on your logical brain. In the meantime, the other parts of your whole person have some essential information that keeps you motivated and gives you personalized guidance. This fragmentation of your whole person will never work—it’s just not how we are designed. The brain does not work well alone!

The best weight loss method is built right into your cells

Believe it or not, the best weight loss method is already built into your cells. You are hardwired for these parts to work together so you survive and thrive. You tap into this innate method by restoring the way your whole person works together. This is more than a pep talk, this is what researchers are finding is the starting point for truly successful, healthy weight loss.

We use body and brain sciences to help you cut through the outdated clutter about weight loss. Start by getting a clear picture of the Hinge Point for Health.

rethink weight loss | the hinge point for health

The survive state is when your body is least likely to let go of extra weight. In fact, your physiology prefers to store fat in case it’s needed to survive. The thrive state is when your cells are most likely to lose weight. It’s also the state you have the most sustainable source of motivation.

Take a moment right now and close your eyes. Tune into your body and notice which state you are in right now. Are you trying to get somewhere else in the survive state or are you trusting what is here now as your guide in the thrive state? How does each state feel for you? Jot down how you can tell the difference.

Now, with that in mind, you are ready to take the four steps to restoring a whole-person-health approach to weight loss.

The whole-person challenges with weight loss

Typical approaches to weight loss put you in a state where you are trying to survive the battle with your weight. You are led to believe you can’t thrive until you lose the weight. That message is holding you back from being healthy now and doing what you want to do now. The truth is, you can be healthy while carrying extra weight.

Start by meeting yourself where you are with self-kindness

Before you do anything at all, set yourself up for success by getting the most out of this approach to weight loss. Become very aware of the subtle, yet socially acceptable, ways weight loss messaging and approaches keep your physiology in the survive state, thus preventing truly successful, or in other words, lasting weight loss.

Hiring someone to push you to stay on track is the common method for weight loss. Reality TV has made it the ultimate weight loss program. That approach keeps you in a stress state, by using self-criticism for fuel to get and stay motivated.

Self-criticism is known to be a short-term motivator. Even more concerning is how it eats away at your skills and confidence you can keep yourself motivated.

The foundation for lasting weight loss starts with forgiving yourself for losing weight.

This is a game-changer. Its not easy, nor is it socially acceptable, but it is essential. Starting from a place of self-care, acknowledging it is challenging to be in a body that does not feel like ‘you’. Start with kindness and compassion for this challenging place to release all kinds of chemical changes in your brain and body that will support your sustainable weight loss. Check out this article to learn how that worked for one client and how to do it for yourself.

Step 1: Shift out of the brain-based weight loss approach

The logical part of your brain loves the calories-in/calories-out model because it’s a simple way to get to a clear-cut goal. The problem is it lures you into believing that’s the only way that will work. Using your whole person can seem more complicated, but when you know how each part helps your brain do its job, you’ll realize this is the easier way to be healthy.

The calories-in/calories-out model has turned food into categories based on calorie density, protein, carbs, and fats. It has turned exercise into ‘good for weight loss’ or ‘not worth your time’ based on how many calories you (supposedly) burn per minute and what area of the body it ‘works’ on.

This over-simplified idea about how to eat and how to exercise to lose weight disconnects you from your body. Trying to eat fewer calories and burn more calories means you have to ignore what your body is telling you about hunger, pain, and fatigue. The ‘battle’ between your body and brain is further supported by media images of people working hard to lose weight, flaunting the changes in before and after pictures. These give the illusion that you can get ‘quick’ results if you work hard, and the ‘after’ picture is the end of the story.

This model does not take into account the ever-changing biochemistry of your body. It assumes the numbers you see on labels and on your activity monitors match exactly what happens in your body.

Without your physical, emotional, and spiritual parts involved, the numbers game of weight loss is a battle you’ll never win. No matter what your logical brain believes about how to lose weight, your survival brain controls your physiology. When you include all parts of your whole person, you shift to the state of thriving. Doesn’t thriving each step of the weight loss journey sound like a much more healthy and sustainable way to lose weight?

Restore your brain’s ability to learn from your body

Your brain is hardwired to protect you from threats. It does this by searching the past, present, and future for potential or real threats. Because of this time-traveling, bad-news bias of your brain, it needs your body to tell it what is happening right now, to help it have the chemical balance to think clearly, learn, and stay present.

It takes a while to shift from the brain-based approach to weight loss, but it gets easier as you restore your brain’s ability to trust your body, emotions, and spirit again. For now, simply notice how much brain energy it takes to manage the calories-in/calories-out approach.

Step 2: The smart starting point for lasting weight loss

When you are carrying extra weight, it affects your ability to do what you want and need to do in everyday life. You feel trapped in a body that is limiting your ability to thrive and you can’t change it right away. You are told you need to push through to get to a goal weight and then you will feel better and everything will be okay. You will be free to enjoy life.

This state of waiting to thrive eats away at your spirit. The more limited you feel about being able to do what you enjoy with the people you love, the more you are in the survive state. This keeps you even more stuck as you feel even more trapped by your weight.

It’s tempting to believe that once you lose weight, everything will be better. But over and over, we see that the brain-based method doesn’t work long-term. That’s because it distracts you from the spirit element of your whole person.

The spirit element is the part of you that knows what is most important to you, your passions in life. This is not found in your logical brain, it’s found in the center of your body. It’s what you know in your gut-brain and heart brain. It’s the core reason you want to lose weight in the first place.

So, what is that reason? It takes a bit of digging. That’s because what we call weight loss is not really about weight loss. Would you want to lose weight on the scale but feel and function worse? Probably not. The ultimate goal is to feel and function better, so that you can__________. That fill-in-the-blank is your Core Why.

Your passions, or what is most important to you in life, give you energy and purpose. They are your internal motivation, which scientists know is the kind that lasts. I call this your Core Why because you know it in your core, your center.

Shifting your motivation from the scale or your size or any other external measure of success to your Core Why is the most important step you can take to not just lose weight, but to get what you really want from weight loss. When you are eating and exercising for your Core Why, the changes you make to lose weight have a greater sense of purpose. They are your way of affirming what is most important to you for thriving right now in life. The meaning behind the number of calories, steps, and weight provides a source of lasting motivation and guidance each step of the way.

Step 3: Use the messages from emotions to stay motivated

Emotions are messengers. They are there to alert you, so you ‘feel’ what you are thinking. They are the way you know if you are in the survive state or the thrive state.

Emotions can easily become the enemy when you’re trying to lose weight through controlling calories. Let’s face it, the main reason we take in more calories than our body needs to fuel cells is emotions. Whether it’s eating comfort foods or eating beyond fullness, emotional eating creates a mismatch between the calories your body needs and the amount you take in.

To make matters worse, when exercise is the way to burn off those calories, it becomes a big overwhelming task. If you are ever going to make a dent in those calories you consumed, you need to exercise hard and long. In order to do this, you need to ignore how you feel in your body and ignore signals from your body like hunger and pain.

It is well known that holding in emotions or ignoring them does not make them go away; instead, they fester. They keep you stuck in the survive state, which not only hinders weight loss, it leads to other physical ailments, fatigue, and often, a chronic bad mood. That makes it even more difficult to avoid using food to feel better.

A whole-person approach to weight loss sees emotions as important messengers. They alert you that you are in the survive state, and at the greatest risk of using food to soothe. They signal you to move in a way that shifts you back to the thrive state.

This mindset shift takes us to the final step—knowing how to move well, the way you are designed, in the body you are in right now. This does not happen by thinking differently; it happens by experiencing emotions and how movement calms them and restores a state of thriving.

Step 4: Trust your body as your most reliable guide and resource

There is something that exercise does that nothing else can. It balances your brain chemistry in a way that restores calm, and focus, enhances learning, and preserves memory. But not all exercise does this. If exercise is stress-producing, it releases chemicals in the opposite direction.

The powerful blending of exercise science, mindfulness, and self-kindness ensures that exercise maximizes brain chemistry to your advantage. This is what it means to be Exercising Well. If you typically think of exercising as pushing your body hard, or walking long distances, or spending hours in a gym, this is your way out of that limiting mindset.

Mindful, kind science-based exercise gives you a resource to use the messengers of emotions as a guide when you need to move to balance brain chemistry. It does this much better than food can, in a way that supports your true reason for losing weight. This is the connection between exercise and eating that is aligned with how you are designed to thrive. Rather than exercising to burn off the calories you ate, exercise to ensure eating is not covering up emotions but truly nourishing your body.

four steps to whole person weight loss

Focus on Real Results of exercising for lasting weight loss

The word ‘exercise’ means ‘to practice’. When the focus of exercise is to lose weight and fix problem areas in your body, exercise becomes a time to practice your brain fighting against your body.

When the focus of exercise is to feel and function at your best now and in the future, it transforms exercise into your best resource for thriving now and each step of the way to your happy weight.

It’s important to note that weight loss will not give your body the skills it needs to move with ease in daily life. The three skills your body needs to do this are strength, stamina, and mobility.

The whole-person approach to weight loss uses exercise as a way to tell your body you want to restore and keep these skills so you can do what you want to do in order to thrive.

The good news is your body already has the ability to do this, no matter what your weight is. Carrying extra weight does not change your ability to improve your strength, stamina, and mobility. What does need to change is the way that you move your body. It takes unlearning the ways you’ve been taught to move in order to ‘tone’ and burn calories and tapping into what your body already knows about how to move well.

The place to start is to clarify what you want to be able to do with greater ease and strength for your Core Why. I call these Real Results as opposed to the faux result of weight loss. Losing weight does not ensure you will have the ability to do the things you want to do. Only exercise designed specifically for your Real Results can do that.

Get clear about your Real Results so you are no longer distracted from the reason you want to lose weight in the first place by the marketing-based idea of a goal weight.

Imagine you are feeling the way you want to feel from weight loss and doing all the things you want to do with more ease.

List one (or more) activities of daily living that you want to be easier right now.

List one or more fun activities that will be easier or make it possible to thrive.

When exercise and eating are times in your day set aside to practice listening to and trusting your body’s signals, you tap into your whole person’s innate ability to thrive. Your body already knows how to move with the greatest ease and least strain. Your body already knows how to turn the food you eat into energy for your cells. You don’t have to ignore or push through, you simply get better and better at trusting the signals.

true weight loss success

Congratulations! You are now ‘in training’ for your Core Why and Real Results. You no longer need to use the scale as your measure of success. You no longer need to ignore emotions for fear they will derail your progress. You no longer need to push your body to burn calories to undo the food you ate and make the scale go down so that someday you will be able to enjoy these activities. You can get back to the whole purpose of eating and exercising— to feel and function your best every day, in other words to thrive. You are free to exercise and eat in a way that leaves your whole person feeling better now. In doing this, you are shifting the state of your whole person to the thrive state so your body can lose weight naturally and sustainably.

Rethink weight loss through whole-person health

The whole person’s health approach to weight loss heals the past struggles with weight loss. It keeps you aware of how our cultural ideas about dieting and exercising separate the parts of your whole person. You can use that awareness to remind you that you are hardwired to thrive. You can trust that each part of your whole person knows how to think, eat, move, and use emotions to shift your physiology into the thrive state now. Whole-person health restores your ability to achieve the weight that allows you to thrive with the greatest ease, and most importantly, maintain it by tapping into your innate drive to thrive.

  1. Know that the desire to lose weight is ultimately motivated by your innate drive to thrive. The more you trust that built-in design, the easier it is to shed extra pounds.

  2. Stay aware of signals that you are in survival state: emotions, motivation, and mindset.

  3. Use those signals as invitations to come back to the most natural way to lose weight, by allowing your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual parts to work together for you to thrive.

Janet Huehls story with eating and exercising for

My story with eating and exercising to be at a happy weight

When I was a kid, doing gymnastics and dance gave me an inner sense of joy. Gradually, as I moved into my teen years, and appearance became more important, weight became a “thing”. I remember getting my hands on my first exercise video, Jazzercize by Jacki Sorenson. My sisters and I nearly wore that thing out, doing it day after day in our basement. Why? Because we wanted to burn calories, slim our thighs, and look like Jacki—tall and thin.

You see, we also worked at Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop, where we were able to enjoy lots of tasty calories, for free. If we wanted to be thin, we needed to burn off all those calories, or so we thought. When we did, we deserved a bit of ice cream. This is how I entered the deadly triangle: eat calories, worry about my weight, burn them off, eat calories, worry about my weight, burn them off.

Determined not to gain the traditional ‘freshman fifteen’ in college, I began to take this whole weight loss game a bit too seriously. Fortunately, at that time I declared exercise physiology as a major. It took some time but as I learned more, I realized exercise was more than burning calories. I realized what I really wanted, from weight control and exercise, was to feel better.

For the next thirty years, the stories of other people at the end of their rope when it comes to weight loss added to my own story. Listening to how they have tried everything, “succeeding” and “failing” many times over deeply moved me. From them, I have learned more about the pitfalls and what it takes to be truly successful—not the temporary, reach-a-goal-weight kind of success, but the kind of success that lasts because they feel better both mentally and physically in a way that enhances their enjoyment of life. Experiencing the joy of hearing true success stories like a father skiing with his son, or a woman in her seventies dancing confidently all night at a wedding, has fueled my passion for helping people find peace with exercise to end their own weight struggles and get out of the deadly triangle once and for all.

My personal story is not about a huge weight loss filled with outward struggle and external success. It is the common quiet struggle that many of us have with food, exercise, and weight that creates the deadly triangle. I share it to let you know you are not alone. But your weight loss success is not found in my story, or anyone else’s. Your way out of the deadly triangle is about your story and yours alone.

What is your story with weight loss? Is it a math game based on calories in/calories out or a way to restore well-being, or a little of both? I hope the information I’ve shared gives you a fresh way of looking at using a whole-person health mindset for weight loss, one that shows you how to truly help you restore comfort in your body, your mind, and your life.


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  2. Pontzer et al, (2016), “Constrained Total Energy Expenditure and Metabolic Adaptation to Physical Activity in Adult Humans.” Current Biology, vol. 26, 410–417.

  3. Crum, A. J., Corbin, W. R., Brownell, K. D., & Salovey, P. (2011). Mind over milkshakes: Mindsets, not just nutrients, determine ghrelin response. Health Psychology, 30(4), 424–429.

  4. Markwald RR, Melanson EL, Smith MR, Higgins J, Perreault L, Eckel RH, Wright KP Jr. Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Apr 2;110(14):5695-700.

  5. Crum AJ, Langer EJ. Mind-set matters: exercise and the placebo effect. Psychol Sci. 2007 Feb;18(2):165-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01867.x. PMID: 17425538.

  6. Kesten D, Scherwitz L. Whole-person Integrative Eating: A Program for Treating Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2015 Oct;14(5):42-50. PMID: 26770166; PMCID: PMC4712862.

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