Program helps people to retrain their brain for better health

August 05, 2011|by TAYLOR ECKEL |
  • Laurel Mellin is an associate professor of family and community medicine at the School of Medicine, University of California San Francisco. She is also the founder and director of Emotional Brain Training (EBT). The program teaches participants to control their reaction to stress.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Are you stressed? Are you overweight or obese? If so, you might be able to participate in a free stress-management and weight-loss program through the Washington County Health Department.

The health department will offer the latest Emotional Brain Training (EBT) program as a part of a study being conducted by Laurel Mellin, an associate professor of family and community medicine at the School of Medicine, University of California San Francisco. The study will begin in early September and there is no cost to participate.

EBT is the result of 30 years of research at the UCSF School of Medicine. Mellin, the founder and director of EBT, explained that the program teaches participants to control their reaction to stress and calibrate their brain's emotional center to a state of well-being.

"The goal of EBT is to move the set point of the brain to levels of well-being and even joy as we train the brain to be resilient to stress," she said. "We believe stress is causing the problems we see in our community because stress makes us go to the extremes of thoughts and well-being."

Mellin visited the health department in Hagerstown on July 25 to train Washington County's four EBT providers in a new method of the program and prepare them for the upcoming study. She said Washington County will be the first county in the nation to offer the new format of EBT.

"The Washington County Health Department has been identified as an exemplary provider of Emotional Brain Training," Mellin said. "They have trained their professionals to a high level, (and) they are the perfect situation to be at the forefront of (this research). Once this study has been done, we will be replicating it nationwide."

Tammy Thronton, a registered dietitian for the health department and an EBT provider, said the health department has offered EBT for two years.

The study is targeted at people with a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 40, Thornton said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person with a BMI of 25 or is overweight, and a BMI of 30 or above indicates obesity.

"(We) are interested in obesity because it is fundamental to chronic diseases and treatment," Mellin said.

She explained that the program can be an effective way to treat obesity, because it erases the hard-wired circuits in the brain for stress and addiction that fuel a person's addiction to food. Mellin said the results of successful EBT include improved relationships with loved ones, increased productivity and optimal health. She said the goal of the program is to instruct people in EBT, and then encourage them to practice EBT and share it with others.

Mellin said the EBT program offered in the study is shorter and more intense than previous EBT courses, because it meets twice a week instead of once a week.

"The emotional brain is like the ultimate tortoise because it does not like to change," Mellin said. "In order to change the brain, you need to be in groups twice a week."

Thornton said telephone screening will be used to determine the eligibility of potential participants. There will be an informational orientation at the end of August for potential participants to learn more about the EBT program and the study before they commit to participate.

Thornton said the 50 participants will be divided into two groups at the beginning of the study.  

"Half will get the program the first eight weeks, and the other half gets it the second eight weeks," she said. "Everyone gets the program."

The first session will be held Monday, Sept. 12, after all the participants have participated in an orientation and had some basic health screens that include measurements of height, weight and blood pressure, as well as an online survey that the participants complete independently.

Maryellen Drake of Hancock said she signed up for the EBT program at the health department after she heard an ad on the radio. It has been 18 months since she began the program, and she said she has noticed the difference it has made in her life.

"I find that I'm less stressed, and when I do (become stressed) I can calm down quicker, and I don't feel like it's the end of the world," she said.

The former schoolteacher said she has also experiened the health benefits of the program.

"I've lost 35 pounds and my blood pressure is really good," she said.

If you go ...

What: Emotional Brain Training

When: The first session is Monday, Sept. 12. Orientation will be held at the end of August and there is an assessment for participants on Thursday, Sept. 1.

To qualify: You must be at least 18 years of age, not pregnant, have a body mass index between 25 and 40, and commit to attend the programs on Monday and Thursday evenings between 5:30  and 7 p.m. for eight weeks in a row. Participants must be willing to spend 15 minutes a day completing homework assignments, have access to the Internet at home or through a local library, and must read and speak English.

Cost: Free

Contact: Washington County Health Department, Nutrition and Wellness Services at 240-313-3360

More: To learn more about the EBT program, visit

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