SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – Bay Area researchers say the key to finding a diet you can stick to and improving overall health may be in retraining your brain.

Emotional Brain Training, or EBT for short, focuses on changing the brain by essentially re-wiring deep emotional circuits. The technique is being used today to treat obesity, eating disorders and chronic stress.

EBT Research: Hypothesis Journal | American Dietetic Association – SCAN’s Pulse, Winter 2011 | 2-Year Follow-Up Study

The idea behind EBT is that, when we’re under stress, an ancient part of our brain kicks in, releasing hormones for fight or flight, to preserve survival. That’s good thing if you’re being chased by lions. But in our modern-day lives, the stress comes not from an occasional lion, but from nagging persistent psychological fears.

“The momentary stress for me, for my survival, is to have an effective stress response that I can run away from lions. But there aren’t many lions anymore,” said UCSF health psychologist Laurel Mellin.

To calm the persistent stress of modern life, we tend to use comfort food like a drug.

“Comfortable things tend to be things that make you transiently happy-  ice cream, cookies, cake, chocolate. I’m Italian, so (for me) pasta,” said UCSF researcher and kidney specialist Dr. Lynda Frassetto.

Those foods only make matters worse, according to the UCSF research team. They cause biochemical changes in the body, and actually fuel inflammation and stress.

“And we certainly don’t appreciate that the foods we put in our body – sugary fatty foods – actually ramp up our stress. And when we ramp up our stress, that causes our brains to activate those strong emotional drives to overeat,” said  Mellin.

These strong emotional drives – encoded deep into the brain – activate a circuit that causes us to overeat, use drugs, and lose emotional control. When stress comes into the brain, the thinking brain and the primitive emotional brain are at odds. The emotional brain always wins.

“Stress starts coming up during the day, and more and more the brain state moves down so that the extremes and maladaptive areas of the brain are in charge. At that point we’re not the same person,” said Mellin. “The drives for common excesses ramp up so they are unstoppable.”

According to researchers, the antidote is focusing on treating the source of the stress itself by re-wiring the emotional brain.

Mellin teaches emotional brain training in small groups. She’s the author of “Wired for Joy” which explains the concept, and the solutions.

Mellin trains individuals to process daily stress more effectively, and then to fuel their bodies with foods that don’t ramp up stress.

“We’re using a food plan that’s really consistent with our genes to decrease stress on the brain,” said Mellin.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, meats and healthy fats. – in other words, the Paleo, or caveman diet.

Mellin said if you stop overeating without re-wiring that emotional survival level drive, you’ll substitute something else. You’ll get a cross-addiction.

The whole idea behind this method of stress reduction is not just to get out of stress and into a calm, neutral state – but actually to work toward being happy and upbeat.

For more on Emotional Brain Training, go to:

(Copyright 2011 by CBS SF. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (8)
  1. Paul says:

    Your story on EBT was nothing more then a hidden ad. I cannot accept that you would present an ad as a story. Thus, I will no longer be watching CBS news shows.

  2. Kim Mulvihill says:

    Dear Paul,

    Thank you for writing about our story last night on emotional brain training (EBT).

    Unfortunately, the materials to which I referred were not posted on our website until this morning. I apologize if you were unable to find them. I’m also sorry if you thought our story was somehow irresponsible or in any way represented “shilling” for a new business or technology. I don’t think either was the case. A significant number of the stories I do for Healthwatch are devoted to promising new techniques for diagnosing, understanding and treating emotional and physical disorders. In my opinion as both a physician and journalist, the EBT program developed by researchers with University of California, San Francisco is one of those highly promising developments. Emotional brain training has been used in the prevention and treatment of pediatric obesity. It has been used with adults to treat depression, obesity, and addiction as well as stress management.

    I do understand that reasonable minds may differ about such things, and I do, again, appreciate your taking the trouble to write.

    Very truly yours,

    Kim Mulvihill, MD

    1. karen says:

      So Dr. Mulvihill, did you use EBT or just do the Paleo Diet on your own? Are you going to post any scientific studies on EBT?

  3. kc says:

    Dear Dr. I was very excited about this show. I am a 57 year olld diabetic. If I don’t get this weight off, I have a 50% chance of losing my leg from venous insufficiency. I aqm on a very limited imcome due to M.S. When I saw the price of this program, I was greatly dismayed. Why with obsesity such a serious problem would thiis program not want to help others? I am so tired of everything being out of my reach as for health care. Apparently, if I was an addict of another form, I could go to many many places for help. But apparently, puttting down the fork is all my problem and since I’m not out breaking into home to fund my habit, I get no help.

    1. Badier "The Lazy Caveman" Velji says:


      EBT is only one way to deal with the compulsion surrounding eating, but it is not the only way. It turns out that a lot of the processed foods that people eat contain compounds that activate the brain’s reward centers and thus become habit forming. Fortunately, it is completely reversible, and can occur in as little as 3 weeks. And all it takes is to not eat those foods anymore.

      What hasn’t been mentioned yet in these reports on the Paleo diet is its ability to improve autoimmune conditions, like your MS. This is really the way you need to be eating to reverse your conditions. It is not expensive either, and certainly, real food is less expensive than your MS meds and your insulin.

      Please visit this site and make a concerted effort to follow this step-by-step plan:

      You may also contact me through my website and I would be glad to provide you assistance free of charge due to your financial issues. Do not lose hope, we are here to help you.


  4. Laura Atwood says:

    I completely agree with this article! Brain State Technologies ( has helped over 35,000 people with an 85% success rate.

  5. dANNY8bALL says:

    Great segment. I plan to check further into this tecnology. Seems like a really smart addtion to the cave man diet series a while back. Thanks!