How to Retrain Your Brain
for Health and Happiness

Laurel Mellin

Over the last 30 years at the University of California, San Francisco, I have successfully developed The Solution Method, a program designed to retrain the brain to decrease stress and its associated symptoms (depression, overeating, drinking, spending, working, etc.) and improve health and happiness.

Most people take rational steps to get healthier. They try to force themselves to go to the gym or to eat right or they vow to develop a more positive attitude toward life. Those cognitive approaches haven’t worked very well because the root cause of the problem hasn’t been addressed. We aren’t happier and we’re certainly not healthier than we were 20 years ago. Even when one problem is targeted by public health efforts and we see improvement, another substitute problem crops up to take its place. Since 1980, the rate of smoking, drinking and recreational drug use has decreased; however obesity, overspending and pill popping have increased.

At some point, as individuals and as a nation, we have to ask: What’s at the roots of all these problems? How can I clip those roots so that I experience lasting changes in health and happiness?

Retraining the Brains of Adults

The root problem is chronic stress, but it’s not just the stress of being stuck in traffic or working two jobs. That’s stressful enough, but what puts us into the that stressed-out state is the buildup of stress from the past that sensitizes us to stress so we overreact to upsets, losses and changes – as well as the daily grind – in our own lives.

The ultimate solution to stress is an inside job. And the skills that are genetically determined to be the best stress reducers are the nuts and bolts of great parenting: nurturing and limits. The focused and intensive training in these skills is called developmental skills training (DST).

Most of us didn’t learn these skills growing up and traditional medical care does not teach them in a way that the elusive feeling brain – where they are stored – can acquire them.

The Solution Method equips us with these skills. The first time people use the skills, they see immediate results. Their stress eases and they get a surge of neurotransmitters in the pleasure pathways of the brain. The brain is reward-driven so those surges decrease cravings and appetites. Instead of just knowing that they should eat less or get some exercise, they can do it. However, it’s only with using the skills in the long term that they retrain the brain to favor health and happiness.

Oddly enough the same skills –– nurturing and limits – that make us resilient to stress in the present are the ones that heal past hurts and change our unconscious unreasonable expectations that fuel the stress response. The results for most people are transformative.

The Solution Method® has been named "One of the 10 Top Medical Advances of the Year" by Health Magazine because it is the only treatment for obesity that has been shown to produce lasting weight loss after treatment ends. In addition, research has shown that using The Solution® is associated with a fifty-percent reduction in depression after three months. On average, that improvement is sustained and increased – even six years later without medication.

People learn the skills in a safe, caring environment, then use them to stay present in the moment. When stressful situations arise, they use the skills to pop their brain from stress to balance rather than reach for external solutions like over eating. Doing so stops the draining of neurotransmitters and the cascade of stress hormones that fuel cravings and appetites. When used repeatedly over time, these nurturing and limit skills rewire the brain so the person can stay in that state of personal balance — limbic homeostasis –– spontaneously and consistently.

Last year more than 45 faculty and post-docs at UCSF received training in The Solution®, and for the last two years, I have taught it to UCSF medical students. Last weekend, my non-profit organization, The Institute for Health Solutions, which sponsors training for health professionals and the public about The Solution Method®, convened a retreat which included scientists and clinicians who are interested in conducting additional clinical research.

Their interest stems from the observation that targeting the many symptoms of stress by other methods has not been as effective. The nation's efforts to cure problems by education, medications and procedures alone have limited success. Rates of addictions, obesity and psychological problems continue to mount in the post 9/11 climate of toxic stress.

The Solution® offers the public an innovative alternative, that is training in developmental skills, learning them through repeated and effective use in response to the daily stresses of life and to offload stress from the past. This program is particularly timely because of the emerging research on neuroplasticity. The Solution® retrains the limbic brain — the seat of emotional balance, relationship intimacy, spiritual connection and the whole range of pleasure drives. Retraining the brain produces broad-spectrum changes. The limbic brain changes slowly and these changes tend to persist, so the results are lasting. The time is right for The Solution® to be more available to those who are interested in innovations in health care — as well as the general public.

Currently, there are “Solution Groups” conducted by health professionals across the country, as well as a robust Solution Internet Community. The non-profit organization, The Institute for Health Solutions, offers free one-hour orientation sessions on the method by telephone or in the community so that people can try out the skills. To enroll in the free session, visit the website. Telegroups, local groups, self-help groups and three-day retreats are offered across the country. Health professionals can become certified in the method and conduct groups and provide coaching. Interestingly, our research has shown that health professionals cannot effectively train people in these skills if they don’t have the skills in their own lives, so part of professional training is mastering the skills and improving health and happiness for the healers, too.

Retraining the Brains of Children

Retraining the brains of children through acquiring these skills is easier and quicker than retraining the brains of adult. The access to the elusive feeling brain after puberty is impeded by the dominance of the neocortex. In short, once we have the capacity to think about our thoughts, we process our daily lives primarily by figuring things out. That blocks our daily experiences from easily accessing our emotional circuitry and giving it the repeated contact that rewires it.

The method is available to young people in two ways:

Prevention - One is to complete a four-session training program (The Great Start Group) that provides these basic skills. This general health promotion/prevention group program is available to adolescents and young adults by telephone and in the community. Additional options are available for younger children and parents.

Obesity Treatment - The method is also available with comprehensive support for the treatment of pediatric obesity. The Shapedown Program is the number one weight management program in the country for treating childhood and adolescent obesity and has been designated as an “exemplary program” by the American Medical Association. Research has shown that, on the average, children who complete this program improve their mood, knowledge, habits and weight, not just during the program but in the long-term. It is available through more than 500 clinics nationwide.

In addition, the Canadian Health System has funded The Shapedown Program to be disseminated throughout British Columbia to decrease obesity rates prior to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. In addition to offering groups and coaching, the program offers a comprehensive computerized assessment of pediatric obesity, The Youth Evaluation Scale (YES,) so that families can individualize their program to get the best results as well as track their progress during and after the program.

With nationwide obesity rates rising and children exhibiting so many stress-related problems equipping them with the skills to soothe and comfort from within offers the opportunity to promote health and prevent disease early on.


To learn more about The Solution, including telephone and local groups and research data on the method, visit or call the Institute for Health Solutions at 415.457.3331. Or read the classic book on The New York Times Bestseller: The Pathway (Regan Books), was a New York Times bestseller.

To learn more about the application of the method to childhood obesity, The Shapedown Program, visit .

Author's Bio: 

Laurel Mellin is an associate clinical professor of family and community medicine and pediatrics at the University of California's School og Medicine. She directs The Institute for Health Solutions, a non-profit organization and developed The Solution Method and The Shapedown Program. She has delivered more than 100 conferences on obesity and wrote the National Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Child and Adolescent Obesity. She is involved in research and professional education in developmental skills training (DST) at UCSF and nationally.She is the author of more than 30 books, including the New York Times bestseller, The Pathway, and her work has been featured in Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report and Fortune. The method was named "One of the 10 Top Medical Advances of the Year" by Health magazine and is the only program for overweight adults that has shown continued weight loss after the program ends.