LA clinician uses neurofeedback for eating disorders

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Technician Clay Jorgenson shows Town Crier reporter Grace Hase the different brain waves from her EEG. Los Altos clinician Theresa Chesnut is using neurofeedback to treat patients.

The brain of someone with an eating disorder is fear-based, according to Los Altos clinician Theresa Chesnut.

It’s why sufferers starve themselves, binge and purge their food or compulsively exercise to lose an amount of weight that will never be satisfying.

But groundbreaking research in the area of neurofeedback is aiming to change that fear and turn it into self-healing.

In the heart of downtown Los Altos, Chesnut has begun treating her patients with neurofeedback. It’s not a new concept, she said, but Ed Hamlin, the neuropsychologist who trained her, has been leading the way in the study of neurofeedback’s clinical effectiveness for those with eating disorders.

“A lot of people who have trauma have a fear-based brain,” she said. “What I was noticing with a lot of my eating disorder clients is that they may or may not have had trauma, but that anxiety and the OCD in the brain is just so fear-based of making mistakes.”

Neurofeedback, a form of biofeedback, is decades old. The treatment involves placing sensors for an electroencephalogram (EEG) on a patient’s head and recording the electrical activity within the brain.

Reinforcing neuropathways

Once hooked up to the EEG, a technician can see the different brain waves. For example, alpha waves signal activity having to do with focus, while theta waves are more in the realm of daydreaming. After a baseline is recorded, the patient plays a video game to try and train his or her brain to reinforce neuropathways that aren’t as fear-based.

But this isn’t your average video game. There are no controls – just your brain and the screen. In an attempt to explain the science to a baffled reporter, Chesnut’s technician, Clay Jorgenson, took my brain for a quick test-run. After the sensors were placed on each of my earlobes and atop my head, he turned on a game very similar to Pac-Man. The Pac-Man moves throughout the maze and eats the little dots until it reaches the end.

As it turns out, those alpha waves are helping the Pac-Man move as you focus on the game. If you lose focus and start drifting off, the Pac-Man stops.

“There’s three bars I’m setting,” Jorgenson said about the game. “I’m setting two limbo bars so they want to get their high beta and their…

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