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EFT Research Paper

An Initial Investigation of Neural Changes in Overweight Adults with Food Cravings after Emotional Freedom Techniques

Citation: Stapleton P, Buchan C, Mitchell I, McGrath Y, Gorton P, Carter B. An Initial Investigation of Neural Changes in Overweight Adults with Food Cravings after Emotional Freedom Techniques. OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine 2019;4(1):14; doi:10.21926/obm.icm.1901010.

The full paper can be found at: https://bit.ly/2UaSX8H 

© 2019 by the authors. This is an open access article distributed under the conditions of the Creative Commons by Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format, provided the original work is correctly cited.


Background: This pilot randomised clinical trial investigated the effect of Clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) on brain activation in response to food craving stimuli using functional magnetic resonance imaging. EFT is a brief stress reduction technique which involves stating a cognitive statement with stimulation of acupressure points with a tapping technique.

Method: Fifteen overweight/obese adults were allocated to a four-week group EFT treatment or control condition and completed a measure of food craving. Random repeating images of high-calorie food designed to engage parts of the brain were presented during the pre and post fMRI scans.

Results: The Group x Time interaction for food cravings were significant for the EFT group when compared to the controls. Participant mean scores decreased by 18% for the EFT group and 5% for the control group. Brain activity was mapped using fMRI measures, and there was relative deactivation in the Superior Temporal Gyrus and lateral orbito-frontal cortex for the EFT treatment group only. The control group however, showed continued activation in these areas.

Conclusion: The findings indicated EFT may decrease limbic region brain activity and reduce food related symptoms in overweight/obese individuals. This study also illuminates the neurological mechanisms at work behind the many successful outcome studies of EFT for weight loss. Recommendations for more comprehensive trials are discussed.

Craig’s Comments: This paper is significant in that it is the first ever published report evaluating the use of EFT utilizing functional MRI analysis. This is also the first known published study to objectively document neural changes after EFT treatment in overweight/obese adults. This research serves as a pilot study for further explorations of neural changes in the brain after EFT treatment. 

15 obese/overweight individuals were enrolled in this study in which ten received 8 sessions of EFT for food cravings and 5 received no EFT. All participants had an initial fMRI and another 5 weeks later. The EFT treatment was performed for two 60 minute sessions per week over a 4-week period by a skilled EFT practitioner, while the control group received no treatment. During the fMRI scanning the participants were shown six random repeating images of high-calorie foods, e.g. chocolate sweets, designed to engage parts of the brain which respond to food stimulation. The food images demonstrated increased activation in the brain, primarily in the superior temporal gyrus and orbitofrontal cortex. In all the pre-EFT scans, there was activation in both the superior temporal gyrus (associated with cognition) and lateral orbito-frontal cortex (associated with reward). The EFT group demonstrated a marked reduction in cortical activation after their treatment in both aforementioned regions, whereas the control group remained the same, without marked reduced activation. In addition, the food craving difference scores decreased significantly for the EFT group when compared to the controls.