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Comparison of the Effectiveness of Two Modalities of Group Delivery of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Intervention for Food Cravings: Online versus In-Person

Citation: Stapleton, P. and Stewart, M. (2020) Comparison of the Effectiveness of Two Modalities of Group Delivery of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Intervention for Food Cravings: Online versus In-Person. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 8, 158-181. doi: 10.4236/jss.2020.82014.

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Abstract: Recent research has demonstrated the effectiveness of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to address overeating behaviours in obese and overweight individuals both in-person (Church & Brooks, 2010; Stapleton et al., 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017) and online (Church, Stapleton, Sheppard & Carter, 2018; Church & Wilde, 2013). The aim of the present study was to determine whether an online EFT program was as efficacious as the in-person treatment. This was achieved by comparing data from a randomised clinical trial (RCT) for an in-person EFT intervention for weight management (Stapleton et al., 2016), with an equivalent online RCT. Each program targeted food cravings, the subjective power of food, dietary restraint, body mass index, weight, somatic symptomology, anxiety, and depression. Results indicate both modalities were comparable in efficacy and both groups experienced significant reductions from pre-intervention to post-intervention, with reductions remaining significant at follow ups for food cravings, power of food, depression and weight, with minor differences observed at post-intervention or 6-month follow up for dietary restraint, somatic symptoms, anxiety and body mass index. Follow-up analyses revealed a significant effect of depression, anxiety and weight on attrition in the online treatment group.

KEYWORDS: Food Cravings, Anxiety, Online Therapy, Emotional Freedom Techniques

CRAIG’S NOTES: This is an important piece of research comparing previously published studies exploring the effectiveness of EFT tapping to address overeating behaviours in obese and overweight individuals but in very different manners. The purpose was to evaluate the effectiveness of group online vs group in-person delivery. Keep in mind that this was not the same as EFT delivered as a 1:1 “therapy.”  This is valuable date to gather as EFT delivered in a group format itself offers unique advantages and online video delivery of EFT can offer potentially lower fees and increased rural access when in-person delivery may be less accessable. To date no study has explored whether an online or in-person mode of learning EFT for self application is more efficacious than the other for this demographic.

Both studies used the following subjective scales: Food Craving Inventory, Power of Food Scale, Revised Restraint Eating Scale and the Patient Health Questionnaire.

The in-person study group (n=83) was given eight two-hour weekly sessions, provided weekly handouts, were taught how to apply EFT to their food cravings through craving exposure exercises and how to use EFT on their food cravings at home.

The online treatment study group (n=314) received the same material and handouts as the in-person program with the same 8 two-hour sessions of content split into 65 online modules, with must-pass examinations along the way to ensure full participation. Modules were conducted in the same way as the in-person training, facilitated with segments recorded by the lead author. An online facilitated support group was provided as well.

So what are some key comparison takeaways?

  • For Weight Loss: Both groups experienced a significant reduction in weight from pre intervention to 6 months and to 12-months. The average weight loss for the online group from pre-intervention to 12 months was 2.39 kilograms/5.27lb (1.5%) while for the in-person group it was slightly higher at 3.83 kilograms/8.44lb (4%). The difference did not reach statistical difference, however, the results insinuate that there may be a stronger effect of treatment on weight for in-person therapy than for online therapy.
  • Food Cravings: Both groups experienced a similar reduction from pre to post intervention, which was maintained at the 6 and 12-month follow up
  • Depression: Both groups experienced a significant effect of time with scores reducing from pre to post intervention and remaining stable at 6 and 12 months.
  • Somatic Symptoms: Both groups experienced an overall symptom reduction. The online group experienced a greater overall reduction in somatic symptoms from pre-intervention to 12 months (31.5%) than the in-person group (16%).
  • Anxiety: Both groups experienced a decrease in symptoms from pre-intervention to the 6 and 12-month follow up with ultimagely the in-person group showing a decrease of 53%, the online decrease of 46% though the authors mention a mid period spike in anxiety for the in-person group which did not exist for the online group.

Conclusion of the Authors: “Overall, the findings of the present study suggest that both modalities are equally efficacious in reducing overall levels of food cravings, the subjective power of food, levels of restraint, weight and BMI, as well as, lowering rates of anxiety, depression and somatic symptoms. There were some between groups’ differences in the action of the treatment condition in effecting these changes, and the in-person group appeared to have achieved a slightly greater effect of weight loss, while the online group experienced greater effects for the treatment of somatic symptoms.”