Citation: Stapleton P, Chatwin H., Emotional Freedom Techniques for Food Cravings in Overweight Adults: A Comparison of Treatment Length. OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine 2018 ;3(3):014; doi:10.21926/obm.icm.1803014.
Background: Because patients vary in their response to treatment, including adherence, the effect of treatment length in the use of EFT on food cravings was examined by comparing retrospective data from two studies in order to ascertain if shorter programs are as effective. This may then impact treatment adherence and completion.
Methods: In study one, 96 overweight and obese adults were randomly allocated to a 4-week treatment for their food craving or waitlist condition. In study two, an 8-week EFT program for 47 adults, the same variables were measured as per study one. Participants were assessed for degree of food craving, perceived power of food, restraint capabilities and psychological symptoms at pre-, post-, 6- and 12-month follow-up.
Results: Outcomes indicated significant reductions in food cravings, subjective power of food, dietary restraint, Body Mass Index, and weight for both interventions. There were no significant differences between the intervention groups in terms of the effect size of outcomes for the variables measured, thus indicating that the 4-week EFT treatment could achieve the outcomes that the 8-week program did.
Conclusions: While the efficacy of EFT as an adjunct to standard dietary and exercise programs has been established through several clinical trials, it has not been clear as to the optimal length of program required to achieve successful results. This comparison of a brief 4-week (8-hour) program versus an 8-week (16-hour program) indicated significant reductions in all measures for both intervention lengths. Length of treatment may be important when considering adherence and motivation.
Research has shown that dieting alone does not lead to sustained weight loss, and individuals who diet sporadically are likely to gain back more weight than they lost. Additionally, food cravings are considered to be important intervening variables in the development of unhealthy eating behaviors and even obesity. Although healthy choices around food and exercise are behavioral strategies that are often necessary for weight loss, most people also benefit from additional psychological interventions, and EFT has definitely been shown to be effective – as has CBT, hypnotherapy, relaxation therapy. Previous studies have shown significant improvements in weight, body mass index, craving intensity and psychological coping have been shown to occur with EFT intervention, and to last more than 12 months.
In this study, researchers wanted to determine if a 4-week EFT treatment was just as effective as 8 weeks of treatment. They recruited participants over 18 years of age who had frequent food cravings, a body mass of over 25, and were not involved in other treatments. A total of 96 adults completed the 4-week trial, with 47 completing the 8-week series. All completed outcome measures at six- and twelve-month follow-ups. All participants chose one food to address during treatment from this list: chocolate, salty carbohydrate foods, sweet carbohydrate foods, white refined foods, and caffeinated products.
All participants completed questionnaires before treatment that included their current weight and BMI, and that used proven reliable measurements of food cravings, the psychological impact of the mere presence of food, and practices of restrained eating. This final measurement was taken due to the fact that high dietary restraint is a known contributor to eating disorder development, obesity, and loss of control around food intake.
Treatment was the same for both groups, and the same qualified EFT practitioner delivered both programs. Treatment was delivered as group therapy with 10-15 participants in each group. Sessions involved direct exposure to craved foods while participants did EFT.
So, what were the results? Overall, findings indicated significant reductions in food cravings, subjective power of food, dietary restraint, BMI and weight for both intervention lengths. They indicated that the briefer 4-week intervention length was overall as effective as the 8-week intervention. However, there were some differences between the two treatment lengths in the individual measurements. For example, reduction of food cravings and dietary restraint levels was more sustained for those in the 8-week trial.
Although this study included some limitations, and researchers recommend future studies consisting of a well-designed randomized trial of the two treatment lengths including a control group, these results are encouraging for those who want to use EFT to reduce food cravings and lose weight. This can happen in a short period of time, although people with very strong food cravings might benefit from a longer period of EFT treatment.