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Food for Thought: A Randomised Controlled Trial of Emotional Freedom Techniques and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in the Treatment of Food Cravings

Citation: Stapleton, P., Bannatyne, A., Porter, B., Urzi, K.C., & Sheldon, T. (2016). Food for thought: A randomised controlled trial of emotional freedom techniques and cognitive behavioural therapy in the treatment of food cravings. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. 5/3/2016.

Abstract

Addressing the internal determinants of dysfunctional eating behaviours (e.g., food cravings) in the prevention and treatment of obesity has been increasingly recognised. This study compared Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for food cravings in adults who were overweight or obese (N = 83) in an 8-week intervention. Outcome data was collected at baseline, post-intervention, and at six and 12-months follow-up. Overall, EFT and CBT demonstrated comparable efficacy in reducing food cravings, one’s responsiveness to food in the environment (power of food), and dietary restraint, with Cohen’s effect size values suggesting moderate to high practical significance for both interventions. Results also revealed both EFT and CBT are capable of producing treatment effects that are clinically meaningful, with reductions in food cravings, the power of food, and dietary restraint normalising to the scores of a non-clinical community sample. While reductions in BMI were not observed, the current study supports the suggestion psychological interventions are beneficial for food cravings and both CBT and EFT could serve as vital adjunct tools in a multidisciplinary approach to managing obesity.

Link to Journal: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/aphw.12070/abstract

Inquiries to: pstaplet@bond.edu.au

Craig’s Comments

This is a very exciting newly published paper in a prestigious peer reviewed journal, Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. This study was led by a team of researchers at Bond University by clinician Peta Stapleton, PhD, who is producing a growing body of academic research in the arena of food cravings, weight loss and obesity. The study addressed a critically important issue of the prevention and treatment of obesity. As the paper details, obesity has reached epidemic proportions, more than doubling worldwide since 1980. With obesity being a causative factor in heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and even early mortality, this is an issue for which more effective methods need to be developed.

Much research has been done on physical and dietary approaches to reducing obesity, as has the investigation into psycho-emotional approaches to its prevention. The current gold standard for such an approach has been cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This study set out to study whether EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), a therapeutic intervention with growing supportive research for reducing food cravings and even long term weight loss, could compare in effectiveness to CBT.

The study included 83 obese adults who were divided into 2 groups, one receiving EFT and the other CBT performed over an 8 week period. Treatment was offered in 2 hour sessions once per week in small groups of 10-15 participants. A control non-treatment group of 92 non-obese adults was utilized for comparison. Standard treatment protocols were followed and EFT was performed by certified practitioners and included direct exposure to craved foods. The CBT intervention focused on modifying eating, thinking, and activity levels by teaching participants how to modify urge related thoughts and incorporating relaxation skills, increased awareness methodologies and mindfulness techniques and teaching behavior changing strategies.

What were the results of this comparison? According to the authors conclusion: “Overall, results of the current study revealed the EFT and CBT programmes were equally effective in reducing food cravings, the perceived power of food, and dietary restraint, with these treatment improvements maintained 6 and 12 months following the interventions.”

What about weight loss as measured by BMI? Neither group exhibited a reduction at the 12 month follow up. This was not surprising as no dietary nor exercise instruction was offered to either group, though previous EFT research has shown a delayed post-study BMI reduction in long-term 12 month follow-up. It is recommended in the paper that EFT and or CBT could be used equally effectively in conjunction with other obesity management/reduction measures.

This is an excellent paper, and one of only a small handful that compares an EFT intervention directly with a well-accepted and standard psychological intervention for a particular physical condition with rigorous study protocols and contributes to an increasing body of research validating EFT as an effective tool for a multitude of physical and psychological/emotional conditions.