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Online Delivery of Emotional Freedom Techniques in the Treatment of Food Cravings and Weight Management: A Randomised Controlled Trial

Citation: Stapleton P, Roos T, Mackintosh G, Sparenburg E, Sabot D, Carter B. Online Delivery of Emotional Freedom Techniques in the Treatment of Food Cravings and Weight Management: A Randomised Controlled Trial. OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine 2019;4(4):31; doi:10.21926/obm.icm.1904065.

Open Access Journal Full Paper: https://www.lidsen.com/journals/icm/icm-04-04-065

Abstract:

Background: The combination of dietary restraint and physical exercise as a recommended treatment for weight loss has had limited long-term success. One factor proposed as limiting weight management techniques efficacy is the failure to target psychological processes linked with overeating. Consistent with prior research that has identified the efficacy of emotional freedom techniques (EFT) in reducing food cravings and aiding weight loss, this pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT) examined the impact of online delivery of EFT intervention on food cravings and weight management.

Methods: Participants were randomly assigned to an eight-week online EFT intervention group or waitlist control group. The sample comprised primarily of women (96%) aged between 41 and 60 years. Of the treatment group, 65% consumed their craved foods daily and had an average Body Mass Index in the obese range (33.3). Outcome measures assessed included food cravings, dietary restraint, subjective power of food, weight, somatic (body sensation), anxiety, and depressive symptoms.

Results: Post-intervention analyses revealed significant reductions on all measures for participants in the EFT condition (n = 314) with Cohen’s effect size values suggesting moderate to high practical significance for the online intervention. However, there were no significant differences for participants in the waitlist control group (n = 137). In this crossover study design, post-test waitlist data was then collapsed into the EFT treatment group data for follow-up analyses, which indicated treatment gains on all measures at 6-month (n = 216) and 12-month (n = 145) follow-up.

Conclusions: Findings constitute preliminary support for the utility of online EFT as an accessible tool to assist the management of food cravings and body weight.

Keywords: food cravings; anxiety; online therapy; emotional freedom techniques; tapping; weight; obesity

Craig’s Notes:

As is stated in the authors’ conclusion; this study represents the first randomized controlled clinical trial designed to assess the effectiveness of online delivery of EFT intervention on psychological symptomatology, food cravings, and weight-loss management. EFT online treatment was delivered as a recorded self-paced eight-week program consisting of seven modules,  (32 pre-recorded video sessions presented by a clinical psychologist/certified EFT practitioner. Each module consisting of three to eight lessons, ranging from two to 15 minutes in duration of which participants were instructed to view one session per day and not exceed more than one module per week to maintain motivation and avoid burnout. Participants could repeat and review the recorded sessions; however, completion of a session quiz before progressing to the next video was required. In addition a researcher-moderated participant online forum was also provided.

This study compared an active EFT treatment group (n=314) to a waitlist group (n=137).  Around the world it is not uncommon for EFT to be delivered in an online format as well as in a live in-person setting, so it is important to the field to evaluate the effectiveness of online delivery. In addition, a small selection of published EFT clinical trials have measured 12 month results. This study has performed post intervention 6 month (n=216) and 12 month (n=145) results. The results indicate statistically significant decreased anxious and emotional responses, and a decreased intensity of cravings. Follow-up data indicated that the effects were maintained for 12-months, which suggests long-term treatment effects.

Result highlights:

  • participants in the EFT group experienced fewer food cravings for highly palatable food than the participants in the waitlist group following the eight-week intervention period.
  • participants in the EFT group felt less controlled by the palatable food in their environment than the participants in the waitlist group following the eight-week intervention period.
  • Depressive symptoms were significantly lower in the EFT group than in the waitlist group at post-intervention measure, which indicates participants in the waitlist condition were experiencing more depressive symptomatology than participants in the EFT condition following the eight-week intervention period.
  • Anxiety symptoms were significantly lower in the EFT group than in the waitlist group at post-intervention measure, which indicates participants in the waitlist condition were experiencing more anxious symptomatology than participants in the EFT condition following the eight-week intervention period.
  • BMI was significantly lower in the EFT group compared to the waitlist group at post-intervention, which indicates participants in the EFT group lost more weight than participants in the waitlist group following the eight-week intervention period.
  • Somatic symptomatology was significantly lower in the EFT group than in the waitlist group at post-intervention measure, which indicates participants in the waitlist condition were more bothered by somatic or physical symptoms, such as aches and pains, than participants in the EFT condition following the eight-week intervention period.
  • Twelve-month follow-up measures indicated significant improvements in psychological distress symptoms (i.e., anxiety and depression), as well as over-eating behaviour symptoms, such as preoccupation with food and overconsumption of unhealthy foods, following the eight-week EFT intervention.