By Stephanie Drieze, LICSW, CGP
My family was socializing with friends whose middle son, “Jimmy,” has been struggling for several years with his parents around not eating enough healthy foods. The parents had been very concerned about his lack of good nutrition, and had recently taken him to their pediatrician.
Jimmy shared with me that the doctor said his eating, or lack thereof, is an “emotional problem.” He then commented further, saying, “I guess it’s all in my head from my mother’s brain tumor.”
At the time Jimmy made this comment, Jimmy, his father, and I were in the room. I told Jimmy that I was a “talking doctor” and might be able to help him with this problem.
I asked the father if he’d mind if I talked with Jimmy a bit, for gathering some history, and then try a great technique that really helps with emotional problems. I explained that emotional freedom techniques, EFT, wouldn’t hurt Jimmy, and might likely help with his eating issues. Jimmy and his father were “game for anything.”
When Jimmy was 5-years-old, his mother had had a brain tumor that required delicate and dangerous surgery with follow-up chemotherapy and radiation.
This was a significantly traumatic and frightening experience for the entire family, and took a physical and emotional toll on the mother, her husband and their children. Jimmy said that the pediatrician figured out that because everyone was bringing over food during the mother’s hospitalization and recovery, Jimmy learned to associate food with sad and scary feelings.
Jimmy reported to me that he thought that, although that idea might be true, it hadn’t changed his not wanting to eat more food.
Jimmy’s parents reported that Jimmy hadn’t ever eaten beef or fish and hadn’t eaten chicken or eggs since his mother was sick. The parents had tried various strategies to encourage Jimmy to eat a broader diet: they had pleaded with him; gotten angry; and ignored his eating habits; but nothing had helped. Jimmy was prone to injury, and they suspected that his frequent sprained ankles, and a broken arm might be related to lack of nutrition.
Jimmy and I worked together for about twenty minutes using the following EFT statements.
They are related to the chicken that was being served that evening as well as a wider set of aversive foods:
“Even though I hate chicken, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
“Even though I think I’ll throw up if I eat chicken, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
“Even though I feel pressure to eat foods I don’t like, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
Jimmy’s SUD Level of distress was a self-reported 10 on the eating issues when we started. After one round on the first statement, his self-assessment went from a 10 to a 4. He reported feeling “weird”, but wanted to continue. After 4 more rounds; one more on the first statement, and one round on the second and third statement, Jimmy appeared extremely animated and happy. He jumped up and said, “I WANT to go eat some chicken.”
Jimmy willingly entered the dining room, where his siblings and a few friends were eating dinner, and his parents were sitting nearby. He sat down and ate several bites of the chicken. He reported it was a little “dry” but thought it was okay. Jimmy said he felt “fine” to be eating the chicken.
Before parting for the evening, I asked Jimmy if we could do a little more tapping on what might have caused the problem originally. He was very interested in doing some more tapping and told his parents that it was like “magic.”
We tapped on emotional issues which he talked with me about before this second round, and we proceeded with these statements:
“Even though I was really mad my mom got sick, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
“Even though I got really scared my mom would die, I deeply and completely accpet myself.”
We then added a choice protocol statement as follows:
“Even though I felt scared and angry when my mom got sick, I choose to eat healthy foods now.”
The following morning Jimmy’s father called me and excitedly reported Jimmy had “tried eggs and loved them.” He was amazed that the EFT had significantly helped remove this eating problem. I talked to Jimmy on the phone and he said he did a little more tapping in bed on his own and thought that accounted for helping him eat the eggs.
I worked with Jimmy one more time on the similar feelings, although, he reported he felt “totally different” about his eating.
This vignette is an example of two issues connected to one problem: Jimmy needed (in his mind) to work on the physical feelings related to eating certain foods first, and then the emotional feelings related to his mother’s illness. Also significant in this vignette is that from Jimmy’s example, it seems helpful to encourage children to tap on their own if they feel they need it.
Children often report feeling like EFT is “magic” because it helps so much with their problems.
I always explain to them it is not magic but a really “special tool” that they can use whenever then want to feel better about something. I’m amazed and encouraged that the children who I have taught EFT to, often tell me they use it all the time.
I believe the results of EFT can be so positive and powerful with children because they have had less time to develop multiple aspects and symptoms related to their problems. Therefore, the EFT can be quicker than with some adults. Also, as children tend to be less guarded and more open to trying new things, they are generally more willing to try a “fun and different” way to feel better about a problem.