The Science Behind Successful Weight Loss and EFT Tapping
By Dawson Church, PhD, EFT TRN-3
There’s a great deal of research into EFT, so much so that it’s considered an “evidence-based” practice (Church, 2013). You can read about it at the research bibliography at EFTUniverse, but I’d like to highlight a few studies that show how powerfully it can help you with weight loss as well as your mental health.
A colleague of mine, Dr. Peta Stapleton, a professor at Bond University, conducted a randomized controlled trial of EFT in a group of 96 weight loss subjects (Stapleton, Sheldon, Porter, & Whitty, 2011).
She found that their levels of restraint increased after EFT in comparison to a control group. Restraint is important because it stops people from taking actions like eating too much that they later regret. The power food held over the participants decreased after EFT, indicating that they were more in control, rather than food itself dictating their actions.
If we see improvements in psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression after EFT, as well as improvements in restraint and control, what’s happening to the hormones of those people? Over the last decade, I’ve been fascinated by the stress hormone cortisol and began studying the link between EFT and cortisol.
Research has shown a link between levels of cortisol and both depression and obesity.
High cortisol levels are linked to the accumulation of fatty adipose tissue around the midsection of the body (Björntorp, 2001). Depression is also associated with elevated cortisol (Holsboer, 2000). These studies also show that high cortisol and depression are associated with many different forms of ill health, including high blood pressure, poor metabolism, high cholesterol, and poor regulation of insulin.
Along with two colleagues, Audrey Brooks, PhD, and molecular biologist, Garret Yount, PhD, of the California Pacific Research Institute, I performed a study that looked at cortisol before and after an EFT tapping session (Church, Yount, & Brooks, 2012).
We used a large group, 83 people, and randomized them into one of three treatments. A third got a session of EFT, another third received regular talk therapy, while the final group rested in one of the five clinics in which we performed the trials.
The results were striking.
Anxiety and depression symptoms declined by twice as much in the EFT group as in the talk therapy group. Cortisol levels also went down much more: a 24% reduction in 90 minutes. That’s a huge drop. What seems to be happening is that, as we feel better, with EFT reducing anxiety and depression, our fat-generating hormone cortisol declines. As we dump the stress, we dump the hormones needed to drive stress. That can help with weight loss.
Dr. Peta Stapleton and I also looked at the depression levels in her subjects, and found that they declined significantly (Stapleton, Church, Sheldon, Porter, & Carlopio, 2013). Along with EFT reducing cortisol, it’s clearly reducing depression. Using EFT pays dividends in both our stress hormone levels and our mental health.
You don’t have to meet with a coach or therapist in an office session to receive benefit from using EFT.
It works over the phone (Hartung & Stein, 2011) and over the Internet (Brattberg, 2008). The 2008 study by physician Gunilla Brattberg, MD, was particularly interesting because she offered EFT as an online therapy only; participants never talked to a doctor or psychotherapist. Yet their depressive symptoms declined significantly. This has led to the development of other Internet-based methods of offering EFT for a variety of problems including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and weight loss.
We used the introduction of the Skinny Genes Fit online weight loss course as an opportunity to conduct a clinical trial of online EFT.
The results were very encouraging. Over the course of the 6-week program, participants lost an average of 12 pounds (Church & Wilde, 2013). That averages out as 2 pounds a week, which most medical authorities regard as a safe and steady level, rather than the precipitous weight loss advocated by more extreme programs.
The bottom line of all this research into EFT is that it improves both mental and physical health. There’s no clear dividing line between the mind and the body, so as your mental health improves, your physical health tags right along, and vice versa. The side benefit of better mental health is better physical health.
Characteristics of Long-Term Weight Loss
One of the persistent problems with diets is that they’re usually futile in the long run. Sure, dieters lose weight, but after the diet most of them gain it all back. Not so with EFT! Studies of people who take an EFT course for weight loss show that they continue to lose weight after the course ends. Stapleton, Sheldon, and Porter (2012) found that in the year following their weight loss program, participants lost an additional 12 pounds on average.
I also took a look at the amount of weight loss that occurred after people completed the Skinny Genes Fit program, knowing that temporary weight loss was not worth the effort. Our clinical trial showed that Skinny Genes Fit participants lost an average of 3 pounds in the 6 months following the Skinny Genes Fit online program (Church & Wilde, 2013). Skinny Genes Fit does not focus on weight loss per se, nor prescribe any particular diet, but instead focuses on the emotional aspects of eating.
We believe that once emotional eating goes away, weight loss follows naturally.
A friend of mine recently began tapping on all his memories on the theme of “shame.” He’d had many events in his life that contributed to the theme, and he tapped on them one by one. A few weeks after starting the process, he told me, with wonder in his voice, that 30 pounds had simply melted away. It wasn’t physical; the weight was emotional. When he dealt with the emotional events, the weight dropped away.
While it’s true that most dieters eventually gain back all the weight they lost, and more, it’s not true of everyone. A small percentage of dieters are successful at losing weight and keeping it off for good. A database maintained by the National Weight Control Registry shows that 20% of individuals who lose 10% or more of their body weight keep it off for a year or more (Wing & Phelan, 2005).
It’s well worth taking a close look at how they were successful, and emulating them, helped by EFT. What is it these people do that makes them successful?
The 6 Primary Characteristics of People Who Maintain Weight Loss:
1. They weigh themselves frequently.
They monitor themselves regularly, so that they can correct their course as soon as they stray. The reason this is important is that it establishes a feedback loop between what you eat and what you weigh. When you eat that bowl of ice cream, weigh yourself the following morning, and see that you’ve gained a pound, you understand the link between the two events.
When you stick with your diet all weekend and notice on Monday morning that you’ve lost 2 pounds, you associate the two. Over time, you take a look at what you’re eating and evaluate it in terms of how much weight you’ll gain or lose if you put it in your mouth. You still have a choice, but now you understand the consequences of those choices. Write down your weight in a journal every day after you weigh yourself. This way, you’ll also start to notice patterns.
The registry found that 75% of participants weigh themselves at least once a week, and most of these weigh themselves once a day.
2. They maintain their eating habits each day.
They don’t indulge on weekends and fast on weekdays, or eat excessively during the holiday season and starve themselves afterward. Their bodies are treated to a nice even baseline of ingredients.
They’ve discovered what works for weight maintenance, and they stick to it.
3. They exercise regularly.
Exercise isn’t key to weight loss in the way diet is, but exercise is vital to health. Those in the study exercised an average of an hour a day. That exercise doesn’t have to be pumping iron in the gym or running on the treadmill; even moderate exercise like 30 minutes of walking each day has been shown to help nudge gene expression in a healthy direction (Ornish et al., 2008).
Very few people in the registry used exercise only for weight loss (1%), and other studies have shown that diet is much more effective than exercise for weight loss. That said, exercise helps keep you healthy, and it’s a habit of those who lose weight and keep it off.
A predominance of the people in the registry (89%) said they used a combination of exercise and diet to keep their weight down.
4. They eat breakfast.
An examination of the data from successful long-term weight loss participants shows that almost 80% of them eat breakfast daily; many experts consider it one of the foundations of a successful weight-loss program.
5. They eat a diet that is low in calories and fat.
They watch their food intake carefully, with 88% of them restricting foods they know make them fat. Many (43%) count calories, even 2 or 3 years after they’ve lost weight.
Vigilance keeps them on track.
6. Whenever they slip, they catch themselves quickly.
Data from the registry show that people who slip and don’t correct quickly are a lot more likely to gain weight than those that do. Successful long-term weight losers notice when they’ve gained weight, identify what happened to produce that result, and return as fast as possible to their baseline habits.
Over half of the people in the registry (55%) are still focused on losing weight and are not casual about their success.
Excerpted from the book:
EFT for Weight Loss
By Dawson Church, PhD
Björntorp, P. (2001). Do stress reactions cause abdominal obesity and comorbidities? Obesity Reviews, 2(2), 73–86.
Brattberg, G. (2008). Self-administered EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) in individuals with fibromyalgia: A randomized trial. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, 7(4), 30–35.
Church, D. (2013). Clinical EFT as an evidence-based practice for the treatment of psychological and physiological conditions. Psychology, 4(8), 645–654.
Church, D. & Wilde, N. (2013, May). Emotional eating and weight loss following Skinny Genes Fit, a six week online program. Reported at the annual conference of Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP), Reston, VA.
Church, D., Yount, G., & Brooks, A. J. (2012). The effect of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) on stress biochemistry: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 200, 891–896. doi:10.1097/ NMD.0b013e31826b9fc1
Hartung, J., & Stein, P. (2011). Telephone delivery of EFT remediates PTSD symptoms in veterans: A randomized controlled trial. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 4(1), 33–40.
Holsboer, F. (2000). The corticosteroid receptor hypothesis of depression. Neuropsychopharmacology, 23(5), 477–501.
Ornish, D., Magbanua, M. J., Weidner, G., Weinberg, V., Kemp, C., Green, C., . . . Carroll, P. R. (2008). Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 105(24), 8369–8374.
Stapleton, P., Church, D., Sheldon, T., Porter, B., & Carlopio, C. (2013). Depression symptoms improve after successful weight loss with EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques): A randomized controlled trial. ISRN Psychiatry, 2013, 573532. doi:10.1155/2013/573532
Stapleton, P. B., Sheldon, T., & Porter, B. (2012). Clinical benefits of Emotional Freedom Techniques on food cravings at 12-months follow-up: A randomized controlled trial. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 4(1), 1–12.
Stapleton, P., Sheldon, T., Porter, B., & Whitty, J. (2011). A randomised clinical trial of a meridian-based intervention for food cravings with six-month follow-up. Behaviour Change, 28(1), 1.
Wing, R. R., & Phelan, S. (2005). Long-term weight loss maintenance. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 82, 222–225.