Overcoming Emotional Eating with EFT

By Barbara L. Holtzman, MSW, LICSW

I hope your Thanksgiving was nourishing in all ways – tasty, nutritious and with loving companionship.  For many of us, Thanksgiving heralds the start of a 4-5 week spree of eating and buying.  But if you’d like to change that pattern this year, I have a wonderful tool for you – EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique.  A couple of months ago, I wrote that I had been studying this technique and using it on myself and with many of my clients for dealing with cravings and uncomfortable emotions.  And since I have just finished designing my December 7 workshop in RI on “Overcoming Emotional Eating with EFT,”  this seemed a perfect time for me to tell you about how you can use this remarkable tool.

EFT is a stress relief technique- based on Chinese medicine and acupuncture.  But instead of using needles, we tap on energy centers (meridians) on the face and body to clear out the stuck energy that, according to Chinese medicine, cause the symptoms.  We “target” our symptoms, being as clear and specific as possible, naming the feelings we’re having, the bodily sensations or the beliefs that get in the way of how we want to feel or the goals we want to achieve.  We clear out the negative feelings and beliefs and then substitute what we choose to feel and believe.  This is different from positive thinking because we are acknowledging the truth of what is present first, so we can clear it out.

I use EFT every day – whenever I notice anxiety or other uncomfortable emotions.  I notice that, like with my other tools (breathing, meditation and QiGong) that when I do it regularly, the stress does not build up and it is easier for me to catch and work with the feelings before they hijack me.  I am often surprised by what comes up.  For example, I was tapping today on my stress that my dog is experiencing allergy symptoms (again, despite my work with a holistic vet) and how upsetting that is for me. While tapping on my anxiety, I experienced waves of sadness for how powerless I feel to take away his itching.  And when I tapped for accepting all of my feelings – my sadness, my anxiety that he won’t get better, and my feelings of helplesssness, the anxiety diminished and I felt calm and peaceful.

EFT is a wonderful tool to use with the emotions that trigger our cravings and non-hunger eating. In the next section, you will find a basic outline of how you can use it.  If you would like to download the EFT manual,  the originator of this technique, Gary Craig, makes it available for free on his website – www.emofree.com.  And if you live in Rhode Island and would like to learn how to use it for your emotional eating issues, you may want to come to my December 7 workshop at All That Matters (401) 782-2126.


In this section, I will describe how you can use EFT to deal with the emotions and beliefs that trigger your eating. Before you start tapping, it is important to choose your targets – the conflict and the solution. 1) Identify the conflict, the issue as clearly and succinctly as possible, rating the intensity of the emotions on a scale of 1-10 so you can gauge how the EFT is working2) Identify your preferred solution – how you would rather feel.Examples of conflicts that precipitate emotional eating:

Even though…

-Being angry makes me crave sugar

-When I’m tired, I can’t stop eating

-I need a reward at the end of the day

-Food is the only thing that helps calm my anxiety

-I feel deprived if I can’t eat as much as I desire

-I can’t watch TV without eating

Possible Solutions (choose the one that best fits or make up your own)

-I choose to feel calm and confident

-I choose to deeply and completely accept myself – just as I am

-I allow and accept all of my feelings – just as they are

-I choose to schedule some enjoyable evening activity in its place

-I choose to savor every bite of whatever I  eat

-I am pleased that I can honor my body’s signals for hunger and fullness

-I  choose to take charge of how and when I eat

1)     Choose an issue above that fits best or make up your own

2)     Choose a solution statement

3)     Rate your distress (about the conflict that you are experiencing)
on a scale of 1- 10

4)    Tap on the karate chop point –with one hand, tap on the part of the other hand where you would do a karate chop, between the pinky and wrist (see box on top of diagram), while saying the conflict statement
“Even though I have (this problem),  I choose to (feel calm and confident – or whichever solution you have chosen).  We do the entire statement 3 times.  It can be the same exact statement or variations of it.

5)  Tap the other points in the diagram while saying your statements. You will do 3 rounds of tapping before retesting your level of distress.

a) one round of naming the conflict
b) one round of naming the solution
c) one round with both, alternating the conflict statement, then the solution statement each time you move around the tapping points. 6)     Check in and retest your intensity of the original feeling (0-10). It is best to do it until you reach a 0 or 1 but even if you get down to a 4, you will experience considerable relief!  

Learning to nourish ourselves is new for many of us, especially if we have been focused for many years on calories, fats etc. This is a process so don’t overwhelm yourself with too many changes at once. Choose a couple of ideas that appeal to you and try them out. Think in small, doable steps.

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