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Treating Food Cravings and Emotional Eating with Simple Energy Techniques (SET)

Steve WellsBy Steve Wells

If you suffer from food cravings, tapping using EFT and Simple Energy Techniques (SET) is often successful at reducing the desire for your craved food in the moment. However if you want to go beyond this to produce long-term behaviour change, you need to look at what is driving the cravings in the first place. This might be a simple connection of an emotion to a food but is more likely to be an underlying issue, such as anxiety or depression, where food is being used to sedate the bad feelings (By far the most common symptom is anxiety).

Treating a food craving is actually quite simple. Here is a basic format you can use:

  • Identify the food(s) you crave
  • Activate the craving (by visualising the food initially, and imagining eating it; then later, after you have calmed the feeling, using some of the food itself)
  • Tap on the activated thoughts: e.g. "I want this", "I need this", "I have to have this"
  • Tap on the feelings associated with eating the food: e.g. The feeling of the food in your mouth, the taste of the food, the qualities you love (e.g. smoothness / crunchiness)...
  • Scan your body for any tension and tap on that
  • Try hard to activate the craving and keep tapping until the craving settles down and can't be easily activated by thinking about eating the food
  • Repeat the above steps using a portion of the craved food
  • If you do indulge in the craved food, tap on your bad feelings (more on this below)

For many people, tapping works to reduce the craving in the moment, but doesn't produce long term behaviour change. In these instances, we need to look deeper.

First, realise that the craving is performing a function for you. Even at a basic level, for most sufferers, the craving is an unconsciously driven attempt to reduce emotional stress. If the craving does serve to reduce your stress then if you take it away then when you get stressed you will just suffer. So in the short term, accept that the underlying intention of this behaviour is positive, even if the ultimate results for you are not positive.

Often, a craving is held in place by a specific belief, and the behaviour is an attempt to compensate for that belief. If you treat a craving for a specific food but you leave in place the underlying belief then you will be driven to find another substance to medicate the bad feelings which are generated by this belief...

Here are some common issues and negative beliefs that came up in our research study treatment groups:

  • NOT feeling loved by either parent,
  • The belief that there is not enough,
  • Feeling not enough or not good enough

These beliefs may have been picked up from parents who carried these feelings from past events such as world wars, the great depression, or other personal experiences of hardship. As a result of these beliefs, some people end up frequently feeling empty, or never feeling full.

I suffered from a version of this for much of my life, the belief that "There's not enough". One of the key drivers behind this belief were childhood experiences where my father, who was "never full", would distract my attention so that he could eat the food off my plate. The worst thing was that I liked to "save the best til last", as a reward to myself for having eaten the less tasty stuff first... When my Dad would then "steal" the good bits off my plate, I would be very hurt and angry. That anger and hurt led me to become someone who would eat very fast, to the point where I would not so much eat my food as "engulf" it!

Tapping on these childhood experiences can lead to significant shifts. In my case, tapping on these incidents not only defused the hurt feelings, it also led me to feel compassion and understanding for my father, who was clearly compensating for the fact his own father walked out when he was just 10 years old, among other things. I realised that for him and for me, eating food was really about wanting to feel loved, and no amount of food could compensate for that particular emptiness. Tapping on that feeling increased my love for my father when in the past these experiences for me had represented the opposite of love. Many of you know that my work on Values has also helped me to experience more love in my life, and I find this work very valuable in working with clients with these issues. When you get what you really want, you no longer need your old patterns as much...

Another very common issue for many people with emotional eating issues is FOMO - Fear of Missing Out. This fear also gets in the way of progress as they also fear that by treating their problem with emotional overeating or food cravings they will MISS OUT or SUFFER (Diet, for many people means deprivation!). Instead, they discover to their delight that they can still eat whatever they want, but they don't HAVE TO. When the intense attachment to the craved food is released, you can either enjoy it without stress, or leave it alone.

One key strategy to help you get to this hallowed place is by using acceptance tapping when you do indulge.

What do I mean here and how to you do this?

Quite simply, the negative pattern causes you to feel as though you are "driven" to do the behaviour you know you "should not do", such as eating the food you know is "bad for you".  Ultimately, many people do end up acting on that drive (discipline is highly overrated!). At this point, they then go into guilt and self-punishment mode. This is a  key time to add the tapping, without judgement. Of course, the judgement will be present, so you can then apply the tapping directly, not to the problem behaviour which you just engaged in, but to the judgement itself!

Tap, not on your guilt for having "failed again", but on the fact that you are judging yourself for this. This interrupts the judgement cycle. When you can engage in the behaviour that was previously a problem for you and feel little or no judgement afterwards, you will have gone a long way to creating the conditions for the problem to simply disappear...

As Eckhart Tolle states: “The moment that judgement stops through acceptance of what it is, you are free of the mind. You have made room for love, for joy, for peace.”

So the simple starting point for most people: Just add tapping to your problem behaviour without trying to change things. That, in itself can often lead you to a very good place.  For our research groups, as well as my clients, the moment they interrupt their pattern of self-deprecation and blame is the moment when things start to change for them.

There is much more we could say on this issue, and a comprehensive program for change will go far beyond the above to:

  • Treat the underlying emotional issues driving the cravings / compulsive eating habit
  • Treat your beliefs related to food and weight issues
  • Treat your inner values conflicts
  • Help you to define how you want your life to be
  • Give you the tools and strategies to make that a reality; and
  • Help you get started

This is exactly the type of program I've put now put together for you. Find out more.

What do you think? We would love to read your comments on this article.

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