It's Never About The Food

boundaries dopamine emotional eating food cravings gut health hunger nourishment

After 30 years of struggling with emotional eating, food addiction, and "shame fasting",  Errin Smith became obsessed with understanding the root cause of what it is that we are REALLY craving. As the creator of the What We Crave Emotional Eating Summit, Errin has a passion for cultivating open and honest conversations that promote healing and encourage you to make peace with food and ultimately yourself. 

Understanding why we emotionally eat and experience certain cravings is fundamental to healing. Being able to identify when we have those ‘eff it’ moments with food and lose ourselves is key to learning how we can actually be our own heroes. My chat with Errin unveiled many beautiful insights into the world of emotional eating, including how to get unstuck from this cycle, discover what it is that we might be ‘missing’, and different ways we can respond when an emotional trigger hits.


If you’ve ever found yourself opening up the fridge and asking yourself ‘what am I even looking for?’, you’re definitely not alone. So often, we search outside of ourselves to fill the void, when actually it's a beautiful journey inward. Errin’s first step in overcoming emotional eating was awareness. She found that when you have awareness, you have that compassion for yourself to ask ‘what's actually going on here?’ and it’s that curiosity which acts as a gateway into all the answers.

What’s great about curiosity is it gets you out of the tendency to start beating yourself up and thinking that there's something wrong with you just because you've fallen into a bag of Doritos again. In reality, that's absolutely not the case. If we can start to approach these incidents with curiosity, ask what's going on, and sit with it for a minute to see what comes up, then you will shift it into this open space where there's some safety around starting to understand what's really going on for you.


In the context of applying curiosity, it’s also important to address cravings. This is because there is a difference between just finding yourself in the pantry, reaching for whatever, versus having a craving for something very specific. While the roots of it may be similar, how you’re experiencing it is very different. With a craving, you are confronted with an opportunity to realize that there's a need that's being unmet and that allows you to dig a little bit deeper and ask yourself what you truly need right now.

Errin got to the point where she was tired of feeling out of control with the emotional eating. That's what brought her to the point where she simply had to figure out what was going on at a deeper level. 

The issue that so many people have when they’re addicted to food, is the fact that we have to eat every day to survive. Imagine being addicted to smoking and trying to quit, but still having to have a few cigarettes a day just to survive. It would make the process of stopping a thousand times more difficult. This is why many people who are addicted to food often end up in a spiral that they just can’t get out of where they feel completely hopeless.

Physical vs Emotional Hunger

Learning the skill of identifying how physical hunger feels is crucial to knowing when you’re eating because you're physically hungry versus when you're eating because the food is fulfilling other needs for you. However, that skill is not easy for many people who are emotional eaters because you have probably lost that connection with your body. This can be particularly traumatic because it means every single time you sit down to eat, you're feeling guilty or questioning whether you should be eating or not. 

We do have to nourish our bodies, but we have to find this place where we can actually nourish our bodies without shame or guilt and understand when we're turning to food for other reasons. You also need to give yourself some compassion as you figure that out. It is a work in progress for most people and perfection is impossible with this.

The Dopamine Hit

When we emotionally eat, we get a hit of dopamine, the brain chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure. There are plenty of other ways to get a similar dopamine hit, whether that’s shopping, alcohol, or sex. The fact is you are looking for ways to give yourself that love, nourishment, dopamine and feel good chemicals.

It’s important to remember though that addiction is the opposite of connection. You've got to get reconnected to yourself and that takes work. Sometimes we know what we’re feeling, sometimes we don’t and we just feel uneasy or unhappy, but we don’t deal with that. Instead, we just eat. Then we end up with shame, remorse, and regret. Essentially we trade in the first discomfort, which is maybe unfamiliar and something we’re more frightened of, for the familiar feelings that come after emotional eating. This is where Errin recommends we go to the ‘trigger gym’ to work that sh*t out!

The dopamine piece of the puzzle is important to understand, because there are many beautiful things in life that give us dopamine hits, like hugs, sunshine, nature, accomplishing normal things. All of these give us a dopamine hit too. The problem with many of the things that we over consume in this day and age give us a much stronger dopamine hit. This means you’re probably not going to get the same dopamine hit from a hug as you would from a donut. 

You can absolutely retrain your brain to get the dopamine you need from healthier avenues in life, but there is this period of time where you have to choose not to get your dopamine hit from the ones we tend to over consume like social media, food, and booze. You have to adopt that attitude of ‘I've got my own back. It's going to be a little bit uncomfortable, but I'm important and this work is important to me and I can sit with the discomfort for a little while.’ 

When you make that space to be uncomfortable, that is where the magic happens. Even though you’re uncomfortable, it means you’re showing up for your life and naturally, that energetic response is that life will show up for you.

Satisfying our emotional cravings with more inwardly nourishing activities

Emotional Eating is just a quest to find peace, or joy, or happiness, or love, or connection from the inside out. And so you've got to backfill with things that give you that and then it naturally dissipates. 

This is why taking inventory of your life is critical. Ask yourself if you’re experiencing toxic relationships, suffering from too much stress, or lack of sleep. Find ways to bring in more peace and get rid of the toxicity.

Sleep is particularly significant because short sleep tends to result in higher energy consumption for emotional eaters. When Errin reevaluated her sleep schedule and was having deeper, more restorative sleep, her food cravings went away, and her hunger hormones were more balanced. Better sleep leads to a domino effect of benefits. So if you can prioritize sleep, and especially deep REM sleep, you will start to see improvements.

Setting boundaries

A lot of emotional eaters are very empathetic and emotionally sensitive. That means they often don’t have a lot of boundaries. They want to be the perfect person for everyone. That can result in people taking advantage of you and you sacrificing your own needs to fulfill others’. 

There's just so much power in having your own back because nobody else can have it for you. Picking small things to commit to doing every day and following through enables you to feel proud of yourself and gives you proof that you do have your own back. That could be as simple as making your bed in the morning, buying yourself flowers, or meditating. Fill up the self-nourishment tank from the inside out.

Make sure you think carefully about the activity that you're choosing to do to bring you peace, joy, and comfort because some of the things that we think we do for self care are not always beneficial, such as watching TV or scrolling social media. Those activities can have the opposite effect and end up raising our cortisol levels.

Take Breaks

So many of us just power through our work for hours trying to achieve more and more from our to-do lists, but end up feeling so depleted and exhausted, we end up heading straight for food. You can feel so disconnected from yourself when you're in front of your computer all day versus working with people in a joyous environment.

Essentially, it all comes down to worthiness. You are worth taking a break from your life. In the long run, you're not going to look back at your life and say you didn't take a 10 minute break and look where that got you. No, everything ends up working out and you're just fine. When you just take a little break, you can be so much more. You get so much more out of life. 

And what are we rushing around for? Why can't we just slow down a little? This is just wiring we learned along the way somewhere that we have to hustle for things. But you are worthy. You came into this life for a reason. You are a beautiful soul in a body for a reason. We didn't just show up here just floating around the world for no reason and then we leave. We have a beautiful purpose and when you start to really tap into that, you find deep worthiness.  It will pull you and energize you and you won't be thinking about food or emotionally eating all the time.

Healthy gut, healthy mind

Your feel good chemicals start in the gut. So the dopamine and serotonin that we look to get from food are actually supposed to be created in the gut in this beautiful, healthy way. When our gut is destroyed, it's not making those feel good chemicals. So if you can fix your gut, seal up all the leaks and get that whole microbiome to turn on and start functioning, the inflammation goes down and the gut starts to heal. 

Reducing the processed foods that injure it and adding more whole foods will start to help your gut heal. However, it’s not a case of now having to immediately cut out all the processed food in your diet.  You don’t need to go back into that restriction. Instead, take the additive approach of bringing more in rather than focusing on taking things away and the transition will start to happen naturally as you start giving your body the nutrients it needs.

An invitation to reconnect

So when you next find yourself reaching for food, stop to ask yourself what you are really craving, because I guarantee you're simply craving a connection to yourself. You have to just figure out a way to light that up and that's only something you can know. It can be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, it can be your own healing from trauma. It could even be the little kid in you that never got the love that you desired as a kid. But essentially you're craving you and you've got to give yourself all the love that you need. It's not going to come from anybody else. No one's going to save you. You've got to be your own hero. Have your own back and own your craving as an invitation to reconnect to yourself because that's when it all changes.