Using food as a drug doesn’t hold weight with Samantha Skelly, a visionary in helping women understand that healing your relationship with food starts within, and that weight loss can be the byproduct of a healthy, happy life. Her organization, Hungry for Happiness, began as a social experiment and a self-discovering journey after Samantha put her own body through years of abuse in trying to achieve physical perfection. She took a hard look at her life and eventually replaced her dieting obsession with a personal understanding of how she was mismanaging food, which she later complemented by studying psychology, specifically focussing on eating disorders. Today, Sam identifies as a freedom speaker who is the first to throw her industry under the bus or even down the slip ’n slide – one of her favourite pastimes. Her total candor, zest for life, and hunger to improve herself is so magnetic it’s no wonder that, much like her seven-step Phoenix formula, Sam is gloriously rising from the ashes.
Dance is my therapy
Escaping in my mind
Spending time building deep, connected relationships
Freezing cold showers
Headspace App to calm my mind
Spa Days at Rancho Valencia
You’re the founder of an organization that helps women improve their self-esteem and recover from eating disorders and body image issues; tell me about Hungry for Happiness?
Hungry for Happiness is a movement for women to help them recognize the relationships they have with food and their bodies. The whole mission is to revolutionize the weight loss mystery by helping people look at the emotional weight that they’re carrying rather than attacking the physical weight, which can be a representation of a psychological burden.
What is your background, and how does it relate to entrepreneurship?
I was originally a personal trainer, so I started off in the fitness industry and had my own fitness company in London, England. While doing that, I realized that both I and my clients were really struggling with emotions about why we weren’t getting results, and we were frustrated at being stuck in a viscous diet cycle. I decided that rather than working directly on external results, I wanted to try working on the emotional level, because that’s the driving force of everything. I started with myself; I began to really understand and explore what that looked like, including working on healing my own relationship with food. After that journey, I went to school to study the psychology of eating disorders. I realized I needed to create a movement around this mission and this message and so that’s where Hungry for Happiness all began.
Can you tell me about your own eating disorder?
I grew up in film and television, so there was a lot of pressure on me in terms of my body from a very young age. I was also a dancer; whenever I wasn’t on stage, I was in front of a camera – so I was constantly performing, that was sort of my worth. When I was 18 I quit everything and I felt like I lost my significance; that’s when I tried to seek it in being skinny. I became obsessed with dieting; I’ve been on over 50 diets in my dieting career, and I was super disconnected from my body. It was about four years of diet obsession, and I ended up in the hospital because I wasn’t eating enough or treating my body well.
How did you manage to break the cycle?
My girlfriend told me, “You’re not kidding anyone; we all know what you’re going through and you need to sort your shit out.” I realized she was probably right. Shortly after we had that conversation, I ended up getting deported from England because I’d overstayed my visa and had to move back to (Vancouver) Canada. I spent the next three years of my life working on healing my body and my relationship with food – it was really a social and emotional experiment.
Can you tell me more about your relationship to food prior to your experiment?
I was using food to numb emotion; I didn’t know how to use it for health or hunger. I had extreme anxiety around food, and I couldn’t eat anything without counting the calories in it and figuring out how I was going to burn it off later. My relationship to food was very transactional. I really had no idea how to nurture my body, and that was simply because I was extremely disconnected from my intuition. I didn’t know how to deal with pain, so I would use food as a drug essentially to mask the emotion that I was feeling. After figuring out how to basically connect inward, I was able to uncover and master my emotions.
And so what was the outcome?
I ultimately realized that I was spending so much time in this obsessive, vicious cycle and I wasn’t able to spend my mental energy on things I enjoyed, because I was so consumed with always being in this place with food. It was costing me so much; when I was in it, I didn’t realize how bad it was until I got out of it. Gaining that perspective, like ‘wow, it’s possible to live on the planet and not think about food 24-7,’ let me spend my time and energy on things that truly brought me joy.
How’d you turn this new perspective into something to help others?
I have a formula I created called the Phoenix Formula, named that because it means new life rising from the ashes; the whole idea is that you’re not something to be fixed, you’re not a project, you’re not broken. You’re coming in as a whole beautiful person and you’re rising into the highest version of yourself. It’s a seven-step process to take someone from an unaware state, in which they hate their body, to a fully aware state, in which they’re able to use food for health, hunger and fitness. We now use the formula in all our programs and retreats.
How exactly does this work – is it all done in person, or is this a web-based approach?
It’s a mixture of pre-recorded and live. I meet my clients weekly on a live webinar so they get a chance to have one-on-one contact with me. I don’t believe in automated programming; it’s just not going to work for my clients. Community and accountability is extremely important in working through many of the issues we face together – they can be heavy. It’s really important to me that I don’t throw something out there, turn someone loose, and say ‘good luck, see if that works!’ I’m really committed to nurturing the transformation.
What’s the response been in regards to your concept? Did it take off right away?
I would say no, because I had to educate the general public on why it’s important to not put band-aids on bullet wounds. It definitely didn’t take off right away – there was that piece of education missing at first. But now through the evidence in the transformations, and with all the testimonials, people are recognizing it really works.
So if you started as a personal trainer and then you studied psychology, what do you call yourself today?
This is such a funny question because I’m not big on identification or labels and I really don’t like calling myself anything. I hate the term ‘life coach’; I hate all of that kind of shit. I actually don’t even really like my industry very much. I think it’s super diluted and there is so much about it that I just really don’t like, so I refuse to call myself a life coach, and I’m not a teacher. The thing that resonates most with me is probably visionary leader. All I’m really doing is leading people in following a vision that worked to change my life, and now I’m helping them change theirs.
What do you think made your path unconventional?
I have the craziest life! When I was 18 years old I decided I was going to educate myself through travel, so I travelled to 33 countries in less than four years. Even the past few years have been extremely transient, as I’ve lived in many different countries and explored their cultures. I recently moved to San Diego, where I found my dream home and my dream car. It’s crazy to think that this is all just the physical manifestation of setting a strong intention and really just going for it; not really caring about anything but succeeding and impacting the world has really worked for me. Anything conventional makes me feel so claustrophobic. I’m definitely a freedom speaker – I use that phrase all the time.
Do you think society plays a role in body image and how women form relationships with food?
Oh my God, yes, 100%! I mean there’s this idea of what perfection is, and we live in a world that can be very black and white without much of a flexible grey area for individuality, so there’s definitely pressure. I mean if women understand how beautiful they actually are without having to be a size zero, the whole world would change. I truly believe that when women are in a place where they are comfortable with their bodies, they actually come alive. They can do more; they can add more value to their world.
Can you tell me about the clients you typically work with?
The type of clients I work with are over-achievers, perfectionists, and think in black and white. Most of the time they’re kicking ass in a lot of areas in their life but they can’t quite figure out this food and body thing because they’re trying to think their way out of it too much. We have to feel in order to affect the relationships we have with food and ourselves, but a lot of women have been at war with their bodies their whole lives, and so we have a hard time doing that.
What does a typical day look like for Sam?
Oh my gosh, there is no such thing as typical in my world, but I’ll give you the best I can. I normally get up around 5 o’clock and do my morning routine for about an hour and a half, which includes visualization and meditation. At 6:30, I go to crossfit and make sure I get my foundational stuff done. Then I go home, get ready, and then get to work. I tend to get distracted if I work from the house, so I normally go to my favorite coffee shop and work until probably about 3:00 or 4:00, and then take a break to recharge my brain because I usually have calls at 6 o’clock with my clients. That’s generally how my days go, but sometimes I’m on the road travelling for speaking engagements, sometimes I’m filming, sometimes I’m creating content and don’t leave my house for three days.
When your business started to find success, did your inner demons try and hold you back? If so, in what way?
It was never a conversation like ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I don’t deserve this’ or ‘I’m not worth it.’ It was more: ‘am I healed enough in my own journey to be able to offer this?’
So how’d you deal with that inner dialogue?
By taking action and remembering that it’s a never-ending journey. Even today, I’m committed to my own development and today is wildly different from who I’ll be six months from now. I’m so devoted to my growth – spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally – that in each aspect of my life, I have a coach to help me so that my trajectory is super speedy. I know that I’m my best investment, and as long as I’m committed to that, I won’t fall behind and I’ll continually be able to be the best version of myself for my clients.
What inspires you?
I get a lot of my inspiration from the ocean. I’ll just go and observe how consistent, forgiving and in flow it is. When I feel like I’m getting into a little bit of a rut, it’s where I go to feel like I’m reconnecting with my purpose.
My clients also really inspire me; I see them break barriers week after week after week and totally uproot and transform their lives.
I have the most incredible friends. Everyone in my life is just super high vibing and inspirational to me, and doing such amazing things in the world. I’m so grateful for them and the various communities that I have – my crossfit community, my social entrepreneur community, my spiritual community, all of these communities that are just so beneficial.
I get super inspired by children, too; they have this carefree way of being and they’re not afraid to express emotion.
How do you view failure?
I fail all the time – I think I failed about 13 times just this morning. Of course it’s going to happen, it’s obvious when you’re doing a lot of things and have these lofty goals. I set the bar ridiculously high, so I’m going to fail. But I say, ‘cool, oh that’s neat, I totally fucked that up, now how can I do better next time?’ I’ve had huge failures in my business, but I’m two and a half years in and we’ve grown a lot; we’re going to hit seven figures this year! I can’t have an emotional attachment or connection to the failures or I’d likely ruin myself. My business is my biggest tool for personal development, and changing my relationship to pain and failure are the two biggest things that have allowed me to be successful.
What do you do for fun?
I build slip n’ slides – huge ones, like massive slip ’n slides. That’s one of my favourite pastimes – well, no; actually, yes! I’m a dancer, so I love dancing: I love to salsa, love hip hop, and I love contemporary. I love travelling too. I’m so plugged in digitally Monday to Friday that I really enjoy escaping on the weekends without my phone to go camping and exploring. I love dining out, and I love the finer things in life, like going to the spa. I love hanging out with my mom. Like I said, I have an amazing friend group, so my house is the place we gather on Friday nights for dinners and we do all sorts of fun things: events, comedy nights, whatever.
Wait a minute, can we go back to the slip ’n slides - please explain?!
It’s a legit thing. I love finding hills and buying supplies and setting up the boomboxes and inviting all of our friends and just having a heyday on the slip ’n slide. We use camping tarps, cut them in half, add soap and water and just go for it. California isn’t the best place to do it because of the water restrictions, but we do it anyway.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself?
I’m obsessed with tacos.