Since 2019, Samuel Hlonyana helped thousands of South Africans lose weight through his sugar-free programme.
His #90DaysWithoutSugar challenge is frequently the top trending hashtag on South African Twitter, where users share their quitting sugar and exercise journey.
Landisa spoke to Samuel about why he started the challenge; how the challenge helped him personally and the wrong reasons for someone to do the challenge.
How did it all start?
Okay, so I think the story started back at the end of 2018, actually. A lot of people don't believe that, but it started in 2018 October when I did a no-sugar experiment. So I've always been a New Year's resolution person. Every new year, every January, I try to lose weight. You know, new New Year new me. And, I mean, last year I just got tired. And I even said, "You know what, I don't want to even wait for Jan to start this transformation. I am going to start cutting out sugar today".
I had just learned a lot about building habits. That it takes 21 days to build a habit and about 90 days for that habit to turn into a lifestyle of doing it every day. So I just said, "You know what, I'm gonna get myself 90 days to build on this habit of no sugar and see what happens. I've got nothing to lose." And after 90 days, the first 90 days, I lost about 13 kilograms - the most that I've lost ever.
So for the first month in October, it was just no sugar. Then I started running. Okay, not running but walking which was a bit of running and walking. Because I couldn't even finish two km’s. From there I ran my first 21 km’s on the last day of December. It took me about two hours and 50 minutes. Was long, but it obviously has improved now. And in 2019, I ran my first marathon in May in Centurion.
Why did you decide to make the change?
I think one of the things that happened that made the penny to drop was I saw a man who was 55-years-old, Michael Beach, who is an actor. He was turning 55 and he posted something about it on Twitter. And I would look at his body and I'm like, "This guy is almost my father's age, and he looks like that and I'm like, this young and I look like this.There's no excuse. Right?"
But I think the strong why was that I wanted to be healthy. I wasn't happy with my weight. I was unhappy with how I looked in the mirror. I had bought suits that I cannot fit into any more and I wanted to fit into them. I think my biggest why was long term, I wanted to be healthy for the long term and run with my kids and my grandchildren without huffing and puffing and I mean, lead a healthy lifestyle.
Look, I could foresee that my health would just deteriorate? I've been hearing a lot of men around me who are post 40 who have developed diabetes. I'm 31 this year and the big 40 scares you because of a lot of lifestyle diseases. You know, they start developing when we're young, but you always see the manifestation of it post-40. The past two to three years we've buried from my church alone two or three people - men - and they were not old. They were like in their 40s or 50s who died of diabetes or high blood pressure.
What do you think people get wrong about dieting?
I think, one of the downfalls of the New Year's resolution mindset is that we focus on too many things at the same time. So you want to quit sugar, you want to quit meat, quit salt, want to start eating healthy, start intermittent fasting, go to gym, start running and you want to drink two litres of water every day.
So you find that you're overwhelmed. You do this for two weeks, you start running and after two weeks you are overwhelmed and you've quit your journey because you actually focus on too many things. And I think, for me, what helped me was that focussing on just one habit of just like, leaving sugar.
What is your secret to losing weight?
On the 90 days without sugar email programme, the first thing I asked people to do is find their why. What is your why? Don't lose weight because you use someone else’s New Year’s resolution. Because there will definitely be a moment where you want to quit. Where you are running a marathon and you ask yourself why are you even running it? Where you are looking at your meals and asking yourself why are you eating leaves when you can have the juicy burger instead? You know, it will happen. But when you have that intrinsic why you know that you're eating this meal because if you want to look like this, or this is the goal you’d like to achieve.
What would be the wrong reason to do the 90-day sugar challenge?
For other people. Don't do it for other people. Do because it aligns with your value system and it comes from the inside. Find your strong why and you won't quit on the way. Someone recently told me that when they look at my before and after picture, they like that I look happy in both. And that is really what it's about: because you like yourself and you care about yourself you want to live a healthier life - not to impress another person.