Francis Dasilva, a doctor from London, knows all too well how your mental state can affect your physical health. In the early days of his medical career, longstanding issues with depression and anxiety had lowered his self-esteem, and a hectic work schedule meant that his diet and overall lifestyle suffered as a result, leading to him putting on weight. At his heaviest, he weighed 105 kgs (231 pounds).
“I’d been gradually losing confidence in myself,” he tells Men’s Health. “The medical professional can be a daunting profession, and the overwhelming nature of what you deal with day in day out can ebb away at your confidence.”
Following the end of a long-term relationship, Francis says he was “in bad shape, both mentally and physically,” and decided to make a change to try to take his mind off how he was feeling: “You get to a point where things can’t feel any worse than they do, and for me, I felt alone, and I didn’t want to just be sitting on my own with those thoughts running through my head. I wanted to find something to occupy me.”
He began exercising and changed his diet, without any specific goals in terms of how much weight he wanted to lose, or he wanted to look. “It was just a distraction at first,” he says. “I just wanted to get back to feeling healthy and lighter on my feet.”
As he didn’t yet have the confidence to go to the gym, Francis worked out by himself at home, with an exercise bike and a single dumbbell. Gradually he began to lose weight and his fitness improved–and people started to notice a visible change. “I felt my confidence growing,” he says. “It wasn’t just my appearance, it was setting a task and achieving it. If I can lift that dumbbell and do two more reps, or five more minutes on the bike, I feel like I’m good enough. That cycle kept me going, until I was in the best shape of my life.”
Over the course of two years, Francis lost 35 kg (77 pounds) and continued to push himself, until he ventured out of his comfort zone entirely; after more than a decade of refusing to have his picture taken, he sought out a photographer to capture his transformation. “Getting that photo was one of the best moments of my life,” he says. “It showed on paper what I had achieved, I couldn’t deny it or downplay it, it was just pure hard work and determination that had got me there.”
Since then, Francis has participated in bodybuilding shows and represented his gym in competitions. In his most recent challenge, he is cycling the equivalent of the distance from England to India on his stationary bike, aiming to complete the journey within a year.
As a junior doctor, he had lived on junk food from hospital vending machines; he has since switched this for an approximation of the Mediterranean diet, getting his energy from oats, vegetables, and lean protein sources like chicken and fish. ‘I have the odd treat every now and then, but only when I feel like it,” he says, adding that high-density, low-calorie foods keep him fuller and more energetic than the chocolate bars and full-sugar drinks that used to make up his “appalling” diet. He now maintains his weight between 70 to 72 kg (154 to 158 pounds).
“I’m still learning,” he says. “I’m not as physically strong as I may have once been, but mentally I’m far stronger. This has taught me the capacity of the tank you have. You don’t have to go full throttle all the time, but it’s nice to know I have that ability if I ever need it. That little bit of confidence goes so far. If you’re always looking down and you don’t want to be noticed by the world, it’s hard to go about your life. That confidence, going to the gym, was the first step. Now I don’t stop; I just keep moving the goal posts.”