‘Getting fit again saved my life after I lost my mum and brother’ says Manchester restauranteur Ibby Aslam
As International Men’s Day raises awareness of male mental health issues, one Manchester businessmen is offering physical training and mentoring to men who are struggling like he once did after two bereavements.
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Held on 19 November, the day is dedicated to raising awareness of mental health problems and male suicide.
Ibby Aslam, who is a property developer and restaurant owner, has spoken about his long journey from some very dark times to his current success and happiness.
Mr Aslam, who lives in Manchester city centre, is also now mentoring other men to help them turn their lives around.
A life almost completely derailed by grief
Mr Aslam, 33, began to experience mental health issues when a couple of close family members died.
In 2010, his much-loved mother died and then a few years later his youngest brother was killed in a car crash after attending his friend’s wedding.
He went into a deep depression and as he puts it: “I spiralled down into the worst mental state of my life.”
He said: “I was grieving for my mother and brother, but the feelings of unhappiness and utter hopelessness wouldn’t shift.
“I lost interest in the things I used to enjoy like training in the gym, mixing with my friends.
“I couldn’t sleep, I over-ate, lived off junk food, gained weight, got into trouble and I couldn’t work. I felt worthless; my life was no longer worth living.
“Worst of all, I simply couldn’t picture a future.”
Saved by a passion for fitness
Mr Aslam, who owns Manjeros restaurant in Preston, said the first step on his road to recovery was rekindling his passion for fitness.
He began to put himself through a gruelling physical regime, even hiring someone who had worked with world champion professional boxers to get in tip-top shape once more.
He said: “I finally built up enough courage to make change and I knew that I needed to focus on getting healthy.
“Even though I have a qualification as a PT instructor, I hired a very experienced PT called Carlton Macintosh.
“I told him that I wanted to lose my body fat and get into the best physical and mental shape of my life. After all, I’d wasted quite a few years.
“On top of this, I put in approximately 7,000 steps a day, which would take around an hour, five times a week. This really lifted my mood.
“I even engaged Tyson Fury’s physio Matt Towey once a week to give me a deep tissue massage to help my body recover.”
Finding love ‘my biggest motivation’
At the same time he had begun pushing himself physically, Mr Aslam, who is originally from Burnage, said he found his biggest motivation to recover when he fell in love.
As well as reclaiming his life, he said he felt inspired to get in shape because he had just met Chantelle Scott, a former kickboxer who had represented GB in Europe and who Mr Aslam describes as his “dream girl”.
Alongside his PT instructor, he says she encouraged him to throw himself wholeheartedly into his work in the gym.
He said: “Carlton and I looked at everything I was eating. He cut out the rubbish to create a healthy diet plan. Chantelle got me talking and motivated me.
“Meeting Chantelle was the biggest factor in my life-changing transformation. She gave me a reason to get in shape and encouraged me to talk about my issues; women are so much better at sharing their feelings than men are.”
Extraordinary results from his hard work
The countless hours of training have paid off for Mr Aslam, who was able to shed the pounds and get himself in shape.
He says he also realised during this tough process that good physical and mental health are inextricably linked.
He said: “The fitness programme really made a difference to my mental wellbeing and although most men will not want to go to the level of fitness training that I have, daily exercise is vital to mental wellbeing.
“Let’s face it, even walking improves mental alertness, energy and mood.
“When I started my body transformation campaign, I was 88kg or 194 lbs. After 14 weeks I dropped to 72kg (158 lbs), losing 18kg or 36 lbs in all. I have lost a little more weight since.
“This really has been so much more than a weight loss journey for me. In transforming my body I have been lifted from what felt like the pit of despair.”
A burning desire to help others
Transforming his own life, though, is not enough for Mr Aslam.
He says he is now determined to take everything he has learned from his own personal journey and use it to help other men in similar situations.
He said: “I can’t say I will ever get over the premature loss of my mother and brother, but I am not going to waste another day of my life and now I want to help others.
“Men are particularly bad about seeking help when they need it, they often bottle up their worries and are far less likely to go to the doctor than women when they need to.
“We all know that physical health problems greatly increase the risk of developing mental health problems, and the other way round.
“Exercise is a great way to keep physically healthy as well as improving our mental well-being because it releases those feel-good chemicals - endorphins in the brain.
“Now I call myself The Fitness Motivator by offering physical fitness training and mentoring to men who are suffering from depression and anxiety.
“I am not a professional counsellor but by sharing my experience and offering support to those that really need it, I might be able to help to make a difference, even in a small way!
“Let’s face it, men need to get moving and talking!”