March 09, 2018 02:12 PM

Ten years ago, Gwilym Pugh never imagined he would one day be an in-demand model.

He was overweight, out of shape and living a sedentary lifestyle.

“A number of injuries, combined with running a financial services company through the financial crisis of 2006/2007, resulted in long hours working from home,”  Pugh, 33, tells PEOPLE. “I had such low energy, wasn’t physically active in any way and barely had a social life,”

Pugh’s weight continued to rise, reaching 280 lbs. before he finally decided to make a change.

“I had actually ran my stats through one of our life insurance systems and saw that I was statistically at a higher risk of death than an average person,” says the London-based Pugh. “I felt I was at a fork in the road. Either I carry on and carry on deteriorating or do something about it.”

Taking the slow and steady approach, Pugh’s weight loss journey lasted “5 to 7 years,” and included a lot of “trial and error.”

The winning solution: “An awareness when making food choices based on my level of activity throughout the day and what I have eaten up until that point,” says Pugh, who now focuses on micronutrients and good fats.

Another thing that helped him reach his 187-lb. goal weight was finding the right exercise. “It’s been about learning what I can do with my body safely,” says Pugh, who now sees an osteopath and a trainer, and aims for 20,000 steps per day.  “Due to injuries, I’ve struggled with high-intensity work, but I’ve found low-intensity cardio pre-breakfast has been great.”

Another life-changing moment came with Pugh started a band and grew a beard, prompting him to set up an Instagram account, which eventually caught the eye of a modeling agency.

Pugh has since landed gigs with GQ and Belstaff and has become an ambassador for David Beckham‘s grooming brand House 99.

“This life is something I had never even thought to dream of,” he says. “Every aspect of my life has improved from physical and mental health to personal and professional relationships.”

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