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‘It takes self-belief and a strong drive to achieve a goal like this’

by Susan Bromley

March 05, 2014

Chris Dunaway before he lost 285 pounds, with his son, Aiden.Photo by Susan Bromley..
Dunaway now at 185 pounds. Photo by Susan Bromley..
Groveland Twp.- Chris Dunaway weighed 470 pounds the day he started his weight loss journey. Two years later, he is 185 pounds and the 2013 Anytime Fitness Success Story winner.

"Excuses are what keep you from losing weight," said the 6'2", 34-year-old Davison resident. "You get home from work and think, 'I'm tired, I'll start tomorrow' or you think you're too far gone. It's not true. You just have to be committed."

Dunaway did not always have a weight problem. In high school, he was fit and played football and basketball. But after he graduated and left home where his mother had cooked his meals, he slowly started gaining weight. At 240 pounds, the former iron worker was still active in sports, but then he broke an ankle. Aided by consumption of all the wrong foods, his weight began spiraling out of control.

Dunaway never cooked at home. Instead, he was eating out at restaurants, and frequently picking up fast food for all of his meals. He loved Taco Bell, pizza, McDonald's and Mountain Dew, which he would drink 4-6 liters of per day. He'd eat a large pizza in one sitting or order two extra value meals with the intention of having more pop, but then eat all the food as well.

He was depressed and unhappy and the heavier he became, the more depressed he was, and the more he ate. He could still shoot a basketball, but he could no longer participate in a pickup game. He would get home from work, tired and sore, sit down and find himself unable to get up. Carrying the weight around was exhausting and he couldn't find stylish clothes to wear.

Dunaway didn't find his motivation to lose weight until his wife left him in February 2012 and took their children, Aiden, now 7, and T.J., 10.

"From the day I found out she was gone, I decided my kids needed me and if I didn't lose weight, I wasn't going to be around," he said.

Dunaway headed to Anytime Fitness, 250 N. Ortonville Road, the gym co-owned by his brother, Brian Dunaway. Brian had long been encouraging his brother to lose weight, but Chris intially mistook his support as poking fun and being critical. Chris was working full-time, but didn't want to go to an empty house every night, so instead, he went to the gym after work every day to stay busy, where he did weight training alongside Brian. He avoided cardio at first, working to get his weight down through strength training to avoid ankle injury. While he still had times when he made up excuses why he couldn't do things, he kept at it. He lost 70 pounds in the first two months, cutting out fast food and pop, adding salads, eating the veggie sub with no mayo from Subway instead of the Italian, and eating much less.

"I didn't want to call it a diet, I wanted to do it for the rest of my life— a lifestyle change," Dunaway said. "I don't go back for seconds and I never struggled with wanting to eat more once I decided to lose weight."

Dunaway shed 170 pounds this way, but plateaued when he tipped the scale at 300 pounds and asked Nick Hook, a personal trainer, for help, offering to take him to Florida with him if he won the Anytime Fitness Success Story. Hook agreed, and got Dunaway started on cardio and core work, training two hours per day, five days per week.

"It takes self-belief and a strong drive to achieve a goal like this," said Hook on Tuesday at Anytime Fitness Ortonville, now home of the 2013 Success Story winner, Chris Dunaway.

"A lot of people lose 100 pounds and they're content. You can always do better, there's no such thing as perfection in health."

Hook's mantra is one Star Wars fans will recognize, first uttered by Yoda, "Do or do not, there is no try."

Fitness, he adds, is 100 percent physical as well as 100 percent mental.

"He woke up every day motivated to be a better person," Hook said. "With good physical health comes good mental health. A lot of clients come in and can't look you in the eye— six months later, they're not living in a shell of embarrassment and not saying they can't anymore. They can. The nice thing about fitness is everyone can do it— we all start somewhere."

Chris Dunaway started at 470 and after losing nearly 300 pounds, he is at goal weight and, most importantly, happy, working at the gym and helping others to find happiness, too.

"Mentally, I feel great," he said. "I wish I could have done it sooner. I don't know if it would have saved my marriage, but it's hard to make someone happy when you're not... I'm happy now and the kids are happier. It's never too late. People get frustrated and they give up, but you've got to stick to it."