We first sat down with long-time Center for Health & Fitness (CHF) member Michael Thomas back in 2013 to learn about his ongoing fight to shed weight from his nearly 400-pound frame. At the time, he had successfully dropped nearly 80 pounds in just four months and his trainer, Derick Malit, had set a goal for Michael to someday earn recognition at CHF’s annual Spirit of Wellness celebration, which honors members who are overcoming daunting health challenges through determination and fitness.

We recently sat down again with Michael, 63, to talk about his progress since the last interview and to explore what drives him to keep returning to the gym and fighting to lose weight.

It’s been awhile since our last interview, so how are things going for you physically?

“I’m getting better in terms of working out on a regular basis and getting stronger. I’m seeing improvement in the exercises that my trainer, Derick (Malit), asks me to do, especially the outdoor cone drills that we do. When I started doing those drills it took me more than fifteen minutes to complete them, but now I’m doing them in seven with fewer rest breaks. So I’m happy about that.”

How has your weight loss been going?

“My weight is going down slowly. I’ve lost about 90 pounds in the past five years. I’ve hit some plateaus, which stalled my progress, but my weight hasn’t ever gone back up. Since my leg injury, I’ve started going on walks around my neighborhood streets on every off day to stay active. What’s funny is my neighbors are always stopping and asking me if I’m okay, because they see me sweating like crazy and probably looking really bad. But I just laugh and tell them, ‘I’m okay. I’m just exercising!’”

Have you suffered any setbacks since our last interview?

“About two years ago, I hurt my knee. I was doing something that I shouldn’t have been doing. I was getting into a car awkwardly because I was standing in a ditch essentially. I ended up putting too much stress on my knee and had to go see the doctor.”

How did the injury impact you mentally?

“It was tough, but I knew I could get through it. What helps is I have a positive attitude. I never say, ‘I’m never going to be able to do it,’ or ‘I’ll never make it.” I just take it one day at a time, because it’s about making little lifestyle changes like ordering grilled fish and vegetables at dinner instead of the burger and fries or steak. Simple stuff, but not always easy stuff. And Derick’s voice is ringing in my head all the time, because I know that each week I have to weigh myself. So that motivates me to make better, healthier decisions.”

I see you’re wearing a Fitbit now, has it helped?

“Getting a Fitbit has helped motivate me to walk more. The goal is 10,000 steps a day, and if I’m anywhere near that by 8, 9 o’clock at night you might just see me walking around the block to get those extra steps in before bed. I’ve done it so much at this point that I know exactly how far around the block I need to go to get those last 2,000 steps, too. One night my wife and I were both outside our house at 10 o’clock at night just pacing back and forth trying to hit our goals before bed. I really like using the fitbit because it’s so satisfying to reach those little goals.”

What’s been your biggest challenge?

“Nutrition, because I slip sometimes, but also building muscle strength and getting my body in sync to where walking or running isn’t an issue. But I’m getting there with Derick’s help. I know I can do it, and he keeps pushing me.”

What are you doing to overcome those challenges?

“I stay on track and keep coming to the gym. I’m here three days a week, even my family knows not to bug me on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Those days I belong to CHF. And it’s easy for me to come to the gym because it makes me feel good; I like the people and the atmosphere because they help keep me on track.”

What are your goals for the next year?

“I need to lose another 50 pounds. My doctor set that goal for me because I don’t want to get the weight-loss surgery he recommended. So once I drop another 50 pounds, we won’t have to have that conversation again. So that’s my first big goal. I’m not looking for a quick fix. I’m interested in living a healthy lifestyle and making choices that make my life better.”

What does health mean to you?

“Health to me is a feeling. When you’re healthy you enjoy life and participate in the things going on around you. At some point my daughter will probably have kids, and I want to be able to keep up with them, play with them and just be with them. So my vision of health is living a lifestyle that allows me to do the things I want without much trouble. And that’s what I’m working towards; that’s why I keep coming to the gym.”

What advice would you give to someone struggling to lose weight?

“Just keep at it. Don’t look for a quick fix. Take it slow and keep making baby steps. Find positive things to focus on, like if you’re eating better or exercising more, and don’t let yourself give up on a healthy lifestyle.”