One day in March 2011, Jenny Joyner went shopping for the baggiest clothes she could find. She was desperate to hide her post-divorce weight gain from her father, who was battling stage 4 colon cancer that would kill him the following year.
“I didn’t want to disappoint my dad with how bad I had gotten, and I didn’t want him to comment on it either,” Joyner remembers. “I was very alone. My marriage breakup was very ugly, and while I realize I was not blameless, it left me feeling absolutely worthless, unwanted and confused.”
Then Joyner’s boss told her it was time to lay off the cookies. That was her rock bottom.
Joyner had done Weight Watchers twice before and lost 50 pounds each time but, without exercise built into her plan, she gained it all back. This time, she joined Body By D, a fitness center not far from her York County home that offers tough, boot camp-style workouts. The cardiovascular and weight-training elements and caring trainers transformed her body and spirit.
Since then, Joyner has lost about 100 pounds and toned her body from a size 20 to an 8/10. Full of energy and optimism, the 39-year-old mother of three now is developing an online-based business to offer motivation, exercise tips, meal plans and recipes from a “normal girl”—one who still has a few issues with her own body, specifically her arms and stomach.
“I am not super fit without any body fat, and I never will be,” she notes. “What I have done has required hard work, but it is attainable. You just have to never give up on yourself. I want to help people avoid my mistakes and show them that life on the other side is so much better and happier.”
Joyner has created a Facebook page (Jenny Joyner—Stronger Every Day) and will launch a website to grow her following on social media. She also is working toward certifications in both Nutrition & Wellness and Weight Management from American Fitness Professionals & Associates, a national organization that helps train people for careers in the health and fitness industry.
Although never thin, the 5-foot-8-inch Joyner was a size 14 through high school and didn’t really struggle with her weight until after she got married. When her 12-year union ended in divorce, the pounds piled on as she ate out of stress and boredom, often filling up on fast food. She hit a high of 261 pounds and found herself easily short of breath.
Change had to come slowly, Joyner finally realized. Exercise had to become a habit, almost like another job; at the same time, poor food choices could negate even the most intense workouts. Joyner stopped underestimating her body’s abilities and looking for fad diets or magic pills that didn’t exist. “If you search the Internet for nutrition or workout advice, find it in at least three different places before you even think about putting it to use,” she counsels today.
For Joyner, the mental transformation of weight loss has been greater than the physical. “I have confidence, I am fearless, outgoing and having a blast,” she says. “I am a better mom because I am more active. I’ve done things I never thought I would do.” She has entered road races and endurance events and usually hits the gym six days a week. Her three kids—Audrey, 17; Ethan, 9; and Will, 8—all work out at Body By D, too.
Joyner also has returned to a goal she set years ago: a bachelor’s degree. She was a third-year student at George Mason University when she left college to move with her now-ex-husband to Hampton Roads. She hopes to finish an accounting degree at Old Dominion University by the end of 2016, fitting one class a semester into her busy schedule.
As for her ex-husband, the two have become good friends and own a utility contracting company together, which Joyner pairs with a full-time job as an office manager for a commercial electrical contractor—and, of course, plenty of exercise time.
“I want to keep getting better and stronger,” she says. “People who are closest to me say that I am just now becoming the person they have always seen in me. What a fantastic compliment.”