Take a class with Wynedka Palmer at the Christ Church YMCA, and you’ll get more than a great workout. Wynedka is a staunch advocate for proper form and has a knack for words of encouragement at just the right time. If you lock your knees during a squat, she'll help you improve. And if she sees you struggling, she will help you get over the hump.

With her expertise and enthusiasm on display every day, it’s hard to believe that 20 years ago, Wynedka weighed more than 300 pounds and was battling breast cancer. Now 130 pounds lighter and cancer-free, Wynedka is a fixture at the Y, where she teaches five days per week.

Wynedka recalls the isolation she felt during her recovery from cancer. After her surgery, her husband got a job, her family moved to Franklin, and she struggled at home. “I didn’t go to work. My husband went off to work, my kids went to school. I stayed at home. Oreos became my best friend,” she said. “One day I woke up and I was over 300 pounds.”

“The devil is not winning today”

Wynedka’s weight loss journey started with a TV commercial. Too embarrassed to go to a co-ed gym, Wynedka was intrigued by an ad for a women’s-only gym in the community. She knew she had to do something. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘I am not the best me. I am not the best wife, the best mother, the best Christian. … This is not what God intended.’” She made a determination: the next Monday she was going to the gym, no matter what.

“I woke up that day—and I’ll never forget this—it was storming, and I said to myself, ‘The devil is not winning today.’ So I got my clothes on and called the gym. In the storm, I went there and joined.”

Shedding weight with water aerobics

Wynedka stuck to her plan and went to the gym every day for a year. She started with step aerobics, but struggled with joint pain in her knees. Her doctor at a bone and joint clinic encouraged her to try water aerobics. She was skeptical at first. “Like most people that don’t know that much about it, I had my nose all up in the air. I thought, ‘I’m too young for that.’”

But she tried it, despite her reservations, and found herself among many younger participants. “I instantly fell in love with it, and the weight fell off.”

Within a year, she went from a size 28 to a size 18. Impressed with her dramatic weight loss, the gym manager called local media and The Tennessean published an article on her success.

The gym staff had something else in mind for her as well. “They called me about teaching. I prayed about it. I pray about everything.”

A few months later, she took the leap and completed certification at Middle Tennessee State University and started teaching water aerobics classes.

Taking the Leap to Les Mills

After her certification in water aerobics, Wynedka went on to be one of the first in the area to get certified in Les Mills BODYPUMP. But it took time for her to warm to the idea. “It didn’t even make sense to me. I thought I would lose all my creativity. This is crazy.”

Now Wynedka reflects on her Les Mills certification as a life-changing process. “Becoming a Les Mills instructor and going through four initial trainings was the best decision I have made in my fitness career. I became stronger mentally and physically, a lot wiser and more human. We look for progress, not perfection.”

Joining the Y

Wynedka says she came to the YMCA in 2010 out of convenience. There was security in the Y’s nationwide presence, should her family ever move again. But it became so much more than a job.

“Once I got here it became much larger than that. I had no idea (the Y) did as much giving back to the community as it does.” As a breast cancer survivor, Wynedka was moved by the Y’s After Breast Cancer program, as well as its Open Doors program.

Baby steps toward healthy eating

Today, Wynedka encourages others by sharing that she had to take healthy habits one day at a time in order to stick with them. “It’s a tricky thing. It’s not a one-size-fits-all. I found the thing that worked for me.”

She started by cutting back on her favorite snack, Oreos. Then she focused on cutting down fried foods, then soda. “I took baby steps and did one thing at a time. Little things become big things.”

Wynedka uses the 80/20 rule, focuses on smaller portions, and always drinks water first. She stresses the importance of enjoying treats. “I don’t deprive myself. I give myself permission a day each weekend to enjoy whatever I want.”

For Wynedka, consistency is key. But that’s easier said than done. Her advice? If you fall off the wagon, get right back on it. “It’s what happens after that determines our success,” she says. She also encourages positive self-talk. “Your body listens to what you think. Don’t beat yourself up.”

And what about those Oreos she loved so much? “I’m not much for Oreos these days. … I can take or leave it.”

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