Shawn Johnson got very real about her journey to embracing her body in her June 27 video uploaded to her YouTube channel. The 28-year-old gold medal-winning Olympian opened up in a video titled, Body Image Issues: 110 Lbs. to Pregnant about her struggle following the 2008 Olympics and how she took her “perfectionism mindset way too far.” Shawn described feeling like she had “run straight into a brick wall full speed,” and had struggled with “eating disorders, depression, [and] anxiety because as soon as the Olympics were over…I quickly realized I had a self-confidence and self-image issue.”
“Every decision I made in my life up until that moment, for at least 13 of my 16 years, was based on gymnastics. What it would take and what I needed to do to get to the Olympics. What I ate, who I hung out with, how I dressed,” she explained. “Literally every decision I made was for the Olympics. Now that the Olympics were over, I didn’t know how to function as a normal human being.”The gymnast, however, tried to find her footing and appeared on the eighth season of Dancing with the Stars in 2009. But unbeknownst to fans, she endured a major change while on the ballroom floor. “When I went on Dancing with the Stars and I had my period for the first time, and I had to deal with going through puberty on national television, I hit a very low spot,” Shawn shared. “I’d gained about 15 lbs. after the Olympics and I thought that that was the worst thing in the entire world — which it wasn’t, it was healthy and normal.”
With her body changing in front of the world, the athlete chose to take different kinds of weight loss pills and various medications to halt her weight gain. “I started doing any and everything I possibly could to lose the weight and to look like I did at the Olympics,” she said, “because in my mind, everybody praised me for what I did at the Olympics, they praised who I was as a human being when I was there. And in my mind if I could look like that — not necessarily compete or do gymnastics — but if I could be that person again, then the world would say that I was ‘enough’ and I was accepted.”
Shawn further described the “dark spiral” she fell into where she was “on terrible medications and drugs that tried to ‘spike my metabolism’ and did nothing, I took diuretics, I did every fad diet. I remember I went through a three-week phase where I ate nothing but raw vegetables.” After trying to return to gymnastics in 2012, Shawn made the ultimate decision to retire and hired a nutritionist and therapist to help her through her struggles and into a brighter, healthier future.
Shawn went on to marry Andrew East in 2016 but endured an incredibly difficult personal blow when she suffered a miscarriage during her first pregnancy, ultimately blaming herself for the loss when it wasn’t on her at all. Last year, however, in April 2019, Shawn and her husband revealed that she was expecting and Shawn gave birth to the couple’s daughter Drew Hazel East on October 29, 2019. For Shawn, she described how “something switched” when she got pregnant.
“It was no longer about me or my body or like the vanity or like the calories or what I looked like or what I weighed,” she said in the video. “I could have cared less. It was about protecting my baby. And I was so excited by that.” Now, as a young mom, all Shawn really wants to do is “be a good influence…I’ve had these tough experiences that make me a stronger mom that will allow me to teach Drew how to be strong as well.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association helpline by calling 1-800-931-2237 or by visiting NationalEatingDisorders.org.