Shawn Johnson Opens Up About Body Image Struggles, Drug Use and Going from '110 Lbs. to Pregnant'
"Now that the Olympics were over, I didn't know how to function as a normal human being," the athlete shared in a YouTube video
Shawn, 28, explained in a new YouTube video, Body Image Issues: 110 Lbs. to Pregnant, that the conclusion of the 2008 Olympics left her feeling lost and without purpose — and that the rigorous training and strict diet that she had been following up until that point gave her an unrealistic idea of what her body should look like.
"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 said in the video. "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."
Shawn said that waking up the first morning after competing in Beijing — where she won a gold medal for her balance beam routine — she felt like she had "run straight into a brick wall full speed."
"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 athlete said that she started taking several different kinds of weight loss pills as well as ephedrine and Adderall.
"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."
"I went through this dark kind of spiral of a few years 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."
Shawn recalled various low points following Beijing and, after returning to gymnastics ahead of the 2012 Olympics, realized she couldn't continue on her current path and ultimately retired in June 2012. After that decision, she hired a therapist and nutritionist who helped her learn healthier habits.
Last year, she got pregnant again, and though she was afraid old habits would return, was determined to be as healthy as possible.
"There was something that switched when I got pregnant, where 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."
Shawn concluded the video by saying she's "proud" of what she's been through and how she has handled postpartum.
The gymnast said that having Drew gives her "such a sense of purpose" and makes her want to be a "good influence."
"Having gotten clean from, you know, the medications and the prescriptions and just the obsessiveness — I wouldn't change anything for the world, I love that I went through it, it was very hard and I don't wish that on anyone — but 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 battling an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or go to NationalEatingDisorders.org.