Shawn Johnson details 'dark spiral' of medications, body image issues after 2008 Olympic gold

Olympic Gymnast Shawn Johnson visits Hallmark's "Home & Family" at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 24, 2019 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)
Shawn Johnson detailed her struggle with body image, Adderall and nutrition after the 2008 Olympics. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)

Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson East has detailed in depth her struggles with body image, weight loss medication and nutrition after the 2008 Bejing Olympics.

Johnson, 28, shared a nearly 25-minute video on the family YouTube page, “The East Fam,” that she updates with husband Andrew East, a former NFL player. In it Johnson shared her body image story through the past decade to answer fan questions about her body postpartum. She gave birth to her daughter, Drew, in October.

Johnson won gold in the balance beam in 2008 and added silver medals in the floor, all-around and team competition. She said in the video, titled “Body Images Issues: 110 Lbs. to Pregnant,” that she hit a low point after those games and in appearing on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009.

“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 said. "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.”

Johnson, who was 16 at the time of the games, said there were bad habits that came with being a gymnast that she tried to continue. A big one was being perfect, and that included a body type she thought was perfect. She was eating about 700 calories a day over two meals, she said, and would pass out after practices. When competing was over, she started taking different types of weight loss drugs plus ephedrine and Adderall. It was a “dark kind of spiral,” she said.

“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.”

Johnson detailed exactly when she decided she would retire instead of continue in gymnastics and how she hired a therapist and nutritionist to help her get on a healthy track. She said she’s come a long way and “gotten clean” from all of the medications and prescriptions.

In 2016, when she married East, she said she was up to a healthy four meals and about 1,500 calories a day. In 2017 she miscarried, another low point in her life, she said.

When they decided to begin trying again, she said she was concerned her body issues would come back the way they were when she was younger. Instead, her remarks to her nutritionist showed how far the gold medalist has come in her healthy journey.

“I said my biggest fear is that I won’t eat enough. And it was just an iconic moment for me and her because she literally started crying on the phone. She’s like, ‘Shawn, you’ve worked with me for almost 10 years.’ She said, ‘Did you ever think you’d be uttering those words?’ Because up until then my biggest fear in life was that I would eat too much. And even though I would deprive myself calorically, to be able to say I feared I wasn’t going to be able to eat enough to protect my baby was this huge step and victory.”

Johnson said she’s proud of what she’s gone through and how she’s handled body issues postpartum, adding it’s because of her history that she’s doing so well with it. She wants to be a “good influence” for Drew moving forward.

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