Katelyn Ohashi, ESPN Body Issue

Dana Scruggs for ESPN

Katelyn Ohashi is reflecting on her gymnastics career and her relationship with her body.

The 22-year-old UCLA alum, who went viral for her floor routine in Jan. 2019, is one of the cover stars for ESPN The Magazine's 11th Annual BODY Issue. Katelyn, who proudly posed naked for her cover story, also wrote an essay in which she candidly discussed overcoming eating disorders and body shaming. In her piece for the magazine, Katelyn took readers back to the early days of her gymnastics career, when she was just 3. 

"My mom used to say I did cartwheels in her stomach," she wrote. "I would never get out of the gym, and when I was at home I'd set up mini-tramps behind the couch and flip over them. It was so much fun."

Over time, however, competing grew less fun for Katelyn, who became an elite gymnast at the age of 12.

"The Olympics was the ultimate goal, but it was never my goal," Katelyn shared. "It was put in front of me because of my talent, and my coaches kept pushing me toward it. I felt like I couldn't give up because my family had made so many sacrifices. I became miserable. My voice was so suppressed. I still loved the sport, but the joy was diminished. I believed the medals were worth so much more than I was."

At the age of 14, Katelyn started being body shamed by "people whose opinions I valued." As a result, Katelyn wrote, "My friends and I would try to eat 500 calories or less when we were training seven hours a day. At parties, we would go to the bathroom and try to vomit up the food."

Katelyn noted that she wasn't educated on nutrition and the importance of fueling your body.

"I had a horrible relationship with food and didn't really understand why I was supposed to hate it, but I loved it so much at the same time," she shared. "It was so normalized because all the girls around me, my close friends, were doing the same thing."

Katelyn Ohashi

Melissa J Perenson/CSM/Shutterstock

At the age of 16, Katelyn got injured and was "forced to back away from the sport," which she called a "relief."

"It took a full year for me to miss gymnastics. That's when I called Miss Val [Valorie Kondos Field] at UCLA," Katelyn wrote. "I started taking ownership of my path. I told her I didn't want to do the Olympics anymore. I changed my path to college gymnastics and knew I wanted to go to UCLA. That's what brought me back."

It was during this time that Katelyn was able to find "passions" outside of gymnastics, and was able to get an education on nutrition.

"We had nutritionists and trainers who worked with us on our bodies, which helped me realize why it's so important to fuel it correctly," she explained. "It created a better environment for me to accept my body and not be super weird about eating. I don't prevent myself from eating anything. Once you release your mind, your body can relax and do what it's supposed to do."

Later in the essay, Katelyn wrote that doing the Body Issue is "important" to her because she's "able to take full ownership over my body and not allow anyone else to have power over how I feel about myself."

"I feel really accepting of the things I used to be insecure about," she shared. "I have gone through eating disorders and body shaming, and here I am today standing [laughs] naked in front of a camera doing this shoot for millions of people to see."

To read more from Katelyn's essay, head on over to ESPN. The final print edition of ESPN The Magazine hits newsstands on Sept. 6 with the 11th Annual BODY Issue.

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