Shawn Johnson Recalls Road to Recovery After Eating Disorder, Pill "Overdosing" and Miscarriage

Shawn Johnson reflected on her journey from a 700-calorie diet to recovering and becoming a mom.
By Samantha Schnurr Jun 29, 2020 4:20 PMTags
Related: Shawn Johnson's Road to Recovery After Eating Disorder

As Shawn Johnson said, "I wouldn't change anything for the world."

The famed gymnast and Olympic gold medalist was referring to her journey to recovery after battling with "perfection" and the toll it took on her—a journey she revisited in depth in a new video posted to her YouTube account titled, "body image issues: 110lbs to pregnant."

In the video, Johnson began by explaining that she restricted her diet to about 700 calories daily while competing for the 2008 Olympics, would pass out during practice, had no energy and was unable to have a period. 

"One of the things that was I guess a sacrifice and a cost of the sport was my perfectionism," she said, noting that she had taken that perfectionism too far. 

Once the Olympics were over, Johnson, who went on to compete on Dancing With the Stars, gained weight as a result of not training as she had been during the games and thought the gain was "the worst thing in the entire world." As a result, she began taking weight loss pills and Adderall and doing what she could to lose weight and look how she did at the Olympics. Johnson noted in the video that she realized she had an issue with self-image and that if she could not maintain perfection, she would go to "any and all costs to achieve it."

"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," she explained. "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, which didn't make any sense."

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Shawn Johnson and Andrew East are Married!

As Johnson continued to recall, she went through a "dark kind of spiral" for a few years that consisted of taking drugs to spike her metabolism, as well as diuretics and fad dieting. Paired with the struggle with her weight, the athlete also didn't feel like she had purpose once the Olympics were over. 

"I remember feeling like I had run straight into a brick wall full speed," she described in her YouTube video. "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."

She continued, "Now that the Olympics were over, I didn't know how to function as a normal human being, I didn't know how to eat, I didn't know when to set my alarm or do I set an alarm? I didn't know how to go into a gym and work out."

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Feeling lost without purpose combined with the stress she felt from being in the limelight with weight gain and puberty, Johnson said she didn't know how to function and reached her lowest point three years after the Olympics when she suffered a bad fall on a ski trip. At that point, she acknowledged she didn't feel good about her body, herself or the relationship she was in and that the last time she had felt happy was at the Olympics. 

As a result, she decided to go back to gymnastics and returned to the unhealthy lifestyle she had kept while training. "I competed, I won a medal and I still felt lost," she recalled. 

Realizing she had her "body back," Johnson said she still was not happy. While she was on track to make the 2012 Olympic team, Johnson said she started "burning out" of her sport, was prescribed Adderall and started taking "heavy doses" of it. However, she started to get depressed as what she described as a side effect and hit another low. "There was nothing in my life that was healthy," Johnson said, recalling not eating, arguing with her loved ones and overdosing on Adderall. 

Deciding she couldn't do it anymore, she quit gymnastics in 2012 and hired a therapist and nutritionist, describing this time as her "turning point." She eventually began consuming more calories, was weening off of Adderall and got married to Andrew East in 2016. 

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The following year, she suffered a miscarriage. "It was the lowest point of my life,"' she said. "I thought it was because of all of those bad choices I had made that had caused me to miscarry and that would potentially cause me to not be able to have a kid." The star included a clip of her doctor assuring her that she "didn't do anything."

In 2019, she got pregnant again and welcomed her first child, daughter Drew. While she feared a pregnancy would spur her to "relapse" if her body started changing and she gained weight, Johnson actually feared that she would not eat enough, which she deemed a major step and victory in her eating disorder recovery after a history of binging and purging and worrying about eating too much.  

After giving birth, Johnson was concerned she would relapse once her body wasn't serving a purpose as a mom, but the star said she still feels confident and doesn't feel pressured to work out. 

Furthermore, after feeling like she had no purpose, Johnson's sense of purpose has grown so much after getting married and becoming a parent. 

"The world's constantly trying to change you, but now with Drew, all I want to do is be a good influence," she said. 

"Having gotten clean from 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 it 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."