By GOOD MORNING AMERICA, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — For former Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, learning to love her body has been a years-long struggle.
In a new video shared to her YouTube channel, Johnson told her fans that as a gymnast in the 2008 Olympic Games, she restricted her calories to 700 per day and as a result, she “would pass out during practice or after,” and never had a menstrual cycle.
Being in the “limelight” on Dancing With the Stars the next year only heightened her self-consciousness.
Additionally, she felt lost without her sport, and without a purpose.
“I had to deal with not being an elite athlete, not training 50 hours a week, eating more than 700 calories a day, which naturally would let my body to adjust and gain weight which was healthy at the time but I didn’t know how to handle it,” she said, noting that she gained about 15 pounds. “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.”
“I started taking weight loss pills. I started taking Ephedrine. I started taking Adderall. I started doing any and everything that I possibly could to lose the weight and to look like I did at the Olympics,” she added. “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, 28, explained that although she did lose the weight and eventually returned to gymnastics, she quit after realizing how unhappy she was. Immediately, she hired a nutritionist and a therapist, and within a few years, she was “feeling more comfortable in my body,” and eating about 1,500 calories per day. In 2016, she married former professional football player Andrew East, and the next year, they were shocked to learn that Johnson was pregnant. However, that pregnancy ended in miscarriage.
“I had this gut-wrenching feeling that it was because of my past — because of the pills, the diuretics, because of starving myself and the weight fluctuations and the binging and purging,” she said. “I thought it was because of all those bad choices that I had made.”
Miscarriage, or early pregnancy loss, occurs in about 10 to 20% of known pregnancies, according to the Mayo Clinic. In most cases, miscarriages occur “because the fetus isn’t developing normally,” the organization reported.
Last year, Johnson and East, 28, learned they were expecting again, and the former Olympian said one of her first calls was to her nutritionist.
“I said, ‘My biggest fear is that I won’t eat enough,"” she said. “It was just an iconic moment for me.”
During her pregnancy, Johnson took vitamins every day and made sure to have two cheat meals each week. She also set a workout goal of 30 minutes of walking five times a week — a huge change for someone who used to plan four workout classes in a single day. Now a mom to her 8-month-old daughter, Drew, Johnson said she’s grown to accept her body.
“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 and will allow me to teach Drew how to be strong as well,” she said.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.