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Shawn Johnson opens up about overcoming eating disorder in new video

The former Olympic gymnast ate just 700 calories a day while she trained for the 2008 games.
/ Source: TODAY

Former Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson is opening up about the eating disorder she battled at the height of her athletic career.

The gold-medal winner, 28, revealed in a candid new video on her YouTube page that her need for "perfectionism" combined with a "self-image issue" had her eating only about 700 calories a day while she trained for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"I would restrict my diet while I was competing to about 700 calories a day. I would pass out during practice or after practice. My body would cramp. I didn't have energy. I was unable to have a period. I wasn't maturing," she recalled.

"I didn't talk about it. I didn't even tell my parents about it until afterward," said the new mom.

Johnson, who went on to compete on "Dancing with the Stars," said living in the post-Olympics "limelight" only made her feel worse about herself.

"During this time, 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 adjust and gain weight — which was healthy at the time, but I didn't know how to handle it."

Shawn Johnson competing on the balance beam during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Shawn Johnson competing on the balance beam during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.AFP-Getty Images

Johnson said she struggled when she had her period for the first time during her stint on "DWTS."

"I had to deal with going through puberty on national television," recalled the athlete, who said she gained "about 15 pounds" after the 2008 games.

Unhappy with her body, Johnson began taking weight loss pills and Adderall and tried dangerous fad diets to get back to her Olympic weight.

"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."

Johnson continued living in a "dark kind of spiral," taking diuretics and other drugs to "spike" her metabolism. With the Olympics behind her, she felt she'd "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," she shared.

"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," she added.

She hit her lowest point at age 19 after injuring herself in a ski accident. She decided to return to gymnastics — and her "terrible" training habits — but soon "felt lost." She quit the sport for good in 2012, hired a therapist and nutritionist and began focusing on her health and happiness.

In 2016, Johnson married pro football player Andrew East, 28. When the couple suffered a miscarriage the following year, Johnson blamed herself.

"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," she recalled.

But in October 2019, the couple welcomed 8-month-old daughter, Drew. Johnson called giving birth "the greatest moment of my life."

Looking back, the former Olympian said she's grateful for all she went through because she now has the tools she needs to be a good influence on her little girl.

"Having gotten clean from the medications and the prescriptions and just the obsessiveness, I wouldn't change anything for the world," she shared. "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."