Shawn Johnson East is a celebrated gymnast and former Olympic champion who helped the United States team win the silver medal in 2008.
Since then, Shawn has gotten married to football player Andrew East, and the two have welcomed a daughter, Drew Hazel East.
Shawn and her husband have a popular YouTube channel where they really dig into the details of their lives. Over the years, they’ve shared a lot of really personal stuff about themselves, their careers, and their relationship. On Saturday, Shawn took to YouTube to detail an epic struggle she faced following the Olympics.
In the video titled “Body Image Issues: 110lbs to Pregnant,” Shawn opens up about what life was like for her after the Olympics.
The gymnastics career she had spent most of her life building was over, and she had to figure out what her next steps were. Elite-level gymnastics is very demanding, both physically and mentally, and Shawn suddenly had all this freedom in her life. It was probably even a little scary.
In the video, she explains that gymnastics was everything to her. “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.” Suddenly, she didn’t have to worry about any of that.
She said that everything up to the Olympics was 100% about the games. Once she didn’t have that focus, it became weird. “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.”
Shortly after the Olympics, Shawn appeared on Dancing With the Stars. She did really well, but she said it was a horrible time for her personally. “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.”
Because elite-level gymnasts train at such a high level, this often delays the natural progression of their bodies until adulthood. So Shawn all of a sudden had to deal with bodily functions that were entirely new to her. “I’d gained about 15 lbs. after the Olympics and I thought that that was the worst thing in the entire world.”
Gymnasts often have to stick to extremely strict exercise and diet regimens while training. Shawn shares that she ate only 700 calories a day while training for the games, and that she would even pass out during training. Gaining the weight really freaked her out, so she started to try to lose it. The trouble was, she didn’t know how to do so while remaining healthy.
“I started doing any and everything I possibly could to lose the weight and to look like I did at the Olympics. 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.”
She started taking different medications, including Adderall, ephedrine, and weight loss pills. “I went through this dark kind of spiral of a few years on terrible medications and drugs that tried to spike my metabolism and did nothing. I took diuretics, I did every fad diet. I remember I went through a three-week phase where I ate nothing but raw vegetables.”
Shawn retired before the next Olympics in 2012, and she said that she sought professional help. She met Andrew in 2016, and she was worried that between her training and her choices afterward, she might have made it harder for her body to be able to conceive and carry a child.
Happily, Shawn and Andrew welcomed Drew in 2019. “There was something that switched when I got pregnant, where it was no longer about me or my body or like the vanity or like the calories or what I looked like or what I weighed. I could have cared less. It was about protecting my baby. And I was so excited by that.”
And she thinks, in the end, everything she’s been through will help her. “I wouldn’t change anything for the world, I love that I went through it, it was very hard and I don’t wish that 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.”