Olympic Gymnast Shawn Johnson Reveals Struggles With Eating Disorders

By John Lavitt 12/03/15

The former Olympic champion opens up about her struggles with weight and body image.

Shawn Johnson

Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson is revealing in public for the first time her past struggles with eating disorders.

Famous for earning four Olympic medals for gymnastics at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and three world titles, the 23-year-old also won ABC's Dancing With the Stars in 2009. In 2012, Johnson retired from gymnastics as she made the decision to walk away from the body negativity and embrace her true self. Today, Johnson operates a healthy living website, The Body Department.

As a former competitive gymnast, Johnson struggled for years with body image and weight struggles. Although not specific about what kind of eating disorders she had, Johnson detailed that she has adopted a healthier lifestyle. "I've kind of gone through the gamut when it comes to health," she told Yahoo! Health. "I've hit lows with—I don't want to say diagnosed eating disorders—but eating disorders.”

Johnson had denied such problems in the past. Although admitting to struggles with body shaming, she would not acknowledge any other problems.

“I was luckily strong enough to not fall into any of that," Johnson said in a 2012 interview with Reuters. "I was 6% body fat and I still thought I had to change something. That is so wrong. It's scary and so many girls go through it and they shouldn't."

Johnson told Yahoo! Health that when she competed on Dancing With the Stars, she became "kind of a huge target for criticism,” and cited her transition from Olympic gymnast to celebrity.

"Going through puberty on national TV and gaining weight, and just being kind of a huge target for criticism, was just really difficult for me," she said. "Because in gymnastics, I'd earned the respect of the world by how hard I had worked. DWTS was more glamorous, people weren't as forgiving.”

Today, Johnson has much to be happy about in her life. Her boyfriend Andrew East proposed to her in July on the field at a baseball game. "The most important thing that I would have wished had been ingrained in me when I was little is: Everything in moderation," Johnson said.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.