It’s hard to imagine that Shawn Johnson, Olympic gold medal champion, and two-time Teen Choice Award winner for Choice Female Athlete, once struggled with body image issues. “I’ve kind of gone through the gamut when it comes to health,” Johnson told Yahoo Health. “I’ve hit lows with, I don’t want to say diagnosed eating disorders, but eating disorders. And then I’ve gone the other way, where I’ve rejected fitness.”
However, it wasn’t the pressure of international competition that caused the 23-year-old to lose confidence in her strong body, it was when she entered the competition show, “Dancing with the Stars” on ABC.
“When I first went on (DWTS), I was 16, and I turned 17 on the show,” she said. “Going from this strict, regimented schedule to 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.”
The stress of being in the Hollywood spotlight got to Johnson. “I felt like every site you went to, there was a fad, or a trend, or a diet, or ‘look like this girl on the red carpet,’ or ‘the only way you could become good enough is if you do this,’” Johnson says.
As she overcame her issues, Johnson was inspired to co-found, The Body Department, a website for young girls about fitness and nutrition. “For me, it was kind of like, what if I could build a place for these girls to go that was just as cool, but there is no negative association? It was health, and beauty, and fun, and ‘you’re perfect the way you are — but here are some workouts.’ And it kind of took off.”
In her journey to kick out negative body thoughts, Johnson stopped doing the juice cleanses and diets she forced herself on while competing on “DWTS” in 2008, in which she won the golden trophy, and in 2012 “All Stars” edition, in which she earned 2nd place. She started eating healthy with clean natural foods such as eggs, fish, gluten-free toast, and protein shakes that she makes by mixing frozen bananas, almond milk, a peanut butter, and chocolate protein.
“The most important thing that I would have wished had been ingrained in me when I was little is: Everything in moderation,” Johnson says.“It’s OK to have cookies. It’s OK to have ice cream. It’s OK to indulge — or not. Everything in moderation.”
Johnson also had to re-learn how to work out. Other than gymnastics training, she had no idea how normal people stayed fit. She’d never lifted weights or went running before. Now she’s a certified personal trainer, with an affinity for spin classes and is working towards competing in her first marathon.
“When people see athletes do sites like (The Body Department), they think it’s easy because it’s what we’ve grown up in,” she says. “But something that I haven’t spoken a lot on is that it hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve gone through a huge roller coaster of all the ups and downs. And having gone through all that, I’m at a place where I can help kids and girls and relate to all of them, and say, ‘I understand where you’re at, and I got through it.’”
Even though a recent knee injury keeps Johnson off the mat, she says that she’s “getting back into it. Not to compete, but there’s a tour next year that I could potentially be doing. And of course, she’ll be at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio, to cheer on the U.S. team. which she boasts are “some of the strongest girls I’ve ever seen.”