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Shawn Johnson
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Shawn Johnson East shares struggles with body image, prescription drugs

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Shawn Johnson East, a 2008 Olympic gymnastics champion, detailed past struggles with body image and prescription drugs and reflected on her eating disorder as an elite athlete, to show there is hope to others in difficult situations.

“It all started with pregnancy and having my daughter,” East, who had daughter Drew in October, said on TODAY on Monday. “I had so many people asking me questions about how did pregnancy affect you mentally and how did you get your body back after having your daughter. I couldn’t answer that without giving a greater and a larger story.”

East first went public about her undiagnosed teenage eating disorders in 2015, three years after retiring from the sport. She said she limited herself to 700 calories per day and didn’t tell her parents.

In a June YouTube video, Johnson said she also binged and purged, including while dating future husband Andrew in the mid-2010s. And that she had depression and anxiety in 2011, when she returned to competition for the first time since the Beijing Games.

“I thought it would fix all of my problems,” East said of returning to gymnastics for a 2012 Olympic bid.

When East won “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009, she “hit a very low spot” going through puberty on national TV. She said she gained 15 pounds after the 2008 Olympics and started taking medications and drugs “to look like I did at the Olympics.” It included fad diets, diuretics and a three-week stretch of eating nothing but raw vegetables.

“Most pain of my entire life because I couldn’t digest anything,” she said.

At some point in 2011, East began feeling burned out. She was back to eating too few calories and overtraining. An unnamed USA Gymnastics doctor prescribed her Adderall “to lose more weight, have more energy and be more successful in gymnastics.” She took “heavy doses.”

“It helped my performances, but there were massive consequences to it,” she said. “I continued to compete into 2012, where I just started to get depressed.

“I was overdosing on Adderall. I was overdosing on any medication that wouldn’t be caught by USADA.”

Adderall was a banned substance in competition without a therapeutic use exemption, but was legal outside of competition.

“I was so controlled by other people’s opinions that I wouldn’t live up to that Olympic standard that I did anything to get it back and I could never have it back,” East said. “I didn’t learn that until later on.”

East’s mental hurdles re-emerged when she had a miscarriage in 2017. She blamed herself, believing her unhealthy lifestyle in the past was a contributor.

“Our natural inclination is to say, what did I do? And what did I do wrong?” she said. “It haunted me. I felt like I had sacrificed everything for an Olympic medal to not actually get the dream I had wanted my entire life [to have a child].”

With the help of a nutritionist and therapist and her husband, she conquered the demons through her 2019 pregnancy and childbirth.

“Having gone through a whole pregnancy and knowing that I felt confident through the whole thing, I feel like I’ve climbed Everest,” she said.

MORE: Why Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson went 8 years without talking

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Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin wear 2008 leotards to watch Beijing Olympic replay

Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson
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Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson dressed up to rewatch Beijing Olympic gymnastics finals together for the first time — in their 2008 all-around final leotards.

“I literally had to break it out of a frame,” Johnson said in an Instagram live, where she and Liukin watched NBCSN’s Olympic Games Week broadcast from separate homes on Tuesday night. “When you’re breastfeeding, putting on a leotard is brutal.”

Johnson and husband former NFL long snapper Andrew East have a 5-month-old daughter, Drew.

East joked he had to persuade Johnson to wear her red leotard from 12 years ago. A half-hour before the broadcast, Liukin posted a selfie while wearing her pink leotard from the all-around final.

“We did it. We have leotards on,” Liukin said a few minutes into the broadcast. “Can we take these off yet?”

They changed after about 10 minutes, near the end of the first rotation of the team final.

Liukin and Johnson led the U.S. to silver medals behind China in the team final in Beijing. They went one-two in the all-around final two days later and earned five more medals combined in apparatus finals the following week.

MORE: Why Liukin, Johnson went 8 years without talking

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Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson reunited after ‘rivalry’ split them apart

Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson
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Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson chose to rewatch the 2008 Olympics together — Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN — and live stream their experience on Instagram. Such a thought was unfathomable a few years ago.

Liukin and Johnson were roommates at the Beijing Olympics, where they took gold and silver, respectively in the all-around. They were also joined in text, script and graphics across media that summer.

Then they went nearly eight years without talking to each other after the Games.

“The entire world like plotted us against one another,” Johnson said in a 2018 YouTube sitdown between the two retired gymnasts. “As soon as all-around hit, it was like Nastia or Shawn. … We kind of felt like, well, they don’t want us to be friends. They won’t allow us to be friends.”

After Liukin had not received an invitation to Johnson’s April 2016 wedding, it was Johnson who reached out with a long email.

“If you don’t respond, I totally get it,” she said. “Just know that I love you. I miss my best friend. I support you in everything you do.”

Liukin, in tears, responded 30 seconds later. They met in New York a few weeks after that. Liukin did attend Johnson’s wedding to NFL long snapper Andrew East.

“Sports is just such a small part of your life, yet a big part of your life,” Liukin said in 2018. “It brought us together. It drove us apart. It brought us back together.”

MORE: NBCSN Olympic Games Week TV, live stream schedule

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