“In one sense, I was so healthy. I think I was more mature and I had a better group of people around me to deal with everything that I was going through,” the 29-year-old explained during her Thursday, July 15, appearance on the “Dinner Party with Jeremy Fall” podcast. She went on to add that the “flaws” of the way the sport is run — which include not providing psychologists, nutritionists and other health specialists as part of young athletes’ regular routines — contributed to prolonging her struggles.
“For me as a kid, having this thought of, ‘Maybe if I looked thinner, these judges might like my performance better,'” she said. “I didn’t know how to get that result in a healthy way, except for, ‘If I eat less, I’ll lose weight.’ And because of that, I developed that eating disorder.”
The Iowa native noted that her successes, including her wins at the 2008 Olympic games, seemingly reinforced her negative habits. “When I started to starve myself and jeopardize my performance but still win a gold medal, that is probably one of the worst things that could have happened, because that told me it was worth it,” Shawn admitted on the podcast.
She continued to deal with her disorder while training for the 2012 Olympic games. “I struggled so much with eating disorders, mental illness, perfectionism, because I was trying to transition from being what gymnastics would deem as ‘perfect’ to a normal human being,” the former athlete added. “… The only thing I’ve ever known for 16 years, the only thing that I’ve ever made a decision based off of is gymnastics. Now that I didn’t have that, I felt lost as a human being.”
“I felt like someone had invaded my mind and was literally thinking for me. And it was this active effort I would have to put forward every single day to kind of battle that voice,” Shawn continued. “And when you get tired, you can’t battle it any longer, and it’s like, ‘I need a binge, I need a purge, I need to not eat, I need to eat so much,’ and I would just spiral so much that you lose control as a human.”
However, the mother of one — who is currently pregnant with baby No. 2 — decided to retire before the 2012 Olympic trials, which was a “turning point” in Shawn’s life and mental health. “I was so happy and so free, to be not a part of that world anymore,” she gushed during the show. “And that’s where I met my husband, and he completely changed my life.”