when twenty-three year old Jordan Younger took her healthy blogging journey from one based on veganism (her popular blog was named the Vegan Blonde) to one based on a more balanced diet for her own personal health reasons, she never could have expected the response she received. Jordan experienced a barrage of internet-breaking feedback from her community so negative, it garnered her story national news coverage at the time. It uncovered a strange gap in compassion and understanding in our wellness world and broke the topic of “orthorexia” wide open for discussion.
Jordan’s blog is now named The Balanced Blonde and Jordan has staunchly stood by her lifestyle changes, now divulging her full journey in a book named Breaking Vegan: One Woman’s Journey from Veganism, Extreme Dieting, and Orthorexia to a More Balanced Life. We’re fascinated by Jordan’s journey and want to bring her experience into discussion. Here’s the scoop from Jordan below. Leave us your comments and let us know where you stand on this topic!
I have been doing a lot of reflection lately about my eating disorder journey, and what it was exactly that made me come to my senses. What enabled me to recognize that I needed to start recovering before it got as bad as it could have gotten? I read a lot of books, blogs and emails written by others who have suffered and in many ways dealt with their illness for much longer than I did, and it has caused me to stop and think — what was it that made me come to my senses after two years of intense restriction? What caused that shift? I have been trying to figure that out in order to express it and help others, and this article will be my best (and first!) attempt at doing that.
To give you a bit of history about my journey, I have suffered from undiagnosed stomach problems since I was a baby. A lot of different foods have always made me feel nauseous, bloated, sick to my stomach and uncomfortable, so I learned early on to avoid certain food groups all together. In my teenage years I dabbled with all sorts of dietary labels from vegetarian to vegan, to gluten-free, to dairy-free, to sugar-free, to low acid, to low glycemic and everything in between — as well as everything all at once. At the time they all helped here and there, but none of them ever really stuck.
It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I took the leap into full on plant-based veganism. I had been somewhat of a pescetarian (vegetarian + fish) for many years, so cutting out the rest of the animal products that I still ate – like dairy, eggs, and fish – didn’t seem like too huge of a leap at first. I did a five-day plant-cased cleanse with my mom to ring in the New Year that consisted of five days of fruits, veggies and nuts along with two juices and a smoothie each day.
I felt so incredible eating that way and cutting out all the processed foods and animal products from my diet during the cleanse that I decided to remain plant-based vegan and never look back. I have an extreme personality, so choosing to go “all in” wasn’t something new for me. I am usually either all in or all out and, in this case, all in just felt right to me. At the time, I felt healthier than ever.
I fell hard and fast for the plant-based vegan lifestyle. I made it my entire life by starting to learn all sorts of yummy vegan recipes, researching vegan restaurants and talking to everyone I knew about what I was doing and how great I felt. Simultaneously, I dropped about 20 pounds in a short period of time. I wasn’t just eating a plant-based diet but I was also restricting my food intake at the same time, because I was addicted to that “light” feeling that eating just vegetables and fruits gave me. I distinctly remember wondering how I ever enjoyed legitimate fullness or satiation in the past because that light feeling was so euphoric in the beginning of my restrictive period.
Not much time passed before I started my blog, The Blonde Vegan. I started posting photos of my plant-based creations and musings on social media and the Internet. I used a lot of hashtags and racked up a following pretty quickly. I loved connecting with readers who were interested in my seemingly super-healthy lifestyle and wanted to share the passion with me by reading my blog and engaging with me. I started to feel a responsibility as a growing face in the vegan community to write about the lifestyle from all angles, to share recipes and lifestyle tips, and to live up to The Blonde Vegan persona I had begun to create for myself.
The first several months in vegan blog-land felt like a blissful whirlwind, but after a bit more time passed I knew that my personal health was starting to slip. I had been highly restrictive and was starting to feel the effects of it on my body and in my energy levels. In many ways, a plant-based diet can be healthy and full of abundance… But I wasn’t living that abundant lifestyle, and I wasn’t giving my body what it needed. Over the next year, I started to show signs of malnutrition through hair thinning, low energy/lethargy, anxiety and isolation, orange skin (too much beta-carotene!) and an overall obsession with shopping for, preparing, and photographing my plant-based foods.
A year and a half in, I knew the lifestyle had become too much for me. I was too all in… And I didn’t feel healthy anymore. As someone who is passionate about wellness and sharing my active, healthy lifestyle with my readers and friends, I felt like I wasn’t being true to who I was, nor was I portraying an authentic version of myself on my blog. That inner self-awareness and intense, subconscious passion for being authentic to myself is what I believe I have to thank for coming to my senses when I did.
With a little bit of research, I realized that I had orthorexia. Orthorexia is an eating disorder classified by an obsession with healthy, pure, clean foods from the earth and a subsequent fear and avoidance of any foods that you deem “off limits” because they aren’t healthy enough. I knew that was exactly me. I had elements of anorexia and restriction going on, which even lead to binging at times (on super healthy foods,) and I was caught up in a cycle of extremes with food, no matter where I turned.
I started sharing my newfound discovery of orthorexia with my friends, family and nutritionist, and everyone swiftly agreed that I needed to get help by beginning to detach myself from the labels I had created for my diet and stuck to so rigidly for nearly two years. Beginning to let go of those labels was incredibly freeing and also terrifying, especially because my online persona – and now business – completely depended upon the foundations of being The Blonde Vegan.
Even though it was scary to come clean to my blog audience about what I was going through, I wanted to do it because recovery was worth it to me. I wanted my life back. I wanted my vibrant personality, my active lifestyle, the fun times with my friends, my less anxious self, my creativity, my flexibility with plans and eating times… I wanted it all back.
Slowly but surely, I started taking steps to recovery and breaking down the rules that I had so strictly abided by for so long. For me, that meant letting go of the vegan label and allowing myself to relearn how to listen to my body. It meant being incredibly open with those around me about what I was going through, because for so long I kept the pain of my obsessions to myself. It also meant shifting the way I viewed life – mainly by letting go of the extreme and “perfect” version of everything I did, and starting to just live in the middle. To live a balanced life wherever possible instead of striving for an unattainable ideal of perfection.
Recovery, for me, was an awesome experience, despite the many challenges and ups and downs. It was a journey of intense self-reflection, radical honesty and utmost acceptance. It was about learning that who I am on the inside is a girl who has so much to offer, and that a few pounds on the scale have absolutely nothing to do with that. It was about relearning true happiness, how to achieve that and how to be me again. I ended up changing my blog name to The Balanced Blonde, not just because I strive for balance every day but because that’s what I want to promote to my readers and to anyone else struggling. There is hope and there is so much beauty in balance and moderation. I hope that my story can be an inspiration to anyone who is still struggling. There is light at the end of the tunnel and you deserve to be exactly who you are and nothing short of that.
Leave us your comments below – what are your thoughts on orthorexia? Check out Jordan’s book Breaking Vegan: One Woman’s Journey from Veganism, Extreme Dieting, and Orthorexia to a More Balanced Life to learn more about the topic of extreme dieting and orthorexia.
Love you guys!! You will always be my favorite. Thank you for giving me the platform to share my journey! XO
As someone who has struggled to create a healthy relationship with food for years, I cannot praise you enough and express what an incredible source of inspiration and support you have been. I’ve been reading your blog for years and am amazed at the grace and poise with which you handle challenges, successes and the negativity that can come with sharing yourself so open and honestly. You’re a beautiful soul and a true role model.
An eating disorder is a MENTAL ILLNESS! Jordan had problems long before she chose to become vegan. No diet ever caused someone to become anorexic, bulimic or binge. Restriction of calories leads to an eating disorder when your head believes you have no voice. Withdrawing from friends and family is also part of having an eating disorder. Her stomach problems could have been caused by stress, chron’s disease, ulcers or any number of illnesses including an imbalance of gut bacteria. I was anorexic from the age of 18 to 46 upon which I was hospitalized. I chose a vegan lifestyle – High Carb Low Fat and it’s so easy. I don’t count calories, I eat a LOT and my own stomach issues are gone. Dairy and soy cause major problems, so I’m glad to give them up. Years of therapy helped me work through my mental issues which stemmed from my childhood. Being vegan does not cause one to have an eating disorder. I truly don’t even know if I believe in Othorexia. Jordan clearly restricted calories which led to her eating disorder. I’ve never known anyone claim to be fully recovered from an eating disorder in such a short period of time. Jordan’s story totally confuses me especially after I received notice of the death of a high school friend who died at the age of 63 from years of suffering from an eating disorder.
What a fantastic article. I am the same age, and have been through my own struggles over the years, going from the an extreme obsession with healthy eating (which I now can identify as orthorexia) to the dangerous territory of anorexia. I was eating well, but was extremely underweight and severely malnourished. I am so blessed to have made it through the experience with limited repercussions. Finding a balance for me was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Food does not just fuel the body. It is social. It brings people together. It holds a story for each one of us. Whilst I still care about what I eat, and eat a very healthy diet, I have balance. I can enjoy an ice cream with my friends as a treat. You need to eat in a way that is right for you. Congratulations for having the courage to step out and take a stand. Continue to shine brightly and inspire others. xx
Really sick of reading about her everywhere. Good for her for getting help, but she is still attempting to make money offering advice about how to be healthy while clearly being in no place to give out this sort of advice. I followed her at the beginning, and even while she struggled she continued to give health advice on her blog, write a book and sell her clothing. There are millions of women struggling with eating disorders of all types, they just happen to not be making money off of it. All the best to Jordan.
Also disappointed to see this article here. I expect Chalkboard Mag to provide me information given by health and wellness professionals, or in the least, someone with experience and good intentions. This person has nothing to offer me, besides a hearty serving of slander of the term “vegan” for her own profit. This post is also much longer than your usual word count. I find this troubling, as there have been many topics glossed over quickly that could benefit from more robust coverage. Poorly done here, Chalkboard. Not a fulfilling topic for your intelligent audience.
Just wondering why “breaking vegan” and not “breaking anorexia/orthorexia? Any one following a restrictive diet with eating disorders would end up having problems albeit following a vegan/vegetarian/omnivore life style.
She self-diagnosed herself based on “some research”? No. Ditto for “treating herself.” This article isn’t about an eating disorder, it’s just anti-vegan. Sad and shameful.
@Julie, Orthorexia is indeed real, and it doesn’t need to involve calorie restriction. I’m now on the other side of it, but I had a rather harrowing journey with orthorexia myself, and I for one am very happy to see articles like this that bring awareness to this issue many of us living a healthy lifestyle are vulnerable to.
My journey began while trying to conceive my second child. I consulted with a renowned TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) fertility expert, who gave me acupuncture treatments and also advised me on diet. At the same time, I read several books on the subject of TCM and nutrition for fertility. I cut out alcohol, caffeine, gluten, dairy, sugar, cold foods, raw foods, microwaved foods, non-organic foods, and ate or avoided specific foods during different times in my cycle. It was a very complex regime.
I was deliberately eating enough calories to sustain my normal weight and including lots of healthy fats and slow carbs, and never lost a pound while on this diet. But… it drove me slowly insane. After months (and then years) of scrutinizing and contemplating every bite and sip, I found myself depressed, completely isolated and alienated from friends and family and unable to function at social gatherings. I began seeing a therapist who introduced me to the disorder called orthorexia and suggested I probably had it.
The moment when I hit bottom came in an organic, vegetarian Chinese restaurant… I was feeling dehydrated and realized all the warming teas on their menu contained caffeine. I asked for water, and was served ice water (a huge no-no!). When I asked for room temperature water, I was served still-cold water with no ice and I also realized by taste and appearance that it was unfiltered (also forbidden). I could not bring myself to drink even a sip of that water, and got more and more dehydrated as I ate my meal… but it didn’t stop me from interrogating the wait staff about every ingredient in my food and worrying they weren’t telling me the truth (what if the cornstarch in the sauce contained aluminum? what if the spices used in the curry were emmenagogues and would cause a miscarriage? what if the rice contained arsenic? what if the vegetables weren’t really organic?).
I don’t believe this article is at all blaming veganism for Jordan Younger’s orthorexia. It is indeed a mental health issue, one that can be triggered by very strict diets that require adhering to some kind of regime. The other piece of these types of diets (whether low-calorie, vegan, Paleo, or TCM) is that they all promise to perfect the self: in the same way that calorie restriction promises, “I will give you a perfect, slim body and then you will be happy”, restriction of “unhealthy” foods (whether it’s meat, gluten, sugar, you name it) promises, “I will make you perfectly healthy and glowing and free of disease and then you will be happy”.
In my case, the promise was “I will make you perfectly fertile and give you a baby and then you will be happy”. And for someone who want something really, really badly? It seems a small price to pay. Until the price gets higher and higher and threatens to destroy us.
With the help of a great therapist and a very supportive husband, I was finally able to let go and regain some balance. But I know I’m still vulnerable to orthorexia. I recently saw a functional medicine doctor who put me on an elimination diet (no alcohol, caffeine, sugar, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, peanuts, or eggs), which was very triggering. But this time, instead of taking the leap of faith and embracing a damaging form of perfectionism, I found myself resisting the external authority of the elimination diet and instead wanting to trust my own instincts about what is good or not good for my body. I did the 3-week elimination diet, but when it was over, it was over… I didn’t freak out about reintroducing foods because I felt I could trust my myself to know what my body needs. It sounds like Jordan Younger has begun to trust herself again, too.
Great article – so glad this was shared! As a person who has struggled with a similar eating disorder, it’s refreshing to see someone be courageous enough to talk about a subject that is obviously taboo. I don’t think this is poorly done by Chalkboard at all. If this helped even just one person that was hopeless and struggling with an eating disorder, which I’m sure it will, than I would call that a success.
Actually, yes diets DO cause people to become anorexic, bulimic and binge! Eating disorders are mental illnesses with biological components and frequently start because a person goes on a diet. They only intended to lose 10 pounds but they find they can’t stop. Please don’t spread misinformation about eating disorders. They are deadly 20% of the time. You can’t say who will and won’t go on to develop an eating disorder just by going on a diet. My daughter’s eating disorder started because of pain from not yet diagnosed ulcerative colitis and stress from the transition from high school to college. You can’t predict what will trigger an eating disorder in someone, but dieting to lose weight or changing the way you eat, vegan, clean eating, gluten free, etc…. is a very often a factor.
Would you please stop refering to your previous diet as vegan? You were never vegan. You poorly followed a plant based diet. Vegan is a lifestyle. Vegans eat a plant based diet because they reject the abuse, neglect, exploitation, rape, and murder of earth’s creatures. Not interchangeable terms.
I’m happy you got better and you found yourself. I’t is true we need to talk more about eating disorder, since many symbol in our community trigger eating disorder (magazine, model, fashion and most miss a lot more.). It’s a problem that can affect any of us for so many reasons. and your story is important.
I’m still sad tought that veganism got a bad label in the tittle Beaking Vegan. It’s seem to focus the subject on ” veganisme is bad” instead of talking about orthorexia.
I heard many story since childhood, that tell veganism bring eating disorder. You see it in the Simpsons show, Lisa become vegan and suffer anorexia….but it’s the wrong conclusion on that case. I cannot speak for you, you made you own conclusion., but in the case of Lisa and many stories that were written in scientific studies, eating disorder came before changing diet or at least vegan diet. LEts be clear, if you want to avoid fat or have the lower calories, the best is celery. If you only eat celery aren’t you vegan? My wife told me a story of a girl telling her parents she goes vegan. What she didn’t told them is she was eating an apple a day. So in those cases, the disorder was mostly anorexia mostly trigger by their perception of their body. I know orthorexia and anorexia are 2 differents eating disorders.
I dont have scientifics studies on orthorexia, but I know it’s true and from what I learn, it’s mostly trigger when someone try to eat well. Like some stories tell in the comment you restrict yourself from many foods base on certain critaria like type of agriculture, ingredient, temperature, type of cooking, etc… If we talk about a vegan diet, you choose to avoid animal products. You dont have to avoid non-organic vegetal, micro-oven food, avoid palm-oil (okay maybe since it’s really destroy eco-system, but that another story), bbq food or ready to go Gardein products (fake meat industrial products in my region, don’t know if you have it). The restriction dont come from the vegan diet, it’s come from the disorder, the obsession that aim for the perfect healthy diet that is impossible like the perfect weight that is impossible for anorexia.
In conclusion, good luck in you life to keep that balance, you seem to have suffer a lot and everyone need to find some peace. Continue to keep awarness on the eating disorder.
Really disappointed that the chalkboardmag would publish this. Jordan was not vegan, she had an eating disorder. It’s like if I stayed out in the sun too long, got very tan and a result experienced an instance of prejudice because a stranger saw me differently due to the color of my skin. Then I write a book called, “Experiencing life as a dark skinned women.” People would be like, ummm, you were never a dark skinned women and therefore have no right stating you were.
Jordan was never a vegan, she was plant based, therefore has no right stating she was vegan.
Unfortunately this woman will never know peace in her career because she knows exactly what she did: She had an issue that had nothing to do with veganism, but she co-opted the title “vegan” because for moment she was eating like a vegan, it was catchier for her book, the corporations that support the meat and dairy industry loved it, put her on shows etc., and so she threw an entire movement and community under the bus. For that she is no hero, this is despicable. She’s a selfish opportunist and deep down in her heart of hearts, assuming she has one, she’s knows she’s wrong for that.