Last June, one woman’s very public breakup rocked the Internet. The well-known blogger behind The Blonde Vegan, Jordan Younger, then 23, admitted to the world that her strict plant-based lifestyle had devolved into a type of disordered eating called orthorexia. She announced she was quitting veganism, and within two minutes, her blog crashed from an influx of traffic.
Numerous media outlets shared her story, and Younger’s personal life went viral. She was thrust into the spotlight at the very moment she felt most vulnerable. And the reactions were brutal.
“The extreme anger thrown my way by strangers and a large handful of people I thought were my friends was absolutely sickening,” writes Younger in her forthcoming memoir, Breaking Vegan. And it wasn’t just hateful Internet commenters. In one blog post, Younger described how one woman harassed her in a public restaurant.
While seeking treatment, Younger also had to quickly rebrand her blog to reflect her new lifestyle. Ultimately, she transitioned from The Blonde Vegan to The Balanced Blonde. Despite many anxious nights spent worrying about the future of her blog and business, there was a silver lining to Younger’s lifestyle changes: The aspiring writer earned a coveted book deal, allowing her to share both her journey and her new go-to recipes for cultivating a more balanced life.
In Breaking Vegan, she recounts how she wound up on a self-destructive path. Like many people who struggle with food intolerances, she had experimented with her diet and was thrilled when she found that veganism alleviated her constant stomach problems. Nevertheless, her passion for virtuous habits, especially raw juicing, soon became obsessive, then disastrous.
A year into her recovery from orthorexia, we caught up with Younger to hear about her health wake-up call and healing process. Below, check out one of the recipes that will be featured in her book, set to publish next November.
Jordan Younger on Orthorexia and Taking Back Control
When did you start to suspect veganism wasn’t for you?
After a year of being a strict, plant-based vegan, I started noticing changes. Internally, I was always feeling hungry and had a lack of energy. And externally, my skin was showing signs of not having enough nutrients. [It turned] orange from eating too many carrots and sweet potatoes….[and I] was breaking out. My hair was getting thin and falling out. I lost my period. I kept telling myself, ‘This is not related to the way that I eat. Something else must be going on.’
Plus, I was getting very obsessive about my eating. I would go to sleep at night thinking about what I would eat the next day. Will it be healthy enough? Will it make me sick? Eventually I reached a breaking point and thought, I have to let out my rules and restrictions. For me, that meant dropping the vegan label.
When you decided to make changes, who did you reach out to?
First, a couple friends and my mom and dad. I [told them], ‘I think I’m suffering from an eating disorder called orthorexia,’ and nobody had ever heard of it.
How did you hear about it?
Online. I wasn’t looking for a term and I did not know that it existed. Somehow it came up: Orthorexia, the obsession and fixation on health and purity, and the avoidance of all foods that are not completely clean from the earth. And that was exactly, exactly my life.
Why is orthorexia different from other eating disorders?
Orthorexia is similar to anorexia in certain respects. I was starving myself [of] protein and iron and B-12 and calcium. [I had] a really disordered relationship to food. The term was invented in the early 90s and then it kind of dropped off since nobody was talking about it. Some people view it as a personality disorder, like OCD, but it’s a disordered eating condition.
It’s different from anorexia and other eating disorders in the sense that the driving force is trying to keep your body as pure and clean as possible. [There’s the] fear of being unhealthy, fear of developing disease, whereas with anorexia, the driving force is usually weight loss. It’s definitely a part of orthorexia, too, [since] the healthier you eat, the more weight you will lose. But it’s very much in its own category because it has the health component.
Unlike anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, orthorexia still isn’t in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), used to classify mental disorders. Why do you think that is?
I think the reason orthorexia hasn’t been recognized by the DSM is just because it hasn’t been around long enough… I think that it will be recognized soon, and there are a lot of people at different universities compiling and conducting research, trying to get this recognized by the DSM… My hope is that this book will help people see that it’s an eating disorder and not just some condition to be brushed off. There’s a recovery process, just like [for] other eating disorders.
Can you tell me about your own recovery process?
“Now, it’s more about fueling my body when I eat, instead of trying to eat the bare minimum.“
I went through this process very publicly. In ways that made it easier, and in ways that made it harder… All sorts of people reached out to show their support. And that was really amazing! I was really lucky to hear from people all over the world. But I never really had time to just sit and think about it without being flooded with information and suggestions and negativity some of the time.
Initially, I think the most important part was working with a therapist and nutritionist to just get myself back on track…because I was so far gone. I didn’t know what it felt like to be hungry, I didn’t know what it felt like to be full. I didn’t know what a meal looked like. You really disassociate yourself from all of that when you’re in the middle of a severe eating disorder.
Learning [with the help of] these eating disorder specialists was necessary in the beginning. Then, I was able to do some work on my own. For me, that meant I [had to be] really open with people. [I had to resist the urge] to hide the fact that it was hard and that I was going through this.
Based on your experiences, do you have any advice for how someone should react if they are worried about a friend or family member’s relationship to food?
It’s such a tricky question. Everyone’s personality is so different and there’s no one approach for everyone. The first step is knowing who you’re dealing with and knowing what their personality is like. If they’re someone who typically shuts down when you talk to them about something controversial or hard, then they’re going to shut down about this. If they’re more open, it might be easier to talk about it.
Maybe, send them articles and blogs that talk about it. Not in an accusatory way, but more of, ‘Hey, you might be interested in this since you’re really interested in health and I notice that it takes up a lot of space in your mind.’ [But] without saying, ‘Hey you have this and you need to get help,’ because that could make someone shrink up. People did try to say that to me before they knew what orthorexia was. People were worried about me because they saw that [veganism] was causing me difficulty. That’s what I was hiding behind, so that’s what people would approach me about.
A lot of people tried to approach me before I was willing to accept it. And you have to be ready. It takes something different for every person.
You’re a year into your recovery. How do you feel?
I feel more in tune with my body….[and] it’s easier to decipher pure hunger versus intense and ravenous cravings due to severe deficiencies. Now, it’s more about fueling my body when I eat, instead of trying to eat the bare minimum with the least amount of variety.
I still have my hard days, but it feels so much more powerful… It allows me to live my life more fully and focus on what’s really important…my relationships, my career and so much more. In fact, it makes me feel more in control.
Cooking the Balanced Blonde Way
In her upcoming book, Younger shares over 25 healthy recipes that embody her new lifestyle. On our radar: This superstar salad that’s just as delicious as something you’d order while dining out. Luckily, it’s much healthier than your average restaurant salad. Instead of relying on fat-laden dressing and croutons for flavor and crunch, this entree’s got a lemon vinaigrette and chopped walnuts that add bright, fresh flavor. Serve it for lunch or dinner and enjoy the savory flavors.
Macho Chicken Chopped Salad Recipe
1 cup mixed salad greens
1 cup fresh spinach
1 cup shredded chicken
3 dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup canned corn, drained
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup crushed walnuts
1/2 avocado, sliced
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
For the lemon vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a bowl, mix greens, spinach, chicken, dates, corn, tomatoes, walnuts, avocado and goat cheese.
- In a separate bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and mustard. Whisk until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you like your dressing thicker, add more mustard. For a lighter dressing, add more lemon juice.
- Drizzle the vinaigrette over your salad and toss until greens are coated. Serve immediately.