By Jordan Younger, The Balanced Blonde
Jordan Younger has been on quite the ride these past few years: First she grew an epic following with her vegan Instagram and blog, The Blonde Vegan. She quickly realized that such an intense focus on clean eating, in the spotlight, had led her to an eating disorder, orthorexia. Jordan began the process of first healing herself, and then finding a way to come out to her devoted following. The Blonde Vegan became The Balanced Blonde, and with that came all sorts of disapproval from the vegan community, instead of the love and support that Jordan should have seen in such a time of brave change. Her new book, Breaking Vegan, is the story of this transformation. We asked Jordan to talk with us about the book, as well as food, body image, and living our truest lives.
You first built your brand, once called the Blonde Vegan, around your pursuit of a totally "clean" vegan diet, no gluten and no processed foods, among other restrictions. What first inspired your quest to eat this way, and was it so strict from the get-go?
I transitioned into a vegan lifestyle in November 2011 because after doing a 5-day plant-based cleanse I felt incredible. I had suffered from lifelong stomach problems, ADHD, and migraines, and eating a clean plant-based diet cleared all of that up for a period of time. I didn’t start to see symptoms of orthorexia until nearly a year and a half later when food became my entire life in a very negative way. My restrictions continued to grow as I continued to get more involved in veganism and do more research on different types of plant-based diets. I then became carried away with raw veganism, the 80/10/10 diet, and juice cleansing. I let my fears about impure foods hinder my social life, academic life, and my overall well-being. It wasn’t good.
You have been very careful to point out that you are not specifically against veganism, but instead that such strict limitations can lead you to orthorexia, an obsession with eating healthy foods. What was the first point you knew that you had a problem?
Yes, you are correct. I totally believe that there is a healthy way to do veganism, but not for people with as extreme of personalities as my own. And a lot of us are extreme — those of us who fall on that side of the spectrum should not be labeling our diets.
One event that shed light on the issue of my disordered eating was when my best friend visited me in New York and we went to get breakfast before spending the day in Central Park. We went to a juice bar near my apartment because we both knew it was one of the only places I would be able to find something to eat. I knew which juice I wanted, a green juice with no fruit in it, and when we got there they were out of that particular juice. Even though there were several other green juices, smoothies, and raw food options to choose from, I felt completely panicked by the thought of eating or drinking something I hadn't "planned." Instead of choosing another juice and going with the flow, I insisted that we walk a mile out of our way to the juice bar's other location to get the juice I wanted. My body was already starving from days of restriction and crying out to me that walking a mile without any sustenance would be a bad idea, but I did it anyway. I was determined, and being unable to shake that feeling scared me.
Orthorexia is very much emotional and behavioral, but you also saw negative physical effects like thinning hair and the loss of your period. Were you fearful that your body would never go back to "normal" again?
Yes, I was very fearful! I didn't even know what a balanced meal was comprised of when I started eating a wider variety of foods again, and I didn't trust that I was going to be able to maintain very much balance. What I quickly learned from an eating disorder nutritionist was that I had really thrown my hormones out of whack while being so restrictive, so it truly was very difficult to get my body back to "normal." It took me about a year to start feeling totally comfortable in my own body again, and I am still experiencing hormone-related skin issues and high cortisol levels because of the massive shift in my diet.
What were the steps you took to easing up on your strict diet?
Through the recovery process, I have come to learn that specific parts of my personality are very much susceptible to eating disorder patterns. I am a very "all or nothing" type of person. I have been in the restrict/overeat cycle for years, but veganism took my restriction to a whole new level. Learning about all different types of veganism and plant-based dieting went from a passion to an obsession pretty quickly, which is when it took a turn for the unhealthy route. Seeing a nutritionist and eating disorder therapist helped a lot, and also learning to trust my body again was a huge help.
One of the toughest parts for you in giving up veganism, is that you had built a whole brand around this lifestyle choice. What ultimately gave you the strength and courage to speak up publicly?
Ah, yes, that part was terrifying. I knew that I wanted to remain completely authentic and transparent with my audience, so being honest with them once I switched my diet was a no-brainer. I knew I was going to lose a lot of readers and make people upset, but I didn't realize how upset people would be. I have been getting death threats from angry ethical vegans for the last year and a half. There are YouTube videos made about what a terrible person I am, that have hundreds of thousands of views. It's pretty insane, but every single time I hear from someone who was helped or inspired by my story, I am reminded that it was all very, very worth it. The positivity will always outweigh the negativity to me.
As the Blonde Vegan shifted to The Balanced Blonde, your brand has become about finding your own best choices for YOU, your own path, the one that feels right for you - a message very in line with what we do here at The Sweat Life. How do you make sure you stay the course on what's right for you? Do you check in with yourself regularly?
Yep! Absolutely love that. I have learned to stop being such a people pleaser and become more of a SELF pleaser. I don’t engage in activities I don’t want to do — if I have anxiety about going into a certain situation, there’s probably a reason I shouldn't be doing it. I listen to myself. I trust myself. It all goes back to that level of trust. And I surround myself with good people, people who are true to their hearts, and as such, true to others. That is a HUGE part of being kind to myself… Knowing who I want to surround myself with!
You have had your share of hateful response from the vegan community. How do you not let that get to you?
I remind myself that those who have nothing nice to say are displaying so much more about themselves with their anger than they are about me. It's been a lesson in every aspect of my life, actually, because I've learned to apply that mentality to all areas. The way people treat you is a direct reflection of their own happiness and inner confidence. I have developed a thick skin, and honestly the positivity is so much greater than the negativity... It's in one ear and out the other, these days.
With such a great platform to speak your truth on your site, what inspired to you take that one step further and write your book, Breaking Vegan?
I have always been super into writing. Beyond the blog, writing is my thing. When I got approached to write a book about my journey I was PSYCHED. I had been in grad school for creative writing before I started blogging, after all, but I never thought a memoir at the age of 25 would be my first book. Writing the book in itself had its very challenging and dark moments because it was so personal, but now it's out there and I wouldn't trade that feeling for the world.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested eating clean, but wants to make sure they do so in a mentally healthy way?
Listen to your body! Learn to trust your body! Trust is absolutely huge. Once we learn to trust our bodies, we can listen to them and nourish them properly. And if we trust what we are feeling, then we are more likely to be true to ourselves in all areas of our lives — in our relationships and interactions, our work life, our exercise and passions, and more. And as far as body image goes: see yourself from someone else’s eyes. Drop the judgment. Fall in love with yourself. Pick a mantra. (More advice in the book… SO MUCH MORE! I’m wordy, you’ve been warned!)
Any last words, or advice for readers?
Follow your heart, do you, find an exercise and wellness routine you love so you can stay consistent with it, and never let negative energy get you down. Vibes don't lie!
Jordan Younger is a lifestyle and wellness blogger living in sunny Los Angeles (most of the time at least, when she’s not romping around her second home of NYC). When people ask her to describe her blog she always laughs out loud, because the best way to describe it is an online diary. It's geared toward wellness, but wellness is more of a lifestyle in her eyes, so the blog encompasses nearly every aspect of her life. So yes, she writes an online diary for a living! Jordan also has a clothing line, a book, a kitten, and an extreme passion for yoga/running. You could say she wear a lot of hats... And she doesn't allow herself to get bored. Ever.
Find her book, Breaking Vegan, at Amazon, or wherever books are sold.