National Eating Disorders Association

My Orthorexia Journey

Jordan Younger, The Balanced Blonde

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 and 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 5-day plant-cased cleanse with my mom to ring in the New Year that consisted of 5 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 either all in or all out… And all in just felt right to me. Especially when it came to my health, and 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, 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. I started to feel a responsibility as a growing face in the vegan community to write about the lifestyle from all angles, share recipes and lifestyle tips, and 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 whilrwind, 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 levles. 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 isn't officially recognized as eating disorder, but it's 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 means 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 — that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and you deserve to be exactly who you are and nothing short of that.

About the Author:

Jordan Younger, AKA The Balanced Blonde, is yoga junkie, passionate writer, fitness freak, dream chaser, cleanse creator, founder of TBV Apparel, author of Breaking Vegan: One Woman's Journey from Veganism, Extreme Dieting, and Orthorexia to a More Balanced Life & striver of balance. 

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