“I am going to kill your family to show you what it is like when you kill a baby chick.”
Jordan Younger, ’09, had built her whole career around her blog, The Blonde Vegan, on which she wrote about her vegan lifestyle.
But on June 23, one post, in which she explained why she was no longer vegan, changed it forever—“I started believing less in ‘if ’ and more in listening to my body,” Younger wrote in that post.
Editor-in-chief Connor Martin, ‘14, interviewed Younger for an Octagon story he wrote in January about the popularity of her Blonde Vegan blog. At the time “she seemed in awe of veganism,” Martin said.
But when she discovered she had developed an eating disorder, Younger started eating freshwater fish and cage-free eggs. Many of her followers responded angrily, some even threatening her and her family.
And friends she had met through the vegan blogging community refused to speak to her.
Younger’s eating disorder is called orthorexia. Her disorder made her focus on eating things that were completely clean (free of oil, sugar and animal products). Orthorexia is also correlated with the fear of eating anything at all.
Aspects of other eating disorders also come up with orthorexia.
“There are anorexic tendencies involved with orthorexia because of the limited calorie intake and the rigid meal plan,” Younger said. “There are also components of isolation that I find similar to traditional eating disorders, like distancing yourself from people who are worried and are noticing your strange eating habits.”
Younger’s mom, Jane, said that she didn’t recognize Younger’s eating disorder because she had never heard of it before. When she thought of eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia came to mind.
However, when Younger called her mother explaining to her that she had orthorexia, Mrs. Younger immediately realized that her daughter was suffering from the disorder.
Mrs. Younger recalls that when she visited her daughter in May in New York, it was very difficult to find a restaurant she would eat in.
“We would walk all over the city looking for places where she would feel comfortable eating,” her mother said. “She was anxious and worried if she couldn’t find something she liked.”
“I am a spontaneous and carefree person when it comes to most everything,” Younger said. “It’s not who I am to be so stressed and focused on the issue of food.”
When Younger discovered she had an eating disorder, she had been vegan for two years. She had originally turned to a plant-based diet because of a sensitive stomach.
“I didn’t realize I spent so much time obsessing over food and living such a rigidly healthy lifestyle,” Younger said.
To try to be satisfied with what she was eating, Younger started doing cleanses and became dependent on that lifestyle.
She also would attribute any health issues to other aspects of her life.
When Younger became overly slender, losing 25 pounds, she figured it was because she was working out too hard. In reality, her clean diet with virtually no fat, sugar, wheat, oil or cholesterol contributed to the weight loss.
“I lost my period for eight months,” Younger said. “My body was crying out for help.”
Only after several months did Younger accept that the root of her problems was an eating disorder.
Younger realized she was struggling with orthorexia when talking to a friend who had a disorder as well. Jamie Graber, who owns a raw vegan restaurant in New York City, told Younger she needed to eat foods, such as eggs, which are high in vitamin B12, but it was difficult for her to eat them because she was so attached to the label of veganism.
Now nothing is “off limits” for Younger.
The scariest part of transitioning away from veganism for Younger was that the eating lifestyle was also her career. And when she finally worked up the courage to explain her situation to her bloggers, many lashed out at her.
“You don’t deserve to live because you are killing animals to feed yourself.”
Some sent death threats. Others demanded their money back for anything they had bought on her site.
“I pretty much heard everything negative there was to say,” Younger said. “I couldn’t understand why anyone would question my business integrity just because of my dietary choices.”
But there were followers who supported her as well.
“Even though I was going through a major struggle in my life, somehow I was able to inspire people in their lives,” Younger said. “Parents whose children had eating disorders have been so helpful. And it continues every day.”
Supporters told her that reading her blog helped them come to terms with their own eating disorders.
“Just because you label yourself one way doesn’t mean you can’t change,” they wrote.
While Younger lost vegan brand advertisers and more than 4,000 followers, she gained at least 10,000-15,000 followers because of the publicity she got spreading her story to more people, she said. Major news shows and newspapers, including “Good Morning America,” “Nightline,” CNN, Teen Vogue and NY Magazine, covered the controversy.
Younger decided not to attach herself to any dieting labels and just go with what her body needed, rebranding herself as the “Balanced Blonde.”
No longer limited to writing just about food, Younger now blogs about her day-to-day life, clothing and home décor. She also continues to work on her Blonde Vegan clothing line although it’s called Truth Balance Virtue (TBV) Apparel now.
In addition, Younger’s app, which has recipes and tips on how to live a healthy and balanced life, came out Oct. 23.
In her rare free time, Younger is hard at work on a book that will be published in October 2015 by Quarto Publishing Group.
The book will include her vegan journey and descent into orthorexia, a guide to finding a balance and coming out of a restrictive lifestyle, and recipes.
Meanwhile she stays positive by reading supportive comments like these from her fans: “You keep doing what’s best for you.”
Previously published in the print edition on Oct. 28, 2014.