{How Going Vegan Triggered this Instagram Star’s Orthorexia} Client: Women’s Health

I am beyond excited about my newest venture — writing for Women’s Health magazine! Enjoy!

Women's Health

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After lifelong struggles with stomach troubles and migraines, Jordan Younger found relief in a fully vegan diet, relishing the physical benefits—including applauded weight loss—as well as the community that embraced her newfound fervor for veganism. Within a matter of months, Younger, adopting the The Blonde Vegan moniker, was one of Instagram’s rising health and diet stars, amassing tens of thousands of followers seemingly overnight.

Recognizing her ability to inspire and guide others in the vegan persuasion, Younger soon left grad school to pursue growing the TBV brand full time, including crafting The Blonde Vegan Cleanse Program and working with a designer to create the TBV Apparel line (how can you not love comfy shirts that espouse Oh Kale Yes! and ask, Is Vodka Vegan?)

But just as The Blonde Vegan brand was exploding, passion tipped toward obsession; Younger was developing a complicated and frightening disorder, triggered by the very lifestyle that had brought her such joy, camaraderie and success. On June 23, 2014, nearly a year to the day that she created The Blonde Vegan account, Younger announced on her blog that she was transitioning away from veganism and other such labels—a jarring, yet inspiringly honest and brave move.

Women’s Health interviewed Younger about her decision to go vegan, how her eating disorder developed, and how she’s learning to live a healthier, more balanced life. Read her honest and thoughtful answers here:

Why did you first decide to make the move to veganism? 
I decided to make the move to a plant-based diet because I felt incredible after a 5-day cleanse that I did in January 2013 that consisted of green juices, fruits, veggies and nuts. My lifelong stomach problems and migraines disappeared, I lost weight, and felt full of energy. I saw how quickly those results took place and figured they would only intensify after several months and years of veganism.

You started The Blonde Vegan Instagram account in June 2013—when did you realize that people were really excited about your posts and recipes, enough to build an entire health brand around?
I started The Blonde Vegan Instagram account and blog for fun, as a place to share my plant-based creations and my newfound passion for cooking. I started it for friends and family to follow, and I figured I would get a few followers who were interested in veganism, but I had no idea what the scope would be. One night in July 2013, I got 4,000 Instagram followers overnight after a big vegan account shared my account. That was the first time I had an inkling that I had something going that people were very interested in and excited about. Within 6 months, I made the decision to leave graduate school to pursue the brand full time. At that point, I worked with a designer to create the apparel line, and I continued to lead The Blonde Vegan Cleanse Program the first week of each month. I also enrolled in the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to get my health coaching certification, because coaching people toward the healthiest version of themselves had become my greatest passion of all.

BUT, I had also become obsessed with eating entirely “clean.” I was living for that high that comes with cleansing your body. The high lasted for many months, but eventually my body started giving me signals that it needed more—and I ignored them.

Orthorexia, an unhealthy, extreme obsession with eating healthy food, can be tricky to spot, even for the person experiencing it. What was the event or catalyst that made you fully aware that there was a real problem?
I had known in the back of my mind for a while that I had developed many fears surrounding food, and it was clear to me that I was becoming more and more limited in what I was comfortable eating. I even joked about it with my close friends, calling certain foods, like eggs, “fear foods,” because I had stayed away from them for so long. It was easy to hide behind the shield of veganism when I was at a restaurant with friends or even when I was grocery shopping for myself. Anything that wasn’t completely clean—oil-free, sugar-free, gluten-free and plant-based—I dismissed because it wasn’t within the dietary label I had given myself.

There were two events that shed light on the situation and made me realize that I had developed a serious problem. 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.

The second event was when I actually came to terms with the fact that I had an eating disorder. I was out to dinner with a close friend of mine in the city who also runs a health blog. That night, she confided in me that she was in recovery from an eating disorder, and she described all of her symptoms and food habits to me. While she spoke, I started to get a lump in my throat because I knew that everything she was discussing was dangerously similar to what I had been going through. The moment I opened up and told her that I could relate, it was like I had released a floodgate.

We talked about it for hours, and I had never felt so relieved and so terrified about something at the same time. I called my mom afterward, and when I finally blurted it all out, she was so relieved because she had been noticing my habits around food worsening for months. I couldn’t believe it.

In the past few months, I’ve come to realize that I was pretty much the only person in my life who was blind to the fact that I had a problem.

Had you ever struggled with disordered eating habits or thoughts in the past?
Yes, although I didn’t realize that until I started working with my eating disorder therapist and nutritionist. 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 went from a passion to an obsession pretty quickly, which is when it took a turn for the unhealthy.

What do you think will be the key to moving past this setback with orthorexia?
One thing that will help a lot is learning to let go of the restrictions. While veganism is an amazing lifestyle for so many people, it accidentally helped me fine-tune my restrictive habits, creating a whole list of “bad” and “off-limit” foods in my mind. Now I am trying to reorganize my thoughts toward food, seeing nothing as entirely off-limits but rather as healthy, indulgent, something that should be eaten in moderation, etc. Even just reintroducing eggs, fish and organic chicken has made the hugest difference in my mindset. I am also on a strict meal plan that will restore my blood sugar levels and my hormones that had gotten all out of whack from my restrictive habits (and my psychotically long juice cleanses). Following a plan has been tremendously helpful so far. Learning to just be, and not obsess about food in every way shape and form, will be extremely helpful as well.

How difficult was your decision to move away from strict veganism (especially since you’ve built a successful brand around the lifestyle)?
It was incredibly difficult. My body started showing signs that it wasn’t satisfied by a fully vegan diet almost a year ago, and it took me up until a month ago to come to terms with the fact that changes needed to be made. I tried everything under the sun to make changes to my vegan diet to make it work for me like it did in the beginning, including trying every cleanse and variation of plant-based dieting that I came across. I ended up losing my period for several months and also injuring my ankle running on the treadmill, which are two things that had never happened to me before. Both of those things opened my eyes to the fact that I had vitamin deficiencies. I tried a small piece of wild salmon in an effort to get more vitamin b12 into my body, and when I got my period two days later, I knew I needed to quit the denial and start making some changes.

Obviously, with nearly 70,000 Instagram followers of @theblondevegan, you were bound to have some angry fans in the wake of your big news. What are the craziest things people have said to you?
Oh, absolutely. I have gotten death threats from hardcore vegans via Facebook, email and Instagram. People have been telling me that I was never actually vegan, and some people have said that now they don’t even believe that I am blond! Some people think I should discount TBV Apparel and that I was “cashing in” on the vegan movement for attention. One woman told me, “I’m sorry reality doesn’t work for you,” and I have definitely gotten my fair share of “animal killer” comments. The craziest thing to me is how some people value the life of an animal above human health. I was having health problems, and serious psychological issues. Eating some organic farm fresh eggs for breakfast isn’t the equivalent of supporting factory farming.

How have you dealt with the haters? Yoga? Ice cream (just kidding!)?
I have taken super long walks through the city every day to breathe and get away from the Internet for a while. I was so shaken up the first few days after I broke the news I didn’t even make it to yoga, which is so out of the norm for me! I finally made it to a yoga class three days after announcing the news, and I felt immediately calmer, balanced and centered. But the main thing has been lots and lots of amazing support from friends, family and blog readers. I have gotten some incredible emails and phone calls from people I hadn’t spoken to in years. If nothing else, this event has reminded me that I am surrounded by incredible people.

OK, let’s focus on the good stuff! You’ve mentioned that the positive support has far outweighed the extremists and nasty comments. Has any one message particularly inspired you or validated your decision?
Yes! There have been a couple messages that have actually brought me to tears. Hearing from young girls who have been in similar positions and were afraid to step out of the vegan label and/or come to terms with their eating disorders until they read the post has been by far the most rewarding aspect of sharing my story. A couple readers told me that they had to stop reading my blog a few months ago because it triggered eating disorder thoughts within them…and that scared the crap out of me!

Juice cleanses are obviously a hugely popular trend, and you’ve mentioned that you actually became addicted to them. Do you think you’ll still do cleanses in the future? Or are they a thing of the past for you? 
That’s a good question. In the first few weeks of my recovery process, I decided I was going to do a weeklong cleanse that was half liquid and half solid raw vegan food. I knew I was resorting back to old habits to try to control the disorder I felt in my life through my food…but I did it anyway. I got through about three days of the cleanse before realizing I was feeling extremely deprived—it was doing me much more damage than it was good. So I made the decision to stop the cleanse midway through, which I was very proud of. If I ever do a juice cleanse again, I’d better have a good reason and also do it for just one day instead of 10! I definitely appreciate the benefits of cleansing, but I’m not sure it’s the smartest choice for my personality.

Now that you’re getting the hang of scrambling eggs again, are there any foods you realized you missed?
Salmon and over-easy eggs! And organic free-range chicken. Oh my god, it’s so satisfying. All of those things taste like heaven to me now. And it’s hilarious, because two months ago, if you would have asked me if I was ever going to eat those things again I would have laughed in your face. I was planning on raising my future children as vegans. I have really done a 180.

Most important, how are you feeling? What else is next for you, your brand (The Blonde Veggie, for now) and TBV apparel?
I am feeling so much better. Psychologically, it’s amazing to be able to let go of the intense restriction and allow myself to breathe. I am moving back to Los Angeles next week, where I will be closer to my apparel designer, my web designer, and my app designer, so there are some fun things in store for the near future. We are coming out with a bunch of new T-shirt designs and a line of cotton “Oh Kale Yes!” bags. I will be deciding on a permanent name within the next few weeks, and we are going to do some rebranding from there. I also want to write a book about my experiences with all of this once I’m a little further along in my recovery. And soon I will be able to start health coaching.

I am excited and hopeful for what’s to come. Despite the backlash, I am so happy to have been honest and to shared my truth, because I am so ready to start promoting what I really believe in—listening to your body! #nolabels

Eating disorders can be deadly. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, seek help immediately. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website for resources and support, news, and information about how to get involved.

Read the story online on womenshealthmag.com/life/jordan-younger-the-blonde-vegan

{“The Education of Hope and Tolerance,” Courage to Remember Holocaust exhibit editorial} Client: Pacific Research & Strategies

Some of my favorite writing and social media work to-date is to inspire social change and cultural awareness for the Courage to Remember exhibit. Check out this ghostwritten piece to promote the exhibit in Florida.

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{“Courage to Remember” Holocaust Exhibit, event invitations} Client: Simon Wiesenthal Center

With three versions of the 42-panel “Courage to Remember” exhibit traveling around the country simultaneously, it’s a race for me to create fliers, printed invitations, and Web ads for each event, as well as reach out the media, community leaders and local dignitaries in each city, while also running the social media campaign!

Here are a few examples of promotional materials I’ve created for Florida and the San Diego County Fair, which will be the biggest venue to host the exhibit in its history!

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{Reactions to “The Courage to Remember” Holocaust Exhibit} Client: Simon Wiesenthal Center

It was a powerful experience, compiling the quotes of those who were inspired by “The Courage to Remember” Holocaust exhibit this past year. From politicians to high school students to Holocaust survivors, here are some of my favorite reactions from those who wrote and emailed in gratitude for the exhibit …


770,000+ Lives Touched in California & Florida: Reactions to “The Courage to Remember” traveling exhibit

“I think it gives the older generation hope that this story will be passed on and it will just continue like a chain reaction. Please join me in attending the ‘Courage to Remember’ traveling exhibit at the Tulare County Library so this generation can continue to be a voice for the victims of the Holocaust.”

– Holly Wilson, 17, attended the Visalia exhibit, reached out to the Foundation for California to see how she could help promote the exhibit to her community

“Often times, history goes by us, and we don’t even realize it. Make that commitment [to see this exhibit] and make sure that these things don’t happen again. They happened because of actions and inactions of leaders throughout the world.”

– Santa Ana Chief of Police Carlos Rojas

“What [this exhibit] does is make people ask more so they can learn.”

– Holocaust survivor Ruth Gruber, who spoke at the Sacramento exhibit opening

“All of us should really learn about the Holocaust. Some of us don’t really appreciate what it means. Seeing an actual survivor was pretty chilling. I just Tweeted, ‘I just hugged a survivor from the Holocaust.'”

– Edith Corona, 16, on meeting survivor Elane Gellar at the Santa Ana “Courage to Remember” opening ceremony

“Most teenagers today don’t even care about this anymore. We need to really focus on what happened. We need to realize that life is really precious. I felt really gifted that I got to meet a survivor.”

– Mitzi Reyes, 16, attended the Santa Ana “Courage to Remember” opening ceremony

“You can’t see this sort of thing and not be moved. And college is where we want students to have those kinds of experiences. We want them to see things they would not ordinarily see, and have them shape the kinds of people that they become.”

 – Tallahassee Community College President Jim Murdaugh

“I am writing to thank you and your organization for the opportunity to host and display “The Courage to Remember” Holocaust exhibit at the Armed Forces History Museum September thru October 5th 2012.

As you know, the exhibit was put on display at the Westfield Mall in Clearwater, FL prior to being set up at our museum. The publicity from the grand opening event at the mall generated not only much interest at the mall but also at the museum.

It is our desire, as stated in our mission statement, to educate our younger generations as to the sacrifices made by so many to protect our freedom. Therefore, your wonderful exhibit brought the message home to many visitors of all ages. The comments we received were many and mostly from young adults who have never heard about these atrocities.

I hope our museum will have the opportunity to again host the exhibit when in Florida. Appreciation is extended to you, your staff and your wonderful sponsors, SNCF and the Museum of Tolerance, for not letting the world forget the horrors and sadness endured by the Jewish community. While we can’t undo the past, your efforts surely serve to perpetuate the memories so future generations will never have to endure the suffering as so many millions did in the past.”

– John J. Piazza, Sr., President, Armed Forces History Museum, FL

“Many people would leave the community room where the display was placed and come to the reference desk to share their thanks for the library hosting this event.  We would like to extend their thanks that they brought to us to your foundation and your sponsors for making it possible.”

 – Ann Jones, Librarian, Vista Branch, San Diego County Library

“This vital exhibit reinforces the need for remembrance, and it challenges each human being to speak out against the injustices and hateful ideologies of our day. These aspects are raised to a whole new level in our increasingly inter-connected world which has it own set of dangers and threats. Yet, with educational resources like this exhibit, there is reason to hope that tolerance and goodwill will be fostered among communities.”

– Laszlo Kalman dr., Consul General, Hungarian Consulate, Los Angeles

“Thank you very much for providing Beale Memorial Library the golden opportunity to host the Courage to Remember exhibit in May 2012. Thank you also to the exhibit sponsor, SNCF, for funding this exhibit. The panels were placed in the library’s main lobby, and with my office being next to the lobby, I was able to witness first-hand just how strong the interest was among our community members in learning about the Holocaust. The powerful images and narratives of the exhibit fulfilled the community’s need for knowledge and awareness as gleaned from the people who came to see the exhibit.

I hope we could have this exhibit again next year for the benefit of those who didn’t get to see the exhibit last May. More power to the Foundation for California.”

– Maria Rutledge, Head Librarian – Beale Memorial Library, Long Beach

“Being a survivor, when so many lost their lives, showed me a purpose, and I have dedicated my life to make sure that the atrocities of World War II are never forgotten so the Jewish community and all those who are discriminated against are protected from another Holocaust.”

– Cantor Emil Levy, CEO of the Flame Society and a Holocaust survivor, speaking at the opening ceremony for the exhibit in Clearwater, FL

 “As a Jewish Marine Corps veteran, I was both mesmerized and brought to tears by the exhibit. Very powerful.”

 – Shelly Bauer, Public Relations Director, Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance, Inc.

Tolerance and education about the Holocaust is necessary across this country and “The Courage to Remember” Holocaust exhibit is providing that for all people. My hope is that this tour will continue to educate future generations about the atrocities of the Holocaust and help to prevent similar catastrophes.

Again thank you to Valencia College and the many sponsors that helped to make this incredibly educational event happen: The Simon Wiesenthal Center, SNCF & The Foundation For California. Thank you for the tremendous work you have done and will continue to do in the future.

– Corrine Brown, Member of Congress, FL-05

During the month of January 2012, Congregation Beit Shalom was honored to receive the photographic display, “The Courage To Remember”. The local newspaper, the Times Delta, picked up the story of this special event and showing, and gave us continuing news coverage in several newspapers. We also received a large color spread in the magazine, “Lifestyles”. The educational and emotional impact was significant. It is through educational outreach and moral guidance provided to small agricultural communities like ours, that anti-Semitism can be stopped and/or prevented.

– Cynthia Fischer, Para-Rabbinic, Congregation Beit Shalom, Visalia, CA