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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
You know the feeling. Your shoulders sag forward, your eyelids are heavier than paperweights, you’ve read and reread the same sentence seven times in a row…it’s the dreaded 3 p.m. slump, and your options for a quick pick-me-up feel few and far between. Impromptu headstand? You’re frightening your officemates. Car nap? Try not to get fired. Instead, you slug another cup of caffeine, only to find yourself tossing and turning at midnight, the cycle beginning again the following day. (Find out 5 other things that make you tired, here.)
Put down the coffee pot. There are other great options for an instant energy upgrade, says Keri Gans, Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet—they just take a bit of know-how and planning ahead.
The key to beating the dreaded afternoon slump, Gans says, is being prepared with healthy snacks on-hand, specifically, foods with carbs for quick energy, and that are high in fiber, protein, and/or healthy fats to provide longer-lasting energy, without the jolt of caffeine.
“A lot of times, when we’re crashing in the middle of the day, we’re simply hungry,” says Gans. “What you need is carbs, that’s the bottom line. Then, protein and fat keep you satiated longer, so it’s a win-win.”
Clear out some space in your desk drawer or office fridge for these 8 snacks that pack a true energy punch:
A fresh piece of fruit + a serving of almonds. “It’s perfect: healthy, with quick energy, and so portable,” says Gans. And, you’ll be pleased to hear that Gans chuckles at the notion that we should steer clear of certain kinds of fruit. “The carbs and sugar in fruit is natural,” she says. Oranges, bananas, grapes—they’re all delicious and fair game.
Roasted edamame. Peeking in her own cabinets, Gans spots this favorite energy-boosting food—”it’s very high in fiber and very high in protein.” To make this nutty, chewy snack, simply thaw frozen shelled edamame beans, toss with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper, and roast on a baking sheet at 375°F for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until the beans begin to dark and crisp up. Gans recommends a ¼ cup serving.
Baked black bean or lentil chips + The Laughing Cow spreadable cheese wedges. “It sounds weird, but cheese and chips is a great combo for energy,” says Gans. “Just smear it on!” The baked chips are packed with protein and fiber, and The Laughing Cow Light spreadable wedges boast 7 flavors and 35 calories each. Try the Light Queso Fresco & Chipotle flavor. “Spicy can wake you up!” says Gans. For more foods packed with fiber, check out this list of 15 healthy high-fiber foods that make you feel full and satisfied.
Low-fat chocolate milk. “You could be dragging because you’re dehydrated,” says Gans. “Sometimes, something cold and refreshing is all you need.” Gans buys Organic Valley’s individual drinks; “I love them as a pick-me-up.” For more help in the hydration department, definitely check out these 10 ways to drink more water.
Greek yogurt + fresh berries. Go for the low-fat, not non-fat, version of this go-to snack, Gans offers. “You want that little bit of fat for energy with staying power.”
Grapefruit wedges + cottage cheese. Again, opt for the healthy fats from low-fat (2% milkfat) cottage cheese (Gans likes the 90-calorie Breakstone version). Pair a hearty scoop with grapefruit wedges for an instant pick-me-up, courtesy of the protein in the cottage cheese, grapefruit’s natural carbs, and the aroma of citrus that instantly awakens your senses.
KIND bars. “They’re low in sugar, high in fiber, and easy to take along with you,” says Gans. “I love the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, and a new one, the Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond.” You had us at dark chocolate!
Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt Bars. You can’t go wrong with a sweet treat that also fights the urge to doze off under your desk. Gans digs the Mint Chocolate Chip Yasso bars—the minty taste wakes up your senses, and you’ll get an energy boost from 13g of sugar (a lot of it coming naturally from the lactose, she says), and staying power from 6g of protein, but all with only 100 calories. Prefer Peanut Butter Cup or 80-calorie Mango? Lucky for you, there are currently 11 flavor choices.
Read the story online @ womenshealthmag.com/nutrition/good-energy-foods
Check out this excerpt from Sexy Abs Diet, my latest health and fitness title. Sexy Abs combines the top weight-loss secrets in the industry; 60 belly-flattening meals to mix and match, created by a top nutritionist; a calorie-blasting workout program targeting the core; and a nutrition and fitness journal to help the reader stay accountable and on track.
Your body is a temple, and you fuel it with potent greens, colorful juices, and energizing superfoods. Just don’t mistake these healthy foods for their illegal substance twins.
On the Left: Kale Chips
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the popularity of kale has exploded in the last five years, including kale chips— a crunchy, healthy alternative to chips you can buy or bake in the oven yourself. Kale’s super-high concentration of phytonutrients and vitamins A, C, and K, make it one of the healthiest veggies on the planet.
Not to be confused with …
On the Right: Marijuana
Marijuana has long been the most popular drug in America. Nearly 19 million people use marijuana — 7.3% of the population — according to RAND Corp. studies. When smoked or ingested in food or drink, marijuana produces an assortment of symptoms, ranging from calm feelings of wellbeing and euphoria, to paranoia, dry mouth, and an increased desire to eat cookie dough straight from the package.
On the Left: Feta
A crumbly white cheese traditionally used in Mediterranean cuisine, feta offers tons of tangy, salty flavor, but less fat and calories than almost any other cheese out there. We like to sprinkle it across salads, in soups, and on top of burgers.
Not to be confused with …
On the Right: Cocaine
The National Institutes of Health pretty much sums of cocaine use in a nutshell: “Cocaine speeds up your whole body. You may feel full of energy, happy, and excited. But then your mood can change. You can become angry, nervous, and afraid that someone’s out to get you. You might do things that make no sense.”
On the Left: Raw Cacao
Praised as an even healthier version of dark chocolate, and more versatile for cooking, raw cacao is sugar free, contains 9 grams of fiber per ounce, and is packed with iron, magnesium, and antioxidants. Raw food enthusiasts use it for raw desserts, and it’s lovely blended into smoothies.
Not to be confused with …
On the Right: Hash
Like marijuana, hash, or hashish, is a form of cannabis, although the THC content in hash is typically much higher than in marijuana. Hash has been used for recreational and religious purposes for thousands of years — traces of hash have been found in ancient tombs dating back to 300 BC, and the Sufis (a branch of Islam) are said to have used hash for spiritual exploration in early Persia.
Pink Himalayan Salt
Mined from deep within the Himalayas, this pink sea salt is said to be the purest on earth. With more than 80 natural minerals and less sodium per serving than regular table salt, it’s become a favorite of fancy-schmancy gourmet cooks everywhere.
Not to be confused with …
First investigated by Dateline and 20/20 in 2011, bath salts didn’t become known in the mainstream until a 31-year-old Miami man chewed off another man’s actual face while high on the drug. While bath salts contain synthetic chemicals similar to illegal amphetamines, they also contain legal properties, which have allowed the drug to be sold legitimately at smoke shops and some independent gas stations in the past. In the U.S., 45 states have already banned some or all of the chemicals found in bath salts.
On the Left: Beet Juice
Brightly hued beet juice has a long history as a liver-cleanser and digestion aid, and has been found to lower blood pressure and fight anemia. Raw beets’ benefits are powerful, especially when juiced with other fruits and vegetables.
Not to be confused with …
On the Right: Sizzurp
Also known as “Purple Drank,” this mixture of prescription codeine cough syrup, Sprite or Mountain Dew, and “optionally, a Jolly Rancher candy thrown in for extra sweetness,” according to Wikipedia, causes a mellow but euphoric state — and sometimes violent seizures.
On the Left: Spinach
A classic health superfood, the flavonoid compounds in spinach — more than a dozen — fight cancer, inflammation and intestinal issues. Spinach also contains more than a full daily dose of vitamin K, important for bone health. We like it as a salad base, sautéed with heaps of garlic, and blended into green smoothies.
Not to be confused with …
On the Right: Ahayuasca
The newest member of the recreational drug crowd, ahayuasca is a psychedelic drink made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. In South America, shamans have been overseeing ahayuasca rituals for thousands of years, said to create intense periods of clarity, introspection, and self-healing or purging, often called “the work.” Also, purging, literally — ahayuasca-drinkers typically experience long periods of intense shaking, vomiting and diarrhea. Still, ahayuasca has grown increasingly popular stateside in recent years, from Silverlake to Brooklyn.