On a recent night in her New York City apartment, Jordan Younger found herself frantically calling her web designer and buying up new domain names. The 23-year-old food blogger was in a state. She’d just received anonymous threats saying that someone would kill her if she refused to change her current blog name, The Blonde Vegan.
“I had been warned by a friend that that might happen,” she says. “I was prepared but still shocked.”
The threats were in response to the fact that Younger had recently revealed in a June 23 blog post that she was no longer vegan. After ultimately admitting that she had orthorexia, a total obsession with eating healthy that’s categorized as an eating disorder, she made the personal decision to transition away from the lifestyle.
But her public profile, which hinged on her vegan identity, meant that the transition would be a tumultuous one, played out in the vicious land of Internet commenting, infused with complicated vegan politics and her fans’—and critics’—ideas about what she should eat to get healthy.
When diets go wrong
Younger originally declared herself vegan after trying a plant-based cleanse in December 2012 to combat chronic bloating, nausea, and stomach pains, which immediately went away. Inspired by how great she felt, she started an Instagram account under the name The Blonde Vegan to document her recipes and lifestyle—now with over 70,000 followers—and its success prompted her to start a blog of the same name in June 2013. But her perfect-photo Internet success hid a darker personal truth.
“From day one of the plant-based cleanse, I started my obsession with health,” she admits. “I was fixated with juice cleansing. I started getting free juice cleanses from companies wanting me to review them. It was a gateway to thinking it was okay to do all these cleanses all the time. Until April, I was on a juice cleanse more often than not.”
Of course, eating vegan does not equal constant cleansing, and it’s more than possible to live as a balanced, strong, meat-free eater (see Rich Roll). But for Younger, the diet’s limitations and the public eye created a pressure that began to crush her. When she did decide to eat, she recalls standing in front of the fridge for 20 minutes deciding what was “okay.” When she made recipes for the blog, she says she would give all the food away immediately after, or eat it all just so she didn’t have to be in the presence of food.
“Going into any restaurant would fill me with complete panic,” she remembers. “If it was a vegan restaurant, I felt compelled to order something that wasn’t just a kale salad with nothing on it because we went there for me. I would always end up ordering the kale salad and saying I wasn’t hungry. At a non-vegan restaurant, nothing was comfortable. I’d eat plain lettuce or something before or after dinner.”
Younger says the fear came from being scared her stomach problems would return, in addition to gaining weight. The breaking point came in mid-June, when she had dinner with a friend who was in recovery from orthorexia and it became clear to her that she had the same eating disorder.
Making a change
The next day, Younger decided to eat salmon for lunch, and her period, which had stopped for several months, returned two days later. She soon incorporated eggs, and says she instantly had more energy, stopped getting as sore from her workouts, and experienced fewer stomach pains. It was her personal decision to not first try adopting a healthier approach to veganism.
But she was “filled with so much anxiety and fear about telling my followers,” Younger says. “I promote honesty on the blog all the time. I felt like a total liar. Since my blog has to do with my lifestyle and not just food, it was important to be honest.” When she “came out” to her followers, she received an outpouring of support from people who commended her for her transparency and who had gone through similar experiences. But then there were the naysayers.
“Certain leaders in the raw vegan community turned their back on me so violently,” Younger says. “People I know personally, who I have collaborated with. One blogger began lashing out and leading an army, commenting hateful things in the middle of the night. Some vegans have this cult-like mentality—it turned me off of the lifestyle.”
Surprisingly, though, it didn’t turn her off to a life of constantly sharing food choices. She just left New York and plans on settling in Los Angeles to work on a recipe and lifestyle app, studying to become a health coach, writing a book, and continuing her blog and t-shirt line. Her new blog name is still up in the air, although she changed her Instagram name to The Blonde Veggie.
“From now on, I’m not going to impose any restrictions,” Younger says. “I’m going to Italy in a couple of weeks. A month ago, I thought, ‘Next time I go to Italy it will be sad.’ Now I’m thinking I will try a gelato. And maybe a little pizza and pasta. I’ve come a long way.” —Jamie McKillop