My Vegan Journey and Descent Into Orthorexia
By JORDAN YOUNGER
February 21-27 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which aims to raise public awareness of disordered eating and encourage intervention and increased access to resources.
Coming forward about no longer being vegan after making a career out of my vegan food blog was one of the scariest things I've ever done.
Did I lose over 10,000 social-media followers and blog readers? Yes. Did I get death threats? Yes. Would I do it all over again? Yes, a million times over.
Speaking out about my transition away from veganism was a crucial step in my personal journey toward overcoming the eating disorder I developed during my plant-based vegan lifestyle. It also gave me the platform to write about and advocate what I truly believe in, which is the art of listening to our bodies, fueling ourselves with whole foods and focusing on feeling our best.
But before I tell you about that, I suppose I should explain why I went vegan in the first place: I suffered from lifelong stomach issues, including weak digestion, a hiatal hernia, food sensitivities and extreme bloating and pain after eating any type of processed, fried or greasy foods.
I never knew what was going to set my stomach into a gurgling, debilitating fit of discomfort, and those issues taught me from a young age to fear foods that weren't considered pure, clean or entirely healthy.
I cut out red meat, pork and most poultry at the age of 14 because I was young and under the impression that doing so would make me super eco-friendly and "alternative" and would also ease some of the stomach pain I was so used to experiencing.
Fast-forward to the end of college. I had been predominantly vegetarian for many years, and after a rough breakup and the desire to try something new, I felt that it was time to take my healthy eating habits to the next level. I tried a five-day plant-based cleanse program with the intention of dropping a few pounds and detoxing my system from holiday food and, more precisely, holiday alcohol.
By the second day, it was clear to everyone around me that my body was thriving on a plant-based diet. My digestion issues disappeared and I had tons of energy and felt incredible. I vowed to myself in that moment that I would never go back to my previous way of eating, even though my diet was healthy to begin with!
You can see how extreme my way of thinking was. My thought process was, "Oh, if this makes me feel good, why would I ever feel inclined to go back to eating anything else?" Looking back, there would have been nothing wrong with incorporating more plant-based foods into my life without slapping an immediate label on my diet. But that's not what I did.
I fell fast and hard for the vegan lifestyle. I learned how to make all sorts of yummy plant-based recipes. I created my food blog and Instagram account, originally titled The Blonde Vegan, and began doling out advice to people around the world about how to healthfully and mindfully transition into a vegan diet.
The problem was, there came a point where I was no longer taking my own advice. On the blog, I advocated eating legumes, grains and soy products to keep protein levels in check and being mindful of B12 levels by taking supplements, visiting a skilled nutritionist and eating superfoods.
However, I had taken my own veganism to the extreme. I was juice cleansing for weeks at a time, dabbling in raw veganism and the 80/10/10 raw vegan diet and avoiding many types of healthy plant-based foods.
In short, I realized I had developed an eating disorder called orthorexia. Orthorexia is the obsession with eating clean, pure foods and the subsequent fear of foods that may be harmful or disruptive to the body. It has characteristics of anorexia and other more commonly known eating disorders, but it's based more on food anxieties and how food affects the body than body-image-driven anxieties.
In order to move past my eating disorder, I knew I had to let go of my extreme dietary restrictions. Step one was shedding the label of veganism. I started eating free-range eggs and wild fish and slowly expanded to the point where nothing was off-limits.
I won't lie to you, it was extremely hard. Trying new foods after years of restriction gave me major anxiety and was no easy feat to work through. I still eat tons of fruits and veggies, but the newfound variety and lack of rules has done wonders for my psyche and for my health.
Sure, I lost a lot of followers and got a lot of hatred from the vegan community. I still get negative emails daily and get attacked by people who think it's OK to judge others for their dietary choices.
In the beginning it was heartbreaking, but I've developed a tough skin and a wonderful sense of security because I know what I'm doing is right. I am doing what is right for my body and I am promoting what I love and what I believe in.
If you're in a position where you're afraid to change because of a label, know that you can do it. All it takes is your inner strength and listening to your body and your heart. The rest will come. And I am always here if you need an ear.
**This blog was originally posted in 2014.
Readers -- Are you a vegan or vegetarian? How did you decide it was the right lifestyle for you? Have you tried that lifestyle and found that it was not for you? What made you decide it wasn't right for you? Leave a comment below and let us know. Want more content like this? Sign up for the LIVESTRONG.COM newsletter.
Jordan is the editor and creator of The Balanced Blonde, where she shares health, fitness, wellness and inspiration to stay balanced daily. She divides her time between working on the blog, working on her memoir Breaking Vegan, growing her clothing line TBV Apparel and working on her app. Her blog and story of transitioning from vegan to balanced has been featured on Good Morning America and The Doctors and in NY Mag, Women's Health and more.
Jordan is a Sacramento native living in Los Angeles who loves sharing health and wellness inspiration.