by Jordan Younger, The Balanced Blonde
I was so honored to come on Larry King Now and speak to the king himself, Larry, about my experience battling orthorexia. One short year ago, when I first came out online about suffering from orthorexia, people simply did not know what it was. Was it an eating disorder, a condition, OCD, a cry for attention? When I would go on a television show to discuss the disorder, it was more about explaining the very general warning signs of orthorexia, and many times my words were twisted to imply that my vegan diet caused my eating disorder. To have the opportunity to appear on Larry’s show on a panel alongside two trained professionals discussing orthorexia was a dream, especially because for those of us working to raise orthorexia awareness in the right ways, it was such a great platform.
Why do I say the “right ways” when I refer to raising awareness about orthorexia? Before I developed orthorexia and started talking about it in the media I didn’t realize that a disorder could be so widely misunderstood. I’d like to take this opportunity to explain my experience with the disorder a little further, to give you a little behind-the-scenes glimpse into what there wasn’t time to get into on the show.
I began suffering from orthorexia about a year into eating a strict plant-based vegan diet, when I was 22, but I suspect that I was on the brink of developing the disorder for years. I have always had a strong desire to feel completely clean and free of pain in my stomach, bloating, nausea and discomfort from my many food intolerances. When I was younger I used to achieve that clean, empty feeling by greatly limiting my food intake. I never tipped the scales into full-blown anorexia, but I experimented with cutting a great deal of foods out of my diet in order to feel more in control of my life. Whenever I eliminated foods, I would lose weight and my usually painful, bloated stomach would feel calm and the pain would feel at bay.
As a plant-based vegan, I cut many foods out of my diet. At first it was all of the non-vegan foods, because of course I couldn’t go near any animal products or animal byproducts after I had dubbed myself a “vegan.” Once I achieved that calm, clean, empty feeling in my stomach after my first five days or so eating this very clean diet, I was determined to maintain it no matter what. In the beginning of my vegan journey it was easy for me to feel the benefits of my pure, fruit and veggie-heavy diet. But as time went on, my body started yearning for more variety and it became harder to maintain that balance that I so loved feeling.
Instead of re-incorporating more foods into my diet, I swung the opposite way and started eliminating more. I discovered juice cleansing, and I started replacing meals with juice on a daily basis. I cut out grains, any and all refined sugar, most legumes and high glycemic fruits. My “safe foods” were kale, spinach, all veggies, berries and most nuts. I felt that if a plant-based “cleanse” had allowed me to feel great in my own skin for the first time in my life, then cleansing would surely be the answer again once my stomach problems cropped back up. I lived in this obsessive, clean-food driven world for the greater part of a year. I went to bed panicked about what I was going to eat in the morning, and social situations where food would be involved downright terrified me.
Somewhere deep inside me I knew I didn’t want to live that way anymore. I didn’t want to be that person who made it difficult to go out to eat and who feared spending time with her friends and family because it would get in the way of her vision of her “perfect self.” It was all about perfection. There was no room for moderation in that mindset. I just wasn’t sure what I was going through, and I thought maybe since it seemed to be related to my obsessive personality traits that it was something I would have to endure forever.
Then I discovered the word “orthorexia.” I had been searching online to see if anyone else experienced this obsession with clean, healthy, pure living like I did. I read the definition of the word and an instant calm washed over me - there was something I was suffering from, which meant that help was available. I started talking to my close friends and family about my discovery, and those who knew me best were extremely relieved that I knew something was wrong and that I was willing to get help.
The next few months were rough. Since I made a living as a vegan food blogger, stepping away from that label filled me with so much anxiety I could hardly function. I had a blog called The Blonde Vegan, and I had developed tens of thousands of followers and readers who came to my blog for vegan recipes and advice on how to live a plant-based lifestyle without compromising your “regular life.” Clearly, I wasn’t taking my own advice.
I knew I had to shed the label and start incorporating more variety into my diet in order to be fully open to recovery. After a few weeks of deciding what exactly I was going to begin incorporating, I came forward on my blog about my decision to move away from veganism. I wrote about my orthorexia and gave as many details as I could so that my readers wouldn’t feel alienated by this huge change.
Although there was a ton of negativity (read: death threats from the ethical vegan community), there was also an overwhelming outpouring of positivity. So many people were suffering from orthorexia or knew someone who was suffering, and they had no idea there was a name for the disorder. That was one year ago, and since then I have heard from thousands upon thousands of people who identify with having orthorexia and are on the road to recovery.
The eating disorder is nasty and swift, and it can take over your life just like the more widely known eating disorders anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Suffering from orthorexia can be very isolating, and it also turns into something very unhealthy even though it starts from a place of health. If you feel that you might be suffering from the disorder or know someone who is suffering, don’t write it off as “not serious enough” or “not important enough” to get help. It is important, and your happiness is the most important. We all deserve to live a balanced life! (Sidenote: I ended up changing my blog name from The Blonde Vegan to The Balanced Blonde, and it’s given me such a great platform to discuss what I am truly passionate about… helping people fall in love with living a healthy, balanced life!)
I recently finished writing a memoir about my eating disorder experience, Breaking Vegan, that will be out on November 1. My recovery journey has not always been easy but it has been remarkably worth it. I am finally living again, and I am so grateful for that.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.