breaking vegan

A little over a year ago I had no idea who The Blonde Vegan (Jordan Younger) was when I read an article on Well + Good that highlighted her experience sharing that she was no longer a vegan and had also been suffering from orthorexia.  I was in tears while reading her experience of being viscously attacked online, threatened, and judged.  I couldn’t understand the reaction to Jordan and simply don’t tolerate such hate.

I then watched in wonder as Jordan bravely stood in her truth and transitioned her business to The Balanced Blonde.  The attacks seemed constant and I’m not sure that I would have been able to manage them with so much grace.

I was excited to dive into Jordan’s book, Breaking Vegan: One Woman’s Journey from Veganism, Extreme Dieting, and Orthorexia to a More Balanced Life, which was just released.  I wanted to learn more about her journey but I didn’t expect to relate so much to her story.  I was surprised to see parts of myself on the pages of Breaking Vegan.  The book isn’t about veganism or even necessarily orthorexia.  It’s not anti-vegan.  It is about the journey to love and accept yourself and find true and sustainable health and happiness.  It is about honoring your body, mind and soul.  It is about speaking your truth even when faced with critics.

What I related to most was Jordan’s experience with digestive issues and the impact that had on her relationship with food and her body.  I have been plagued by digestive issues for as long as I can remember and this has caused me to have a love-hate with food.  Like Jordan, I would judge what I ate based on how it impacted my stomach and label foods as “good” or “bad” for me.

If I felt even the slightest hint of indigestion coming on, I deemed whatever food I had just eaten untouchable and promised myself never to go near it again.

This was completely unscientific, of course, because I wasn’t factoring in any other variables.  I was pre-judging my food and then when I felt the way I expected to feel, my beliefs were validated.  And slowly my list of untouchables grew and grew.

I was elated that my stomach problems had seemingly disappeared.  I explained my diet to others by saying, “I’ve finally eliminated everything that made me feel like crap,” versus “I eat plants and only plants,” which made me seem and feel less extreme…

Reading Jordan’s words reframed my own experience.  I, like Jordan, hid my food rigidity behind the disguised vail of curing my stomach issues.  When you live in constant fear of feeling sick, it is all too easy to go to extremes.  I saw myself as doing whatever it took to “fix” my stomach.  Because it HAD to be the food.  Right?!  Because in the absence of food, my stomach was magically cured.  And my life was better.

When my stomach was empty, I had no stomach pain.  When I had no stomach pain, I felt that I had room for more energy.  When I had more energy, I felt happier, healthier, and more excited about life and pursuing the things I was passionate about.

Jordan’s journey was a perfect storm of her extreme personality, her underlying digestive problems, our obsession with all things health, and the recent trendiness of plant-based and raw diets.  What started off innocently enough, spiraled into a dark and dangerous place.  Food (or the lack of food) began to rule Jordan’s life which I completely related to.  Even though I haven’t experience a full-blown eating disorder, I have certainly struggled with disordered eating (and think so many of us have).  The type of eating where your mood is completely dependent upon what you did or didn’t eat.  The type of eating where you pack your own snacks or meals when you are going over to a friend’s house or a restaurant because they might not have anything you “can” eat.  When your food is so rigidly planned that any deviation from the “plan” can send you over the edge.  The kind of eating where it’s not fun for people to be around you.  The kind of eating where you treat fat or sugar like arsenic.

I think we’re in an interesting time right now.  The health and wellness field has exploded and the diet industry has adapted.  Now it’s all about being “healthy” as long as healthy is extremely skinny.  We just don’t call it skinny anymore.  And the only way for most people to achieve this so-called ideal is through extreme measures.  While many, many people can healthily follow specific diets like vegan, raw, vegetarian, or paleo through balance and focusing on nutrients and not calories or fat, it is easy to follow a specific diet for the quick fix of losing weight and inching closer to the ideal.

Jordan shares the twists and turns that she took on the road to orthorexia and back.  Her healthy eating and lifestyle became an unhealthy obsession.  The tighter she clung to her “healthy” diet, the less and less healthy she became.  She was disconnected from her body.  And the more disconnected she became, the more she relied on her diet to offer stability and control.  Slowly but surely, though, her body began to send her messages that what she was doing wasn’t helping.  Cravings.  Intuitive hits.  Gut feelings.

What’s the point?  What’s the goddamn point, if you’re starving yourself and feeling terrible and weak and unhealthy and bloated and depressed and obsessive?  What. Is. The. Point…My body was so ready for more sustenance.  Despite the part of me that was terrified, I was also intensely relieved.

Jordan shares her recovery story so truthfully in Breaking Vegan.  She doesn’t gloss over the hard parts and just wrap up her story with a happily ever after.  She highlights the struggle to heal not only her body but also her mind.  And the reality that she is still a work in progress.  Jordan highlights what I deeply believe to be true: health and happiness look different for everyone.  And it’s not our place to judge anyone else’s version of health.  It’s a tough world out there and the last thing we need is more judgement or another label.

Realizing that we are all so different and that there is no cure-all or one-size-fits-all answer to our deepest, darkest questions and fears, that’s where we will start to grow.

I’m so grateful to Jordan for writing this book – highlighting orthorexia and how our obsession with “health” can bring us to a very unhealthy place.

Jordan ends the book with her balanced guided: self-care tools and recipes for living a balanced, label-free, intuitive life.  I asked her if I could share one of my favorite recipes from the book with you to celebrate the launch.  I am so in love with acai bowls.  They are so gorgeous, loaded with nutrients, and delicious.  I use Jordan’s recipe as a base and add in whatever else I’m craving – healthy fats like avocado and coconut milk, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs, fresh berries.  I sometimes add in greens – although the color isn’t as pretty!

AcaiBowl breaking vegan

Simple Superfood Acai Bowl from Breaking Vegan

1 overripe banana
2 tablespoons (9 g) acai powder or 1 packet (100 g, or 3.5 oz) frozen acai
1 tablespoon (5 g) cacao powder
1 tablespoon (15 g) maca powder
1 tablespoon (16 g) almond butter
A few pinches of cinnamon

½ cup (75 g) blueberries
½ of a banana, thinly sliced
¼ cup (31 g) granola (gluten-free, if neccessary)
1 tablespoon (4 g) coconut flakes

Blend all of the ingredients and pour into a bowl. Top with the toppings and enjoy! It’s super simple.

Yield: 1 to 2 servings

Note from Jordan:  I know this recipe has some funky superfoods in it (namely, cacao and maca powder), and if you don’t have them on hand in your kitchen, don’t be afraid! This bowl will still be delicious and packed full of nutrients without them. If you want to try them, they are available online and in many health food stores. Cacao is a great antioxidant for natural, sustained energy and destroying free radicals. Maca is rich in vitamins B, C, and E and also provides plenty of zinc, magnesium, iron, and amino acids. These babies are nutrient powerhouses!