updated 07/11/2014 AT 6:35 PM ET
•originally published 07/15/2014 AT 6:30 AM ET
The Blonde Vegan had a secret.
Behind her happy, clean-eating persona, the one that captivated 70,000 Instagram followers with photos of vegan meals and inspiration, Jordan Younger was miserable.
“Food was not enjoyable anymore,” says the blogger, 23. “I was spending the entire day obsessing about eating only vegetables, green juices, fruits and occasionally nuts and grains.”
Younger was living in New York when she became a celeb for the vegan cause after creating her Instagram account in June 2013 and two months later, her blog. But insta-fame came at a price.
“I started suffering from orthorexia,” says Younger, which is defined as a “fixation on righteous eating” by the National Eating Disorders Association. While not an officially recognized disorder, orthorexia shares similarities with other eating disorders, but the obsession is with healthy eating, rather than losing weight.
“I restricted myself from certain foods – even some that fell under the vegan umbrella – because they were not 100 percent clean or 100 percent raw. I was following thousands of rules in my head that were making me sick.”
Adhering to a strict plant-based vegan diet that included juice cleanses for up to 10 days at a time, Younger dropped nearly 15 lbs. from her 5’4” frame.
At her most restrictive, she weighed 105 lbs. and had low energy, bad skin and an injury that wouldn’t heal. She even stopped getting her period. After talking to a close friend who was in recovery from an eating disorder, Younger says, “I realized that a lot of my health problems could be attributed to veganism.”
Soon after, she went to one of her favorite macrobiotic restaurants and forced herself to order wild salmon – her first piece of fish in 18 months. “I brought it home and ate it all alone, so no one could see me,” she says. Two days later, her period returned.
That was all the convincing she needed. She started seeing a nutritionist who said she was deficient in vitamins and protein. “My hormones were out of whack because I has damaged my biochemistry,” says Younger, adding that she realized she had to eat fish and eggs to become healthy again.
“When I made that decision I knew I was going to share it on the blog. I knew I would alienate tons of my followers, but there was no way I could live a lie.”
Breaking the News
On June 23, Younger published her coming-out blog post, Why I am transitioning away from veganism. Her website crashed within two minutes.
Although she explained to her fans that she was nutritionally deficient, she lost 1,000 followers immediately and even received death threats from hard-core vegans and angry animal-rights activists. “I was shocked,” she says.
While Younger doesn’t blame her blog for her illness, she admits it played a role. “My blog made it hard for me to see that I had an eating disorder. If I wasn’t so closely tied to the vegan identity I’d given myself, I would have realized it a lot sooner.”
What’s next for Younger? She plans to transition her blog away from strictly veganism to incorporate more lifestyle content. She recently renamed it The Blonde Veggie before deciding on The Balanced Blonde.
“I think labels – as far as diet choices – are very, very dangerous,” she explains. “I’m a prime example of that.”