When Healthy Eating Becomes an Unhealthy Obsession

By Jordan Wilson

Jordan Younger wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill vegan. She was “The Blond Vegan”, whose blog and Instagram account chronicled and detailed her meals and recipes to tens of thousands of followers.

As someone obsessed with healthy eating, it came as a surprise to Younger when, just over a year into her public journey wit veganism, the 23-year-old began to feel tired all the time, suffered skin breakouts and stopped getting her period.

Source: The Blonde Vegan Facebook Page

Recently, she told People magazine that she had been diagnosed with orthorexia nervosa, a conditin characterised by an overwhelming focus on a limited diet and elaborate rules that can evolve fron an an obsessive approach to diet, health, and well-being.

“I was spending the entire day obsessing about eating only vegetables, green juices, fruits and occasionally nuts and grains”, said Ms. Younger, adding food was no longer enjoyable. “I was following thousands of rules in my head that were making me sick.”

The term orthorexia nervosa was counted in 1997 by Californian doctor Steve Bratman in a book titled Health Food Junkies. He defined the condition as a fixation on healthy eating or pure food such as vegetables. The rigid approach to healthy eating usually includes extensive and even punitive exercise regimes.

While the condition isn’t officially recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Australia’s peak body for body image illnesses said it conforms to the behaviours that define eating disorders, which affect more than 900,000 Australians.

There are four broad types of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating.

Chief executive Christine Morgan told Fairfax Media that eating disorders have a genetic prederminant that is triggered by a nutritional deprivation.

“Nutritional deprivation is one of the key behavioural elements of an eating disorder. This can manifest in many forms, either by excluding whole foods groups or food types and then obsessively managing the consumption of these foods. Other behaviours include excessive exercise, withdrawal from social settings where food is involved, secrecy and covert behaviours.”
Jordan Younger launched The Blonde Vegan in early 2013, accumulating more than 70,000 Instagram followers, sharing photos, tips and recipes.

In her recent blog post, she explained why she was transitioning away from veganism – she has since renamed herself “The Balanced Blonde” – Ms. Younger said her online persona had obscured her understanding of what she was going through.

“My blog made it hard for me too 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 realised it a lot sooner,” Ms. Younger said.

Amanda Benham, a practising nutritionist with a masters in health science, said

veganism was an ethical position rather than a fad diet.

“It would be a bit of a stretch to blame veganism for an eating disorder,” Ms Benham said. “My guess is she had a predisposition for this, so whether she went on a vegan or a paleo or a low-carb diet, the outcome might have been the same.”

She said that provided vegans followed a few basic principles, they could maintain a healthy diet and life.

If you are concerned that you or someone close to you is grappling with an eating disorder, seek help. Life Supports: 1300 735 030.

The original article was posted at The Sydney Morning Herald: Life & Style.

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