Scroll through Instagram's most popular wellness accounts, and you're bombarded with bright, filtered images of fruity smoothie bowls, endless green juice cleanses, and toned, active women holding yoga poses in sports bras. Sure, they look like the picture of fitness—but the reality behind those glossy pictures can have a dark side.
And a little over a year ago, the bubbly 20-something had her own Insta feed full of green juices—with over 70,000 followers—under the handle 'The Blonde Vegan.' Her popular blog with the same name documented her vegan lifestyle, reviewed juice cleanses, and looked like the ultimate picture of wellness-blogger health.
But in real life, Younger was struggling. And in June of 2014, she decided to go public, publishing a post where she came clean about her struggles with orthorexia, a fixation on healthy and righteous eating. The condition get downright dangerous, and Younger decided her vegan lifestyle was compounding the problem.
She reinvented herself as 'The Balanced Blonde' —and has never been happier.
Being real paid off—Younger's blog has taken exploded, where instead of slinging juice cleanses she writes about how to make healthy food choices—both vegan and non-vegan—and how to let go of the idea of "a perfect body".
Brave, bold, and living a balanced life? That's our kind of girl! Younger and her holistic nutritionist Kelly Leveque sat down with us to talk all things health, trade stories about marathon training, and clear up the mysteries behind orthorexia.
On going vegan:
I went vegan in my senior year of college, pretty much to remedy these lifelong stomach problems I'd had. At first I thought it was food allergies and sensitivities to things like dairy, gluten, or greasy food. If I ate the wrong thing I would feel terrible. I noticed when I ate really clean I'd feel good, and I liked that but it was hard to stick with. Then my senior year of college I decided to become a plant-based vegan, and I was obsessed with it. I felt really good for a while, and I lost 20 pounds. That's when I started the blog all about becoming vegan. And yes, I was eating healthy, good stuff like fruits and veggies, but I was losing weight because I really wasn't eating very much. It was a spiral of obsession.
When she knew she had to ditch the vegan label:
It got a lot worse as my blog sort of took off. First, I'd have a photoshoot so I wanted to do a juice cleanse before to look good... And then there was suddenly a photoshoot every week, so I'd be juicing all the time. It was this really bad cycle where I was constantly cleansing and juicing, and never really eating a balanced meal.
By the time I realized that I really didn't feel good anymore and I didn't have any energy, I was so dedicated to the vegan lifestyle that I felt like I couldn't change. I had a blog called 'The Blonde Vegan'; it was my identity. I kept telling myself, It's not veganism, that's not why I feel so horrible. At that time I think my body was deteriorating. I would get up, drag myself out of bed, go take a hot yoga class, and come home and lay in bed for 12 hours because I was just so tired. I lost my period, I had no energy, my skin was bad. It was miserable. Once I realized it was an eating disorder mentality was when I figured, Ok, maybe I should go off this label because it might be what's causing my issues.
How she came clean:
When I decided to make that change, a lot of people said, "You don't have to come forward on the blog. You can still be a vegan person on your blog," but there was no way I was going to do that. I wanted people to know about my actual life—I couldn't lie about that.
I thought it was going to be the worst decision for my business—I had a vegan blog! I couldn't not be vegan. I thought I was going to lose all my readers and followers, that I'd have to start over with a different blog. I did lose some readers, about 30,000 people at that time. But then I gained this total other following of people who were looking for honesty, authenticity, and integrity. There was so much attention around it in the media, and shortly after I was approached to write a book, which has been my dream for a long time.
Why she chose to train for a marathon (her first!):
I wouldn't jump into this endeavor alone. I've had so many thoughts like, I should do a marathon! I should do a half-marathon! I've done a few half-marathons where I didn't really train properly and kind of fell of the training consistency. I would do other types of workouts so I'd be in shape, but just not the type of shape you're in for running long distances. So this just seemed like the perfect opportunity. It's a team of like, 100 people, with amazing mentors and really wonderful coaches. And with Kelly doing it, there's enough people around that I'm not worried about it becoming this obsessive thing where I hurt myself or take it too far mentally.
I think it's cool to challenge yourself so much—it forces you to be kind to your body. It makes me want to treat my body well. I think when you're a bit of an extreme person, you need those extreme goals to kind of keep you in check. The greater goal of finishing the race makes me want to eat well, and not deprive myself, because then I wouldn't be able to run and that would be so sad.
On working with a health coach:
I call Kelly when I need guidance and advice—nutrition help especially. We've known each other for about a year. In our first meeting, I learned so much about the science behind eating and I thought, Oh my gosh, I can change my life with all this information, it's so cool! And all of that information has really stayed with me. So even when if I have a week where I find I'm restricting what I eat, I'll call Kelly. When I need help, when I need a reminder, she's who I go to. It's been helpful.
On orthorexia and balance:
You can be the most informed and most knowledgable person and still, it's a mental thing. You need reminders from other people, you need support, you need people who understand. Because you can know what the right answer is and still not follow it. When I was in the depths of orthorexia and only eating green vegetables and drinking green juices, I would tell people on my blog to eat a balanced, vegan diet, but I wasn't.
How she lets go of the idea of being "perfect":
Facts are my thing. If I hear something and it's a fact, it becomes an obsession. Kelly's big on fiber, protein, and fat at every meal, and if I sit down and I don't have fat on my plate I kind of have to remind myself, I'm gonna be ok. I'm gonna live, this doesn't mean I'll spiral into bad eating. For me it's about reminding myself that it doesn't need to be perfect. It's about letting go of the rules and creating less rules to find balance.
Check out Younger's full story about her evolution from juice-cleanse obsessed to healthy, balanced living in her new book, Breaking Vegan.
Photo credit: The Balanced Blonde